Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Mitchell Kapner & David Lindsay-Abaire
Genre: Adventure/Family/Fantasy
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis
Running Time: 130 minutes

Oz the Great and Powerful begins with a wonderful black-and-white prologue. In 1905, a hack magician named Oscar Diggs (James Franco) performs a small-time circus act in between trying to shag the local women. He flirts with the wrong girl, however, and ends up running for his life. Diggs (also known by his stage name, Oz) escapes in a hot air balloon, only to get sucked into a nearby tornado. Somehow this tornado takes him to the Land of Oz, and it is here that the film pans out to full technicolor, bringing this magical new world to life.

Oscar, confused but grateful to no longer be in danger, wanders around his new surroundings before meeting the witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis). She believes that Oscar is actually the wizard that has been prophesied to return and overthrow the Wicked Witch, and she brings him to meet her sister, fellow witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz). They send him to the Dark Forest to destroy the Wicked Witch’s wand, but he discovers that this witch is not so wicked after all — she’s actually Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams). Now Oscar finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between the two sides, all while being forced to masquerade as the powerful Wizard of Oz.

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

As a film, Oz the Great and Powerful is likely exactly as you might expect it to be. It works well as a kid’s film — Oscar meets some crowd-pleasing fantasy characters on his way, including a china doll and a flying monkey — though its 2+ hour running time might be a burden for some little ones. The Land of Oz is colorful and vibrant, and the Munchkin inhabitants of Emerald City are sure to be a hit (despite having a very small role). In this regard, the film succeeds.

However, it’s hard not to expect more in the hands of director Sam Raimi. The characters are hardly interesting. James Franco makes Oz come across as a total sleazeball, and it’s hard to buy in to the fact that he has any ‘good’ values underneath. Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz do well with their material, but Mila Kunis is completely out of her element as Theodora. Kunis isn’t given much to work with, but her performance is devoid of any real emotion.

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

I also noticed some issues with the CGI — there were multiple occasions where the actors’ interactions with the artificial characters were completely off (i.e. Franco trying to shake the china girl’s hand but there being a noticable gap in between). For a film with a budget north of $200 million, these quirks are inexcusable.

And so goes Oz the Great and Powerful, a superficially pretty film without any real depth. Judging from my audience’s reaction, the kids seem to be digging it, so the film has that going for it. It’s just a shame that it isn’t as magical as it could have been.

6/10

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Movie Review: Ted [2012]

Ted [2012]

Ted [2012]
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale and Giovanni Ribisi
Runtime: 106 minutes

In theory, Ted shouldn’t work. Not only is this the first feature-length film from director Seth MacFarlane, who is responsible for the long-past-its-prime Family Guy (among other animated TV shows), but this is also a movie about a freakin’ talking teddy bear. The odds were against Ted being a quality film, yet somehow it manages to surprise and stand out as one of this year’s better comedies.

The movie revolves around the friendship between John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and his talking teddy bear, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane). As a child in 1985, John didn’t have a lot of friends so he made a wish that his teddy bear would be able to talk to him. As luck would have it, his wish coincided with a shooting star, and his request was fulfilled. Ted sprang to life the next morning, startling the hell out John’s parents, but he quickly became accepted as a new member of the family.

Flash forward 27 years. John and Ted still live together, but now John is in a serious relationship with a hard-working office professional, Lori (Mila Kunis). While she is determined to rise through the corporate ranks, John seems content to work at a car rental business while getting high in his spare time with his buddy Ted. Lori has had enough of this childish behavior and presents John with an ultimatum: it’s her or Ted. What transpires is a juggling act from John, as he tries to keep the two most important people (er, things) in his life.

Ted with hookers

The plot is paper thin, but that’s all irrelevant thanks to the charismatic teddy bear. Ted has a foul mouth with a thick Boston accent, and he has a penchant for drugs, booze and hookers. His banter with John is oftentimes hilarious and raunchy, and their shared devotion of the campy 1980 Flash Gordon film lends itself to some of the film’s brightest moments. Naturally, as this is a Seth MacFarlane creation, there are dozens of one-liners that reference obscure 80s pop culture targets, and many of them will go over the heads of younger viewers. There’s also at least one Diff’rent Strokes joke, which seems to be a mandatory inclusion in everything MacFarlane does.

In order to stretch out the running time, an additional subplot is presented in which Ted is targeted by a creepy stalker played by Giovanni Ribisi (as crazy as ever). This adds more dramatic elements to the film, but its inclusion ultimately feels tacked-on and unnecessary.

Ted [2012]

In essence, this movie is all about Ted, and his CGI is very impressive. Ted fits in seamlessly with the rest of the actors on screen, and it feels like he is just one of the gang. Mark Wahlberg does an admirable job playing off this invisible presence, and he seems right at home while testing his comedic chops. Mila Kunis, while stunning as ever, doesn’t have much to work with thanks to her dull character, but she does the best with what she has.

While I’m not ready to label Ted as a *great* movie, it is easily one of this year’s biggest surprises, right up there with 21 Jump Street. This film is better than it has any right to be, and it makes for one of this summer’s more enjoyable comedic offerings. Fans of Family Guy will appreciate this most, but its concept can appeal to anyone. Just be warned: this is not a family-friendly comedy.

7/10

Black Swan [2010]

Black Swan [2010]

Black Swan [2010]
Directors: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Man, does Darren Aronofsky ever disappoint? Black Swan, his latest film, is among his best work. The movie is about ballet — rather, the dark side of ballet. Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a ballerina working for a prestigious New York ballet company. She has been performing for years but has yet to obtain her big breakthrough. This finally happens when there is an opening for the lead role in the big Swan Lake play. However, her director (Vincent Cassel) believes she is a strong fit for the innocent “White Swan” but not the evil “Black Swan” — the problem being that she is required to play both. The pressure to succeed at both roles becomes harder and harder, and it begins to take a toll on Nina. Her ridiculous amount of stress is not aided by her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), and Nina is also feeling intimidated by a newcomer (Mila Kunis) who she believes is out to steal her job.

As with any Aronofsky film, Black Swan follows the self-destruction of the lead character. Nina Sayers feels as if she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. There is sexual tension caused by her director, jealousy caused by the newcomer, and an unbelievable amount of pressure from her mother who is living vicariously through her daughter. All of this causes Nina to slowly begin to spiral out of control, and yeah, some fucked up shit happens.

Much has been said of Portman’s performance, and the overwhelming praise is well-deserved. She is simply phenomenal in this movie, and if she doesn’t win an Oscar for this it will be a damn shame. The amount of work she put into learning the ballet is unreal. The rest of the cast is just amazing as well, everyone from the sleazy Cassel to the gorgeous Kunis (who continues to improve with every role). I would be remiss not to mention the exceptional work done by Clint Mansell with the soundtrack — the classical music choices have been twisted to give this movie a very, very dark feel.

If I were to have one complaint, it would be the shaky camerawork that is prevalent during the first part of the movie. More of a minor inconvenience than anything, but still noteworthy.

Truth be told, Black Swan is just an all-around brilliant movie. I had no idea the world of ballet could be so disturbing. Hell, I could care less about ballet in general, so it says a lot that I was hooked through this movie all the way through. Black Swan is one of the best movies from 2010, and it is one that will surely leave a lasting impression on you as well. I cannot recommend this enough.

9/10