Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. I am just sharing my opinions and perspective. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 1-5. 1, of course, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! It turns out I was Kansas the whole time.

Oz: The Great and Powerful – 4 out of 5

Like many people in this world (read that as ALL people), MGM’s 1939 The Wizard of Oz has been a staple of my life. Even now, as an adult with all those lame bills I have to pay, I still find that throwing on Dorothy’s adventure to the magical land of Oz is capable of returning me to a simpler, non-bill paying time in my life (in case you’re wondering, that time was when I was a kid). I’ll be honest; it was kind of nice returning to this wondrous land in Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful.

To make the film historically accurate, the scenes outside Oz are in black and white.
Just like reality was in 1905.

    **Warning, there may be some spoilers in this review**

Here's a spoiler:  There's a tornado in the film.

Due to legal reasons and copyright ownership, this film is not intended as an official prequel to the Oz film that is probably more common than any other film ever made. Instead, it’s meant to act as its own story that was culled from the pages of L. Frank Baum’s novels. It shows Oz (James Franco) before he became the man behind the curtain, a time when he was just a charlatan of a magician, charming the hearts of the ladies and the wallets off the locals (some of those locals, reportedly, were also ladies). After his con games and conniving ways land him in the hottest of hot water, he escapes and, through some unfortunate events involving a hot air balloon (but let’s face it, there’s very few fortunate series of events that lead a person to a hot air balloon), Oz finds himself in a strange, colorful and fantastic world that transports a person beyond imagination.

James Franco also had a really great haircut in the film.  Just saying.

The combined might of the facial hair of these men could
probably take out the evil witch.
After meeting the witches Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Oz learns that he may be the prophesied wizard sent to destroy the Wicked Witch that haunts their lands. After some convincing (and by convincing, I mean he sees gigantic piles of gold), Oz agrees to stop the witch and free the peoples of Oz from the terror they have been gripped in. With the assistance of a helpful bellhop-dressed flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and a small, talking porcelain doll (voiced by Joey King), Oz sets out to see if he can actually play up to all the bravado he usually sells himself as having and see if he can pull off the greatest trick of his life and become the ruler that Oz deserves.

They're running because of his bad breath.  Gingivitis can be a real downer.

When I first heard they were making this film I reacted like much other Interneters and crossed my arms and said, “That’s stupid.” But, I guess, if I was going to properly react like an Interneter I probably would have called some people “gay.” However, since I just absolutely love movies, I watched the trailer and was sold on the idea and I even took my girlfriend to see it in the theaters…and I found I really enjoyed the experience.

"I suppose we should ease on down, ease on down this yellow brick road."

One of the things I found difficult about my viewing experience, though, was trying to see this film with fresh eyes and try to NOT compare it to the visuals of Oz that have become so profoundly familiar in my life. Believe it or not, I actually found this new look to Oz to be slightly jarring when I first saw it on the big screen. The bright CG graphics that were clearly not the gigantic soundstages from the original classic, at first, looked more like Wonderland to me and less like Oz but as the film progressed, I started to settle in this new vision and, by the time the end of the film came, I was firmly invested in this newly remodeled Oz. In fact, this new look and the spectacular special effects and beautiful sets really helped sell this fantasy and helped bring me back to my childhood as I watched the film.

Oh, that lion is so cowardly.  Just like in real life.  Remember that, kids.
All wild lions are cowardly.

I also really enjoyed James Franco as Oz and enjoyed seeing the character as something beyond the goofy old man played by Frank Morgan I’ve seen over and over again on Betamax, VHS and DVD (and I think once on Laser Disc). It was fun to see Oz as a younger man out to scam those around him so he can vastly improve his life (and show what a comical coward he can be). Franco perfectly walks the line that makes Oz a charming, debonair man and devious con man that has the potential to be a slime of a human being.

It's probably the top hat.  They have excellent personality flaw hiding capability.

The film’s only real downfall for me was director Sam Raimi’s usual sexist approach he takes with his female roles.

And speaking of Sam Raimi, here's the star of his cult classic.  That horse's ass--
Oops, I mean Bruce Campbell. (Please don't kill me, Bruce, if you somehow stumble
upon this review.  I'm actually a big fan...but being murdered by you would be an honor.)

I enjoy Sam Raimi’s early work (like Evil Dead—honestly, who doesn't like the Evil Dead trilogy?) but some of his later work after his name become more common in Hollywood has always felt a shade familiar but different enough that I couldn’t get into his work like I use to (like Spider-Man 3…I still have nightmares about the Emo/Jazz dance scene) but there’s one thing that’s ALWAYS been prevalent in his work and that is the blatant sexism he shows towards his female cast members. A cursory glance through my memory (and a big ignoring glance towards Google) had me hard-pressed to find a single film made by Raimi that had a strong leading woman that isn't an insulting example of the myth of the weaker sex. If anyone reading this can think of one, I would appreciate the help but the closest I can think of is Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Grudge but, even with that, she still seems to be the typical survivor girl in the horror flick model; not to mention, Raimi only produced that one, so I'm still lost on finding a positive role model.  I would mention the girl in Drag Me to Hell but after watching her contemplate letting a old man take the curse from her, she really doesn't qualify.

The scene where Oz roofies a girl was probably not necessary for the story.

Sometimes Raimi’s female members of the cast become the villains (like Evil Dead) or they are just the damsels in distress—like Mary Jane in the Spider-Man movies—and that transformation was just sad because, in the comics, Mary Jane is a strong, independent-minded and confident young woman who keeps Spidey on his toes but in the movies, she was just a manipulative girl who clearly couldn’t operate if she didn’t have a man in her life. Then, in the really bad cases, Raimi makes his female characters get raped by trees. It’s rare that I see a film by him where it contains a woman who isn’t subservient or shown as weaker than a man and this dynamic is just as evident here.

Surprisingly though, the female that is easiest to shatter was often the strongest one.

While Raimi didn’t write the film, he didn’t do much to help make the three characters of the witches to be anything less than dribbling messes of fluttering eyelashes and be-stilled hearts when Oz was in the room. When Oz first arrives in…well…Oz, he meets Theodora and right off the bat she seems ready to marry the man and give up her undergarments as an offering. She falls so head-firmly-over-heels that when Oz is sent off to stop the evil witch under false pretenses by Evanora (Theodora’s sister and, heads up SPOILER ALERT, the actual Wicked Witch) she is told by her sibling that Oz had no feelings for her and, I’m paraphrasing here, thinks she’s a big fat doo-doo face and she believes ever word of it. She is so enamored with a man she barely knows and so filled with celebrity lust (remember, they believe he’s come to help them and enters the world like the lead guitarist/front man in a prog-rock band) that she instantly becomes that Clingy Girlfriend Meme/Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn at the flip of a switch.

"Hey, I just met you and this is crazy but...can I be your Queen and be completely
subservient to you in every way?"

Theodora is shown to have no real independence of her own as she comes off like she’s unable to even cross the Yellow Brick Road without a man holding her hand. The symbolism gets worse when she becomes the familiar Wicked Witch of the West (oops, Spoiler Alert) because of her broken heart and is so focus on the man that makes her loins warm that she can’t even make a proper decision and allows herself to fall to the darkness that her sister tempts her with. 

I'll be honest again here, I felt bad they had to wear those tight corsets.
My man boobs were feeling sympathy pain watching them struggle to breathe
in those things.

Also, I say the familiar Wicked Witch but, interesting note, while Baum’s books are public domain, MGM owns much of the familiarity that we know from The Wizard of Oz…like the color of green on the Wicked Witch. That’s right; Disney actually had to pull out the color swatches to get a shade that was close enough but far enough away from any litigious activity to paint Kunis in. I’ll just add it here, while I’m at it, and say that I wasn’t a fan of her witch-laugh when she gets all wicked. It didn’t fit her witch voice and it sounded like she was trying too hard to imitate Margaret Hamilton.

Why do evil witches need to show so much cleavage?

Even Glinda, the Good Witch who rides in bubbles played by Michelle Williams, didn’t feel that all strong in Raimi’s male-dominated world. While Glinda is completely on the ball with Oz’s underhandedness and is the only one beyond the flying monkey bellhop that knows he’s not the man in the prophecy, she still ultimately becomes the love interest to Oz and is just boiled down to just that when the film ends. This is exceptionally heartbreaking after we see Glinda kick Evanora’s ass through the throne room in The Emerald City.

I probably would have farted in my bubble.

L. Frank Baum’s novels were known for having extremely strong female characters that included heroines and evil villains but the tract record on film for getting these characters transferred properly hasn’t been that great. Even Dorothy was turned from a tough, go-getter to a damsel in distress in the classic we all know and love. However, Raimi was able to have a strong female villain in the form of Rachel Weisz as Evanora. While it is annoying that, at its epicenter, Evanora is just as deceitful and just as much as a con man and a liar that Oz is and is punished for it rather than rewarded like the wizard is but Weisz was really something to watch as she was just so delightfully devious to experience.

"And now, young Skywalker, you--I mean--Glinda, I meant Glinda."

Raimi’s sexism aside, Oz was still fun to watch. It’s has some great humor in it, the visuals are definitely beautiful to look at and can probably make your eyes cry rainbows and the story is pretty fun and hearkens back to that classic that is probably currently in my DVD player. The movie also makes the most of paying homage to The Wizard of Oz but is able to simultaneously be its own foray into the world that only tornadoes can seem to get a person to without it feeling like the whole point of the project was to just ride the coattails of the old 1939 film (I still can’t believe it’s been out that long). Oz: The Great and Powerful is a fantastic return to the world of Oz that can open up young viewers to this magical land and fill the older viewers with nostalgia for the place that belongs somewhere over the rainbow.

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