Saturday, March 23, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Hey!  A movie review?  I haven't done one of these in ages.  Before I jump into my thoughts on this new film I'd like to give some background on a few topics to set this all up.  I'm an avid fan of movies.  Took a lot of Film Studies courses in college, been documenting every movie I watch here the past 2+ years (aiming at 300+ for 2013), etc. and yet I rarely get out to the cinema.  I worked at two different movie theaters (not to mention three video stores) so safe to say I've spent a lot of time in them but the last couple years since becoming a parent it's rare I get the opportunity.  I could probably count the number of movies I've seen on the big screen the last two years on one hand.  The tragedy in Aurora, CO last year certainly dampened my moviegoing spirit also seeing me wait for many of the summer blockbuster releases on Blu-ray instead.

So I was quite excited to go out with my mom and niece last Friday night and catch a 9:45PM showing of Oz the Great and Powerful.  Some of my favorite moviegoing moments are with my mom when as a kid she'd often take me (and my big brother Dennis) to a show.  I remember many of those trips fondly, most at the now non-existent Cinema West in Hamilton, OH, taking in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Batman Returns, Nightmare Before Christmas, Jurassic Park, and strangely, RoboCop 3.  Not to even get into the Holiday Auto Theatre, an old school drive-in that I spent many summer nights at and still regard as one of my all-time favorite places on the planet.

I was curious to see this film and one of the big reasons I was interested was the great cast they'd assembled.  I may have bought a bit into the James Franco as James Franco character he's invented for himself (more here), the guy that writes, directs, acts, and still takes three times the course-load of the average college student.  And while I do find that drive admirable, it's not just the image he's generated, it's the actual work itself, from his articles in the Huffington Post, to his performances in Milk, 127 Hours, and as poets Hart Crane in The Broken Tower and Allen Ginsberg in Howl.  Then there's Michelle Williams (as Annie / Glinda) who's probably my favorite working actress in Hollywood.  Her emotionally bare performances in Blue Valentine, Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff, The Hottest State (based off of one of my favorite novels), and Brokeback Mountain have made her a must watch performer for me.  Lastly Rachel Weisz (as Evanora), who earlier in her career I didn't pay much attention to, but ever since I saw her great performance in the underrated The Fountain, and subsequent turns in The Brothers Bloom and The Deep Blue Sea she's really won me over.  

It was great to be at the cinema.  My first reaction wasn't the best, waiting in the lobby for my family members I ran smack into a group of rowdy teenage males, I quickly wished the lobby would host a free lobotomy.  I dropped $19.50 at the concession stand on a large buttered popcorn and two sodas for my niece and I (while my mom snuck in several boxes of candy).  I'm not a soda drinker any more and money is tight, for a minute or two I was mentally grappling with worries of costs and consuming a lot of junk food, but I was able to turn off that logical part of my brain and just let go and enjoy it... empty calories be damned!  Soon I found myself engrossed in the trailers pre-show mixing in bites of Raisinets, Buncha Crunch, and Junior Mints with big handfuls of salty popcorn.  When you're at the movies and you don't get to cut loose often sometimes it's best to just soak in the full experience and that's certainly what I did. 

I've never had a big affinity for the Oz universe be it the books, films, etc.  The Wizard of Oz has always been my mother's favorite movie but it joins A Christmas Story on the short list of supposed kids' films that gave me an uneasy, sort of creepy vibe when I was a youngster.  I enjoy its portion of The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park but otherwise I'm an outsider looking in.  All this being said, here's my thoughts on the movie itself:

I got swept up in the magic.  As I said, the night itself was ripe with meaning and joy for me, so maybe my euphoria played into my enjoyment.  Although, while a distinctively different experience, watching it at home I still would have enjoyed the film (just probably not all the sweets I'd partaken in).  I really felt this is this generation's Wizard of Oz.  Now, that's not to say it's better (or worse) than that revered classic, but I got swept up in the majesty all the same.  Any criticisms I have are minor.  I would have liked some scenes to breathe a bit more, like when "Oz" first arrived in, well, Oz.  Now, the movie runs 130 minutes, so it's hard to really argue it needed to be any longer, but there were points that I wish we could have stopped in partook in the scenery and chemistry between characters.  

Without revealing much the plot and story are fairly similar to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Outsider comes to distant, magical land, the good folk champion them as their protector/savior, leading to a war with an evil queen (or in this case witch).  Narnia took it's time a bit more and luxuriated in the world of Narnia, something I would have liked more of here, as the possibilities of the strange world of Oz weren't investigated nay hardly surveyed.  Something Oz the Great and Powerful has over it though is a true sense of whimsy and grandiose entertainment.  I would say, if you have any interest, and have the time and disposable income, go see it in the theaters while it's still playing on the big screen.  I hope you'll get as wrapped up in its pleasures and spellbinding enchantment as I found myself.  I'll leave you with a quote indicative of the movie's spirit, and one I find appropriate to my own aspirations, as Oz says, "I don't want to be a good man... I want to be a great one."

Overall Grade: A-

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