Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013)

ozgreatandpowerfulStarring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox, Stephen R. Hart, Abigail Spencer

Directed by Sam Raimi

Expectations: None. I would never willingly choose to watch this, even if Sam Raimi made it.

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A Sam Raimi fan would hope that if he actually wanted to remake Army of Darkness, he’d at least do so interestingly. It’s a bit of a stretch to call Oz: The Great and Powerful an Army of Darkness remake, but there are way too many parallels between the stories to ignore. I have to wonder if these elements existed in the script prior to Raimi getting the job, or if they tailored the film to his perceived strengths; I imagine some executive yelling at a cowering assistant, “Get me Raimi! He knows fish-out-of-water stories!” Raimi’s strengths, if you were going by this movie, are first-person shots of stuff flying directly into the camera, coaxing horrible performances out of his actors, an ability to craft fun “getting stuff ready for the battle” montages, and short snap zooms (as opposed to the more prevalent long snap zoom that you might see in a Shaw Brothers movie, or more recently Django Unchained). That’s about all the Raimi directorial stamp there is on this bombastic, overstuffed mainstream offering. And yeah, I realize that this is for kids, but that doesn’t excuse it from being horrible.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is not based on any previous work, instead drawing elements and inspiration from the books of L. Frank Baum to create something of a prequel that never existed to The Wizard of Oz. We follow Oscar as he rides a tornado into Oz, finding himself smack dab in the midst of the fantastic world of Oz. Aspects of this story sort of fly in the face of what happened in the original film too, so purists will want to turn their brains off completely (or better yet, watch something else). Also, Disney doesn’t own the rights to the iconic 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, so they are legally forbidden from directly referencing the events of that movie or using any similar designs. This is arguably a moot point, as the designs they ended up with for the Emerald City looked close enough for me to believe that they were the same city. The rest of Oz… not so much, but when you’re making an over-the-top fantasy film in 2013, that is to be expected.

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Quick Takes: The Baxter, Burlesque, The Secret in Their Eyes

This is a new feature I’m trying out. Let me know if you think it’s a good idea or not. At certain times I end up watching more movies than usual and I don’t have time to write reviews for them all. This always nags at me, as these movies are seen but not weighed in on via the site, so I thought I’d throw them together in one Quick Takes post and leave it at that. Your thoughts?


The Baxter (2005)

Starring Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Williams, Justin Theroux
Directed by Michael Showalter

Great acting and some funny writing make this take on the romantic comedy fun and heart-warming. Michelle Williams is especially fantastic here, as are Michael Showalter and Elizabeth Banks. I generally hate romantic comedies, but The Baxter won me over with its interesting premise, quality script and nice visuals.

Burlesque (2010)

Starring Christina Aguilera, Cher, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci
Directed by Steve Antin

Burlesque isn’t a very good movie. It’s highly formulaic, it’s overlong, it’s derivative of every other film in the genre. But damn if Burlesque isn’t entertaining! The acting is surprisingly very good, even from Christina Aguilera. Cher and Stanley Tucci play off each other perfectly, selling the story that they’ve been friends for decades. Visually very pleasing and the songs are enjoyable, Burlesque is a good evening off for your brain. AND get this… it’s the directorial début from Steve Antin, Troy from The Goonies!

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Starring Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella
Directed by Juan José Campanella

This Academy Award winning film for Best Foreign Language film is a stunner. Slow-moving and methodical, it is more of a character study than the detective thriller it might seem to be from the back of the box. As a character study it is extremely competent, with every moment informed by the deep well of character motivations that each actor has to pull from. The last fifteen minutes are fantastic and take the old “Would this character do that?” writing argument to a masterful conclusion. Highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind a slow-burning film.

Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island (2010)

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Elias Koteas, Patricia Clarkson

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Expectations: High.


Scorsese’s first film back after winning Best Picture and Director for The Departed is Shutter Island, an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name. Much as I’d like not to say it, Scorsese’s best films are behind him but Shutter Island is still leagues better than your traditional mainstream fare. His last truly great film was Kundun, a long thirteen years ago, and while Shutter Island doesn’t even come close to its level, it shows that he still holds the power to make a good film.

The story follows Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall from Boston played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) as they make their way to Ashecliff Hospital. Their case is to find Rachel Solando, a patient that somehow escaped from her cell and has gone missing. I will leave it at that as a good portion of the fun comes from unraveling the mystery.

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