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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Mini-Review: Friends With Benefits (2011)

Starring Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Bryan Greenberg, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Nolan Gould

Directed by Will Gluck

Expectations: None, I just hope it’s not too painful.


Just to keep everyone guessing, I have to review a straight-up mainstream movie like this once in a while. Most of the time I have such an indifferent response to these films that I can’t muster the mental power needed to write a full review. Friends With Benefits is pretty much in the same category, but I do have a few thoughts to share. It’s better than No Strings Attached, let’s just get that out of the way. No Ashton Kutcher is a huge plus, but it’s really the R Rating that helps a lot here, allowing the characters freedom to curse as they naturally would and making the sex scenes adequately steamy.

Both Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do a great job with the material they are given, giving us a believable on-screen relationship with a minimum of groan-worthy scenes. The supporting cast is also filled out with lots of good actors such as Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman and Patricia Clarkson (playing virtually the same character she played in Easy A). While I enjoyed Harrelson as the cock-obsessed gay man, I can’t help but wonder how intelligent gay men reacted to this character. They deserve better than to have broad stereotypes reinforced. And if we’re going down that rabbit hole, where were the people of color in this film? I think almost every one in the movie is white.

As a piece of art, it fails miserably. Director Will Gluck creates a textbook mainstream film with more ugly close-ups and over-the-shoulder shots than I care to think back on. I’m sure the paycheck was great though. He previously made Easy A, another poorly-shot mainstream comedy and one that I just couldn’t understand the hype for. It’s hard for me to watch these ugly, lazy films without losing my shit, but the charm of both Kunis and Timberlake surprisingly went a long way.

As a comedy, it fails less so, but it still contains far too little laughs. I especially enjoyed the fake romantic comedy they watch throughout the film, which features some incredibly funny lines within it, perfectly lampooning the tired genre. What’s unfortunate is that to make a romantic comedy, the story kind of has to follow that general path that they all follow and Friends With Benefits is no different. Oh, and the Barnes and Noble joke was my biggest laugh of the movie. Perhaps not the most clever line in the world, but seriously, buying full prices books really is dumb shit.

Friends With Benefits does a lot wrong, but it does just enough right to make it not as painful as it could have been. It’s way too fuckin’ long though, coming in at almost two hours. I’d only recommend it if you like the leads enough to see them get jiggy wit it.

Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan (2010)

Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau, Janet Montgomery, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Sergio Torrado

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Expectations: Very High. I don’t know why really, I never even saw the trailer. I’ve just got a feeling.


Ingredients:

1 Carrie
1 Suspiria
1 Swan Lake
1/2 Tbsp. Mind-Fuck

Mix well. Serve at room temperature immediately.

All kidding aside, Black Swan is easily one of the top American films of the year. It’s definitely one that will split audiences, with some reveling in the glorious mystery of it all and others wondering when the arthouse invaded their local multiplex. Whichever side of the fence you find yourself on, one thing is certain. Black Swan is sure to get many highly coveted nominations during awards season while actually being good enough to warrant receiving them. Imagine that.

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