REVIEW: Oz the Great and Powerful

11 03 2015

Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” is home to a number of very pleasant elements.  James Franco’s Oscar receives accompaniment a heartwarming and adorable CGI china doll with a broken leg voiced by Joey King as well as a flying monkey hilariously played by Zach Braff.  The conclusion (no spoilers) also pays a wonderful tribute to the magic and power of cinema.

And … that’s pretty much it that I can remember.

“Oz” mostly strands a talented cast of actors against recycled graphics from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”  Raimi and screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire (the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Rabbit Hole,” mind you) have to tiptoe around the iconography of “The Wizard of Oz” since Disney does not own the 1939 classic film, which means they cannot gush about its timeless qualities or rejuvenate the brand.  So the whole thing just feels rather awkward in principle, and then the film itself does nothing to alleviate that sensation.

James Franco is a great actor, but he is unfortunately miscast as Oscar.  His moral ambiguity in the role means nothing without the kind of earnestness and goodness that make up the bedrock of a Disney protagonist.  The part just seems too simple for him, as strange as that sounds.

Meanwhile, among the witches in the Land of Oz, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz appear to be having some kind of competition to see who can overact the most and bring the movie down more.  Shockingly, it’s the Oscar-winner Weisz who might tank “Oz” to a greater extent.

And then there’s also Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch.  She’s very pleasant, too, I’m now remembering.  Williams brings the airy, gentle grace she endowed her Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn,” and it does make the film more bearable when she appears on screen.  That is hardly enough to salvage the whole movie, though, or make it fun and entertaining. C2stars

REVIEW: Drag Me to Hell

31 10 2009

I have made it inherently clear that I’m not a big fan of horror movies.  However, “Drag Me to Hell” is surprisingly rip-roaring entertainment, simultaneously fun and spine-chilling.  Co-writer/director Sam Raimi has removed a veil of self-importance that the horror genre has given itself and presents a movie that never takes itself too seriously.  He knows that his movie is packed full of the stereotypical harbingers of doom: flies, shadows, old ladies, worms – you name it, he included it.  He knows that his movie does not offer a plot you haven’t seen or can’t predict.  Yet he infuses “Drag Me to Hell” with a refreshing dark humor, most evident during the action sequences, that makes it a pill you don’t mind swallowing.

Christine (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer who turns down the wrong woman (a gypsy played to eerie perfection by Lorna Raver) while seeking a promotion.  She is haunted by spirits who would make the “Paranormal Activity” demon cower.  They don’t care for a slow build, but rather come soon, quickly, and often.  “Drag Me to Hell” is particularly sharp in capturing the psychological toll the haunting takes on Christine, especially when she is required to make tough moral judgement calls.  Thus, the movie is surprisingly thought-provoking, raising questions such as, “Who deserves to go to hell?”

“Drag Me to Hell” is only PG-13, so there is no excessive gore or nasty torture.  But there is plenty to freak you out and gross you out, the latter being mostly for laughs.  The movie’s brilliant sequences of terror make you uncomfortable in a completely original way by making you unsure of what emotion to feel.  As Christine fends herself from the haggardly gypsy by using a stapler, you can’t help but wonder how to react.  Do I scream?  Do I cringe?  Do I laugh?  I did the latter of the three, but Raimi brilliantly concocts these moments so that the audience can make of it what they want.  “Drag Me to Hell” is what you make it: an action movie, a horror movie, a comedy, or any combination of the three.  The choice is yours.  A- /