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: Wish I Was Here

16 07 2014

Wish I Was HereZach Braff’s “Wish I Was Here” caught a lot of flak for raising additional funds through crowdfunding on Kickstarter, so I found myself watching the film with an especially sharp eye on how the budget was being spent.  My friend and I found ourselves, perhaps cynically, coming to the conclusion that Braff was using the fans’ money on less necessary frills like a Maserati or the sporadic CGI-heavy sci-fi reveries.

Yet if these somewhat excessive flourishes are what it takes to get an otherwise deeply felt movie like this made, I will make that trade-off every day of the week.  “Wish I Was Here” is an uncommonly thoughtful dramedy about life and death, a breed of film that has sadly become an endangered species.  What Braff crafts is something akin to a Woody Allen film scored to the Bon Iver Pandora station.

That’s not to say, however, that Braff has quite the effortless mastery of Allen’s best.  He doesn’t quite grasp the often tricky economy of ensemble comedy, bungling subplots involving Josh Gad and Kate Hudson.  And at times, the film gets a little bit uncomely in its wild fluctuations of tone.

But even so, “Wish I Was Here” is rather endearing.  Its brand of messy is a lifelike one, not a lazy or sloppy filmmaking one.  Braff throws everything he’s got against the wall – I like to believe it’s everything he’s been thinking in the decade since “Garden State” – and not all of it hits.  What does stick, though, teems with such raw and poignant emotion that it’s easy to overlook the film’s faults.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (February 19, 2010)

19 02 2010

This week’s “F.I.L.M.” is “Garden State.”  Written and directed by Zach Braff, the star of TV’s “Scrubs,” the debut is a wonderfully delightful indie comedy.  It’s filled with its own set of quirks that we come to associate with the genre, but the movie is equally remarkable for its contrastingly somber side.

“Garden State” is constructed upon a beautifully ironic premise.  Failed actor Andrew Largeman (Braff) comes home to New Jersey to attend his mother’s funeral.  At the same time, Andrew decides that it is time to go off the anti-depressants that he has been taking since his troubled teenage years.  These medications have made him feel numb and stoic to life passing by.

But as he wanes off the meds, Andrew begins to open his eyes to all the great things happening around him.  He falls for compulsive liar Sam (Natalie Portman), a fiery chick with a bubbling personality.  He begins to smile again.  He confronts the issues which have forced him into depression.  But overall, “Garden State” is such a remarkable movie because it is a movie about rediscovering the joy of living.

For an enriched viewing experience, I recommend having watched Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” before seeing this.  Not only will you have seen two great movies, but it will give you great insight into Zach Braff’s influences.  Someone told me that watching modern comedy without having seen “The Graduate” is akin to trying to see in fog.  Now that I have seen it, I agree.

But I digress.  Watch “Garden State” – and listen, too, because it’s got a great soundtrack (which seems to be another hallmark of this genre).