Oz the Great and Powerful is to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz what The Phantom Menace is to the original Star Wars trilogy. Disney's prequel pays homage/mimics the structure and general story arc of the original, minus the sense of wonder, the fancifulness and the heart. I like director Sam Raimi and most of the cast, but except for the splashy ending, the project doesn't work.
That said, the film will likely be a hit. At the screening I attended, I heard giggles and "awws" repeatedly, especially for a small talking monkey with pleading eyes and an orphaned girl made of china who is needy and plucky. The hollow epic received a round of applause at the end. It could be that younger eyes will make the movie a classic in its own right. Those young eyes will have to write their own reviews, however, because most of what I saw was a thin, antiseptic drag.
I won't recount the story. Suffice to say that sleazeball carnival magician Oscar Diggs takes the same journey from Kansas to Oz that Dorothy did. James Franco, sporting a shit-eating grin and no depth, plays Oscar/Oz and what a mistake that is. The first choice for the role was Robert Downey Jr., which would have been interesting. Johnny Depp was approached next, but that didn't work out either, which brings us to Franco, an actor who can do wonders in the right role. This isn't the right role, though, and man, is he annoying.
Where the original gave us two witches, "The Phantom Oz" gives us three. Michelle Williams is very good as Glinda, but Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz, working as a tag team, can't hold a candle to the original film's magnificently wicked Margaret Hamilton. And remember the incredibly scary flying monkey guys from the original? Here they become big-fanged baboons that dart in and out of the screen so quickly that they don't make much of an impression. Sure, they startle viewers when they make quick-cut "Boo!" appearances in 3D, but so would virtually anything. Incidentally, I was confused by the appearance of both the flying baboon guys and the little limpid-eyed flying monkey sidekick voiced by Zach Braff. Apparently there is some sort of winged-ape hierarchy over the rainbow.
While the stage sets of the original gave Oz a strong sense of place, the new film makes do with lush computer-generated backgrounds - pretty, but they're not magic. When the dull spectacle finally kicks into high gear near the end, the giant Oz-head makes its appearance. The new one is impressive, but the one from the original is more majestic and imposing.
I could go on - seriously, I've got a list. But the bottom line is that Oz the Great and Powerful is mostly a failure, an overblown, underwritten marathon of ill-cast James Franco and his fellow actors emoting in front of green screens with creamy storybook illustrations dubbed in later. Somebody should have dropped a house on this thing.
West of Memphis
Riveting documentary about the horrific murder of three little boys in small-town Arkansas and the terrible aftermath. Three teenagers were convicted of the crime - one of them confessed - but over the years the confession was recanted as coerced and the guilty verdicts contested. High-profile figures like Natalie Merchant and Eddie Vedder helped keep the cases in the spotlight until - I can't tell you how it all ends, but justice has never been more insane than it is here. Wish we'd heard more from the other side, but the film is a must-see regardless. - Ed Johnson-Ott
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Two would-be lovers spend quite a bit of time together but are nonetheless reluctant to abandon their marital vows in Wong Kar-Wei's 2000 film, set in 1962 Hong Kong and reflective of that period's repressive, violent, hot-house atmosphere. Tony Leung won Best Actor and Christopher Doyle and his crew the Technical Grand Prize at Cannes for the effort, which directly inspired Coppola's Lost in Translation (which screens next Friday at the IMA). March 8, 7 p.m. @ The Toby, Indianapolis Museum of Art; $9 public, $5 members
Indy Film Fest opens its spring film series - which will pair a film about food with food from a restaurant that somehow aligns with that film - with Toast, a 2010 BBC production about a budding teen chef (based on writer Nigel Slater) who competes for his father's graces (against his stepmother) by cooking his way through the French and English tradition while along the way exploring his nascent same-sex social/romantic interests. The charming, pie-filled film will be accompanied by sweet and savory offerings from Amelia's Bakery and Bluebeard, respectively, as well as a glass of wine that makes the event a 21 and over affair. March 13, 6:30 p.m. @ IndyFringe Theatre; $22 for dinner and movie, $10 for dinner only at indyfilmfest.org