Oz the Great and Powerful by Sam Raimi

Oz the Great and Powerful by Sam Raimi

Oz the Great and Powerful is the story of Oscar Diggs (played by James Franco), who arrives in the Land of Oz and encounters three witches; Theodora (played by Mila Kunis), Evanora (played by Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (played by Michelle Williams).

When I was a kid, every time I got sick meant that I would risk an ear infection. My mom would take me to the Sick Kids Hospital in downtown Toronto. The most distinct thing I remember about that hospital was that in every waiting room they would loop The Wizard of Oz over and over on a television screen for kids. As a child, I do not recall ever sitting down and properly watching from beginning to end but my body was frequently shitty enough for me to bracket the entire movie through multiple shortened viewings.

As a child, the following things about The Wizard of Oz distinctly struck me. First, I remember the vibrant Technicolor look of Oz. Second, I noticed how every character in the story had an impediment or flaw, which was something they all had to overcome together as a group. Lastly, I recall being deeply scared by the Wicked Witch of the West, her flying monkeys and even the initial appearance of Oz.

Sam Raimi has reportedly said he does not believe in 3D filmmaking, but decidedly to make an exception for this film, believing it would immerse the audience into the world. Along with Ang Lee’s Life of Pi last year, this is probably one of the best uses of 3D I have experienced. Not once did I squint during the movie or was tempted to take off the glasses at any point.

The 3D enhances the spectacle of Oz, but it’s not solely responsible for it. There’s a really great sense of wonder from the world and it even builds upon the world of Oz you see in the original. There’s an imminent feeling that things are happening in this world beyond what you are witnessing onscreen. The set pieces often felt like a theme park ride and like a child I would physically flinch to the things happening onscreen. I held onto my legs in a sequence where Oz’s balloon is tossed by wind and descends through a waterfall. Suffice to say, I recommend seeing it in 3D.

The film has a great cast. James Franco carries the film competently by making an unlikable character very watchable. The best performance by a mile is Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch. She hits the right combination between doing an impression and adding her own interpretation of the role, like the cast of the Star Trek films.

The origin of the Wicked Witch of the West could have used a little more time to flesh her character out, but it was the most intriguing out of all the subplots. The actress who plays the fully-formed Wicked Witch of the West is seemingly lacking in vocal range. A lot of the Witch’s dialogue is screamed and it seemed like her voice was constantly on the verge of cracking.

Sam Raimi has an in-depth understanding of the similarities between a laugh and a scare. He knows when to pull back and hold a shot to build tension. You know something’s about to happen, but there’s no way to foresee if it’s good or bad until it happens. There’s a great sense of rhythm running through the film. I can only imagine it comes from Raimi’s DIY approach directing the Evil Dead films. Yes, this is a very funny movie. The dialogue between Oz and his monkey sidekick Finley is witty and stands out as some of the best-written clean funny dialogue I have heard in a while. For it’s scary moments, it’s balanced to the point that I think the majority of kids can still withstand and enjoy it. I laughed my way through the scares myself.

It’s unfair to measure Oz the Great and Powerful to The Wizard of Oz. The explorer who discovered Nova Scotia is simply not going to measure up to Christopher Columbus discovering America. You cannot rediscover a creative landmark. It’s just that simple. But I do think Oz the Great and Powerful gets as close as one can to realistically matching the joy of The Wizard of Oz for today. It spiritually retains the things that I found compelling about The Wizard of Oz. I was awed, tickled, scared and finally was touched at the film’s conclusion. Above all, it made me feel like the sick boy in the hospital waiting room again.

My Week with Marilyn by Simon Curtis

The two Michelle Williams performances that I have in my mind are from Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine. Therefore, my general visual impression of her in my head is the stressed-out mother holding a baby, due to the fact that she gave strong performances in those 2 films. In My Week with Marilyn, I do not see one hint of that. If there are any Michelle Williams-isms, I don’t see them. You don’t doubt that she is Marilyn Monroe in both the onscreen and offscreen versions. She just is Marilyn Monroe.

Last year, a biopic of Bruce Lee named Bruce Lee, My Brother came out, which covered Bruce Lee’s early life in Hong Kong before he moved to the United States. In that particular period of his life, he hadn’t yet become the fully formed martial artist that we know him for. Even with that, it was impossible for the filmmakers from crowbaring a couple of fight scenes into the film. And here’s my point: You can’t make a biopic of Bruce Lee without fighting. And likewise, it’s impossible to make a biopic of Marilyn Monroe without gazing at her or referring to her how seductively beautiful she was.

A lot of people are going to praise Michelle Williams. It is a wonderful performance by it’s own right and I’m not taking anything away from her. But that alone doesn’t warrant a good film. What general audience will overlook is the entire cast of this film that does the gazing. It’s not enough that they made Michelle Williams’ Marilyn Monroe is attractive. It’s the people that run up to her, the men that want her to blow kisses at them, younger women wanting to be her and older women being jealous or afraid she’ll snatch their husbands. The entire cast essentially sells how beautiful Marilyn Monroe is equally and altogether I think that should be praised as well.

Kenneth Branagh gets down Laurence Olivier’s diction and I rather enjoyed Judi Dench and Emma Watson in their small roles. It’s nice to know that Paula Strasberg (Marilyn’s Method Acting coach, played by Zoë Wanamaker) looked like Edna Mode from The Incredibles.

The film’s structure is interesting, it’s a musical comedy masquerading as a biopic drama, but it’s really in the end a musical comedy. People are taking this seriously because it’s about famous people and the fact that it really happened. It doesn’t matter if this really happened or not. The story hops along fast montages and song numbers, rather than developing a pathos. It behaves much more like a musical comedy than a drama, and it should judged as such. It’s essentially a coming-out-age story about a boy’s first love. It’s all good fun, but very competent good fun.

I have a female friend who once told me that I should never date girls that quote Marilyn Monroe on their Facebook profile. (“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” ) She said it frees them up to act however they want to in any given moment. I didn’t really think about it before till I watched this film. I totally get it now.

Excuse me, while I go delete some people.