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.

Ted by Seth MacFarlane

Ted by Seth MacFarlane

As the result of a childhood wish, John Bennett’s (played by Mark Walhberg) teddy bear, Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), came to life and has been by John’s side ever since – a friendship that’s tested when Lori (played by Mila Kunis), John’s girlfriend of four years, wants more from their relationship.

When telling a joke, first you setup the premise, which lays out the confines of what the audience is about to laugh about. Afterwards, you deliver the  punchline. The punchline is an unexpected surprise connected within the confines of the original premise.

My major problem with Ted is that it tells jokes that delivers punchlines that are outside of its original premise. The result is still a laugh, but in retrospect it’s a laugh that does not feel earned because the surprises are coming randomly from left field. Sometimes, the jokes even break character (i.e. a group of bullies beat up a child, a child tries to join in to beat him as well but is rejected by the bullies and the kid that is being beaten up… that would never happen!). As it went from gag to gag, my mind kept looping back and thinking how most of the jokes were unearned laughs, resulting in a somewhat empty experience. It’s like that scene in a Looney Tunes cartoon where a laugh has long died off and you hear people’s coughs echoing in the theater.

The more I thought about it, it was all lacking in the writing. The story needed more character and plot and it seems Seth MacFarlane only delivered the bare minimum without fully exploring his own concept. Every time John chooses to spend time with Ted instead of Lori, it feels like the same thing is happening over and over again. We know Lori is frustrated with John, John knows this but he does not do anything different. So nothing is moving forward and we start to wonder why Lori is being so patient with John. Even the subplot with Giovanni Ribisi as a creepy stalker trying to steal Ted felt like a cheap writer’s trick to force a third act finale set piece.

I do think Mark Wahlberg is great at comedy, as exemplified in the past with his performance in The Departed where he was creepily funny. He was also the only reason that The Other Guys was funny as the straight-man, also because he was yelling at Will Ferrel the whole time.

Ted has some great jokes, even though my two favorite gags (the Thunder song and the girl-naming bit) from the movie are in the trailer. The fact that it’s all being said by a computer generated teddy bear makes it so much more psychotic. Ultimately, Ted feels lazy and having such a creative premise it makes me think about how much better it could have been if Seth MacFarlane put more effort into the writing. It just needed that little more.

And no, I am not familiar with Family Guy.