sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Friday, March 8, 2013

Oz, The Great and Powerful (Movie Review)

At 10 am today, I took two daughters and three grandchildren to see Oz, The Great and Powerful, which is sort of a prequel to The Wizard of Oz and Return to Oz. The Wizard of Oz is an American icon. Return to Oz (1985) is much darker then The Wizard of Oz, but I liked it. 

Oz, The Great and Powerful gets a much more critical review from me. Though I have enjoyed Mila Kunis, who played Theodora, in other roles, I didn't find her performance to be as interesting as it could have been. And I'm being kind. Rachel Weisz (Evanora) played Mila Kunis' sister and while her role was better played, it wasn't enough to save the film.

James Franco played Oscar Diggs, a circus magician, huckster and womanizer who enjoys toying with women's emotions - which goes wrong when he starts doing it with witches in Oz. His portrayal was ok. Just ok. He was believable as the slimy con-man but not as the sincere and repentant Wizard of Oz.  To me it felt as if the chemistry between Franco, the director and his fellow actors was strained. Maybe it was just me? He falls in love with Michelle Williams (Glinda the Good Witch of the North). At least that's what the script called for. It just didn't work either.

The last bit of the movie (if it stood alone) where the linkage is established between the audience chamber where Dorothy Gale meets the Wizard was effective and interesting but it didn't save the film.

The chemistry between actors is what transcends a lot of other technical and writing effort and that's where I feel that this film effort broke down.

Disney worked very hard to integrate the film racially and it came off as gratuitous and cheap rather than genuine. Sorry Disney. Political correctness helped kill the film. It looked STUPID and it didn't have to. 

I can't recommend that you spend money to see the film in the theater. Watch it on cable TV in a year or rend a Red Box DVD in four months for a dollar.

My rating:  4 out of a possible 10

The Following (Series Review)

Imagine the television series 24 meeting the television series Prison Break. At least that's how I feel when I watch The Following.

Tag Line: Even Serial Killers have friends. 

Maybe on television, but most serial killers don't have many friends. Most of them are loners and losers with higher than normal IQ's but underdeveloped social skills. The writing staff tried to make the actors into those people, but they failed primarily because they don't have the time to develop each dysfunctional murderer and the actors themselves are quite charismatic -- because they're good actors.

There is a large network of serial killers on the loose and they are conveniently embedded almost everywhere. Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), a former FBI special agent has been sleeping with Dr. Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), the wife of  Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). They met while Hardy investigated Joe Carroll for a series of murders.

Joe Carroll is a former university professor who taught American Literature and has an affinity to Edgar Allen Poe. He recreates the murders in Poe's work and as we find as the series progresses, he has hundreds of devoted murderers at his beck and call.

The writing takes on a unbelievable beat as Carroll and his followers seem to be at the right place and the right time while the FBI/Police never seem to be. Bacon and Purefoy anchor the acting talent, but the acting is very good across the board, so I'm not taking a shot at them at all. They are bound by the story telling, which varies between good and weak in my humble opinion. Emma Hill (Valorie Curry) does a great job of portraying one of the soulless serial killers who hang on Joe Carroll's every word. The first season was recently renewed and so there will be a second.

Natalie Zea comes across as beautiful, sophisticated, vulnerable and interesting in her portrayal of Claire Matthews. However, (yes, there is always a however), the character that the writers give her seems to be a species of broken record by the seventh episode - and they need to up the game to keep her vital and interesting.

In the series Prison Break (which included Kevin Bacon), the show held together for two seasons and then petered out in the third. The first two seasons were quite good. And The Following is good enough to keep me tuning in. I question that it has the depth to keep people coming back to the semi-slasher series after a season or two of melodrama, but I hope that the writers prove me wrong. 24 kept its audience by having the hero, Jack Bauer, jumping into new situations each year. It's nearly impossible to do that with a slasher series because you get desensitized by the slashing eventually and the plot arcs are quite predictable.

My overall recommendation: It's good enough to hold my interest so far, but I am skeptical that they can hold an audience through the second season despite superior actors in the cast. 

7 out of  a possible 10.