Maybe you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high this week — there’s a reason that Disney’s Oz The Great and Powerful is being released at the tail end of the winter dumping season.
It’s a bold if obvious attempt to appeal to two widely divergent demographics — those who hold the 1939 MGM classic The Wizard of Oz in reverence and those who like James Franco movies. Our critic Piers Marchant notes the inevitable comparisons— “There’s Kansas and tornadoes, yellow brick roads and broken but sweet children’s toys, good and wicked witches, dreamy poppies, and even a shrunken aspect ratio black and white open (and a glorious widescreen Oz-color reveal later on). Perhaps the biggest difference here (besides a disturbing lack of Toto), is that in place of Judy Garland singing her little heart out, we have James Franco, leering his perfected snake-oil smile and pulling colored scarves out of his coat pockets as a testament to his ‘magic.”
Still, while Great and Powerful set itself a standard that, given the power of nostalgia, was perhaps unattainable, Marchant credits both Franco’s performance and director Sam Raimi as he finds the film “surprisingly adept at carving out its own space in the Oz dynamic.” Still, we’re more jaded than we were in 1939, less susceptible to visuals and “no matter how beautiful this film might appear on its surface, it’s really just a bunch of good-looking actors performing in motion-capture suits in front of a green screen, pretending to talk to a monkey in a bell-hop outfit or a small ceramic girl.”
Also disappointing, in a milder way, is the on-paper-interesting thriller Dead Man Down, which features a cool cast (Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard and Noomi Rapace) being put through the motions by the director of the original Swedish Girl With Dragon Tattoo, Niels Oplev. But our Dan Lybarger find that its grim tone is overwhelmed by third act silliness. (To be fair, Lybarger also interviews Oplev, allowing him a chance to explain himself and discuss his filmography.)
Also Lybarger reviews Amy Berg’s West of Memphis, which played all over the state last year but is at last getting its theatrical release. You probably know that story.