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Jakob’s 10 Notable Films for 2017

by Jakob Conkling

I feel I’ve never seen an adequate number of films to declare of “best of” until at least half way into the next year. As of writing this, I haven’t seen many of the films I’ve been anticipating in 2017, such as The Shape of Water, Phantom Thread, and Baywatch. Rather, here are 10 films that stood out to me (and focusing—with one exception—on films not reviewed on the podcast) for better or for worse in 2017…

 
A Dog’s Purpose

Worst film of 2017

This story of a dog’s soul inhabiting various breeds is saccharine drudgery. Marketed as a family film, have fun dealing with your crying children, moms and dads! The movie believes reincarnation makes numerous dog death less traumatic for kids (and pet-loving adults). WRONG! Melodramatic, sappy, manipulative trash; I hope Dennis Quaid wishes finds a real life shrink ray from Inner Space so he can disappear from the public eye for staring in this. This film’s only redemption is that it can never be worse than Kevin Spacey-turned-cat in Nine Lives.

The Great Wall

Most entertaining bad movie of 2017

Matt Damon speaks in a baffling, generic European accent not heard since Kevin Costner’s in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Costume design inspired by the Power Ranger’s colorful armor. Willem Defoe looks as confused as I was about why he was on set. There is a whole wing of the military dedicated to fighting monsters via bungee jumping (with inelastic rope???). And the evil creatures having a weakness so bizarre, you’ll be asking, like the Insane Clown Posse, “Magnets? How do they work?”

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Best first five minutes in a 2017 movie

Luc Besson’s Valerian is a galaxy-sized mess but features an awe inspiring first five minutes. Set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” various nations of Earth come together on an international space station, and then are joined by aliens across the universe. It’s full of the optimism and discovery space travel can arouse. Truly, it is a moment of genius that balances out this very uneven film from its most embarrassing moments (any scene featuring Rihanna as a shape-shifting burlesque dancer).

Batman & Bill

My favorite documentary of 2017

Liked the caped crusader, documentarian Don Argott seeks justice. While everyone knows about Batman’s credited creator, Bob Kane, there was another. Behind the scenes, Bill Finger contributed the most iconic elements to the Dark Knight. Finger died alone in poverty and, reportedly, buried in a potter’s field. Argott’s journey for an eligible heir to bring suit against DC Entertainment to have Finger’s name added to the creator byline is full of twists and reveals in this engaging journey for recognition.

The Founder

Best anti-commercial of 2017

I was expecting another (alleged) heartwarming, inspiring ad for a giant corporation the way Saving Mr. Banks tried to convince me Disney knows best and was the savior for a financially struggling artist. While Michael Keaton brings a lot of charm with his portrayal of down-on-his-luck, milkshake-mixer salesman Ray Kroc, the actor is equally capable of depicting the sinister turn Kroc takes as he steals the McDonald’s brand from the brothers who conceived the fast food restaurant. Forget about the high calorie count in its food, this dark tale of capitalistic greed preying on naive innovators should keep you away from purchasing that next Big Mac.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

The best Sundance film that went straight to Netflix in 2017

Having starred in violent thrillers Blue Ruin and Green Room, Macon Blair’s directorial debut reframes those movies’ violence and tension into a dark comedy. Melanie Lynskey plays Ruth who undergoes an existential crisis after her house is robbed. She befriends Tony (Elijah Wood), a religious, heavy metal loving, ninja-weapons enthusiasts. The two go about reclaiming Ruth’s stolen property; but, their attempt at vigilante justice goes horribly wrong. Funny, violent, quirky, tense, bittersweet. The film hits the right beats to balance its various tones to create a comedic thriller.

Get Out

Best 2017 film reviewed on Now Playing

Patrons have heard my thoughts (along with Arnie’s and Stuart’s). A smart and tense social commentary on race in America, Get Out isn’t only relevant but also a masterfully crafter horror-thriller. Sketch-show-comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele obviously loves horror and has studied the greats in this story that warns us about the dehumanizing effects of racism even if the stereotypes are positive. Reviewed on the podcast or not, this film deserves to be recognized on any top movie list.

Hear Now Playing’s Full Review of Get Out

A Ghost Story

Best 2017 movie based on It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

I only slightly jest. Looking at the poster of Casey Affleck dressed as a ghost—wearing a sheet with eye-holes cut out—I thought I was in for an indie comedy. Rather, this is a poetic story of the living haunting the dead. The camera holds on images until you stop asking what their narrative purpose are and, rather, focus on what you feel in each moment. Never have the folds and frayed edges of a bed sheet portrayed so much loss and sorrow. Director David Lowery channels Terrance Malick and Stanley Kubrick with this slow paced, beautifully framed journey through time and the cosmos.

 

Detroit

Best film of 2017 most have an opinion about based on their politics before even seeing it

Political. Polarizing. Inflammatory. If you’re inclined to ignore this film because you think you know what it is, I ask then to focus on the craft. Katheryn Bigelow has created one of the tensest hours in film as she retells the Algiers Motel Killings during the 1967 Detroit 12th Street Riot. I would hope that anyone could watch this film and walk away with a little more understanding of why people of color have a seemingly innate fear of police authority. Fifty years later and these real life events feel more relevant than ever.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best acted film of 2017

There’s good reason Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell received Golden Globe nominations for their acting in this film about horrible people trying to cope with loss and hard times in the unhealthiest of ways. Even Woody Harrelson and Caleb Landry Jones (who plays the opposite of his menacing character from Get Out) are at the top of their game. Writer-director Martin McDonagh knows how the audience expects this movie to play out and, therefore, zigs when we expect it to zag to create an unpredictable, emotional story of damaged characters.

 

Jakob Conkling is a movie critic on Now Playing Podcast. Read more of his reviews in the Now Playing Podcast book–Underrated Movies We Recommend

December 29, 2017 Posted by | Movies, Movies & Television, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts | Comments Off on Jakob’s 10 Notable Films for 2017

Soundtracks on Vinyl: The Hateful Eight

One of the draws to collect vinyl releases of movie scores and soundtracks is the large artwork for the film that accompanies it. These entries will review the vinyl record release of a film score/soundtrack from the music to the artwork, as well as the film…

The Movie

The Hateful Eight is a western about a bounty hunter played by Kurt Russell en route to deliver a wanted fugitive played by Jennifer Jason Leigh to the law when they take refuge in a log cabin during a snowstorm in Wyoming. The two are joined by six other strangers looking for sanctuary from the blizzard. But as the night proceeds, it becomes clear that some of the strangers have secretly planted themselves there to free the female criminal. A tense standoff proceeds as identities are discovered and the body count rises.

A big deal was made over the Ultra Panavision 70 ultra-widescreen format director Quentin Tarantino used to film The Hateful Eight. No small part of that hype was due to Tarantino himself doing a very limited 70mm roadshow screening of the film with extra footage.  However, the film underperformed at $55-million (U.S. box office) after his previous two films, Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, brought in over $100-million each domestically.

trifold inside

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April 29, 2016 Posted by | Movies, Music, Now Playing Podcast | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Soundtracks on Vinyl: The Hateful Eight

Soundtracks on Vinyl: You’re Next

One of the draws to collect vinyl releases of movie scores and soundtracks is the large artwork for the film that accompanies it. These entries will review the vinyl record release of a film score/soundtrack from the music to the artwork, as well as the film…

The Movie

You’re Next tells the story of a well-to-do family getting together in their home in the woods for a reunion. However, none of them seem very excited to see each other. Their ambivalence soon turns to terror and fear as a gang dawning animals masks invades the home and starts killing off members of the family. But the intruders meet resistance when one guest displays a special set of skills for fighting back.

I’m not one for slashers, but the striking posters for the film caught my attention. Each poster featured the close up of one of the intruders in a plastic animal mask (the lamb mask always stuck out to me) with You’re Next written out as painted in blood. Even the title had a simplicity that immediately expressed the mood of the film (it’s appeal similar to the title of Simon Pegg’s fake Grindhouse trailer for Don’t).

Image inside gatefold sleeve.

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February 26, 2016 Posted by | Movies, Music, Now Playing Podcast | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Soundtracks on Vinyl: You’re Next

Punk Movie Review: SLC Punk

SLC Punk Movie Poster
Dust of your steel toe boots and dye your mohawk blue, once a month I’ll be talking about a different punk movie here on the Gazette…

SLC Punk

Director:  James Merendino

Writer: James Merendino

Starring: Matthew Lillard, Michael A. Goorjian, Jason Segel, Annabeth Gish, Til Schweiger, Christopher McDonald

Studio:  Beyond Films, Blue Tulip Productions

Release Date:  April 16, 1999

This month I move from the polluted streets of Los Angeles in Repo Man to the conservatively clean landscape of Salt Lake City in SLC Punk. The opening credits are framed as homage to classic punk album covers. It could be a foreboding omen that this film just isn’t for those who stick to Top 40 hits. Yet, instead of leaving the viewer alienated, the film is giddy with wanting to explain the punk aesthetic and show what it is so beloved by those who grasp to punk rock. While the film is overstuffed with exposition about the underground subculture, it twists its quirky adventures around a relatable plot about coming to terms with youthful ideology.

Blue-haired Stevo (Lillard) has graduated college despite his best intentions to only get a 4.0 GPA in damage. His father (McDonald) wants him to attend law school at Harvard, but Stevo is determined to waste his education by partying and living an anarchist lifestyle. However, as his friends begin to move away, go homeless, and die, Stevo wonders if his anarchist lifestyle is really the best choice.

The film is a course in Punk 101 that is humorous and entertaining. Stevo guides the uninitiated. He continually breaks the fourth wall while teaching about the idiosyncrasies of the punk lifestyle like a sociologist. He provides a slide show to explain the pecking order of rednecks, punks, mods, skinheads, and so on in the middle of a brawl. Even if one doesn’t understand the rivalry between the Sex Pistols and the Ramones when it comes to the origins of punk, Stevo explains it as he walks through a mall attacking those he deems poseurs. Lillard’s performance explodes with a contagious excitement that easily draws the viewer into the lifestyle.

The biggest missed opportunity with SLC Punk is, while providing plenty of cinematography of the city, it never convincingly declares much about Salt Lake City. The geography provides prime material to explore an anti-authoritarian culture clashing against a one with a heavy reverence for religious authority through the Mormons that settled the valley. While the characters make grandiose statements about the connection of Mormon occupation and oppression, there are no real demonstrations of the punks’ plight being caused by the religious makeup of the region. The only scene that feels specific to the geography is when Stevo and friends travel to Wyoming after explaining the strict liquor laws in Utah. Without that, this could have been passed off as Boise or Omaha Punk.

Many punks may not like Stevo’s final decision about where he stands with being marginalized by society. However, it is a crisis many who dawn mohawks wrestle with at some point. Can more be done on the outside of society or inside the system to produce change? SLC Punk provides a generalization of this struggle with manic energy grabs the viewer’s attention. While punks often want to keep their scene underground and hidden from the mainstream, SLC Punk delivers an accessible view without much compromise to the experience many punks share.

Recommend

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Reviews | Comments Off on Punk Movie Review: SLC Punk

Movie Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

The Place Beyond The Pines Movie Poster

The Place Beyond The Pines

Director:  Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ray Liotta

Studio:  Hunting Lane Films

Release Date:  March 29, 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines is a multigenerational saga like the Godfather. Characters will die. Others will rise to power. Some will fall from grace. However, unlike the Godfather saga, these characters are working class. Ordinary cops and bank robbers replace the glamorized mafia and FBI stings. Despite the lack of gangster fantasies, the film provides grounded, well developed characters that make for an emotional drama.

Luke (Gosling) quits his job as a stunt motorcyclist for a traveling carnival when he discovers he has a son in one of the towns his work brings him to annually. He turns to robbing banks when he is unable to find steady work to support his child. As he is pursued by police, a brief encounter with rookie cop Avery (Cooper) will change the course of Luke’s, Avery’s, and both of their sons’ lives.

Luke may seem threatening with his body covered in crude tattoos and his love for high speed motorcycling but Gosling is convincing that his character is kinder than he appears. There is a touching moment when Luke tells the mother of his child, Romina (Mendes), that he wants to be the first to feed their son ice cream to lessen the pain of being an absent father. The hurt and despair Luke feels for not being able to provide for his son is heartbreaking and lets the viewer sympathize with the character. When Luke turns violent and resorts to robbing banks to give his son a future, the tendency is to mourn rather than to harshly condemn his decision.

The film becomes a tense police drama as Avery’s path crosses with Luke in a high speed chase after Luke robs a bank. Cooper convinces us that Avery may have the book smarts to enforce justice, but not the street smarts to stay clean of corruption. The sleazy police workings are felt immediately as Liotta, playing corrupt cop Deluca, is introduced. His reassuring words and smile only heighten his threatening presence.

The movie loses some focus as it turns to examine the sons of Avery and Luke. Their fathers are more interesting, complex characters. These sons are forced into a rote tale of peer pressure. Two-thirds of the film I was engaged in examining characters that were well rounded and storytelling filled with emotion and tension. The third act is underwhelming as tough questions stop being asked and the film becomes an after school special.

Like the Godfather trilogy, The Place Beyond The Pines is hampered by a weak final third. The first two acts are filled with sorrow and tension that grip the viewer. The story may be multigenerational, but the children are never allowed to mature like the adult characters that held the viewer’s attention for most of the running time; making this film a mild recommend.

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , | Comments Off on Movie Review: The Place Beyond The Pines

Movie Review: The Master

Repo Man Movie Poster

The Master

Director:  Paul Thomas Anderson

Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

Studio:  Annapurna Pictures

Release Date:  September 14, 2012

The Master approaches the audience as therapist to patient. The posters displayed the actors in symmetrical patterns as a Rorschach test. One repeated shot of the wake of a ship is like living inkblots; the water and foam swirls into ever-new patterns. Indeed, the film will continually leave interpretation up to the viewer and rarely provide answers. However, the frustration isn’t in its ambiguous silence, but how the Freudian monsters of the inkblots have been replaced with less inspiring images.

Freddie Quell (Phoenix) returns home from World War II as a violent, sex-obsessed alcoholic who has trouble assimilating back into society. He meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), leader of pseudo-Scientologist religion The Cause. Dodd believes he can cure Quell of his animalistic nature and befriends him as they spread Dodd’s new religion.

The acting is the high point. Phoenix is convincing as a sociopath. Quell never seems very disturbed by his own behavior, whether it is humping a sand sculpture of a nude woman or passing out drunk in the middle of a date. Hoffman captures the charisma that the most successful cult personalities embody. His voice is forceful, yet in control. He remains cool even when challenged about his doctrine.

As to why these very different characters are friends is a mystery. Dodd enjoys the bootleg liquor Quell makes from household chemicals. Perhaps those most devoted to a cause harbor the darkest desires. Maybe Dodd’s destructive loyalty to Quell in hopes of curing him is commentary on the futility of religion in changing human nature. When Dodd finally bans Quell from The Cause, he serenades him with a song. This moment raises a homosexual undertone to their friendship. Or maybe these interpretations are just the patterns I’m seeing on screen.

The film’s silence concerning its meaning allows one’s mind to veer off to numerous places. Yet, the over abundant ideas on religion, human nature, freedom, and the state of post-war America make it difficult to devote too much time thinking about any single idea. Furthermore, the problem with The Master’s devotion to ambiguity is like a dry college professor that wants to challenge the student with a number of questions but has no opinion of her own. Ultimately, the problem isn’t the lack of opinion, but in the dryness of the presentation.

While the cinematography is beautiful, many scenes drag on past the point of effectiveness to exhaustion. Dodd rides a motorcycle very fast in a very straight line for a very long time to demonstrate focusing on a goal.  Dodd is shown taking the entire journey to and from his destination as the motorcycle zooms through a brown, dreary desert landscape. Then Quell does the same, though he uses this as a chance to escape and the viewer doesn’t have to endure the return trip in the same monotonous style. One wonders if director Paul Thomas Anderson plays the scene so long as to have the audience empathize with the long suffering and frustration Dodd must feel when trying to help Quell.

The Master’s ambiguity will delight some and frustrate others. The film receives a faint not recommend because of its inability to focus its ideas and keep the viewer engaged through long, flat scenes that needed judicial editing. The film dances around the intriguing mysteries of Scientology and human nature, and yet only presents the most mundane images in the inkblots.

April 14, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , | Comments Off on Movie Review: The Master

Punk Movie Review: Repo Man

Repo Man Movie PosterDust of your steel toe boots and dye your mohawk blue, once a month I’ll be talking about a different punk movie here on the Gazette…

Repo Man

Director:  Alex Cox

Writer: Alex Cox

Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter

Studio:  Universal Pictures

Release Date:  March 2, 1984

Repo Man stars Emilio Estevez as loser punk Otto a year before he’d played the jock picking on the losers in The Breakfast Club. Otto spends his days stocking the shelves at a grocery store until he quits after being continually scolded by his boss. However, Otto finds a new job more in line with his punk ethics—stealing cars from yuppies as a repo man. He learns the life of a repo man is always intense. The film maintains the intensity with a plot that grows ever stranger; changing lanes from scathing criticism on materialism to Cold War era fears to a B-movie alien flick.

Harry Dean Stanton plays repo man Bud, who recruits Otto to the profession. He teaches Otto the Repo Code. A repo man shall never damage an automobile he repossesses. Neither commie nor Christian shall ride in their car. The rich will always be the first to default on their loans. These men living on the outskirts of society are the perfect vehicle for the film’s contemptuous humor. They are more philosophers than struggling proletariat. The comedy is in their zen-like attitude as they snort cocaine to stay awake during the early morning hours and firing bullets to scare off deadbeat car owners.

Los Angeles is the ideal backdrop for the story. It’s a city built for driving, with vast stretches of cold pale concrete highways. However, this L.A. is in shambles with abandoned roads where the few roaming the streets are able to swerve from lane to lane. The fear of Cold War nuclear holocaust takes on a sense of normality as characters casually discuss the neutron bomb and the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. If L.A. is yet to be annihilated by the bomb, the city is already conquered by a material emptiness where its residents are so weary of existence they are willing to consume jars of sustenance merely labeled as “food” and “drink.”

Meanwhile, a lobotomized scientist roams the streets of L.A. in a 1964 Chevy Malibu with the stolen bodies of four dead aliens in the trunk. A shadowy government agency puts a $20,000 bounty on the car; resulting in a clash between rival repo men and UFO enthusiasts. Miller (Walter), a repo man who refuses to drive a car, theorizes these aliens had been transporting people back in time to populate the once empty earth. Steven Spielberg had introduced an alien savior that could heal with his touch in E.T. Writer and director Alex Cox further mashes aliens and the Bible with a sci-fi creation story, though with a farcical edge. Cox’s take is a throwback to the B-movies of the 50s, hinting that modern society is more a product of the entertainment industry than traditional religion.

Repo Man is like a fast-paced riff from one of the soundtrack’s many hardcore punk songs. The social commentary must uphold a blistering intensity. As ideas on modern materialism, Los Angeles’s identity, marginalized subcultures, and science fiction B-movies all slam together, there is the threat that at any moment the film can lose its energy and fray into a giant wall of sloppy, distorted noise. Surprisingly, it doesn’t. The film maintains a steady beat of sharp-tongued criticism and brash humor until the end; making it a constant on the set list of must-see cinema.

Recommend

Repo Man will be released on DVD and Blu-ray with a new high-definition restored transfer on April 16, 2013.

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , | Comments Off on Punk Movie Review: Repo Man

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A mostly expected journey…

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Movie Poster
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis
Studio: New Line Cinema
Release Date: December 14, 2012

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows in the tradition of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is a delicious fantasy stuffed full of dwarves, wizards, trolls, goblins, and a gold-loving dragon. The CGI effectively gives life and scale to each unique race. As a prequel to LOTR, the script is bursting with backstory; showing evil slowly creeping towards Mordor for the eventual war for Middle Earth. The film is also gluttonous. Jackson gives every obscure character with a passing mention in the novel, like a brown wizard or shadowy necromancer, needlessly extended scenes in this near three-hour exercise in patience. The story is stretched thin to somehow turn this children’s book into a three-parter as a desperate Hollywood attempt to secure consistent ticket sales.

In short, audiences will feel the same about The Hobbit as they did with Jackson’s LOTR trilogy. It does nothing to address previous criticisms and gives more of what made LOTR a blockbuster franchise.

The plot sticks to that of the novel, though certain liberties are taken to conform to conventional Hollywood storytelling. Thirteen dwarves aim to take their city and gold back from the dragon Smaug. The wizard Gandalf (McKellen) recruits hobbit Bilbo (Freeman) to assist in the adventure. All the while, Bilbo must convince Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage), the dwarves’ leader, of his commitment to the journey.

Of course there isn’t a complete story provided as the plot has been split into three films. Smaug is hardly seen, much less defeated. Unexpectedly, the script does carry one of its many subplots to completion; providing a sense of closure for this first installment. Bilbo is homesick. He can return home at any point while the dwarves are outcasts and homeless. Thorin grows weary of Bilbo’s seemingly lack of loyalty. This subplot plays throughout the film until its resolution, providing purpose and heroic moments to a climax that would otherwise feel like just another battle.

The film is long but never feels unbearable. Action scenes take place at the appropriate moments to kick up the pace after scene of melodramatic debate. The battles never do capture the grandness and danger of what we’ve seen before. Even the return of Serkis’s Golem doesn’t demand the same awe. I must recognize this dismissive attitude exists because Jackson already has tackled larger foes and greater battles. However, during The Hobbit’s most exciting scenes, such as the dwarves slashing their way through the never-ending caverns of Goblin Town, the viewer is reminded how comfortable it is to spend a few hours of escape in this fantasy world.

I put off seeing the film originally once it was announced The Hobbit would be three films instead of two. I didn’t think I had the energy for anymore of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world after having read the books, watched the animated features, attended each LOTR installment on during their opening weekends, and then sitting through the extended cuts. I was wrong. For those fans sitting on the fence, like I was, you’ll find this RECOMMENDED film will enliven you with plenty of vigor for the journey.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and other formats March 19, 2013.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , | Comments Off on Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the alright, but there are some things that are pretty great…

Oz the Great and Powerful Movie Poster
Oz the Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire, Mitchel Kapner
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: March 8, 2013

The 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz is a visual feast. The Technicolor landscape—rich with yellow bricks, blue flying monkeys, and red ruby slippers—fascinated me as a child. Oz the Great and Powerful takes the audience back to this fantasy of saturated color pallets and dreamlike characters. The film will mesmerize children and make the discerning adults wish they could see this film through those young ones’ eyes. Its vision is bold and courageous, while lacking some heart and brains.

James Franco is the small-time circus magician Oscar, better known as Oz. To avoid the consequences of his womanizing, he flees in a hot air balloon. A tornado takes hold of the balloon and Oz awakes in a magical land. He is believed to be the prophesized wizard that will unite the Emerald City, which is under the control of three feuding witch sisters. Oz must decide if he will continue as a sham trickster or take up the mantle of the wizard to bring peace.

If Dorothy’s adventure was a journey of discovery, Oz’s is one of redemption. However, Oz never fully changes, but merely finds a way to better exploit his cons. Franco is able to convince the audience of Oz as a grifter. The role doesn’t fall far from the actor’s laid back reputation. Glinda the Good Witch (Williams) will eventually declare Oz to be a good man, but that remains in question. If her sisters, Theodora (Kunis) and Evanora (Weisz), had stayed attractive instead of turning hideously ugly, would Oz be so steadfastly in love with just Glinda? Franco’s constant smirk always gives suspicion to his intents, even at the end when he should be trustworthy.

Part of the problem is in the nature of a prequel. We know Oz is still a bumbling conman when Dorothy eventually arrives. True character development is hindered by needing to sync up with the original. This is a barrier for those in the know to truly invest themselves in the title character. However, there are plenty of set-ups to satisfy long time fans of Oz, though not everything is revealed. Despite not caring much for the future wizard, I did find myself caught up in the film’s backdrop and wondering how certain things will play out to bridge this story to Dorothy’s adventure.

Thankfully, the film finds reasons to focus on non-established characters. There is a town made of china smashed to bits by flying baboons. Here is where the most entertaining character is introduced, a living china doll. She brings sadness, spunk, and laughs. While cute, there is also a creepiness to her fractured skin and stiff movements.

The feuding witches are given a new dimension by fleshing out Evanora, who Dorothy will eventually land a house on. The most interesting of the three sisters, her story carries a tragedy similar to Victor Frankenstein. The audience is told she is wicked, but there is a sadness to her as she comes to terms with the monster she creates; making her a sympathetic villain.

I’m still not convinced there is anything great, powerful, or wonderful about this Oz character, but this land is worth revisiting for its other inhabitants and landscapes. This new vision is twisted like Alice’s Wonderland. The scenery continually spirals from sparkling flowers made of gems to rivers filled with translucent fairies bearing piranha-like jaws. The audience knows what levers are being pulled behind the green screen, but this mildly recommendable movie still manages to create some impressive illusions.

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | | Comments Off on Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful