Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Oz: The Kind-of-Great and Not-Very Powerful

So since it is night time and I have made the fatal mistake of treating my caffeine-sensitive body to a cappuccino*, I'm going to burn some of this energy off by indulging you all with the fascinating review of my most recent cinematic adventure seeing Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Let me preface this review with the fact that unlike most other cinephiles, I have never been particularly attracted to The Wizard of Oz. Great movie? Sure. Do I see anything markably awesome about it? Ehhhh...not really. 1939 was a magical year for cinema and had I been around at the time to hear the Oscars on the radio I'm almost certain that I would have voted for Gone With the Wind over The Wizard of Oz. That being said (and hopefully I haven't lost half of my followers by admitting this outright), I'm going to proceed with how my lukewarm opinions about the original film affected my thoughts about the prequel.

The story begins with a fair in 1905. Oscar, Oz for short (played by James Franco), is a magician and has developed a career based on illusion. Tricking his audience is how he makes his living and isn't bad at using it to pick up chicks either. Actually, this is what seems to get him into trouble. After getting chased by someone who appears to be a strong man, Oz escapes by jumping into a hot air balloon and (he is apparently not the brightest) cutting the tether right in the middle of a tornado. Oops!

"Hmm...really did not think that one through..."

After fainting (or floating into the clouds...I forget what the transition was there...), Oz finds himself in a land called by his own name. He is met immediately by the beautiful and timid Theodora, who is amazed and joyous at finding the prophetic "wizard." Seeing an opportunity to whisk a young lady off her feet, Oz plays along with the notion that he is indeed the wizard of Oz (see what I did there?). Wooing her with the same tired tricks that he won ladies back home with, Oz unintentionally tricks the young Theodora into falling in love with him. After reaching The Emerald City and meeting Theodora's suspicious-looking sister, he is armed with the task of proving himself as wizard by destroying The Wicked Witch (who ends up being Glinda, the good witch). Of course, after figuring out who is the real wicked witch, he decides to side with Glinda. Forgetting about the naive Theodora, he teams up with Glinda to lead her people into battle, a decision which sets into motion a string of events that lead up to the original film, The Wizard of Oz.

So...the exposition is a little complex in this movie and I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that those of you who thought that this film would be based more along the lines of the infamous musical Wicked are going to be in for a little disorientation.

Warning: the following contains semi-spoilers depending on how much you want to know. Scroll down until the green lettering if you want to skip this bit and get on with my full review.

The movie is based on the first book in the original book series by L. Frank Baum and is actually kind of sad. Instead of Elfeba (or however the hell you spell that name), who (if memory serves me) is markedly green throughout her entire life, Theodora takes on the appearance after being jilted by Jackass McGee Oz. Losing faith that he is the real wizard and looking for an escape from her pain, she enlists her sister, Evanora, to help her. Evanora, of course, is the real Wicked Witch and makes the horrible mistake of underestimating Theodora's dark side. What ends up happening is that Theodora, once hopeful and searching for peace, is turned into a green, hook-nosed monstrosity of downright rage. Kind of a sad metaphor for anyone who has ever been seriously let down.

Fortunately, most people do not have to deal with
the physically green result of having a horrible soul.


Unfortunately, at least from my own view, this movie is left to deal with the Oz-fanatics of the pre-special-effects, pre-complex-movie era and it sort of limits how far they can go with certain things. The notorious Witch of the West character, for example, had to be kept green with a hooked nose and pointy chin. This kind of makes sense at the end, but I feel like in our day and age, someone deceivingly beautiful is far more terrifying (and easier to look at) than the almost comical frump that ends up on screen. And it's not like they don't try to sexy her up a little. Instead of the loose, shapeless black dress, she wears leather leggings and a corset top. However, that trademark cackle doesn't really seem to fit this Wicked Witch, and thus her character seems a little...off.

Right? She just seems stuck between sexy and hideous 
and it makes me very confused.

All in all, I kind of had the same problems with everything else. The movie, which could've done some amazing things with the original book, is kind of limited in trying to mollify the original Wizard of Oz movie fans. Laden with references to the original film (the flying monkey almost gets eaten by a lion, they use a bunch of scarecrows at one point, Oz's high school sweetheart is named Emmie, etc.), the movie seems unsure of how to proceed without making use of its cult following. The result seems to be that they don't create anything incredibly creative (which is a serious bummer considering how much you could play with the literary world of Oz). It kind of ends up being a little obsolete, with overly simplified characters and a plot that seems to drag a little.

The one thing that I did enjoy about the movie was how much they play with special effects. Much like Avatar and movies since that have dealt with vibrant other-worlds, it's a dazzling world of color and it's mesmerizing that way. The coolest thing that I saw was the character of the China Doll, who is created flawlessly.


All in all, was Oz a bad movie? No. Was I terribly impressed? Eh, not really. This may, however, be due to my ambivalence at the first movie though, as my boyfriend's mom is a die-hard Wizard of Oz fan and she seemed pretty pleased with having more of her favorite story being put in front of her.

All said and done, I'd give it a 6 outa 10.

*WARNGNI: This post may include some caffeine-induced, jittery-fingered typos. Enjyo!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Side Effects: An Unexpected Surprise

When I saw the preview for Side Effects, I was like "Oh great. Another politic-heavy thriller in which someone dies and there's a sex scandal and blah blah blah boooooriiiing." However, after Oscars week (which I actually watched this year, thankyouverymuch) I was feeling particularly artsy fartsy and decided to give this on a whirl. (It was between Side Effects and the decidedly less moody Hansel and Gretel, so I had to be a snob and pick the less action-y one.)

So roomie and I arrived armed with Wawa candy and a free small popcorn (loyalty cards, guys, I'm telling you!), ready to settle into a cinematic drammer. Only here's the thing: this was no simple cut-and-dry boring drama. This movie is a humongous mystery that will mess with you throughout its entirety. Here's our plot:

Martin (Charming Tatum) and Emily (Rooney Mara) are a couple in dire straits. Though they had years of luxury living, Martin has just gotten out of jail after serving four years for insider trading. Emily visited him every visitor's day and held their lives together by working at a publishing firm. As a result of her diminished income, they had to move from the lush WASPy Connecticut home that they previously owned, into a one-bedroom apartment in the city. Emily is having issues adjusting to this. Not long after she and her husband are reunited, Emily makes an attempt on her life by driving her car into a wall. At the hospital she sees a psychiatrist Dr. Banks (Jude Law) who recommends her seeing him a few times a week so he can treat her for depression.

This is what depression looks like.

Here's where it gets interesting.

Dr. Banks prescribes her a number of different medications used for treating depression, all to no avail. At the recommendation of Emily's previous psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones), she starts a pill called Ablixa. While everything seems to be working out fantastically with this new pill, a minor side effect is that Emily has stints of sleepwalking. Outweighing the risks, Emily and Martin decide to keep her on it. All seems to be going fine...until Emily stabs her husband to death while sleepwalking.

The repercussions of the court trial have an enormous effect on Dr. Banks's career. Because of this, he sinks into an obsession with the case, and little by little uncovers the mystery that surrounds Martin's death, which may be a little more complicated than it seems.

Where'd my career go?

So wow, a really incredible movie that actually surprised me. I walked in expecting a moody drama and I ended up walking out saying "Wow...wow." (And I usually hate Jude Law.) The intrigue is fascinating as the politics of using medications for depression are examined, as are the repercussions for a psychiatric doctor facing a murder trial for one of his patient's medicated actions, and the law in cases such as this. The movie is set up as a giant puzzle, which they move through bit by bit as the picture becomes more and more clear as to what really happened.

I'm a little hesitant to write any more about the plot because I think everyone should just go and see it and find out what an awesome mystery it is. It isn't heavy and dramatic like a French drama, I swear! And the payoff at the end will have you saying:

The camera work in this was really interesting as well. The bulk of the close-ups begin in a soft focus and then sharpen to hone in on the characters' facial expressions, bringing to mind the fogginess of depression and also of facts becoming clear. Also the clean, modern apartments and the modern architecture of the film give it an edge that seems to harken to movies like The Bourne Identity. Keeps it really clean. And really almost clinical, come to think of it.

8.5 outa 10. I really loved this movie; never have I been so surprised.

Also, don't be fooled by Channing Tatum being all up in the trailer. He's only in about a quarter of the movie.

Also also, if Dr. Banks's wife looks familiar, it's because she played Allison in Hocus Pocus. Yeah.