Tuesday, 12 March 2013

#ESPspotlight Review: 'Oz: The Great And Powerful' (Movie)

When I first looked at the 2013 film release calendar back in November and learned there was to be a prequel to The Wizard Of Oz; I gave serious contemplation to camping outside my local Vue like a crazy person waiting on iPhone 12. Then the snow thing happened and well, I figured I'd wait indoors with heating and wi-fi the way sanity and good sense intended.

Now I have to say, that I purposely avoided every review possible in the lead up to the release. I read nothing about it, because knowing that I was going to write about it from the moment I heard of it, I wanted to approach this review purely from the mind of one who grew up on the film legacy, and was now being offered a new layer to the history because personally, I think that's where most going to see it will be coming from; therefore as always, I want to tell you what you really want to know. Unfortunately, one unwittingly caught me Friday morning, when I heard Simon Bates of Smooth FM fame warn the masses to categorically avoid it at all costs, mainly because of the CGI and overall because it has no heart...Hmmm. That did not bode well, but I would not be deterred.

"We all  have a little Wicked within us"...isn't that what Evanora says?!
Friday gone, Yours Truly transported herself to the Emerald City (firmly ensconced herself at the BFI IMAX in Waterloo) for their first showing of the 3D version; decked out in my black and green best, in my Wicked Evanora tribute (I would have gone Glinda but unless Her Goodness would have been willing to part with that wand for the cleaning process, I was not about to risk my whitery in the hideous London downpours that make London drivers so splash happy). I don't know if it's a 'generation gap' type thing, but I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to see this in all it's 3D glory - forget that Star Wars crap (stone me if you wish, but I do NOT get the fascination) - this is the ultimate fantasy film! I would have even paid extra for the spectacles had they not come with the ticket! I even sat front row for that mutha - bad idea, it backfired bigtime - the migraine it caused is still here, grinding an axe on my brain like an evil witch cast a spell or something...

Now in the spirit of full disclosure I will admit upfront that I am entirely and unconscionably biased when it comes to all things concerning the The Wizard of Oz, and I make no apologies for it. I'm a tough crowd at the best of times, but when it comes to my childhood iconic moments? Well it's just as well they brought Ms. Carey in on the Soundtrack to help sweeten the pot (dirty trick...but I applaud it)...

I was smiling early on Director Sam Raimi's overlapping elements of the original story with the modern day 'next step'; starting out in black & white, Michelle Williams' very Dorothy-esque gingham ensem, for which I will be forever emerald green envious at the sheer coolness of...

I think the CGI worked really well, although I was surprised to see it used so early on. The character overlaps were also done well with Williams' set up as a central character, along with Zach Braff being alluded to as a "trained monkey". Both carried that same element as the Kansas-portion of the original, so we know who we're looking at and hearing as the storyline and James Franco's Oscar portrayal develops (character, not award. I don't see that in my crystal ball for you, my not so great and powerful friend).

A bit longer than I would have liked, I was anxious for that balloon scene to get underway and boy did it not disappoint...it took all my willpower not to leap out my seat for fear my rear was about to be impaled by some sharp and angry looking wicker spears. Brilliant! Again, Franco waking up in colour was another respectful nod to the classic but - I have to say that this was one of the moments that I was looking forward to the most, but equally concerned about. For me, this was a perfect example of where film history could be touched by literal magic and sent into a new stratosphere. Waking up in Oz, the ultimate alternate universe full of colour and wonderment, I was hoping with all my might that it would be done justice - and I wasn't disappointed.

Mila Kunis with James Franco, at her Theodora best...
The moment when Mila Kunis stepped out from behind the fauna and looked out from beneath that decadent red velvet, Victorian hat was a showstopper for me. Playing up her beauty to the fullest for the Good Witch half of her dual role; it reminded me of my favourite scene in Titanic when Kate Winslet steps out of the car at the beginning in that gorgeous dress and looks out from under hers.

Both scenes milk the beauty and splendour of each in their DeMille style close ups until their respective cows come home; both had the same breathtaking impact. Unfortunately for Mila though, bar her Theodora stint, this is about as good as she gets in her role, and that was my biggest disappointment of the whole film. Apart from the singing - Where was the SINGING??? That right there was a strike against the entire production, because that ONE munchkin ditty did not cut it Mr Raimi - No Sir, it did not.

Mila, Mila, Mila....*sigh*. Here's the thing - I love Mila Kunis. I do. I truly adore her rawness and that 'bad girl bubbling under the surface' thing that seems to be her natural personality, that somehow translates into every character she plays. Every character that is, except this one. I'm sorry, but the gorgeous Theodora moments aside, I hated it. I even hated her Wicked Witch costume. And please don't get me started on the prosthetics. That, was not, on par with the classic. For me, I saw Will Smith in Hitch, after the shellfish moment, with some green body paint or a little nausea from the reaction - take your pick. Either way, that was an allergy! That wasn't a Wicked Witch! Mila's portrayal was just awful when you had Rachel Weisz up there, doing it the way it should have been done for both of them.

Speaking of Rachel. The only one to fully deliver exactly what I expected - this whole film is one of her finest moments. And not just because there's something about her nail art that screamed Puerto Rican Mami from the Bronx (in a good way - not like Mila's screeching that kept hurting my ears throughout). I never imagined a ghetto Rachel Weisz before, but after that seemingly tiny little detail right there, contrasted with her lofty, yet ravishing 1920s wardrobe finery, I now want to gift her some oversized gold hoops, tight denim, bubble gum and have her be my home girl for life

Returning with a flourish, I have to say that Michelle Williams' Glinda was the biggest (good) shocker of the film. Understand that I still to this day, and will forever hold a grudge against her for breaking up Joey and Dawson - don't ever expect me to let it go, I'm not good with that - my blacklist is for life. And, as someone remarked to me post-film; of all the Creek characters, she was so not the one anyone held high hopes for! But bar one issue that I will shortly come to - my word does she do a Good Witch justice! Costume-wise, I only really cared for her last gown (battle scene onwards), but she was believable all the way through and - steady yourself for another shocker - the only one to not only do the original character justice, but successfully bring a new, relatable layer to the modern day character. Her best scene had to be where she called Oscar Diggs like she saw him - her Brenda Lee Johnson-esque (Kyra Sedgewick, The Closerscathing summation with a smile made his ego go *poof*, up in smoke - no wand required. Atta Girl.

James Franco as Oscar Diggs left, well...
everything, to the imagination
For me, James Franco's only good moment was the epic battle scene, where he really went to town and for the first time, embodied the 'Great And Powerful' title to his fullest extent. Admittedly that was with the help of the CGI extension, but hey, let the man have a redeeming moment where he can find one here, because I sadly don't have much more for him than that. Although he did do worthless cad extremely well...I'm quite looking forward to seeing him in the role of Hugh Hefner, which I believe he will portray exceptionally well...but that's where I'm going to leave that one.

If there's one thing I love as much, if not more than a good Disney moment, it's a good 'Girl Smackdown' the way nature and the rest of womankind intended. Being that this is Disney after all, it was Witch slaps and grabbing at pretty girl accessories (weave tracks of course remain untouched), but still - seeing Weisz and Williams' throw down and take it to the streets Witch style was stellar - another favourite scene greatly enhanced by the CGI, but that also confused me. How could the prosthetics team get it so wrong with Mila, but dead (no pun intended) on in Rachel's final scene? Baffling.

Overall, once I took some niggling issues out of the equation and stuck a pin in them long enough to take in the moment, I did love the film. The great things about it overshadowed (most of) the bad. Once you take those pins out though, those issues cannot go without mention. I've already touched on my great Mila disappointment, and the lack of singing dampener - The Wizard of Oz is after all, one of the best musicals of all time (please don't attempt to debate that with me, it'll get Ghetto Girl dirty - I'm South-East born and raised, y'know). There are two other things that irked me though, and I would really be interested to hear if I'm the only one.

First of all. Glinda is a Good Witch. I consider her virginal and innocent. I do not want to see her liplocking anyone behind a curtain, on the yellow brick road, in the Poppy Fields, or anywhere else; because then I'm going to wonder what else that led to, and the last thing I want to be considering is what kind of contraception they have Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Second. For the Love of All That is Holy - someone please tell me they spent 95% of this film, checking every chica for some Ruby Slippers? After all the central characters were introduced and still nothing, I even started checking for some Louboutin red bottoms - I would have settled for that! By the time those credits rolled, I sat there, clicked my heels three times and wished a Macys outlet would be the first house to land by the sequel Rachel Weisz 'let slip' about, so one of these Witches can find their way to a shoe sale...

Oz The Great And Powerful is in all major theatres now. There's no place like it.

Today's 'Lost In Music' competition is of course, tied to today's review - click here to win yourself an #ESPspotlight Review just like the one that you are currently reading, by answering one easy question!

Read me next time! ES ;)