Release Date: 2013
Director: Sam Raimi
Why I picked this: There is nothing else good in theaters right now.
While this spiritual predecessor to the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” movie has wonderful visuals, I mostly found the plot to not be very engaging. Circus magician Oscar Diggs, or Oz, played by James Franco, finds himself whisked to the magical world that shares his name after making a getaway on a hot air balloon. He is found by witch Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, and is thought to be a wizard prophesied to defeat a Wicked Witch and become the ruler of Oz. Having no real magical powers and being a conman in nature, Oz goes along with this. Oz then befriends flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff, and a living china doll played by Joey King. Theodora, fallen to Oz’s charm, escorts Oz to Emerald City, where he meets her sister and witch Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, who sends Oz off to kill the Wicked Witch. On his journey, Oz and co. meets Glinda the Good Witch, played by Michelle Williams, who sees through Oz’s act, but still entrusts him with the duty bestowed upon him. I was not a fan of the acting in the movie; James Franco is over the top during his magic performances, but still bizarrely maintains this attitude at other times. He is shown to be deceptive and a womanizer, making the audience to have a shaky perception of him until near the end. The usually great Michelle Williams is bland as the good-natured Glinda. Her optimism is almost annoying at points. She is meant to be a love interest to Oz, but the two really have no on-screen chemistry. Kunis is bland as well, and is unconvincing when her character is meant to be emotional. She and Rachel Weisz turn to very over the top and grating performances closer to the end of the movie; I found them laughable at points. While the characters voiced by Zach Braff and Joey King aren’t very deep, they are actually quite charming sidekicks. Throughout the film, Oz wants to prove himself to be a truly “great” person, but it is sometimes hard to cheer on his ambition due to his sometimes deceptive behavior. This film is directed by Sam Raimi, and his horror movie roots are sometimes glimpsed at during this film. There are scenes that are appropriately scary, but the movie then draws back to Disney territory. Some of his signature camera movements are use, like one sequence utilizing sudden zoom-ins into a Dutch angle, but again, the movie always seems to reel back into something safe and Disneyfied. This interpretation of Oz is a visually imaginative one, and I appreciated the hybrid between practical sets and CGI, but there are sometimes where the CGI landscapes are obvious and artificial looking, leading to the actors on the foreground to look out of place. As mentioned, I didn’t find the plot to be that engaging, even falling asleep at one point. Upon revisiting the twenty or so minutes I lost, I found myself turned off by the performances of Kunis and Weisz.
It’s a visual spectacle, but most of the characters aren’t that great, and moments of visual inspiration and brilliance are sometimes ruined by the very “Disney” nature of the film.