The Valdosta Daily Times
“Oz the Great and Powerful” (Adventure/Fantasy 2 hours, 10 minutes)
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz
Director: Sam Raimi
Rated: PG (Violence, scary images and brief mild language)
Movie Review: Based on the works of L. Frank Baum, this is the prequel — albeit approximately 74 years later — to “The Wizard of Oz (Director Victor Fleming 1939). “Oz the Great and Powerful” resides on the nostalgia of the “The Wizard of Oz.” This is enough to make it seeable.
Kansas in 1905 serves as the initial setting for this film. Just like “Wizard of Oz,” “Oz the Great and Powerful” starts in black and white. It features James Franco as Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a circus magician and petty con artist. On the run from a muscled circus performer, Diggs is whisked away from Kansas in a hot air balloon via a tornado to the colorful Land of Oz. Shortly after his arrival, Diggs is quickly designated the Oz, a great and powerful wizard whom the people of Oz have been expecting. His life appears to have changed for the better, a grand title, plenty of respect and a large vault of gold.
His good fortune quickly changes after he meets three witches: Theodora (Kunis), Evanora (Weisz) and Glinda (Williams). As Oz, Diggs quickly becomes the center of attention as the Land of Oz is infused with a battle between good and evil. Diggs must quickly become the wizard everyone expects through sleight of hand and resourcefulness to save the people of Oz.
This fantasy is engaging entertainment for various audiences. It easily makes itself noteworthy by being as fantastical a treat as its predecessor. This aspect is due to goofy and interesting characters and grand visuals that prove to be excellent eye candy, although visuals often overshadow other parts of this movie.
Franco plays cheesy well. His Oscar Diggs is very reminiscent of shady characters of yesteryears’ films. While neither he nor this film is great and powerful, they reach a plateau of quality entertainment that propels this photoplay.
Grade: B- (Oz the entertaining.)
“Dead Man Down” (Action/Crime/Drama: 1 hour, 50 minutes)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper and Isabelle Huppert
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Rated: R (Sexuality, profanity, nudity and violence)
Movie Review: Niels Oplev (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” 2009 Swedish version) is good with movies with an edge, especially when that edge has a dark arc. “Dead Man Down” has a noir genre appeal. The characters are all twisted individuals. This includes Victor, played nicely by Farrell with a subtle intensity.
Victor is part of a syndicate underworld unit led by Alphonse (Howard, who plays devious well). A ruthless man, Alphonse has been getting strange cryptic messages from an unknown person. These messages are coming from Victor who has infiltrated Alphonse’s group for revenge. While Victor’s covert operation commences, the hitman also develops a relationship with Beatrice (Rapace), a mysterious French woman who lives in the apartment near his. Beatrice is on a revenge campaign of her own, and she needs Victor’s help.
Like any good noir screenplay, all the characters have evil intentions, although some of the characters are noble in their intent. Only one character shows any decency in this film— Beatrice’s mother, Valentine Louzon, played notably by talented French actress Huppert.
Farrell, Rapace, Howard and Cooper all have motives that are far from ethical. They are ruthless but their actions work to make this plot fascinating.
Farrell is cunning. He easily makes his characters tangible, and he makes his character’s revenge seeking easily relatable. The guy is no saint, but one can easily understand his motives.
Even under makeup that gives the appearance of scars, Rapace is sexy. She plays this role with a certain charm that works well opposite Farrell. They have an unusual chemistry, but it engages.
As this film nears its conclusion, it loses its smartness. It loiters with plot twists, which are not compelling. In addition, the ending appears abrupt, leaving loose threads. However, this film is intriguingly entertaining.
Grade: B- (Man alive, thumbs up.)