Category Archives: james franco

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful ~ Let’s see, what the rules again? Wait an hour after eating before swimming. Don’t get involved in a land war in Asia. You can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor. Don’t pull on Superman’s cape. And never make sequels (or prequels) to beloved classic films.

I saw this movie weeks ago, weeks and weeks ago. I am still conflicted over whether I liked it or not. It was the second film I saw at the new Marlton 8 theater so the accommodations were fantastic, I couldn’t have been more comfortable had I been in my own home. But why did I have, still have such a problem with it?

Oz is a beautiful film. It takes full advantage of CGI and the 3D effects available to the cutting edge of that technology. Here, we have an Oz that both boggles the mind, but brings L. Frank Baum’s imagination to life. It is fantastic, and gorgeous. Props to director Sam Raimi for bringing the unimaginable to our eyes.

The casting, especially that of James Franco and Mila Kunis, while problematic, is fitting. Franco is smarmy, and perpetually playing (or maybe living) the part he played in “Freaks and Geeks.” He is a stoner, and even here, as the eventual wizard of Oz, if he took a second to take a toke, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye. This time, it works for the part, because his character is a slimy sort, not to say stoners are slimy, but Franco’s is. Bottom line, he’s believable.

Kunis, in my mind, has never grown from her role in “That ’70s Show.” Oh, she’s been good in stuff, and been quite believable, but like Keanu Reeves saying “Whoa,” she is always a second away from breaking character and waiting for the canned laughter after a sitcom punchline. I just can’t shake it. Here, she completely fits as pre- and post-Wicked Witch of the West, and is awesome in her passive-aggressive power hungry and clingy psycho ex-girlfriend role. Zach Braff, a traditionally sitcom actor on the other hand is equally awesome as the comedy relief flying monkey, a true highlight of the film.

Sounds like I liked the flick, doesn’t it? The problem comes with its prequel status. It tries so hard to emulate MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz. All of the cues are there, except for the music of course. It begins in black and white and goes to color after the twister. There are numerous winks and nods to the original film. And every time it happens, I got a strong “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” vibe.

Remember the Rankin/Bass Christmas special “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”? Fred Astaire plays a mailman telling a group of children the secret origins of ol’ Kris Kringle. Every time he hits a prime power point of his origin, one of the kids says, “That’s why he comes on Christmas Eve” or “That’s where the flying reindeer came from.” That what happens in Oz, and every time we see the hints to the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the glowing head illusion, etc. it pulls us out of the story.

If it wasn’t for those little nudge-nudge-wink-wink moments, this would be a great flick, as great as the underrated sequel, Return to Oz of a few years back. And that’s why I’m so conflicted. I liked it, but then again, I didn’t. It’s still in theaters, so definitely give it a viewing for yourself, and see what you think.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes ~ As a kid growing up in the 1970s, Planet of the Apes was very important to me, and probably to most kids of my generation. I remember asking to stay up to watch the movies on CBS, and their creaky continuity. I remember the lame TV show. I remember the girl across the street who got the Mego PotA treehouse for a gift. It’s instilled in my childhood, like the “Brady Bunch,” Marathon bars, and the “Six Million Dollar Man,” PotA was the 1970s.

All that said, you can imagine my disappointment with the Tim Burton remake, and especially that effed up ending swiped from a bad Kevin Smith comic book. When I heard they were making a prequel to it, my heart sank. A prequel to a bad movie is never a good idea, and besides, let’s get real, the original prequels to PotA weren’t that great either.

In truth, prequels rarely work, especially when we already know the story. Viewers might just give a pass to a prequel because it’s not going to tell them anything they didn’t already know. I already know the origins of Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, you don’t need to tell me again. In most cases they aren’t even needed, and sometimes even hurt the property. Case in point – Star Wars.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes surprised me though. It hooked me first with an intriguing trailer before throwing the title at me. I wanted to see it before I even knew it was PotA. Finally, I’ve got hold of it on DVD. Let’s see if my instincts were right.

From the start, there are homages , both verbal and visual, to the original series of movies. Much like the preview, the movie itself grabbed me right away. James Franco, in less than annoying mode, is a geneticist searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s, testing on apes, and inadvertently succeeds with a chimp named Caesar that he raises himself. John Lithgow gives a wonderful performance as Franco’s afflicted father as well. Andy Serkis does his usual as does Tom (Draco Malfoy) Felton, so much for typecasting.

If you know the mythos, you can connect the dots, but there is still a strong emotional story here, not just a this-is-how-we-got-here vibe. The CGI effects make for the needed realism of the tale. While the ape masks and make-up of the original PotA were state of the art for the time, sadly now, they are just, well, ape masks and make-up. These apes look real and emote real, it’s very stunning. In fact it’s a tribute to the power of CGI done well that the scenes of Caesar and other apes are so hypnotic.

I really dug this flick. When all hell really breaks loose, and the apes begin their ‘rise,’ I was ten years old again. Yeah, it’s that good.

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