“Oz the Great and Powerful”: Sam Raimi (the “Spider-Man” trilogy) directs a big budget prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” which follows how somewhat sleazy illusionist Oscar Diggs (James Franco) came to the magic land of Oz and found his place there. Though drawing its narrative from the works L. Frank Baum, the film bears more than a passing similarity to Tim Burton’s billion dollar grossing “Alice in Wonderland.” That is to say it looks a Campbellian hero’s quest about a character who finds that he has a very special destiny to save a war torn kingdom. As opposed to Bryan Singer’s recent fantasy epic, “Jack the Giant Slayer”, Raimi’s film has a much great chance of success because Raimi is an accomplished visual stylist. “Oz” looks more like Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” reimaging, where a director with proven capabilities of a creating world with the depth and scope to capture an audience’s imagination. This is no guarantee that the film will be good but it stands to reason that it’ll be paced properly and won’t fill the screen with context free battles between differently colored pixels.
These CG extravaganzas are always live and die by their ability to connect emotional and for all of its faults; Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was never short on emotion. Raimi understood that quality actors are needed to ground the fantastic and Franco is a strong choice. He did well in a similar role with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and despite his increasing ludicrous public persona, Franco is one of the best leading men of his generation. And his supporting cast, composed of Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis as the witches of Oz, two of whom will surely become evil by the time the third act begins are all excellent performers that are known for making the most out of their underwritten female characters. By all indications, “Oz” should be fun, visually sumptuous popcorn movie and after the doldrums of the January/February release schedule, it couldn’t be more welcome. Also starring the Zach Braff, Joey King, and Abigail Spencer.
Fun fact: Blake Lively was offered Michelle Williams role but chose to join Oliver Stone’s “Savages.” That was mistake.
“Dead Man Down”: Niels Arden Oplev (the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) directs this vengeance filled thriller about gangster (Colin Farrell) who meticulously works to bring down a ruthless kingpin (Terrence Howard) who ruined his life while also growing closer to a mysterious woman (Noomi Rapace) who also has revenge on her mind. Despite having the plot of a Cinemax original series, the film does have some potential. Oplev’s is a stylish filmmaker and the leads are all reliably entertaining. Good actors trying as hard as they can to intimidate each other off the screen between expertly choreographed gun fights is always a lot of fun to watch, it just up the Oplev to make everybody look as cool as possible during the shootouts. If the he succeeds, you get something like a Luc Besson production, If not, you get “Paycheck.” Also starring Dominic Cooper, Armand Assante, and F. Murray Arbarham.
Mario McKellop has written about film on Examiner for the last three years and can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org