A Look at The New Oz Film and The Rest of This Week's New and Specialty Film Releases.

Oz: The Great and Powerful.
Director: Sam Raimi.
Writers: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire.
Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff.
Where's it playing? The Texas Theatre (in 35mm), Angelika Dallas (premiering as their first 3D movie) and pretty much everywhere else.

I'm going to start this review off by being an honest, forthright gentlemen and tell you that I actually kind of dug Oz: The Great and Powerful.

I know, I know.

After months of referring to the film as “a great and powerful piece of poop excreted from the anus known as Hollywood” (my exact words upon my first viewing of the debut theatrical trailer) and accusing Mr. Raimi of going “full Burton,” I must swallow my pride and say that this film was not the tornado-sized disaster I believed it would be.

That said, I should also tell you that my expectations, as you might have guessed from my colorful assumption above, were a big zero — one fatter than the “O” in the word “Oz,” itself.

But Raimi very much brings to the world of Oz his signature je ne sais quoi. It's a fun and fantastical journey that brings together elements of horror, comedy and fantasy — reminiscent of his entire body of work, really.

In fact, when you consider it, Oz: The Great and Powerful is basically Army of Darkness with flying monkeys and witches in the place of Deadites and doppelgangers. It tells the story of an unlikely hero thrown into another land, who has to unite the people and use magic to defeat evil. Truth is, you know the story already.

And yet Raimi brings the same sensibility that he did as the director of the Evil Dead franchise to this big-budget Mouse House blockbuster. He's just got more toys to play with this time around, is all.

And, boy, does he play. From the beautiful opening sequence featuring the old monochrome Kansas (aspect ratio and all) that each of us knows and loves, Raimi plays with the frame and embraces 3D as a gimmick, throwing at us everything from fire-breathing to flying doves. Soon, we're whisked away to the land of Oz in an eerie and ethereal tornado sequence — the film's strongest moment — and the frame expands to fill the scree with vivid, rich colors and grand set pieces.

At this best, Raimi is a magician of a filmmaker. Unfortunately, the film's visual effects, while stunning during certain sequences, are at other times one of the main reasons this film can at times be tough to embrace. They distract from David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner's script, which has more twists and turns and up-and-down inconsistencies than the Yellow Brick Road itself. By the script's second act, the film loses its brain, heart, and courage.

But though the dialogue is at times as stilted as the effects, Raimi has a a phenomenal cast to work with here — the graceful Michelle Williams, the tempestuous Rachel Weisz, the fiery Mila Kunis and, of course, our wizard himself, James Franco.

Franco's wizard is a character we're told (by the character himself) is “Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison all rolled into one.” Turns out, he has much more to prove than just that. And, as the lead, Franco tries his mightiest to to fit the bill of the “great and powerful” and even fraudulent man we know as Oz. He does OK with it, too. There are moments where you can't really imagine anyone else in the role and canâ��t help but love the gummy-smiled smarminess he brings to the character.

But then there are the times where his effort comes off as simply trying too hard — to the point of being so over-the-top that it misses its mark with insincerity and false charisma.

To be fair, though, half the people Franco's acting against in the film aren't even real. They''re CGI characters, not humans. Even still, Franco carries most of the film and, for the parts when he doesn't, we're lucky to have all of these great leading ladies along to float him.

With all these qualities shoved in one big magician's bag, Oz: The Great and Powerful oscillates from OK to good. And it's only powerful in the sense that it shows us what a truly wondrous director Sam Raimi can be, no matter the budget or the type of film he's making.

That's because, because, because, because of all the wonderful things he does, of course.

Just know this: If you're off to the movies this weekend and you're off to see the wizard, don't expect anything too wonderful. Just expect to have a little bit of fun.

Rating: 6 out of 10 munchkins,

Also in theaters this week…

Dead Man Down.
Director:
Niels Arden Oplev.
Writer: J.H. Wyman.
Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper.
Where's it playing? Everywhere!

From the director of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes this neo-noire thriller starring the titular girl with said dragon tattoo, Noomi Rapace. Here, she plays a disfigured woman who needs the help of a man (Colin Farrell) to take revenge on hellbent on a notorious kingpin (Terrence Howard). And guess what? That same kingpin also murdered our mercenary hero's family! What a coincidence!

Emperor.
Director:
Peter Webber.
Writers: Vera Blasi, David Klass.
Cast: Matthew Fox, Colin Moy, Tommy Lee Jones.
Where's it playing? Angelika Dallas

Here, Tommy Lee Jones portrays Douglas MacArthur, the army general left in charge of the fate of Japan's Emperor Hirohito after that nation's surrender in World War II. What happens next? MacArthur tasks a young general (Matthew Fox) with investigating the alleged war crimes of the emperor during wartime, potentially tipping the scale on an already fragile and war-torn nation. As you'll see in the opening scene of the trailer, the film features a dramatic scene on a plane. And we all know what happens when Matthew Fox is on a plane. Hey, Japan's an island, isn't it?

The Gatekeepers
Director:
Dror Moreh.
Cast: Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Avi Dichter.
Where's it playing? Angelika Plano and The Magnolia.

This Oscar-nominated documentary features a series of interviews about highly classified topics with all six surviving former heads of the Israeli Shin Bet, that nation's super secretive internal security service.

Greedy Lying Bastards.
Director:
Craig Scott Rosebraugh.
Writers: Patrick Gambuti Jr., Craig Scott Rosebraugh/
Where's it playing? Angelika Dallas.

This hard-hitting doc seeks to uncover the spin doctors and the “greedy lying bastards” behind the alleged conservative-driven conspiracy that aims to trick American people into believing that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated.” Clearly, those Republican politicians have never seen Al Gore's documentary, The Day After Tomorrow.

The ABCs of Death.
Directors:
Various.
Writers: Various.
Where's it playing? Friday, March 8, and Saturday, March 9, at midnight at The Inwood.

15 writers. 26 chapters. A sick and sadistic collection of shorts from some of indie horror's top talents. Having seen The ABCs of Death for myself at Fantastic Fest last year, I can tell you that this is one you'll want to see on the big screen, and in the perfect setting of midnight at The Inwood. Just prepare yourself: This film is like learning your letters of the alphabet on Sesame Street — if all the muppets were covered in blood and were horribly offensive.

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