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Entries in rachel weisz (2)

Friday
Mar082013

Oz the Great and Powerful

“The Wizard of Oz” is without question one of the most magical movies ever made. It’s so lively and warm and its imagination so grand that it has remained a cinematic staple for over seven decades. So many movies have come and gone hoping to capture even a shred of its wonder, but most have failed (there’s a reason it’s in the American Film Institute’s top 10 movies of all time). To expect them to succeed would be unreasonable when the movies in question aren’t related, but when you put out “Oz the Great and Powerful,” the officially unofficial prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” (which itself had an unofficial 1985 sequel, “Return to Oz”), it’s impossible to not expect something special. Director Sam Raimi has done his best bringing this world to life, but his best proves to be futile. Despite some wondrous moments, “Oz the Great and Powerful” feels a tad dull.

The story begins in Kansas in 1905 with a traveling circus magician named Oscar, or Oz for short (James Franco). He’s a blatant womanizer, which gets him into trouble with the circus strong man. In a desperate attempt to flee, Oz jumps in a hot air balloon and takes off. Unfortunately, it’s right towards a tornado. After some close calls, he finds himself in a colorful place the likes he’s never seen. There he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) who explains that he’s in the land of Oz and is the wizard that was prophesied to appear and defeat the Wicked Witch. The people of Oz think he has magical powers, though he knows they’re only tricks, but he plays along anyway after being told that if he defeats the witch, he’ll become king and own all the gold in the land.

The first thing a discerning viewer will notice is that “Oz the Great and Powerful” is far more playful than the trailers let on. This is both a strength and a detriment to the film, a strength because the world of Oz is a charming place and should have a charming tone, but a detriment because when the film does go dark, it doesn’t gel well. The two parts separated from each other are greater than when combined into a whole, which leads to tonal problems and a sense that Raimi didn’t really know what direction he wanted to take his movie in, which has always been his primary flaw as a director (albeit a small one in a streak of mostly solid work). The finale to the film is terrific and brings its themes full circle, but the way those themes are handled in such stark contrast to each other in the two halves make something that is wildly uneven.

What could have saved the film, despite a narrative that doesn’t form a cohesive whole, is its visuals. Wow the viewer with something to gawk at and you can effectively obscure a narrative that isn’t all that interesting. Unfortunately, “Oz the Great and Powerful” feels like an odd amalgamation of live action and a half-finished video game. Take, for example, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which nailed its look, regardless of what one might think of the film’s overall quality. It reached into the far corners of the imagination and created something that was visually mesmerizing. “Oz the Great and Powerful,” on the other hand, is half baked, at a strange middle ground where it isn’t realistic enough for the actors to blend in convincingly and not imaginative enough to make up for it. The best CGI heavy movies create the illusion that the actors are aware of their surroundings and are interacting with them appropriately. Here’s, it’s plainly obvious they aren’t, which could be due to poor performances that didn’t take the time to hear the details, poor direction that didn’t take the time to give them the details or poor post production rending that didn’t take the time to actually create the details. Who is to blame is anybody’s guess.

Rounding out an altogether disappointing movie are some casting decisions that are so bad, they’re hard to believe they were even considered, much less decided upon. If I were to reveal the most blatant, it would be considered a spoiler, but audiences across the world will undoubtedly groan when the big reveal happens, a reveal that really isn’t all that surprising to begin with. To put things into perspective, the movie isn’t all that bad, but rather the missteps are so disappointing that it’s hard not to focus on them. The film is actually kind of charming and funny and the transition from a black and white 1.37:1 aspect ratio to a brightly colored 2.39:1 is breathtaking (though it doesn’t hold a candle to the infamous transition from sepia to Technicolor in “The Wizard of Oz”), but it’s missing that magic that was so prevalent in the original film. It simply needed something more and was missing nearly all of it.

Oz the Great and Powerful receives 2/5

Friday
Aug102012

The Bourne Legacy

Movies are a business. It’s as simple as that. Most movies that make money are going to get at least one sequel, regardless of whether or not the story warrants one. Rarely, however, does a movie feel as much as a cash grab as The Bourne Legacy. The Matt Damon starring Bourne movies had their fair share of problems, but none were as cumbersome as this. The Bourne Legacy isn’t as fun, interesting or exciting as the original trilogy and it coasts by on name alone. Separate this movie from the franchise as a whole and it becomes an instantly forgettable and banal thriller.

The protagonist this time is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a genetically engineered black ops agent similar to Jason Bourne. Due to Bourne’s events in the previous movies, the government has cancelled its black ops programs and has decided to dispose of all their field agents, a task assigned to Retired Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton). However, Aaron escapes and eventually meets up with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist who worked on the program who is also in the government’s crosshairs. Together they set out to expose the government’s crimes.

The story isn’t complicated—it’s actually fairly straight forward—but The Bourne Legacy (and indeed, the previous films) needlessly convolutes it with too little explanation and too many location jumps. The movie starts at a training site in Alaska before jetting to Reston, VA, Washington DC, London, New York City, Chicago, Korea, Pakistan, Thailand and back again. While some jumps are necessary, others are not, existing only to show agents in other parts of the world as they are taken out one by one. Such obvious inclusions are unnecessary. We know what’s happening, why show it? The film includes many moments like these that do nothing but muddle up the picture and take away from the story at hand.

It’s moments like these that truly prevent The Bourne Legacy from finding a rhythm. Pakistan, Korea and many other locales in the film are visited as if their inclusion will be setting up important future scenes, but they never do. This tedious globetrotting is broken up by nothing more than random scenes of violence that are interspersed throughout. Like the original trilogy, this movie suffers from excessive close ups and nauseating shaky cam. Although there is some fluid camerawork, including one impressive sequence when, in a matter of seconds, Cross scales a house and jumps through a window to meet an intruder at the top of the stairs, much of it is too hectic to keep up with. The camera moves so gratuitously at times that it often feels like you’re watching an overproduced Tony Scott film. Cross may make for a good protagonist, but he’s not fleshed out enough for us to care and the clunky action doesn’t make up for it.

Renner is a capable actor, so this movie’s failures certainly isn’t his fault. It just appears that the Bourne series has lost its luster. Those not already over the franchise most likely will be after witnessing one of the most unsatisfying endings to grace the big screen this year. Just as the film finally begins to gain the momentum it so desperately needs, it ends. The ending isn’t quite a “non-ending” like January’s The Devil Inside, but it’s just as abrupt and inconclusive, no doubt due to the studio’s desire to continue the franchise. It leaves many doors open, but you likely won’t care.

The Bourne Legacy refers to the franchise’s hunted down black ops agents with the tagline, “There was never just one,” which may be true within the world the previous films created, but their stories are largely the same. We’ve seen this before and it was more interesting the first three times.

The Bourne Legacy receives 1.5/5