Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Great and Poweful Oz AND Jack the Giant Slayer

While not a remake, The Great and Powerful Oz is a prequel to the venerated classic, which has endured to become a part of the American DNA.  Kids born 70 years after its release know it as well as their grandparents.  A modern take on characters from the original film, naturally, leads to hope and trepidation.  It could be transcendent and it could be awful.

Disney, by unleashing a greasy, sleazy, yet also wooden James Franco in the title role, does its best to defile our collective memory of the Wizard of Oz.  "Get over it," you might say, "people whined about the Transformer movies ruining their childhood memories."  But the Transformers were disposable to begin with.  The TV cartoon was an advertisement for plastic toys.  The Transformer movies are consumer culture, jerking itself off.   The Wizard of Oz is sacred.

Rat-brained Disney executives must have thought, "what the Wizard of Oz really needed was sex."  So they conceived of the Oz character as a seducer.  After a beautiful animated opening credit sequence, the movie begins in black and white with James Franco as a magician in a traveling circus stopped in the middle of Kansas, of course.  He has a clueless new stage assistant and he is trying to get into her pants.   Before he can manage that, the circus strongman discovers James Franco has been screwing his wife.  The strongman gives chase, threatening to kill him, and James Franco jumps into a hot air balloon to escape.  The twister shows up and sucks the balloon into Oz where he lands in its magical wilderness.

The first person he meets is Mila Kunis, a foxy but naive witch who, for some reason, is out wandering around Oz's boondocks.  James Franco turns on the charm and next thing you know he's got his tongue down her throat.  She takes him to the emerald city where he meets Mila's sister, another of the witches.  They, too, hook up.  Mila finds out, gets mad, and turns into the famous green wicked witch, but with cleavage.  Prominent green cleavage.  They chase him off and he meets the good witch, but they don't hook up until after the happy ending.

OK, it's all pretty tame, really.  But you know what the Wizard of Oz didn't have an ounce of?  Sexual tension.  It isn't that kind of movie.  The Great and Powerful Oz has sexual tension, and it shouldn't, however slight the amount.  They've been inserting sexuality into kid movies for a while now.  Chipmunks on a stripper pole.  A prostitution joke in Cat in the Hat.  God knows what's in the Smurf movies.  Parents either don't mind, or don't notice.  It's a diseased practice by cynical executives to broaden the appeal of these movies, so "parents can enjoy them as well as the kids."  You know how to appeal to both audiences?  Make a smart and fun movie.  This one at least doesn't have such a  grotesque sensibility to put a stripper pole joke in there, but you know some producer demanded Mila's tits be on display.

When I said James Franco was wooden, I mean he comes off like a kid in a middle school production.  At least Rachel W. commits to her silly part, teeth gnashing an' all.  Jimbo smirks through the whole thing like it's beneath him, but I bet that fat paycheck wasn't beneath him.  You sold your soul, dude, chew some fucking scenery for us.  Michelle Williams as the good witch is another mis-casting, and she seems not to know what to do with the part.  Maybe she's so used to appearing in those emotionally shattering dramas that she experienced cognitive dissonance working on this flick.  Mila isn't an actress so much as eye candy, always playing herself in her movies, which is fine.  In a different movie, I'd love to see her painted green, busting out of her dress.

The effects are fine, blah blah, but after a while I stopped giving a shit, the movie was so bad.  I would'a walked out but was with my buddy Dave, and he got up to take a leak during the climactic scene, which should tell you how invested we were in the whole thing.

I hope they shoved a ton of money up the director Sam Raimi's ass, because this is easily the worst thing he's done.  And Spider Man 3 was pretty bad.

So I thought, "this is the worst movie I've seen this year."  That is, until I saw Jack the Giant Slayer.

When mentioning to folks I saw this one and didn't like it, the general response was, "wait, you didn't know it was gonna be a piece of shit?"  Not quite.   I love some big time special effects and read a little about this one that suggested they might push it into the guilty pleasure category, like Dante's Peak, the Matrix sequels, and the immortal Twister.  Director Bryan Singer has done some decent stuff.  Ewen MacGregor, Eddie Marsan, and the evil dude from Deadwood are in it.  It could be ok, right?

It wasn't ok.

A Good Looking Boy plays Jack, who is deemed by his cranky uncle to be stupid and forgetful, but who is in fact not stupid enough to be entertaining.  He is merely a valiant soul at the mercy of unfortunate circumstances.  He is sent away to sell the fambly cow, but gets these beans---well you know the story.  There's a princess, some good guys, a magical giant-controlling crown that is coveted by the bad guy, annoyingly portrayed by a buck toothed Stanley Tucci.  I like Stanley well enough, but a villain has got to be watchable.  It is unpleasant to have a guy so bereft of charisma you develop a burning need to watch them die.  Darth Vader was evil, but he was also seriously cool.  Know what I mean?  I digress.

Oh, and there are a bunch of giants.  A bunch of gross giants.  The movie revels in their disgusting anatomies.  The camera veers often into their mouths, showing in loving detail their rotting teeth and tongues and uvulas.  It caresses their hairy, warty faces and limbs.  The movie's sound designers, I imagine, wouldn't have been satisfied were there not a giant fart or two to further gross us out.  This is what pushed the movie past Oz in the worst of the year sweepstakes. 

Forget the moronic script and its characterless protagonist and smarmy, wussy villain.  Forget that it tries to have its cake and eat it too by employing light whimsy next to near-Braveheart levels of battle violence and death--they get away with it by not being very explicit, but a lot of people die horribly here.  Forget the cynicism of producers who won't give a new idea the time of day, but will dump 200 million dollars into a crappy fairy tale because, uh, people have heard of it before. It's the grody to the max giants that give this one the edge.  Worst of '13 so far.  Yuck!

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Oblivion is the new Tom Cruise movie in which his character's name is Jack and in which he gets it on with not one, but two supermodel types, because he is not gay.  Also notable about the movie is his dick-and-balls shaped flying machine.

Tom plays a sort of mechanic in an apocalyptic future earth where aliens or some shit have destroyed civilization.  Humans won out in the end though, but have to live off-planet in a giant space pyramid.  This is because Earth is uninhabitable, even though Tom and his hot babes can live there without getting radiation sickness or sprouting extra heads.  He works on these big, flying, heavily-armed orbs that swoop around some giant water-sucking machines in the ocean, protecting the machines from enemies of some sort.

Tom and his hot babe partner, we are innocently informed by a voice over, undergo "mandatory memory wipes" every 6 years, so he is puzzled when a ship carrying sleeping humans crashes and the big orbs show up and start blasting them.  He manages to save one of the humans, a supermodel who, naturally, turns out to be a geologist.  This is hot babe number two, to whom Tom occasionally screams, "WHO ARE YOU?"  They get chased by some mean looking beings in black masks who are actually humans in disguise, led by Morgan Freeman.  This shit is mostly shown in the commercials, so I'm not giving much away, in case you're getting pissed off about spoilers.

Anyway, a bunch of special effects happen, then there's a big space explosion.  The movie's denouement, once considered, would lead to a very strange polygamous relationship.  I'd tell you why, but that would be spoiling.  I'll just say, I would rather have seen that movie than Oblivion.

See, Oblivion has a lot of style and little substance.  Its story is bullshit sci fi that could have been written by a kid in middle school.  I dug some of the computer effects, of course, and there were a handful of nice, quiet "cinematic" moments, but it's lightweight stuff pretending to be heavy.  This ain't 2001, or even 2010.  Well, maybe 2010.

Ah, no it isn't.

Numerically smaller, we have 42.  This is the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black guy to play in major league baseball.  Jackie gets hired by a huffing and puffing elderly Harrison Ford, who is finally playing characters his own age after years onscreen romancing women 30 years younger.  Harrison's character is the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He realizes there's a lot of money to be made from black people, who are either too intimidated to come to games by all the white assholes, or who just don't give a shit because there are no blacks playing.  I'm not sure why they weren't coming.  Anyway, he chooses Jackie for this experiment which leads to the inevitable threats of violence, racial epithet hurling by team members, opposing team members, coaches, trainers, cops, and both adult and child baseball fans.

Robinson is played by an actor named Chadwick Boseman.  Chadwick, for god's sake.  He's cool headed, good lookin' and smoldering, and has a devoted wife, with whom there are many, many scenes with exchanges that might read something like this in the screenplay:

       Jackie:  I love you.
       Wife:  Baby I believe in you.
       Jackie:  I couldn't do it without you baby.
       (they fuck)

Chadwick is charismatic enough, but I think it's a pretty muted performance.  It has little humor.  He's "resolved," persevering through outrage, humiliation and physical abuse, but the only other part of him we see is in the interminable scenes with the wife.  He's a devoted husband, we get it, but there is more to a person than that.  If you're making a biopic, show us a human being.

This is an extremely limited take on both a historical figure and the larger issue of racism and the introduction of blacks into baseball.  SPOILER  The movie focuses solely on Jackie's first year in the pros.  You see a bunch of drama, he hits a home run and runs in slo-mo around the bases while triumphant music plays, and that's it.  It's a wasted opportunity.  A more interesting flick would have shown his first season, with the persecution and suffering, then followed the rest of his career while showing how bringing in more black players affected the game and also the culture as a whole.  This movie doesn't even tell you if Jackie is alive or dead now.  It wants us to admire its hero because...he's a HERO god damn it!

Another thing that bugged me about this flick is its lack of serious profanity.  There is a panoply of racial slurs, naturally, but nary another cuss word.  When you have heavy duty stuff going on, especially dealing with SPORTS figures, there should be a symphony of foul language because that's how they will talk.  Yes, I understand it's because the kids have to be able to see it.

Too bad Oliver Stone wasn't hired to make this movie.  It could have been a scorcher.