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!

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