Weekend Roundup: Oz The Great and Powerful review

It’s the last week of March already, but Spring is arriving VERY s-l-o-w-l-y here in Minnesota. By around the same time last year, we’re already in mid 60s, I think some people were wearing shorts on St. Patrick’s Day? This year, I’d be thrilled to see mid 40s by next weekend!

I did see a movie that made me feel quite Spring-y with the bright and colorful landscape filled with gorgeous colors and of course, a rainbow!

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If you’re curious whether people who have not seen the original would enjoy this prequel, well I for one can tell you that YES, absolutely you could! In a way I feel that I actually have the advantage of knowing hardly anything of the story, apart from what the wicked witch look like and knowing some of the lyrics of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. You might be amused that the only time I heard this song being played in a movie is from John Woo’s action-packed Face/Off, ahah.

My friend asked me if I wanted to see a matinee showing and I went in with tepid expectations after reading the mediocre reviews. Well, I’m glad to report that I was NOT disappointed. Far from it, it really was a wonderful 2-hour escapist entertainment!

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First of all, the opening title sequence is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s so beautiful and creative, definitely brings you right into the carnival world where Oscar works as a small time magician with dubious ethics. He soon gets into trouble, which leads him to a hot air balloon that transports him away from Kansas to the colorful Land of Oz. The movie turns from black and white to color and oh, what a feast for the eyes. I was truly mesmerized by the beauty of Oz. Sam Raimi truly turns the movie magic on with this one, I was practically ooh-aah-ing the gorgeous cinematography, special effects and spectacular landscape. Every creature is pretty amusing to look at, yes even the weird ones like the river fairies!

In this magical land is where Oscar meets the three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are all skeptical that he’s the great wizard everyone’s been waiting for. Oscar himself didn’t really want to continue deceiving them at first, that is until Evanora shows him all the gold he’d have if he becomes King. The inner struggle of choosing good over evil is something we’ve all identified with, and Oscar soon realized how high the stakes are for the people of Oz, though we’re never sure of his true motive until the very end.

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I’ve told you about the visuals, now acting-wise, I still think Johnny Depp would’ve been much better in the role of Oscar Diggs instead of James Franco, but he ends up being all right here. I know his character is supposed to be this egotistical smug, but Franco plays it far to literally that he comes across annoying instead of amusing. He has this weird, awkward grin that made me cringe, it just took me out of the movie as I wanted to smack him! I also don’t buy him as this irresistible man who could get all these stunning women to fall in love with him. Fortunately he redeemed himself as the film progresses, in fact I think he was quite good in the touching scene with the China Doll.  His fun companies on his journey on the yellow brick road certainly helps, I love Finley the flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and China Girl (voiced by Joey King) who both owed their lives to Oscar.

The real stars of the film for me are the spectacular visuals and the three female actresses. It’s inspired casting to get Kunis and Weisz as sisters as they have similar features. Both look ravishing in their costumes, especially Weisz in the sparkly, feathered black frock. One particular scenes of them together is crucial to the story and I think both actresses acquit themselves well, though I can’t speak for fans of the original on this one. In contrast, Williams projects delicate beauty as the good witch Glinda. She practically looks like a cross between Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora and Cinderella in her silky white dress and crystal tiara. People might say it’s a boring role as she’s good through and through, but Williams is so effortlessly sympathetic and she did her best with what she was given.

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I find the story to be quite absorbing and even hilarious at times. I could see how the L. Frank Baum’s cretion has become a pop-culture phenomenon, not only with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, but also the smash hit Broadway play Wicked. One of the primary keys to a great tale is memorable characters, and this movie is full of them. The wicked witch and how she became that way is certainly the main draw, but the supporting characters are entertaining as well. Finley delivers a lot of laughs, the scene of him mooing had me in stitches. Though I’ve never been into dolls, China Girl is so adorable and cute I wish I could take her home for myself!! The citizens of Oz are full of quirky bunch as well, though I had the same reaction as Oscar when the munchkins started to burst into song, ahah. Ah well, this is a Disney movie after all.

Danny Elfman‘s beautiful score definitely helps transport you into another world. I really think Raimi and co did a great job here, and perhaps the fact that I couldn’t compare it to the original gives the film an advantage. But I wonder if having seen the original would make me like this less, I don’t know if that’d be the case.

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Final Thoughts: If you want to lose yourself in a fantastical world for two hours on Sunday afternoon, you could do a lot worse. I was massively entertained and the few corny scenes (those romantic scenes between Franco & Kunis came to mind) did not derail the film for me. I didn’t see the 3D version and whilst I thought the visuals was still splendid in that format, I’d think the 3D version would’ve been worth it for this one.


4 out of 5 reels

Thoughts on this one? Anyone else love it as much as I did?

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Weekend Roundup: Wreck-It-Ralph & catching up on Downton Abbey

Happy Monday all! Well, it’s not quite Spring yet at least not weather wise, even though we’ve sprung forward one hour. That also means we lost one hour this weekend :(

Downright addicted to Downton Abbey

I’ve only managed to see one movie this weekend, as I’ve been catching up on Downton Abbey. I’ve even dedicated a post on it this weekend, there are just so much to love on that show. I could make an entire post just on Dame Maggie Smith alone (come to think of it, I just might). The acid-tongue Violet Grantham and her unabashed upper-class snobbery is just so amusing. Julian Fellowes really picked the right thespian to deliver those lines! Not only are the quotes memorable, her cantankerous expressions are to-die-for!

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The many faces of the Countess of Grantham

Here’s a clip of the Crawleys at the dinner table and the Grantham’s family’s reaction when Matthew told them he has job as a lawyer. Violet’s ‘Wh.. what is a week-end?’ sums it all, and her delivery is practically iconic!

Well, I would’ve given you a review of Oz The Great and Powerful but I had to miss the press screening last Monday because of the darn snow! Apparently it was a huge hit for Disney, making $80 million bucks at the box office this weekend. Check out my friends Adina’s review who saw it in Indonesia and Terrence’s in New Mexico to see how they like the movie. Seems that both have differing opinions about James Franco’s casting. I’d think Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp who were both offered the role of Oz would’ve been so much better! I do love the three female cast though.

Well, I ended up seeing a movie by Disney as well, Wreck-It-Ralph. Here’s my mini review, I pretty much echo what Cecilia said in her guest review last Fall.

Wreck-It-Ralph

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Doesn’t this poster remind you of Monsters Inc.?

I’ve been hearing a ton of great things about this one and sure enough, it was massively entertaining. The story reminded me a bit of Toy Story at first, but overall it’s got its own unique spin and like a lot of Pixar movies, it offer more than just fun and games, but a heartwarming story as well.

The big burly Ralph is a video game villain of Wreck-It-Ralph. Every day he longs to be loved and accepted like the game’s hero Fix-It-Felix who could fix anything that Ralph has destroyed. He thinks that by getting a big shiny medal like Felix, people would finally accept him.

Now, I’m not a gamer, I can count with one hand how many times I’ve been to an arcade, but I don’t think that lessen my enjoyment watching this movie. Surely people who played the games a lot would get an extra kick out of it, no doubt about that. Visually this movie is just brilliant and spectacular to look at. The concept itself it so imaginative that it was a wholly entertaining ride from start to finish.

The world of Sugar Rush could practically get you on a sugar high just from watching every colorful sweet stuff imaginable. Everything is just sooo darn cute in this universe. Here is where Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz who’s a loner and outcast just like him, something about her being a glitch that the King of Sugar Rush forbids her from participating in a go-kart race. Of course it’s no surprise that the two ended up forming an unlikely friendship (isn’t that the best kind?) and their journey together is fun to watch, with a few really moving moments along the way. The last third of the movie is full of action as Ralph & co. tries to stop the escaped Cybug that threatens the livelihood of the whole video game universe. Some of the scenes are pretty intense and kind of gross, I’d imagines the very young kids might be petrified by them.

WreckItRalph_VanellopeThat said, the story has a universal themes love, sacrifice and friendship that every kid and adult can identify with, and who hasn’t felt like an outcast at one point or another? Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is definitely a lovable big guy you can’t help rooting for, and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) is just too cute for words! The relationship between the smitten Felix (Jack McBrayer) and the bad-ass Hero’s Duty heroine Jean (perfectly cast Jane Lynch) is a hoot as well! The music by Henry Jackman is a highlight with all the retro soundtrack that enhances the video game experience.

Wreck-It-Ralph certainly rates as one of the most fun animated features I’ve seen. A far cry from the mediocre and forgettable Hotel Transylvania that started out promising but riddled with too much clichés. I don’t know if it will be as iconic as Toy Story but no doubt it’s a wonderful addition in the massive Disney cannon. It also has a great replay-ability value, a joyful ride the whole family can enjoy over and over again.


4 out of 5 reels


So how’s your weekend viewing looks like? Seen anything good?

10 Most-Anticipated Movies of the First Half of 2013 (Jan – June)

Ok, Day 3 of 2013 hasn’t left yet where I live, but I’m already anticipating a slew of movies coming out later this year. To make the list more manageable though, I’m breaking it down to two parts. Here’s 10 that’s scheduled to be released (except for one that’s TBD) between January to June.

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January

Zero Dark Thirty (Jan 13)

A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong


Granted I wasn’t in love with The Hurt Locker like a lot of people did, but one thing I do appreciate is Kathryn Bigelow’s skills as a filmmaker. She’s one of the best directors out there that can direct dynamic action sequences and she’s got the cojones to tackle a controversial topic. This film reunites her with The Hurt Locker‘s screenwriter Mark Boal and boasts a great cast! I’m a fan of Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton, so yeah, I’m super curious to see this. Granted we likely won’t get a balanced viewpoint on this ripped-from-the-headlines story, but should be an intriguing piece nonetheless.


March

Dead Man Down (March 8)

In New York City, a crime lord’s right-hand man is seduced by one of his boss’s victims, a woman seeking retribution.

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Starring: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper, Terrence Howard, Isabelle Huppert

Oplev is the director of the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now, even though that film is not my cup of tea, I’m quite intrigued by this story. The trailer looks pretty intense, albeit a bit too revelatory. We’ll see how violent it is though, I might just rent it if it’s too much for my nerves. I do like the cast, Rapace was impressive in Prometheus and Farrell and Cooper are two of the coolest Brit and Irish exports working today.

Oz: The Great and Powerful (March 8)

A stage magician is hurled into a fantasy world, and must use his wits to stay ahead of three enchantresses who have plans for him.

Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Bruce Campbell


You’re probably surprised I put this here since I actually have not seen The Wizard of Oz (yep, that’s true). But I like Sam Raimi and the female cast looks pretty darn good. The trailer promises a visual spectacle, and the story reminds me a bit of Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, though probably less surreal than the Terry Gilliam’s movie. Anyway, it would’ve been awesome to see Robert Downey Jr. or Johnny Depp who were at one time linked to this project though. But Raimi and Franco did work together before in the Spider-Man movies.


April

Oblivion (April 26)

One of the few remaining drone repairmen assigned to Earth, its surface devastated after decades of war with the alien Scavs, discovers a crashed spacecraft with contents that bring into question everything he believed about the war, and may even put the fate of mankind in his hands.

Director: Joseph Kosinki
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau


Another Tom Cruise movie in which he’s playing another character named Jack?? That’s what I thought when I saw the trailer but when it’s over, I actually found it intriguing. Visually it has an epic feel to it and everything with Morgan Freeman should be good, no? :) It’s interesting to note that this was based on Radical Comics graphic novel that the TRON: Legacy director Kosinski himself wrote with Arvid Nelson. MTV had an interview with Kosinski on how the story came about for the graphic novel:

“I started writing this small character-driven science fiction story that was in the vein of those science fiction films of the 1970s that involved this lone survivor among the ruins of civilization, like ‘Mega Man’ or ‘Silent Running’ — it was kind of in that vein. I thought if it was going to be my first movie it would have to be something very small and contained in order to even get a chance at pulling it off. So it’s the story of a drill repair man, Jack Harper, who is one of the last human beings left on earth after a massive war, which was the result of an alien invasion. Even though humankind won the war, Earth was left in such a state that we had to look for another place to settle, and Jack is left behind to monitor and secure the resource gathering operation that’s happening where we’re gathering the last bit of energy out of the earth’s seawater in order to move onto the next step.”

Well, let’s hope it won’t disappoint like TRON: Legacy did!


May

The Great Gatsby (May 10)

Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner now living on Long Island, finds himself fascinated by the mysterious past and lavish lifestyle of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He is drawn into Gatsby’s circle, becoming a witness to obsession and tragedy.

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carrey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton


I’ve covered this one extensively exactly year ago, but the release was delayed significantly. I never got around to reading the book but I’m still excited for this. It’s been a while since I’m excited for a Leo DiCaprio movie, but he looks pretty good as the mad billionaire Jay Gatsby. He seems to have a believable chemistry with the lovely Carey Mulligan, and Tobey seems perfectly cast as the Midwesterner Nick Caraway who’s inexplicably drawn into the world of glitz, glamor and madness! I’m optimistic this would be more like Moulin Rouge! than Australia.

Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17)

After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.

Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana


It’s Sherlock terrorizing a whole star fleet, perhaps he can actually outwit Mr. Spock? ;) Kidding aside, I think this looks awesome! Well I love the original and the charismatic cast is set to be on board again, yay! I know all the lads are all pining for the pretty blue-eyed Capt. Kirk but for me it’s all about Dr. McCoy (the gorgeous Karl Urban, natch!).

,,,


June

Much Ado About Nothing (June 7)

A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words.

Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Fran Kranz

No trailer available that I could find (which is odd since the film has premiered at TIFF), but here’s a Toronto interview of Whedon with two of the major cast Nathan Fillion and Clark Gregg:


From a band of superheroes to Shakespeare? That Josh is one versatile dude! Apparently the movie adaptation took place at Joss Whedon’s residence, in Santa Monica, and was filmed entirely in black-and-white over 12 days. It currently has a pretty high Rotten Tomatoes rating so far. Curious to hear what fellow Marvel director Kenneth Branagh (Thor) thinks of this? ;)


Man of Steel (June 14)

An alien infant is raised on Earth, and grows up with superhuman abilities. He sets out to use these abilities to guard his adopted world.

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Laurence Fishburne


If there is ONLY one movie I could see in 2013, let it be this one! When I saw this full trailer during my vacation I literally went berserk! My undying love for the Kryptonian hero dated all the way back to when I was only 3 years old. I even had the Superman suit and everything. Yes, Superman Returns was rather disappointing, but that was a different era. It’s now Superman Begins, ehm, a collaboration between the DC-savior Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder. Of course I’ve got to mention one of my Brit crushes Henry Cavill, a man so gorgeous it’s out of this world ;) I’m glad Snyder doesn’t make him look like some pretty boy though, he sure looks pretty darn rugged in and out of that bad ass new suit.

Nolan had a lot of positive things to say about Snyder. As quoted by THR, ““Zack was the perfect man to take this on,” Nolan says. “He is unbelievably skilled at creating a coherent, cohesive world — whether it’s a very stylized world, like 300, or something that’s more challenging, more varied, like he did with Watchmen.” He also praised how Snyder handled Man of Steel itself:

“In my honest appraisal, taking on Superman and creating that world is far more difficult than creating the world of the Dark Knight. He has a lot of finishing to do on the movie — it has a very long post-production schedule because, unlike Batman, Superman flies… I try to be as supportive as I can, and I’m just amazed by what he is doing. It’s not something I would know how to do.”

Of course Mr. Nolan is being modest. I think he very well could tackle Superman but hey, having him as the consultant on the project is a very good thing. I can hardly wait for this!!


Monsters University (June 21)

A look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at the University of Fear — when they weren’t necessarily the best of friends.

Director: Dan Scanlon
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi


Mike Wazowski is one of my all time favorite Pixar characters so surely I’m excited for this! The latest promo clip is such a hoot, man I’d go to MU for sure if I could hang out with Mike and Sully! :) Normally I’m not fond of sequels but I love the first movie so much and I trust that Pixar would come up with a pretty clever and fun story this time around.


Ok, this one hopefully would come out in the first half of the year, though kinda unlikely given how Terrence Malick likes to tinker with editing his movies :D Before I get to Knight of Cups, the one Malick movie that would sure hit theaters in April 12 in To The Wonder, starring Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko (who turns out to be the real lead). It premiered at TIFF and Ryan at The Matinee has the review here.

I might check that one out but I REALLY want to see this one:

Knight of Cups (TBD)

A story of a man, temptations, celebrity, and excess.

Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Imogen Poots, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas

The first time I heard about this one in 2011 when I posted about it along with another Malick’s project in the works. I read several reports recently and it sounds like this film is set against the backdrop of the movie business. I’m guessing Bale plays some sort of celebrity surrounded by beautiful women as his life spins out of control?? Of course that’s a wild guess without a real synopsis, trailer, nor even a poster! There are a boat load of on-set pics on Google though.

Check out some behind-the-scenes pics I found of Bale with a bunch of his female co-stars:

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Man, that cast is just awesome isn’t it? I’m most excited to see Bale co-starring with Blanchett. It’s been far too long since I saw her on screen besides her brief appearance in The Hobbit. The plethora of actors sounds like a Woody Allen ensemble-cast movie, the movie also stars Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer, Ryan O’Neal, Jason Clarke, Joel Kinnaman and Shea Whigham. I hope this one gets a release date real soon, come on Mr. Malick, get crackin’ :D

Honorable Mentions:

  • Welcome to The Punch
  • Gangster Squad
  • Broken City
  • Stoker
  • Olympus Has Fallen
  • Trance
  • Iron Man 3


Well, that’s just what I’m looking forward to in the next six months. Which one(s) are you most excited about?

Five for the Fifth: July 2012 Edition

Hello folks, it’s time for the July 2012 edition of Five of the Fifth!

As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here. So let’s get started, shall we?
…..
1. Well, since yesterday is American’s Independence Day, some of you might’ve been watching some war/military-themed movies.

There’s no shortage of US war films made in the past couple of decades, such as Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Dawn, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Thin Red Line, The Hurt Locker, etc. and no doubt the degree of performances certainly vary from film to film. Some even became career-making role, just ask Jeremy Renner.

So my first question to you is, who’s your favorite American soldier(s) in movies?

…..


2. Ok, it seems like every couple of months there’s a Tom Cruise movie! I find it ironic that his wife Katie Holmes filed for divorce whilst he’s filming his sci-fi actioner Oblivion. Ahah, obviously he’s um, oblivious of what’s coming to him?

In any case, yesterday we’ve got a first glimpse of Cruise’s crime drama Jack Reacher. Take a look at the trailer below:


The film is based on a crime novel by British novelist Jim Grant (pen name Lee Child) and Cruise’s character is Jack Reacher, a former US Army Military Police Major who’s called in to solve the case of a sniper shooting that leaves five dead.

I personally think the trailer is a big giant meh. It doesn’t seem to offer anything fresh or intriguing and I’m already bored seeing Cruise in this role. And reading the character description on Wiki made me laugh:

Reacher is 6′ 5″ tall (1.96m) with a 50-inch chest, and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds (100–115 kg). He has ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair.

Seriously? Tom Cruise… 6’5″?? What kind of camera magic would it require to create such a trick?? :D Y’know, as I read the description, I immediately think of Armie Hammer who recently played the Prince in Mirror, Mirror. I mean, the guy IS 6’5″ tall. Yeah, he probably doesn’t look tough enough, but I think he can manage.

So, did you read the Jack Reacher series? What are your thoughts of Cruise in this role?




3. Well, half of the year has come and gone. I haven’t made my top five movies so far yet, as I still haven’t seen a bunch of good ones like Moonrise Kingdom. But from what I’ve seen so far (including those that have premiered last year outside of the US), these are my five favorites:


Now, which five movies made your top five so far?

….


4. This movie wasn’t even on my radar before. I haven’t seen the original classic, somehow it just never appealed to me. But this new poster of Oz: The Great and Powerful that my pal Castor posted on his blog did get me intrigued.

I had no idea they were making a prequel to the 1939 fantasy adventure The Wizard of Oz that tells how the Wizard arrived in Oz became the ruler. Sam Raimi is helming the flick, starring James Franco and a slew of great female cast: Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz. Hmmm, I’m curious now, but maybe I should watch the original first in order to enjoy this one?

What do you think folks? Any of you looking forward to this one?


5. Ok, for the last question, I’m going to open up the floor to you all…

What movie/casting news you learned the past week that excites you the most? Do share link/photos/video, etc. in the comments.



Well, that’s it for the July edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! :D