Lee Chandler is a handyman working in the Boston area who gets the call that his brother has died in nearby Manchester, the town they both grew up in. Lee goes back to settle his brother’s affairs which unbeknownst to him, include becoming guardian to his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). There are reasons Lee left Manchester, one of which is his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) and the emotional reasons why she is his ex-wife. Now Lee is forced to return to the town, family and memories he left behind.
The movie felt very real to me, just like a slice of somebody’s everyday life. Lee falls asleep on the couch and burns the spaghetti sauce; he has to drop off and pickup his nephew from school, from band practice, and from his dates; he has to deal with his brother’s business; and he has to sort out his life whether it is in Manchester or not. The routine, day to day things were part of the movie, which I liked. Affleck was pretty good in the lead, good enough to win the Best Actor Oscar. Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, which surprises me because even though she was very good in the film, she was only on the screen for maybe fifteen minutes. Is there no minimum time requirement to be nominated for a supporting role?
While the movie did feel very real, it also felt very slow at times. I suppose life doesn’t always move at the quickest pace, but I like my movies to move a little faster than the everyday. It took about three quarters of the movie for me to really become invested in these characters, and finally once I was hooked, the movie ended. There was no real resolution to things, you don’t really know the characters’ futures, life just keeps on going, but it felt like the story ended mid-paragraph. A good story leaves you wanting more, and I really did want more but I think that was because I wanted closure to the characters. Was I a little disappointed with the ending? Yes. Did I enjoy the film for the entire run? No. But, once they revealed a few key plot points, the preceding hours of the film suddenly became a lot more enjoyable to me. Definitely worth watching, but I’d say be prepared for a slow burn, and some boredom before the film actually gets good.
Bottom Line: Casey Affleck mumbles a lot… Apparently that gets you an Oscar now.
Carnival magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco), also known as “Oz”, is a huckster, a con man, a flim flam artist, who takes to his hot air balloon to escape a jealous husband when a Kansas tornado throws him off course. He pleads with the powers that be to let him survive this storm, promising to change his ways and as he leaves his black and white world his wish is granted. He enters the Land of Oz, falling from the skies to fulfill a prophecy by becoming the land’s Wizard.
Oz The Great and Powerful borrows a lot of things from its predecessor The Wizard of Oz. Both films start off in black and white and transform to colour once the main character has landed in Oz. Of course, both films also use characters in multiple roles; as Dorothy’s friends from Kansas become the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow, people Oz has met in Kansas also have counterparts in Oz. The crippled girl who asks the carnival magician to make her walk becomes the voice for the China Girl (Joey King), his faithful assistant Frank (Zach Braff) becomes the winged monkey Finley, and Annie, the girl he loves but feels he doesn’t deserve, is Glinda the Good Witch of the South (Michelle Williams). The other two witches are Theodora played by Mila Kunis and Evanora played by Rachel Weisz. What’s a wizard to do when he’s tasked with saving a land from witches and flying baboons and Winkie soldiers with nary a house to fall on any of them? Well, that’s where his con man skills and showmanship come in, creating illusions to save the day.
I’m not too sure what to say about Oz The Great and Powerful. I liked the film, I really did. It was visually beautiful, and I assume would have looked simply amazing (probably even magical) in 3D. I however watched it on DVD, not even on Blu-ray, and while I appreciated how good everything looked in Oz, I thought a few times that things looked a little “too fairy tale”. A lot of the background and wonder in the Land of Oz was filmed the way it was, simply to feed the audience a lot of eye candy. I found nothing wrong with that though, because it took away from the things that I didn’t like about the film. I guess I’ll just have to come right out and say it, I didn’t like James Franco. Though I have not seen a lot of his work, what I have seen I did not like him in. I personally do not think he is a very good actor. Whenever I watch him he seems disinterested in whatever he is doing, and looks to be just “phoning it in”, kind of like his Oscar hosting performance. I need to really give you an example of this to justify my stance, and I suppose since the film The Wizard of Oz is nearly 75 years old, this isn’t much of a spoiler: the Wizard is just a mortal man who uses illusions and a bit of science to project a giant floating head of himself and uses speakers to amplify his voice to give the impression that the Wizard is “great and powerful”, so naturally the climax of Oz The Great and Powerful includes these devices. When Franco was over acting and playing the over the top “great and powerful wizard” at the end, that was the only time I really enjoyed his performance and the only time I really believed in him. Nearly every other point in the movie he seemed unnatural, stiff and awkward; and I don’t think that was intentional. I watched the blooper footage, and Franco then seemed to be relaxed and at ease, just mugging to the camera. That was when he seemed believable to me, and I wish he could have brought that level of comfort to his performance as Oz. Someone said to me that he should have seemed “off” when he was acting because he was supposed to have been just thrust into a new land and declared a wizard and confronted with three witches. I don’t agree. His character was supposed to be a con man, and what con man doesn’t have confidence?
Moving on, I found the rest of the cast performed quite well, with the best performances being delivered by Michelle Williams and Joey King as the “China Doll Girl”. Williams performance I think really rescued the acting in this one, making up for a sub-par delivery from the lead. Sam Raimi did an excellent job directing, and included a lot of his trademark pieces, such as the “Raimi-cam” when pieces of debris were flying through the tornado as Oz; and he included cameos for his brother Ted (he was the skeptic in the Kansas audience watching Oscar’s carnival act) and friend Bruce Campbell (the Winkie Gate Keeper with an obvious chin). I like it when a director has quirky little trademarks like this, akin to Hitchcock’s insertion of himself into a scene in his films. Oz The Great and Powerful had quite a few obvious references to events that would come to pass in The Wizard of Oz film, such as a cowardly lion, scarecrows and the hinting of mechanical men; but there were a few things I don’t recall seeing. I don’t think I saw any ruby slippers in Oz The Great and Powerful (though I may be mistaken), and I’m pretty sure I don’t recall the Wicked Witch of the West having quite so much cleavage…Alright, that was another thing that could take my mind off Franco’s poor performance 😉
I know that it has been a long time since I have seen the original Wizard of Oz, and I did have an urge to watch it right after finishing Oz The Great and Powerful. The original is a film that I have very fond memories of and hold quite dear. I remember “way back when” that it used to air on television around the same time each year, and usually on a Friday (or it may have been a Saturday). Every year my brother and I happened to be sleeping over at our grandparents’ house that weekend and we always watched it with our grandmother. I’m not sure if it was one of her favourites or not, but every year we seemed to make the ritual of it so I tend to always think of Nana whenever The Wizard of Oz comes up.