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How “Great and Powerful” is “Oz”?

March 8, 2013
Bruce Fretts: James Franco stars as a con man who agrees to save a magical land in exchange for untold amounts of gold—including a chalice—in Oz: The Great and Powerful. So I invited my pal Nancy Bilyeau, who’s going to make untold amounts of gold with her latest novel The Chalice, to review it with me. Nancy, what did you think—was it Wonderful for you?
Nancy Bilyeau: I thought it was an interesting, adventurous movie with—wait for it—a strong performance from Franco.
Bruce: So you’re a Franco-phile? I’m a Franco-phobe.
Nancy: I have never liked him before today. He was a deterrent, actually. But I found myself liking that wide smile. He carried the movie as much as he needed to.
Bruce: I didn’t feel like he truly committed to the part. Kind of like his fellow Oscar-show host Seth MacFarlane. He half-assholed it. His performance made me miss Johnny Depp, who I don’t always like, but who always throws himself into a part with reckless abandon. Franco’s specialty is feckless abandon.
Nancy: Did you want him to be like Jack Lemmon in Bad News Bears, throwing beer cans at the kids until the very end?
Bruce: That was Walter Matthau! Get your Odd Couple straight.
Nancy: Oh no! Your fellow Cranky Guy Bret Watson would never make that mistake.
2efwzahBruce: It’s too bad Bret couldn’t join us for this movie. He loves him some Mila Kunis. But they make her ugly halfway through the movie!
Nancy: I thought she was a great wicked witch. A worthy successor to Margaret Hamilton. She was not winning me over until she turned green and nasty.
Bruce: I thought Rachel Weisz was better—they’re supposed to be sisters, and both wicked witches. Which diluted the impact, if you ask me. Plus, if they’re sisters, why does only one of them have an English accent?
Nancy: The movie would have been better with only one of them. Why were there two?
Bruce: I don’t know, but it’s telling that Weisz turns ugly in the end, too. That’s the worst curse Hollywood can imagine: Making a woman not hot.
Nancy: Yes, I noticed all these beautiful Hollywood actresses, holding their own in their tight princess or witch dresses, and it was kind of depressing. Margaret Hamilton was not trying to be hot.
Bruce: At least Michelle Williams remains beautiful throughout, as Glinda the Good Witch. She seemed to have retained a bit of her breathy speaking voice from My Week With Marilyn, not that I minded.
Nancy: I thought she was a little bland but OK.
finley_monkey_oz_zach_braff_a_lBruce: And as for the guys, aside from Franco, I thought they made good use of Zach Braff’s natural simian quality as Franco’s sidekick.
Nancy: The original Oz movie was an ensemble. It’s about the sidekicks. The vaudevilllian actors who played Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man were all hams and scene stealers. The characters are iconic.
Bruce: Yes, but they were smart to make this a prequel, not a sequel, so that they only have to deal with minor characters. No one can replace Judy Garland as Dorothy, as Fairuza Balk (remember her? neither does anyone else) learned in the ill-fated sequel Return to Oz.
Nancy: I was really glad this movie created a new ensemble with Monkey, China Girl and Tinker. They didn’t all pull together as a group as effectively but they were good.
Bruce: I felt like the movie never really turned magical until the very end, though. It finished strong, which should bode well with word of mouth and at the box office.
Nancy: I liked the action and the spectacle and a lot of the characters but there were story problems.
Bruce: Yes, the story dragged. After the opening 20 minutes in black and white, there’s about 40 minutes of dead air until the plot starts to kick in. I kept nodding off, which was appropriate since the movie kind of feels like a dream.
Nancy: Why were these two sisters living in Oz and Glenda was in this other place and what was the big misery that everyone was suffering through–that there were guards and monkeys around?
Bruce: I think it might have had something to do with the sequester. 
Nancy: The black and white Kansas section was wonderful, just as in the original movie. I loved how they changed to color after the tornado.
Bruce: I kinda wish we’d seen it in 3D or IMAX—Sam Raimi’s visuals were great. This is one case where it might’ve been worth the extra money. But it was fun seeing it in Times Square, because the crowd was very demonstrative. The guys in the back snickered dirtily at the end when Oz took Glinda behind the curtain. She wasn’t such a good witch anymore!
Nancy: I think it’s a fun movie overall. They had this sort of watered down Lord of the Rings thing happening.
Bruce: I fell asleep during the first LOTR movie and never woke up, so you’d have to explain the parallels to me.
Nancy:  It’s painful to me, your aversion to the epic. There is the quest of the good to take back what was lost from the evil who are very, very formidable and death dealing but then the good guys defeat them fairly easily no explanation in the final battle.
Bruce: Was Gollum one of the flying baboons? They might be too scary for little kids.
Nancy: Well my 11-year-old daughter could handle it but she’s a tough cookie.
Bruce: Mine too. We should get them together for a tough cookie playdate. Mine will not see this movie, though, because she played Auntie Em in her school production of The Wizard of Oz and considers any prequel/sequel an outrage.
Nancy: I think older children and tweens will like it and people like me who loved Oz as a kid will like taking their kids to it. Confession: I wrote a spoof play of Wizard of Oz in high school and it was performed. The script has been burned.
Chalice coverBruce: I think this movie will follow the yellow brick road to box- office gold. Unlike your high school play. Just promise me when they make movies out of your 17th century mysteries The Crown and The Chalice, you won’t let them cast James Franco. He’s no good in period pieces. He’s a fundamentally post-modern actor. But Michelle Williams might be right for your lead character—she’d be a good nun.
Nancy: Rachel Weisz would be a perfect main character for the movie of my book—are you listening, Rachel?? Rachel??
Bruce: Whenever I hear Rachel Weisz, I think of “Edelweiss.” And then I start singing.
Nancy: There is one similarity between this movie and the original: Both are about people who need to believe in their own power.

Bruce: I preferred HBO’s Oz, but that’s just me. I love a good prison drama, even if I have to endure male full-frontal nudity.
Nancy: Dororthy needed to believe she could always go home and Oz needed to believe that he could be a good man.
Bruce: A good man was hard to find in HBO’s Oz. And a hard man was good to find. Thank you, ladies and germs—good night!

Have you journeyed to the land of Oz: The Great and Powerful yet? Post a comment!

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  1. deborah S permalink

    Ha ha, funny review, you two! Now you need to go back and watch it in 3D: That’s the best part of this movie (you have to admit the plot’s pretty insipid). I almost forgot the part where Oz takes Glinda behind the curtain. Remember how she then said, “Oooh, it’s tight in here!”? People all around me gasped and snickered. I couldn’t figure out whether that was meant as a sly joke for the grown-ups, or was a sign the Disney script-writers are as innocent as Jimminy Cricket. Anyway, I very much enjoyed reading what you had to say about the film. My 12-year-old daughter and I reviewed it for our local news patch too, if you’d like to get our perspective:

  2. Really enjoyed reading! Love “feckless abandon.”

  3. Thanks for the link to your review. And yes, Bruce Frets is very clever re “feckless abandon.” He is a genius actually 🙂 NANCY

  4. Unbeaievlble how well-written and informative this was.

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