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OZ The Great and Powerful

9 Mar

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James Franco……………………………Oscar Diggs / Wizard of Oz

Mila Kunis………………..Theodora / The Wicked Witch of the West

Rachel Weisz…………………….Evanora / The Wicked Witch of the East

Michelle Williams……………….……Glinda the Good Witch / Annie

Zach Braff…Finley the Flying Monkey / Frank, Oscar’s circus assistant

Joey King……………………………….China Girl/Girl In Wheelchair

Tim Holmes…………………………………………………Strongman

Bill Cobbs……………………………………………..Master Tinkerer

Tony Cox……………………………………Knuck the Fanfare Player

Abigail Spencer…………………………………………………….May

Bruce Campbell………………………………………..a Winkie Guard

Synopsis: Back-story of how flim-flam, con artist, Oscar Diggs of Kansas becomes the Wizard of OZ.

Review:  “For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its’ kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return…and to the Young in Heart…we dedicate this picture.”

This is the now classic opening title to MGM’s 1939 The Wizard of OZ. This is not that movie, but the 1939 images are ingrained in us and our children, for evermore.  How do you compete with a classic, wisely you don’t, you just try to pay homage.

Directed by Sam Raimi the story surrounds the adventures of con-man Oscar Diggs. James Franco plays Diggs, and he has the daunting task of going from flim-flam man to the Great and Powerful Wizard of OZ. The movie is in 3D and is beautifully filmed. The 3D is used wisely and creatively. The movie starts in the 1939 film ratio and in black and white, slowly the film becomes becomes widescreen and color as we move to the OZ sequences.

Diggs narrowly escapes from a Kansas based traveling carnival, in a hot air balloon, after cavorting with the Strongman’s girlfriend. He becomes trapped in a tornado and finds himself in the land of OZ as the balloon lands in a river. Rachel Weisz who plays Evanora finds him, and believes he is the powerful wizard that has arrived to save the Land of OZ from destruction. It seems an evil witch killed the ruler of OZ and the prophesy tells of a wizard coming to save them. Evanora walks Diggs to the Emerald City where he will rule over OZ. Evanora believes she will be his Queen and falls for him.

The beauty of OZ is not lost on the artists and the CGI is seamless. The imagery is more out of the OZ books then it is out of the copyrighted MGM version. The images pay homage to, but for obvious reasons do not copy the MGM indelible images we conjure up in our minds. Evanora has a sister Theodora, she has been watching over the Emerald City.

The film’s positive points are the imagery and once again spending time with characters we all grew up with. All the action takes place pre-Dorothy Gale. We meet Glinda the Good, played by Michelle Williams. Glinda is so good, think Billy Burke from MGM’s version, Williams seems bland in comparison. Her acting ability is undeniable tho, she plays the character with restraint and an inner spirit.

We have flying monkeys that the evil Witch controls, they are very bat like and a friendly flying monkey dressed like the MGM monkeys, named Finley, who is befriended by Oscar. Finley owes a lifetime debt to Oscar after Diggs saves him from being eaten by a lion. The Lion was scared away by Oscar, presumably remains cowardly, you get the reference. There is an army of Scarecrows, Winkies, singing Munchkins, who sing very little because Oscar stops them, a China Doll that Diggs repairs after she is broken, who will steal your heart away and of course the back-story of the Witch of the East and the West. You will learn how Evanora of the East turns green and heartless and how her sister Theodora, tries to steal the throne rightfully belonging to the Wizard. Presumably someone named Dorothy will eventually drop a house on her.

Go see it with an open mind, the story is fun and the script has lots of homages to the MGM version. I think this version stands alone; the children in the audience ate it up. What could be a better barometer of this 130 minute long film than that.

Frank Baum’s characters are enduring and every so often a new generation embraces them. Consider this, Baum’s Books, The MGM Classic, Wicked was hit on Broadway, now this film,  perhaps it was meant to reach a new young audience. As Judy Garland’s Dorothy so humbly stated, “There’s no place like home.” This was more like visiting a distant relatives home, you have trepidation going in but you leave happy you came for the visit.

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An American in Paris – Blu Ray

17 Oct

Synopsis:  Jerry Mulligan, a struggling American painter in Paris, is “discovered” by an influential heiress with an interest in more than Jerry’s art. Jerry in turn falls for Lise, a young French girl already engaged to a cabaret singer. Jerry jokes, sings and dances with his best friend, an acerbic would-be concert pianist, while romantic complications abound.

Cast

Gene Kelly……………………………………….Jerry Mulligan

Leslie Caron………………………………………..Lise Bouvier

Oscar Levant………………………………………..Adam Cook

Georges Guetary………………………………….Henri Baurel

Nina Foch…………………………………………..Milo Roberts

Review: This Vincente Minnelli directed, Gene Kelly/Stanley Donan choreographed MGM musical is a moving, ground breaking, love poem to artistry and romance. First off the clarity and color of the Blu-Ray disc is astonishingly clear. The restoration and high definition picture draws you in and you start to notice details such as the paint on the Parisian walls etc. in crisp detail.

This film won the Academy Award for Best Picture after it’s release in 1951. The winning score by George and Ira Gershwin sweeps you away with songs like, S Wonderful, Our Love is Here to Stay and I’ve Got Rhythm.  There is something undeniably sublime in watching everyman dancer Gene Kelly, painter Jerry Mulligan, at work here. His roots as a dance instructor in his family’s dance school is in evidence as he works with the children in the I Got Rhythm number. He is delightful and enchanting and the children follow him in grand amusement in hopes of getting some American Bubble Gum.

Leslie Caron a dancer who was trained in Ballet makes her film debut here and it is her charisma and dance craft that carries her through the film. She almost floats as she dances with Kelly in Our Love is Here To Stay. Her charm and warmth appeals every time she smiles.

Oscar Levant is hilarious as struggling self-proclaimed concert pianist Adam Cook. He describes himself in the opening sequence of the film: “It’s not a pretty face, I grant you. But underneath its flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character.”

Georges Guetary plays singer Henri Baurel, who is engaged to Lise,  he is unaware that his friend Jerry Mulligan is in love with her. Guetary’s big number Stairway to Paradise, showcases his singing talents amidst a large lighted staircase and a bevy of beautiful MGM girls. The song is done with artistry and never crosses the line into gaudiness.

Nina Foch plays suntan oil heiress Milo Roberts. She falls for Mulligan and wants to promote his paintings in a legitimate art show. Mulligan at first balks because he doesn’t want Robert’s affections. The relationship never really gets off the ground because Mulligan is truly in love with Caron’s character Lise.

The most celebrated sequence in the film is Kelly’s choreographed 17 minute ballet.  The uniqueness of taking famous french artist’s paintings and bringing them to life with Paris as the background, is contemporaryand brilliant. The ballet tells the story of Mulligan’s love for Lise. Kelly smoothly transitions from ballet, tap and jazz dance throughout the 17 minutes. One gets caught up in the sequence’s use of color, music and dance.

The disc includes a few extras such as the PBS produced American Masters Episode: Gene Kelly Anatomy of a Dancer a vintage MGM Fitzpatrick TravelTalk short, Paris on Parade and a classic MGM cartoon Symphony in Slang.  Overall this is a must have film for anyone’s cinema collection.

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