Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful is a stroke of genius. The movie and its entry into the entertainment marketplace are beautifully conceived.

Congrats to director Sam Raimi for assembling a movie that pays respectful homage to the 74-year-old classic The Wizard of Oz, without infringing on its copyright. Oz the Great and Powerful is pure escapism for young and old alike.

Congrats to Disney for producing a film that will generate sequels, theme park rides, video games and much more. Disney stock, trading near all-time highs recently, may soar to greater heights in the wake of Oz’s release.

Wicked has sparked new interest in the Oz saga during its 8 year run on Broadway (and via road companies in the US and abroad). But a Wicked movie won’t come until 2014 at the earliest. So Oz the Great and Powerful gets to reap all the Oz love for now.

From its seemingly low-tech black and white opening credits to its similar color closing credits, Oz the Great and Powerful brings one delightful element after another to the screen. Many scenes, characters and costumes seem fresh and new, filled with color and creativity.

But, on closer inspection, we note the similarities to The Wizard of Oz. The movie begins in black-and-white and transitions to color after a tornado. Characters from the “real life” part of the movie appear in the fantasy part, though in different guises. There are witches (good and bad), munchkins, even flying monkeys. (You’ll love flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff.)

James Franco, it turns out, was a terrific choice to play Oz. The character refuses to take himself too seriously until circumstances demand that he shoulder some responsibility. Franco is obviously having fun with the role.

The witches are portrayed with wholesome sexiness—nothing sleazy, but certainly some eye candy for the guys. Mila Kunis shows up in black leather pants, wearing an outrageous red hat with an enormous brim. Her sister witch is Rachel Weisz whose claw-like black and white manicure gives a clue to her disposition. Michelle Williams looks positively angelic in white.

The film’s climax reprises yet another bit that we’ve enjoyed since 1939 in that other Oz movie. It may seem that I’m regarding OTGAP almost as a remake when I mention that the two main things that are missing from the original The Wizard of Oz are Dorothy and classic songs. (Speaking of derivative, a couple of the witchy catfights may make you think of Harry Potter versus Valdemort faceoffs.)

Despite its just-a-bit-too-long runtime of 2:10, Oz the Great and Powerful maintains a good pace and loses its energy only a time or two. Don’t wait for the DVD or Netflix. This is a film to see in the theater, in 3-D, on the biggest screen you can find. Don’t miss it!

My Week With Marilyn—(Blonde on Blonde)

This story is supposedly true. Doesn’t matter. True or not, it’s a good story.

How big a star was Marilyn Monroe in the 1950’s? Ask your grandfather. He’ll tell you. Mainstream movies did not have nude scenes in the 50’s. But they did have Marilyn. With her blonde hair, big lips and voluptuous body, she exuded sex. She was a megastar.

Michelle Williams is not a dead ringer for Marilyn, but the hair and makeup people and the costumers give her the Marilyn look. What she does with that look is amazing. She brings the Marilyn persona to life, complete with her insecurities and fragile ego. This is an impressive performance. Award-worthy? Yes.

British actor Eddie Redmayne stars as Colin, a recent college grad who nabs a gig as third assistant director on the movie “The Prince and the Showgirl.” His duties as a “go-fer” eventually include tending to many of Marilyn’s needs, much to the dismay of her longtime support team. He provides companionship and emotional support during an uncomfortable episode in her life and career. Quite a heady experience for a 23-year-old in 1956!

“The Prince and the Showgirl” matched Marilyn with Laurence Olivier, who starred and directed. He needed her for her beauty and sex appeal; she needed him to certify her talent as an actress. Their relationship was stormy due to his being upset with her tardiness and failure to remember lines. She, meanwhile, was intimidated by his legend and strict demands. Kenneth Branagh does an excellent job portraying Olivier.

In “My Week with Marilyn,” however, as in “The Prince and the Showgirl,” the blonde bombshell upstages the British acting legend. These movies belong to Michelle/Marilyn.

Of special note in “My Week with Marilyn” is Emma Watson’s debut in a non-Hermione Granger role. She has a minor part as a costumer who competes with Marilyn for Colin’s time and attention. She picked a good movie to begin her transition.