September 14th, 2016


Movie Critique 2016 – 05/21/2016: Oz the Great and Powerful

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars: 3.5 / 5
Recommendation: A well-made prequel for a classic and thoroughly enjoyable on a small screen.

Oz the Great and Powerful is a 2013 American fantasy film and is pictured as a prequel to the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz. The characters in this movie are based on the characters in the books by L. Frank Baum. The plot is about a fake magician, Oscar Diggs, who inadvertently reaches the Land of Oz while escaping from a strong man at the circus in a hot air balloon and gets pulled into a battle of witches.

Oscar Diggs (portrayed by James Franco) is a deceptive magician performing at The Baum Bros Circus in Kansas City. After one such show, his friend Anne comes to let him know that she is getting married to John Gale but hoped that Oscar would stop her. Instead Oscar wishes her luck and runs away in a hot air balloon when a strongman comes to attack him thinking he had flirted with his wife. However, Oscar and his balloon gets caught in a tornado that throws him into a colorful and beautiful land - The Land of Oz.

He meets Theodora (portrayed by Mila Kunis), a naïve witch who believes him to be the Wizard that falls from sky who came to save the Emerald City from the Wicked Witch who had killed the King of Oz and is now ruling the city. Oscar does not correct her misapprehension and goes with Theodora to the Emerald City.

Note the yellow brick road in the pic.

And the beautiful Emerald City.

Oscar meets Evanora (portrayed by Rachel Weisz) - sister of Theodora and also the Royal Advisor - who tasks him to kill the Wicked Witch who lives in the Dark Forest. She can only be killed by destroying her wand in which her powers reside and then she will make Oscar the King of Oz. But what Oz doesn’t realize is that Evanora is as evil as anyone can come and is the real Wicked Witch of the East. He realizes that the one who lives in the Dark Forest - Glinda (portrayed by Michelle Williams), the daughter of the late King - is actually the Good Witch of the South. What follows is the story of how Oscar discovers the truth, helps Glinda and the Land of Oz from the clutches of the two evil witches - Wicked Witch of the East and Wicked Witch of the West - and saves everyone.

In his journey he is helped by Finley - the winged monkey, Cowardly Lion - whom Oscar scares away at the beginning, China Girl - a young living china doll who lives in the China Town and whom Oscar fixes after her town was destroyed and she was left broken, the people of Glinda - the Munchkins (little people), the Tinkers (people who can make anything), the Quadlings (the farmers, sewers, bakers, etc) and the China Doll inhabitants.

And the two witches before they are turned ugly.

I remember watching this movie on TV a couple years ago with my nephew - then 3 yrs old - in CA. I was not much impressed by the movie, but it was fun to watch the expressions on my nephew's face as the movie progressed. James Franco has done an excellent job as Oscar Diggs, but Mila Kunis failed her part as the Wicked Witch of the West.  May be I never really liked her in other movies, so my judgment is clouded. But I never could see the character Mila Kunis portrayed but Mila Kunis. The movie is very very colorful but what disappointed me was the graphics…although very cleverly done, at times it was obvious that they were graphics.

What I loved the most is the connection this movie has shown with the 1939 classic and also the very many similarities with the original book. Just like that movie, this movie begins in Kansas in a black and white  and then becomes into full color when Oscar reaches the Land of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West also becomes the same green that the original movie shows.

The scarecrows that Oscar has the people of Oz create connects to the scarecrow in the original book. The connection between Oscar's life in Kansas to the life in Oz is also shown cleverly - He calls his assistant in Kansas as a trained monkey and he gets a monkey for an assistant in Oz, his girl Annie gets married to John Gale in Kansas while Glinda resembles Annie, he fails to give magic to the girl in wheelchair in Kansas but fixes the legs of the China Doll in Oz. Oscar. Also the film shows Oscar using the image projector and smoke machine, makes himself look big which continues in the Wizard of Oz book.

All in all a well-made prequel for the classic movie and hopefully one day will be considered a classic too. I enjoyed it watching more with my nephew than I would have enjoyed watching alone on TV.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Notice that the circus that Oscar Diggs performs in the opening scene is named "The Baum Bros Circus" - perhaps a tribute to L. Frank Baum, the originator of all the Wizard of Oz books.

2) Zach Braff gives voice to the flying monkey Finley and also portrays as the long-suffering assistant / friend to Oscar in Kansas.
3) Joey King portrays as the girl in a wheelchair who comes to see Oscar's show in Kansas and she also gives voice to the China Girl.
4) Michelle Williams portrays as Glinda, the Good Witch and also as Annie - the girls that Oscar loved but let go.
5) Annie is shown to be getting married to John Gale in the movie. If you remember Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz is the daughter of Annie and John Gale. A fitting connection so well shown.

Movie Critique 2016 – 05/22/2016: In The Good Old Summertime

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: Lovely musical reminding of good old days and a good entertainer for those rainy days.

In The Good Old Summertime is an American musical film starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson released in 1949. This is a musical remake of the 1940 American film The Shop Around the Corner starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. This movie is also written by  Miklós László based on his 1937 play Parfumerie - a play that formed basis for future movies.

When I posted the review of You've Got Mail (Review here) I had mentioned about both these facts and also in the review for the 1940 film (Check it here). I have been looking to watch the musical version as well and finally found it online. Here's my take on this musical version.

Andrew Larkin (portrayed by Van Johnson) works at Oberkugen's music shop as a head salesman. Veronica Fisher (portrayed by Judy Garland) walks into their shop to secure a job. Although Otto Oberkugen (portrayed by S. Z. Sakall) is reluctant to give another job, he decides to hire her after she sells a harp to a customer for more price than it was actually priced for. Andrew and Veronica immediately have a dislike to each other but tolerate at work. Unbeknownst to each other though, Andrew and Veronica have been writing letters to each other as pen pals and have been falling for each other through letters. The rest of the story continues how they get to know each other, start liking and find out that they are infact the pen pals.

The movie has some beautiful songs - Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland; Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey; Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie; Play That Barbershop Song. It’s a very sweet movie but I have to say I liked the original 1940 version and the remake of the 1998 version. For some reason Judy Garland was never a favorite of mine although she was excellent in The Wizard of Oz. However, in this the character is supposed to be strong and at the same time demure. But Judy portrayed as a very strong and come-offish girl with a squeaky loud voice. The song "I don’t care" sung by and pictured on Judy Garland perfectly suits the character of Veronica.

It was lengthened a bit in between with an additional party scene and two or three songs. However, the movie would still have been a good one without that entire scene. All in all a good entertainer for those rainy days.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) The location of the plot in Parfumerie and The Shop Around the Corner is Budapest. However it changes to turn-of-the century Chicago in this movie and to New York in the 1998 version You've Got Mail.
2) Van Johnson starts the introduction of the movie with a comment about how Chicago changed from his childhood - about skyscrapers and busy streets, about makeup and changes hairstyles. I wonder what he would say now if he had seen the city that is today.
3) Judy Garland's daughter - Liza Minnelli - is shown in the final scene as the daughter of Andrew and Veronica.

4) Incidentally the names of the lead characters Andrew and Veronica reminded me of the characters Archie Andrews and Veronica Lodge from the Archie's comics.