Someday, film historians will debate which expensively produced "reimagining" of a classic children's novel from a director better known for his macabre production design in earlier movies was the less necessary and/or less welcome and/or less enjoyable: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland or Sam Raimi's Oz The Great And Powerful.
In the title role of Oz, James Franco is so somnambulant that you may find yourself wondering if Raimi used only takes from rehearsals; he's about as believable as a carnival showman as he was as an Oscar host. He's joined by three very famous ladies — Mila Kunis, Oscar nominee Michelle Williams, and Oscar winner Rachel Weisz — as the Oz witches. I assume the latter two took their roles so that their kids could see them on film in an age-appropriate (if boring and sexist) context; Kunis has no such excuse (and the most thankless part).
But perhaps I'm being too harsh on OTGAP: If your favorite character in The Wizard of Oz was the eventually unmasked charlatan with no magical powers whatsoever, this is most assuredly the movie for you.
It's over! The possibility of Hollywood studios ever losing money again is over for good! And it's all thanks to a Camel-smoking, Dr Pepper–drinking ex-SUNY statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese. As the New York Times explains this morning, Bruzzese is "the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood," and his company, the Worldwide Motion Picture Group, has finally gotten this whole prerelease movie analysis thing down to a science. And now studios are offering up to $20,000 per script to have Bruzzese hand over a 20-to-30-page report examining exactly where their blockbuster hopefuls will sink. So what kind of genius insight does the mad scientist possess?
With an $80 million weekend, Oz the Great and Powerful scored easily the best opening weekend of the year so far. Which means GET READY for more character-specific Oz offerings. Cowardly Lion: Witch Hunter? You're next. This is good news for all sorts of people: Sam Raimi, who has yet another blockbuster success with franchise potential. James Franco, who can finance a hundred more student films about his fascination with gayness with whatever he makes off the back end. Mila Kunis, who should probably start claiming credit for that awesome interview with that British kid.
There will be no credit passed around the camp at Jack the Giant Slayer. With a $10 million second weekend that officially qualifies as a plummet, Bryan Singer's film is looking at a John Carter–like disaster.
Let's join virtually every Internet-connected citizen of the world in watching with slack-jawed delight as Mila Kunis, weary from a day of regurgitating practiced answers to promote Oz the Great and Powerful, throws away her script and helps a nervous, inexperienced BBC Radio kid get through seven minutes of normally stultifying junket time. No, she's not going to go to his mate Dicko's wedding and drop trou, and probably won't be throwing down "lad bombs" with the boys, as fun as that sounds, but she is launching him into the viral stratosphere. It's all charming enough to make us forget, however briefly, that she's dating Ashton Kutcher, a severe buzzkill we already regret mentioning.
Silver: Forget the Oscars (Seriously. We should. It’s gotten to the point where the hype in/around awards season is more appealing than the telecast. Which at this point feels more like required DMV orientation-video viewing.) Each year, I look to the Super Bowl to be my cultural shepherd, guiding me toward a transition from the pomp, circumstance, and elevated significance surrounding six minutes of Anne Hathaway singing and Daniel Day-Lewis’s beard to the glut of (mostly) vapid movie theater butter–glazed summer tentpole movies. The overmarketed celluloid morsels crammed down moviegoers' throats by studios, if even remotely entertaining and able to garner a reasonable three-day box office gross, are considered successful. But also on rare occasions they get stamped as genuinely good cinema. So enough talk about Tommy Lee Jones’s scowl let’s start debating which, if any, Marvel Phase 2 characters will be showing up in Iron Man 3, or how Wolverine will play into 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Browne: It's like Party City on my keyboard right now. Let's do this.
Silver: Item no. 17 in my work in progress, Guidelines to Successful Movie Consumption: Theatrical Edition, reads as follows:
“Relatively unheard of, quaint-feeling, and seemingly silly science fiction films should never be disregarded outright. That said, they can, more often than not, be accurately judged by their trailers. Don’t let a solid cast fool you. Look specifically to see if the high-concept conceit appears to live organically in or get swallowed up by overly stylized visuals. Sometimes you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised with a film like Equilibrium. But more often than not you’re going to be sitting through a film like Ultraviolet or Paycheck. So look at the trailer carefully.”
With this in mind, Upside Down’s trailer leads me to believe this film is going to be a disaster. The visuals are trying way too hard to make up for a story device that would have been better suited for a short film. And even though I like both Jim Sturgess and Mary Jane Watson; they’re simply not enough to get me into a theater. Pass.
Browne: I really prefer movies that don't have half the characters walking on the ceiling for two hours. Beyond the plot, this just seems like an unpleasant viewing experience, unless somehow I can lie on my side at the theaters, which usually isn't a thing.
Silver: Just because I want Sam Raimi to helm only superhero movies or low-budget genre flicks with chainsaws, chins, spooks, guns, and gore doesn’t mean he should. The man is a seasoned Hollywood director who has certainly earned the right to direct any film his heart desires. And if I’m a true fan of his, I should stop wondering if/how Bruce Campbell will cameo (if it happens, please let it be as a Munchkin) or how the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 will appear and simply just hope for the best and support one of my favorite directors. But a trailer like this makes this charge of mine easier said than done. The film still looks like an awkward patchwork of CGI castoffs from Alice in Wonderland (recycled-line alert). With a talented cast like this, where’s the emotion? Noisy, grandiose action sequences don’t really feel Oz-ian to me. My hope is that this Transformers-lite feeling is just for the trailers, and the film ends up more like The City of Lost Children.
Silver: I make no secret of my steadfast and wholehearted love for Sam Raimi. I’ll get his back when needed ("Spider-Man 3 was not his fault. It’s one of the clearest examples of studio meddling"), apologize for him (“But you have to admit the baseball scenes in For the Love of the Game were pretty great. You could totally tell he was a real baseball fan”), justify his shortcomings (“The Quick and the Dead is underrated. And just look at that cast — Stone, DiCaprio, Crowe, Sinise, and Hackman — the guy’s got an eye for casting”), and fully embrace his flaws (“Yeah, I just bought a bootleg copy of Crimewave on eBay. That movie rocks!”). So I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not going to be able to provide the most unbiased critique of his latest film, Oz: The Great and Powerful.