Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Sam Raimi (the “Spider-Man” trilogy)
Written by: Mitchell Kapner (“The Whole Nine Yards”) and David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rise of the Guardians”)
There aren’t many movies that your grandparents could have enjoyed as small children that are still capable of entertaining audiences today, but the 1939 MGM classic “The Wizard of Oz” defies convention and remains enjoyable 74 years later. Despite displaying very little of the grammar present in modern filmmaking (like cutaways and performances that aren’t constantly projected toward the back of the theater), “The Wizard of Oz” endures. It’s curious, to say the least, that the last three-quarters of a century has failed to deliver another universally-acclaimed film set in L. Frank Baum’s enchanted Land of Oz. Yeah, sure, there was “The Wiz” and “Return to Oz,” but those remain cult hits at best. Why hasn’t some studio stepped up, eager to craft a modern classic that would also earn them enough cash to build an actual Emerald City?
Twenty-eight years after their aforementioned “Return to Oz” flopped, Disney, um, returns to Oz with the prequel “Oz the Great and Powerful.” James Franco stars as carnival magician Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a low-rent huckster working a sideshow in the dusty Kansas countryside. With the help of his put-upon hype man (Zach Braff), Oz fools the yokels with his sleight of hand and charms the ladies with a never-ending supply of his grandmother’s one-of-a-kind antique jewelry boxes. When one of his romantic encounters comes back to bite him, Oz books it for a hot air balloon. One tornado later, however, and Oz finds himself in Oz. Stumbling out of his wrecked balloon, Oz meets the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) who tells him of a prophecy wherein a wizard named Oz will defeat the Wicked Witch. Who is the Wicked Witch, you ask? Is it naive, love struck Theodora? Her conniving sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz)? Or their rival, glittery, good-hearted Glinda (Michelle Williams)?
Of course it’s not Glinda. I mean we’ve all seen “The Wizard of Oz,” right? Anyway.
Try as he might, director Sam Raimi can’t overcome two big problems that bog “Oz” down. First, the screenplay, credited to Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, creaks and lumbers under the weight of too much exposition and almost-certain corporate interference. It too-often lazily mirrors the plot structure of the 1939 classic. Second, and most disappointing, is that Franco is completely wrong for the part. The movie needed a natural flim flam man – someone with smarmy charisma to spare; someone like Robert Downey Jr., who was originally cast and dropped out. Franco can be a great actor, but when he’s called upon to laugh heartily like a vaudevillian rascal and shout “prestidigitation!” he sounds more like a high school drama student getting ready to tie a classmate to cardboard railroad tracks while he twirls his mustache. “Oz” is far from a total blunder, though, and a handful of bright spots stand out. Williams’ warm and radiant Glinda, the magnificent and fragile living doll China Girl (voiced by Joey King), and the whiz-bang climax all point toward the rousing adventure the bloated script and James Franco are keeping hidden behind the curtain.
If, like me, you were a teenager in the late-’90s, you know Michelle Williams first and foremost as Jen Lindley, the big city bad girl who shook things up in Capeside on The WB’s “Dawson’s Creek.” Since then, her career has taken daring turns, earning her critical acclaim to go along with two Academy Award nominations for her roles in “Brokeback Mountain” and “Blue Valentine.” William’s latest role has her playing none other than Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn.” During my interview, Michelle spoke about the challenge she faced in playing one of the most famous women in history.
Was there any hesitation on your part in taking on such an iconic role, playing Marilyn Monroe?
I knew the moment that I closed the script that I was going to say yes, and that I wanted to play that part and I wanted to make that movie. And that was followed very closely by a feeling of dread because I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I knew I was in for maybe the challenge of my adult work life. So there was hesitation but I kind of had to ignore it because it wasn’t going to help me or get me anywhere good. So I tried to just flip it off like a switch in my head.
I feel like our generation knows Marilyn Monroe strictly as the icon and isn’t really familiar with her films. How familiar were you with her work before you took on this project?
Not at all, really. I was familiar with her from her image. I had pictures of her in my bedroom when I was growing up, and I’ve always been drawn to her image, even recently. I think a lot of people are, though. She transmitted so much through just a simple photograph. But I really wasn’t familiar with her film work at all.
The film takes place over the course of a week. Was it a challenge to distill the essence of Marilyn into such a small time frame, story-wise?
Actually, in some ways, it was a real comfort. This movie isn’t a “biopic.” We don’t start at the beginning and end at the end. Its not a tragedy. There are tragic elements to Marilyn Monroe. She carried them with her. But the movie itself isn’t a tragedy. Its a moment in time, and some of that moment in time is a real fairy tale. Its a treat, a confection, its a fun ride. And so I felt comforted by the fact that I didn’t have an obligation to her whole life story. And really, she’s a character in this movie. It’s not “The Marilyn Monroe Show.” She’s one of a cast of colorful characters that tells this story.
You open the film singing the song “Heat Wave.” Was this your first time singing on camera?
Yes, [it was] my first time probably singing and dancing on camera. The last time singing and dancing was on a stage when I was 8 or 9.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance (“Brother Tied”)
Written by: Derek Cianfrance (“Brother Tied”), Cami Delavigne (debut), Joey Curtis (“Brother Tied”)
As difficult as it is to watch at times, the contemporary relationship drama “Blue Valentine” doesn’t come without reward.
In “Blue Valentine,” Academy Award nominees Ryan Gosling (“Half Nelson”) and Michelle Williams (“Brokeback Mountain”) play Dean and Cindy, a hopeless couple on marital life support. The lack of intimacy between husband and wife is uncomfortable. Even taking a shower together is a searing reminder that there’s nothing left to salvage.
Written as an uncompromising nonlinear narrative (think “500 Days of Summer” with a mean streak), director/screenwriter Derek Cianfrance puts emphasis on the dysfunctional interaction between its emotionally-depleted characters. By doing this, he allows Gosling and Williams to lumber through this loveless marriage with so much attention to detail in every move and expression they make.
“Blue Valentine” features characters at their emotional low points. It’s almost as if they are addicted to each other’s unhappiness. Watching this unfold is both depressing and gripping. With heart-wrenching performances by the leads and an intensely affecting script, “Blue Valentine” proves that misery truly does love company.