“Oz the Great and Powerful”
Disney’s decision to revisit L. Frank Baum’s Emerald City proves a long, tedious journey. Sam Raimi’s 3-D extravaganza Oz the Great and Powerful (wide release), a prequel to the 1939 classic, is in the tradition of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland – a visually sumptuous but turgid manhandling of a children’s classic.
James Franco is Oscar Diggs, a conniving carnival magician in turn-of-the-century Kansas whose hot-air balloon is swept up by a tornado and deposited in Oz, where he’s mistaken for a great wizard. But before he can take over as ruler of the land, he must overcome a couple of evil witches and rescue a good one from their clutches via the tricks of his trade.
Franco smirks his way sourly through the role, but one can understand his displeasure at being saddled with a couple of the most charmless CGI creations to be found in the recent raft of kiddie spectacles – a whining china doll and a chattering winged monkey. The picture ends in an orgy of not-so-special effects, including a battle of energy-emitting wands that comes across like a dull copy of the many similar confrontations in the Harry Potter flicks.
Oz tries desperately to recapture some of the enchantment of The Wizard of Oz, but fails miserably. The motto of this movie isn’t so much “There’s no place like home” as “You can’t go home again.”
The college selection system is a subject ripe for satirical treatment, but despite a wealth of talent, Paul Weitz’s Admission (wide release) isn’t even worthy of a slot on a waiting list.
Tina Fey stars as a Princeton admissions counselor whose life unravels when she’s dumped by her professor-boyfriend and suddenly learns that a precocious teen at an alternative school run by a shaggy rebel (Paul Rudd) might be the son she gave up for adoption years ago. The conventions of the genre require that she and Rudd should fall in love, but she’s also determined to get her presumed son into Princeton despite his poor academic record – even if it means endangering her job.
Unfortunately, Fey and Rudd prove pretty much unable to do anything inventive with their roles, relying instead on their familiar shtick, and while the script mostly avoids coarseness, it also lacks cleverness and sophistication.
Veterans Lily Tomlin and Wallace Shawn do, however, earn some laughs as Fey’s free-spirited mother and her Princeton boss. And watch for University of Dallas grad Christopher Evan Welch as one of her colleagues.
“Olympus Has Fallen”
Olympus Has Fallen (wide release) is a simple-minded piece of jingoistic nonsense about a Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) who single-handedly defeats a bunch of North Korean terrorists who have taken over the White House in a bloody assault, rescues the President from their evil clutches and saves the nation from nuclear destruction as a bonus.
The script is filled with enormous lapses of logic, but even more troubling is its shameless pandering to patriotic sentiment. It’s trying to be dumb fun, but manages only the “dumb” half of the equation.
Halle Berry stars as a guilt-ridden 911 operator who turns sleuth to find a girl who’s been kidnapped by a serial killer in The Call (wide release), a thoroughly unsavory thriller that plays like a sillier – and markedly grosser – episode of CSI or Criminal Minds.
Much of the movie follows the operator’s attempts to advise the victim, who’s locked in the trunk of her abductor’s car. But in the final reel she tracks the villain down to his underground lair – while the cops dither, of course – and saves the girl herself. And a twist ending turns the entire unpleasant business into a nasty female revenge fantasy.
This is a call you shouldn’t answer.
By contrast you should certainly respond in the affirmative to No (Magnolia), a splendid account of the passage of a 1988 referendum that removed Chilean dictator Augustin Pinochet from the presidency and paved the way for the restoration of democracy in the country. (A “no” vote was against his continuance in office.) The emphasis is on the unusual advertising campaign that engaged popular sentiment in what at first seemed a hopeless cause.
Told in a quasi-documentary style that captures the period perfectly, No manages to be both an engrossing history lesson and an engaging piece of politically based uplift. Though it lost the foreign-language Oscar to Amour, like the campaign it portrays, it’s still a winner.