Combustible Celluloid
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With: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox, Stephen R. Hart, Abigail Spencer, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Martin Klebba
Written by: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by: Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
Running Time: 130
Date: 14/02/2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Oohs and Oz

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Sam Raimi has managed to hang onto his joyous enthusiasm for movement and shock throughout his entire movie career, from his $375,000 feature debut "The Evil Dead" to the new $200 million movie "Oz the Great and Powerful."

Some might argue that his directorial touches remain only on the surface and that his movies are otherwise shallow. But he has had repeated success with that noblest of themes: characters learning to believe in themselves.

The list includes Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Bruce Campbell's "Ash" from the "Evil Dead" trilogy, and now Oz (James Franco).

Oz is a goofball and a scruffy scoundrel, a con man and a ladies' man, employed as a traveling carnival magician at the beginning of the 20th century. His latest stop is Kansas.

As with the classic "The Wizard of Oz," the Kansas sequences are presented in black-and-white and a narrow screen width (and also 3D). The movie springs into color and widescreen (and more 3D) during the Oz sequences. Otherwise, the two movies couldn't be more different.

Upon reaching the new land, Oz meets and works his charms on the lovely Theodora (Mila Kunis), not realizing the repercussions his actions will later have.

He also meets a friendly flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and a brave china doll (voiced by Joey King).

Oz learns he may be part of a prophecy that involves killing a wicked witch. Only, it's initially not clear which witch is which: Glinda (Michelle Williams) or Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

Going reluctantly into battle, Oz uses what skills are available to him, employing practical tricks to combat magical forces.

These imperfect, handmade techniques lend a human touch to an otherwise visual effects-laden movie.

The casting of Franco works in much the same way. A shabby, flawed wisecracker, he constantly clashes with the astonishing things that surround him.

The movie only sputters when it turns to matters of plot that don't concern him; without him, nothing anchors the visuals. They end up ruling the moment.

But as a bonus, longtime Raimi fans will recognize his taste for absurd horror, with objects -- and witchy appendages -- shooting out at all angles. And look for a heavily made-up Campbell, in his eighth film with Raimi.

Indeed, the movie's real success comes from the sheer joy and personality that Raimi brings to it; even working on a gargantuan scale, he's still making the movies he, Raimi, loves and wants to see. Rather than pandering to viewers, he invites us to join in.

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