Cinepub


Review – Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) by Jamie

It seems as though I’m stuck in a world of watching adaptations of books I haven’t read at the moment. First of it was the surprisingly entertaining The Hunger Games, then Disney’s alright but somewhat lacklustre John Carter and now we’re back with another Disney attempt with Oz the Great and Powerful. It serves as a prequel of sorts to the 1939 original movie and takes elements from L. Frank Baum’s novels as well as bits from Gregory Maguire’s ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ as near as I can tell.

It basically tells the story of Oscar Diggs, stage name Oz, a magician/con-man with a travelling fair who is accidentally transported to the Land of Oz when he and his hot air balloon are caught in a tornado in Kansas. He finds out that there is a prophecy foretelling the arrival of a great and powerful wizard bearing the same name as the land itself. Oz decides to take advantage of this fortuitous coincidence when he discovers that the prophecy states that the Wizard will be named King and get mountains and mountains of treasure. He soon finds himself caught up in a war between three witches and has to decide whether he is going to try and get home or become the man he’d like to be and he has fooled others into believing he is.

My, it almost sounds like a fantasy version of John Carter when I write it out like that…

Anyway that’ll do for a synopsis since the film’s currently out at the cinema and that. The question is, is it worth you plonking your hard earned cash monies down on a cinema counter in order to go see it?

Well up front I’ll say I saw it in 2D because in a 3D film your eyes spend ten minutes adjusting to it and then you forget that it’s even in 3D in the first place so what’s the point in wasting that extra couple of quid? Still there were scenes that definitely seemed to be built for the medium so who knows, it might add something to it. Of course the film is also very, very colourful, something that tends to get lost in the 3D films I have seen so I guess it’s swings and roundabouts.

The film itself was surprisingly entertaining. I guess the surprise shouldn’t have been so great because it is Sam Raimi directing and, generally speaking, the man does good work. Franco is also generally entertaining as the titular Oz, in fact all of the actors are pretty good though for the first half of the film Mila Kunis seems bizarrely wooden like she’s trying to pull of naïve but isn’t quite getting it and comes of instead as someone who may have suffered a very, very slight brain injury. I mean, she’s still good but something seems a little off.

Still this film could have been a lot worse. Hollywood’s track record with prequels hasn’t exactly been great. The Hobbit left me wondering why the hell it couldn’t have just been one film, perhaps two at the most. Prometheus should have been a lot less stupid. And then there’s Star Wars. Oz manages to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that these other films fall in to and I think the reason possibly is that there really isn’t that much to the original Wizard of Oz film itself (I mean with regards to plot. Of course there‘s all kinds of deeper meanings that can be read into it). It’s a fairly straight forward story about a girl on a journey of discover through a weird and marvellous world. You get the sense that there is a back story, from the brief scene when the Good and Wicked Witches are in the scene together in Munchkin Land and of course with the Wizard himself, but none of it is really explored within the film itself. There’s a lot to explore there and you can do it without really stepping on the originals toes too much.

The film does have its problems. Perhaps most distracting was, whilst it was referencing the original film just fine, how it almost seemed as though it was trying to be every other movie. One character is deceived by someone they trust, becomes disfigured and turns to the dark side. At one point Oz says something like “I may not be the Wizard you were expecting but maybe I can be the Wizard you need.” Also he spends a lot of time acting opposite a digital monkey. I know that these may rather be more a problem with my film obsessed brain rather than the movie itself but it all just seemed a bit, well, obvious. I think the broader point that I’m trying to make here is that this film suffers from a similar problem to John Carter. It’s all very pretty, and I mean very, very pretty, but once more it never feels as though it’s anything we haven’t seen before. Oz get’s away with it a bit better though since it has a) a more likeable lead and b) it doesn’t seem to be taking itself to seriously like Carter did at points. It’s all just a bit of a fun romp through a weird fantasy land with a con-man.

Speaking of Oz’s character, there’s something about him that puts me in mind a little of a more family friendly version of Ash from the Evil Dead series. In fact, since this is a Raimi film, I wouldn’t be surprised if the character was thought of with how he might have a young Bruce Campbell, who of course gets a cameo, play it in mind.

Despite it’s flaws, like the makeup of the Wicked Witch of the West looking like a cross between the Mask and the Green Goblin, Oz the Great and Powerful is a pretty enjoyable return to Oz. Speaking of which, would it have killed you to have some references to that film in here Raimi? Maybe Tick-Tock or, God forbid, some Wheelers? Anyway, it’s certainly more enjoyable than John Carter or the film it has been most compared to, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Three out of five. Laterz. Oh, and if Zach Braff’s character Frank from the Baum Brothers Circus at the beginning of the film is shown in a sequel writing a book based on his friend’s adventures, I will probably go insane.

Oz

Advertisements


Review – John Carter (2012) by Jamie

John Carter has one of the most troubled histories in all of cinema. It’s long and storied past began all the way back in 1931 when Bob Clampett, a director of Looney Tunes, approached then still alive author Edgar Rice Burroughs with a proposition to turn his book ‘A Princess of Mars’ into an animated feature. Unfortunately test footage of this adaptation proved unfulfilling to a nation and MGM decided to make live action Flash Gordon serials instead. Throughout the decades the rights to the book would pass to Disney and Paramount with each attempt at an adaptation proving unsuccessful until Disney finally began filming in 2010. So yes, nearly 80 years of development hell is quite an achievement.

John Carter’s problems were far from over however. In 2011 Disney lost a lot of money on a film called ‘Mars Needs Moms’ and seemed to decide that the problem with that film was the inclusion of the word Mars in the title never stopping to think that a film titled Unidentified Planet Needs Moms would probably have done even worse. So the originally proposed title for the film John Carter of Mars was truncated to simply John Carter, a title which, if you knew nothing of the history of the project or its source material, would leave you thinking you were going to see a film about a man with a decidedly average name and nothing else. Marketing! The film was finally released in the early spring of 2012 and, according to some reports, lost Disney somewhere in the region of 160 million dollars.

So how was it that a film based on source material that inspired everything from Flash Gordon to Star Wars could be such a massive flop? Let’s take a look.

The story concerns one John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a former confederate soldier who has taken to prospecting since the end of the civil war. Whilst trying to escape the US cavalry who want a man of his experience to help them fight Apaches, he gets in a fight with a mysterious man with a mysterious medallion and said mysterious medallion whisks him away to a planet that the natives call Barsoom but which we know as Mars. It is a dying planet were disparate city-states (and half the cast of BBC/HBO’s Rome) fight each other for domination. There are the red skinned, human-like cities of Helium and Zodanga, Helium being the good but losing side and the Zodanga the evil but winning side thanks to there Jeddak (leader) Sab Than (Dominic West) mysteriously attaining a powerful weapon. There are also the four-armed, green skinned Tharks led by Jeddak Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), who I guess are the noble savages who seem to remain as neutral as possible during this civil war. Because it’s an allegory, you see.

On Mars, John Carter has incredible strength and leaping abilities because of his anatomy and the gravitational differences between the two planets and so, whilst really just wanting to get home, he eventually gets embroiled in the conflict when the Princess of Helium (Because apparently they have a special word for king or leader but not Princess) Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) runs away after her father promises her in marriage to Sab Than in an effort to end the war. All the while the progress and outcome of the war is being place by a mystical race of space-faring immortals called the Therns, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who gave Sab Than his mysterious weapon and prevented Helium from discovering the same technology for themselves. Oh, and the whole plot is book ended with the story being told to Edgar Rice Burroughs as he reads his Uncle John Carter’s diary.

As you may be able to see from that synopsis, the plot is a bit bloated and convoluted. I mean it’s not Star Wars prequels with endless scenes of political maneuvering bad but it’s a little flabby around the waist. It seems as though there’s a pretty simple plot in there but it’s overly complicated which work to the films detriment because it seems as though it never really knows who it’s target audience is. There will be moments of comedy involving Carter discovering his amazing leaping abilities or a really fast stubby penis-dog (that is seriously the only way I can describe the character of Woola) or an action scene involving John Carter fighting four-armed, white furred King Kongs in an arena but then there’s also long scenes involving the religion of Mars or the weird technology called the ninth ray. Add these things all together and you get a bit of a disjointed mess that may work well in a book which can take as long as it wants to explain things but in a two hour film you need decide where to trim or your left with things which seem important but are never really satisfactorily explained. To be fair, I’m sure some of the hanging threads in this film would have been explored in sequels but, well, that’s not going to happen now.

Now, I should take a moment here to say that the movie itself isn’t actually terrible. It kept me decently entertained and it looks very, very pretty with some great special effects. The main problem with the film is the source material. As I said earlier, Burroughs’ Mars books have been massively influential on pretty much the entirety of science fiction that came after them. As a result the film seems a bit unoriginal. There’s not much here that we haven’t seem before which is a shame since the books were probably the originator of some of these tropes. We’ve seen an alien out of his element with increased strength and jumping abilities fight to save his adopted planet before. We’ve seen an evil emperor with devastatingly destructive technology before. We’ve seen space princesses, four armed aliens and people fighting for their lives against alien beasts in arenas before. The sad truth is that everything that John Carter sets out to do has been done in film time and time again because the books influenced those very films.

Still, as I say, it’s a decently entertaining film of waste a couple of hours two and perhaps the thing that annoyed me most was the framing device of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sticking him in there isn’t going to make me believe that the books are an actual history of events that actually took place Disney. It worked with Bilbo writing his story in The Lord of the Rings because it just did for some reason. Weirdly it doesn’t work as well in The Hobbit. Can’t adaptations of books just be that without throwing in all this meta-bullshit? I can’t help but feel as though it’s some kind of reverence for the age of books as we progress further and further into a digital world but the reason Burroughs’ books should be revered is because they’re good and because they influenced an entire genre of humanity’s collected fiction not because they tell a secret history of events that actually transpired.

So John Carter is, in the end, a watchable film that does nothing particularly new but isn’t as stupendously awful as it’s box office failure would have you believe. I honestly think that removing Mars from the title was a reason for it‘s failure because who wants to see a film called John Carter? It could be about an accountant or a mechanic or a tramp or anything.Anyway 2.5 out of 5. Laterz and let’s just hope Disney doesn’t plan on releasing any other space opera films with princesses and warring factions and decide that the sci-fi element isn’t what will sell it… Oh. Damn. Well, I guess we can all look forward to Wars: Episode VII in 2015!

johncarter



Review – The Hunger Games (2012) by Jamie

Warning: Possible light spoilers ahead.

There is a reason that I’m only now getting around to reviewing this film. I, like so many others who had no familiarity with the books, heard about this film and immediately saw it as nothing more than a terrible rip-off of our precious Battle Royale. Yes, we all felt pretty high and mighty with our ability to reference one of the most well known Japanese films that didn’t have a giant radioactive lizard in it. Weren’t we clever?

Of course, the idea of people being forced to kill each other wasn’t even really original when Battle Royale came out. Hell, the Romans were doing it even before Jesus Harold Christ was getting up to all kinds of japery in the desert. Yes, the idea of kids having to do it was a bit original but , although not forced to do so, children have been killing each other on a deserted island since at least 1954 thanks to William Golding. The point I believe that I’m belabouring here is that nothing’s original. At this point in human history, it’s all just variations on a theme.

The other reason that it took me so long to finally get around to watching this was the running time. This film is two hours and twenty-two minutes long. That’s a good chunk of time for me to dedicate to a film that I only have a passing interest in. Still I recently watched all of the Best Picture Nominees and most of them were long and I was only really interested in three of them, hence why my reviews for them kind of dried up. Honestly, I haven’t watched a film just for the sake of watching a film in a long time. It’s either been watching for the Oscars or watching terrible films for various bad film podcasts. I needed to watch a film just for the sake of watching a film. I decided to finally visit the nation of Panem.

The most basic synopsis I can give is this: In the future, America has become the dystopian nation of Panem, a nation made up of a capitol inhabited by the wealthy class which is surrounded by twelve districts, each one filled with an underclass who perform the various tasks required to keep the country going such as farming, mining, fishing etc.

A long ago rebellion of these poor folks was quashed by the Capitol and led to the formation of the eponymous Hunger Games in which each district must provide one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in a televised death match of which there can be only one survivor. The tributes, as they are called, are chosen on a day called ‘The Reaping’.

During the Reaping for the 74th Annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) of District 12’s younger sister is chosen on her first time being eligible. Katniss decides that she can’t allow this and volunteers to go in her place. And so she and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are chosen to represent District 12 in a fight to the death.

There, I think that’s a fairly nice description of things. Now, I suppose the thing that surprised me most about this film is how much, for the most part, I enjoyed it. It’s actually a fairly decent entry into the ‘people forced to kill other people for the entertainment of others’ genre.

What I enjoyed most about the film was the amount of world building that went into it. I love me some world building. It’s one of the reasons I love Star Wars. Lucas can’t write dialogue for shit but if there’s one thing that he can do well it’s create a universe that’s satisfyingly different from out own whilst still being familiar. That’s something that The Hunger Games does to great effect too. It’s possible to see that this world could have descended from our own and there are obvious parallels to our history. The inhabitants of the Capitol are a class of people who don’t have to work. They wear ridiculous, unpractical costumes and watch TV shows about children killing each other because, well, what else are they going to do? I got a real opulence before the fall of Rome vibe from the whole thing. Oh, and if it turns out that this film is right and the future we’re headed for is one were “Gay Parisian Disco Clown” becomes a fashionable style then I too will be volunteering to enter the Games.

Yes, the setup of the world is really, really excellent and had me hooked into the film’s premise quite early on. The two leads playing District 12’s tributes are both excellent, Jennifer Lawrence in particular has an undeniable likeability that seems to come through in everything I’ve ever seen her in. The tertiary characters in these early scenes are also great with Woody Harrelson as an alcoholic former Games winner, Elizabeth Banks as one of the aforementioned Gay Parisian Disco Clowns, Stanley Tucci perfectly portraying a schmoozy talk show host and even Lenny Kravitz surprisingly bringing a nice emotional centre to the whole affair.

Unfortunately not everything can be great and things kinda go down hill once the actual show itself starts. Everything in this section of the film seems a bit rushed and I can imagine it’s all expanded upon in a great deal more detail in the book. Katniss forms relationships in this section that, in the time frame they develop within, seem completely unrealistic. I’ll admit that I believe that one of these relationships is merely played up for the cameras as Katniss believes it will give her a better chance of survival and I hope that the sequels prove this theory to be true or I’ll be greatly disappointed.

There’s also some really dodgy shaky cam, particularly during some of the very early scenes that almost had me turning the film off before I’d even begun to watch it due to it making me feel a little queasy. Yes, I’ll accept some shaky cam during an intense action scene but when you’re literally just showing an old, bearded man eating then I don’t think it’s really required. On the subject of filming techniques, there are also several times during the film were Katniss is injured or stung by hallucinatory wasps and the filmmaker decides to warp or cut the audio completely and play about with the focus for entirely too long. Again, this is fine maybe once during a film but if you repeat this trick one too many times it starts becoming nauseating rather than disorientating.

There’s also the problem that the film is a 12A and you’d think that that’d be detrimental for a film where many of the characters are supposed to slaughter each other but honestly there was a lot more violence shown than I originally expected and though you don’t see that much, it kind of works to the films advantage as the brief flashes of a stabbing hand and a scream actually cause your mind to fill in the blanks which, as Jaws taught us, is always more terrifying.

Oh, I do have one last criticism. Ropey looking CGI dogs with man faces? Piss off. They probably have an explanation in the book but they certainly don’t in the film and so they just come off as the director realising he’s run out of time so he really needs to wrap things up quickly.Oh, and the uniform of the peacekeeprs looks very low-budget early 70s sci-fi. Not really the kind of thing you can get away with in a post Stormtroopers world.

So there you have it. It’s not a film without flaws but I was pretty entertained throughout. I feel a lot of this is down to Jennifer Lawrence and just some genuinely interesting world building. I might even give the books a read now since I’m sure they expand on that aspect to an even greater degree. So yeah, if you’ve got a free afternoon or evening you there are worst ways you could spend your time. Three and a half out of five. Laterz and may the odds be ever in your favour.

TheHungerGames




%d bloggers like this: