“I want him to see me like this! I want to show him what he’s done to me!!”
That’s Mila Kunis, shrieking at her sister (Rachel Weisz) in Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.” I won’t explain here exactly why the lovely Mila is so distressed. Don’t want to be a spoiler. (Although the cat’s really out of the bag on this, not everybody keeps up with showbiz news. There’s nothing like a good surprise.)
“Oz” stars James Franco, the above-mentioned Mila and Rachel, Michelle Williams and Zach Braff. It’s a “prequel” to “The Wizard of Oz” – the tale of how the wizard came to be a wizard, and how certain other vital characters evolved. Gucci and the Cinema Society hosted a Manhattan screening last week.
First off, “Oz” is in 3-D, which I generally find to be an unnecessary gimmick. Not to mention that those damn glasses can be uncomfortable, leaving a red mark on the bridge of your nose. And they are even more uncomfortable if you wear glasses to begin with. However, I have to admit that the use of 3-D in “Oz” is really spectacular and it does enhance the fantastical story.
“Oz” is not without some problems. For one thing, it cost Disney $200 million to make, with another $125 million spent on promotion. It will have to bring in at least $500 million for the studio to see a profit. Certainly possible, but that’s some financial tightrope.
The movie runs more than two hours, and gets off to a rather leisurely start. Eventually, however, the action really kicks in and you wind up forgetting you were ever twitching in your seat a bit earlier. (The final climactic battle between good and evil will knock your ruby slippers off!)
James Franco seems to be one of those lightning rod actors who critics love to hate a good deal of the time – and he can be a rather lazy performer – but I found him charming as the sleazy, womanizing carnival magician who is “tornadoed” into Oz and is assumed to be the great wizard; the one that the beleaguered people of that strange and beautiful land have been waiting for. (As with the original movie, the first 15 minutes of “Oz” is shot in black and white. Only when Franco crash lands in his hot air balloon does the screen open up in dazzling color. The moment still has audience impact.)
Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch, is properly a lovely cockeyed optimist in a bubble. Miss Kunis undergoes a transformation that will surprise fans who have seen her mostly in comic roles. As for Rachel Weisz, in many ways “Oz” is her film. This beauty has not often tapped her vampy, bitter side. Well, here she does and she makes the most out of every sarcastic, viciously insincere syllable she utters. (I think it’s time to put a gun in her hand and have her square off against hubby Daniel Craig in the next 007 epic.)
Zach Braff appears briefly in the flesh at the beginning of the film, and then works as the voice of an adorable flying monkey who assists the cynical and initially unwilling Mr. Franco to fulfill his destiny. There’s also a winsome, slightly tragic porcelain doll-girl – voiced by Joey King – who accompanies Mr. Franco on his journey to defeat the Wicked Witch and find himself in the bargain.
I’m no seer, but I think “Oz the Great and Powerful” will be a hit (it debuted in first place at the weekend box office). And for all you purists out there who think nothing about the original 1939 version should be tampered with – get over it. The unusual tale of the witches and how they came to be continues to be a smash in “Wicked” on Broadway. This material has many lives. “Oz” is the latest, and mighty fine, too.
After the screening that night, everybody traipsed off to a spacious, elegant new restaurant, Harlow, on East 56th Street. Mr. Franco, looking hot as Hades, attended, along with the likes of “Shameless” star Emmy Rossum, “Law & Order” stalwart, the great S. Epatha Merkerson, Madonna’s nicest ex, Carlos Leon, Dermot Mulroney, looking so good these days on the HBO/Laura Dern-produced series “Enlightened” (One of the most unusual, aggravating and heart-catching offerings on TV), director Lee Daniels, Dick Cavett, Judd Hirsch, Stephen Baldwin, Billy Zane, Bebe Neuwirth (those legs!), and what appeared to be hundreds upon hundreds of gorgeous models, male and female. You can depend on Cinema Society’s Andrew Saffir to drag in NYC’s most physically attractive people.
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