By: Ryan Painter
1. Zero Dark Thirty (R)
2. Argo (R)
3. Lincoln (PG-13)
4. Silver Linings Playbook (R)
5. Oz the Great and Powerful (PG)
1. Oz the Great and Powerful (PG)
2. Life of Pi (PG)
3. Beautiful Creatures (PG-13)
4. Rise of the Guardians (PG)
5. Wreck-It Ralph (PG)
1. Argo (R)
2. Amour (PG-13)
3. The Impossible (PG-13)
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild (PG-13)
5. West of Memphis (R)
Oz the Great and Powerful
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Director • Sam Raimi
Starring • James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis
Rated • PG
Recommended to • Those looking for a visually appealing, but somewhat shallow prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.”
Oz (James Franco) was nothing more than a charlatan magician touring small towns and leaving a trail of broken hearts until a storm swept him away to a distant land where witches, both good and evil, were vying for control in the wake of their king’s death.
Those expecting “Oz the Great and Powerful” to stand up against 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” should reconsider their expectations. “Oz the Great and Powerful” is an overwhelmingly entertaining popcorn film; not an instant classic. It’s positives out weigh its flaws, but those flaws cannot be ignored. The film features a bevy of modern special effects. Some of these effects work wonderfully and others make it look like the actors have been inserted into an animated film. The cast impresses. James Franco is steady, Rachel Weisz is brilliant, Michelle Williams is wonderfully subtle and for the first half of the film Mila Kunis is enchanting. Unfortunately the second half is an entirely different story as Kunis fails to match the intensity of the rest of the cast rendering her character as a distraction rather than a menacing force.
The plot is fantastic, but the script isn’t nearly as smart or clever as I would have liked it to be. It’s nice that the majority of the scenes are pulled directly from L. Frank Baum’s stories, but the characters lack depth and their choices often feel unmotivated by anything other than the need to move the story forward.
Director Sam Raimi offers audiences a wild ride and slips in all his traditional gimmicks and while the references to his other films and the cameos of his brother and Bruce Campbell are amusing inside jokes they don’t really serve a purpose.
I enjoyed “Oz the Great and Powerful” and I think you will as well, just be ready to look past the occasional inconsistencies that keep the film from being as grand as its title.
3 out of 5 Stars
Director • Peter Webber
Starring • Matthew Fox, Colin Moy, Tommy Lee Jones
Rated • PG-13
Recommended to • History buffs, Tommy Lee Jones fans and those looking for a lightweight war drama.
Following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) was sent to Japan to, among many things, determine if Japan’s Emperor Hirohito should be charged, and tried as a war criminal. MacArthur turned to General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), a man with a deep respect and understanding of Japanese culture because of his love for Aya, a Japanese exchange student he met while at college.
“Emperor” is director Peter Webber’s (“Girl with a Pearl Earring”) attempt at evoking the emotional resonance of a Terrence Malick film while staying within the framework of a traditional Hollywood drama. To Webber’s credit he’s done a good job of telling the story, but he’s failed to make it resonate. Part of Malick’s charm, which is also the reason why many people find his films to be difficult to understand, is that he doesn’t feel bound to a script. “A Thin Red Line,” Malick’s World War II masterpiece, is more about the experience of war than it is a historical document. “Emperor” doesn’t have that sort of freedom because it is more about a historic moment than an emotional response. I’m not familiar with Shiro Okamoto’s book “His Majesty’s Salvation” and don’t know enough about this particular aspect of World War II history to know what aspects of the film are more fiction than fact, but the romantic elements of the film simply feel fabricated. Is this because of the writing, the direction or Fox’s performance? A bit of each I would think. Because we know how the main storyline of “Emperor” plays out, for the film to be completely successful it would have needed to really offer insight, both as a historical document and as an examination of how unfulfilled love can have a lifelong influence, and ultimately it fails to do that. Perhaps Webber should have tried channeling Wong Kar-wai instead.
West of Memphis
4 out of 5 Stars
Director • Amy Berg
Rated • R
Recommended to • Those looking for a concise overview of the story of the West Memphis Three.
“West of Memphis” is a very good documentary that effectively tells the story of three teens that were tried and convicted of killing three young boys in Arkansas. They were convicted despite a lack of evidence and would spend nearly 20 years behind bars. Their story would have fallen through the cracks were it not for filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky and their trilogy of “Paradise Lost” films. The first two “Paradise Lost” films directly led to the making of “West of Memphis.” In many ways, because director Amy Berg had the previous films to reference, “West of Memphis” is more focused and ultimately a stronger film when judged directly against any of the “Paradise Lost” films. It lacks some of the sensationalism that appeared in the second “Paradise Lost” film, but that’s because Berlinger and Sinofsky were making the films as the events unfolded. Berg has the benefit of knowing in advance what tangents proved to be dead ends and stuck to the meat and potatoes of the story. Oddly enough it was some of the dead ends in “Paradise Lost” that said the most about how society’s immediate need for answers and justice can obscure the truth from law enforcement and filmmakers alike. I’m highly recommending that you see “West in Memphis,” but do me a favor and go back and give the ‘Paradise Lost” films a viewing as well. That way I won’t feel like I’m ditching the groundbreaking films for the newer, slimmer and sexier version of the story.
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey
3 out of 5 Stars
Director • Ramona S. Diaz
Rated • Not Rated
Recommended to • Fans of true uplifting stories that prove that the impossible dream is actually possible as long as you put the work in and never stop believing.
Ramona S. Diaz’s documentary about Arnel Pineda, a Pilipino singer that was plucked from obscurity when he was offered the chance of being the new lead singer for the stadium-filling rock band Journey based on a YouTube video, is almost too good to be true. The cynic in me doesn’t want to believe the story, but the struggling artist in me can’t help but need it to be true. Pineda had a talent, stuck with it for decades and when the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came he embraced it and became an icon for the Pilipino community in the process. I’ve never thought much of Journey, but “Don’t Stop Believin’” has definitely made me a fan of Pineda.
Greedy Lying Bastards
3 out of 5 Stars
Director • Craig Scott Rosebraugh
Rated • PG-13
Recommended to • Those looking for a film with an environmental agenda that is filled with some frightening and undeniable issues that truly can’t be ignored.
Craig Scott Rosebraugh is an environmentalist that has made a film that is “left-leaning.” He doesn’t try and obscure his bias and no doubt has written and edited his film to best reflect his ideology while making those who have differing opinions look less credible. Sadly there will be those that will use this fact as a way to dismiss “Greedy Lying Bastards” entirely. This would be a mistake. I think that as a society we are smart enough to realize that pollution from industry and cars isn’t helping the environment and that money has an undeniable influence on politicians. “Greedy Lying Bastards” is too one-sided, but it still manages to raise some important issues. Maybe it’s not a doomsday scenario yet, but ignoring or denying a certain amount of responsibility isn’t going to improve anyone’s future.
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group.)