Review: Oz the Great and Powerful and Identity Thief

Oz the Great and Powerful china doll

This post feels strange, and a little over-critical. Over the past two nights I’ve rented two movies from Redbox, and I really have nothing productive to say about either of them. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) and Identity Thief (2013). They were both “okay” at best. I enjoyed Identity Thief more, which was surprising.

While I don’t have much to say about it, Identity Thief seemed to suffer from pacing and punchy writing. I really like Melissa McCarthy and there were some very funny moments but I still don’t think this is the type of role for her. I think she belongs on television, her comic timing is pretty fantastic, and I do think she could carry her own sitcom as the lead. She was my favorite character on Samantha Who, the funniest parts of Bridesmaids, and funny 10 years ago on Gilmore Girls. I like her and want to see more of her. Jason Bateman is pretty much the same character in everything I see, so I don’t have much to say about the rest of the movie… A few really, genuinely hilarious moments mixed in with a bunch of meh. Actually, the hilarious moments had more to do with Melissa McCarthy’s comic timing, and made me wonder if those bits had been ad-libbed.

Oz the Great and Powerful was a lot worse overall.  I almost didn’t pick it up, because it looked like Tim Burton’s CGI-heavy Alice and Wonderland, and I’m sick of seeing movies like that. Strangely enough, the CGI and the way it was shot wasn’t the problem. Okay, maybe the intro that happened in a tiny black-and-white square in the middle of my large HD tv… (Can we stop making super-widescreen movies? Who has a tv shaped like that???) The problem was the casting. For a Disney movie I was really surprised, but in some imdb investigation, I could definitely see that they had other people in mind for a lot of the roles that would have been a lot more appropriate.

Screen presence. For me, there’s an expectation of screen presence in anything Disney does. The actor needs to speak through his eyes, believe everything he says, and instill a sense of wonder with the world he’s experiencing. That’s a Disney thing, and when it’s not happening, it breaks the 4th wall in a negative way. I like to think of Enchanted as a perfect Disney movie, because even though it is a live-action movie, all of the actors look like they believe everything they’re saying and what’s happening to them, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. Disney characters also must remain fluid, dreamy, otherworldly, possessed by magic and driven by fate, and a bit old-timey.

This is what the film was lacking. Maybe it’s the lack of immersion while working in front of a green-screen. James Franco and Mila Kunis were saying their lines and had no chemistry, not speaking with their eyes, or playing up the internal magic. Given that they are the two main characters (protagonist & antagonist), this was sad. I like them both, but they’re definitely suited for less magic-based roles, playing slightly-psycho girls-next-door and stoner sidekicks. Rachel Weisz was almost there… in some scenes more than others, but she still felt a bit detached.

I sat there imagining the likes of Famke Janssen as Theodora, Helena Bonham Carter or Eva Green as Evanora, and someone like Martin Freeman or Robert Downey Jr. as Oz. The witches needed to be twitchier, slightly more untrustworthy, a little bit more obsessed, shaking with anger and expressing with their eyes when they were going mad. Oz needed to be more cocky, more full of himself, but a bit unsteady and bumbling when he wasn’t making a speech. Maybe I’m old-school… On the other hand, I never mentally recast Michelle Williams as Glinda. She had succeeded. She spoke with her eyes, looked like she believed almost everything she said, and carried herself like a Disney character. Michelle Williams has that classic screen presence.

The movie itself was enjoyable, but it felt like almost every scene was being thrown away as it happened. There was a little monologue early in the movie where I was pretty sure that James Franco was being fed lines off screen with cue cards like a Saturday Night Live skit.

Other redeeming qualities were Zach Braff‘s Finley, the monkey sidekick; and the china doll character who completely skipped over the uncanny valley due to the fact that she was indeed a porcelain doll. Along with Michelle Williams, they were the strong points of the movie pushing it along and keeping my attention.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so critical of a family film geared towards young people. Even I can admit that I recently re-watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit and got pretty bored as an adult. On the other hand, Labyrinth is still pretty fantastic.

TL;DR Melissa McCarthy is funny and Michelle Williams can act.

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