Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gary's Movie Reviews: I Loved the Vibrant "Oz the Great and Powerful" and "Life of Pi"

[The titles link to the trailers]

I knew I was going to absolutely love this film from the moment I saw the previews and realized it was Sam Raimi taking on this prequel to The Wizard of Oz.  It’s funny though.  I never thought I was the type to like soulless special effects, which many critics and audiences seem to claim about this film.  Rotten Tomatoes states 60% of critics gave it a favorable review, and 63% of audiences gave it a thumbs up.  That’s enough to squeak by with a Fresh rating, but just barely.  Am I missing something?  Why does it seem to me critics and audiences these days are so jaded that they can’t see a breathtaking and delightful movie when their presented with one?  I’m amazed, sitting there in my theater seat, thinking this is exactly what they make movies for – to transport a person into a story and whisk you away to a magical, far-away land full of witches, munchkins, and tiny little talking China dolls.  Then you check out the Rotten Tomatoes site and read this from some stony critics:  “Oz the Great and Powerful is a peculiarly joyless occasion” (David Eddlestein, New York Magazine); “Big and splashy but tin-eared” (Chris Barsanti, Film Racket); “Dreadfully mediocre dialogue delivered by a woefully miscast James Franco” (Marc Fennell, Triple J).  I could go on, ‘cause there are dozens of these rotten reviews from the critics alone, but what’s the point?  Need I remind these people who have lost the ability to just sit back and enjoy a film for what it is rather than what it isn’t that the original Wizard of Oz they are comparing this film to unfavorably was universally panned by critics when it was released in 1939?  The critics then didn’t have the love of story to be able to just let go and enjoy the original, and many of today’s critics and audiences are the same.

     Let me say this:  There is nothing wrong with this film, and for fans of the original Oz, of which I am (sort of), it’s a treat to see the origin story of the wizard and the three witches before one of them gets a house dropped on her!  If you truly want to see a bad film about the land of Oz, check out Return to Oz from 1985 sometime, starring Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, and then tell me this new Oz film is a horrible retread!  It’s almost like the critics and audiences were watching a different movie altogether!

Ang Lee outdid himself!  It’s not often that I look up a film just to specifically see who the cinematographer was, but in this case, it’s worth it!  I’m sure all the credit doesn’t go to Claudio Miranda.  Quite a lot of the look of the film should probably also be credited to the director Ang Lee, or the Art Direction and Set Decoration, or the people working on the fabulous special effects.  Even before Pi ends up adrift in a lifeboat with an aggressive, adult Bengal tiger, the story and the writing are captivating.  For example, early on, Pi takes an interest in Hinduism, then feels a connection with Jesus Christ and calls himself a Christian, and before long, he’s mixing some of these religions with some Islamic rituals.  His brother makes fun of him for his religious mash-up, but his father lays it on the line:  You can believe what you want, but use your rational mind to do it.  It's the first indication that there's more here under the surface.  (And I wish Rosie O'Donnell would heed the advice of Pi’s father).
     The movie is striking to look at, on a purely cinematic level, both before the boat disaster, during, and after.  In fact, it is films like this that make me such a movie lover to begin with!

     But aside from some of these very impressive visuals, the writing is also first rate.  [SPOILER ALERT] Later on, Pi tells a story of a wounded sailor, his mother, and an aggressive cook in the lifeboat with him, rather than a wounded zebra, an orangutan, and a hyena that begin the story, and the people he tells it to equate the zebra with the sailor, the hyena with the cook, and the orangutan with his mother, which means Pi is the tiger.  Which story is true?  Pi instead asks which story people prefer.  When viewed from this angle, the movie takes on a deeper significance than what is seen on the surface, causing it to appeal to audiences on many different levels.  This was simply a stupendous movie!

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