Oz The Great and Powerful, the new fantasy film written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire and directed, for some reason, by Sam Raimi, is a movie about a man with Peter Pan syndrome and has commitment issues who ends up in a land far, far away where he gets caught up in a cat fight between three woman (Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz) who are jealous of each other’s looks and/or the man in their lives. Yes, that’s about as much imagination as is shown in this conglomeration culled from the characters in the books of Frank L. Baum (of The Wizard of Oz fame).
It’s also a movie starring the incredibly, if not profoundly, miscast James Franco (easily as miscast as he was as host of the Oscars) in the titular role. It’s a movie in which every scene is designed for maximum 3-D effect, while the scenery, characters and dialog are as flat as Franco’s acting (and with backgrounds that have rarely looked as much like matte drawings as they do here). It’s a movie in which Zach Braf, a former romantic lead of such outings as Scrubs, Garden State and The Last Kiss, has fallen to such depths as to be cast in a second lead, as a flying monkey no less, yet he still steals every single scene he is in.
And finally, it’s a movie that can’t have a satisfactory ending because the filmmakers have painted themselves into a corner. The only truly dramatically satisfactory resolution is for Oz to return to Kansas to save former girlfriend Annie (Michelle Williams) from a loveless marriage. But he can’t leave Oz because he’s got to be there when Dorothy arrives. But his character arc needs to be resolved, so he ends up kissing Glinda (also played by Michelle Williams, and I suppose that from the filmmakers’ points of view, one woman is the same as another, so it really doesn’t matter if Oz ends up with Annie or Glinda as long as they are played by the same actress), but we know that this relationship can’t last because there’s no such relationship when D-girl arrives. And isn’t there something just a little creepy in that a lead character in a family film is awarded with sex for saving the day?
Oz The Great and Powerful doesn’t work. It’s unimaginative in design, acting, direction and writing. Perhaps it’s best to say that it’s a movie that is no Jack the Giant Slayer and let it go at that.
Meanwhile, The Monk is also about a character that is also supposed to be charismatic and inspiring. It’s the new movie written by Dominik Moll (who also directed) and Anne-Louise Trividic. Moll also directed the highly recommended films With a Friend Like Harry… and Lemming and there seems to be a theme here—that of some evil or perverseness worming its way into a seemingly safe situation.
The Monk is about, well, this monk Ambrosio who lived in Spain in the late 18th century. He’s very popular. His sermons draw SRO crowds. I have to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure why. His homilies are pretty doom and gloomy stuff and the character, as played by Vincent Cassel, is not the most charismatic of preachers. He’s actually much better at confession where he’s able to cut through bullshit with a butter knife.
Ambrosio’s main philosophical point is that Satan has no more power over any of us than we can stand. I guess that was too much of a Job like statement, because it’s not long before Satan (played by Sergi Lopez, one of the go to guys for playing the devil these days, I guess) arrives to take up the gauntlet the monk has thrown him (Lopez is actually in the opening scene, which in many ways kind of demonstrates one of the structural weaknesses of the story—since the audience doesn’t know this is Satan, it never gets related to the rest of the story until the movie’s over, which isn’t very satisfactory). But at any rate, Satan sends evil to the monastery and since this is based on a Catholic novel written in 1796, evil must arrive in the form of a woman. And Ambrosio’s beliefs are quickly proved wrong because Satan’s power is greater than the father can withstand and Ambrosio is soon heading toward an Oedipal like tragic ending.
But the movie never quite worked for me mainly because Satan is able to defeat Ambrosio by using magical powers and forcing Ambrosio to do things he would never normally do. Satan’s not the devil here, he’s a Jedi knight. So instead of being emotionally involved in Ambrosio’s downfall, all I could think was, “Hey, that’s cheating”. I guess the whole thing’s suppose to be some sort of metaphor, but if so, it all felt a bit too vague to me until I didn’t know what the moral of the story was supposed to be: beware of Satan because he’s really Yoda?
The real problem with the movie, though, may be the basic structure. It’s a tad all over the place. There are three major through lines and the movie takes a bit too long in bringing them all together (and one never seems satisfactorily integrated). And the movie also tries to implicate the monk for the fate of a young nun, something to which Ambrosio’s guilt is tenuous at best and to which I called “shenanigans”.
I understand that the great prankster filmmaker Louis Bunuel wanted to make a movie of the novel over the years and one can see why. It has all the ingredients that would appeal to someone with the impious sensibility of that anti-Catholic filmmaker. And he quite possibly would have been able to bring a certain perverse vision to the material that might have been more successful. But for me, this movie is just a slight misstep in Moll’s career.