10 March 2013

Huckster of Oz

It isn't like we didn't already know the background of this story. Anyone who has ever seen/read/heard the Wizard of Oz story knows about the relatively timid wizard hiding behind the curtain and all of the means he uses to project a larger and more powerful self in order to preserve his position, or just survive. This time, though, we get to see the huckster before his Oz experience, using his "magic" to entertain and mostly to make a living in a travelling carnival.

So we start by looking behind the curtain to see the showman, the prestidigitator, the…huckster. But it's James Franco, so the actor's charm (or perhaps my propensity to attribute charm to him?) is added to the conjured charm of the character, and I can't help but like him.

There's an interesting mixture of techniques in the film – live action and probably at least a couple of different kinds of animation – and I usually don't go for that sort of thing, but I kind of enjoyed it here. The river fairies and funny and mildly scary (see the Mila Kunis shot below), but my favourites end up being the monkey – a sad sack wannabe who hitches his fortune to the star of the faux wizard, but who has some very funny lines in addition to being adorable – and the porcelain doll. I love how the doll goes from broken and cowering to charging forth with blood lust to kill the witch.

Quite an array of good and bad witches here, but only three and no sign of any ruby slippers. Aren't there supposed to be two good ones and two bad? Rachel Weisz was deceptively and then very effectively evil as Evanora and Michelle Williams a thoroughly good as Glinda, which is always a little boring, although she held her own in a fight with Evanora.
Mila Kunis was elegant and excellent as Theodora, at least up to the moment that her sister turned her definitively evil (and green). Up to that point, her place on the good-evil continuum seemed unclear. Oh, did I forget to say "spoiler alert"? My bad.

In the end, if I liked this better than the role of the Wizard in other Oz tales, it was because he succeeds by empowering and mobilizing the talents of the people of Emerald City – actually quite a progressive goal, if it weren't to save some kind of pseudo-monarchy in the end.

Speaking of the end, I was awake at the end, but, like at least one of my companions, I can't swear that I was awake all the way through. There is a part of the middle of the film that doesn't spring clearly into my head. Oh well, that must have been a slow part without a great impact on the story line, right?

A note on the cinema itself. I was not all that happy when Cineplex took over the formerly AMC multiplex at the old Forum … something about the spectre of monopoly that gives me the creeps. Despite losing the Coke Zero from the snack bar and the larger size of the small drink (Cineplex tries to upsell by offering a tiny "small" next to a much larger "medium" for a few pennies difference), I have to say that I am happier with the rewards program (more predictable, and now I earn points on the same card at either place) and they seem to be investing in some improvements to the infrastructure, from the self-serve kiosks to some of the interior spaces.

We saw this in UltraAVX 3D, with reserved seats that have a nice little "recline" function (they actually slide a bit). The drawback of reserved seats: no coat chair. Even when there are seats available in the cinema, the computer is allergic to allowing a choice that would leave a single seat between you and the next person, and people don't tend to think they can move over into the unoccupied seat beside them when they are assigned a seat number. First world problems, I know.

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