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Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful

It seems that every classic is to have an entourage. The loneliness of such films as Alien, Star Wars, and King Kong is too much to bear for the hearts of movie execs, so companions are made for them. Sequels, prequels, remakes, and spinoffs are what Hollywood does most, though not necessarily best. At times, this proclivity has born sweet fruit. Though sequels are rarely as good as the original, if the original was any good at all, there have been some smashing successes. Even remakes have some achievements to be noted. I am, however, unaware of a prequel or a spinoff whose makers could hold their heads high and proud once their creation hit the silver screen. Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, is unable to break out of this trend and be the first.

Set some years before the events of Victor Fleming’s work, it tells the tale of the wizard himself, a travelling magician from Kansas making a meager, day-to-day living. A magician is a trickster, of sorts, and Oscar Diggs (James Franco) has a character well suited to it. Though one gets the sense that at his core he is not entirely amoral, he lies to friend and stranger alike. He lusts after money and women, whom he tricks for his own benefit.

It is this very duplicity in his nature that gets him running from trouble and sets him on course for Oz. After flirting with the wife of a circus strongman, he escapes the enraged husband in a hot air balloon just as a tornado begins to ravage the landscape. As happened in the original film to Dorothy, the tornado transports him to the magical Land of Oz. There, he meets Theodora, a witch played by Mila Kunis.

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Avengers

Avengers

After a series of movies about individual superheroes, movies that gave us their origin stories, we have finally been treated to the culmination of the last few years and so many millions of man-hours: The Avengers. The films leading up to it were generally fair to middling, I thought, with the first Iron Man rising maybe half a skosh above that level. The latest comes heralded by uniformly positive reviews. It is, we are told, much better than one would expect. According to most reviews, there is a greater focus on character than one usually gets in an action movie, but there is no skimping on set pieces. The reality, for me, was more of the same: half a skosh above decent.

Loki, Thor’s brother and fellow god, wants to rule the Earth. He makes a deal with some aliens who agree to conquer the Earth for him in exchange for the Tessaract, an artifact of immense power, which will also play a role in transporting the invading army to New York to begin the takeover. Loki steals the Tessaract from Nick Fury, who then assembles the Avengers to find him, find it, find out what the plan is, and do anything else that needs a little superpower elbow grease. A lot of bickering between incompatible personalities and a whole lot of violence and destruction ensue.

The plot is unremarkable but perfectly adequate, and that is a good description for the movie as a whole. There are no scenes whose impact lingers in your memory after the credits have rolled, no wonderful development of character, no stunning visuals, no lines of great insight, no “aha!” moments. What it does have, to go with its serviceable story, is competent direction, a few genuinely amusing visual jokes, a bevy of one-liners that play well to an opening-weekend audience, and the action set pieces that many movie goers — mostly male — crave sometimes to the exclusion of all else.

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The Thing

The ThingThe Thing, a remake of a remake of a solid sci-fi/horror film directed by, despite what the credits may tell you, Howard Hawks, is being projected onto silver screens in dollar theaters across the country right now. While a viewing of the movie does not immediately make clear why theater space would be made available for such a project, I strongly suspect that in the current climate of more-CGI-less-story-less-character, none of the other reels delivered to theaters contained anything more promising. In other words, for about the same reason I occasionally find myself eating broccoli. The best thing I can say for it is that there were a handful of stretches, some of them two or three minutes in duration, in which I forgot how forgettable the movie was.

In this third generation version, a young, good-looking scientist is asked to come to Antarctica and given no clear reason why. She is only told that it is important. When she arrives, she discovers the scientists stationed there are excavating an alien spacecraft buried in the ice a hundred thousand years ago. They have found a creature, also buried in the ice, that they believe came along with the ship. It is nothing more than a blurry form under the translucent surface, and next to nothing about it has been discovered.

They dig out a block of ice containing the extraterrestrial but, because this is sci-fi/horror, it escapes and is so unfriendly that people start dying. The rest of the movie is a desperate fight to survive in the most inhospitable environment offered on this planet that still has breathable air. For those keeping track, yes, there is a black man in this movie. No, he doesn’t make it. And that’s not a spoiler, either. As soon as I reported the monster’s escape from its prison you knew no black man was going to live long enough to read the credits.

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