Oz the Great and Powerful

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L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz almost had the status of a fairy tale even as it was more of a children’s novel which came later. May be this belief was strengthened more by those children’s books which placed the story with Cindrella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood and the rest of the team with goodness and happy endings. The story of the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy Gale in the magical land of Oz was not read separated from Alice in Wonderland at that time. A scarecrow, a rusted tin woodman and a cowardly lion had made faithful companions not only to Dorothy, but also to many readers. There were three witches then, and when we come into the movie, we will have three too. The 1902 stage play and the 1939 film adaptation can wait for now though, as Oz the Great and Powerful has come up, and serves to be a kind of prequel to the real story which has been read and liked for such a long time. Thus it serves as a source of exile before the exile, if not an escape into to a world of fantasy which preceded Dorothy getting lost. The magical land of Oz not only provides a world of witches, wizards and talking animals, it is also the ultimate point of escapism which this movie makes sure of.

Welcome to the movie and the world of Oscar Diggs, the magician who calls himself the great and powerful even as he is mostly a trickster and a fraud. As a con artist and a circus magician, he hasn’t really earned much, and never did he reach anywhere near his ambition which stays close to someone like Thomas Alva Edison. But all of these would change when he is sucked into a cyclone with the balloon in which he was travelling, while finding a way to escape from the trouble which he caused by himself. But as the balloon breaks apart and he faces death, Oscar wishes for another chance and promises God that if he survives the situation which is so close to death, he will transform himself and become a good man. The scene until this was shown in black and white, as if to reflect his own colourless life. But as he reaches the magical land of Oz in his wrecked balloon, the screen changes into colour as if his whole life has been painted with the beauty of different attractive colours. The land of magic and sorcery comes to the scene and the world of treachery and lies make way for the colourful spectacle of Oz to which our own Oz has entered by accident.

The first one whom he meets is the witch Theodora who explains to him that he is supposed to be a great and powerful wizard by the name of Oz supposed to descend from the sky, save the land of Oz, and become their new king. They encounter Finley, a flying monkey whom Oscar saves. Finley pledges a life debt to Oscar and promises to serve him in whichever way possible. Another witch and Theodora’s sister Evanora guards the throne of the dead king. She sends Oz to steal and destroy another witch Gilda’s wand after which he would be given the throne and all the riches of Oz. Oscar and Finley travel to the Forbidden Forest to find and steal the wand from the witch, and on the way, they save a little girl made of porcelain. At the location, they find Gilda and comes up against a revelation which changes the direction of the story. The illusions and delusions of the world of witches would become more clear. The roles would be interchanged and the twist of fate takes a leap over the minds of the characters. It is at this point that the real action begins.

James Franco’s Oz is surely not a wizard, but a magician and a man of tricks. He never convinces the audience that he has become a role-model until the final stages of the movie. Dorothy Gale wouldn’t have had a good time with that Oz of the first half of the movie. Still, his change is slow and mostly unpredictable. He continues his methods of tricking and seducing, along with his pessimistic hope – something of the strangest character for such a long time. He wishes to get that treasure at the end of any rainbow, in this case – a kingdom and its unlimited riches. Still, to put this character into the dungeon reserved for the evil – that might not be fair, but if there is a place in between, a grey world for the intermediate ones, that would serve justice in a better way. His inclination was never towards pure evil, and it changes for somewhat evil to good, even as he can never be said to reach a status of pure good. But how many of the people of Oz would reach that status would be a question to talk about. There are times when Oz is more like another John Carter, but my fear about the possibility of watching some random movie named something like “Aliens vs Witches/Wizards” would keep my mouth shut.

The eternal conflict between good and evil continues in the land of Oz as anywhere else and so will one’s personal struggle with lies/greed and truth/morality. The black and white beginning, as it passes away begins the world which is a wonderland. The wonder starts and ends with the three witches, Theodora, Evanora, and Glinda – even Macbeth had three witches for sure, but this case is different. The fact is that one of them is pure good, another one pure evil and the remaining one, neither here or there until she is forced to take a stand supported by her emotions. Didn’t we have the three fates in mythology? Well, these three might have worked with the same title for our hero. Well, even the wizard of Oz needs and origin in a world where even Wolverine has his own origins as a movie. One has to feel that it is perfectly timed, to release after Hensel and Gretel as well as Jack the Giant Slayer. The movie has risen over these two and has developed another children’s story into a world of unexplainable beauty. Thus the justice has been done to the original Oz.

One has to say that Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, as the three witches controls the movie. Among them, Rachel Weisz creates that much needed magic which has powered the movie beyond its original strength. The character of Mila’s witch might be the strangest, and it is the one witch who is more unpredictable than the rest, but still not creating that impact which it should have. Finley the Flying Monkey provides the laughter element with his dialogues, and when he talks about monkeys, bananas and stereotypes, there is not a soul in the theatre who didn’t laugh. Almost all the lighter moments has the monkey somewhere around. The china girl made of porcelain also adds to it. She is the second true friend whom Oz makes in his new world. She is more like a little kid made of flesh and bones rather than a talking miracle. The combination of these two with the protagonist takes the movie to another level of good combination.

No, there is no messing up of the classic, even as flaws exist. The land of natural wonders in 3D which is so unnatural – when helped by the beautiful CGI creates an unforgettable experience for the audience. It might not be easy to remember the special effects used in such a good manner for a long time. May be only Avatar 2 could make me say the same thing again. With the characters who are never flat, and the plot which never loses its steam, Oz the Great and Powerful establishes itself as a worthy prequel which would make Dorothy Gale proud and asking for more prequels over prequel. It establishes with the help of the new technology that there is no place like Oz. Alice had gone to a wonderland, but it was not Oz, and that was surely a big miss for her. The battle between goodness and evil shall continue as none of the witches not the wizard meets the end as the movie finishes. The door for a sequel is thus kept open with the evil ones fleeing the scene, thus creating hope for evil even through a happy ending – and we shall wait for what is to come.

Release date: 8th March 2013
Running time: 130 minutes
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Abigail Spencer, Bruce Campbell, Tim Holmes, Zach Braff, Joey King

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.

Jack the Giant Slayer

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Back in the childhood, there was a story which featured in a lot of books, a fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”. But the adventure had not met its end at that time; now, after the return of Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Hansel & Gretel to the new movie world, another fairy tale comes back to life in a different manner – our legend this time goes like this “Fee Fi Fo Fum, ask not whence the thunder come; For between heaven and earth it’s a perilous place, home to a fearsome giant race; Who hunger to conquer the mortals below, waiting for the seeds of revenge to grow”. The original one was “Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, Be he live, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread”. The difference between the fairy tale and the movie doesn’t end there, for Jack is not someone who steals anything, but a hero and the defender of his realm. He never even takes anything to or from this world to the other. But he is still a boy from the farm and he kills some giants (two to be exact), just in defence though.

“Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man” would be the words of Edgar in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, but it might be better suited to the giants. Did those giants bother you in your childhood dreams and convert them into horrible nightmares? Where they your nightmare creatures? If they were, this is the time to redeem them. The giants haven’t really got their evil image running, as gentle giants tend to become more popular. But with giants, you never know and here it is proven; with gentle Jack and not-so-gentle giants who love to eat humans more than anything. Jack is just a simple farm boy; he is no Jack Sparrow and surely no Jack McClane. But what he does would change his life forever. From his fear of heights, or the fear of falling as he himself would call it, the man without any noble blood would rise to save the kingdom and the world of the humans from an invasion of the man-eating giants and also marry the beautiful princess to become the next ruler. If there is something like destiny, Jack has the best experience of it; if there is fate, it belongs to Jack; and as this fairy tale itself belongs to him as his own story, this is a fact which would be easily known.

Jack, the son of a farmer and Isabelle, the daughter of the king are shown to listen to the same bedtime story about giants and their invasion of human realm as the result of the creation of a gateway with magical beans in the form of a huge tree as part of an attempt of a few monks to reach heaven by the use of sorcery. The battle was clearly in the favour of giants an mankind could have faced extinction before a group of monks could create a crown which could let the wearer control the giants and force them to go back to their world. The connection was severed and everything went back to normal. Most of the people believed the story to be just a random legend, but both the kids believed in it. Ten years later, Jack has lost his parents and Isabelle is a wandering princess. The king’s right-hand man and adviser wishes to own that crown and re-link the two worlds unleashing an army of giants which he could control. His attempt to steal the remaining beans lead to a monk giving them to Jack before being captured and killed.

Meanwhile, the princess keeps wandering away in search of adventure and ends up in Jack’s house looking for shelter from the heavy rain. Their conversation is cut short as one of the beans get wet, it starts working and sprouts into a huge tree taking Jack’s house and the princess with it. Jack is thrown out of the house and is later found by the king and his soldiers. So our orphaned farm boy Jack has to set off on a quest to rescue a princess by climbing the huge tree to the middle world between the land of man and the land of God. But he would not be alone, as he is accompanied by the king’s best soldiers as well as the treacherous adviser who is looking for a chance to be in the world of giants and also the king’s most loyal leader of the royal knights. They would be in not just unfamiliar territory, but also a land infested by the world’s largest cannibals. An addition to this trouble would be the fact that the adviser has taken the crown with him to prepare the giants for the invasion of man’s world. The crown has its own power, as it is made out of the heart of a fallen giant of the former invasion.

The movie resembles Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters in many ways and it has a richer story, but too predictable and longer than need; it also has lesser 3D effects an weaker CGI compared to the witch-hunting action-horror fantasy. The horror element is als quite weak and there was the need for the darker elements in such a story. Instead this one is chosen to be watched by almost everyone, instead of giving it the power of horror and terror which it deserved. In the end, it continues to be a fairy tale with a happy ending; for they lived happily ever after and the tales of the giants continued to spread, creating new versions. Still, it scores over the lesser fairy tale re-builder which was Snow White and the Huntsman and is on level with Red Riding Hood in many ways. But then too, the effect created by the giants fails to grow like that seed; it could have reached the top with wings, but it decided to crawl underground and keeping itself safe. One has to wonder if the Twilight effect has completely destroyed the power of awesomeness in fantasy.

There is Nicholas Hoult, the Beast a.k.a Hank McCoy of X-Men: First Class who has blended into the character with no mutant-effect provided to the character, and Eleanor Tomlinson as the beautiful princess Isabelle never creating a question about a better cast; the same is the case of Stanley Tucci as Lord Roderick – the villain; not really the scariest one around, but still perfect for the way in which the movie has progressed. Ewan McGregor’s Elmont, the leader of the royal guard, makes that right character for a fairy tale adventure filled with action. As a whole, it is a perfect situation, but still the movie doesn’t rise as is should have; it is as if change was much less suited to this movie than the rest. But, with slight improvements, this could have made this genre, something spectacular, but such a thing was not to happen. The need to be on the safe side has locked this one – it has prevented the movie from going average or below average, but the same thing has prevented it from rising above the horizons from its own genre.

So this is where the Vampire Bat has started off for the month – one Jack, a princess and a large number of giants. The choices were many, especially among Malayalam and Hindi movies, but the decision to go for the classic fairy tale resurrection was not a bad idea. It has delivered; not completely in the way the Vampire Bat had expected it to, but surely in a way which didn’t disappoint him at all. He could just escape into it from a world which had much less for him. The vampire bats getting eaten by giants with bad teeth and foul breath might not make such great news, but still it would be an honour for him. The expectations are still there, if not for giants, it should be for awesome movies; and there is no rest for the Vampire Bat, nothing this world is aware of. There is still the need to be there for the right movie, something as good as Celluloid; that would make this a significant year if such an experience would happen in the first half of the year.

Release date: 1st March 2013
Running time: 114 minutes
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.

Hansel and Gretel

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We have had the darker versions of fairy tales, one each in the last two years – Red Riding Hood in 2011 and Snow White and the Huntsman in 2012. The latter getting better reviews than the former was a strange a thing just like this one getting negative reviews – this is astrange world for sure. The one thing which might be agreeable to the fans of all three movies might be that none of them really made an impact on the critics like they did on the box-office. While Amanda Seyfried lead the way in the former, it was the antagonist Charlize Theron who made the impact in the latter. But, here comes Hansel and Gretel, which surely is a much better watch; and a clear winner as a creation of dark fantasy.

It did remind me of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but our good re-telling of the old fairy tale happens to do better by a long way. Then once again, the critical reception might favour the wrong movie even as it is marginal. But trusting someone else who doesn’t know your taste is the worst mistake you can do. I almost made the same mistake, but I could see beyond it, as Ghost Rider 2, the worst Hollywood movie to reach the theatres of India in the last two or three years had more approval than some of those above average movies. This might have been a little long introduction, but it was strange to see that the shows of Hansel and Gretel were cancelled and I had to wait for days to watch it. Therefore, forget the critical ratings; and may be ask your friends who share your interests, and go for the movie.

The Grimm Brothers had given the world the story of two kids who outsmarted a witch; a story which was one of my favourites during childhood. After saving themselves from an abusive step-mother and the evil witch, these children do live happily ever after, as I can recollect. It is absolutely correct until the death of the witch in the movie too. But then comes the “living happily” part, which is a little existential in character. They are witch-hunters – professional ones; one of them is diabetic and the other one is later found to be a ” ” (it is a twist and there will be no spoiler here). But still, they might have found fun in doing their job – it is athletic and they get good payment for it. There is the possibility of ending in a witch’s cauldron or simply as a corpse, but considering what people do these days for attention, I would say that witch-hunting is not that horrible unless that witch got too many fans on facebook. Vampire bats do that often in the dreams.

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are the grown-up versions of the awesome little ones, who have dedicated their lives to fight the evil: to save the world from the broomstick-riders who fly better than some of the airlines. Hansel and Gretel start the latest adventure by preventing the town’s Sheriff Berringer from executing a young woman who is accused to be a witch (has the same name Mina – reminding of Mina Harker) after the siblings were hired by the mayor to find and bring back a number of children believed to be abducted by witches. Berringer hires his own men who are killed by a powerful witch, Muriel in the dark woods. The one who is left alive doesn’t last long with a curse for the hunger of crawling things.

Hansel and Gretel discover that the witches are preparing for the notorious ritual of Blood Moon, which requires sacrificing six boys and six girls with certain peculiarities.  The town is attacked by Muriel and her minions, which include a troll Edward (never away from that name from Twilight, but the fans can forgive the appearance of this troll). Now the witches have enough children to sacrifice for Blood Moon, but they need something else (which shall not be revealed to break the suspense) and the remaining question is whether the witches succeed in the ritual which would make them almost invincible. The twists include the truth about their step-mother who was not really evil, the mystery about Mina and the last ingredient of the Blood Moon ritual which would change the siblings’ idea about witches and witch hunting.

This story might sound too familiar and not that awesome to follow, but it is made better with the movie’s great CGI which is one of the best. The 3D effects make it one of the best horror-action experiences through the glasses with bullets, explosions, arrows – all coming towards you in frequent intervals, as well as the dark beauty of the atmosphere which catches you out of the screen. Right from the opening title scenes to the ending credits, it promises and delivers the same. Famke Janssen does remind one of her role as Jean Grey / Phoenix in X-Men III: The Last Stand, but she is surely better as Muriel. The witches look much better than in any movie released in the last few years, and the variety in them brings the culture element into the play – they are not the same. They are incredibly detailed to be just side-kick witches. Their screams create that fear element even when they are not on screen.

The most conservative, horror-hating, gore-fighting people of the pseudo-realistic world needn’t watch this movie though. Let the wonderful action sequences and breath-taking fights be missed by you. The 3D and the CGI can treat the deserving eyes. There are times when one has to cease being intellectual, and what is science but full of contradictions and uncertainty? Therefore, why be against a movie of magic and fantasy saying that it is not real? There is thousand times more chance of this happening than anything of the Twilight series. But the fact is that you don’t even realize why you are in this world; none of us do. Our life is in the hands of the greater power that guides us. So don’t be judgmental on this one, for this is not there to be judged by some superior intellect which goes to Moon or Mars and search for water – this is there to be enjoyed, supported by imagination. This is not a product of perfect reasoning power supported by some random theory; this is not simple every day life – this is dark fantasy. I love action-horror movies and I feel this has only strengthened the genre.

Release date: 25th January 2013 (USA); 1st February 2013 (India)
Running time: 88 minutes
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.