The Good, The Bad, and The Weird: “Oz the Great and Powerful” Lacks Greatness, Power

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Okay, this is going to be a short one. Sam Raimi’s “Wizard of Oz” prequel/reimagining/what-have-you is not awful, per se. It is simply … Empty. I watched the film a little less than a week ago, and I barely recall a single detail. It is nothing cinema.

The Good:

  • I will give Raimi credit for casting. The sheer concept of James Franco as the Wizard is utterly, bizarrely absurd. Yes, he is miscast, but it is fun watching him play the part, as if this is yet another meta-move from the man whose recent efforts include “Spring Breakers,” a “Cruising” pastiche, and god knows what else. I did not buy him here for a second, but he was still a joy to behold.
  • More casting: I adore Mila Kunis, and quite like Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz. So kudos …
  • Oh, the black and white opening was lovely.

The Bad:

  • Pretty much everything else. Not a moment felt original or gripping. It’s an inoffensive but horribly wasteful creation.

The Weird:

  • Zach Braff? Odd choice.
  • Seriously … James Franco? I mean, REALLY?

It all adds up to a two-star effort, and that’s being generous. I’d expect better from Sam Raimi, but we are talking about the director of “Spider-Man 3,” so … Why should I?

 

Photo: Michelle Williams stars as Glinda in Walt Disney Pictures’ “Oz: The Great and Powerful” (2013)

Cotillard, Owen, Kunis, Schoenaerts, Saldana, Crudup, and Caan: “Blood Ties” Might Have the Year’s Coolest Cast

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I’m not entirely sure how it fell under my radar, but racing onto my list of most anticipated 2013 films is certainly Guillaume Canet’s “Blood Ties,” a crime saga co-written by James Gray. It just made its out-of-competition premiere at Cannes with a cast that is, quite simply, impeccable: Marion Cotillard, Clive Owen, Mila Kunis, Matthias Schoenaerts, Zoe Saldana, Billy Crudup, and James Caan.

Think about that group. Cotillard and Schoenaerts are fresh off the success of “Rust and Bone,” one of my 2012 favorites. Kunis and Saldana are two of the hottest young actresses in Hollywood. Owen and Crudup are two solid actors who are too often stuck in lackluster projects, and seem ready for something meaty. And who better to round out the cast of an epic cops-and-crooks tale than Jimmy Caan? Plus, there is Canet. The actor-director who helmed the international hit “Tell No One,” based “Blood Ties” on a remake of the 2008 French release Les Liens du Sang (Rivals), which he co-starred in.

But … the response at Cannes has not been strong. In fact, it has been pretty bad. There are a number of films that have drawn negative reactions in Cannes and garnered praise elsewhere — neither “Marie Antoinette” or “Enter the Void” could be labeled as hits, but both drew stronger responses in North American than they did following their Cannes debuts — and as The Playlist points out, the film is not set to open until the fall (and has no American distributor) yet, so reediting is possible.

The Hollywood Reporter called it “overstuffed” and “lethargic,” Variety said it is “sluggish” and “dramatically undernourished,” and The Playlist said the film is not a disaster, but “certainly a mess” that “never quite lives up to its epic scope.” Xan Brooks in The Guardian did come down quite so hard, describing it as something of a guilty pleasure: “‘Blood Ties’ is Cannes’ equivalent of a hamburger — pink in the middle with French dressing on the side. Inside the screening room, the delegates wolfed it down and then belched their approval.”

Still, the trailer is phenomenal (looking very James Gray-meets-“American Gangster”), and I recall the response to the similarly sprawling “Place Beyond the Pines” was a tad mixed coming out of TIFF, so who knows?

It’s exciting to see Clive Owen in a truly interesting project again. Last week, while driving home from downtown Buffalo, I noticed a cool-as-f*** Owen on a billboard hawking some kind of booze, and it got me to thinking about his career. He has not made a great feature since 2006, the year of “Children of Men” and “Inside Man,” and his recent output has been stunningly bland: “Killer Elite,” “The Boys Are Back,” “Duplicity.” Perhaps “Blood Ties” and the upcoming “Sin City” sequel will put the “Croupier” star back on track.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more “Blood Ties” news; TIFF certainly seems a possibility.

(Speaking of James Gray and Marion Cotillard, Gray is the director and Cotillard is the star of another buzzed Cannes film, “The Immigrant,” co-starring Joaquin Phoenix.)

Poster from The Playlist