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Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful film posterSynopsis

Starts in black and white at a Kansas fair in 1905.  James Franco plays a fairground trickster who doesn’t want the responsibility of marriage to Rachel Weisz.  His magic is fraudulent.  He escapes from aggrieved colleagues in a balloon in which he gets into a tornado and ends up in Oz.  He meets two witches (Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz) and a winged monkey.  Later he rescues a porcelain girl.  He must prove himself to the Munchkins and the citizens of Oz against the wicked witches….

Review

If MGM has the rights to the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow, how come this film can show the Munchkins which MGM presumably has the copyright on?  Oz the Great and Powerful takes full advantage of its seventy five years of cinema technology over the Selznick film, so I suppose it’s unfair to compare them as spectacle.  This Emerald City is a green version of the red palaces of Tim Burton’s Alice.  It’s of course much superior to the painted cardboard of 1939 which was magical enough in the world of depression and impending war.  The new film is a highly efficient CGI extravaganza but cannot claim the earlier film’s magic.  We are too consumerist and sated, “less is more” is not a respected precept in today’s cinema.  The scene at the funfair in black and white is a throwback to the opening scenes of the Garland film, but that was the contrast of reality to dream whereas in this film it feels like it’s from gimmick to gimmick.  The only new character we get is a china doll and with this ‘Shrek-like’ midget we romp through the latest computer tricks with no human depth.  James Franco’s fairground magician reprises Heath Ledger’s role in Imaginarium, the film works like a Terry Gilliam project as we get reminders of that film.  Oz The Great and Powerful share the same limitations as other productions of the L Frank Baum stories in that the characters may look weird and a bit threatening but they lack the violence and terror (for children) of the books.  The Munchkins, the doll, and the monkey are all reduced to the lowest common denominator of bland amenability and acceptable character changes through predictable plot developments.  The bad guys look like cereal packet monsters and the good guys are the usual contenders for the Prom Queen’s favours.  In the end, love and sincerity must prevail over deceit of self and others, a conventional message of hope.  Sometimes fun but could have been more imaginative..

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Take This Waltz

Take this Waltz posterSynopsis

Margot (Michelle Williams) meets David (Luke Kirby) going to Nova Scotia.  It turns out that they live on the same street in Toronto.  Margot lives with her husband Lou (Seth Morgan) who writes about chicken meals.  Margot keeps meeting up with David, using his rickshaw, then at his place and they form a relationship.

Criticism

This is a love story set in the more colourful arty side of Toronto.  The buildings are painted in dense colours Frida Kahlo would have favoured, and the interiors are full of arty bric-brac that Poppy in Happy Go Lucky would have liked.  Margot’s meetings with David are a sort of poetic sparring, his dialogue is quirky.  By contrast Lou seems a bit uptight.  Margot has mixed feelings about their relationship.  When Margot meets David at the airport she tells him she doesn’t like being between places and she carries this into her relationship, she seems indecisive and capricious.  The point here is that the very ambivalence is an emotional state which must be taken on its own terms.  In films and in life we expect some kind of resolution, that the emotional trajectory will end in decision based on affirmation or rejection but the indecision in itself an emotional state we shouldn’t try to manipulate.  David is frank about is feelings for Margot but Lou is married so he feels he can be taciturn in not needing to affirm his marital prerogatives.  Margot chafes at Lou’s quirks and his predictable routines, he cooks chicken dishes all the time.  The sex between Margot and David has been criticized for being coldly jarring with the subleties that precede it, but I think that its very perfunctoriness is a joke on the more pompous coyness you get in rom coms.  They make love in art gallery bohemia to the music of Leonard Cohen’s Take this Waltz with its melancholy violin and its appropriately allusive imagery.

Sarah Silverman plays Margot’s sister in law Geraldine, and you feel she would have no time for Margot’s labyrinthine self involvement.  They do exercise in a swimming pool with elderly women, a cooperative fun activity in contrast with the self absorbed attitudinizings of Margot and her men.  A fascinating visit to the trendy Toronto middle classes.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn posterSynopsis

About Monroe’s visit to Britain in 1956 to make The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier.  She gets friendly with Colin Clarke who is a member of the famous Clarke clan.  He is smitten with Monroe.  Monroe has a difficult working relationship with Olivier but eventually the film is made and Clarke has to get over his infatuation.

Criticism

The 1950s are very popular these days, I think it’s got a lot to do with returning to the supposed certainties of the past. There was still deference and civility brought on by the privations of war and rationing.  People and their clothing look fairly shabby and colours look washed out.  Michelle Williams does a good job of playing Monroe though she may not have got all the mannerisms.  Monroe brings glamour into ’50s Britain as she arrives with her husband Arthur Miller.  For me, this film has too reverential a look at Monroe.  We get the usual misunderstood and vulnerable Marilyn, Elton John’s Candle in the Wind and all that.  I don’t think so, rather she was overrated and pampered.  She was the manufactured patron saint of the celebrity as martyr, which is actually astute when you don’t have any discernable talent: make a career out of your mental health.

Monroe’s acting relationship with Olivier is simplified to a conflict between classical theatrical acting and the aggressive ‘method’ acting fashionable in Hollywood at that time.  Her ‘method’ mentor, Paula Strasberg, is played with pike like predatoriness by Zoe Wanamaker, a jealous nurturer of the Marilyn myth and the feeder of preposterous delusions about Monroe’s ‘genius’.  Wanamaker plays her as a perfect wicked witch, her control mania seems to contribute to Monroe’s mentally harming isolation.  I think it’s foolish of the film to play up Olivier as an outdated actor who feels threatened by Monroe, when you consider he’s been a successful film star for the previous twenty years.  Indeed, twenty years later it was Dustin Hoffman who felt threatened by Olivier in Marathon Man!  Branagh plays Olivier with tight lipped camp twitchiness, one actor who played Henry V playing another actor who’d played Henry V.  He is increasingly outraged and baffled by Monroe’s prima donna habits.  The two fight for control over a spoilt celebrity who mocked their perfectionism.

Colin Clarke is well played by Eddie Redmayne as a smitten drip who pathetically basks in her reflected glory, unaware that the bestowal of such condescension can only diminish his own admittedly tenuous claims to individuality.  Speaking of this, it’s a moot point whether husband Arthur Miller felt diminished by Monroe or whether it was the other way round, their fame made them equals.  Colin is clearly the beneficiary of big league patronization.  If Monroe was a candle in the wind, then a film about her should be a welcome blast of rain, this well acted film just reverentially feeds the flame.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Meek’s Cutoff

Synopsis

Directed by Kelly Reichardt about a group of wagon train trekkers travelling across Oregon in 1845.  Under a dozen men women and children travel in three covered wagons led by supposed explorer Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood).  They have split off from a larger wagon train, assured by Meek that he will show them a short cut to their promised land.  However, it dawns on them that Meek is all mouth and no competence.  They capture a Paiute who seems to know the land and they increasingly put their trust in him, so Meek tries to murder the Paiute who is defended by Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams).  Meek loses face and has to accept the guidance of the Paiute.

Criticism

This is an austere and, I suppose, a more realistic look at the early immigrant takeover of the American west.  To call it ‘wilderness’ is of course absurd, since Native Americans had lived there for thousands of years, but such arrogance would suit the likes of Meek.  He is the fib teller who started the myths of the west.  He boasts about unprovable accomplishments and never misses an opportunity, of course, to slander Native Americans.  His stance is that of the unchallenged bully, his mind cannot function on accidents and coincidences, everything is a matter for adversarial self assertion.  It is easy for him to persuade the others not to take this desert Oregon country at face value, naturally since he’s in control it furnishes his self aggrandisement.  He thinks he’s capable and tough yet he rides on a horse whereas most of the others have to walk. He wears show off Davy Crockett-style buckskins, yet the woman  are dressed in plain ordinary clothes.  In their bucket bonnets and plain dresses, the men in their sober hats, they look like Victorian religious fanatics in some Biblical pilgrimage and doubtless some of these sort of immigrants were precisely that: the Mormons settled in Utah at this time.  Meek is a precursor of Buffalo Bill and Custer and is essentially a clown.  The woman especially see through him, indeed it was usually the women who ensured the survival of these wagon trains, a recent book narrates their competence and heroism.  Emily Tetherow faces down Meek who wants to kill the captured Paiute, he used the captive as a scapegoat for his own failings, relying on the racism of the immigrants.  Tetherow helps the Paiute, stitching his shoe and speaking up for him.  For all we know, Emily may share the usual racist assumptions but in the bleak and waterless land, the Paiute might be their only hope.

There are some superb details about wagon trek life: the bible reading, the bizarre uselessness of ordinary domestic items like chairs in the middle of a desert, the Paiute chalking pictures on a rock (needless to say, Meek interprets this in a paranoid way), the lethargy of the long hours of walking. There is a scene where the wagons must be let down an incline, this is not dramatically steep but it is rocky and one of the wagons gets smashed.  The wagons look like wheeled coffins topped by billowing shrouds and they creak along in the desolation, there is little relief from this sound. There are no dramatic changes of weather, no sandstorms, no snow, just the amazing desert tones of the landscape with it’s shades of ochre, golds and chiaroscuro.  When we see a crag, it’s so unexpected that it becomes quite stunning even though it’s not conventionally dramatic.  While the immigrants travel over this, we think of them engaged in some sort of spiritual journey, as if the emptiness of the terrain is a kind of monastic test.  They are tested, they have to have faith in others, they have nothing to  cling to and you feel they are too weary for retribution.  The Paiute seems innocent, captured for being different and to serve Meek’s purposes.  Meek is found out and becomes repentant so they have learned about themselves.  These people are not especially heroic or extraordinary, they want a short cut to their promised paradise and they are paying for their self centred credulity.  One of the men suddenly collapses and is put in the wagon, he is the victim of some disease which killed far more people in the ‘frontier’ west than anything else.

There is no relief from this land, they are lost in it at the end as they become increasingly dirty and thirsty, possibly there’s a horror story at the end of it.  The sounds of this film are generally of people talking at a distance, we catch snatches of conversation as the separateness of the sexes shows a need to preserve Victorian values.  Whatever the men are discussing, the women have their own ideas.  Conversations at night sound poetic and cryptic around the ornate lamps.  There is nothing out there except each mind reflected back on itself.  The lack of traditional film music shows how easily mainstream films (westerns as well as other genres) use the cop out of music to manipulate us away from more difficult issues.  An absorbing film about the so-called pioneers of the west.

Seen at Chapter, Cardiff.

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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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