'Oz' prequel is uneven but highly enjoyable film
What critics are saying By Jane Horwitz, The Washington Post
Kids 10 and older will be happy passengers on the lush fantasy train that is "Oz the Great and Powerful," especially if they're already fans of the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," and/or the "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum. They won't even squirm -- well, maybe a little -- during the film's rather lax middle section because the first and third acts are so fun. Some of the scarier bits -- mean flying apes, tiny snapping fairies, angry wicked witches hurling electrical charges -- make the film a little much for under-10s. Just seeing it in 2-D instead of 3-D would tame some of that. We meet Oscar Diggs (James Franco), "Oz" for short, before he becomes a "wizard." He's a cheesy magician in a third-rate carnival traveling in Kansas, circa 1905. He is no gentleman -- he flirts with his female assistants and underpays his gofer, Frank (Zach Braff), and cravenly avoids a girl in a wheelchair (Joey King) at his show who longs to walk. His one-time girlfriend, Annie (Michelle Williams), tries to convince Oz he can be a better man, but he runs off to escape from an angry strongman whose girl Oz must have smooched. Escaping in a hot-air balloon, Oz gets sucked into a tornado and, in slow-motion, enters a new land somehow named for him, as we go from black-and-white to color. Here, tiny fairies bite and monkeys fly. He encounters Theodora (Mila Kunis), who is, she tells him, a good witch. When Oz inevitably rejects her love, she reacts in a fury, joining her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) in wicked-witch machinations. He hires a flying monkey (also Braff) to carry his bag, and meets Glinda (Williams again), a truly good witch. On their way to the Emerald City, they rescue China Girl (also King), a porcelain doll whose shattered legs Oz glues back together, and take her with them. The last third of the film catches fire, when Oz uses his knowledge of Thomas Edison's movie camera inventions to create his "Great and Powerful" wizard persona. With the help of his new friends and the Munchkins, Tinkers and Quadlings of Oz, he ingeniously contrives to keep the witches at bay. There are plenty of scary moments and images in "Oz the Great and Powerful," especially in 3-D, that could give kids under 10 at least temporary shivers. The flying apelike minions who work for the wicked witch are nasty-looking in close-up. And the laserlike battles between the bad witches, Glinda, the people of Oz and their new "wizard" get loud and showily destructive. Even the little China Girl, weeping in her demolished porcelain home, has the look and surroundings of a war refugee. Early in the film, the tornado is nightmarish.
Escape From Planet Earth (PG)
In this animated film, a nerdy blue alien endeavors to rescue his brother, a famous astronaut, from the notoriously dangerous planet Earth. Written and directed by Cal Brunker and available in 3-D, this alien adventure features the voices of Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Alba and George Lopez.
Life of Pi (PG)
After a disastrous shipwreck, a young man is marooned on a lifeboat with a fearsome Bengal tiger in this adaptation of the 2001 Yann Martel novel. Directed by Ang Lee and available in 3-D, this thoughtful drama stars Suraj Sharma, Gerard Depardieu, Irrfan Khan and Tobey Maguire.
As an escalating series of disturbing events torments a young suburban family, the husband and wife try to stop the mysterious force targeting them. Written and directed by Scott Stewart, this horror suspense film stars Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett.
Jack the Giant Slayer
A young farmhand unwittingly opens a gateway to a world inhabited by fearsome giants and reignites an ancient war. Written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney, and directed by Bryan Singer, this fairy tale adventure, available in 3-D, stars Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Eleanor Tomlinson and Stanley Tucci.
The Last Exorcism Part II
A young woman tries to start a new life after a harrowing ordeal, only to once again encounter a demonic presence. Written and directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly, this horror film sequel stars Ashley Bell, Julia Garner and Spencer Treat Clark.
An ex-convict in 19th-century France seeks redemption while being pursued by a dogged police inspector in this adaptation of the long-running stage musical. Written by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer, and directed by Tom Hooper, this sweeping literary epic stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried.
The arrival of a new resident at a prestigious home for retired musicians and singers -- a star soloist with ego to match -- shakes up daily life, particularly for her three former performing partners. Written by Ronald Harwood and directed by Dustin Hoffman, this dramatic comedy stars Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins.
Newly arrived in a small town in North Carolina, a guarded young woman begins opening up to a widowed store owner and father of two, but soon her dark past begins to catch up with her. Written by Dana Stevens and Gage Lansky and directed by Lasse Hallstrom, this straight-ahead romance stars Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough and David Lyons.
When his teenage son is wrongfully accused of a drug-distribution crime, a desperate father cuts a deal with the U.S. attorney to infiltrate a drug cartel on a risky mission. Written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh, this action drama stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Susan Sarandon and Benjamin Bratt.
21 and Over
When his two best friends pay him a surprise visit for his 21st birthday, a straight-A college student throws caution to the wind for a wild night, despite having an important medical school interview the next morning. Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, this bustin'-out buddy comedy stars Miles Teller, Justin Chon and Skylar Astin.
Dead Man Down
A professional killer seeking to avenge the murder of his wife and daughter is seduced and blackmailed by a woman also seeking retribution. Written by J.H.Wyman and directed by Niels Arden Oplev, this revenge thriller stars Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace and Terrence Howard.
A Good Day to Die Hard
Wisecracking New York cop John McClane travels to Moscow to bail out his wayward son, only to learn the young man is actually a CIA operative trying to stop a nuclear weapons heist. Written by Skip Woods and directed by John Moore, the latest installment of this action franchise stars Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney and Sebastian Koch.
An account representative travels halfway across the country to confront the con artist who has stolen his identity and is emptying his bank account. Written by Craig Mazin and directed by Seth Gordon, this oddball comedy stars Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau and Amanda Peet.
Silver Linings Playbook
After losing his wife, house and job and spending eight months in a mental institution, a former teacher moves in with his parents, tries to rebuild his life and bonds with an equally eccentric young woman. Written and directed by David O. Russell, this offbeat drama stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.
Kai Po Che
Three friends trying to make their mark in India in the early 2000s open a training academy for cricket players. Written and directed by Abhishek Kapoor, this Hindi film with English subtitles stars Sushant Singh Rajput, Raj Kumar Yadav and Amit Sadh.
With contributions from our wire services
A look at the star power of films now in theaters (out of four stars).
21 and Over
Dead Man Downnot reviewed
Escape From Earth½
A Good Day to Die Hard½
Jack the Giant Slayer½
Kai Po Che
Last Exorcism II
Life of Pi½
Oz the Great
Silver Linings Playbook
From our wire services