MOVIE JOURNAL: Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer

It’s that time of the year again where celebrities are restocking their Botox supply in preparation for Red Carpet Premiers. My prediction is that such displays of anesthetized beauty will be adequately mild in the following months, since neither a “Sex and the City” nor a “The Expendables” sequel will be released this year. Three cheers! And no more “Twilight” movies to piss on our brains! Thank the heavens! And! Say it ain’t so! The next Michael Bay movie won’t be in theaters until 2014! Hallelujah!

The season of Summer Movies is once again here, which is an event that belongs to Producers, a lot of which will be biting their nails all the way to their project’s release date. Jerry Bruckheimer won’t be one of them biters though. Just take a quick look at his track record.

With a net worth of $850 million, they guy clearly has everything all figured out. Bruckheimer reminds me of one of those wizards at horse races who always casts his cash on the horse that’ll end up making him rich. His horse for 2013 is Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” starring Johnny Depp, which has the aura of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, with trains as pirate ships, Tonto as Captain Jack Sparrow and Armie Hammer as Orlando Bloom.

While Kristen Stewart tries to find another job that only requires her to daydream and stare into vacant space, let’s take a brief look at the first two Summer Movies of the year: “Oz the Great and the Powerful” and “Jack the Giant Slayer”.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful  Rating: ★★½☆☆

When circus magician Oscar Diggs emerges from the refuge of his hot-air balloon, his relief quickly turns into awe as the Land of Oz fills his sense of wonder. While younger audiences will marvel at the kingdom as much as Oscar, I couldn’t help but fear that the same tools that help build a shinier, zestier Oz would also be the cause of the film’s downfall.

2013’s Land of Oz looks like it’s within the same neighborhood as Avatar’s Pandora and Alice’s Wonderland. It’s bright and vivid, but it’s James Franco who gives life to the screen. Though marked as one of the most awful hosts in the history of the Oscars, he is a likeable actor, and he plays Oz with theatrical energy. Too bad he is weighed down by Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams, who are as terrible at being witches as much as James Franco is terrible at being an Oscar Host.

Most of the film’s joy is supplied by the returning elements from 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz”. (Good news for those who have seen Victor Fleming’s masterpiece, but what about the folks who are visiting the Land of Oz for the first time?) There is a satisfaction in simply seeing familiar things like the yellow brick road. And Emerald City. And Kansas! And the Muchkins! About the Muchkins though: What’s the point of having them in the film if you’re not gonna allow them to finish their thing?

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is not without the silly fun that represents director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man Trilogy), and the screenplay inserts enough references to tickle our memory, but the story fades away in the film’s final sequences, where Oz becomes just another stage for special effects. How very disappointing. Though a solid hour swings between cute and amusing, this 200 million dollar prequel is still a couple colors short of a rainbow.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer Rating: ★★★☆☆

There are those rare instances when a bad trailer sucker punches you just so the actual movie could kill your lowered expectations once it’s time for the screening. Such is my experience with “Jack the Giant Slayer”, a surprisingly entertaining adventure tale about giants, beanstalks, and the strength and consistency of Ewan McGregor’s hair styling product. I’m serious. What is he using and where can I get one?

Let’s begin at the point of the film where things become interesting. The Princess seeks shelter from the storm at the house of a Young Farmer. They flirt subtly. And then they flirt blatantly. The two of them are about to make a romantic connection until – until a damn beanstalk explodes from the floor, launching the Young Farmer out of his own home. I hate it when that happens. The house, with The Princess trapped inside, is carried to the sky as the beanstalk continues to grow.

The beanstalk takes the Young Farmer, accompanied by a few of The King’s men, to a floating city so immense and so broad, that we wonder why it doesn’t create a shadow on the ground. They encounter roaring giants who aren’t as ferocious as they are hilarious. Legends say that the giants are desperate to climb down their kingdom and rule the land of the humans, probably to escape each other’s stench. There is more breathing room downstairs, you see.

All the notable names involved in “Jack the Giant Slayer” are way above the material they were presented with. I think what makes it all so darn fun is the director’s and actors’ playful attitude towards the movie. Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) show that he knows how to have fun by capitalizing on the goofy look of the giants and by staging a situation where Ewan McGregor becomes an oven away from becoming a burrito.

Stanley Tucci has the best role in the film as Roderick, a scheming, middle-aged bachelor who exercises an evil plan to control the giants. Roderick, in all his gap-toothed glory, is the kind of role that an actor like Tucci would accept for the sole purpose of making a few nephews proud. “Hey! Guess what? My uncle made an army of giants bow down to him while wearing a glowing crown!”

MOVIE JOURNAL: Wreck-It Ralph and Take Shelter

School has been a real asshole. I know, I know. My first post since July, and I open with a grumble? I can explain. Time is so darn precious, and much of it is required by the job I have to attend to and this blog that I have to raise. That I’ve only been able to write one review (The Dark Knight Rises) since school started should give you an idea of how endlessly busy I’ve become. Such is my distress, but I find inspiration in the immortal words of Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”. Ah, yes.

But of course the quote is only applicable if you are an extremely intelligent person… or if your school is incompetent by world record standards. I’m not a very smart person, and that should be enough of a hint. Which brings me back to my opening sentence. But never mind. I’m scheduled to graduate in April of next year. That’s five more months. I persevere.

Though April 2013 isn’t as far away as it seems, I can’t wait that long to start posting actively here again. That is why I’ve decided to start this Movie Journal. Despite my soul-sucking schedule, I’m still able to watch around two to four movies a week. It’s the reviewing part that I don’t have time for anymore. So much opportunity has already gone to waste, and I hope that this Journal will be the beginning of a steady revival. Films that I saw and wanted to write about but did not end up reviewing include “Argo”, “Looper”, “Skyfall”, “The Avengers”, “The Muppets”, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, “The Bourne Legacy”, and many, many more.

I plan to post a Journal entry about once a week or every other week, depending on my requirements form school and work. (This will be my routine until I graduate college, reclaiming sweet freedom.) Each post will feature (1) a brief intro regarding my current status and future plans and (2) a short discussion of about two to three movies that I watched within that week; think of it as a collection of Quick Reviews gathered to make one long post. For this first post, I’ll talk about two movies that I’ve recently seen, movies that I’m very enthusiastic about. And they are as follows.

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph – Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve long complained about how many movies of today are constructed to flow like a banal, routine video game. Who would have thought that flipping this notion could produce a place that is so dazzlingly original? “Wreck-It Ralph” is a video game that functions like a Real Movie. Sure, it retains the usual Disney elements of the Misunderstood Good Guy and his Spirited Sidekick, but their journey unfolds within such a beautifully imagined universe that everything it surrounds is given a fresh feel. The story takes place inside arcade games where its characters are able to move independently when no human is in sight. I’m sure our pals at “Toy Story” can relate.

Much of the fun from “Wreck-It Ralph” comes from the ingenious logic used by Disney to connect the games of the arcade. We learn that the adaptor of the extension cord is the central station where famous video game characters like Donkey Kong, Sonic, and Mario could bump into each other and exchange High Fives. Characters can visit other games by travelling through the cord’s wires (Duh!), which are conveniently labeled by game. This allows the story to instantly shift from one dimension to another that’s completely different in genre, design, and graphics. We follow the lives of Ralph, the villain of a 30-year-old game called Fix-It Felix, Jr., and Vanellope von Schweetz, the glitch from a racing game called Sugar Rush.

I cared for Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Venellope (Sarah Silverman). In fact, this is the most I’ve shown affection for a pair of animated characters since I was first introduced to Carl and Ellie Fredricksen in “Up”. I did not want the movie to end.  There were too many games left to explore, and there was a lot more video game characters that I wanted to meet. But oh well. “Wreck-It Ralph” represents the most creative use of animation in years, and the Academy would commit a shameful injustice if it doesn’t award this gem the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Take Shelter

Take Shelter Rating: ★★★★★

“Take Shelter”, the most overlooked Great Movie of 2011, is an apocalyptic thriller that transpires entirely inside the afflicted mind of a man trapped in an agonizing fear. This man is Curtis (Michael Shannon), a simple construction worker who lives in a small town in Ohio with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf, six-year-old daughter, Hannah. Curtis greatly loves his family, is happy with his job, and is working hard to earn for an expensive operation that could restore Hannah her hearing. Everything is going alright for Curtis until he is plagued by nightmares and hallucinations about a monstrous storm that, according to his visions, will arrive without warning and rain destruction upon the helpless town.

Without deliberation and approval from his wife, Curtis decides to build a storm shelter that he can’t afford with time that he doesn’t have. The townspeople, and later even Samantha, think that the storm shelter is a stupid idea, and that Curtis’s efforts are futile. We, on the other hand, as the film’s audience, are able to empathize with Curtis because we experience every nightmare and hallucination that Curtis goes through. The obvious observation here is that Curtis building the shelter is an act of sheer paranoia, which is not the case. More perceptive moviegoers will identify Curtis’s actions as a fulfillment of his unconditional love towards his family. He risks his employment, his reputation and at some points even his marriage just to make sure that his family is safe from a threat that may not actually end up happening.

With this fact, we feel a subtle suspense, and the final twenty minutes of “Take Shelter” is something to hold in high regard; I was completely in a state of awe during the film’s final scenes. Michael Shannon’s performance here is the most powerful and convincing acting I have witnessed since Daniel Day-Lewis drank our milkshake in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood”. And that’s saying a lot.