Movies with Mike
“Oz the Great and Powerful,” a prequel to the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz,” made $150 million worldwide in its first week in theaters. Although it only cost me $5 to see the film, I truly regret paying any money to Disney for such a bloated, substance-less piece of blasphemy.
First off, let’s get something really important out of the way: James Franco is not a good actor. I just couldn’t take the guy seriously in the movie. Maybe it was the embarrassing dialogue, which caused me and my friend to face-palm multiple times. Or perhaps it was Franco’s care-free, goofy smile, which, while endearing in talk-show interviews, does not translate well in a fantasy movie like this.
Don’t get me wrong. As a person, I love the man. James Franco’s real-life work ethic is truly something to behold. In addition to acting, he has written books, hosted the Academy Awards, attended multiple universities, directed films, and taught classes. The real James Franco is the most ambitious man in Hollywood.
No matter how great and powerful James Franco is in reality, his portrayal of Oz falls flat onscreen. Most of “Oz the Great and Powerful” was filmed using green screens. Similarly, most of the characters Franco interacts with in the film are digital, non-human ones, who were added in later through special effects.
When it comes to investing yourself in a story, green-screen technology and special effects have a major impact on both the actors and the audience. It was clearly a challenge for Franco to maintain a straight face during his months of shooting with invisible characters.
There’s Finley the winged monkey, voiced by Zach Braff from “Scrubs,” who vows a life of service to Oz before he realizes he is just a phony magician and not the prophesized savior everyone expects. And then there’s a tiny little China Girl made completely of porcelain. These characters simply exist to provide cutesy “aww” moments in the film. They may connect with younger viewers or those who have never watched “The Wizard of Oz,” but a 21-year-old dude like me (who happens to appreciate the original) couldn’t care less.
While many things about this updated version of “Oz” are severely different, there was still an effort to remain true to the 1939 film. The new movie includes all three witches from the original, played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. There are also Munchkins, poppy fields and a magical tornado.
I’m not saying I wanted to hear all the terrible actors in the movie sing, but maybe it would have given it a little bit more charm. This rendition of the beloved world of Oz feels cold and oddly unimportant. Despite what the filmmakers might think, huge, epic, battle scenes do not make a movie good.
If you got pissed in 2010 about Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” you can expect about the same type of frustration from “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
But at least “Alice” had Johnny Depp.
Two summers ago I was lucky enough to spend eight days on the set of a Hollywood movie working as an extra in the Paramount Pictures film “Fun Size." It was surreal getting paid to “act” in the background for a Halloween movie starring Chelsea Handler, Johnny Knoxville and Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice, wearing costumes given to me by the wardrobe department.
I played two very unimportant roles in “Fun Size.” In the first scene, I’m dressed in a fly costume with full wings and a mask, carrying around buckets of food at a fictional fast-food restaurant called “Captain Chicken.”
In the second, I’m the Pig King from the video game “Angry Birds” at a house party in one character’s basement. That role involved last-second application of multiple cans of green hairspray on my head. (The resulting nauseous fumes, which filled the room we were filming in, may or may not have gotten the crew, other extras and Chelsea Handler a little high.)
You can read more about my experiences in the film in a column I wrote for the Daily Kent Stater three semesters ago, long before I saw the film. At that time, I still had some hope that it might actually turn out to be a cool movie.
The assistant director described the plot to us on the set as a cross between “Superbad” and “Adventures in Babysitting.” It is a coming-of-age story about a girl (Victoria Justice) who loses her brother on Halloween and embarks on an adventure-filled night to find him. When “Fun Size” came out last October, I caught up with a few fellow cast mates to see it in theaters on opening weekend. To our severe disappointment, it turned out truly terrible.
The PG-13 movie fails mostly because it tries to do two things at once. It attempts to be a kid’s movie – as well as something made for an older audience. “Fun Size” awkwardly aims for a middle ground between juvenile fun and careless raunchiness. The result is a muddled mess of inconsistent garbage that doesn’t really connect with either group it is targeting.
It’s kind of funny to me how horrible the movie actually is. It was cool to see myself and fellow extras up on the big screen in a true big-budget film; however, that thrill quickly wore off after realizing the thing I was watching just wasn’t enjoyable.
“Fun Size” came out on DVD and Blu-ray in February, but honestly it’s hardly worth the dollar at your local Redbox.
For me, I still cherish the story behind the story. The experience as an extra provided me a nice payday during a summer when I wasn’t working. It also afforded me a unique opportunity to see a living, breathing, Hollywood set firsthand. I met a number of great people and gained a slew of fun stories to tell for the rest of my life.
Hollywood has been really unoriginal lately. Sequels on sequels, prequels on prequels, and who could forget “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.” As long as these types of movies continue to make big bucks, movie studios will keep making them. Remakes, sequels, prequels and based-on-a-true-story movies are jam-packed for the rest of the year. Here’s what I think could be tolerable:
In October, of age students everywhere will fill up their glasses, as “Anchorman: the Legend Continues” hits the big screen in style. Everyone’s back for the second installment in the story of Ron Burgundy. Will Ferrell warns that this one will be much crazier than the first (if that’s possible).
The 85th annual Academy Awards was both surprising and predictable. While I didn’t go too far out on a limb with any of my Oscar predictions last week, I’m proud to say I went a perfect five-for-five in the main categories Sunday night.
Top honors at the award show went to “Argo,” the film based on the true story of a CIA operation to rescue six U.S. diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Leading up to this year’s Oscars, many people thought Ben Affleck was unfairly snubbed. While he might be married to actress Jennifer Garner, Affleck surprisingly did not garner a nomination for Best Director. He was vindicated Sunday when “Argo” beat out eight other movies to win Best Picture of the Year.
Another story, perhaps even bigger, was Daniel Day-Lewis. The 55-year-old actor solidified himself as one of the best of all time, becoming the only man to win the Best Actor award three times. In 2010, when Steven Spielberg announced that the legendary Day-Lewis would play the title role in his upcoming film “Lincoln,” everyone immediately predicted he would win Best Actor for the high-profile character. Sunday night he did.
Jennifer Lawrence, just entering superstardom, took home the Oscar for Best Actress. Best known for the blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games,” Lawrence won the award for her portrayal of a troubled young widow in “Silver Linings Playbook.” As she walked to the stage to accept her award Sunday night, the 22-year-old actress tripped over the long dress she was wearing. A surprise to no one, she handled it like a champ!
In addition to those three awards, I also correctly predicted Christoph Waltz would win Best Supporting Actor, and Anne Hathaway would win Best Supporting Actress. Their films, “Django Unchained” and “Les Miserables” respectively, both had other moments in the spotlight.
Writer-director Quentin Tarantino won Best Original Screenplay for the controversial “Django.” They should re-name it the “Tarantino Award” – because no one writes dialogue as originally as he does. Tarantino also won Best Original Screenplay in 1995 for “Pulp Fiction.”
The highlight for “Les Miserables” came in the form of an ensemble musical performance by the cast. Hathaway was joined by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter and even Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen), in a moving display of unselfish Hollywood camaraderie.
I thought Seth McFarlane struck a good balance between classic entertainment and edgy lighthearted humor as host of the Oscars. Throughout the show, he parceled out some traditional song-and-dance in between crude “Family Guy”-inspired jokes. He seems like a guy who’s really comfortable with show business. That made the audience fairly comfortable with him.
One of the most unexpected moments of the night came when First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance. Looking as lovely as ever, she announced the award for Best Picture via streaming video from the White House. This probably attributed to Ben Affleck’s stirred-up nerves that came pouring out onstage shortly after.
Like every other year, these Oscars highlighted some of the best films to come out recently. While comedies are still underrepresented in the show, the Academy Awards are still a great representation of the best work Hollywood has to offer.I hope there were at least a couple nominated movies this year that piqued your interest enough to go out and watch them. It’s never too late to see the films that everyone’s been talking about! What did you think of the Oscars?
I am all about positivity. Looking at the bright side of every situation isn’t just a hobby of mine — it’s who I am. I was naturally jazzed to see Bradley Cooper’s character in “ Silver Linings Playbook” share the same philosophy.
Where he and I differ, however, is in our mental stability. Cooper’s character, Pat, suffers from bipolar disorder. At the start of the movie, we see him being released from a mental health facility in Maryland. He spent eight months there after nearly beating to death the man he caught his wife cheating on him with.
Pat’s wife files a restraining order against him, so he moves in with his mother and father in Philadelphia. His dad, played by Robert De Niro, is also plagued by a mental condition, obsessive-compulsive disorder. Pat Sr. is obsessed with his hometown Philadelphia Eagles and thinks his son Pat can somehow bring good luck to the team by watching the game with him each Sunday. Pat is less concerned about the Eagles winning than he is about winning his wife back.
The family household is a little rocky during Pat’s first few weeks back. He forces an outlook of blind positivity on everything he does as a way to combat his volatile, unstable nature. Sometimes it’s comical, like the scene where he wakes up his parents in the middle of the night to rant about the anti-fairytale ending of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” Other times it’s scary, like when Pat and his father get into a physical altercation after Pat can’t find his wedding tape.
Cooper is magnificent in his role. For a guy that just wrapped up his third “ Hangover” movie, he is quite convincing in “Silver Linings Playbook” as a guy living an everyday struggle.
Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a recovering sex addict dealing with the recent death of her husband, is convincing as well. Her character, Tiffany, is bold, outspoken and just as socially awkward as Pat is. One uncomfortable meeting and a few confrontational encounters later, Tiffany and Pat make a deal with each other. She agrees to pass along letters he writes to his wife, and he agrees to be her partner in an upcoming dance competition. It’s a weird deal, but so is their friendship.
Lawrence, 22, is able to hold her own in scenes with both Cooper and heavyweight De Niro. All three of their characters possess strong personalities that often make for on-screen fireworks. “Silver Linings Playbook has eight Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Cooper, Best Actress for Lawrence and Best Supporting Actor for De Niro.
There are many elements at play in this film. There’s a football element for sports fans, dancing for performers, complex characters for film lovers and an interesting couple for rom-com fans. For a movie about silver linings, there are more than enough of them to go around.