Oz the Great and Powerful is set about 20 years before Dorothy gets whisked away to the magical kingdom by the tornado – so it’s kind of an “Oz origins” story. It tells how the “wizard” – actually a ridiculously crass, greedy and utterly ineffectual conman called Oscar Diggs – arrives in Oz and finds himself in the middle of a supremacy struggle between three witches of very different personalities (Good, Bad, Middling.)
Oz is truly sumptuous to look at – magical, actually – with magnificent SFX. The plot might be wafer-thin, but it cracks along at a fun pace nevertheless, and I quite enjoyed it – tho admittedly without being blown away. It can’t have been easy creating this magical world within the strict constraints set by Warner Bros’ lawyers – everything from the ruby slippers to Theodora’s big green chin were copyrighted and could not be used to recreate the Oz ambience.
Oz filmed in Michigan, courtesy of the State’s (then-) welcoming incentive programme, at the newly built Raleigh Studios there (a venue that swiftly defaulted on its $18 million government loan once the State’s incentive programme was cut back.) Also, I must just add, I think it’s no small irony that James Franco plays Oscar Diggs (or Oz). Franco is obviously one of Hollywood’s own biggest wizards himself, a chameleonic trickster of varying degrees of brilliance or awfulness, who’s somehow persuaded the great and good of Hollywood that he should be heading up this kind of $200 million movie.
I don’t do mental illness well (ok: at all) and just 24 hours with the kooky Miss Marilyn Monroe would’ve scared the bejezis out of me. The movie though – concerning Marilyn’s brief visit to London to film The Prince and the Showgirl reveals her absolute inability to be alone, turn up on time or remain vaguely drug free – is kind of depressing. But it’s perfect little filmgoing experience, actually, and Michelle Williams is really quite astounding as Marilyn Monroe herself.
What I did love though was the locations, with instagram-esque styling inspired by New York photographer Saul Leitner. The production was given the same sound stage at Pinewood where the original 1957 shoot took place, and Michelle Williams was given Marilyn’s actual dressing-room, which must have been inspiring (but also a bit spooky?) There are evocative scenes at Windsor and Eton College too.
Set in 1845, Meek’s Cutoff is a remarkable, disquieting, thought-provoking film.
On the one hand, it’s the simple tale of a handful of emigrant families who’ve been lead off the main Oregon Trail by their braggardly guide and out into the vast, droughty wilderness. Under this light, it’s as plodding as the footfalls of oxen, the soundtrack is the whipping wind and the moan of wagon axles taking strain, the action is the monotony of grinding of coffee beans, kindling of fires, kneading of bread. On the other hand though, as the realization sets in that they are completely lost, as the water runs out, and as desperation sets in, the movie becomes quite something else: claustrophobic in the vastness, terrifying and horrific in the dust-drenched, dwindling options, a thriller that moves at walking pace.
It’s a Western of course, so there are Indians, and cooking fires, and long-bore rifles, but the action such as it is, is mostly witnessed from the wives’ points of view, trudging in long dresses through the scrub, whispering behind shaded bonnets, straining to hear the decisions being made by the men that will irrevocably affect their lives.
So, it’s strange and stern and sad and it’s really worth seeing. It actually filmed in Oregon, in the lands where outward settlers actually passed, and the screen ration makes it feel even more authentic. And one last thing; who’d’ve thought Michelle Williams, of all the Dawson’s Creek alumni, would morph into a superstar. She’s completely fantastic here. (Shirley Henderson too; love her.)