Oz the Great and Powerful

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.

Real Steel

OK, hands up if anyone still takes Hugh Jackman seriously? Because I don’t. I just can’t. He’s devolved into a glib, preening, self-aware, McConnaughey-esque muppet before our very eyes. (oh I hope Les Mis can still save him.) In the meantime, Real Steel is the latest of his glossy unwatchables-  a by-the-numbers, wastrel-father / bratty-son pic whose unique differentiator is boxing robots. Seriously.  Some glassy-eyed studio exec somewhere was clearly expecting a toy tie-in franchise for the big bucks. Not.

Funnily enough, given my earlier post, it filmed throughout Michigan, courtesy of a whack of incentives. Detroit Free Press lists the locations. Recognize any?

Michigan loves Oogieloves

I was struck by the ner-ner-ner tone of the following Mlive.com headline:

Michigan-made film that received $3.9 million in incentives becomes biggest box office flop in history

The article is talking of course about the movie “The Oogieloves In The Big Balloon Adventure,” which shot in Michigan in 2009 on receipt of a Film Incentive approval, but made just $443,901 in its opening weekend – apparently the lowest gross ever for a film released at more than 2,000 theaters. Honestly, fewer people saw this that The Innocence of Muslims.

My Father always said Continue reading “Michigan loves Oogieloves”

Gran Torino

Assumption, it’s been said, is the mother of all fuck-ups. And as if to prove this truisim, I offer you Martin Cuff and the avoidance of the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino. You see, I assumed that this was a film about Nascar – Days of Thunder meets Stallone in Driven. Scraggly old Clint posing in a jumpsuit. That kind of thing. So I’d avoided it entirely. Which, as it turns out, was a fuck-up of monumental proportions.

Gran Torino is in fact a compelling drama. It’s a unique polemic that touches on ageism and generational dissonance, the inevitable growing pains as white America transforms under the melting pot of immigration, of dysfunctional families, the scourge of gang violence, casually entrenched racism and sexism, and the dangerous disaffection of youth of all colours and creeds. It filmed in Detroit, Michigan – Walt’s home is on Rhode Island Street, east of Woodward in Highland Park – the decline of which has been written about extensively, and is kind of symbolic of the grand gut-wrenching social upheavals happening in and to the American heartlands. Art imitating life, then.

But Gran Torino is funny too; some cracking, gasp-worthy dialogue scours the mouths of the grumpy, tell-it-straight Pole (played by Eastwood) and his Hmong neighbours. The lippy, wise-ass, brutally candid daughter Sue – played by newcomer Ahney Her – is stand out.

So all in all, riveting is a word that comes to mind; it’s like watching an impending car crash at a familiar intersection. Which is a total red herring: the Gran Torino does not crash, in fact it doesn’t even race. It is a must-see though.