Friday, March 8, 2013

LIZ SMITH: Will "Oz" be Great and Powerful? ...

Will James Franco and "Oz" be Great and Powerful at the Box-Office? Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are Sisters With Issues!

Friday, March 8, 2013
by Liz Smith

“I WANT him to see me like this! I want to show him what he’s done to me!!”

That’s Mila Kunis, shrieking at her sister (Rachel Weisz) in Disney’s coming “Oz the Great and Powerful.” I won’t explain here exactly why the lovely Mila is so distressed. I don’t want to be a spoiler. (Although the cat’s really out of the bag on this, not everybody keeps up with show biz news. And, there’s nothing like a good surprise.)

Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis in “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
“Oz” stars James Franco, the above mentioned Mila and Rachel, Michelle Williams, and Zach Braff. It’s a “prequel” to “The Wizard of Oz”—the tale of how the wizard came to be a wizard. And how certain other vital characters evolved. Gucci and the Cinema Society hosted a Manhattan screening early this week.

First off, “Oz” is in 3-D, which I generally find to be an unnecessary gimmick. Not to mention that those damn glasses can be uncomfortable, leaving a red mark on your nose. However, I have to admit that the use of 3-D in “Oz” is really spectacular and it does enhance the fantastical story.

“Oz” is not without some problems. For one thing, it cost Disney $200 million to make, with another $125 million spent on promotion. It will have to bring in at least $500 million for the studio to see some profit. Certainly possible, but that’s some financial tightrope.

The movie runs over two hours, and gets off to a rather leisurely start. Eventually, however, the action really kicks in and you wind up forgetting you were ever twitching in your seat a bit earlier. (The final climatic battle between Good and Evil will knock your ruby slippers off!)
ADVANCE REVIEWS have been cool to many of the stars, but I thought everybody was pretty great. James Franco seems to be one of those lightning rod actors who critics love to hate — and he can be a lazy performer — but I found him charming as the sleazy, womanizing carnival magician who is tornado-ed into Oz and is assumed to be the great wizard; the one that the beleaguered people of that strange and beautiful land have been waiting for.

As with the original movie, the first 15 minutes of “Oz” is shot in black and white. Only when Franco crash lands in his hot-air balloon does the screen open up in dazzling color. The moment still induces a gasp of pleasure from the audience.

Michelle Williams as Glinda, the Good Witch, is properly a lovely cockeyed optimist in a bubble. Miss Kunis undergoes a transformation that will surprise fans who have seen her mostly in comic roles. As for Rachel Weisz, in many ways “Oz” is her film.

This beauty has not often tapped her vampy, bitter side. Well, here she does and she makes the most out of every sarcastic, insincere syllable she utters. (I guess it’s time to put a gun in her hand and have her square off against her hubby, Daniel Craig in the next 007 epic.)
ZACH BRAFF appears briefly in the flesh at the beginning of the film, and then works as the voice of an adorable flying monkey who assists the cynical and initially unwilling Mr. Franco to fulfill his destiny. There’s also a winsome, slightly tragic porcelain doll-girl — voiced by Joey King — who accompanies Mr. Franco on his journey to defeat the Wicked Witch and find himself in the bargain.
I'M NO seer, but I think “Oz the Great and Powerful” will be a hit. And for all you purists out there, who think nothing about the original 1939 Judy Garland
version should be tampered with — get over it! The unusual tale of the witches and how they came to be continues to be a smash in “Wicked” Broadway. This material has many lives. “Oz” is the latest, and mighty fine, too.
AFTER THE screening that night everybody traipsed off to a spacious, elegant new restaurant, Harlow, on East 56th Street. Mr. Franco, looking hot as Hades, attended, along with the likes of “Shameless” star Emmy Rossum ... ”Law & Order” stalwart, the great Epatha Merkerson ... Madonna’s nicest ex, Carlos Leon ... Dermot Mulroney, looking so good these days on the HBO/Laura Dern-produced-series “Enlightened” (One of the most unusual, aggravating and heart-catching offerings on TV) ... director Lee Daniels ... Dick Cavett ... Judd Hirsch ... Stephen Baldwin ... Billy Zane ... Bebe Neuwirth (those legs!) ... and what appeared to be hundreds upon hundreds of gorgeous models, male and female.

You can depend on the Cinema Society’s Andrew Saffir to drag in NYC’s most physically attractive people. (“Oh, there aren’t hundreds of models” he said, laughing.)

The drinks were super-strong — Grey Goose Vodka.

However, the models appeared to be abstaining, mostly. Listen, one glass of wine shows up on camera. And retouching is chore.
Clockwise from top left: Bebe Neuwirth; James Franco; S. Epatha Merkerson; Emmy Rossum; Padma Lakshmi and John Demsey; Lee Daniels.
Clockwise from top left: Carol Alt; Richie Notar, Jane Notar, and Daniel Benedict; Dick Cavett; Billy Zane; Marina Abramovic and Klaus Biesenbach.

Contact Liz Smith here.

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