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Oz the Great and Powerful

James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis | PG |


Oscar “Oz” Diggs (Franco) is a carnival magician, and a decent one as those go. It’s not his fault that his audience turns murderous when a paralyzed kid asks him to make her walk. What a bunch of rubes. What do they expect for the price of a ticket, real magic? Well, yes.

Oz is mostly smoke and mirrors too. Don’t get me wrong; the 3-D visuals in this prequel to The Wizard of Oz are sumptuous. A tornado drops Diggs, in a hot-air balloon, among giant blossoms and sprite-like creatures in a scene that echoes Dorothy blowing out of Kansas and landing in Technicolor. But the script, not as willing to defy gravity as the set designers are, rolls out a wan plot about Diggs pretending to be a wizard fulfilling a prophecy to save Oz. First, though, he has to tangle with witches: high-strung Theodora (the usually terrific Kunis, who’s muted and boring, even at her vampiest), wily Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and sweet-but-knowing Glinda (Williams), who dares Diggs to be not just great but good.

Then it’s back to that Yellow Brick Road we’ve been down before, with Oz settling for palatable nostalgia instead of something wilder and weirder. (Though kids may find the flying baboons plenty scary enough.) Mostly fine performances and brilliant sets notwithstanding, there’s no escaping the fact that, for all Oz’s considerable tricks, there’s no real magic.


Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew Fox PG-13 |


When Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Jones) went to Japan in 1945, his mission was to win the peace-especially tricky since he wasn’t done prosecuting war criminals. Fox stars as Bonner Fellers, a MacArthur subordinate who must decide whether to enrage Japan by charging Emperor Hirohito with war crimes or nettle Washington by letting him go. There’s also the matter of Fellers trying to find his girlfriend Aya (Eriko Hatsune), lost in the ruins of the bombed-out nation. Fox’s stilted intensity gives the search urgency but lacks emotional warmth. (The Japanese cultural history we learn in the process is fascinating.) Worse is that Emperor casts the lively Jones as a relatively minor character. The heavy film needs more of his caustic humor.