The Under-Ranked: ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’
Next year will see the 75th anniversary of one of the all-time great films, The Wizard of Oz. Few films have had the impact or importance. When Dorothy opened up her Kansas farmhouse door to the world of Oz, she might have well have opened up the world of cinema to color films in a big way. The Wizard of Oz also told a fantasy story, even a children’s story, in a darker and much more intricate way than almost any film prior.
There have been several follow-ups or spin-offs to L. Frank Baum’s world, most notably Sidney Lumet’s musical The Wiz and the incredibly dark unofficial sequel, Disney’s Return to Oz. No film yet has had quite the spectacle, cast, or pedigree behind a Wizard of Oz follow-up as Oz: The Great and Powerful has. Not only is Disney basically banking on this being their next Alice in Wonderland, but the film is by Evil Dead and Spider-Man franchise director Sam Raimi, and features a huge cast that includes Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, and former Oscar nominees James Franco, Michelle Williams and former winner Rachel Weisz.
After a rough few years for Disney, with both animation projects and live-action films not going as planned, Disney has quite a lot riding on Oz: The Great and Powerful, their first live-action film since John Carter bombed. Before checking out Disney’s latest attempt at live-action greatness, and the prequel to one of cinema’s most famous stories, maybe check out some of these under-ranked films from the stars of Oz: The Great and Powerful.
Like most huge stars of today, James Franco cut his teeth on the teen comedies of the late nineties and early 2000s. Most of these films have been forgotten, and rightfully so, but there’s something fun about checking out your favorite actors prior to their big breaks. Two years before Franco blew up as Harry Osborn in Spider-Man and became a cult TV legend as Daniel Desario on Freaks and Geeks, Franco was in the teen comedy from 2000, Whatever It Takes.
Whatever It Takes is a retelling of the “Cyrano DeBergerac” story, however in this film, it’s about two guys in high school, each trying to go out with the other guy’s friend. Shane West plays the nice guy Ryan, while Franco is the douchey Chris. The main story is generic as possible, but the minor characters, which include pre-“Breaking Bad” Aaron Paul and Colin Hanks, can at times be quite hilarious.
Whatever It Takes is a definitely blast from the past, a film very much of its time that screams of 2000-era romantic teen comedies. With a young cast that went on to great things and some genuine laughs, Whatever It Takes is at least worth checking out.
While in The Wizard of Oz, we met The Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch, we never met Evanora, The Wicked Witch of the East. However with Oz: The Great and Powerful, we will finally meet her, as played by Rachel Weisz. Weisz is just one of the three talented actresses playing a witch in this latest film, but last year, it was her incredible drama The Deep Blue Sea that had Weisz receiving Oscar buzz and award nominations.
Weisz plays Hester Collyer, wife of British Judge Sir William Collyer, who meets the much younger Freddie Page and has an affair with him. However where The Deep Blue Sea shines isn’t in a lurid sex tale, but in showing the depression that can come from heartbreak and how powerless people can become with love. Weisz plays suicidal and uncertainty beautifully, and Simon Russell Beale, who plays Weisz’s husband, has an incredible amount of pain behind his eyes as he watches his wife make all the wrong decisions.
Tom Hiddleston as Freddie Page also takes the actor into darker realms than films like The Avengers have granted him. Page is filled with rage, sorrow and youthful ignorance, as he takes his anger out on Hester, all while she remains by the man her heart can’t take her away from. The Deep Blue Sea is a staggering, dark film, one where love can destroy, build up, or completely shatter the world.
Michelle Williams, who plays Glinda The Good Witch, has easily been one of the greatest young actresses of this generation. She has balanced mainstream films with a gigantic library of great independent films for years. Quite possibly one of her most heart-wrenching performances came in Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist 2008 film, Wendy and Lucy.
As the title suggests, the film focuses on Williams’ Wendy and her dog Lucy, as Wendy is driving on her way to a potential new job. Wendy’s car breaks down and she loses Lucy. This leads to Wendy’s struggle to find her sole companion and do it with the little amount of money she has.
Wendy and Lucy is an important film for its time, showing the dire consequences of economic crisis through the lens of one person. It’s a bleak look at a person with no safety net, just trying her best to survive. Williams is, as always, incredible, showing restraint as her world crashes down due to struggles that wouldn’t shake most other people. Reichardt and Williams also reteamed for the equally dire Meek’s Cutoff, this time focusing on the struggle of many traveling through the desert in the mid-1800s. It’s the solitude and destitution of Wendy and Lucy that makes it one of Reichardt and Williams’ best.