Review of "Oz: The Great and Powerful," Plus "The Paperboy" Meets "The Master"

So last night I stumbled into the new James Franco/Mila Kunis special effects love-a-thon Oz: the Great and Powerful, and could easily do one of those catty, snarky Hollywood send-ups that go, “It was like The Princess Bride meets The Lord of the Rings, with a dash of MacGyver thrown in for seasoning.” Which would be more or less accurate, but also shallow and glib. Since it’s just out this weekend, I won’t blurt out any spoilers here, but will say the China Girl was my favorite character. It’s borderline scary for young children, though my six-year-old daughter (who seems afraid of nothing) liked it. Some great visuals, which is not surprising. I read the NY Times review that lamented how the new Oz fell well short of the original 1939 masterpiece. But that doesn’t surprise us, does it? What perhaps is most surprising is how good the original is. But my recent viewing did not stop there, in the land of Oz . . . .
Being a Pete Dexter fan, I couldn’t wait for his novel The Paperboy to be filmed, but heard less-than-enthusiastic reviews of it once it came out. Plus it wasn’t showing anywhere close to me when it did appear in theaters (and I was living in deepest darkest remotest Colorado), so I’ve just recently seen it. I have to admit I was disappointed. Nicole Kidman was on the mark, almost perfect as the in-love-with-deathrow-inmate skank, and she was most of the fun of the movie. But at times it didn’t make much sense, lacking much of the context and cohesion of the novel, which is about sex and journalism and family and fame and a decidedly swampy Florida backdrop. Best scene: an outrageously horny Nicole Kidman, languishing in a car outside the prison gates. Truly weird. But the end seemed quite different, and much more “Hollywood,” than the novel. So the cliche of “The novel was much better” is true in this case, and I walked away a disappointed fan.
Same goes (I will not say “Ditto”) for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which I was looking forward to, read some glowing reviews of, then noticed that no one seemed to be saying good things about it once it hit the theaters. It’s similar to the mood of Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, but Blood had much more complexity and clarity. Joaquin Phoenix is Freddy Quell, an alcoholic weirdo bumbler of sorts, the main focus of the film, and most of it focuses on his interactions with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, an L. Ron Hubbard stand-in of sorts. Freddy is searching (for meaning? for answers to his drinking problem?) throughout the film, but what it has in common with The Paperboy is a high HQ (Horny Quotient). When the film ends with Freddy having sex with a strange woman he just met, and laughing, it does seem that’s all he really needed all along, which is funny in a sardonic way.

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