Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL"
Disney is betting $325 million that audiences worldwide are going to flock to see this prequel to Victor Fleming's classic "Wizard of Oz," which catapulted Judy Garland to stardom and made L. Frank Baum's fantasy fable an integral part of American folklore.
While Baum wrote 14 Land of Oz novels, he never delved into the wizard's background. So this is the charlatan-behind-the-curtain's "origin" story.
It's 1902 when Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco), a conniving carnival magician, flees from his latest flim-flam in a hot-air balloon that's enveloped by a Kansas twister. Landing in a river in a fantastic realm called Oz, he's eagerly greeted by naïve Theodora (Mila Kunis), who informs him that his arrival fulfills a prophecy about a great wizard who has the power to defeat the Wicked Witch.
Theodora's one of a trio of witches that includes her deceitful sister Evanora (Rachel Weitz) and Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams). Setting off on the Yellow Brick Road, Oz rescues a wisecracking, winged monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), and tiny, broken China Doll (voiced by Joey King), who become his traveling companions. Eventually, he not only transforms himself into the wizard that the people have yearned for, but also a better human being.
Thinly scripted by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, it's directed by Sam Raimi as homage to the tone and feel of the 1939 film, starting in black-and-white on a cropped, square screen and expanding to full-screen glorious color. But the story's inconsistent and fragmented and, obviously, James Franco was no one's No. 1 choice; he inherited the role only after Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp turned it down. Utterly lacking in charisma, Franco has neither the necessary charm nor humor.
What saves the iconic Emerald City and sparks the whimsical, nostalgic concept are the visually stunning, multi-dimensional special effects, particularly Finley and China Doll, who resonate as fully realized characters.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Oz the Great and Powerful" is a spirited 7, a new, family-friendly adventure that's filled with wonder.
"JACK THE GIANT SLAYER"
With the success of "Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland," Mirror, Mirror," "Snow White and the Huntsmen," even "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters," live-action fairy-tale fantasies have become a cinematic trend, mirrored on TV by "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm."
One rainy night, when she's visiting Jack the magic beans he acquired when he sold his only horse in the marketplace accidentally take root, unearthing a gnarly stalk that propels his house and the princess above the clouds into the floating realm of Gantua, inhabited by an ancient race of giants, led two-headed General Fallon (Bill Nighy). King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) immediately dispatches his gallant Guardians, including brave Elmont (Ewan McGregor), wise-cracking Wick (Ewan Bremmer) and Isabelle's conniving betrothed, duplicitous Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci).
As they climb into the stratosphere, they're joined by Jack, as the lumbering, cranky CGI "fee-fi-fo-fum" giants declare vengeance on mankind, sprouting lines like "We will taste the sweet nectar of revenge."
Adapted from "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer" and assembled by a series of screenwriters, including Christopher McQuarrie, Darren Lemke, Dan Studney and David Dobkin, and directed by Bryan Singer ("Valkyrie," "Superman Returns" and the "X-Men" franchise), its making and marketing costs escalated to $300 million, including a bloated $195 million production budget.
Intended for release last June, it's sat on the shelf for eight months and, unlike fine wine, has not improved with age.
These legendary English fairy tales have been embellished before -- by Thomas Edison back in 1902, followed by The Three Stooges, Gene Kelly and Chuck Jones. And if Nicholas Hoult looks familiar, he recently starred in the zombie romantic comedy "Warm Bodies" and appears in Bryan Singer's upcoming "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Jack the Giant Slayer" sprouts a family-friendly, yet derivative, feeble 5. Rated PG-13, it's too scary for very young children.
Set in 1945 in the Bavarian countryside just after Germany has surrendered near the end of World War II, this is the coming-of-age/survival story of teenage Hannalore Dressler (Saskia Rosendahl), nicknamed Lore, who is left in charge when her parents are taken into custody for war crimes during the Third Reich. Just before her mother (Ursina Lardi) departs, she instructs stolid, responsible Lore to take her four younger siblings -- ranging in age from an infant to preteen -- to their grandmother's house, some 500 miles to the north, near Hamburg.
As they traipse across the Black Forest countryside, where bloodied corpses lie unburied, they barter their meager possessions for food and medicine. Anti-Semitism is rampant, as many villagers believe that the shameful Holocaust images posted on bulletin boards were staged by actors. Along the way, they're stopped by American soldiers, who demand to see their identification papers. Observing their fearful dilemma is Thomas (Kai Malina), a German lad with a number tattooed on his arm; he is pretending to be a Jew in an attempt to avoid incarceration by the Allies. Coming to their rescue with his stolen papers containing a yellow star, he says they're his siblings, traveling from Buchenwald to Auschwitz before liberation. While grateful, sullen Lore is nevertheless stubbornly conflicted; her Nazi indoctrination through Hitler's Youth Corps has taught her to distrust and loathe Jews. As their journey is fraught with danger, Thomas becomes their leader and guardian, arousing Lore's sexuality and forcing her to question her beliefs.
Spoken entirely in German and directed with stunning detachment and admirable restraint, it's helmed by Australian director Cate Shortland, who adapted Robin Mukherjee's screenplay, based on one of three stories in Rachel Seiffert's 2001 novel "The Dark Room." Selected as Australia's entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, it didn't make the final shortlist.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Lore" is an indelible 9, truthfully chronicling the triumph of the human spirit and in a class with Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon."