How do you get to Oz? Practice! Also a hot air balloon.
Oz the Great and Powerful
Few movies need a contemporary prequel less than The Wizard of Oz, but Disney went ahead and made one anyway, assigning cult horror guy-turned-mainstream studio technician Sam Raimi to do the job. (It should be noted that since MGM holds the rights to the 1939 film version of Oz, this film is technically a prequel to L. Frank Baum's books -- although the visual references to the earlier movie are hard to miss.) The result is a decent family-oriented blockbuster that displays only a smidgen of its director's personality, but at least that's a smidgen more than Tim Burton displayed in his Disney-backed Alice in Wonderland. Raimi's old Spider-Man collaborator James Franco plays the title character, proto-wizard Oscar Diggs, who begins the movie as a carnival charlatan before the combination of a hot air balloon and a thunderstorm spirits him away to a magical land over the rainbow. There, he meets a trio of witches -- good Glinda (Michelle Williams, looking intimidated by the scale of the production), bad Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and, last but not least, Theodora (Mila Kunis), who starts out on one side only to end up on the other. (It says something about how stiff the flesh-and-blood actors are that the most enjoyable characters in the movie are digital creations: Zach Braff's flying monkey and a little china doll girl, voiced by Joey King.) Lazily plotted and indifferently acted, Oz mainly gets by on Raimi's command of CG-spectacle. It's no disaster, but it's not especially great or powerful either.
Extras: A blooper reel, six featurettes (including a video diary shot and edited by Franco) and a second screen experience on the Blu-ray edition.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to read our Q&A with Oz co-star Zach Braff
Click here to see how we'd prequelize other classic films
It's been a busy few months for Dwayne Johnson, as the former king of the WWE ring has appeared in such high-profile studio outings as G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Pain & Gain and Fast & Furious 6. But he started of 2013 with one of his smallest and most surprising films, Snitch, which departs from the action movie template and instead functions as a crime drama that gives The Rock the chance to work out his acting muscles rather than his biceps. Loosely (and I mean very loosely) based on a true story, Snitch casts Johnson as a straight-edge father who voluntarily infiltrates a drug ring in order to help his son avoid a ten-year prison sentence after the kid was dumb enough to sign for a dubious package from a dubious friend. Although supported by a more-than-capable ensemble that includes Susan Sarandon, Michael K. Williams and Jon Bernthal, this is primarily the Rock's show and he does a fine job -- even if giving him the requisite breakdown scene was probably a mistake, as was director Ric Roman Waugh's decision to weigh the final act of the movie down with a more conventional action set-piece. Overall, though, a movie like Snitch is a far more productive use of the Rock's time and energy than another G.I. Joe outing -- though he'd better not give up on the F&F franchise anytime soon.
Extras: A commentary track with the director and editor, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
Click here to see our original review
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
A tonally bizarre mash-up of a fairy tale, a brother/sister comedy and a CGI-heavy action movie, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters snuck into theaters in the dead of January with no advanced press screenings and for good reason... the film is pretty godawful. Jeremy Renner (looking like he'd rather be somewhere, anywhere else) and Gemma Arterton play grown-up versions of the youthful sugar addicts, who have embarked on witch hunting as a career after the infamous "Candy House" incident. Armed with a variety of weapons, they roam the medieval European landscape looking to keep little villages and town safe from cackling, cauldron-stirrers, like the one played by Famke Janssen, who turns out to have a personal connection to Hansel and Gretel. The presence of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's names in the credits (they're listed as producers) suggests that at one point Witch Hunters may have been headed down a more comic route until writer/director Tommy Wirokla decided to throw the jokes out (along with much of the plot) in favor of a series of loosely-connected, ineptly-choreographed action sequences. Honestly, I've seen Syfy Channel original movies with better writing, acting and directing than this big-budget studio feature. For the $50 million that Witch Hunters cost, the network could have made like, 50 Mansquitos.
Extras: Three making-of featurettes, plus an unrated cut of the film.
French musician and filmmaker Quentin Dupieux first made a name for himself on these shores three years ago with the cult hit Rubber, an off-the-wall action movie starring -- I kid you not -- a telepathic tire who causes mayhem and falls in love with a flesh-and-blood woman in an isolated desert town. His latest film, Wrong, is more straightforward in some respects in that it features a human being and not a rubbery wheel in the lead role. But the overriding plot and sense of humor are just as strange, unfolding in a manner that can perhaps best be described as free-associative. When ordinary guy Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick) discovers that his beloved dog has vanished, he embarks on a surreal journey that includes overly flirtatious pizza shop employees, a pet detective who is only a little like Ace Ventura and, best of all, the acid-scarred, self-help guru Master Chang, played by a game William Fichtner. It goes without saying that the movie's warped comic sensibility won't be for everybody, but if it grabs you early on, you'll want to see what other strange avenues Dupieux will venture down during the rest of the movie.
Extras: A making-of featurette, a separate doc about the making of a "non-film" and a 20-page booklet with an introduction by Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric fame, who are obviously kindred spirits with Dupieux.
Lilo & Stitch
The Emperor's New Groove
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Three hand-drawn Disney cartoons get the Blu-ray treatment and bring their direct-to-DVD sequels along for the ride. The best of the bunch remains 2002's Lilo & Stitch, the Hawaiian-set, Elvis Presley-scored comedy about a destructive little girl and the equally destructive creature from outer space she befriends. But I also have a soft spot for The Emperor's New Groove, which endured a famously tortured production process and then was all but dumped by the Mouse House when the studio somehow managed to miss the comic genius of its central pair of odd couples: peasant Pacha (John Goodman) and emperor-turned-llama Kuzco (David Sapde) and evil witch Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and her dimwitted sidekick Kronk (Patrick Warburton). Atlantis, on the other hand, has always been a more problematic film: a handsome attempt at a classic adventure story, but one populated by bland, boring characters. It's a definite step up from the Disney dud Treasure Planet, but still far from a lost classic. Meanwhile, the sequels -- Stitch Has a Glitch, Kronk's New Groove and Milo's Return -- are all mostly unmemorable DTV fare. Think of them as appendixes to the real prize: owning Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor's New Groove in high-def.
Extras: Atlantis has the most extensive bonus goodies, with deleted scenes, featurettes and a glossary of the movie's fake language. Lilo and Emperor are both, sadly, bare bones.
Bruce Lee's seminal martial arts adventure celebrates its 40th birthday with a new Blu-ray edition showcasing the master's moves in high-definition. The culmination of Lee's acting career on both sides of the Pacific, Dragon was the first Hong Kong-made film to be backed by a major American studio, a deal that came about because of Lee's extraordinary popularity overseas. A showcase for his distinctive fighting style, the movie also established the template for the genre going forward, with the tournament-of-champions storyline that's been used in such movies as Bloodsport and The Karate Kid and video games like Mortal Kombat and, of course, Street Fighter. And those fight sequences still impress, even if the material that surrounds it is dated in some respects. Lee himself wouldn't get to see the impact the movie had on pop culture, dying unexpectedly mere days before its release. Dragon lives on, though and looks better than ever on Blu-ray.
Extras: A commentary track with the movie's producer Paul Heller, three new featurettes -- including a trip back to the island where the tournament was filmed - and five archival mini-docs with footage of Lee before his untimely death. There's also a packet of tchotchkes ranging from postcards to a badge.
Also on DVD:
Little Henry Thomas -- yes, the kid from E.T. -- plays country music rebel Hank Williams in the biopic The Last Ride, which follows him on a road trip through Appalachian country. The apocalypse is here, but at least Michael Vartan and Terry O'Quinn survive in the direct-to-DVD Ring of Fire. The Italian drama Diablo follows an ex-boxer who falls into a life of crime. Shout! Factory slaps its latest '80s cult movie on high-def, this time the 1984 cheesefest Ninja III: The Domination. Before his latest Expendables-led revival, Sly Stallone tried to jump start his career with the racing movie, Driven, now out on Blu-ray. Finally, the good folks at Criterion releases a new high-def edition of one of Ingmar Bergman's finest achievements, Wild Strawberries.
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