By Chris Azzopardi | Q Syndicate
“Oz The Great and Powerful”
We’re off to see the wizard (but not Dorothy) as filmmaker Sam Raimi gives top billing to the great man behind the smoke screen, a circus fraud who becomes the fated ruler of a land far, far away when he’s swept up in a tornado and catapulted into gay heaven (so naturally he’s played by James Franco). There are fairies, a cute monkey in a bell-captain costume, a talking china doll, some twists (Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz play witches; one is wicked), enough CGI effects to make “The Wizard of Oz” look its age and even some sexy-time innuendo. Because everything Franco does is a little bit sexual. Even if it’s for Disney. Taking cues from the original, Raimi’s “Oz” knows its boundaries, honoring the 1939 classic with nostalgia, magic and the fantastical feel of transcending reality. The extras show China Girl’s evolution from puppet to one of the most lovable animated dolls ever, the lavish art design and Kunis’ makeup metamorphosis. The best, though, is a 22-minute filming doc seen through James Franco’s eyes. Because everything looks better through James Franco’s eyes.
“Struck by Lightning”
Lightning didn’t strike for the “Glee” gay, Chris Colfer, when his first cinema outing debuted last year at the Tribeca Film Festival to dismal reviews and a limited theatrical showing. Sure, the indie “comedy” seemed promising. Colfer is a funny firecracker with a charming presence as Kurt on “Glee”. He managed to nab Rebel Wilson to do her Rebel Wilson thing. And the rest of the cast ain’t too shabby either: Christina Hendricks, Dermot Mulroney and Allison Janney, perfect even in this mess as his mother. This catastrophic strikeout, however, is DOA as Colfer’s unlikable high school narcissist, Carson, dies from a bolt of lightning in the opening scene, forcing us to endure flashbacks of after-school-special teen angst and awkwardly shoehorned family drama. It’s never funny. It’s never engaging. It’s only struck by awfulness. The extras have as little to say as the movie itself: a behind-the-scenes segment and interviews with Colfer and director Brian Dannelly clock in at just two minutes each. There’s also 17 minutes of deleted scenes and bloopers that are even less funny than the movie, which seems almost impossible.
When Rudy Donatello (Alan Cumming), a West Hollywood drag performer, stumbles upon a neglected child with Down syndrome in a neighboring apartment, he reacts as any person with a heart would: He does something about it. Rudy, together with new boyfriend Paul Fliger (Garret Dillahunt), gives the affectionate doll-adoring Marco (Isaac Leyva) the home he never had. But so what. A legal system clouded with moral biases doesn’t look out for the best interest of this kid (is Marco really better off with his junkie mother?), and so his new family fights the court for custody of a child that everyone but them forgot about. “Any Day Now”, set in the late ’70s (which explains Cumming’s moppy head of hair) and based on a true story, raises issues of prejudice, injustice, disability and stereotypes with Cumming in top form; as Rudy, he’s compellingly passionate and stalwart as he rigorously fights the blatant homophobia keeping him from Marco. An emotional peak bursts open the floodgates in a dramatic turn that makes “Any Day Now” a tough film to watch – and an even tougher one to shake. Extras are short and sweet: Filmmaker Travis Fine reflects on his personal relationship with the script, and we meet first-time actor Isaac Leyva.
For three maniacal hours, “Cloud Atlas” jumps between now, yesterday and tomorrow with a pool of characters – among them, a tragically affecting gay couple living closeted in 1931 – that transcend earth, space and the hereafter. The complexity of this Rubik’s Cube drama – with romance, comedy and suspense tearing through each story – is philosophically challenging, even off-putting at first, with its eternal love, time continuum and freedom ideologies, but it’s also a marvel to relish: actors bend genders and race (You’re seeing right; that’s Susan Sarandon as a man and Hugo Weaving as a female nurse), and time-shifting scenes fall into each other like magic. And there is, of course, just the grand ambition of trans co-writer Lana Wachowski, who with the other creators has obviously put her heart and soul into this rich, enveloping and deeply moving adaptation of the also-dense novel. This confounding and emotionally effective mind bender calls for an in-depth look, but the special features only offer short featurettes – several featuring Wachowski – that barely fill in the blanks.
When you think zombies, you don’t think heart. You think brains. And “Warm Bodies” doesn’t skimp on head jelly as the walking dead take on mankind in this post-apocalyptic comedy. But there’s an unexpected romantic crux a la “Romeo and Juliet” … if Romeo ate people. Nicholas Hoult is “R,” a zombie who falls for Julie (Teresa Palmer) after he devours the brains of her boyfriend (Dave Franco). As they run from an even greater threat – and he from the humans, she from the bad zombies – they forge a romantic relationship rarely seen in a movie with organ eating. It’s adorable, hilarious and gross, but above all, it cleverly eats zombie stereotypes and finds new life in undead mythology. Packed with special features, owning “Warm Bodies” is a no-brainer.
The first shot in “Side Effects” is of blood streaked across a hardwood floor. We then backtrack three months, the story twisting and turning as it has you wondering what you got yourself into: a PSA on antidepressants? An intense, crazy, manipulative thriller? Both? Steven Soderbergh directs a sexy cast of Hollywood hotness – Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum and “Dragon Tattoo” badass Rooney Mara – in a wicked nail biter that’s as out of control as its shady protagonist, Emily Taylor (Mara), who goes mental when she’s put on a new experimental drug. And because Soderbergh has decided to queer up his career with “Behind the Candelabra” and “Magic Mike”, the lesbians get some girl-on-girl action when Jones and Mara make out. What we don’t get are many extras.
Looking very much like a ’90s drag queen who raided her grandma’s Florida condo closet, Melissa McCarthy plays a woman with no friends but lots of stuff. Stuff she bought on someone else’s dime. That someone is family man Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), who tracks the scammer down. McCarthy lives up to the “Bridesmaids” hype with a comic powerhouse performance hinging on crazy caricature. Sometimes stooping low – fat jokes and derogatory name-calling abound – the comedy from “Horrible Bosses” director Seth Gordon requires a high tolerance for exploitative political incorrectness. Still, the critical bashing is overblown – it’s not a perfect comedy, but is it knee-slapping funny? Yes. Very. Is Melissa a riot? Duh. Bonus features include an extended cut of the film and alternate scene takes.
A horror movie that’s kind of … precious? It’s true that the Guillermo del Toro-produced fright flick starring Jessica Chastain – rocking the Pat Benatar look – is a chilling, sometimes amusingly silly tale (see: the end) with spooks, jumps and bumps in the night. But “mama” doesn’t just snatch a couple girls and turn them into gnarly-looking roadrunner-fast kooks because she can. Chastain is solid – when is she not? – as a gothed-up mom figure who goes from self-centered caretaker to full-on guardian (aww). The role, like the awesomely absurd film, surprises by taking the road less traveled: What, character development in horror? A monster reveal early on? You know what they say: “Mama” knows best. The short that inspired the full feature is included among generous extras.
—Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at chris-azzopardi.com.