The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017) 4/5

Contemporary musicals are essentially the rarest of filmic breeds. They are either reboots of older classics or adaptations of great stage productions from around the world. What is more common is when these are fused with popular historic figures and this fusion works well when that person was linked with show business. Michael Gracey’s directorial debut is a show stopping adventure through tposter-largehe weird and wonderful eyes of P.T Barnum and his eclectic mix of performers.

Scepticism did almost overtake me prior to watching this Hugh Jackman star vehicle, but I persisted, and I’m very glad that I did. From the cinematography, acting, editing, and performances everything here works so well that it is seamless in the action. Jackman is no stranger to the spotlight of the stage and thrives her as the protagonist as through dance numbers, all of his skills as a performer are brought out in full force. He carries this movie with aplomb (I love that word!) and bringing Zac Efron onboard to entice a younger crowd (clever marketing), plus throwing the added class of Michelle Williams adds another dimension to this already celebrated canon.

In essence, this film is about inclusivity and diversity, which is a little more than topical at the moment in time. I won’t go into that too much (*ahem* Trump, *ahem* Harvey Weinstein) and the songs show a very strong reflection of this zeitgeist. Fox made a very clever hire of Pasek and Paul, who are fresh off their win for the – dare I say it, slightly dull – La La Land at last years Oscars. Their songs are simply infectious and you will be singing all of the way home. Of course, it does help that the screenplay is also written by Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City vet) and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls and Chicago).

Of course, it can be very difficult to balance the gritty reality of the actual figure and the glitz of movie musical. Sure, some bits are glossed over with glitter, but this movie is all about escapism. If you’d like a more pronounced musical biopic, I’d direct you to ‘Walk the Line’ for example.

There are shades of Baz Luhrmann here too and Moulin Rouge is clearly something they wanted to emulate, not just with the rooftop dancing, but also with it’s feverish pace and fast editing.

In sum, whilst The Greatest Showman might lean a little too much on the ‘show’ aspects and not on the murkier sides of Barnum. This movie is an escapists dream with a very powerful message of inclusion in a time where not everybody is getting the representation or safety they deserve.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi, 2013) 4/5

Trying to touch on The Wizard of Oz (1925 OR 1939) was always going to be a dangerous Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_Postermission for Sam Raimi. Trolls were already gathering to critically dismantle the film long before it hit cinemas. So, the question is, does this prequel encapsulate the magic of its predecessors? In one word, yes. If Disney wanted to introduce a new generation to the story then they have done a solid job in doing so, indeed what is so great about the film is that it works on two levels. There is enough references to the other films to keep die-hard fans happy and enough adventure and magic to entertain newcomers.  In short, it does everything a prequel should do and better yet it is shorter than three hours (take note, Mr ‘Hobbit’ Jackson).

The narrative introduces us to Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs, a carnival musician in 1905 Kansas. As he fools everyone with his fake magic tricks, he is thwarted by a little girl wishing to walk again. As it becomes clear that he is a fraud, the audience begin to jeer him and he is forced to leave. Along with his partner Frank, he becomes embroiled in a fight with the strongman, who wants to hurt Oz for flirting with his wife. Whilst trying to escape he climbs aboard a hot balloon and as he flies he encounters a rather familiar twister and is swept away. By entering Oz, he begins to encounter weird and wonderful things, most notably the three witches, flying monkeys, roads made of yellow brick and little china girls.

The whole film is visually stunning and well warrants the use of 3D technology. We are immersed not only in the black and white images of the first 17 minutes but also the extravagant colours of Oz. Much in the same way Ang Lee used this in Life of Pi all of the special effects are used to forward the narrative and are not just empty ribbons to an unopened gift. Peter Deming’s cinematography carefully and economically navigates the characters around this alternate land. As well as this Robert Stromberg’s production design, Bob Murawski’s editing and Danny Elfman’s fantastical score all add to the comforting feel of this classic Disney adventure.

Raimi knows how to make horror, and because of this there are a few moments that nod at this. For example, Oz’s terrifying balloon journey where planks of wood nearly decapitate him and the reveal of the witch’s true identities are equally horrifying. All of this adds to the narrative and also gives credit to the other films in this universe.

The performances as a whole work really well, with particular attention needing to be paid to Rachel Weisz who outdoes herself as Evanora. Michelle Williams and James Franco are extremely likeable as the central couple, however if there is a weak link, it has to be Mila Kunis. At times I thought she was reaching too much to be ‘scary’ in order to recapture Margaret Hamilton’s performance in the 1939 version.

On the whole, however this is a great adventure that will keep everybody entertained. Indeed, this film has done what many have tried to do, it has touched on Hollywood royalty without tarnishing memories or letting the original author (L.Frank Baum) turn in his grave.