Flop Friday: The Wiz (1978)

G, 134 minutes, Fantasy

Starring: Diana RossMichael JacksonNipsey RussellTed RossRichard Pryor

Sometimes you come across the weirdest things. Cult films certainly fall into that category because the niche seems so specific that it’s not always going to work for everyone. I feel like I like cult films. Certainly not films that won… *shudder* Sundance awards, but cult films? Good to go, chief.

Then there’s this garbage. No, literally. Some of the characters are made out of garbage. The story’s the same: Dorothy, tornado, Oz, Scarecrow, Witch, but the… the… everything is so different about it. I mean, there are SPACE BABIES for crying out loud!

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Don’t get me wrong: The setting is AMAZING. The Land of Oz is a warped version of New York, so it’s very urban. However, instead of being confined like I imagine The Big Apple is (bucket list item), it’s actually quite sprawling and certain backdrops appear to go on forever. In fact, I’m quite surprised to learn that portions of the film were shot in open spaces around New York because haven’t they, like, built apartments over ever square inch of that place? The scenery has touches of futuristic design that still hold up 40 years later and dark intrigue that makes me wonder what’s around the next corner. I’m labeling this as the true hallmark of the film.

Now if anyone calls the music the hallmark of this film, run because they’re likely a dang hippie reptilian.  The movie is a musical, tying bits of song to traveling, new places, new places, and feelings but I liked very little of it. With a big name like Diana Ross playing the lead role, I really expected more from her. First of all, she’s playing a woman in her twenties, while she’s actually in her thirties at the time of the filming, while she looks like she’s in her forties. I have a feeling that overuse of makeup and bad lighting are to blame, but she simply is not fit for the part. To add to this, I would have expected one of The Supremes to be able to carry the show, so I don’t know what the heck happened here.

It is Michael Jackson, however, that carries the entire weight of this film. His acting, dancing, and singing far surpass anything else presented in this movie. It’s a shame really, since he stared in so little, but gave such an awesome performance in this offbeat flick. However, perhaps Jackson’s performance is so great because everyone else involved in the film didn’t really pull through. The Tin Man is forgettable and the Lion is nothing short of annoying, with mood swings that make you wonder why they bothered with trying to make him seem scared to begin with. Even the costumes, which seem to emphasize racial stereotypes, would give a kalidah nightmares.

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Hands down the coolest scene: living graffiti.

Finally, I need to touch upon the dance sequences. THEY’RE SO FREAKING LONG. I think I clocked the Wicked Witch of the West’s scene at just under 9 minutes. Okay, so… this was a stage production that they brought to the big screen. Got it. Unfortunately, no one seemed to realize that the two mediums don’t always sync. A dance number is well and good, but control yourself, Hollywood. By the time you reach the two hour mark, you begin to realize that this stuff is all just filler. C’mon, guys. I have work in the morning. This film turns itself into a commitment without giving much back.

Overall, I’d say if anyone recommends this movie to you, you should ask them what you’re getting into and then free up your schedule for a bit. That person isn’t going to be me though. It’s just as simple to look up a scene here and there in order to get a feel for it. While it might be a cult film, it’s certainly not worthy in my book.

Rating: Don’t bother.

tl;dr
Watch: Cool scenery. One of MJ’s few movie performances.
Don’t watch: Because it’s really just a time-consuming disappointment and you already know the story anyway.

Images © Universal

White Christmas (1954)

Not Rated, 120 minutes, Musical

Starring: Bing CrosbyDanny KayeRosemary ClooneyVera-Ellen

Christmas movies (annoyingly enough) are not cheap. For some reason the corner on the market backs up to here, just opposite of Disney films. Once in a great while, however, the movie executives smile upon the masses and a few holiday titles slip through the cracks. So when my wife dropped a Christmas five dollar double feature into the shopping cart many years ago I didn’t complain. What we ended up with was a steal.

The first of the two films happens to be White Christmas, a classic from another era which my wife adored yet I knew nothing about. Sure, I’d heard the song a million times, but back then I had no idea about the movie. Set among the showbiz glitz of the age, this movie is a bit of tussling romance between a couple that cannot seem to wait two seconds in order to figure out what the other person is really up to.

After serving together in World War II, Wallace (Crosby) and Davis (Kaye) band together to become music sensations. When they scout the Haynes sisters (Clooney and Vera-Ellen) sparks fly. After being unable to settle a hotel bill, the four run away and a budding romance begins between the two couples.

When they arrive at their destination, “all-that-snow” Vermont, the guys run into their old army general. The general manages a failing bed and breakfast and longs to return to the service. The idea to hold a show in honor of the general strikes our heroes, but romantic strife threatens to ruin the whole act. Before the show goes on, the four must get it together without ruining the general’s surprise.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t much of musical person when I first viewed this movie, but now I can’t imagine getting through the Christmas season without it. It’s simple, celebrates the acting arts, and it’s downright heartfelt. This is a movie that acts like a play and has the budget to make one heck of a show that will bring a tear to your eye.

It’s interesting watching our crew act, sing, and dance. They’re all fine actors, but some are better singers than they are dancers and vice versa. To showcase this, different segments of the films are done either as action-filled dancing sequences or flashy song numbers. And since this movie is about putting on a production, the show is broken up throughout in the form of rehearsals before the big real-deal final act. This evenly spreads out the song and dance, adding interspersed drama between so that everything isn’t bunched together. It’s a smooth ride.

If you’ve made it this far into the review, I commend you. I doubt this old movie will sound anything near interesting to someone unfamiliar with it. I know I didn’t expect much at first. Yet this film is still bound to surprise you. White Christmas is a staple of the season and December must-see for any movie fan.

Rating: Own it.

tl;dr
Watch: Just trust me and do it.
Don’t watch: If you hate Christmas.