Oz the Great and Powerful

  • Title:  Oz The Great and Powerful
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Disney
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Blu-Ray Format:  NTSC

“You want me to lead an army that can’t kill?” – Oz
“If this was easy, we wouldn’t need a Wizard, would we?” – Glinda

“So you’re not the wizard I was expecting. [pause] So you don’t have the powers I thought you’d have. But you’re here. There must be a reason. Maybe you’re capable of more than you know.” – Glinda

“Look, I know I’m not the Wizard you were expecting. But I might just be the wizard that you need.” – Oz

Oz the Great and Powerful starts in black and white in 4 x 4 ratio (it should be 3X4 but the Blu-Ray has it boxed as an exact square). Oz is a magician and con-man in a small, and shabby travelling circus, and he’s not even that good a magician. He’s actually running away from his latest conquests boyfriend, when he leaps into a hot air balloon and is whooshed away in a tornado.

He crash-lands in the land of Oz, and when he does, not only does the film change from black and white to color – but the film literally opens up to wide-screen too. The image rolls to the side and up to fill the screen. It’s both reminiscent of the famous 1939 film starring Judy Garland (which starts in black and white and becomes Technicolor in Oz), and an almost physical transportation into a new world. And what a colorful world it is. The colors are bright, and beautiful, and it really does look like technicolor. Especially in the opening, and early scenes, the scenes in Oz almost feel like animation – classic Disney animation at that and it’s truly beautiful.

Oz crash-lands in a river, and meets Theadora, a woman dressed in red and black. When Oz introduces himself, she tells him of her father’s the king’s prophecy – that one day, a great Wizard, bearing the name of “our land”, will come to save all the people, and become the new king. Oz gives Theadora one of his music boxes, as he has to many other women that he’s been interested in, telling her the made-up story that it belonged to his late grandmother. He then dances with Theadora. She’s smitten.

Theadora takes Oz to the Emerald City and introduces him to her sister, Evadora, the royal adviser. She also becomes instantly interested in Oz. She gives him a tour of the palace, shows him the royal treasury, then tells him he must save the Land of Oz by killing the Evil Witch. Oz isn’t so sure about the whole “killing” thing, but when he learns that destroying the witch’s wand will kill her, he agrees.

Oz, along with a highly amusing talking monkey in a bell-hop’s uniform head out on their quest.  Along the way, they see smoke, and wander into the destroyed China Town.  There they meet and rescue the China Girl, and Oz repairs her legs with glue.  China Girl joins their quest.

They soon enter the Dark Forest. Oz has a plan to distract the Evil Witch and steal her wand. But when he meets Glinda – he learns she is a Good Witch, and it’s Evadora who’s wicked – and who killed her father.

Meanwhile, Evadora is laying plans, and manipulating her sister, Theadora.

Glinda convinces Oz to help her. Evanora’s men and flying baboons attack. Glinda creates a ground fog for cover. Oz, China Girl, Finley, and Glinda end up on the edge of cliff, with a wind-swept tree in silhouette and a sunset behind them.  Yes, it looks like the famous scene in Gone with the Wind.  Glinda dives off the cliff, and they all travel by bubble to her castle in Quadling Country.  There, Oz meets the good people of Kansas, I mean, Oz – farmers, tinkers, seamstresses and tailors, and the Munchkins.  Oz doesn’t really know what to do, especially to turn the people into an army to defeat two wicked witches.

Theadora, turned green and evil by her sister, arrives and threatens Oz – then leaves.

Oz is unsure of himself, and doesn’t really know what to do.  But after Glinda tells him he might have more potential than he thinks he does, and after telling China Girl a bedtime story about the great wizard Thomas Edison, Oz gets an idea.

Oz puts the Quadling people to work, each to their own special ability. They work to his plan.

The next day, Oz orchestrates his plan. He even has some surprises for his own followers. The plan, which I don’t want to spoil, is perfect, makes great sense for an idea that comes from con-man/magician from Kansas, and most importantly – it works. Which isn’t really a spoiler, as this film is a pre-quel to The Wizard of Oz.

Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful, was just a beautiful film. It looks gorgeous. You really don’t see a lot of movies that look so beautiful anymore. For once, CGI, that screams, “look at me – I’m pretty CGI,” works, because it adds to the storybook feel of the film. And the colors are simply gorgeous, beautiful, incredible. At times, especially in the first few scenes in Oz, this film really looks like an animated feature. I’m assuming that was intentional. The animated look brings the Land of Oz to life – and sets it as a new world.

I also, really, really, really loved that this film opens in black and white.  The move from black and white to color, and from cropped 4×4 ratio to widescreen is handled very well.

James Franco does a great job playing Oz as a lovable rogue – who, at the start, in Kansas, has no moral scruples, really. But, in Oz, he comes into his own, and learns his own lessons. Oz is a fallible hero, and he learns how to be a leader, with Glinda’s help (not to mention Finley and even China Girl), which makes for a good film.

Overall, this is a wonderful, feel-good movie, that is also great for children.

Recommendation:  See it, especially good for children.
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Either The Hobbit the Desolation of Smaug or The Prestige.

Advertisements

Original Reaction Oz The Great and Powerful Review

Note:  This Review was originally written after I had just seen the film in the theater in 2013.  I’m fixing typos and that’s about it.

  • Title:  Oz The Great and Powerful
  • Based on the Oz novels by L. Frank Baum
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Cast:  James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bruce Campbell
  • Studio:  Disney
  • Date:  2013
  • Cast:  James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Director:  Sam Raimi

I really enjoyed this film, it’s awesome!  The film opens in 4×3 ratio and in black and white, but when The Wizard arrives in Oz, everything turns to bright, hyper-reality colors.  The film’s opening is in 1905, establishing Oscar, or “Oz”, as carnival magician – who isn’t even that good at his stage magic.  He can perform some acts of distraction and prestidigitation, but he isn’t that good at it, which is why he’s with a traveling circus in Kansas, not working in New York or some other major venue. He’s also a bit of a coward.  When a local girl he’s fond of tells him she’s received a marriage proposal and she told the young man “I’ll have to think about it”, he’s afraid to let her know his true feelings.  When the circus strong man chases after him, he runs… eventually reaching a hot air balloon, which is caught up in a tornado.

Oz wakes, well, in Oz.  As his balloon crashes into a river, a waterfall, and then a pond and river (again) the format opens up to the widescreen 16×1 we are used to, and bright, bright color.  The first thing that Oz sees are flowers – huge, colorful, gorgeous flowers.  He’s getting his bearings and soon meets a young woman, who (a) claims she’s a good witch, (b) asks for his help, and (c) informs him he’s the answer to the old king’s prophecy.  He and this young woman, Theodora, head off to the Emerald City. Theodora tells Oz that the prophecy of the previous king was that a “Great and Powerful” Wizard bearing the name of our land, would come to bring order and peace to the land and rescue the good people from Wickedness.  She also tells him of an Evil Witch who killed the previous king, and that this evil witch was her sister, the king’s own daughter.

They arrive in the Emerald City and meet Evanora, Theadora’s sister.  Evanora is immediately attracted to Oz, and jealous of his interest in her sister.  Evanora send him off to “kill the evil witch” by destroying her wand.

So, off Oz goes.  He meets the China Girl, a winged monkey in a bellhop uniform, and eventually Glinda. Glinda convinces Oz she’s the good witch.  She takes him and his friends to her castle and introduces him to the Quadlings, Tinkers, and Munchkins.  Soon it becomes apparent they must form a plan to re-take the Emerald City and oust the two Evil Witches who control it — without actually killing anyone since the “good people” of Oz cannot kill.

Anyway, the rest of the film is the Wizard’s plan, with Glinda’s help and the organization of the various groups under Glinda’s control.  But the film is awesome!  The colors pop and are bright and gorgeous with a very story-book quality to them.  At times the film feels almost animated rather than naturalistic.  Especially the first scene in Oz, with the waterfall and rushing river, then the flowers — it’s incredible.  There are even rainbows that appear in the spray of the water then quickly disappear as the water moves on.  The characters feel very much like the characters in L. Frank Baum’s books.

Oz himself gets a great story, of the charlatan who makes a road to redemption — he may not be the hero Oz deserves, but he’s the hero Oz needs, because he’s the only one they got.  I also liked how well this film handled the point that anyone who’s seen “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1939) with Judy Garland actually knows how this film will end, it’s really a prequel to that film (and it is The Wizard’s story; whereas The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is Dorothy’s story).  Yet, until some other films that are actually prequels (Star Wars I, II, III – I’m looking at you) — this film gets the process right, it becomes, in part, about knowing how certain things will happen.  It’s a well-told film, despite the somewhat familiar structure.  It’s also a visually stunning film, that doesn’t scream “what great effects” since the effects support the story.  The young, largely unknown cast did an excellent job as well, especially the young man playing Oz.  Here’s hoping Disney will produce additional books from Baum’s Oz series.  Oz the Great and Powerful is highly, highly recommended.

Spiderman 2

  • Title:  Spider-man 2
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Columbia (Marvel)
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Tobey McGuire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Being brilliant’s not enough, young man, you have to work hard.  Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift and you use it for the good of mankind.”  — Dr. Octavius

“The power of the sun in the palm of my hand.”  — Dr. Octavius

“My Rosie’s dead.  My dream is dead.  And these monstrous things should be at the bottom of  the river, along with me.” —  Doc Ock.

I preferred the title sequence to this film over the sequence for the previous one.  The sequence looks like actual comic book panels and catches the audience up on the plot from the previous film.

In Spider-man 2, Peter Parker is once again the nerdy guy with bad luck.  His commitment to being Spiderman, causes him to lose his job as a pizza delivery boy, to run into trouble at college, where he’s late or misses classes entirely, and even to be late on his rent.  He even loses the chance to impress MJ (Mary Jane Watson) by missing her performance in a play (which looks to be The Importance of Being Earnest, though it’s never mentioned by name).  To add to his troubles, Aunt May’s house is in foreclosure.

Possibly because of all this stress, Peter is beginning to have problems as Spiderman, with his web failing, and later his powers failing.  Several times in the film, Peter literally takes a fall as Spiderman.

For a college science report, Peter meets Dr. Octavius, a brilliant scientist, working on fusion power.  At the opening demo, Peter’s there to take pictures for the Bugle, but things go wrong.  The magnetic field breaks, the fusion reaction acts like a giant magnet, and chaos ensues.  Spidey arrives to try to help, but Dr. Octavius’ wife is killed by shattered glass, and his activator arms (“smart” metal arms activated by the doctor’s own brain) are fused to his spine.  Worse still, the inhibitor chip that prevents the nanotech in the arms from taking over the doctor’s brain, is damaged.  When a surgical team tries to remove the fused exoskeleton, Doc Ock attacks them, and a new supervillain is born.

Peter and Aunt May try to get a re-fi loan, but she fails due to her lack of  income.  But, while there, Doc Ock attacks the same bank, and even kidnaps May.  Peter, as Spidey, saves his Aunt, and fights Ock. The pictures from the fight make their way to the Bugle, and it’s Hoffman (Ted Raimi) who comes up with a name for the new villain – Dr. Octopus, which Jonah Jameson shortens to “Doc Ock”, blaming Spidey of course.

But Peter is still having problems balancing his life, and since his Spidey powers keep failing him at inopportune times, he gives up being Spiderman, and even throws away the suit.  A garbageman sells the suit to Jameson at the Bugle who keeps it as a trophy.  Although Peter’s life becomes simpler, crime rates skyrocket, and Peter feels guilty when he walks past crimes in progress and does nothing.

Peter tells May an edited version of the truth about the night Uncle Ben died, after May had blamed herself. At first May seems angry at Peter, but later she comes to her senses and patches things up, letting him know she loves him.

Doc Ock goes after Harry Osborn, who’s still obsessed with destroying Spiderman, whom he blames for his father’s death.  He sends Doc Ock after Peter, saying Peter will led him to Spiderman.

MJ kisses her new fiance (Jameson’s son John, an astronaut) upside down.  From the look on her face, she’s still in love with Peter or Spiderman.  Peter and MJ meet at a cafe’.  Peter tries to apologize and tell her he’s straightened out his life, but Doc Ock throws a car through the plate-glass window they are sitting near.  Peter saves MJ’s life but doesn’t get to kiss her.

Peter’s powers return, he takes back his Spidey suit, and there’s a huge F/X CGI fight between Doc Ock and Spiderman on a train.  Spidey manages to just barely stop the train full of people from falling off the track, but he’s now without his mask.  Normal people hand him hand-over-hand back into the car, when Ock threatens again, all the people stand between the villain and Spidey.  A kid gives Peter his mask back.

Ock brings Spidey to Harry, Harry gives Ock the Tridium (an ultra-rare element used in Octavius’ fusion reactor).  Harry’s about to kill Spidey, but when he pulls off  his mask, he’s shocked to discover it’s Peter. Spiderman must then rescue MJ and stop Doc Ock’s fusion reactor before he blows-up half of New York.

Spiderman and Doc Ock have their final confrontation.  Despite his plans to make it work, the fusion reactor again becomes a huge magnet, causing havoc. Doc Ock is electrocuted, and he and the reactor core are dropped in the river.  Spidey saves MJ during the battle, but she sees him without his mask. Peter explains to MJ that they can’t be together.

MJ plays the runaway bride at her own wedding, and goes to Peter to tell him they should make a go of  it anyway.  Meanwhile, Harry is hearing the voice of the Green Goblin.  He breaks a mirror and discovers a secret lab with the mask, glider, pumpkin bombs, and enhancing formula.  Will he take it?  Only the sequel can tell.

I found Doctor Octavius to be a strangely compelling and sympathetic villain.  His own personality breaks through the Doc Ock madness much more often than say, the Green Goblin’s (who’s just nuts, even when he tries to act sane).  Even after he’s become Doc Ock, he’s still trying to get his fusion reactor working – something to benefit “mankind” (well, OK, it should be “humanity” but that’s how Octavius puts it).  And he never seems to realize that it’s the lack of working magnetic containment that causes his experiment to fail.  He also loses everything:  his standing as a scientist, his wife, his sanity, and eventually his life.  At times, compared to what Doc Ock goes through, Peter Parker seems like a whiny teenager, which goes to show you just what a good actor as villain can due for a piece.

Recommendation:  See it, it’s better than the first one.
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Stardust

Spider-man

  • Title:  Spiderman
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  Columbia (Marvel Productions)
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Tobey MaGuire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem DaFoe, Cliff Robertson, James Franco, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Some spiders change colors to blend in with their environment, it’s a defense mechanism.” — Peter Parker
“Peter, What makes you think I would want to know that?”  — Harry Osborn
“Who wouldn’t?” — Peter Parker

“This guy, Flash Thompson, he probably deserved what happened, but just because you can beat him up, doesn’t give you the right to.  Remember — with great power, comes great responsibility.” — Uncle Ben

Peter Parker is painfully shy, and a bit of a nerd but he’s also a talented photographer and has the mind of a scientist — curious about the world and always wanting to know more.  He’s being raised by his aunt and uncle, and no mention is made of what became of his parents – I assumed they were dead.  Mary Jane, or MJ, is the proverbial girl next door, who’s harassed to the point of abuse by her father and boyfriend (MJ really doesn’t know how to stand up for herself).

One fateful day, Peter’s class, including MJ and Peter’s extremely wealthy friend, Harry, are on a field trip to a New York City genetics lab, which has been working on combining genetic traits from different spiders to create a “super spider”.  The spider gets loose and bites Peter.  Harry also starts talking to Mary Jane, at first to show Peter how easy it is — later, because he likes her.

That evening, Peter feels sick, but the next day he wakes up with extraordinary spider powers.  He and Mary Jane talk briefly (he’s bringing out the trash, she’s escaping her abusive father) only to have MJ run off when her boyfriend Flash Thompson shows up with his new car which he received as a present. Peter thinks of getting a car, and makes himself a simple costume so he can enter a wrestling match to win some money.  He wins, but the fight promoter cheats him out of the majority of his cash prize.  Just after Peter leaves the manager’s office, another man rushes in and robs the guy at gunpoint.  Peter could have stopped the thief, but he lets him get away (in part because he’s mad at the loss of the prize money).  Later that night, Peter returns to the library where his Uncle Ben is supposed to pick him up and discovers Ben dying.  Peter, in his masked outfit, tracks his uncle’s murderer — it was the same man he let go.  Peter throws the man through a window and he falls several stories to his death.

But Peter, remembering Uncle Ben’s words about responsibility, decides to become the crime-fighter Spiderman.  He’s improved his costume, refined his techniques, graduated from high school, and moved to New York City with Harry.  MJ has also moved to New York, but her dreams of becoming an actress have hit the harsh reality of being a waitress, just to eat and pay rent.

Spiderman is introduced to New York by a montage of  scenes of him stopping crime, and “man-on-the-street” interviews.  Eventually always cash-poor Peter Parker sees an ad in the Daily Bugle requesting pictures of Spiderman.  Peter rigs an automatic shooting camera and sells his pics to Jameson, the Bugle’s cigar-smoking editor.  He gets a $300 freelance fee.  Well, it’s a start.

Meanwhile, Norman Osborn, Harry’s father, is having troubles.  His company is about to lose a lucrative military contract.  Seeing no other choice, Norman tests the human enhancing formula on himself.  He nearly dies and it gives him a “split” personality — turning him into the evil green goblin.  The Goblin bombs his company’s rival, Quest, destroying their Ironman-like exoskeleton (not to mention several people who work there, a pilot, and the general who wanted to take away Oscorp’s military contracts). Upon returning, as himself, to Oscorp, Norman Osborn discovers his board is ready to sell the company to his rival and oust him as CEO.  Osborn goes bananas.

During the “World Unity Festival” the Green Goblin attacks, threatening and killing innocents as well as members of the Oscorp board.  Spiderman arrives and tries to save as many people as possible (and he saves Mary Jane, who is now dating Harry Osborn).

Aunt May gets Harry, Norman, MJ, and Peter together at Harry and Peter’s New York apartment for Thanksgiving.  It’s a disaster.  Everyone nearly finds out who Peter is; Norman accuses MJ of only being interested in Harry for his money; and MJ hears Norman’s accusations and Harry’s lack of protests.  A good time is not had by all.  Shortly thereafter, the Green Goblin puts it together that Peter is Spiderman and attacks MJ and May.  Both survive but only just.

In the final conflict between Spiderman and Green Goblin, the Goblin gives Spidey a choice — save MJ or save a tramcar full of kids.  Spiderman manages to save both.  Goblin and Spidey fight.  Spidey loses half  his mask, Norman takes his off  and tries to convince Peter he’s somehow not in control.  But, it’s a trick — Peter’s Spidey-sense warns him in time and he moves out of the way and the glider’s spikes miss him.  Norman Osborn isn’t so lucky, host by his own petard, he dies.

At the funeral, Harry blames Spiderman for his father’s death, but promises to remain friends with Peter. Mary Jane also tells Peter she loves him, but he tells her he only wants to be her friend.

For some reason, the first Spiderman film seemed better the first couple of times I saw it, but in later viewings, including this one, I saw it’s faults.  Going backwards through the film — the scene between MJ and Peter at the cemetery seemed so fake that I almost expected Peter to wake-up and realize it was a dream.  Peter’s pined after MJ since he met her (at the age of  six), yet when she tells him she’s completely in love with him, he tells her “let’s just be friends”?  Uh-huh, right.  And Mary Jane’s throwing of herself at Peter also didn’t feel right.  Second, Jameson is a bit of  a cardboard/cartoony secondary villain — sure, we know he only wants to sell papers, and painting Spiderman as a villain will do that — but it makes no sense, given the evidence.  Third — I have never bought Spiderman’s origin story.  A bite from a genetically-enhanced spider would probably kill you from it’s venom.  (Or a radioactive spider would give you cancer).  I really don’t think it would transfer “spider powers” to a teenager.  But I can suspend disbelief on that, you often have to for superhero movies.

The performances, on the other hand, are good.  I liked Tobey McGuire’s Peter Parker — he made the nerdy photographer/science student seem real, as well as flawed.  Kristin Dunst did the best she could given how Mary Jane was written.  And honestly, she often lights-up the screen.  MJ often seems like a victim of everyone around her, but it’s not her fault she’s given three boyfriends, an abusive father, and a complete inability to stand up for herself or fight for the right to own her life.  I also enjoyed the bit players and cameo artists, especially Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Stan Lee, Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben, and Aunt May.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Spider-man II

The Majestic

  • Title:  The Majestic
  • Director:  Frank Darabont
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, David Ogden Stiers, Laurie Holden, James Whitmore, Bruce Campbell
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Right, no Blacklist, The Studio just doesn’t want to know you.  Not with this thing hanging over your head.” — Peter’s agent

“Once this place was like a palace…  that’s why we called it The Majestic.  Any man, woman, child could walk right in, here they’d be, here we’d be, ‘Yes, sir; Yes, Ma’am, Enjoy the show.’  And in they’d come, entering the palace, like in a dream, like in heaven.  Maybe you had problems and worries out there but once you entered those doors, they didn’t matter any more and do you know why?  Chaplin, that’s why, and Keaton, and Lloyd, Garbo, Gable, Lombard, Jimmy Stewart, Jimmy Cagney, Fred and Ginger!  They were gods, and they lived up there.  That was Olympus!”  — Harry

“The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, they’re all just piece of paper with signatures on them.  And you know what a piece of paper with a signature on it is?  A contract.  Something that can be re-negotiated at any time.  Just so happens the House Un-American Activities Committee is renegotiating the contract this time.” –Agent.

I never was much of a fan of Jim Carrey — because he was known for his very broad, over-the-top, wild comedies, and that kind of comedy just wasn’t my thing.  But The Majestic is a drama, not a comedy and it is brilliant.  I thought Martin Landau gave an Oscar-worthy performance in this film, and Carrey was equally brilliant.  His speech at the end of the film to the Committee is reminiscent of the clips I’ve seen of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Carrey is truly brilliant in this film and makes you believe he is the character he’s playing – which is what acting is all about, really.

The film begins with just voices, people having a discussion, then we see Carrey in a medium close up. He looks bored, and slightly annoyed.  He’s sitting in on an executive meeting with about his latest film, “Ashes to Ashes”.  Carrey is Peter Appleton, a writer, trying to make his way into Hollywood Pictures. He’s had some success, having written a screen play for a B picture called, “Sand Pirates of the Sahara”, which has been produced and released.  He has a girl, a job with the studio, and he thinks of L.A. as “his town”.  He’s trying to break into a pictures with “Ashes to Ashes”, and is afraid to rock the boat when the studio executives propose all sorts of ludicrous changes.  But then it all comes crashing down, when he’s accused of being a communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Peter’s as non-political as they come, and simply doesn’t care about any sort of politics.  He’s totally bewildered by the entire accusation.  The studio drops him like a hot potato, shelving “Ashes to Ashes”, his girl dumps him, and the bottom’s dropped out of his world, so Peter goes to a bar and tells the bartender (and his stuffed monkey toy) all this, while getting drunk.  He leaves the bar, intending to drive up the coast, just to clear his head.

In short, Peter has an accident on the drive and wakes up on a beach.  He’s found by an old man and a dog, who help him up, and take him to the nearest town.  The accident has caused Peter to lose his memory, yet everyone in the town says he looks familiar.  After buying him a hot meal at the local diner, the local doctor, Doc Stanton, comes in (David Ogden Steirs) and takes him to his office to look after him.  He fixes up Peter’s head wound, and gives him a clean shirt to wear, since Peter’s is pretty much wrecked.

Harry Trimble (Martin Landau) meanwhile, had barely seen Peter in the diner, but he knows who he is — it’s his son, Luke, who went missing in the war (World War II).  Pretty soon, everyone has declared that it he is Luke, and treats him like a hero.  And, even though Peter has no memory of the town, it’s people, or of being Luke, he sort of rolls with it.  Not out of malice, or an intent to deceive anyone, but because it just seems easy, and comfortable, and he’s enjoying how everyone cares about him and treats him as a hero.  He meets the doctor’s daughter, Adelle, who was Luke’s high school sweetheart, and they begin to fall for each other.

Meanwhile, Harry’s taken Luke (Peter) in, showing him his apartment above the local movie theater.  The theater is closed now, and run down.  It had been the dream of Harry, his wife, and Luke, but with Luke going missing in the war, and the death of his wife shortly thereafter, Harry just didn’t have the heart to continue with the business and let the theater go into disrepair.

The town where Luke and company live is very small, but lost 62 boys in the war, 17 at Normandy alone. The return of Luke Trimble, bouys up the town, and most of people are very happy to have Luke back. Things seem to be going well for Peter, now Luke.  At the welcome home party for Luke, Doc Stanton points out to Harry, that if it is Luke — where was he for nine years?  He must have been injured, shipped home, cared for.  He could have a whole ‘nother life, and a family who loves him who are looking for him. Harry acknowledges the possibility, but he is so happy to have his son back, he really doesn’t care.

Harry then proposes to Luke that they clean-up, restore, and re-open The Majestic.  Luke is hesitant at first, especially after he sees the amount of work involved and the cost of supplies needed.  However, they go to the town council and ask the mayor for help.  Before long, half the town is helping Luke and his father, Harry, to clean and fix up the Majestic.  The montage of restoring the old theater is very well done.

They re-open and have a rousing success as everyone in town comes to see the weekly films.  Harry’s happy, and everyone is doing well.  Until, the film, “Sand Pirates of  the Sahara” is shown.  Peter watches the film from the side of the full theater, and starts reciting the lines, then it dawns on him — he realizes who he really is.  But before he can do anything, the film stops running.  Emmett, one of the small staff of The Majestic, and someone who’s like family to the Trimbles’, says something’s wrong.  They run upstairs to the projection booth, and find Harry  on the ground.  He’s had a heart attack.

The Doc Stanton is called, and he does what he can, but Harry is dying.  Luke/Peter says goodbye to Harry, and although tempted to tell him who he is, doesn’t.  At the funeral, the FBI (whom the film had cut to a couple of times), representatives of the House Un-American Activities Committee, show up and serves a subpoena on Peter Appleton (aka ‘Luke’).  The entire town turns against Peter, even Adelle, though later she changes her mind.

In the small town of  Lawson, where he’d been living, his agent convinces him to read a prepared statement and a list of  names to the committee.

“All you do is show up, read the statement, salute the flag and everybody goes home happy.”  — Agent
“And I won’t be a communist anymore?” — Peter
“That’s the idea.” — Agent
“Doesn’t matter that I never was one?” 

Peter is hesitant and unsure of  himself.

Peter speaks to Adelle, who tries to convince him that he shouldn’t just cave in and admit doing something he didn’t do to get his life in Hollywood back.  Peter admits he’s basically a coward, that he was at Fort Dix during the war and was happy to not go overseas because he didn’t want to die like the boys of Lawson, especially Luke.

On the train back to Hollywood, Peter opens a gift from Adelle.  It’s a red-leather hard-bound copy of the Constitution, inscribed to Adelle from Luke.  Tucked inside is a letter from Luke, which includes the line, “When bullies rise up, the rest of us have to beat them back again – whatever the cost.” (read by Matt Damon).  Peter gets to the committee hearing, and the room is filled with photographers.  The committee begins to question Peter, and his advisors complain that Peter was supposed to simply read the statement.  However, Peter stands up, and finally, stops reading the statement he had started to read. Instead, in a bold act of courage, he reads the First Amendment of the Constitution.  He talks about Luke, and his “Big America”, as opposed to the “small America”, of the Committee.

“That’s the First Amendment, Mr. Chairman, it’s everything we’re about — if only we’d live up to it.  It’s the most important part of the contract every citizen has with this country, even though these contracts, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, even though they are just pieces of paper with signatures on them they are the only contracts we have that are not subject to re-negotiation, not by you, Mr. Chairman, not by you, Mr. Clyde, not by anyone, ever!  Too many people have paid for this contract in blood.”  He holds up the copy of  the Constitution in his hand.

He also confronts the Committee with Luke’s medal of  honor.  Then he walks out, despite the Committee telling him he’s not dismissed.  The room erupts in applause.  He and his agent talk in a car, and Peter’s convinced he’s going to prison.  The agent tells him, it’s all about “naming names”.  Peter says he didn’t give the committee any names.  The agent mentions the girl Peter mentioned; they’d gone to some meeting in college, the “Bread Instead of Bullets club” — a club now retroactively declared communist. Peter is shocked, he certainly didn’t mean to get anyone else in trouble.  And he had no idea she was a television producer on CBS.  However the agent points out, she’s the one who gave the Committee Peter’s name.

Peter goes back to his old life, and the film cycles back to the beginning, and Peter sitting in the boring meeting.  When the off-camera voices ask him what he thinks — he ends up walking out.  He sends a letter to Adelle and heads back to Lawson.  When he gets there, the entire town, who had heard his impassioned speech on the radio, gives him a hero’s welcome.  That he marries Adelle and raises children with her, while running the Majestic, is a story told through photos on the piano (we’d seen the piano and photos before during the picture).

The film is magnificent — Peter finally deciding to stand up for something and sticking it to the HUAC is brilliantly played, and Jim Carrey’s performance in that scene is particularly good.  Though it’s his confrontation with Adelle, where he admits to being a coward by the standards of the time, that’s probably the best bit in a film that’s full of “good bits”.  This is also a brave film, considering it came out in 2001, when a bully called Bush and the Republican party were trampling all over the civil rights of everyday Americans — limiting free speech, freedom of religion and even the right to read what you want or listen to the music you want.  That Conservative attack continues (libraries are being shut, books taken out of school libraries or the school libraries closed completely, as well as public ones; there’s been an assault on public radio and TV, and anyone who’s not a Christian Fundamentalist like Bush is considered a second-class citizen, or not a citizen at all but someone who should be kicked out of  the country — or what do you think “America is a “christian” country means?).  Bush also made it a crime for anyone to publicly criticize him under the so-called Patriot Act, and made travel difficult, and foreign travel nearly impossible (especially Canada — prior to Bush only a birth certificate and driver’s license were required to travel there, and hundreds of Americans traveled across the border from Michigan to Ontario to work every day.  Bush’s stunt with requiring passport threw all those people out of work.)  The Constitution is sacrosanct — and that’s the point of  this film, but it’s groups like the House Un-American Activities Committee and Bush’s Republicans (also Palin, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Buchanan, etc.) who are the ones breaking it, especially the First Amendment, while accusing middle-of-the-road Democrats of doing the same thing.  I hate to be political here, but when reviewing a political film one really has to be, so sorry.

This film is also directed beautifully!  When Adelle and Peter/Luke first meet they end up near the ocean, at sunset, and it is absolutely beautiful.  The two climb the (albeit small, but working) lighthouse to talk and have their first kiss.  It’s a gorgeous shot.  The shots of main street, which is about as small-town, 50s America as you can get are picture perfect.  Luke’s homecoming party, and the montage sequence of the town working together to restore The Majestic are particularly well-crafted.  Even the scene in front of the Committee, looks really good.  The Majestic is an over-looked gem, and I particularly recommend it.  And, if, like me, you had avoided Jim Carrey films because of his comic reputation, give this film a try. I just wish Carrey, as an actor, would do more dramas (I can only think of  four, three of which I’ve seen and two I own).

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Maltese Falcon (1941)