' Oz the Great and Powerful'
2 1/2 stars = Average
Directed by Sam Raimi ("Spider-Man" trilogy), this is a prequel that imagines how the wizard came to be so wonderful and in Oz.
In a gutsy nod to the original, it opens in black and white and stays that way for about 20 minutes. No need to adjust your set: Oz and color are coming.
It starts in 1905 Kansas as traveling circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) tries to woo a local woman with his standard approach -- flattery and a music box he must purchase by the gross -- and to entertain the locals by levitating a "volunteer" as his assistant (Zach Braff) provides sound effects from the wings.
He disappoints a young patron who has an impossible request and does likewise with a sweet visitor, Annie (Michelle Williams), who announces another man has proposed to her.
Annie obviously hopes Oscar will provide a reason she should reject the suitor. But the magician says, "I'm many things, but a good man is not one of them. ... I want to be Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison all rolled into one" right before escaping into a hot-air balloon, which is pulled into a twister and transports him to Oz.
In that magical land rich with mountains, waterfalls and fields of flowers, he encounters blond witch Glinda (Ms. Williams) and two sisters, Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz), along with the expectation that he is the wizard everyone has been waiting for, to reclaim the Emerald City from a wicked witch.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" drags at 127 minutes and never manages to make you feel as though you've been swept into a bubble like Glinda floating through the air. Characters who can hurl fireballs or shoot lightning from their fingers seem to have wandered in from a superhero movie in the next auditorium.
It took courage and brains for writers Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire to try to follow the yellow brick road into further fanciful adventure, but there's still no place like home.
' No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert'
3 1/2 stars = Very good
Fans of Richard Pryor can now pick up 12 hours of comedy through this set that includes seven CDs and two DVDs. It's a wonderful yardstick of Pryor's growth, from his early days of stand-up to his eventual domination of the comedy world.
The material includes comedy from Pryor from 1966-92, two hours of previously unreleased stand-up performances and rare recordings from the Pryor archives. Films in the set are "Richard Pryor: Live in Concert" (1979), "Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip" (1982) and "Richard Pryor ... Here and Now" (1983).
Also included are photos, multiple essays, celebrity tributes, a discography, a filmography and a personal note penned by Richard's widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers
2 stars = Mediocre
Dwayne Johnson plays the owner of a Missouri construction company whose college-bound son from his first marriage is arrested after foolishly agreeing to accept delivery of a box with 2,000 Ecstasy pills. Jason (Rafi Gavron), 18, is charged with distribution of narcotics and learns a friend implicated him to lighten his own sentence.
Unless Jason can hand the feds someone else, he will face at least 10 years in prison under mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Jason isn't exactly a street tough, and after just a few days behind bars, he already shows a split lip, blackened eyes and other signs of being bullied.
Jason refuses to set up anyone else, but his dad, John Matthews, pitches an ambitious U.S. attorney (Susan Sarandon) on going undercover himself to drastically reduce Jason's sentence.
She eventually agrees to cut Jason's time behind bars if John can deliver an airtight arrest for at least half a kilo of cocaine. A businessman who started his research of drug cartels with a Wiki search has to hatch a scheme to follow through, even as he safeguards his second wife and young daughter who enjoy a prosperity Jason never had.
"Snitch" plays like an overly long TV movie from the 1980s, complete with oppressive, omnipresent music that wants to remind us it might be dangerous to mess with the head of a drug cartel. Of course, Mr. Johnson is usually invincible, so we're not as afraid as we might be if the dad were played by a weakling who might easily wilt.
Director and co-writer Ric Roman Waugh is a former stuntman, and he executes some nifty chase and accident scenes. But he has something of a wooden ear when it comes to dialogue, and characters are developed in anemic fashion.
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• "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters": Siblings become bounty hunters after an incident at a gingerbread house.
• "Doctor Who: Inferno": The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is concerned about a top-secret project that involves drilling into the crust of the Earth.
• "Power Rangers Super Samurai: Secret of the Red Ranger - Volume 4": Includes four episodes along with two music videos.
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-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapersmoviereviews