Coming off another spotty week, our patience is rewarded with four new releases, all of which appear worth seeing.

In Theaters

Oz the Great and Powerful (Walt Disney Studios)
Oz the Great and Powerful
(Walt Disney Studios)

In Oz the Great and Powerful, James Franco stars as Wizard-to-be Oscar Diggs, a Kansas magician transported to the magical land of munchkins and flying monkeys.  Once there, he meets witches Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glenda (Michelle Williams) and must solve Oz’s staggering problems before inheriting a great treasure.  Attempting to do what the Muppets and Ashanti could not, director Sam Raimi looks to make a worthy companion to likely the most widely-seen and beloved film of all time.  The cast helps, as does Rabbit Hole writer David Lindsay-Abaire on script duty, though I’m determined to keep my expectations low.  At least it will look good…right?

Chasing Ice (Submarine Deluxe)
Chasing Ice
(Submarine Deluxe)

I saw Chasing Ice at last year’s Full Frame Documentary Festival and can attest that it warrants big screen viewing.  Utilizing some of the most stunning and daring nature photography put to film (I’m loving the grandiose superlatives this week), Jeff Orlowski’s film offers compelling evidence of global warming.  Specifically, the footage tracks National Geographic photographer James Balog as he records a massive glacier’s change over one year and Balog’s own transformation from climate change skeptic to believer.  Look for my full review on Friday.

Emperor (Lionsgate)
Emperor
(Lionsgate)

Fresh off his close call with Oscar glory, Tommy Lee Jones plays General Douglas MacArthur in Emperor, a historical drama from the director of Girl With a Pearl Earring.  Set in the aftermath of WWII, MacArthur taps General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) to deem whether Japanese Emperor Hirohito deserves to die as a war criminal.  An expert on Japan, Fellers’ mission is complicated by his search for Aya (Eriko Hatsune), with whom he was once in love stateside, and his overall reverence for the nation.  The trailer suggests rich drama and moving shots of a decimated country.  Plus, it should be fun to watch Jones as one of history’s more oversized characters.  Look for my review on Friday.

Dead Man Down (FilmDistrict)
Dead Man Down
(FilmDistrict)

A big to-do is being made over Noomi Rapace re-teaming with director Niels Arden Oplev in Dead Man Down, and with good reason.  The last time they worked together, the result was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, still by far the best adaptation of Steig Larsson’s Millennium novels.  In Oplev’s English language debut, Colin Farrell plays a hitman blackmailed by Rapace to kill the mob boss (Terrence Howard) who done her wrong.  The flashy trailer cued to Kendra Morris’ fine cover of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” has me psyched.  Hopefully the actual film follows suit.

Fleeing the Scene

Being a documentary not directed by Michael Moore or called Searching for Sugar Man, A Place at the Table never stood a chance at a second week.  It’s outta here, along with the rotting corpses of Snitch, Dark Skies, and the respectable Phantom, which apparently did so poorly nationwide that its distributor refuses to disclose its returns.

On DVD

The excellent French comedy The Intouchables is by far the best bet.  Elsewhere, many of my colleagues fell hard for Wreck-It Ralph, though I did not.  I also managed to avoid the Red Dawn remake and the reviled Gerard Butler rom-com Playing For Keeps.

On Netflix Instant

The first season of the BBC’s Call the Midwife is the most appealing debut.  The ’50-set series has drawn comparisons to Downton Abbey and should serve as a good tie-over between the latter show and the new season of Mad Men.  (Hurry up, April 7!)  Also of note is the first Hannibal Lecter film, Michael Mann’s Manhunter;  Tim Burton’s Big Fish (the director’s last great film…until he made Frankenweenie); and the John Hughes-scripted, though not directed, Pretty In Pink.

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