Return to Oz: An Overlooked Disney Cult Classic
Nov 2012 30


With the forthcoming and highly anticipated spring 2013 release of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ prequel ‘Oz: The Great and the Powerful’ directed by Sam Raimi (Spider Man, The Evil Dead) it would be worth reflecting on Disney’s forgotten 1980’s predecessor ‘Return to Oz’ which was dismissed by audiences and critics alike when it was released back in 1985 but has since gained a strong cult following over the years from loyal fans of the L Frank Baum’s Oz books and of films from the 1980’s. It has since inspired the Scissor Sisters to write a song, ‘Return to Oz and numerous blogs and tributes have been written by fans all over the world. Here we look at how a film with such promise became a massive box office flop resulting in one of Hollywood’s greats Walter Murch never directing a film again and why it deserves to be considered a cult classic of the 1980’s.

The idea and for making another Oz film initially came from Murch himself in the early 1980’s who had previously won an Oscar for Best Sound Design in 1979 for Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’. Disney owned all the rights to the Oz books at the time and despite Murch never having directed a full length feature before Disney wanted to proceed and bought into the idea of making another Oz film.

Murch’s script was adapted from Baum’s books, ‘The Marvellous Land of Oz’ 1904 and ‘Ozma of Oz’ 1907 but his own ideas were clearly shaping the story. He saw his film as ‘one side’ of Oz and as un-official sequel of the beloved ‘Wizard of Oz’ and not a direct sequel and his Oz was a very different Oz to what Disney and film audiences had originally anticipated. There were strong connotations to the original Oz film such as the yellow brick road, the ruby slippers, Dorothy’s friend such as Tik Tok (Tin man) and Scarecrow, the Emerald City. However, Murch’s story was a much darker re-interpretation of Baum’s stories. Firstly it wasn’t a musical, this film was much more sombre in tone with much more dramatic realism throughout the film. Within the first twenty minutes we see Dorothy (played by 9 year old Fairuza Balk) unable to sleep as she keeps dreaming of Oz.  She is subsequently whisked off to hospital by her Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) for electric shock treatment by creepy Dr Worley to help her sleep and this was only the beginning! Once Dorothy escapes and is on her way to Oz, she finds the yellow brick road all destroyed and cannot find her friend Scarecrow who has been turned into an ornament by the evil Nome King so she sets out to find him. Making new friends on the way she encounters the nasty Wheelers who were simply petrifying for the average 8 year old at the time. Dorothy is then imprisoned by the wicked Princess Mombi who has over thirty inter-changeable heads in her castle so for young fans of the original Wizard of Oz this ‘sequel’ would probably be remembered more like a childhood horror film.

The film was marketed by Disney as a sequel and child-friendly fantasy but had been given a PG rating instead of a G. Essentially the film wasn’t suitable for very young children so for those who went to see it at the cinema and were expecting a sweet Disney fairy tale like the ‘The Wizard of Oz’  found it petrifying. Critics at the time were centering more on how sinister the story was given the age group that the film was targeting instead of focusing on the real quality of the filmmaking and screenplay so the film performed poorly at box office. Murch’s production was massively mismanaged and ended up so over budget eventually leading to bankruptcy and Disney made a massive financial loss.

Despite all the production troubles, financial woes, and criticism ‘Return to Oz’ is a hugely entertaining film for those who like their fairy tales a bit more spooky and should be seen as a stand alone film and not a direct sequel to ‘The Wizard of Oz’. The stop motion effects are excellent and deserved far more recognition at the time of release. It is hauntingly imaginative full of quirky characters, such as Pumpkinhead, Tik Tok, Bellina (the talking chicken) and Scarecrow who all have a wonderful friendship with Dorothy. It is full of energy and creativity with a beautiful melancholic score composed by Dave Shire. The costumes, the sets, and lighting also attributed to making this a compelling and irresistible fantasy. Along with other 80’s classics such as ‘Dark Crystal and ‘The Never-ending Story’, Return to Oz’ is highly recommended deserves the 80’s cult classic following which it has gained amongst older children and adults over the past twenty seven years.

Sara Seaton

Dec 2012 02

The first Monsters Inc has always been one of my favourite Pixar films.  Mainly because of the inclusion of Billy Crystal and his wise cracks, but also the pacing and the story was immense.  I always remember seeing the fur effects for the first time and being blown away.  Monsters University may be the return to form that Disney Pixar have been waiting for.



Seven Psychopaths Review
Dec 2012 09

Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for. In his wake has come a slew of verbose, pop-culture referencing crime flicks, trash-aesthetic exploitations films, and a dystopian cornucopia of film student imitators. Seven Psychopaths, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s second film, will inevitably be grouped with said postmodern post-Tarantino crime movies, but it deserves more than that.

Describing the film’s plot is something of an exercise in futility, but here goes: struggling screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) reluctantly accepts input on his abortive screenplay, Seven Psychopaths, from his seemingly-unhinged dognapping friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell). Throw into the mix Christopher Walken’s character, Hans, as Billy’s partner-in-crime, and psychotic gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a plan that gradually unravels, and a whole lot of violence, and you have a difficult plot to summarise.

Eccentric clothes? Check. Self-aware dialogue? Check. Now all we need is some violence… Oh, there it is!

The dark sense of humour McDonagh exhibited with In Bruges is evident throughout here, with violent punchlines to profane jokes. Like Tarantino’s movies, McDonagh’s films seem to inhabit a similar but different world to ours, that owes as much influence to the movies as it does to real life. Just like most films about writers, this film is ultimately about the process of writing, as Colin Farrell’s character struggles with writer’s block, and writer’s boozing. With moments that blur the line between Marty’s screenplay and the reality of the film itself, some might find the narrative too confusing or obscure for their tastes, but ultimately the film’s internal logic holds true.

Colin Farrell is as effective as he was in In Bruges, showing the same instinctive feel for McDonagh’s dialogue, and comic acting that often mark out his best performances. The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent, never better exemplified than in Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken’s elliptical, violence-free Western-style standoff in a hospital waiting room. However, the film itself is stolen right out from under the noses of everyone else by Sam Rockwell. His gleeful, eccentric performance gives the film its energy, and continues his fine career.

Woody Harrelson is clearly having a ball as the gangster Charlie. Dude’s got a scorpion tattooed on his neck.

This film is violent. At times, distractingly so, with its graphic nature potentially unsettling even those who are familiar with his prior work. Catholic themes of crime and punishment pervade throughout, also something McDonagh fans will be well-versed in, but there is a streak of violence against women that could potentially leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Although women are shown perpetrating violence themselves, and violence against women is repeatedly condemned by characters, actions speak louder than words. Do I think Martin McDonagh is sexist? No. Did I find some moments troubling? Yes. But I think that is ultimately the point with this story, slight as it is. Your tolerance for violence and appreciation of film references will be key to your overall enjoyment of the film, and it is stimulating to see such a unique voice able to get his work released with some A-list stars. See it, you need to have an opinion on this.



Jan 2013 10

I’m excited for Monsters University and now getting the opportunity to see the this short in full, hopefully this will be a return to form for Pixar.

Jan 2013 28


American filmmaker David Gelb’s first feature length documentary is an educational insight into the skill and discipline of sushi preparation, a craft that not many of us are familiar with in the west. In Japan, 86 year old sushi chef Jiro Ono is a culinary legend, a man so devoted and focused on his work who has been seeking perfection in his craft for over 70 years. He runs a small immaculate 10 seater restaurant called Sukiyabashi Jiro in the Ginza district of Tokyo which is reputed to make the best Sushi in the world earning him three Michelin stars.

Jiro is a workaholic and takes the utmost care and precision with preparing the sushi before serving and insists his trainee chefs undertake a tough ten year apprenticeship under his supervision. He is a strict perfectionist but also works in a state of calmness which is fascinating to watch. His two sons who are almost as good as Jiro and have worked in the restaurant virtually all their lives are frustrated with their father’s lack of desire to retire, thus the youngest son has no choice but to open another Sushi restaurant in the fashionable area of Roppongi. However Jiro trusts both his sons to source the best quality fish daily from the local fish market and he samples all the sushi before serving every day until it tastes exactly right.

This is an informative piece of filmmaking and one cannot help but feel that you have learnt something by watching this well executed and enlightening documentary. The score mostly comprising of compositions by Philip Glass adds a sophisticated tone.

Even if you’re not into eating fish at all or, like many, morally concerned about the long term effects of the amount of overfishing in the ocean due to mass sushi and fish consumption globally, Gelb’s documentary is essentially an accolade to a man you cannot help but admire, a man who has come from nothing and by sheer hard work, by loving and devoting his life to his craft has become very successful is nothing short of inspiring.

Sara Seaton

Movie Round-Up
Feb 2013 03

It has been a long break for contributing to the site due to Christmas and some side projects. All that aside I have still been watching a lot of movies!

Here is a quick round up of what I have been watching and my brief thoughts:


I hadn’t really planned on watching this but found myself home alone and wanting to watch and Action Movie and had a quick scan on the ‘On Demand’ section on my Sky HD box and there is was.  ‘Dredd’ is the latest re-visioning of the 2012AD comics character Judge Dredd, the previous film was a slightly more light hearted affair staring Sylvester Stallone.  The 2012 version Stars Karl Urban as our lead and Olivia Thrilby as his new psychic partner.  It is a fast paced violent affair which it doesn’t apologies for and nor should it.  It is a very tightly put together action film which doesn’t hang around too long and ticks all the comic book fan boxes.  My only issue with it is the casting of Karl Urban who really isn’t that physically intimidating.


Jango Unchained

I always look forward to new Tarantino films, no one puts all the pieces together with as much style and liberal amounts of cool like he does.  Jango delivers everything you would expect from a QT movie, Violence, threat of violence, great dialogue and an amazing sound track. The familiarity with his product may be why I didn’t like it as much as I hoped I would. It is similar to my reaction to the iPhone 5 it looks like an iPhone and it does everything my old one did which I liked but where is the innovation?? One of my favourite QT films was Jackie Brown which was a step away from the norm and shooting someone else’s story.  I can’t help feeling he should start looking for a writing partner or another great book for his next project.  Jango is still leaps and bounds above a lot of the trash that gets released these days.



Ben Affleck just gets better and better in my opinion.  He has had a few miss steps as and actor but I think he has potential to one of the truly great American directors and reminds me a great deal of Clint Eastwood.  Argo is a masterpiece in story telling, the cast is strong but none of the actors over cook their parts allowing the story which is a great one to play out on screen.  I don’t want to spoil the film to much so I will keep this short, just go and see it.


Zero Dark Thirty

Dogged by controversy since its announcement Zero Dark Thirty (ZDT) is Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film and her second modern day war film.  The film follows one female CIA operatives crusade to locate and capture or kill Usama Bin Laden (UBL as he is referred to in the film).  The controversy stems from two main issues; 1. It hasn’t been long since the events took place, 2. The first third of the film features scenes of graphic torture and doesn’t apologies for it or really suggest that is was wrong. The torture as with most elements in a Kathryn Bigelow film is portrayed in as an authentic manner as possible, what I mean by this is it would have been out of place if the script had featured troops or the CIA questioning the techniques they were using.

These points out of the way I can start telling you what I thought of the film itself.  I thought Hurt Locker was an amazing piece of film making and it felt like one of the most realistic depictions of the conflict in the middle east.  My anticipation for Bigleow’s follow up was high, the buzz and the oscar tipping for ZDT has been phenomenal.
The cast is first class with faces you will recognise in nearly every role, some more recognisable for their work in television than cinema but still good actors.
All round this is a solid film but for me felt a little by the numbers and more of a dramatic reconstruction of events than a movie.  The by the numbers approach I’m sure is a nod at the sensitivity of the subject matter and the level of scrutiny it would receive on its release.


End of Watch

This is one of those films where the trailer doesn’t do a very good job at telling you what the film is about.  The trailer portrays the film as non-stop action film with the the two cops being chased through LA by Mexican drug cartels.  This is not what ‘End of Watch’ is really about, yes the end of the film does feature a chase but at really the film is about two cops and their friendship over the period of roughly a year.  Very violent in parts but it feels like one of the most genuine portrayals of life as LAPD since ‘Colors’.  I’m a big fan of the american TV series ‘Southland’ which is very similar to ‘End of Watch’ in that it is more about the relationships than the setting.   Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal have the some of the best on screen chemistry I have ever seen on film, truly great performances. This is the first film I have seen in a long time that left me wired and wide awake.
Mar 2013 09

This is one of those movies that I really wanted to see on the big screen, but alas, circumstances prevented me from doing so. It wasn’t helpful that my local cinema didn’t see fit to actually have it running for very long either. Which is a shame, as I have a feeling it was a similar story up and down the land, and a film like this deserves much better.

Time travel movies often have a nasty brain ache effect, with over complicated stories and plot holes so massive that one could quite easily fit an entire solar system through them. The really odd thing about Looper though, is that it does introduce both brain ache and plot holes, but you don’t really care.

Why? Because the story itself is brilliant. The acting is well above par. The script is well written. It’s very well paced. And there is a key plot point that is hidden so well from the trailers, it adds another dynamic to the whole piece that is so well implemented, you are left to forgive the complexity of time travel and the holes in the story, you are left asking serious questions of yourself.

The premise sold to the audience in the trailer is that this is going to be a typical trace the contact from the future, team up and take on the bad guys type story, formulaic and seen before in many different guises. What it actually delivers is a journey of emotions. At first you let it take you on the formulaic journey, waiting for that moment for Bruce Willis to appear for the story to actually start. You soon realise that there is something much more to this piece.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s stature is growing, and it is he that takes centre stage in this movie, not Bruce Willis. The trailer actually sets things up quite well, it gives you the brief of what is happening. The viewer is presented with a world in decline, the year is 2044 and time travel, well, let’s allow Joseph Gordon-Levitt to tell us:

“Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been. It will be instantly outlawed, used only in secret by only the largest criminal organizations. It’s nearly impossible to dispose of a body in the future… I’m told. Tagging techniques, whatnot. So when these criminal organizations in the future need someone gone, they use specialized assassins in our present called “Loopers.” And so, my employers in the future nab the target, they zap them back to me – their Looper. He appears, hands tied and head sacked, and I do the necessaries. Collect my silver. So the target has vanished from the future, and I’ve just disposed of a body that technically does not exist. Clean.”

And there you have it, the plot as it is presented. These ‘Loopers’ are named so for a reason, because of the illegal nature of Time Travel in the future, the employers from 2074 remove any trace of their involvement with the Loopers in the past that they close the loops. The way they do this is to send the older version of the Looper back in time to be taken out by their younger selves, it is what is referred to in the movie as ‘Closing your loop’. Should the Looper fail to close their loop when ordered to, all manner of nastiness occurs to ensure that the loop is forced close. This is demonstrated quite horrifically in the first third. It’s from this moment on that you realise that this is a serious film, it is going to ask you questions, you begin to ask yourself which side of the fence would you sit? And just as you relax and get your head around that question, much darker and sinister questions arise. For the good of the future, what would you sacrifice of yourself in the past?

It’s at this point the movie introduces the twist, a man of the future called the Rainmaker, a character shrouded in almost as much mystery as Kaiser Soze. This Rainmaker rules the roost in the future, a man who out of nowhere has taken over everything and is closing all of the loops. Joe (the young version) hears of this before he is presented with his next job, his very own loop closure. Bruce Willis appears but is not tied up and is not wearing a hood, the struggle results in Bruce Willis getting away and the chase begins, not only for young Joe to chase down his older self, but also the mob of the present chasing both Joe of the present and Joe of the future.

The life of older Joe is presented in flashbacks, we learn that future Joe became bad, until he met a woman who he fell in love with. From this moment he changed and they built a life together, he felt complete. That is until the Rainmaker’s goons arrive and kill his future love and take him prisoner to transport back in time to close the loop. At this point we learn the future is in danger, this Rainmaker is bad news and life is short of laughs. The future is scared. No-one knows who the Rainmaker is, or where he came from, that is until a minor clue falls into the hands of Bruce Willis.

There are three possible suspects for this Rainmaker of the future, and older Joe wants to take him out in the hope that the future would be restored and his wife will be saved, as well as life for everyone else. So, a noble cause you’d think right? Until you realise that the three suspect, in young Joe’s timeline, are just kids. And their innocence, when presented to you, the audience, is in full display. The decisions taken on from here are truly disturbing, and watching how things unfold is both captivating and incredibly uneasy. That question comes up again, to save the future, what would you sacrifice of yourself in the past? You not only watch these events happen, but it is so well done that you begin to ask yourself, what would you do? We find out why The Rainmaker is closing the loops, and you honestly, as you watch things unfold, do not know who to side with. It’s full of twists and turns, not only in story, but of ones own emotional turmoil trying to figure out what you would do yourself in this situation, all the way to the end. The climax of this movie in itself provides closure, but also questions. Was there another way? You play the movie back in your head several times and always come to the same conclusion, no. Or maybe…. It’s infuriating, but brilliant at the same time!

This is a sci-fi movie for grown ups, people who like to be challenged, and in some cases, perhaps changed by what they experience. This movie provides so many talking points, and I’ve tried to not spoil what is the key to the whole thing, because I want you to decide for yourself without me tainting it for you. If you didn’t catch this at the cinema, and are thinking about watching it now, stop thinking, start doing. This gets a solid 9 out of 10 from me.


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