Saturday, January 26, 2013

On DVD -- the oddest of Oz movies: Hugh Gross' provocative AFTER THE WIZARD

A good, but highly unusual, family movie, AFTER THE WIZARD tells the tale of a modern-day Dorothy -- a girl confined to an orphanage where the folk in charge imagine that she's either looney or gifted with way too much imagination -- who is desperately needed back in Oz. Or so say the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow, the later two of whom travel to our world to bring Dorothy back to theirs.

As written and directed by first-time filmmaker Hugh Gross (at left), the movie does almost nothing you expect it to, starting with taking us to Oz. Our trip there is brief and bare (for budget reasons, no doubt). We see a pack of those flying monkeys -- they've taken over, we're told -- and spend a few moments with the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow, after which Tin and Straw take off to find Dorothy in the land of us. Mr. Gross clearly loves and appreciates the Oz tales of L. Frank Baum, but I suspect he has bigger fish to fry.

As bad as things may be in Oz, once the Tin Man and Scarecrow reach the USA, we find that they're not so hot over here, either. Gross makes it clear that the country is in terrible disarray and just about non-functional. And even though this is a movie from our "heartland" (Kansas is not these days known for its intelligence or empathy), as you watch the film, you're made aware that the filmmaker would like to see things happening differently.

After the Wizard is firmly in the heart and mind of our country's 99 per cent. Consequently, almost everyone our two Oz characters encounter, rather than imagining that they are on their way to some costume party, instead know instinctively who they are and how important is their journey. It's as if everyone in the USA knows and understands the Oz story (and, really, don't most of us?) and so give them all the help they can offer. There is something awfully moving about this, crazy as it all seems.

As the pair makes its way across the country, from New Jersey to Penn Station and finallly to Kansas and the orphanage where their Dorothy resides, we observe all kinds of scenes of people helping people, sometimes in the oddest, and rather mysterious manner. A scene with a blind man on a train (an excellent job from Peter Mark Richman, below) may put you in mind of a reincarnated Frank Baum, combined with Mark Twain and maybe Mahatma Gandhi. (I'd like to watch this scene again, paying more attention to the very interesting dialog.)

Once the pair finds Dorothy (actually, they find her at the very beginning of the film and then we flashback to see the journey that brings them here), instead of taking her back with them, we get a philosophical discussion of "to go or not to go" that helps bring Dorothy around to a more realistic attitude concerning herself, her life and the orphanage where she resides. The Oz pair learn something, as well -- as do literally all the characters who interact with them and with Dorothy, including the soon-to-retire administrator of the orphanage (a lovely job from Helen Richman, at left below) and her replacement.

Now, this movie is hardly perfect. In fact, I wonder if adults might not find it more interesting than children (I've given it to my 7-year-old granddaughter to see what she thinks of it).  As a novice filmmaker, Gross has actually bitten off a lot more than he can chew. Why, for instance, can Dorothy and all the folk along the journey see and interact with the Oz pair, and only the orphanage administrators cannot? I also wish that the performances were more consistently professional.

Tin Woodman (Orien Richmanabove, left) and Scarecrow (Jermel Nakia, above, right) are fine, as are many of the small, one-off actors who have a single scene and give it their all. But it takes awhile to warm up to Jordan Van Vranken (below) as the Dorothy (or Elizabeth, as she is called in the orphanage) character. Ms Van Vranken seem to find her footing as an actress but slowly as she goes along. By the end, however, we're in her corner.

I don't want to over-praise this little film, as it is definitely the work of a beginner. But it does have something to offer our current trying times, and I should think it will be a must for Oz-lovers everywhere, as an odd and very interesting addition to the catalog of the Emerald City and what it continues to mean to so many of us.

After the Wizard -- something different indeed from Breaking Glass Pictures and running just 80 minutes -- after a very limited, here-and-there theatrical release, is available now on DVD and via InDemand and Redbox. And, yes, there's a Toto here, too.

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