Law and Beauty

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous is not runway ready. Which is why I didn’t watch it immediately after the first. Weeks after Gracie Hart stopped a beauty pageant bombing, her newfound celebrity status starts to interfere with her job. So instead of fire her, the F.B.I. makes her the celebrity face of the agency. Having her go on mid-2000’s talk shows.

Miss Congeniality 2 makes the mistake of giving Gracie almost nothing to do for nearly the entire movie. Since she’s not aloud to be physical. It wouldn’t be too much of a problem if she was still undercover at Miss United States. Instead she’s just become shallow and heartbroken. I’m still annoyed by love interests breaking up with the main character off screen. Sandra Bullock can’t seem to hold onto her on screen boyfriends in a sequel (*cough* Speed 2).

Regina King does her best, but her frenemy interactions with Bullock are mostly cringy. When she finally comes to her senses, Gracie and Sam go undercover as a showgirl and Tina Turner respectively. In order to find the kidnaped Miss United States and the William Shatner judge. The only fun scene in the movie is the two agents dancing along to “Proud Mary.” Other than that, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous is barely armed and less than fabulous.

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Gracie and Sam go undercover

Preceded by: Miss Congeniality

You Have the Right to Remain Fabulous

Miss Congeniality invites you to glide with the next Miss United States. With a simple premise that seems far fetched, but is surprisingly based on a true story. Where a female F.B.I. agent went undercover by posing as a beauty pageant contestant. Normally I wouldn’t consider watching a movie about beauty pageants, but my mom told me it was funny. Not that I don’t have an interest in the beautiful intelligent young women who compete in Miss America or Miss Universe.

Sandra Bullock plays “unattractive” F.B.I. agent Gracie Hart. She’s clumsy with unbrushed hair, no table manners, and is fully content with being just one of the guys. It isn’t until the upcoming Miss United States beauty pageant receives a bomb threat that someone in her agency has to go undercover. And that agent is the newly dubbed Gracie-Lou Freebush. Since she’s the only one who looks good in a swimsuit. Of course it helps that she’s Sandra Bullock for crying out loud. Michael Caine teaches her all the ropes. Until she makes a stunning transformation.

From there Gracie tries to blend in as Miss New Jersey. She gains a newfound respect for pageants and her self-defense training even comes in handy for her talent. Miss Congeniality is mostly held together by Sandra Bullock’s charming performance. Which is good because it has a somewhat predictable romance and not every joke lands. Not even with William Shatner as a judge. That being said, Miss Congeniality can still win over the hearts of many… and world peace.

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Gracie gets a makeover

Followed by: Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

Story Time

Happy Thanksgiving! Smoke Signals is the first movie made by Native Americans for Native Americans. Meaning almost the entire cast and crew was Native American. For that it was recently let into the National Film Registry. Something even the most well known classics haven’t gotten into. The only reason I know about it is because my Freshmen reading teacher showed it in class. I very much enjoyed it as the first modern Native American tale that I saw. Although they refer to themselves as Indians.

Smoke Signals follows two young Indians named Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire. They both live on an Indian Reservation in Idaho. Victor strives to be as stoic as possible. While Thomas is a nerd who honors his heritage by frequently telling stories. He was rescued as a baby by Victor’s dad in a fire that claimed his parents lives. Thomas idolizes him, but Victor resents his father for leaving due to his abuse and alcoholism. They both take a trip to Arizona in order to retrieve his ashes. Where they have plenty of time to discuss their perceived Indian identities.

The primary theme is lying. Something that comes up a lot in the movie. Especially in Thomas’ overly exaggerated stories. Smoke Signals is full of great Native American performers. Like a young Adam Beach or Pocahontas herself Irene Bedard. I found the unique cultural perspective of Smoke Signals to be the best part. Better since I have some Native ancestry on my mother’s side. Smoke Signals is a story worth telling.

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Thomas (foreground) travels with Victor (background)

There’s No Place Like Home

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return was a massive box-office bomb panned by critics. Despite being released in theaters, I knew there was no place like home. Unlike every other Wizard of Oz continuation that came before, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return wasn’t based on one of the many sequels by L. Frank Baum. Instead it’s based on Dorothy of Oz by his less known great-grandson Roger S. Baum. The “sequel” isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. But while I do think the movie might have been slammed, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is still painfully generic. With ear piercing pop infused songs and less than inspired voice acting.

This was the last movie credit for Lea Michele and Kelsey Grammer won a shared Razzie for his part as the Tin Man. Also Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi play the Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion respectively. Dorothy and Toto’s traveling companion’s are the worst ones yet. A fat talkative owl, a stoic marshmallow man, and a conceited china doll. The villain isn’t much better. Now the Wicked Witch has an unseen brother that’s a Jester voiced by Martin Short. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is just a colorful distraction for kids that probably don’t want to see it anyway. Once again the original is the only must watch.

8. Legends of Oz Dorothy's Return

Glinda grants Dorothy her wish

The Bright and Colorful

Oz the Great and Powerful appears to be the last movie directed by Sam Raimi. The unlikely choice of a prequel to the Wizard of Oz story. Since even Disney knows not to remake the original. That being said, Oz the Great and Powerful still pays homage to the 1939 classic. That’s why my brother and I saw the movie with our mom. Since it was our only chance to see an Oz movie in theaters.

Of course recent improvements in technology meant a closer resemblance to the book as well. Making Oz and the Emerald City as bright and colorful as possible. And being a prequel meant throwing in a little Wicked too. Like the original, the opening is in black & white before transitioning to color. A change in aspect ratio was added as well. The film follows a young Oscar “Oz” Diggs and his journey to become the titular Wizard of Oz. I know he worked with Raimi on Spider-Man, but James Franco is still an odd choice to play him. Plus they seriously cast the very non-threatening Mila Kunis as the iconic Wicked Witch of the West. Meanwhile the Wicked Witch of the East appears physically. Their sisterly relationship is obviously inspired by Wicked. Oz gains traveling companions in flying monkey servant Finley, a China Girl doll, and Glinda.

Just like Return to Oz, Oz the Great and Powerful contains no songs. Kind of weird for the only two Disney Oz movies to not do something that Disney is known for. There’s also a lot more talk about high fantasy concepts such as prophecies. While definitely imaginative enough, Oz the Great and Powerful can only come so close to recreating the magic of the original.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

Theodora takes Oz to the Emerald City

(Gotta Get Outta) Kansas

The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz is the second Muppet movie released in the 2000’s and the last television film released before the return to theatrical films. Since the popularity of Jim Henson’s Muppets had waned in the 2000’s, this was the only place to see them. Along with a few celebrity guest appearances. I remember my brother and I just being happy to see a new Muppet movie. The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz is done in the style of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Not the 1939 original like you might expect. It’s surprisingly faithful to the book. Apart from the Muppet cast and a few other flashy changes.

Like The Wiz, Dorothy and her family are black. Ashanti can sing, but an actress she is not. Instead of returning home, Dorothy just wants to be a singer. Toto is replaced by a typically funny Pepé the King Prawn. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion are of course played by Kermit the Frog, Gonzo, and Fozzie Bear respectively. With Miss Piggy doing quadruple duty as all four Witches. The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz is an undemanding kids film, but their is an unusual amount of innuendo. The weirdest example being an extended cameo from Quentin Tarantino! The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz is strictly for those who want to see a Muppet version of The Wizard of Oz.

6. The Muppets' Wizard of Oz

The Muppets in Oz

I Have a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Return to Oz is the darkest iteration of the Oz stories ever put to film. Can you believe it was made by Disney? Well I can, since Walt Disney wanted to make a Wizard of Oz movie for decades. I’m not sure this is what he had in mind, but that’s the 80’s for you. Return to Oz continues to unofficially follow the original. Taking cues from L. Frank Baum’s two sequel books The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. It’s one of the more faithful adaptations. Since Dorothy is actually a child (played by a very young Fairuza Balk) and the tone is closer to the books.

I never watched Return to Oz when I was younger, but I imagine it scared many children at the time. After returning home to Kansas, Dorothy’s stories about Oz are enough to get her sent away to receive shock therapy! Don’t worry it gets darker. When she returns to Oz, Dorothy finds that everyone’s been turned to stone with the yellow brick road in ruins. The Nome King is responsible. A creepy stone monster pulled off with impressive stop-motion. Equally disturbing are a band of Wheelers. However, the most unsettling part of Return to Oz is Princess Mombi. A witch who keeps a collection of decapitated heads.

Even Dorothy’s traveling companion’s are enough to cause nightmares. Mechanical man Tik-Tok, talking chicken Billina, and flying elk The Gump are fine, but Jack Pumpkinhead may be too much for kids. Not to mention the Scarecrow’s lifeless face (the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion look good though). When their ordeal is over, the rightful ruler of the Emerald City is named. Return to Oz feels like it was made by a more traumatizing Tim Burton.

5. Return to Oz

Dorothy makes new friends

Ease on Down the Road

The Wiz is the most well known all-black version of an existing story. Although released in the 70’s, I wouldn’t exactly call it Blaxploitation. It’s another take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that originated as a Broadway musical. Something I really enjoyed when my High School did a production of it. The movie is a different story. I first saw The Wiz in Elementary School alongside The Wizard of Oz. I didn’t enjoy it as much I already enjoyed the original.

The problems stem from the differences between the play and movie. The play is essentially the same as the original. Only with black performers, funkier Motown music, and a few other minor changes. The movie was basically made to be more stereotypical. Instead of Kansas, Dorothy lives in Harlem. She and Toto are sucked up by a snow twister that takes them to Oz. The Munchkins are graffiti, Oz is a half run down New York, Taxi’s drive on the yellow brick road, and the Twin Towers are the Emerald City.

The most glaring change is replacing the young Stephanie Mills with 33 year old Diana Ross. She was way too old for the part and always looks like she’s on the verge of tears. She practically demanded to play the part in exchange for Michael Jackson’s involvement. He plays a garbage filled Scarecrow. Nipsey Russell for some reason plays the animatronic Tin Man. While Ted Ross reprises his role as the Cowardly Lion. When they remember to include the Wicked Witch, she runs a sweatshop. Followed by Richard Pryor’s Wiz. The Wiz drags on forever with endless song after endless song. Only “Ease on Down the Road” and a few others standout for me. The Wiz is better left on Broadway.

4. The Wiz

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Journey Back to Oz is the first of many unofficial sequels to the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. Despite 3 decades in between, the original was simply too timeless to even attempt to remake. Even in animation. So Journey Back to Oz was both a continuation and a slightly more faithful book adaptation. It’s the only theatrically released Oz movie I forgot to include in my marathon. Despite my brother’s insistence that we watched it when we were younger, I just didn’t know it existed. Neither do most places, because I could only find it in parts on YouTube.

Journey Back to Oz brings Dorothy (and Toto) back to Oz where she discovers a new plot to take over the Emerald City. As in the sequel book, new characters are used. The Wicked Witches unseen cousin Mombi plans to overthrow Oz with green elephants. So Dorothy is joined by Pumpkinhead, Woodenhead Stallion III, and a talking signpost. Actually strike that last companion. The signpost has a song, but serves no purpose to the story. The same can be said for the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. Who suddenly don’t want their defining character traits.

Although released in the theater, the animation is exactly the same as He-Man. Perhaps that’s why it had more success on TV with a live-action Bill Cosby as the Wizard. Probably the most interesting fact about the movie is that Liza Minnelli voices Dorothy. She lives up to her mother’s legacy. Though inoffensive, Journey Back to Oz however does not live up to its legacy.

4. Journey Back to Oz

Dorothy and company

Somewhere Over the Rainbow ⭐

The Wizard of Oz is my all time favorite fantasy movie. As well as my favorite movie from the Golden Age of Hollywood. If any film was guaranteed to be on my “Top 10 Favorite Movies” list it’s The Wizard of Oz. As high as number four, because The Wizard of Oz is the most universally beloved movie of all time. I doubt there’s anyone alive who doesn’t know this heartwarming children’s tale by heart. Like most great movies that I’ve seen in my life, I have my dear mother to thank for my first of countless viewings of The Wizard of Oz. She’s been watching the movie ever since she was a child. It’s been a real treat hearing stories about how in awe she was during her first viewing.

So if there was any movie I had to watch with my mom the first time, it was The Wizard of Oz. My brother and I watched it at a very young age and we were just as in awe as our mom was. It may have been released all the way back in 1939, but The Wizard of Oz speaks to every generation young & old. I watch the movie anytime it’s on TV, I owned it on VHS (now DVD), and I watched it once at school. Where I was happy to see my fellow classmates enjoying it as much as I already did. Like everyone else, I now know every moment, character, and song in the movie by heart…

1. The Wizard of Oz

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion

The Wizard of Oz famously opens in sepia tone. Though some people may refer to it as black & white. Dorothy Gale is a young lady who lives in Kansas with her Auntie Em, Uncle Henry, three farm hands, and Toto too. Dorothy dreams of far off places somewhere over the rainbow. It’s only when cruel land owner Almira Gulch tries to take Toto away on her bike, that Dorothy gets her wish. She runs off to phoney fortune teller Professor Marvel who sends her back home where, what’s that? “It’s a twister! It’s a twister!” Dorothy’s house is sucked into it where she sees a couple of unusual characters flying around. Until her house eventually hits the ground.

History was made when Dorothy finally opens the door to reveal the merry old Land of Oz in full Technicolor. It’s then that she realizes she’s not in Kansas anymore. Oz is full of all sorts of colorful inhabitants. Dorothy first meets Glinda the Good Witch of the North. She explains to her and the Munchkin’s that the Wicked Witch of the East was crushed by the falling house. Their celebration is cut short by the fiery arrival of the Wicked Witch of the West. Her sister’s Ruby Slippers magically wind up on Dorothy’s feet and she vows to get her and her little dog too. All Dorothy wants to do is go home. Her only hope is to follow the yellow brick road to see the Wizard of Oz.

While on her journey, Dorothy encounters grumpy trees, poppy fields, and three very special traveling companions. The Scarecrow who wants a brain, the Tin Man who wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion who wants courage. Together they skip merrily to the Emerald City trying to avoid the Wicked Witch and her band of flying monkeys. That is until the ominous Wizard of Oz only promises to grant their wishes in exchange for the Witches defeat. But that’s not the only way Dorothy can go home. The Wizard of Oz is known for its imaginative fantasy, but it’s also very funny and surprisingly tense. Now that you know the story, this is why it’s my all time favorite fantasy movie…

2. The Wizard of Oz

The Emerald City

The Wizard of Oz was originally created by L. Frank Baum. He wrote the children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Despite its many differences the 1939 adaptation took on a life of its own. Becoming more well known than the book it was based on. Though Dorothy was meant to be a child (with Shirley Temple in mind), I just can’t imagine anyone but Judy Garland in the part. Her voice brings the magic to all her musical performances. Even Toto was perfectly cast.

Glinda was actually a composite of the Good Witch of the North, the unseen Good Witch of the South, and the Queen of Field Mice. It helps to keep her Dorothy’s primary guardian. Of course in 1939, anything too difficult to pull off (like talking mice) had to be changed. Margaret Hamilton makes the Wicked Witch of the West the most iconic live-action female villain of all time. From her green skin and pointy hat to her cackle and broom stick. She’s the image that comes to mind when we think evil witch. Made better by her flying monkeys and Winkie Guards. Her twist death by water is just as iconic.

The Munchkin’s were played by many little performers that I’m happy to hear got Walk of Fame recognition later on. The most well known change from the book are the Silver Slippers. Changed to Ruby Slippers, because they would have simply clashed with her famous blue dress. Ray Bolger delivers a great physical performance as the Scarecrow. Flopping around like anyone made of straw would. Jack Haley brings a warmness to the axe wielding Tin Man. A role promised to Buddy Ebsen before his life threatening exit. But the biggest scene stealer is comedian Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion. His hilarious dialogue makes him my personal favorite character.

I actually didn’t realize the same actor played so many Emerald City inhabitants. Including the Wizard himself. What appears to be a threatening figure turns out to be nothing more than a fraud. The Wizard is just an ordinary man, but he’s still good enough to honor all their requests. The Scarecrow receives a diploma, the Cowardly Lion earns a medal, and the Tin Man is gifted a testimonial. It’s only when Dorothy learns a lesson that she discovers she had the power to go home all along. By simply clicking her heels together and saying “There’s no place like home.”

The Wizard of Oz is only supported by its wonderful music. Including such classics as “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The latter won for Best Original Song. It also won for Original Score and was nominated for Effects, Art Direction, and even Best Picture. There’s simply no other film like it. The Wizard of Oz taught us the all important lesson that there truly is no place like home.

3. The Wizard of Oz

The Wicked Witch of the West confronts Dorothy and Glinda