Film Review: The Wiz (1978)

Release Date: October 24th, 1978
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Joel Schumacher
Based on: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Wiz by William F. Brown
Music by: Charlie Smalls, various
Cast: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Mabel King, Thelma Carpenter, Theresa Merritt, Stanley Greene, Roberta Flack (uncredited), Quincy Jones (uncredited), Luther Vandross (uncredited)

Motown Productions, Universal Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Success, fame, and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.” – Scarecrow, “That’s beautiful! Who said that?” – Dorothy, “[modestly] I did.” – Scarecrow

It’s been ages since I’ve seen this but I enjoyed it back in the day. Mainly, because I always thought the sets, style and overall visual look of it was pretty awesome. Although, it was also loaded with people I like such as Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King and more.

It wasn’t until more recently that I discovered that this was directed by Sidney Lumet with a script by Joel Scumacher. Also, Quincy Jones was very involved in the production. Having a newfound understanding of the talent involved in this made me want to revisit it with fairly fresh eyes and ears.

I’m really glad that I did, as it still captivated me and pulled me into its magical world.

Now the film has its share of flaws but it’s one of those movies that’s so fun and sweet that you don’t really care about the imperfections.

While Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy, I still think she’s pretty great in this once you suspend disbelief. Originally, the film was supposed to star the young lead actress from the stage musical but Ross really pulled some strings to get this part. Honestly, I don’t blame her and movies are a cutthroat business.

Anyway, Ross is still Ross and she has immense talent, which shines through in her performance. Also, her scenes with Michael Jackson are so genuine and affectionate that it transcends the picture. The two were great friends before this film went into production and I think that personal connection really boosted their performances.

Nipsey Russell is tremendous as the Tin Man, as is Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion.

I have to say, though, the absolute highlight of the film for me is the grand performance by Mabel King, this film’s version of the wicked witch, as she makes her factory workers slave away. Man, this scene is just amazing to watch from the size of the set, it’s design, the amount of performers in the sequence and King’s perfect performance.

Two other really solid sequences are the one where Dorothy meets the Munchkins, which was filmed at the somewhat dilapidated New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. It was a site built for the 1964 World’s Fair but it created such an interesting looking location for Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

The other was the Emerald City sequence, which was filmed at the foot of the World Trade Center. It’s a beautiful and opulent scene with great music and considering the world we live in now after 9/11, the scene just has much more meaning now. It makes you really appreciate the beauty and immensity of those two iconic structures.

Overall, this is a lively and jubilant picture. I typically don’t like musicals but this is one of the few that I do enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Meteor Man (1993)

Release Date: August 6th, 1993
Directed by: Robert Townsend
Written by: Robert Townsend
Music by: Cliff Eidelman
Cast: Robert Townsend, Marla Gibbs, Eddie Griffin, Robert Guillaume, James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby, Another Bad Creation, Luther Vandross, Sinbad, Naughty by Nature, Cypress Hill, Big Daddy Kane, Stephanie E. Williams, Roy Fegan, Frank Gorshin, Marilyn Coleman, Bobby McGee, Don Cheadle, Nancy Wilson, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Jenifer Lewis, LaWanda Page, Faizon Love, Biz Markie, John Witherspoon, Wallace Shawn, Chris Tucker (uncredited)

Tinsel Townsend, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t have to vote. I’ll leave. I’m sorry about what happened to the neighborhood tonight, but I feel even sorrier watching what’s going on in this room. How can we stop the crime and the gangs if we act like we don’t see them? Everybody complains about the police. They aren’t perfect, but how can you complain when you do nothing? You don’t have to vote.” – Jefferson Reed

Meteor Man is a very ’90s movie but it’s also aged tremendously well for what it is. Additionally, it has so much heart it’s damn hard not to love. Plus, it features a large roster of legendary black actors that it’s really cool seeing them all in one place under the direction of the uber talented and then young Robert Townsend.

I love this movie, although I was a bit apprehensive in revisiting it for the first time in at least two decades, as I didn’t want my memories of it to be diminished.

I’m happy to say that I actually have a deeper appreciation for it now than I did back then when I was really impressionable and nowhere near as versed in motion picture history or the art of filmmaking.

To be real, this is a film with several flaws and it features a superhero whose powers are never clearly defined and seem to change on a whim for plot convenience. At the same time, this barely matters, as this isn’t simply a cookie cutter superhero tale, it’s something deeper with more meaning than a typical Marvel or DC adaptation. It’s also better than the vast majority of comic book movies from (and before) its era.

At its core, this examines the turmoil and effects of inner city crime on its communities. It asks when “enough is enough” and it shows good people actively trying to overcome it and clean up their neighborhoods.

Many critics in 1993 tried to make the point that the film failed because it showed that people could only make a difference with a superhero doing the bulk of the work. What the reviewers failed to see was the bigger picture or frankly, the f’n film.

Reason being, Meteor Man loses his powers and is about to be killed by the violent gang and that’s the moment where the good, scared folks of the neighborhood finally proclaim that “enough is enough” and they fight back to help save the one man that came to their rescue when he’s at his darkest hour.

The community in the film become the heroes the neighborhood needs. And while Meteor Man regains his powers for a final showdown with the film’s big villain, it’s the community again that saves the day when even bigger villains show up to finish the job. More than anything else, this is about people inspiring each other and coming together.

That being said, it’s still really damn cool that this message came together so beautifully in a film about a superhero. That also made it cooler and more universally accessible for all ages than just being a movie about a gang controlled neighborhood. We’d seen those many time before this and many of them lacked the heart and soul that Townsend put into this motion picture.

As far as I know, this is also the first black superhero film. If it’s not, please correct me in the comments.

All in all, Meteor Man is a product of its time but that doesn’t mean that its message isn’t relevant, today. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s energetic, it has character, it has love and it definitely deserves more recognition than its gotten over the years. I hope, at some point, new generations discover it and see it for what it is and not what the critics in 1993 thought it was.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Robert Townsend movies, as well as other ’90s superhero movies.