INTO THE WOODS REVIEW

Into-the-Woods-2014-Movie-Poster

Into the scrap heap? There’s only one way to find out.

This mixed bag of a macabre musical will certainly split audiences but I actually didn’t mind it.

(Said the guy who reviewed the Annie remake a few weeks ago)

I’m not a big musical fan BUT I’ve dabbled in the odd one or two. The classics; The King and I, The Sound of Music (Man points dropping with each title), Moulin Rouge (What?) and now Into The Woods.

I didn’t realise that this was adapted from a successful Broadway musical. So unfortunately I won’t be able to make comparisons.

Rob Marshall, the man who brought us the excellent Chicago and . . .  Nine, takes on another musical. With mixed results.

So what’s it all about? A witch (Meryl Streep) tasks a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

The cast, bar one exception, were excellent. All perfectly chosen for their roles.

Meryl Streep proves once again why she is the best actress going, earning yet another Oscar nomination (and rightly so). I had forgotten what a great voice she had. I know! She was in Mamma Mia! But let’s be honest, that was a mess. Fun but a mess.

The sound of Pierce Brosnan’s “singing” voice will haunt my dreams forever. BUT that’s another story.

Anyway, Streep was superb and no uncontrollable arm waving this time.

She played The Witch with aplomb. Stealing every scene and singing some belters. Not enough of her.

Her closing song, “Last Midnight” was brilliantly done but her dramatic exit was a little unexpected and a bit abrupt. Which pretty sums up the last 20 minutes of the film.

After his turn in Horrible Bosses 2, I knew Chris Pine would be up for a laugh. His performance as Prince Charming was very good.

Especially during the “Agony” song. Pine and Billy Magnusson’s sing-off poked fun at the Disney prince archetype. Pine ripping his shirt off to show his muscles, Magnusson hitting the higher notes while trying to puff out his chest and flex. Hilarious.

Anna Kendrick was (to be expected) very good as Cinders. I knew she could sing after her performance in Pitch Perfect.

The opening prologue certainly got things going and introduced all the characters perfectly.

Daniel Huttlestone irritated the hell out of me in Les Miserables. A french peasant with a ridiculous cockney accent. You what? However he surprised me as Jack. Still a Cockney but it worked this time round.

Tracey Ullman (Where has she been?) was funny as Jack’s mother. Slapping him round the head in worry, hugging him the next.

Emily Blunt was fantastic (And what a voice!) as the Baker’s wife. James Corden was also brilliant. They had great chemistry and made a loveable couple.

The Baker couple were part of an original story line. It was clever how they reworked and incorporated some of the most popular fairy tales with their story line using the woods as the meeting point.

It didn’t cover too much of the same ground with the fairy tales we all love and know.

It merely showed each character returning to the woods after a pivotal moment in their story line i.e. Jack coming down the beanstalk with the gold egg, Cinderella running away from the prince, etc.

The Rapunzel story line didn’t really amount to anything. If not for Streep and Magnusson, it would have been completely unnecessary.

A revelation quite early on in the film involving her story line had so much potential but wasn’t never mentioned again or resolved. A missed opportunity. Mackeznie Mauzy certainly looked fantastic but didn’t really do much. I don’t think she even sang.

To be honest, if it wasn’t for Tangled, there would have been some serious plot holes for people not familiar with her story. (Man points gone!)

Johnny Depp had the easiest role going as the Wolf. He played it to perfection with his Bowie-esque voice.

But the song he sang. Hmmm . . . “Hey Little Girl” really made him sound quite lechy. If it wasn’t the fact that it was the Wolf singing about eating Little Red Riding Hood, it would have been a little unsettling.

Lilla Crawford had a fantastic little voice but I found her really irritating as Little Red. I mean I think Sondheim was deliberately portraying her as a little brat but she really did grate against me.

The film zipped along and kept things going but an hour and 30 minutes in, I wondered how much further this could go and with another 40-odd minutes, I could feel my attention wavering.

The songs were starting to go on a little bit and were not quite as gripping or as memorable. Don’t get me wrong, they were sang to perfection but hardly “The Hills Are Alive”.

What baffled and surprised me was how the film’s final act took such an unexpected turn. It flips everything up in the air with the stories veering away from their intended happy endings. The woods again being the brewing pot.

There were a few surprises to be had and I respected it’s attempt. It was actually a bit darker than I expected for Disney.

BUT it also left things a little too unresolved and ended abruptly with people disappearing with no explanation or a passing comment.

For all the bad press, I actually didn’t mind it. Not the best musical I’ve seen but a nice relief after the barrage of bilge I’ve had to endure this week.

3/5

Advertisements

THE GIVER REVIEW

Screen-Shot-2014-06-25-at-1.30.10-PM

Hollywood gives us another post-apocalyptic teen franchise to sink our teeth into but does it make you want to?

In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the “real” world.

Jonas: “If I’m the receiver of memories. What does that make you?”

The Giver: “I guess I’m the giver”

Childish laughter aside (I can’t believe they actually put that in there), we are handed another sci-fi teen flick with a protagonist who battles against conformity disguised as peace by a conniving dictatorship.

It certainly zipped along and wasn’t a bad way to kill 90 minutes but as I was watching I found it incredibly tough not to make comparisons to Divergent and Ender’s Game and as it concluded, all I could think was Hollywood better quit while they’re ahead before they kill more franchises.

Director Phillip Noyce has a great cast at his disposal; a mixture of fresh talent with the experienced Oscar veterans . . . and Katie Holmes. It was a surprise to see Holmes. Released from the Cruise cage to do a spot of acting. In all fairness, she doesn’t do a bad job. Let’s be honest, her acting was never brilliant. Meryl Streep does her best to make the role of Chief Elder engaging but the character is so mechanical and one dimensional that not even the Oscar winning starlet can work her magic. A shame as Streep is remarkable. She is able to pull in some emotion with her encounters with the gruffly Giver (Jeff Bridges).

Brenton Thwaites is a likeable lead. He has certainly been making the right impressions. Just not in the right films. Oculus was a dud no matter how hard Thwaites tried. Maleficent was actually not bad but his character was a little hammy. Yes, he was Prince Charming. However, he finally gets given a character he can work with and delivers a memorable performance. One to watch. Once Jeff Bridges gets over sitting looking angry and staring out Thwaites in a chair for 15 minutes, he delivers the goods yet again.

Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) is also quite likeable and has some good chemistry with Thwaites. It’s a shame that there is always an inevitable romance brewing but if you finally fight conformity and stop taking a pill that suppresses emotion (Yep. I was thinking Equilibrium too), you would suddenly feel attraction, love, etc. Just a little corny for my liking.

Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) was surprisingly wooden and seemed to be sleep walking the role but for those you have seen the film, I think there may have been a point to that. Speaking of which, I did not expect a cameo from a particular pop star as Rosemary. Let’s just say she made a swift impression.

Ross Emery’s cinematography is to die for. His use of monochrome juxtaposed against the introduction of colour as Jonas (Thwaites) begins to experience feelings and visions was a nice touch. The panning out to view the remaining colonies was a feast for the eyes. The 1984 overtones around the film was one aspect that did keep me intrigued and the idea of censoring people’s memories and using precision of language to specify exactly what they mean is something that feels all too real. And with the way political correctness is going . . . (REDACTED)

What I hate is that they give us little tidbits in the hope that we will be interested in another installment. Wrong. I want the first installment to hit the ground running and get me wanting another. NOT think that was okay. Maybe the next one will be really good. Noyce certainly ticked the boxes on pace. 97 minutes certainly breezes by with enough content to keep you watching. But the content, despite being brilliantly shot, has been done to death and so much better. A mesh of Divergent meets Equilibrium. I mean even the process in which the kids are given positions was just a futuristic sorting hat scenario from Harry Potter.

The film seemed all too nicey nicey. Until . . . a twist. A predictable one in hindsight. But a twist that turned the cheesy overtones to something much darker and it did make for a thrilling finale. However, it all ended too quickly and flatly for my liking. Now, unfortunately I haven’t read the Lois Lowry bestseller but I have it on good authority from fans that the film remains true to the source material. In that case, I will not be rushing to get the book.

At it’s best, it’s well acted, zips along, has moments of clever satire and action. At it’s worst, it’s predictable, a mix of teen and sci-fi flicks with an inevitable foot note that reeks of “THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL”

My main gripe with films like these is that they are just being churned out with no real attempt to be different. Originality is tough these days but I think Hollywood should spend a little more time looking at the source material, making a stronger film instead of relying on the same old guff or ripping off classics in such a lazy way. This is why The Host, Mortal Instruments and Ender’s Game all failed to earn another sequel. All best selling novels with die hard fans in their own rights. It’s always tough to impress fans but you can at least try NOT yammer on with corny dialogue, poor pace or stretching out a story to milk more movies. You need to impress us with the first. IF The Giver earns one, then they better come out guns blazing. A comment I use too often. (Even for Divergent).

3 (just) out of 5