INTO THE WOODS (2014)

December 23, 2014

 

into the woods Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a musical, but not a typical musical. It’s a fairy tale, but not a typical fairy tale. It’s funny, but not a typical comedy. It’s a bit frightening, but not a typical monster film. It’s filled with lessons of morality and responsibility, but certainly not a typical parable. In fact, there is nothing typical about director Rob Marshall’s (Oscar winner for Chicago) screen adaptation of the smash Broadway hit from Stephen Sondheim and James Lupine.

The story revolves around 4 classic Fairy Tales: Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, in a style much more similar in tone to the edgy Brothers Grimm, than the cuddly Walt Disney traditionals. These four are intertwined with the saga of a baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who discover they have been unable to have children due to a long ago spell cast by a wicked witch (Meryl Streep). With a secret agenda, the witch offers the couple a way to break the spell, and that’s what ties-in the four tales and provides a reason for adventure and song.

Filmed seamlessly between an elaborate sound stage and a couple of park locations, the film has a dark and eerie feel to it that’s probably too intense for younger children. And much of the dialogue and lyrics is aimed directly at adults and will be a blur to kids. Additionally, in typical Sondheim fashion, the songs aren’t catchy and melodic in the manner of most movie musicals … instead the lyrics propel the story and help shape the characters. Oh, and by the way, don’t expect any fancy dance sequences – this is pretty serious stuff with plenty of angst amongst the characters.

Ms. Streep is extraordinary as the witch (both nasty and beautiful) and does a terrific job with her three main songs. She is especially fun in her entrances and exits, and while wearing the most impactful of all the costumes. Emily Blunt also handles her vocals very well and offers up some of the film’s most witty dialogue. Chris Pine (as the Prince) is flat out hilarious, and with a twinkle in his eye, spouts lines such as “I was raised to be charming, not sincere”. He also shares the screen with Billy Magnussen (playing the younger brother) in the most audacious of the musical numbers, “Agony”. As Cinderella, Anna Kendrick once again proves she is an exceptionally talented singer, and James Cordon anchors the production as the nice guy village baker we are rooting for.

In supporting roles, we have a devilish Johnny Depp whose screen time as the Big Bad Wolf is quite limited, and a perfectly cast Christine Baranski as the evil step-mother in cahoots with her non-Cinderella daughters played by Lucy Punch and Tammy Blanchard. Lilla Crawford is Little Red Riding Hood, and her young age snuffs out much of the innuendo that the Wolf scenes should have provided, and takes the edge off the song “I Know Things Now”. Daniel Huddlestone is an energetic Jack, and dependable Tracey Ullman plays his frustrated mom. MacKenzie Mauzy captures the awakening of Rapunzel, while Frances de la Tour frightens everyone involved as the agitated (for good reason) Lady Giant.

Unconventional is the best description of this production, and there is a group of viewers who will be totally captivated by it, while a much larger group will probably find it too dark and bleak, and lacking the easy charm we have come to expect from movie musicals. However, for those of us in the first group, we will be totally enchanted by the characters, story lines, wry humor, costumes, sets, and songs.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer your fairy tales a bit on the dark side OR you want to see yet another incredible performance from Meryl.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a light-hearted holiday matinee for the little kiddies

watch the trailer:

 


RABBIT HOLE (2010)

December 31, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. It would be very easy to dismiss this film as a depressing story or a real downer for the holiday season. Admittedly, the timing of its release is a bit odd, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a very well made and extremely well acted film. This is a character study in dealing with grief … the breathless grief of losing a young child. The story is told with respect, warmth and even touches of humor. Based on the acclaimed play from David Lindsay-Abaire, director John Cameron Mitchell stays true to the individuals within the story and avoids a weepfest.

Nicole Kidman plays Becca, who is married to Howie (Aaron Eckhart). The couple are 8 months removed from the death of their 4 year old son who was killed when he chased his dog into the street. 8 months or 8 years. When in group therapy, Becca and Howie meet Gaby (Sandra Oh) who has been in the group for 8 years. Healing has its own timeline for each person. Becca has little use for the “God people” or the group addicts and quickly stops attending. Instead, she spends her time lashing out at everyone … her husband, her mother, her pregnant sister … even her dog and a lady at the grocery store.

Oddly enough, it is her bond with the high school boy who was driving the car that killed her son that helps her break through. She senses his pain and he understands hers. The story does a subtle and terrific job of showing how we are all touched by grief and how it affects the way we live our life. The best scene in the film is with Becca and her mother (Dianne Weist) in the basement. Her mother honestly tells her that “it” never goes away, but it does change. The grief becomes “bearable”. That’s really the goal.

No matter how many books are written on the topic, no blueprint will ever be one-size-fits-all for coping with the void and emptiness from the loss of a loved one. This story shows that if you can keep moving forward and keep connecting with others, the burden will become bearable.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy character studies with outstanding performances … even if they are based around the process of dealing with grief.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer lighter fare in your holiday flicks – this certainly isn’t A Christmas Story