Into the Woods

“Into the woods da dum da dum da dum da something something journey.

Whoops. Didn’t mean to take such a long blogging hiatus. Been in Texas for Christmas, which normally means a few days of sitting around doing nothing (read: lots of time to watch movies and blog). But this time, we took a side trip to San Antonio (took Mom to see The Lion King, Mom took me to a Spurs game), which didn’t leave much idle time. Still movies were watched. I hurried us away from a Christmas Day lunch and rushed Mom to a quick movie before dinner with the fam. I mean c’mon, this theatre kid was not gonna miss seeing this as soon as possible. Judging from how my FB feed was blowing up, most of the rest of my crowd has similar inclinations.

As a show, I’ve got sort of mixed feelings about Into the Woods. I do think it’s a brilliant and deeply layered show. It also has so much sentimental value as it was the first I worked on with my longtime theatre group at MIT (I skipped freshman orientation events in favor of building the set and being on the run crew), and I met a couple of my absolute best friends on that show. But I’m also sort of over it. I did run crew for another production a few years later and saw a couple others along the way. And given how hit or miss movie musicals have been these past few years, I was hesitant.

While the hesitation may have been warranted (there was a lot that could have possibly gone wrong), Rob Marshall (director) and his team pulled it off quite nicely! I thought the casting was pretty perfect, and the staging worked quite well. The staging was kind of a unique situation to translate. On the one hand, the static woods locations could be expanded on, which is always desirable when adapting for the screen. But on the other, it’s a very self contained cast, which can often feel claustrophobic. They seemed to have gotten it right, taking advantage of clever staging opportunities where possible (Agony anyone?) and fleshing out village locations and being able to cut between them (removing much of the prologue confusion). All that worked well enough that on the way home, my mom was questioning me about how it could possibly be pulled off on a stage. I described the two sets I worked with: the one with moving cars of set pieces that broke down by the third week and the brilliantly designed turntable sets from the second time (that designer had also been a victim of the unwieldy previous set).

When you have such clearly defined characters, casting is the most important thing, and I thought each one was perfect. There was a good balance of big names and established stage actors, and they didn’t fall victim to the usual pitfalls of prioritizing star power over vocal ability. I don’t even know where to start, so we’ll just go down the line how they’re listed on IMDB:
Anna Kendrick as Cinderella – This girl can do no wrong in my eyes. I don’t care of she keeps getting type cast in singing roles. She sounds great and adds a great spunk and spark to everything she does.
Daniel Huttlestone as Jack – And while we’re about to go into the discussion I’m about to start, Lilla Crawford as Little Red, it’s so strange seeing age appropriate actors. Strange and good, but takes a little getting used to. Added a whole new dynamic, but I liked it. And both kids were awesome.
James Corden as the Baker – I love him. While I’m very excited for his upcoming late night hosting gig, it bums me out so much that it means he won’t be playing Pseudolus in the hopefully one day soon coming revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (my favorite show). He is exactly what you want in the Baker, such emotion and so relate-able and sweet. And I could listen to that voice forever. While I get why No More was cut (it’s not usually my favorite song anyways), I would have loved to hear him sing it. Still, his crying while the tune was playing was effective.
Emily Blunt – Who knew she could sing? Can she just be in all the musicals now? I’ve always admired her presence and wit, and she took one of my usually least favorite characters in the show and made her the one to watch. So. freaking. Good.
Meryl Streep – We all know I just start gushing incessantly when I talk about her, but once again another fun and masterful performance.
Johnny Depp – Much better suited here than he was as Sweeney, making much out of a playful and small role. Character wise I get what he was going for with the costume, but given the added realism in adapting to film, the wolf did seem a bit out of place.
Chris Pine – Oh man, can he sing more please? What other movie musicals can we cast him in? Srsly, wow! And that mischievous humor that’s been starting to come out of him lately, no really, where else can we put him?
Milky White – It’s just not the same having a real cow. My first low budget milky white will always be my favorite, though that milky white was neither milky nor white.

Then for the more general things, the cuts made sense. The only thing I really missed was the Agony reprise, but given the condensed storyline and the alterations to the conclusion of Rapunzel and her Prince’s storyline, it wouldn’t have made sense. Nothing was too problematic to be unforgivable. Definitely, this was one of the more successful musical adaptations in recent memory.

Into the Woods – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

“As I stepped outside my apartment into the cold, I started thinking that it wasn’t too late to change my mind about going to the movie. Did I really wanna pay mid-level price for just this one? Did I want to give up two hours of gaming? I could still make my trek outside worthwhile and take the promised post-movie detour to Whole Foods for shrimp cocktail now instead of later. No, I just ate, I’ll get bored quickly, and it’s one of the last times to see Robin Williams on screen, I told myself as I continued on. I was rather glad that I did.

We’re back at the museum, with all our full beloved cast of characters. Unfortunately, the magic tablet that brings everyone to life is dying. Ben Stiller’s nightguard Larry takes a few exhibition friends with him to the British museum, to bring to life the Egyptians who made the tablet and find out how to fix it.

It was a lot of the same as what we’ve seen before, but it was still enjoyable. There might have only been a little that was new, but the characters are endearing and the motley cast is entertaining. Some clever gags and dialog, other brilliant adlibs. Pure joy.

And then we got to the last couple of scenes, and I found myself getting a little emotional. I hadn’t realized just how attached I was to these characters. Then Robin Williams’ Teddy Roosevelt gave his final sunrise sign off and I nearly lost it. So appropriate and poignant.

I really like how the series was left. In a Toy Story 3-esque way, this chapter is closed, but there’s possibilities for continuation in a new direction. I’d be really curious to see that, especially if it is led by Rebel Wilson, as the set up seemed to suggest as a possibility.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Top Five

“Chris Rock, remember him? Yeah he was starting to fade away from existence. So he wrote, directed, and starred in a new movie, Top Five. In short, I think he really pulled it off. It just wasn’t really for me.

Rock’s Andre Allen is a comic in recovery. Back in the day, he was one of the most bankable on screen comedians, but the combination of the banality of the roles and the temptations of the Hollywood lifestyle set him down a dark path of addiction. He sobered up, got engaged to a big reality star, and tackled a serious and heavy dramatic role. The movie spends one day with him as he’s being shadowed by a Times reporter (Rosario Dawson), the day of his movie’s opening, two days before his wedding.

I found the story of the characters interesting, and our two leads were great, but I couldn’t really connect to the supporting characters or get involved in their interactions. They just weren’t people I could really relate to, and that’s okay. I still applaud Rock for putting this together, and I thought Dawson also turned in a strong performance.

Top Five – \m/ \m/ \n”

Annie

“Well that was delightful. I’ve never been particularly attached to Annie, but of course I at least know some of the hard knock basics. Never having seen the stage version, I don’t have a direct comparison, but coming at it blind it did seem to translate very well to screen. It is very thin and overly sentimental, but then again, no one expected this to be a prestige picture.

In a totally revamped modernization, Quvenzhané Wallis took over as our titular orphan, err I mean foster child, with the big floppy hair and bigger (floppier?) heart. It was originally earmarked as a star vehicle for Willow Smith (whose famous parents produced this) but thankfully she outgrew the role before it could get off the ground. Wallis was wonderfully charismatic and engaging, and exactly the little girl you could instantly fall in love with.

However, as is usually the case, for me it was all about the supporting cast: Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, David Zayas. Each of them scene stealers in their own right. I was torn on Cameron Diaz. She fully committed, but was a little too over the top. However, I couldn’t help feel that the 110% performance would have been extraordinary on stage. And then I started thinkin about how fantastic Jane Lynch must have been when she stepped into the role on Broadway.

This one is kinda getting panned, and I get it. But I was happy to watch, even if it did feel a little bit like an extra sugary sugar cookie. Just want you want for the holidays, yeah?

Annie – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

“Saw this late on Thur. Next day at the office, a bunch of different people asked how it was. My response: “”It was a Hobbit movie””

And then I’d explain how I’m waiting for the internet to inevitably give me a two hour cut of the whole story that will be a _really_ good movie.

Yeah so a friend of mine, knowing the drill when it comes to planning movies with me, claimed this one a few weeks back, and was determined to see it as soon as possible. “”Hey I’m off that Thursday! There’s a 6:30 and a 9:30 at the IMAX”” “”I’ve got dance class until 9, but if you pick me up from there, and don’t mind me being a lil stinky, we can make the 9:30. Oh, and there’s no way I’ll stay awake for the whole thing””

So yes, we did make it to that showing, at the real IMAX, right as the previews were ending. And yes, I did end up dozing off for a bit. But I checked in after, and verified that I really missed nothing as I slept. Maybe one important interaction, but the rest was a lot of people walking. As Clerks 2 showed us these movies really are a lot of walking. Granted, that NSFW clip is talking about LOTR not Hobbit, but Hobbit is the worse offender.

Right so, there were some good moments and some important ones. They were just stretched really thin along with A LOT of battle sequences (which followed the walking), a couple of unnecessary LOTR tie ins, an unnecessary elf/dwarf love story, and an out of place Legolas trying to still be the prettiest in the movie. Please internet, give me the supercut soon!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – \m/ \m/ \n”

The Imitation Game

“Still _loving_ this infusion of nerd core into pop culture. And we have another iconic historical figure of the mathematically and/or scientifically inclined subset: Alan Turing, mathematician who created one of the world’s first computers, breaking the Nazi’s enigma code, and thus significantly truncating WWII. You’d think it’d be kinda awesome to be him? Mmm not so much.

The film focuses mainly on his covert work during the war, but it also highlights his personal relationships, or lack thereof. He was always a bit of an outsider, something that I (as I’m sure many of my fellow nerds) know well. He shied away from other people, and as a result was rather difficult to work with. For the film, his antisocial tendencies brought in a lot of lighthearted humor, which I loved. I felt there was an understanding that he wasn’t being made fun of, but finally getting a chance to be fully appreicated. The story itself is rather fascinating, getting a peak into what was once a very secretive chapter in world history.

Of course, you can’t round out the full package without a stunning cast, which was led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Keria Knightley, and Matthew Goode. I loved Cumberbatch so much as Turing. I’m trying to find words to describe it, but everything I’m coming up with is cheesy. Just go see him already, yeah? This write up does not do the film justice

The Imitation Game – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Wild

“I’ve mentioned how I love the sorta “”one man show”” gimmick, where you basically have a single actor on screen for the majority of the film. Those seem to have gained some traction in the past year, but this time we have a “”one woman show””. Although, there are a lot of interstitial scenes, so it’s not as solitary as Locke or Buried or All is Lost, but it’s still a whole lot of one fantastic actress commanding the screen all by herself.

In this real life story, Reese Witherspoon (in one of her finest roles in years) plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman who lost her path in life, and set out to find her way by solo hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. A thousand mile journey thru the American wild and wilderness, giving her time for escape, reflection, and rejuvenation. It sounds a little light on paper, but the film was incredibly rich and moving.

It was certainly one of those that made me think. I watched her struggle thru her first couple days, and I didn’t know if I could even have made it that far. The heat, the weight of her pack, the outdoors savvy, the limited supplies, the sheer size of the dauntingly massive task ahead of her. I would have no problem with being alone mentally, but I’d be worried about being alone in the middle of nowhere. No one to call on for help, unknown creatures lurking, questionable strangers. I’m more the “”alone in a crowd”” type.

But the transformation she goes thru is phenomenal. You see where her life was, and what she’s striving towards. You see her grow and become stronger both mentally and physically. It’s an absolutely beautiful film, and not just for the background scenery. Equal parts inspiring and intimidating, and an incredible journey, even from within the movie theater

Wild – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Rendition

“Been meaning to see this one since it first came out, which was during the height of my “”OMG JAKE GYLLENHAAL *SWOOOON*”” fan girl-ing phase. Don’t know how/why I missed it then, but I continually passed on the DVD when I’d come across it. “”Some day I need to see that,”” I’d say as I’d move along. Before you ask, yes this was another recent sale purchase, I think it was Cyber Monday. I’m losing track, but all I know is the pile keeps growing faster than I can deplete it.

Given the subject matter, I sorta knew this was gonna be a bit preach-y. The main storyline has to do with an Egyptian citizen, who has lived in the US for the majority of his life, that is captured by the CIA on his way back into the states after a trip abroad. He’s suspected of terrorism, and shipped back to Egypt where he’s being tortured and questioned. We get some branching stories following his wife in the US trying to find him, the conflicted CIA analyst overseeing the case, the broken family life of the interrogator, and the interrogator’s daughter’s relationship with the local rebel boy.

I was def into it, but by the time we reached the unexpected twist at the end, I wished I had been paying closer attention to the other storylines. I had some confusion trying to piece the timeline together. Still, some incredibly dramatic moments throughout, and it’s kind of a real life scary movie. The fact that our government was able to do to this guy what they did should freak you out. In truth, I don’t know where I stand on the argument (as per usual). Certainly, it’s wrong to treat someone that way without sufficient evidence, but what about when there is more substantial proof. Is it worth stopping terrorists by stooping to their level. Who’s to say. I know I certainly can’t make that call, and I’m very much glad that I don’t have to.

For now, I’m just content to look at the pretty Gyllenhaal, and not think about such difficult moral dilemmas.”

Exodus: Gods and Kings

“Oh my, were my expectations for this set really low. I’m always hesitant about epic looking films. Sometimes you get something awesome like Return of the King, but more times you get an overly bloated Hobbit movie. Biblical stories also give me pause. I studied all of these stories extensively in children’s church growing up. I know them well, and therefor am quick to judge if they’re not done right, and frankly, I tend to be a little bored with them. I’ve seen so many adaptations (Hollywood and faith based, live action and animated) of most of the major stories and heard so many retellings. Still, I must see every movie,and I will admit to being rather curious.

It’d been a while since I’d thought about this story, but details came rushing back to me as I watched it unfold on screen. And it all stuck pretty well to the source as I remember it. This was done as a secular endeavor, so some of the aspects of faith were dampened a little bit. I liked that though. I found it much more interesting to see Moses as a normal man having his own struggles with faith. Director Ridley Scott considers himself an agnostic, so it was very important to him that he find all the elements believable himself, working very hard to get the film to that point before sharing it.

While I was into it, there really wasn’t much new that I gained. Again, I knew this story inside out already. As I said, I did like the angle of having Moses be a bit more hesitant and questioning, but it also gave some bits a disconnect. We didn’t really see as much of the push/pull with Ramses and Moses over the plagues as I’d usually understood it. Instead, Moses sat back and let God do his thing, and then he confronted the pharaoh later. But speaking of those plagues, this was the most up close and personal I think I’ve seen them, so that was cool. I also did enjoy the early Moses/Ramses relationship.

I’ve been debating whether or not I wanna even get into the whole casting controversy that’s been brewing. The fact is, I do have some thoughts, and they’re in my typical seeing both sides of the argument style. I’m not looking to start anything, just give my own personal opinion, so feel free to skip this paragraph…I certainly understand where the frustration is coming from, and I think it’s a very good thing that people are making a big deal so that change can happen. That said, I understand Scott’s argument (as poorly and distastefully worded as it was) that no studio is gonna fund a movie of this size and caliber without bankable stars leading it. Given my ambivalence about seeing this to begin with, I will admit that the familiar cast was a big selling point. It would be great if there were bankable Egyptian actors, but Hollywood needs to make room for them elsewhere first. Personally, I believe in color blind casting, as much as you can get away with it. You pick the best person for the role, regardless of race. If race is a big part of the story (Hairspray is the first example that comes to mind) then it’s more important to cast accordingly. In casting this film, because of the current state of Hollywood, choosing the best person had to factor in how likely they were to sell the film. And given the current state of Hollywood, there really weren’t many varied options. So in conclusion, I don’t necessarily have a problem that this cast was white washed, but the issue that people should be getting upset over goes deeper than that. And I hope that the conversations that are starting do help to facilitate correcting that issue.

Exodus: Gods and Kings – \m/ \m/ \m/”

My Cousin Vinny

“Another Black Friday bargain buy, and only twenty minutes in I’m absolutely loving this movie! That jail scene killed me.

This film is infamous for Marissa Tomei’s surprising Oscar win. The rumor that’s lasted in Hollywood is that the wrong name was read, and she didn’t actually win. That was the only explanation for the supposedly baffling announcement. I’m not familiar with the other actresses she was up against (at least not for their nominated work) but in the single scene I’ve seen so far (semi-live blogging) I love her!

Right so, two naive college kids are caught up in a big misunderstanding and arrested for murder down south. (They thought they were being arrested for shoplifting a can of tuna.) Their inept New Yorker lawyer cousin Vinny drives down to defend them, motormouth girlfriend in tow. Hilarity ensues. Much much hilarity.

And I just had to rewind and rewatch Marissa Tomei going off on her car history (that clip stops before getting to the really good stuff. This is beautiful. I now know how she won that Oscar.

I think I have a new favorite movie. Why didn’t anyone make me watch this before? I’ve been so deprived!”