Saturday, February 21, 2015

2014 Awards Circuit: Into The Woods Review

2014 Awards Circuit: Into The Woods Review
The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.

Before I begin, let me make one thing clear. I like musicals; I sang in the high school choir and before that I would partake in acting camps in grade school. I even auditioned for a musical when I was in grade school, but missed the cut. I have always had an appreciation for this stuff, and I liked some musical movies. I think “Rent” is good, not great. I love “Moulin Rouge!” and “Chicago” and “Sweeney Todd.” If Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt ever decide to make that “Guys and Dolls” movie that has been heavily rumored, I’d be there opening weekend. So before I before I say what I say, I hope you understand that my opinion is not from a biased or uncultured point of view. I approached this movie as I approach every movie, and I take pride in watching anything and giving everything a try.

I walked into “Into The Woods” ready to hate it. I knew it was based on a musical from 1987, but the idea of another “fairy tale characters interacting together” seemed more monetary then creative. I have had it with Meryl Streep and I didn’t think I needed another example of Johnny Depp’s one-trick pony of charisma. I didn’t know if there was going to be anything that would salvage the film for me. But I felt I needed to catch up with it to see how Meryl Streep’s performance measured up with the other Oscar nominees.

I was surprised how quickly I was taken into the movie. I was amazed the music drew me into the story. I was immediately drawn into The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) and how they can’t have a child because of a curse brought on by a Witch (Meryl Streep) because the Baker’s father stole from the Witch before the Baker was born. The Witch decides to allow The Baker a chance at redemption if he can retrieve five items for a The Witch. This brings the Baker into contact with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy). Like I said, I drawn into more than I thought. I think Corden and Blunt do very good work, and they bring an unlicensed life to their roles. I also think Anna Kendrick does extraordinary work as Cinderella. I was surprised to learn that Anna Kendrick came from Broadway background before making it as an actress, no wonder she sang so well in “Pitch Perfect.” Kendrick makes the most of every moment of her screen time. I think taken as a whole, this core cast here is the reason why the movie isn’t boring or tedium and quite frankly, saves the film.

I was once again amazed by the work done by Chris Pine. In this movie, he plays the Prince who will eventually marry Cinderella. I think 2014 was a pivotal year for Pine and I think he is showing a side of himself that we have never seen before. Pine kind of reminds me of Ryan Gosling in some weird ways. He has the look and talent of a movie star, but there is a hunger and a passion that I feel we don’t get from most of them. I’d love to see Pine indulge in more experimental craft, just to see what would come of it.

While I don’t think “Into The Woods” is a failure, I am not sure if director Rob Marshall was the guy for the job. There is a claustrophobic feeling to every seen in the movie and it’s hard to not ignore that the entire film feels like it was shot on a soundstage. I understand that “Into The Woods” came from musical roots and perhaps the stage aspect may seem normal to a director. But I felt that “Sweeney Todd,” “Moulin Rouge!” and even “Rent” felt more epic in visual effects and set design. To me, I felt “Into The Woods” looked and felt cheap. I never thought the costumes were the extravagant, feeling as if they came from a community theater back lot. Once again, this is the movie, so I guess I expected more from a Hollywood production. I really felt that there was a crowded quality to the movie and it personally rubbed me wrong.

I think Meryl Streep was fine as The Witch, but like much of her recent work, it wasn’t something to be nominated for. I wish someone would explain to me why the Academy continues to nominate her year after year. I definitely feel there were vastly superior performances by women in supporting roles that were much worthier for nomination over Streep. It is not a bad performance, and its not Streep being Streep, its just not something I’d nominate for Oscars. Johnny Depp is typical Johnny Depp as The Big Bad Wolf, but playing opposite of Lilla Crawford, he comes off more as a creep than a big, bad wolf. There is a song early in the movie when Red Riding Hood has her first encounter with The Wolf and the song he sings seems weird being sung to a girl so young. Sure, the Wolf is fantasizing about eating her, but there is a sensual mood to the way Depp sings the song and how the music plays, and it comes off very creepy. Other than that, this is just another listless Depp performance.

I feel “Into The Woods” would have been much better in the hands of another director. I think a different director could have made this feel more like a movie than a convoluted stage play. I think a different director could have made this movie feel more epic and given the film a visual inspiration that Marshall could not. The film is filled with great songs, great performances and great moments, but they don’t add up, not quite. I think even a different director could have helped Depp and Streep out more. The movie isn’t a total mess, which is an achievement in my eyes.

FINAL GRADE: B-

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