[#2015oscardeathrace] Into the Woods (2014)

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Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp

Screenplay: James Lapine

125 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Meryl Streep) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

I truly enjoy Stephen Sondheim’s work, especially Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. However, do I truly enjoy Disney’s Into the Woods adaptation from director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)? The answer is quite simple: No, I did not.

INTO THE WOODS

Several classic fairytales come to a head as these classic characters enter a magical wood. A mysterious Witch (Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada, The Giver) has sent a cursed Baker (James Corden, Begin Again, The Three Musketeers) on a mission to collect several magical items to lift a spell that causes him to be infertile, as his Wife (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, The Wind Rises) follows in tow. One of the items is a slipper that belongs to the enchanted Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect, Cake). Another is a cow belonging to Jack, a boy who needs to sell the cow at market for more than mere beans. Then there is the red cloak belong to Little Red Riding Hood. Finally, hair belonging to Rapunzel. As each tale interweaves with the others, tragedy seems likely to follow.

First of all, I want to discuss the plot and the changes made to it. It hurt. It hurt the film badly. Needless to say, it makes some characters entirely useless. Literally, Rapunzel’s story could have been wiped away without any recognizable notice, other than the loss of a great song featuring Rapunzel’s Prince and Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine, Star Trek, Horrible Bosses 2). The story just kept going without any of the intensity of the original musical. Characters are written away in unseen ways and have no consequence on the film. I hate that many of the darker elements completely disappear while others are handled so haphazardly that it gnawed away at me for the entirety of the film.

Meryl Streep gives an insanely wild performance as the Witch, breaking the actresses’ “No-Witch Policy” for the sake of being one of the most fun characters in the ensemble. Emily Blunt is fun and fantastic but underutilized. James Corden is terrific as the Baker. Chris Pine works hilarious magic, as is Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Mortdecai) as the Wolf following Red Riding Hood.  Anna Kendrick, while usually great, is horribly miscast as Cinderella. I think the cast here has done good work but can’t seem to get in the correct tone for the film, which is ultimately what the changes to the film caused.

I disagree completely with Oscar Nomination for Production Design. The wood scenes all look so much alike that it is hard to place any of the characters in their current positions. The costumes are nice but the sets all look like they came out of a Lifetime movie (not a compliment).

The pacing here just felt like the story had too many endings due to the plot and tone shifts.

The music had a few great arrangements to it, but many songs fall flat with no clear-cut direction anymore.

INTO THE WOODS

Sadly, Into the Woods is too many good qualities shaped and shifted by Disney to fit a particular mold, and it softens the impact completely. For your money, see the original musical live and enjoy what this story is actually about, rather than a Disneyfied pile of “stuff.”

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Giver (2014)

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Director: Phillip Noyce

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift

Screenplay: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.

 

The hotly anticipated adaptation of the dystopian novel The Giver has arrived and initial response has not been great. What did I think? Well, wouldn’t you like to know?

The Giver is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus, Maleficent), who lives in a normalized version of reality set some time in the future. His world is one of plainness, of emotionless life filled with routine followed by more routine. It exists without color and without free thought. Life is good. Jonas is about to go through a life-changing ceremony along with friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan, TV’s Shameless, Click) and Fiona (Odeya Rush, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, We Are What We Are). This ceremony grants each of them jobs in their society, and Jonas has just been granted the most important role of all as Receiver of Memory, a role of passing down information from a man known only as The Giver (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, R.I.P.D.), who has some very valuable information for Jonas.

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The Giver isn’t a bad movie as much as it is a rough one. I get the sense that this movie wasn’t fully completed. I also feel as though the book, through fantastic, was not made to be adapted. There is just too much that feels like it would work until you actually see it.

Jeff Bridges is wonderful in the titular role, and he should be, as he has been trying to get the film out of development hell for almost two decades. He even previously filmed a version using family members in the roles to prove that the film was doable.

We also get some great, though very underutilized work from Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada, Into the Woods) as the Chief Elder, a woman who has her own secrets and doesn’t really trust that Jonas will stick to the guidelines of his role, just like ten years previously when a young girl named Rosemary (Taylor Swift, Valentine’s Day, The Lorax) failed as the Receiver of Memory.

Brenton Thwaites is passable, though very underwhelming at times. The saving grace is Odeya Rush as Fiona, a girl who helps inspire emotion with ease.

As for the parental units, Father (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s True Blood, The East) is pretty good while Mother (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins, Jack and Jill) poses too many questions, the most important being, “How does Katie Holmes keep getting work?” Seriously, I haven’t seen a passable performance since…wait, give me a minute.

As for Taylor Swift, come on. Not good. Not horrible, but definitely not good.

This adaptation was trouble from the start. The entire civilization is without emotion so much so that watching it would be kind of boring. Then again, add any noticeable emotion and people will claim that it breaks its own rules.

THE GIVER

I personally enjoyed myself over all, but the film is not without its problems. That much I can promise you. I just keep thinking. It could have been so much more.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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