Into the Woods

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine
Directed by: Rob Marshall (“Chicago”)
Written by: James Lapine (debut)

With this musical fantasy, director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) probably has the goose that lays the golden egg when it comes to the box office this holiday season, but it’s hard to come up with a substantial reason to visit this mishmash of classic fairytale characters (Cinderella, Rapunzel, etc.). Adapted from James Lapine and Stephen Sondeim’s Tony Award-winning Broadway play of the same name, “Into the Woods” is a misfire on almost every level (this coming from someone who knows his fair share of kitschy show tunes).

In the film, Marshall along with Lapine, who penned the screenplay based on his own book, focus the story on a nameless baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt). Unable to have children, the couple turns to a nameless witch (Meryl Streep) who promises them a child if they go on a mission for her (think the Wizard of Oz asking Dorothy to procure the Wicked Witch of the West’s broomstick, except not nearly as interesting). Their assignment: to bring to her a “cow as white as milk,” which belongs to Jack from the Jack and the Beanstalk tale; a “cape as red as blood,” which belongs to Little Red Riding Hood; “hair as yellow as corn,” which belongs to Rapunzel; and a “slipper as pure as gold,” which belongs to Cinderella.

What comes out the other end is an awkward mess of a narrative with a tone that goes from playful family-friendly fare to a story about death and deception all wrapped up in collection of Broadway tunes that – with the exception of the title song – are far from memorable. Sure, some of the Grimm Brother’s stories get closer to their original text, but Disney seem to be trying to have their cake and eat it, too, by attempting to cater to the kiddos in some scenes and then flipping a switch. For example, cutting off the heels and toes of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters when they try to fit into her shoe probably isn’t what most five year old children remember happening in the classic 1950 animated movie. Happy-go-lucky mice, yes. Self mutilation, not so much.

When Johnny Depp comes out in full Johnny Depp mode (he’s wearing wolf whiskers and singing about “plump pink flesh” while salivating over Little Red Riding Hood), audiences will wonder who this film is actually for. Fans of the stage play might have an invested interest, but with the exception of a few technical achievements (art direction, costume design and make-up), this isn’t a musical with anything to say (much less sing).

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

May 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by: Rob Marshall (“Chicago”)
Written by: Ted Elliott (“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”) and Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”)

On the high seas again for the fourth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” action-adventure franchise, this one penned as “On Stranger Tides,” three-time Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp returns as the slurry and always-peculiar pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, a character he first brought to the big screen in 2003’s “The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

Eight years and two inexplicable sequels later, Capt. Jack is still up to his mischievous ways — drinking rum, wielding his sword, and looking for booty — this time in all its 3D glory. With a fantasy series like Pirates as bankable as ever, it’s safe to say Disney may still have a few installments to go, despite the fact that “Tides” is basically a quest we’ve all been on before.

This time, Capt. Jack finds himself on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a menacing-looking ship belonging to the much-feared pirate of all pirates Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Swabbing the decks with the rest of the crew, Capt. Jack has set sail to find the Fountain of Youth, a mythical spring needed by Blackbeard to save his life should an ominous prophecy come true. On the ship with Capt. Jack is Blackbeard’s daughter Angelica (Penélope Cruz, bringing the sex appeal provided in the first three films by Keira Knightley), who seems to have some kind of romantic past with our buccaneer hero.

Former Pirates Director Gore Verbinski is replaced here by Academy Award-winner Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), a filmmaker with the grandiose mindset to pull off a blockbuster like this, but who instead plays it cautiously by following his predecessor’s by-the-numbers approach. Even with Marshall’s enthusiasm for musicals, don’t expect a song and a dance from any of the mateys here. Capt. Jack is flamboyant enough without help from Gilbert & Sullivan.

Back for another round of swashbuckling is Academy Award-winner Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”) as the vile and peg-legged Barbossa, who proves more of an ally to Capt. Jack on this journey. Like Depp’s captain, Rush has embraced his character so thoroughly that without him or Depp there would be no point to continue the charade.

Whatever the case may be, the narrative of this series needs a major wake-up-call if it doesn’t want to lull audiences to sleep with the same old fantasy plotting and repetitious action sequences. Pay no mind to the four or five swordfights we get in “Tides” – the best scene comes during a mermaid battle that is heavy on CGI and imagination. Take all the scenes where the boys are banging blades and mix them in a barrel and you’d be hard-pressed to tell which one goes to which “Pirates” movie.

Besides its overall unoriginality, “Tides” just doesn’t have the same magic “Black Pearl” had back when Capt. Jack was something special and not just another option for a Halloween costume. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s had enough time to fiddle with the equation and turn it into a spectacle. For failing that, he deserves to be tossed overboard.