Meryl, Music, and Magic Are All "Into The Woods"
By Scott Kurland
Film: Into The Woods
Cast: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden
Director: Rob Marshall
This may come as a shock to you the dear reader but I am a huge...huge...fan...of....musical theater. *GASP* I know very shocking coming from the guy who watches “Die Hard” on Christmas, and did an entire top ten list on special effects. It’s true I think the craft of musical theater is highly underrated and overlooked these days. Even worse the movie musical seemed to be going the way of the dinosaurs. That is until now, the great Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece “Into The Woods” has finally come to the silver screen. Sondheim in my humble opinion is the greatest composer of broadway, and “Into The Woods” is a massive achievement for him. However, it took a very long time for it to come to the screen. It started development nearly twenty years ago, and was in limbo labeled “unfilmable” until Rob Marshall came a board and now lets find out if he achieved the impossible. This is “Into The Woods.”
Once Upon A Time....there was a boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) who just wanted his cow to produce milk and his mother (Tracey Ullman) to love him. Then there was a woman named Cinedrella (Anna Kendrick) who wants nothing more than to go to the ball and meet Prince Charming (Chris Pine). There is also a young girl (Lilla Crawford) who wears a red riding hood, and is harassed by a pesky wolf (Johnny Depp). Finally we meet a Baker (James Corden) and His Wife (Emily Blunt) who want nothing more to have a child, but a Witch (Meryl Streep) has cursed them and won’t undo the curse until the Baker goes “Into the Woods” and gets items from Jack, Cinderella, and Red Riding Hood.
Talk about a show stopper, I mean let’s just say it “Give Meryl all the awards.” Here’s an actress who is so mysterious in real life that her performances are so extraordinary on screen. As the witch Streep has the honor of play a role made so prestigious by another award icon Bernadette Peters. Meryl is so cold and snarky as the witch and it’s so delightful and charming. She’s also very sincere and loving to her daughter Rapunzel, and this is just classic Streep fashion she has a knack for playing great mother characters. Maybe it’s because she herself is a great mother to actresses Grace and Mamie Gummer. So her instincts are right on the money. Streep’s witch is so over the top, but also so underrated she is the energy of this film. Also Streep has quite a set of pipes on her, in “Mama Mia” Streep was just ok, but as the Witch she has to belt some heavy duty notes.
It’s a shame James Corden is giving up acting and taking on “The Late Late Show.” He’ll be fantastic because he’s very talented, but he’s magnificent as the Baker. When I first heard that Corden was the baker I rolled my eyes, because if you saw “Starter for 10” or “History Boys” you know Corden as a foul mouth teenager. But he’s blossomed into a hell of an actor. He’s like a young Jack Black or John Candy funny, outrageous, but also charming and sweet. I think Corden was my favorite part of “Into The Woods”. Emily blunt is incredible, and Anna Kendrick is adorable as usual, but Corden is the heart if Streep is the energy.
“Into The Woods” is adapted well, even though the stage musical is more adult oriented this adaptation does a great job of making it kid friendly. Some of the lesser known plots and songs aren’t included, and I’m fine with that. What we get are the best songs like “Giants In The Sky” and “Children Will Listen”.I dear you not to die laughing from Chris Pine belting out “Agony” while puffing his chest.
What I loved the most about this film was the look and feel. The cinematography Dion Beebe is rich, dark, and gorgeous so bleak but there’s a hint of light. This is a man who won an Oscar for implementing this technique into “Memoirs of A Geisha”, and once more it pays off. There’s also the costume design by the great Colleen Atwood who brings the same design she brought to Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” another Sondheim musical. What I loved about her work here is how zany and simple the designs are. For example the two Princes. Chris Pines looks like Prince and Billy Magnussen looks like Michael Jackson from the “Bad” music video. It’s little details that make this flow so well.
Rob Marshall has pulled off another great movie musical just like “Chicago”, and keeps James Lapine and Sondheim at the heart of the entire film. This is an enchanting and charming movie, and absolutely one of the best films of the year. Is it perfect? No, but it’s entertaining and really hits you hard with emotion. I highly recommend making “Into The Woods” your holiday film.
Review Rating: A