Adapting Stephen Sondheim's musical to the big screen was always going to be a challenge seeing as the whole thing's like one big song sung by loads of main characters, each of them doing their own thing at the same time around a purposely convoluted plot. As the film is an hour shorter than the play, a lot of songs and plot threads were always going to get the chop and this could have easily destroyed a film with a lot of potential. Luckily, director Rob Marshall has his share of experience making movie musicals (Chicago, Nine) so he keeps the film afloat through succesfully capturing the essence of the stage play and getting the best out of his all-star cast. The songs are as endearing and catchy as ever from the long opening ensemble number "Prologue: Into The Woods" to the heartbreaking "Stay With Me" and the upbeat "Giants In The Sky", not to mention The Wolf's unapologetically pervy, potentially disturbing tune "Hello, Little Girl".
Now, as much as I enjoyed Into The Woods and its songs, the film still failed to work as well as the staged original, in my opinion. As I mentioned before, this is one of those musicals that's more like one epic song with variations rather than a mix of different things so in a concentrated 2 hour-long film it gets a bit much. And with so many storylines going on, it all becomes a bit overwhelming, hard to follow even. It doesn't help that the fun-packed first half feels rushed and too busy while the more serious and reflective second half feels nearly empty and overlong. There's definitely an error in pacing here since this is in no way an issue in the stage play. The film is sadly uneven in terms of tone, visuals and performances so it's very likely you'll leave the cinema not really knowing what to make of it.
There are some stand-out brilliant moments, though: Chris Pine hamming it up as one of the princes, pretty much anything involving Little Red Riding Hood, Meryl Streep's spot-on performance as the witch, Emily Blunt's surprisingly effective singing voice, the creepy Depp cameo and all the jokes cleverly poking fun at the Grimm fairy-tales we all know and love. Not to mention the fantastic score and the fascinating themes the film explores from parenthood to growing-up and making sense of your life to dealing with the past and being careful what you wish for. Some casting decisions are questionable, however, James Corden and Anna Kendrick being a couple, some parts feel needlessly stagey, and some of the changes to the story do stand out as awkward, unfinished plot-lines: Rapunzel just kinda leaves the movie, for example.
That said, I do recommend Into The Woods to fans of musicals and the classic fairy-tales referenced here. It'll introduce you to a fabulously nutty cult Sondheim creation you might very well fall in love with. As a film, this one works about as well as Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd in that it's both great and it doesn't fully work somehow.
In this 15th episode, we discuss the 11th episode of Gotham, The Electrocutioner, Tom Hardy and we finally review Birdman.
(for my written review of the Gotham Pilot, click here!)
Hope you enjoy it!
You can also find us on podcast The Big Rewind (available on iTunes) and send us emails with your Bat-questions, Six Degrees challenges and riddles here: email@example.com (for the pilot episode CLICK HERE)
The Squid And The Whale was Noah Baumbach's first big hit as director and put him on the map as one of the new indie filmmakers to look out for. The film, which was co-produced by Wes Anderson, was a short-and-sweet look at a dysfunctional family in the 80's.
This was obviously a personal story for Baumbach to tell and he puts the awkwardness of having your parents go through a divorce and having to grow-up during that time across extremely well. These characters are, in part, cruel and selfish and, in part, likeable and naive so you can't help but identify with them a little bit, even when they're at their worst. As the pretentious loser father Bernard, Jeff Daniels is spot-on: the character's sheer inability to not think about himself for one second, the fact everything he says to his kids is wholly inappropriate, that he doesn't even treat his son's new girlfriend to lunch and his questionable relationship with Anna Paquin's student makes him pretty repulsive all around and yet his actions are so mindless you can't help but like him somehow. In short, Daniels was definitely robbed of an Oscar nomination that year, that's for sure.
The rest of the cast is also really good with a young Jesse Eisenberg standing out particularly and giving a complex, layered performance as Bernard's oldest son Walt. The ever-reliable Laura Linney plays the latter's mother and William Baldwin has a fun supporting role as a cheesy tennis coach. Aside from the acting, the film's real strength is its sharp, rich script which not only gives the actors some brilliant lines to deliver but says a lot about these characters through limited actions and it never feels pretentious or overdone. The film works as a coming-of-age story for Walt but also as a biting comment on parenthood and divorce. It also works as a comedy in that the film is very funny throughout, even if the central theme is essentially a tragic one and there are genuinely heartfelt moments in it.
As far as indie movies go, The Squid And The Whale is one of those you simply have to catch. Great writing, great performances, solid direction: this little film may have slid under your radar upon its release but it's well worth checking it out now.
The first Crank movie may have looked, at first glance, like just another run-of-the-mill Jason Statham actioner but it turned out to be something quite different: a high-octane pastiche poking fun at the action genre through a purposely far-fetched concept and an endearing willingness to go all out no matter what logic dictates.
It was fresh, it was new, it was original.
Oh sure you'd have thought that Jason Statham crashing down into a car after falling out of a helicopter would have confirmed the end of that franchise but not so! For one thing, Statham bounced off the car so right there, here's a film with similar rules to those old Road Runner cartoons so anything's possible at this point. Crank 2: High Voltage picks up right where the first movie left off as the Chinese, who are still evil apparently, literally scrape Statham off the ground and proceed to replace his heart with some plastic doodad. Just for the f*** of it. Or, actually, to give it to some old man. Of course, our hero wakes up, kicks some ass and escapes looking surprisingly energetic. The fake heart, it turns out, requires him to constantly "crank-it-up" and go on another non-stop rampage otherwise he'll die. Because that's something he can do.
Unfortunately, the concept's novelty fails to catch fire right away so the film's first half hour mostly feels like a more vulgar and insensitive retread. Dick jokes, annoying Jar Jar-style prostitutes, screwing on a race course, that dude from Linkin Park has a cameo, it's all very uncreative. Luckily, Statham's new sidekick is now suffering from "Full Body Tourettes" and the film builds up to some pretty nifty nonsense moments: there's a living disembodied head in a water tank, David Carradine as an old Chinese man, a brilliant Godzilla-style sequence and Jason Statham, spoilers, bursts into flames. Crank 2 definitely has its fun aspects and there's still a small dose of genius in there to apprecaite but it is sadly tainted by some crass, borderline racist, homophobic humour and a disappointingly familiar plot.
You could have thrown a lot of unfunny crap out of the script which could and should have been much sharper and, instead of telling essentially the same story again in the same exact way, this should have been more focused on taking the piss out of sequels specifically because, as it stands, this isn't so much a clever pastiche as it is just another silly action movie.
While Crank 2 delivers a handful of worthy titbits, it sadly fails to recapture the magic the first Crank came up with. The pacing is on start-and-stop mode throughout and the genuine lols are too few. Fans of the first film will enjoy part of High Voltage but otherwise, this is probably not worth sitting through.
In this 48th episode, Adam (aka The RetroCritic) and fellow film buff Jamie discuss movie news, reviewStar Trek: Generations and The Blair Witch Project, watch shameful cat videos and talk retro stuff.
With Michael Keaton's comeback pretty much sealed and ready to take effect, I thought I'd revisit one of my own personal movies starring the actor: Night Shift.
The film, directed by Ron Howard of all people, is a comedy in which Henry Winkler plays mild-mannered morgue attendant Chuck who is made to work the night shift with ebullient, fast-talking new recruit Bill (Keaton). While their completely different personalities fail to gel initially, Bill's constant flow of ridiculous business plans finally leads to an idea Chuck ends up going along with. Chuck's neighbour Belinda (Shelley Long), a prostitute, is left pimp-less after some shady goings-on involving the competition and Bill's plan to become "Love Brokers" with Chuck soon becomes a reality. The unlikely duo is soon working with a group of prostitutes, running their totally legit business harmoniously. Soon enough, of course, their success becomes threatened and Chuck's relationship with Belinda starts getting in the way of the latter's profession.
The idea of morgue attendants becoming pimps is a strange one to even come up with but it makes for some great black comedy material. You could easily take the exact same concept and make a really dark and gritty Cronenbergian thriller but, somehow, Ron Howard makes it work perfectly as it is. Henry "The Fonz" Winkler nails the meek, neurotic ex-stock broker brilliantly and Shelley Long is instantly likeable as the most approachable and together prostitute you'll ever meet. All that said, it is Michael Keaton who steals the show from the very moment he walks into the movie, head-banging and humming along to a rock classic on his Walkman like Otto in The Simpsons. Every time he's on screen, it's like the movie promptly injects itself with a thick shot of adrenaline. The sharp script comes to life when Keaton and Winkler bounce lines off each other and the film is consistently very funny and clever. There's a naive enthusiasm to Bill and his random ideas that makes him both annoying and endearing but that's not to say he's a one-dimensional character. Eventually, you do get to see another, less cartoonish side to him which is refreshing.
It's a shame that Ron Howard didn't direct more comedies like this one but fans of Michael Keaton should definitely check out Night Shift: this is an underwatched gem you'll want to revisit if only for the aforementioned actor's ridiculously fun performance.