Into the Woods (2014)

Last night, I got to watch an early screening of Disney’s Into the Woods, the adaptation of the Tony-award winning musical by Steven Sondheim.

First of all, I do need to say that I watched the original Broadway run of Into the Woods in class back in middle school. It was a long time ago, so all it really means is that I am familiar with the story and the songs. I would not call myself a die-hard fan but it does remain one of my favorite musicals.

That being said, I thought the movie was a pretty faithful adaptation of the stage version! It wasn’t going to be perfect, by any means, especially because Disney adapted it. As most musicals go, there are some less-than-G-rated moments in Into the Woods. During development, we heard a lot of rumors of songs getting cut for being too Disney-inappropriate, like “Hello, Little Girl” and “Any Moment”, but those songs both made it into the movie. There were a few plot changes, which I’ll go over in the spoilers section below the trailer.

For my spoiler-free portion of this, I do highly recommend you see this if:

  • You like the original musical
  • You like musicals in general
  • You like fairy tales
  • You like fairy tale crossovers
  • You like after ever-after fairy tale stories
  • You like any of the cast members
  • You like laughter

Even though Into the Woods can get a little dark a times, it is a really funny show, so expect to laugh. A lot. Comedic timing was done REALLY well, it definitely translated very well to screen. That was key for me, because I mostly remember laughing along with this show and I laughed a lot during the movie.

I do need to say things about this movie that bothered me a little:

  1. Maybe it was because of how close I was to the screen for this viewing, but the sound seemed a bit off. Some of the sound was WAY too loud but the rest of it was normal so I don’t know what went on. Let’s just say I definitely would not nominate them for a Best Sound Mixing Academy Award if that’s how they’re going to release the film.
  2. Some of the camera work was distracting. Tracking a character shouldn’t be something noticeable but I noticed and it distracted me. If you can’t track your actors properly then don’t do such a tight shot. Zoom out so that they have more freedom to move about the frame. I usually don’t notice things like that but I did here and that’s kind of the problem. (I did appreciate a lot of their framing, though.)

Some [spoiler-free] casting notes:

  • Johnny Depp as the Wolf was pretty perfect. What can I say, he’s really good at playing creepy dudes. (See Pirates of the CaribbeanWilly Wonka, etc.) Even though his screentime was tragically limited (I am so not used to him not being the star of his films, I realize), he really made the most of it. The Wolf is a fun character and adding Johnny Depp’s special flavor of fun to the Wolf’s fun was pretty perfect. He has this great command of the screen when he appears, and easily his few minutes were some of the best minutes of the entire movie. Just because we are used to him playing these interesting characters does NOT mean it does not require great talent for him to do so. I don’t know, I am talking a lot about an actor who is on-screen for less than 10 minutes but everything is SO deliberate about his performance. Every movement, every look, every note he sings. It’s all extremely deliberate and intentional and really perfect for this role.
    Johnny Depp as The Wolf
  • Meryl Streep can do no wrong, so obviously she was a fantastic Witch. There’s not much else I can say because we all know she’s awesome and amazing. The Witch is one of the MOST key characters in Into the Woods, and obviously Meryl made carrying a film look effortless. And you know, even though I don’t naturally think of Meryl for musicals, she does have a really expressive voice. “Stay With Me” was done so so well.
    Meryl Streep as The Witch
  • Chris Pine did great as Cinderella’s Prince, although I’ll admit that it doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge for him to play charming-to-a-fault types. (See Princess Diaries 2 and his Kirk in the Star Trek films.) But charming-to-a-fault is exactly what this role calls for and he delivers what he delivers best. Also, I didn’t know he was much of a singer until he was cast in this role and found out via this interview that he has a lovely singing voice. Pine Nuts, go crazy, this is Chris Pine gold.
    Chris Pine as Cinderella's Prince (also known as
  • To be totally honest, I thought that Anna Kendrick wasn’t really able to shine in her role as Cinderella. I absolutely adore her as an actress and as a person (I mean, have you seen her Twitter?) but this role felt so stifling in my opinion. It fell a bit flat for me. Even her songs just didn’t have that oomph that I was expecting from her. Most of all, I felt that she just wasn’t very expressive in this film. Both her face and her voice are very expressive but I didn’t get much of that in this movie.Anna Kendrick as Cinderella
  • Just have to share that I love that Lucy Punch plays a stepsister in this because she ALSO plays one of the stepsisters in Ella Enchanted. Apparently, it is the role she was destined to play. She’s great. Again, not much screentime, but she makes the most of it.
    Left: Lucy Punch (center) as Hattie in Ella Enchanted
    Right: Lucy Punch (left) as Lucinda in Into the Woods

    Also, the stepmother and stepsisters had AMAZING outfits for the ball. Ohmygosh, where can I get a black and gold gown like those?

  • Daniel Huttlestone is really making a name for himself in these musical film-adaptations. You might know him as Gavroche from Les Miserables and he plays Jack (of beanstalk-fame) here. Really good voice on this one, and I love what he does with his facial expressions. Looking forward to seeing more of him.
    Daniel Huttlestone as Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk)
  • I liked James Corden in his role as the Baker. It reminds me of his Doctor Who role as Craig in that he’s this sincere but kind of clueless guy with a baby. (Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All!) While I remember Chip Zien as this kind of scrawny guy playing the Baker, it makes sense to have a guy like James Corden play him.

(Character posters courtesy of International Business Times)

One thing to note about casting is that, for the stage version, there is a lot more dramatic irony with double casting of characters. For example, the Prince and the Wolf are played by the same actor, which makes their behavior make more sense when you realize it is essentially the same. These things get lost in the movie. Just like how we lost our Narrator and the Mystery Man. BUT of course, when you translate to film, you take advantage of talent wherever you can and you simplify things.

Overall, really solid and good movie, perfect for the holiday season. I’d give it 4.5/5 stars.

Here’s the trailer for Into the Woods, in theaters on December 25th. Definitely catch it when you can!

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The Heat

I went to see The Heat on a whim this weekend. When I first saw the trailers for the film a few months ago, I didn’t think too much of it. Buddy cop movie with Sandra Bullock playing some kind of twisted version of her Miss Congeniality character and Melissa McCarthy, who seems to be getting typecast as this type of brash, less than savory character in many of her silver screen roles. I thought it would be funny but didn’t think that many people would care. It has, however, gotten some good press, and I’m hearing everyone from my younger brother to Harry Shum Jr. recommend the film to others.

SO. Buddy cop film where the twist is female cops. I laughed and laughed. Since it’s the feature debut of a screenwriter, it’s only right that the jokes are great in this movie. I was tickled pink seeing Tom Wilson, best known for playing Biff Tannen et al. in the Back to the Future trilogy. (I was somehow watching The Heat with 2 people who had no idea what I was talking about when I pointed this out. What. Buttheads.) Bullock and McCarthy are also pretty safe bets as far as comedy goes. Their roles didn’t challenge them to portray characters they haven’t portrayed before (Bullock as the uptight and therefore unlikable and therefore lonely Ashburn; McCarthy as loud and brash and messy Mullins) but they are reliable characters that play a reliable foil to each other.

Plotwise, The Heat was pretty predictable. I wasn’t disappointed by the predictability moreso than I was disappointed by how the movie seemed to actually try quite hard to catch you by surprise. Oy.

When a movie like this focuses SO HARD on the two leads, the other characters get really… just blah. You don’t really know why they’re there or what to do with them. I got a little giggle out of seeing “Gina… Jessica Chaffin | Gina’s Boobs… Jessica Chaffin’s Boobs” during the credits and all (and yes, they did merit their own credit line, spilling out of Chaffin’s top for an agonizing minute) but some of the characters just flopped around wanting and deserving more but not getting it: Wilson’s sad and pathetic Boston PD chief, Marlon Wayans as the wannabe romantic opposite to Bullock, Spoken Reasons as the hilarious small-time drug dealer.

I really liked The Heat. I felt like there was potential for much more, but it was really funny. This was a good feature debut for director Katie Dippold (who writes for the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation). There is no reason why anyone should doubt the hilarity of a buddy-cop movie that stars women instead of men. Women are funny, end of discussion.

Coffee Town (2013)

CollegeHumor recently made a feature-length film titled Coffee Town. I didn’t have any clue about the movie until I saw a little post on the Tumblr Radar, which I’m assuming they had sponsored for promoting the film. Otherwise, I hadn’t heard very much about it, but I entered to win free tickets to view an advanced screening, since the film doesn’t premiere for another 2 weeks. (It’s available for rent on iTunes right now, however.)

Disclaimer: I was able to watch this movie courtesy of CollegeHumor. I am not being paid to write the review but the screening was free for me and a friend. (Information about screenings and the possibility of attending for free at the end.)

Description:

CollegeHumor’s first feature film!! Coffee Town is a workplace comedy for the generation that increasingly doesn’t work out of a traditional office. When a 30-something website manager who uses local café as his office learns of plans to convert the space into a bar, he enlists the help of his two best friends to help save his freeloading existence. Directed by Brad Copeland (Arrested Development), the film’s all-star comedy cast includes Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Steve Little (Eastbound & Down), Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), Adrianne Palicki (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and Josh Groban (Crazy, Stupid, Love).

Review:

This movie was much funnier than I thought it would be. The trailer gave me very low expectations for the movie. I also had some kind of pre-conceived notion that a feature film produced by a company that specialized in short web content wouldn’t be very good.

I was very wrong and I’m happy I was wrong.

There aren’t many movies that I can immediately name that have had me laughing throughout the majority of the length of the movie like Coffee Town did. I was also laughing out loud a lot, which I don’t normally do so much at the movies. (I am an inside-my-head laugher.) Even though there weren’t very many people at DC screening (I’d say 20 people tops) everyone was cracking UP.

I think part of the movie’s success comes from the fact that it didn’t take itself too seriously. It is fully aware of how ridiculous its jokes are, which allows them to push the jokes a little farther than “safe” while still be really funny. These are the kinds of jokes that you normally don’t laugh at in a cinema. It’s the same kind of humor that you find on CollegeHumor.com, but feature-length.

The movie blasted by. I didn’t even realize that an hour and a half had passed when the credits started rolling. That’s always a good sign, when you don’t feel the time passing during the movie. It didn’t seem like a streeeeeeetched out Internet video. It was just good jokes throughout the entire movie. There’s the little romantic subplot with the girl, which didn’t matter much, and the movie knows that. They don’t try very hard on that and I appreciated that. They used this subplot as an opportunity for more humor, which they took full advantage of. CollegeHumor definitely did a great job of taking advantage of every possible moment for comedy.

I didn’t care much for the characters, but they just managed to be not-annoying enough to make me think they weren’t funny. Normally, I really hate those dumb characters in comedies, with no redeeming qualities and who serve no purpose other than to screw everything up. But the characters here toed the line very carefully and managed to be hilarious.

I personally thought Josh Groban shined in this movie. My friend was surprised to see him acting, but he was really funny. I think I can chalk that up to a good screenplay, but the protagonist (played by Glenn Howerton) definitely was overshadowed by the other, more interesting characters.

If you are at all intrigued by this movie, I highly highly recommend you try to check out a screening near you. The screenings left are:

  • Atlanta, GA (Midtown Art Cinema) – July 17
  • St. Louis, MO (Plaza Frontenac) – July 18
  • Minneapolis, MN (Lagoon Cinema) – July 19
  • Chicago, IL (Logan Square Theatre) – July 21
  • Detroit, MI (Main Art Theater) – July 22

Get tickets for a free screening of Coffee Town and/or We Are the Millers here. You have a really good shot, and I think it’s worth it to try.

The movie was well-worth my time.