Posts Tagged ‘Movie Musicals’

Into the Woods: The Woods Can Be a Wonderful Place—Movie

December 29, 2014

Into the Woods” is a joyous, albeit dark, journey into the combined worlds of Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine and the Brothers Grimm. Directed by Rob Marshall, with screenplay by Lapine, based on the musical by Sondheim and Lapine, “Into the Woods” grabs you in the very first scene and never lets go.

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Through song we’re quickly introduced to a variety of familiar fairy-tale characters with some unfulfilled dreams, chief among them—the Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Stepmother (Christine Baranski), Jack and his Mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman) and most especially, the Witch (Meryl Streep). Yes, the Witch has unfulfilled dreams, too…dreams that only the Baker and his Wife can make happen. And why would they help the Witch? Well, as she explains, to reverse the curse they didn’t know was placed upon them…a curse that makes it impossible for them to have children. Helping the Witch puts the Baker and his Wife in contact with virtually every other character in the musical. The plot seems simple and direct, but that is not necessarily the case. As the Witch reminds them…and us…be careful what you wish for.

What helps makes “Into the Woods” so successful is that every single actor can actually act and sing. Each actor makes you believe in his or her character and is perfectly cast.

The supporting cast…and the word, supporting, is used loosely… is just phenomenal. As the Wolf, Johnny Depp is sublime. He is everything you’d want in a wolf…sly, sneaky, lithe and sexy…even with those ears and whiskers. What’s more, his voice suits his character to a tee. Depp has limited amount of screen time, but he makes the most of every single second. As the object of his “affection,” Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Hood is terrific. She conveys just the right amount of spunkiness. Crawford may be young and little, but this girl can sing…she’s a precocious belter and is fabulous. Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman as Jack and his Mother make the perfect team. Huttlestone is impishly cute with a great voice and his character’s “love affair” with his cow seems very believable. Tracey Ullman has a shockingly melodic voice. In a supporting role, we don’t see a lot of her, but she is fun to watch when she’s on the screen. Fans of “The Bold and Beautiful’s” Mackenzie Mauzy knew she could sing and as Rapunzel she doesn’t disappoint, making a beautiful and belligerent Rapunzel. Cinderella’s Stepmother, Christine Baranski, is hysterically mean. She can sing with the best of them and her role just seems meant for her.

Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince and Billy Magnussen as his brother and Rapunzel’s Prince have to be singled out for special praise, especially Pine. They are both fabulous and together are just hysterical. When they sing, “Agony,” you’ll be in anything but. Pine is the year’s comedic find. He has a bit more dialogue than Magnussen and as the slightly dim, but oh so charming prince, he just continues to astound, he is that good.

Then there are the leads…to say they are all amazing is putting it mildly. As the Baker, James Corden is so very lovable you can’t help but root for him. He might not be leading man handsome, but he is a terrific actor and with his wonderful voice, he makes you fall in love with him. His scenes with the young characters, Jack and Little Red Riding Hood, are very charismatic and his work with Blunt and Streep is especially good. Emily Blunt is extremely endearing as the Baker’s Wife. She has a delightful voice and her scenes with Corden and Pine are terrific in very different ways. Anna Kendrick gives us a very plucky Cinderella, one with a huge heart, but fierce in spirit at the same time. Her singing is amazing and she is just all-around magnificent. Finally there is Meryl Streep as the Witch. To say she is astounding and perfect in every way is an understatement. Many of us knew Streep could sing, but we’ve never heard her sing the way she does in ‘Into the Woods.” Ferocious and soft when she needs to be, she just nails it. The beauty of Streep is that her part is meant to be huge and she plays that just right without overwhelming her cast-mates. The other actors more than hold their own with her which makes the movie a well-rounded affair.

The musical takes full advantage of the screen, using special effects where it’s called for and not a bit more. The effects help the film, but never overtake it. As brilliant as “Into the Woods’” cast is, the movie would be nothing without the breathtakingly beautiful and lyrically fun songs of Stephen Sondheim. Abetted by James Lapine’s marvelous screenplay, the astute direction of Rob Marshall and the most wonderful of costumes by Colleen Atwood, “Into the Woods” is a feast for the ears and eyes.

Sometimes it’s more than ok to go into the woods. This is one of those times. Run, don’t walk.

4 nuggets out of 4

 

Annie: Changed Up But Still Fun—Movie

December 22, 2014

Sometimes a movie surprises you…in a good way…and so it is with the 2014 “Annie.” Extremely entertaining, full of heart and fun, there’s truly not a bad performance in the entire film. And while you won’t tap dance your way out of the theatre, you’ll leave humming with a smile on your face. Directed by Will Gluck with screenplay by Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna, based on Thomas Meehan’s stage play book and Harold Gray ‘s comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, the best way to enjoy this “Annie” is to leave your memories of yesteryear’s versions behind and appreciate this version on its own merit.

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“Annie” 2014 is less a traditional movie musical and more of a dramedy with musical numbers sprinkled in. Set in present day, Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives in a group foster home run by Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), a one-time wanna-be actress and present-day alcoholic. Annie was abandoned by her parents as a child outside an Italian restaurant, left with nothing but half a locket and a note saying that someday they hoped to see her again at the restaurant. One afternoon, while trying to save a dog from being tortured by some neighborhood boys, she is almost hit by a car, but is swept out of harm’s way by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a self-made billionaire running for mayor. His campaign advisor (Bobby Cannavale) thinks there might be benefit to his campaign…giving him some much need humanization…by inviting Annie to live with Stacks for a period of time. And so she and her newly adopted dog, Sandy, come to live with Stacks in his penthouse. Annie’s relationship with Stacks, his assistant, Grace (Rose Byrne), Ms. Hannigan and the girls under her “care” carry the story forward.

Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, “Annie’s” two leads, are both very good and have terrific chemistry together. Wallis, so winning in her “Beasts of the Southern Wild” film debut, continues to captivate. She’s extremely convincing in conveying Annie’s innocence and street smarts. She definitely has some dance moves and sings well enough in the role. It is no surprise that Foxx can sing and dance, and as Stacks, he is absolutely charmingly perfect in the part.

As good as Wallis and Foxx are, it really is the rest of the cast that helps make Annie as entertaining as it is. At times Cameron Diaz’s Hannigan may seem over the top, but truth be told, she is really good as the drunk longing for the good old days. Her scenes with the girls are fun to watch and her “Easy Street” song and dance with Cannavale is very sweet. Her interaction with David Zayas as the shop owner, Lou, who harbors a crush on Hannigan, is especially good. And when her singing truly counts, her voice in the part works. Rose Byrne’s scenes with Wallis are achingly good. However, the real hands-down scene stealer is Stephanie Kurtzuba as Mrs. Kovacevic, the case worker helping Annie. She is just amazing…funny, musical, and capable of saying so much with just the blink of an eye, she steals every scene she is in without even trying.

There is some very appealing singing and dancing by Annie and the foster girls. “It’s the Hard Knock Life” is particularly enjoyable. “Annie” also features some amusing cameos and has some great NYC and subway shots adding to the film’s overall enjoyment.

See this “Annie” with an open mind and you’ll be glad you did. It’s just a plain good time at the movies.

3 nuggets out of 4

Les Misérables: I Dreamed I Liked it More—Movie

December 31, 2012

Les mis posterI so wanted to love “Les Misérables.” Musicals are one of my favorite genres. I adore Russell Crowe. I have really enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s singing and dancing in hosting the Tonys and who can forget the duet that he and Anne Hathaway performed when he hosted the Oscars? She can belt it out with the best of them.

But I didn’t love “Les Mis” and that makes me sad. For me, something was missing in director Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables.” It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I think the trouble begins with the two male leads.

Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, the prisoner released on parole who later becomes a respected factory owner, is a good actor and he can sing. But not this score. His voice truly disappoints. He struggles to reach many of the notes and it becomes distracting. As Javert, the police inspector obsessed with finding and re-imprisoning Valjean after he breaks parole, Russell Crowe has a melodic voice. He sings on key and doesn’t embarrass himself. But his part demands someone with a strong, Broadway-type voice and Crowe just doesn’t have it. The scenes between the two work because they are good actors, but in a musical, acting is just half of the job.

Another distraction is the way in which Hooper chooses to display Javert’s obsession with Valjean.  Javert keeps popping up in such weird manners that it almost starts to feel Wile E. Coyote-like. My audience actually started to laugh at one point.

Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, the factory worker who is fired and forced to become a prostitute in order to support her daughter, Cosette, is very strong. Hathaway can act and her voice is well-suited to this role. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the adult Cosette, Amanda Seyfried .  So good in Mama Mia, Seyfried seems to be screeching her songs. She simply cannot reach the notes. Like Jackman and Crowe, her acting is fine, but this role calls for more.

The remaining cast is very good. Eddie Redmayne as Marius, the idealistic young  French rebel and Cosette’s suitor has a beautiful voice. He is terrific, as is Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, Marius’ colleague in-arms.

Is Helena Bonham Carter, as Madame Thénardier, ever bad? She and Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier), as the innkeepers who “care” for the young Cosette, provide the pitch –perfect comic relief and work well together, in addition to having voices just right for their roles. Samantha Barks as Éponine, their daughter, who’s in love with Marius is wonderful. Her voice is so beautiful that it makes one wish that she had been cast as Cosette.

Finally we have the adorable Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, the young mascot to the rebels. He can sing and act…but why does he have a strong Cockney accent in France? I kept waiting for him to ask, “Please sir, may I have some more?”

Much has been made of the fact that the actors are singing live. While that is admirable and helps in some scenes, especially those with Anne Hathaway, I do wonder if that is part of the problem with the weaker singing.

Kudos to cinematographer, Danny Cohen; “Les Misérables” is beautifully shot. Some of the scenes are positively breathtaking. If movies were based on just photography, this film would be a true winner. Unfortunately we have to use senses other than visual and that is the film’s ultimate downfall.

2 3/4 nuggets out of 4


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