What follows will surely offend some people, but know these words originate not from illiteracy, but years of devotion to Broadway, musicals and their big screen convergence. And Rob Marshall — the man responsible for “Chicago” and the reignited film musicals that followed (though I thank “Moulin Rouge” more) — deserves much credit. But he’s a one-hit wonder, and “Into the Woods” further confirms that “Chicago” might’ve been a stroke of luck, not one of many contributions from a rich well.
Based on the stage show, “Into the Woods” disjointedly depicts four fairytale characters — Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) — and has an original story involving a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). Things pick up when a witch (Meryl Streep) informs the baker of a family curse that prevents his wife from bearing a child. To undo the curse, the baker and company must find several ingredients for a spell, lest the couple never find their happy ending.
But that is just one of many stories. Red and Jack are pretty straight forward, but Cinderella goes through some unique changes: she’s more like the classic story of old, complete with the gruesome details. The point of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning show is to shade fairytale fodder in a grimmer light, but Marshall isn’t up to the task. Johnny Depp, as the wolf hunting his prey, isn’t clever. He looks too human, resulting in a very awkward vibe. And revisions to the Repunzel story undermine the original tale and make her role in the film rather useless.
It’s all a rather confusing story, but perhaps the most confusing aspect of the film is how key characters die. You will be left wondering if it really happened. So many off-screen deaths undermine the power of those characters’ presence. But that is what happens when you turn a dark show into a PG film.
In all honesty, “Into the Woods” can’t work as a film because it barely works as a Broadway show. I’m sure some might disagree with me, but “Into the Woods” is a rather dull affair. The score includes many memorable songs. Alas, this film was doomed the moment they cast Streep in another singing role. You’d think they learned their lesson after “Mamma Mia”, but everyone drank the Streep Kool-Aid, even when she’s not right for a particular role.
If you haven’t been online or read the news in the past month, “The Interview” is the film responsible for a massive Sony hack that revealed everything from embarrassing emails between studio big wigs to future film projects. The Guardians of Peace, as the hackers call themselves, even threatened a 9/11-scale attack on any theatre premiering the comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un (effectively played by Randall Park) on Christmas Day. That’s all it took for theatre chains and eventually Sony to cave in and pull the film.
Following public demand and pressure from President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain to premiere the film rather than cede to a terrorist threat, “The Interview” made its way to select theatres and streaming devices. If only it was worth the hype.
I admit my own outrage at theatres and Sony for caving, especially considering how it lead to the cancellation of a Steve Carell project regarding North Korea and another theatre’s plans to show “Team America”, a 2004 comedy that depicts former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. More than anything, “The Interview” revitalizes dated discussions about the difference between satire and parody. Trust me, this isn’t political satire. This is only a satire if you consider Charlie Sheen fighting Saddam Hussein in “Hot Shots! Part Deux” from 1993 a satire. It’s like calling “Scary Movie” a commentary rather than a parody.
While “The Interview’s” insufficient intellectual worth is no surprise, the lack of gut-busting humor was disappointing. Directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen had much better luck with 2013’s “This is the End”, but even in that film actor James Franco nearly phones in his performance —– something he entirely does as TV personality David Skylark in “The Interview”.
Not even Rogen’s charm as show producer Aaron Rapaport can undo the damage. By the time the pair arrive in North Korea, prepped by the CIA to take out Kim during a televised interview, too much time has passed with not enough laughs to go around. Not even Park’s comical depiction of Kim seems to stick.
I’m no longer excited when I see Rogen and Franco’s names attached to films. Maybe that will change, but no amount of hype can compensate for a story with such easy jokes that it makes me wonder if an Adam Sandler/Mike Myers collaboration starring Kevin James and Megan Fox is our only hope for the future of comedy.
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