Archive for the Comedy Category

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Posted in Comedy, Drama on March 10, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgThe greatest thing about The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the title. God bless truth in advertising. This is a pale imitation of the original. The existence of which preys upon those wanting to relive the good times of the first film. It bilks poor trusting folks out of their hard earned cash. Judging from my audience that would be retired people over 60 which makes the act even more pernicious. The movie is a such an obvious cash grab I’m surprised they didn’t offer this in IMAX 3D so they could charge more money honestly. Truth be told, I found the first one to be kind of insipid. Yet that was an exhilarating enchantment compared to this transgression.

Let’s start with the overburdened plot. It’s positively stuffed with an extreme number of characters with yawn inducing story threads. Most of the ensemble returns with the exception of Tom Wilkinson who is sorely missed. If you saw the first one you’ll understand why he’s not here. He should thank the screenwriter. Sonny (Dev Patel) desperately wants to expand his hotel business with another property. But wait! He’s also planning his wedding to pretty Sunaina (Tina Desai) while being jealous of handsome family friend Kushal (Shazad Latif) whom Sonny distrusts. Is Kushal trying to steal his girl or does he want his real estate? Or both? Who cares! It’s hard to get past Sonny’s obsequious gestures and cloying demeanor. His embarrassing behavior is a full-blown caricature.  Imagine the hyperactive movements of a Disney cartoon and you’ll get his performance.

But we have yet to scratch the surface of this convoluted saga! Embittered curmudgeon Muriel (Maggie Smith) now manages the existing property with him. Evelyn (Judi Dench) works as a textile buyer and keeps tour guide Douglas (Bill Nighy) at bay. Let’s not forget his ex wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) who shows up late in the film just to be insufferable. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are trying to remain faithful to each other. But are they? Madge (Celia Imrie) is always on the make. She makes Blanche Devereaux look like a nun. That’s a Golden Girls reference for you Millennials. Even with two wealthy suitors panting after her, another handsome visitor makes her head spin. That arrival is Guy, played by Richard Gere who is newly added to the cast. Is he the liaison sent to inspect the hotel for a possible investor? Never mind. He’s actually got his eyes on Sonny’s no nonsense mother (Lillete Dubey) in a slapdash romance that has about as much spark of a damp sponge. Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) is also a new guest there to look over the place for her mother. Can she even stay here? She looks like she’s in her 40s, a comparative baby to this lot. Did I mention she has a thing for Kushal?

The romantic escapades of the inhabitants of the Marigold Hotel is the subject of this soap opera masquerading as sophisticated entertainment. This is Love, American Style for the geriatric set. Although I hope I didn’t insult the early 1970s ABC TV anthology series. Seriously though. What are they feeding these folks? Even with all the amorous adventures, the production is absolute drudgery for a moviegoer to endure. Not much of consequence happens. Even the title refers to a subplot that doesn’t really figure into the story until the very end. A sensible and evolving drama is clearly not a priority of the script.  The narrative advances with the urgency of a three-toed sloth. Not to boast, but I’m rather proud I was able to stay awake during the snoozy happenings. Naturally everything culminates in a Bollywood style musical number at an Indian wedding.  Its presence only to adhere to some checklist of clichés. By then I had already checked out of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. My advice? Don’t even bother checking in.

03-09-15

Wild Tales

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Thriller with tags on March 9, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Wild Tales photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpg“Don’t get mad, get even.” That’s the apparent mantra of Wild Tales – Argentina’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2015. An anthology comprising of six stories connected by a common theme: revenge. The presentation is constructed much in the same way as a collection Twilight Zone episodes strung together. The very best have an underlying sense of humor that offsets the negative view that humans are nothing more than savage beasts. Indeed, photos of wildlife are subtly inserted in the background during the opening credits.

The chronicle commences with “Pasternak”. It’s the shortest segment, but one of the most effective. The story immediately grabs the viewer’s attention with its anecdote of two passengers on a plane united by a startling coincidence. The last freeze frame shot brilliantly begins the production on the right note – wicked farce. “The Rats”, and “Road To Hell” maintain that sense. In the latter, an altercation between two drivers is like a modern day Western. Their duel escalates into a battling game of one-upmanship. There is giddy anticipation as to how far they’ll go. The next three are a bit longer. “Bombita”, number four, details the rising frustrations of a man brought to the brink by one misfortune after another. It’s triggered when his car is towed. A man at odds with government bureaucracy immediately recalls Michael Douglas in Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down. “The Deal“, about a wealthy father trying to keep his spoiled rich son out of jail has a heavy-handed ending that kind of kills the winking spirit of the piece. It’s at this fifth tale where the drama starts to drag a bit under the movie’s extended length. However it all ends on a suitably funny note with “Til Death Do Us Part“. A bride discovers her husband-to-be’s infidelity at their wedding reception and reacts accordingly. The party descends into chaos with amusing results.

Wild Tales contends that human beings are merely separated by a thin line between societal norms and raging beasts. These six sagas of revenge highlight this fact. The most successful of which suffuse their bleak takes on life with comedy. Damián Szifrón writes and directs this glossy picture co-produced by Pedro Almodóvar. Stunning cinematography by Javier Juliá gives these dark comedies a picturesque quality that lightens the mood. A memorable score by Gustavo Santaolalla beautifully complements the production. Occasionally the tone gets nasty. There is a delicate balance between comedy and ugliness. It’s the twisted humor that redeems these misanthropic sagas. More often than not, the strength of the composition outweighs the occasional lapse. I didn’t expect the “Love Theme From Flashdance” to pop up in one segment but its playful moments like that which uplift a gloomy narrative. Those lighthearted touches keep these 6 unexpected tales of retribution consistently entertaining.

03-06-15

What We Do in the Shadows

Posted in Comedy, Horror with tags on March 6, 2015 by Mark Hobin

What We Do in the Shadows photo starrating-4stars.jpgWhat We Do in the Shadows is a mock documentary about Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr, four vampires who share a flat in New Zealand. Viago (Taika Waititi) is the most affable. He’s a bit of a neat freak as well. Viago laments that the others don’t put down newspaper in the house before a kill. A regular dandy, he is the sophisticate of the clan. At a mere 183 years, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the baby of the group. A rebel “bad boy” who sleeps upside down in a closet. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) carries himself like a sexy rock star. His explanation as to why vampires prefer virgins is hands down the funniest line I’ve heard in a long time. If there is an odd man out in this clique it would be 8,000-year-old Petyr who recalls Nosferatu. His incongruous presence next to the other 3 is the source of several laughs. The production was written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi who also star. The two have worked together before on Flight of the Conchords, the HBO series which Clement stars with Bret McKenzie.

The routine tribulations of being a vampire in modern New Zealand is profiled. By day they are holed up in the secluded enclave of their apartment. By night the four bachelors prowl the streets looking for people on which to feast. It pokes fun of the clichés of vampire lore and celebrates them in the process. Much of the humor is extracted from their often banal existence and matter-of-fact regard that other people have to their existence. Even after the gang has turned another victim (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire, the guy insists on bringing his best buddy along who still remains a human. Deacon also keeps a human servant named Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), a housewife who bemoans the fact that he has not turned her into a vampire.

What We Do in the Shadows contains horror elements with moments of bloody gore mixed with an overall sense of lighthearted comedy. A surprising amount of warmth surfaces amongst this pseudo family of sorts. It isn’t a movie in the traditional sense. That is, it doesn’t present a self contained story. It’s more of a series of gags strung together. That might irk some. However the account is so brief (86 minutes) that the lack of a strong narrative isn’t a problem. The unique mix is somewhat odd, but it generally works. An apt point of reference would be the documentary This Is Spinal Tap, except well ya know it’s about vampires instead of rock musicians. The script has a very high ratio of jokes that really tickle the funny bone. Although the loosely constructed picture doesn’t immediately feel like a comedic classic, it’s solidly written. Repeat viewings should give this a longevity that will make it an enduring cult movie for many years to come.

03-03-15

Focus

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags on March 4, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Focus photo starrating-2stars.jpgSeasoned con man Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) takes inexperienced protégé Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) under his wing to teach her the art of the grift. You’d think the fact that Smith is Robbie’s senior by two decades might give them a more father-daughter relationship but you’d be wrong. Robbie is stunning and Smith is still famous so naturally the two are fated to fall in love. Or do they? The problem with Focus is that you never quite believe anything that is happening on the screen. It’s one of those “who’s cheating who” type deceptions. There’s genuine skill in creating the perfect con that the best films (The Sting, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can) understand. There is a delicate balance between a grounded tale and a twisty fraud. Unfortunately this chronicle is so artificial, there’s nothing to count on. The many eye-rolling moments kill interest in this deception.

Focus is a glossy bit of entertainment, but it’s all a con. It’s crucial to your enjoyment that you enjoy the sexual chemistry that Smith and Robbie are trying so hard to ignite. Robbie is game but Smith lacks the suave demeanor required to really pull this off. He’s no Cary Grant. He’s not even Jim Carrey. There was a time where Smith could pull off charming. He had it in Hitch. But he doesn’t even exude the warmth necessary to even like him as a human being. Smith comes across as more smug – coolly detached to everyone and everything. He’s more in love with himself than his beautiful young co-star. With the romance falling flat there’s just the haphazardly constructed “big job” in the second half to hold our interest. A keen viewer will disregard everything in this subterfuge with a discerning eye. The story never earns our trust. It fails to engage – with one notable exception. Early on Nicky meets a compulsive gambler while attending a football game. B. D. Wong plays the wealthy businessman with fiendish glee. Their escalating back and forth double or nothing betting is the single most delightful scene in the entire film. For a brief moment, the movie comes alive. Too bad it loses focus.

03-04-15

The Last Five Years

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Music, Musical on February 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Last 5 Years photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Last Five Years begins on an elegiac note. Anna Kendrick’s beautifully sung “Still Hurting” is a mournful ballad about the breakup of her marriage. Yup, the couple breaks up….in 5 years according to the title.  You would call this production a romantic musical.  Although the tone for this genre is usually buoyant, you realize right from the start that this going to be anything but a happy tale.

Kendrick is Cathy Hiatt. Her story begins at the end and is told in reverse as we progress to her happy beginning. Actor Jeremy Jordan is Jamie Wellerstein. His account is told chronologically and reaches the same conclusion but in the opposite direction from her. Technically there are other people on screen, but the drama only involves these two characters. Back and forth their sagas are interwoven. When she’s singing, we’re going backwards. When he’s crooning, we’re going forward. In the middle they sing a duet. It chronicles the few ups but mostly downs in a five-year relationship between the rising novelist (him) and the struggling actor (her).

The Last Five Years is based on a 2002 Off Broadway production written by Jason Robert Brown, a 3-time Tony Award winner (Parade, The Bridges of Madison County). Forget the story because this one is absolutely rote. That doesn’t have to be a problem. Some of the greatest musicals of all time (Singin’ in the Rain for example) are nothing more than a fabrication designed to highlight a bunch of great songs. The tunes in this case are good, but not great. The best belong to Anna. Beside the aforementioned “Still Hurting”, there’s “I Can Do Better Than That” about her friend who ended up in Smalltown, USA.  There’s also a delightfully ubeat ditty “A Summer in Ohio”. It’s imaginatively staged as she’s talking from afar with her hubby via video internet chat. The creative number is performed with backup dancers practicing their routines at the theater .

The strength of any musical rests on its music. These melodies are odd. They’re not fabricated using a typical song structure made up of an intro/verses/chorus components. Instead they’re sung dialogue that propel a weak story. Sort of like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but obviously not a film as sacred to aesthetes. What The Last Five Years has going for it is a nice showcase for Anna Kendrick to sing. She could sing the dictionary and it would sound delightful. She’s got a fantastic voice and she interprets the hell out of these songs. She employs just enough vocal interpretation to be interesting, but not so much that seems like she’s showing off. The play embraces its own artificial theatricality. The issue is that their “love” is never uplifting. There’s precious little chemistry between the two leads. This is partly due to the fact that they’re portraying a fighting couple through most of the picture. Their disenchantment with each other kind of rubs off on the viewer. However the sheer singing talent of Ana Kendrick compels me to give this a pass.

02-24-15

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy on February 15, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Kingsman: The Secret Service photo starrating-3stars.jpgKingsman: The Secret Service is best when it focuses on the superlative training of applicants for an elite agency. At one point new recruits are tied to tracks while an oncoming train is speeding toward them down the path. They will be released only if they divulge the true nature of their organization. The image is particularly apropos when describing the ridiculous way in which Kingsman ends. It’s a great film for most of its run time.  I mean really wonderful. Then it goes completely “off the rails” in spectacular fashion.

Kingsman is a comic book update of a James Bond thriller but with the snotty attitude of director Matthew Vaughn’s own Kick-Ass. Colin Firth plays an impeccably dressed, well mannered spy heading a group that trains young men and women as deadly assassins. After a really marvelous action sequence, I was almost hoping Firth would remain the star. The well choreographed fight where he takes down a room full of combatants is sensational. The same goes for the gadgets, like when he uses his umbrella as a shield. He’s got the prim and proper manners of Mary Poppins with the physical prowess of Lennox Lewis. When a key member of his secret organization dies in the line of duty, he must seek a replacement. Among those being considered is Eggsy, the son of another murdered agent from the past. As portrayed by Taron Egerton he’s sort of a working class hooligan without any direction in life. Cue Harry Hart who’s there to help. They have great chemistry. It’s buoyant but the stakes are high. For three quarters of the film, the story concerns the organization and the development of talent. There is a series of tests designed to select adept individuals that surpass expectations.  When one of the team is given a faulty parachute after the group has already skydived out of a plane, it’s a real nail biter. You never know if an applicant is going to get killed in the selection process.

For about 80-90 minutes this movie is a blast. The picture is a well crafted adventure that delights the senses with eye popping action and colorful set design. Unfortunately the production doesn’t maintain that upbeat sensibility. A villain in the form of a lisping Internet billionaire hijacks the narrative. Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) believes humanity is a virus and global warming is the fever. So to stop this threat to the environment, he will exterminate people by distributing free SIM cards that will explode at his command. That could be fun, but then the lighthearted touch devolves into parody. There’s also an undercurrent of hate that invites us to cheer in the widespread genocide of human beings. I guess because the script has depicted these people as beneath contempt, it‘s supposed to be ok. They happily kill some stereotypical Arabs too with Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” blasting in the background. When it’s not being offensive it gets incredibly zany. It winds up being closer to Austin Powers than a James Bond flick at the conclusion. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing but the deviation in tone is so jarring with everything that came before.  Pity, because Matthew Vaughn sets up a really enjoyable thriller that engages the viewer….only to throw it in a dumpster during the final quarter.

02-15-15

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on February 12, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSpongeBob still matters. Perhaps this movie’s lasting legacy will be that he was the one to finally take out American Sniper at the #1 position at the box office. Granted director Clint Eastwood’s production held the spot for 3 weeks but still you’ve got to hand it to the little sea dwelling invertebrate. The Nickelodeon TV series, currently in its 9th season, has been around since 1999 so the novelty factor is gone. A first feature, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released in theaters in 2004. Now 11 years later we get a sequel that thankfully doesn‘t rely on having seen the original feature. Regardless of what naysayers griped about the supposed decline of the TV show, it didn’t seem to affect reception to the film. A $55 million debut weekend is pretty impressive. Even the final installment of The Hobbit debuted to less.

The plot is totally ridiculous. It starts off in the real life world with a human pirate (Antonio Banderas) who obtains a magical book. As he starts to read we enter SpongeBob’s animated world and begin another story. Fans acquainted with the series will be greeted with familiar elements: the city of Bikini Bottom, fast food chain – the Krusty Krab, his friends: Patrick Star, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks. Arch nemesis Plankton wants to steal Spongebob’s secret recipe for tasty Krabby Patties as per usual. They have a tug of war over the paper containing it and it magically vanishes because uh, because uh, it just does. If you’re asking how or why then you might have an issue with this nonsensical adventure.

All things considered, Sponge Out of Water is an entertaining flight of fancy. I couldn’t follow the story but then again I don’t watch the cartoon. I’m clearly not the target audience. It’s not that it’s complicated. It’s just that it’s a really slapdash, haphazard affair. This is one of those films where you must put your brain in neutral and delight in the pure zaniness up on the screen. For example, the absence of delicious Krabby Patties thrusts the town into a post apocalyptic state. The plot includes time travel and meeting a talking dolphin named Bubbles. Pharrell Williams contributes 3 songs to the soundtrack including “Squeeze Me” which plays in the background whenever they zip through time. The two worlds, one featuring Burger-Beard the pirate and the other, SpongeBob, ultimately intersect. It spoils nothing to reveal this because the title, the poster and trailer all promise this event. The extended sequence where SpongeBob and his pals take to dry land in the physical reality of real people is indeed enjoyable. I must admit that in the beginning, I was thinking too much for this story. However once I had bought into the craziness, then I was up for anything. That’s when I enjoyed it.

02-08-15

Paddington

Posted in Comedy, Family on January 22, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Paddington photo starrating-4stars.jpgA charismatic visitor comes to live with a British family in London and their presence has a positive effect on their world. That’s the story of Paddington Bear, but if you stop and reflect on it, that description could also apply to Mary Poppins. Add the fact that it’s based on a popular series of books and is a live action film incorporating a little animation and the similarities start to get a little uncanny. Ok so it’s not a musical. I suppose the parallels had to end somewhere, but the comparisons couldn’t be more apt because Paddington is a sprightly joy that ranks right up there with the beloved Disney classic of 1964.

Author Michael Bond’s 1958 creation is a sophisticated bear from darkest Peru who speaks perfectly modulated English, eats Marmalade sandwiches and wears a red floppy bush hat. Paddington is the latest from UK based Heyday Films, most notable for producing the Harry Potter series. I don’t know if they want to focus on that kid friendly niche but I’d encourage the idea. They’ve created a most heartwarming children’s adaptation. Paddington is no ordinary bear. He was taught human customs by an explorer named Montgomery Clyde when Clyde was visiting South America. After Paddington’s habitat is destroyed in an earthquake, the young bear is brought by his aunt to a ship bound for London to find a new place to call home. At Paddington station he meets the Brown family and their collaboration begins.

The picture is a charming delight. The art direction is really on point. The Browns live in a gorgeous dollhouse of a dwelling. Mom (Sally Hawkins) & Dad (Hugh Bonneville) with their kids Judy (Madeleine Harris) & Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) are an ordinary family in need of some adventure. The bright, cheery comedy remains innocent and doesn’t degenerate into pop culture schtick or cheap innuendo. The production didn’t always seem that way. Paddington Bear starts out with the Browns on kind of a slapstick note when he arrives at their residence and gets ready for bed.  Gags about ear-wax and sticking his head in the toilet after drinking mouthwash were used for the trailer. But they aren’t emblematic of the refined quality of the movie. Although the way the scene ends is funny for its exaggerated spectacle.

Paddington is unabashedly wholesome. That’s not to say the script is schmaltzy. Nicole Kidman pops up as the villain – a beguiling museum taxidermist sporting a blonde bob hairstyle. Her Millicent injects some sinister edge into a story that could’ve been a saccharine tale. An even more fundamental ingredient is our star, an Andean bear. Ben Whishaw is the voice of the CGI fellow replacing Colin Firth, whose voice was deemed too mature. The character, who is the personification of goodness, strikes just the right balance of sweetness and mischief. Paddington’s amusing mishaps often rely on his naiveté. His misadventure involving returning a lost wallet is a humorous case of mistaken identity. It’s too early to anoint this as the best children’s film of 2015, but if this is representative of family entertainment this year, then we’re off to a great start.

01-16-15

The Interview

Posted in Action, Comedy on January 6, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Interview photo starrating-1star.jpgBy now we’ve heard the story. Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked on November 24, 2014.   The hackers called themselves the “Guardians of Peace” A lot of sensitive data pertaining to studio employees and their families was released. But what got the most attention was the demanded cancellation of the release of this film The Interview, a political “comedy” regarding a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Although North Korea has denied any responsibility, the FBI has claimed otherwise, Meanwhile independent cybersecurity experts have cast credible doubt on North Korea’s involvement. They contend rather that the hack was an inside job by disgruntled fired SONY employees.

Now I’m certainly not qualified to weigh in on who’s responsible. However I will submit as evidence the actual movie. It’s a sloppily directed, misguided mess. The picture has as much trenchant political satire as The Three Stooges but without the sophisticated urbane wit that characterizes one of their flicks. The scattershot script is just a succession of jokes pitched at the lowest form of toilet humor. In other words The Interview is more of an attack on the fabric of good taste than a threat to the North Korean regime.

Sample dialogue:

Dave Skylark: Do you pee and poo?
Kim Jong-un: You’ve heard the stories, huh? Yes, I pee and poo.
Dave Skylark: So you have a butt—-.
Kim Jong-un: I’ve got a butt—- and it’s working overtime.

The Interview is nothing more than a hodgepodge of random gags loosely strung together. The story concerns Dave Skylark (James Franco) a bumbling idiot that hosts a TV talk show. With the help of his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) he lands a meeting with the dictator of North Korea. It starts off promisingly enough. A rosy cheeked schoolgirl with a beatific face lovingly sings a little ditty. Her Korean is translated in subtitled lyrics that pleads “Die America, die! Oh please won’t you die? It would fill my tiny heart with joy!“ The lyrics express extremist attitudes, but the sweetly sung delivery from the face of innocence does induce laughter. After that, it’s all downhill with a tiresome preoccupation with potty-mouth humor. The script is staggeringly bad. Forget a send-up of the political situation. The writing is mainly dumbed-down raunch about body parts. Other lines are so stupid they barely register as jokes. Case in point: An argument between buddies Dave and Aaron has Dave repeating the phrase “They hate us ’cause they ain’t us” so many times I thought the projector was broken. It also doesn’t help that the actor playing Kim Jong-un looks absolutely nothing like him. He’s male and Asian, but that’s it. Actor Randall Park affects an accent so awful it borders on a racist stereotype. The character also bangs lots of women, drinks margaritas and listens to Katy Perry music.

I should think North Korea would champion this movie because it wallows in the offensiveness to which America’s critics accuse us. If The Interview is a threat to anything, it’s to the definition of cinema as an art form.

Into the Woods

Posted in Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Musical on December 27, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Into the Woods photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgA humble baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) have longed to have a child. Apparently their neighbor, an ugly old witch (Meryl Streep), placed a curse on his house when the baker’s father was caught stealing from the old hag. The witch is willing to reverse the spell. But only because she wants to be beautiful again. She cannot touch the objects she needs to accomplish this task and so she delegates securing the artifacts to the couple. The witch requires (1) a cow as white as milk, (2) a cape as red as blood, (3) hair as yellow as corn and (4) a slipper as pure as gold. Anyone familiar with fairy tales will recognize these items. Writer James Lapine has interpolated the stories of Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) in an altogether new take on traditional fables.

Playwright turned screenwriter James Lapine adapts his Tony Award–winning 1987 Broadway musical highlighting music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. For roughly 75 minutes – 60% of the film – the formula works. The script celebrates classic fairy tales from the likes of The Brothers Grimm with a captivating presentation. The production design is lavish featuring costumes and sets that compare favorably with classic movie musicals. The songs are catchy too. Certainly chief among these is the duet between Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen as whiny princes. In “Agony” they lament they cannot be with the women they desire. Pine is typecast as Cinderella’s caddish suitor and he’s enjoyable. “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Who knew Pine could sing? His scene with Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) as they splash amongst the tiny waterfalls of a brook is the musical high point in an opus that has a few. I’ll also include Anna Kendrick’s “On the Steps of the Palace” and Meryl Streep’s “Stay With Me” as well.

Into the Woods is half of a good film. The need to subvert conventional fairy tales exists during the first portion but it does so from a place that uplifts the source material. The take is ironic at times and yet the script still keeps an air of sentimentality that is enticing. Unfortunately the mindset to trash “happily ever after” actually tanks the production in the second half. There is the first artificial ending. It’s optimistic and glorious in a winking way. But then the movie continues on for another 50 minutes and the results are disastrous. As the story carries forward, the wife of the fallen giant is now angry. She terrorizes the countryside looking for the boy (Jack) responsible for the death of her husband. Everything upbeat is subsequently destroyed with little regard for the likable personalities they had originally created. A sample “modern sensibility” is when Prince Charming makes a pass at the Baker’s wife. Ew. It ultimately lumps along to a complete bummer of a conclusion that essentially undoes everything wonderful in the first section. Rarely has a movie gone so quickly from a whimsical delight to a dispirited drag. My advice? Stop watching after the mock ending.  Up until then it’s a really entertaining film.

12-25-14

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