‘Into the Woods’ ~ The Skinny

Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Milky White

Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Milky White

The singing? Crystal clear! The acting? Committed! The cinematography? Fantastic! From the Broadway stage to the silver screen, screenwriter James Lapine and director Rob Marshall have produced admirably Stephen Sondheim’s heartfelt musical, and we carry with us a host of platitudes when we leave the theater. The music seamlessly is interwoven within the dialogue, and you will not declare through gritted teeth, “just one more !@#$%&* song, and I am out of here!”

Into the Woods is an adventure into the business of wish-making and the tedious processes it takes to make wishes come true. The story also delves into the tensions between children and parents; the search for the charms that will grant motherhood; spells mothers cast on their daughters; and, the hell you pay for touching and taking things that do not belong to you.

Baker's Wife (Emily Blount) and Baker (James Corden)

Baker’s Wife (Emily Blount) and Baker (James Corden)

Tiffany Little Canfield & Co. have assembled a laudable cast for the production, and the actors portray each character with honesty, compassion, and courage. Johnny Depp plays the prurient Wolf that brings to mind a pedophile most nefarious; his rendition of “Hello Little Girl” would cause a rattlesnake to recoil! By contrast, James Corden’s Baker is precious, and the actor interprets the Baker well as a protective husband but reluctant father. Emily Blount as the Baker’s wife, Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, and Chris Pine as Prince Charming, among others, ably transport us into the world that critiques the usual suspects who inhabit the land of make believe. A small but significant note: Canfield & Co. sprinkles the palace crowds with people of color.

The darling of the film is, however, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack, and his performance is the reason his photo opens this review. His confidence is catching, yet, he refrains from playing a precocious know-it-all adolescent. Instead, Huttlestone’s Jack trusts in his own world and, with a bit of dash, explores its wonders (and steals from it too) because “you’re free, to do whatever pleases you … exploring things you’d never dare ’cause you don’t care …”

The Wolf (Johnny Depp)

The Wolf (Johnny Depp)

Overplayed and overdone is–here it comes–Meryl Streep as The Witch (did I just hear a shriek?) Simply put, she is miscast! What is all of that whirling dervish mess she acts out in the middle of the wood? Her delivery of “Last Midnight” is hollow–no … maddening, as are her obnoxious over-the-top appearances! For me, she fails to reach the depths of the Witch’s emotions.

While I am at it, I have an issue with Lapine, Marshall, and Mr. Sondheim: The Witch, the eldest of the group, finally gets her wish only to be dismissed? Into the Woods suggests, then, that happy endings are reserved only for young adults and not for the communal elders. Yet, as I call to mind fairy tale endings, their suggestion is par for the course.

Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford)

Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford)

Before closing, here are some more things to ponder: Little Red Riding Hood sings Wolf made her “feel excited and scared”; and, exactly what were those secrets she learned of “down a dark slimy path” that Wolf slid her through? As for Jack, he sings the Woman Giant “draws [him] close to her Giant breast, and [he knows] things now that [he] never knew before”, and this friendship causes Man Giant to “come[] along the hall to swallow [him] for lunch … when the fun is done”?

I’m just thinking on these very lyrical moments that rang out with passion into the woods!

And that’s the Skinny!

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‘Maleficent’ ~ The Skinny

Angelina Jolie delivers as Maleficent

Angelina Jolie delivers as Maleficent

… and here we were thinking it was all because she was not invited to the baby shower! Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Robert Stromberg’s feature film debut of the same name. Once upon a time, there lived a young and confident fairy named Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy and Ella Purnell), who, though an orphan, loved life and all that it had to offer her. She had wings that gave her freedom, joy, excitement, and pure unadulterated happiness. They were so large that they dragged behind her when she walked. They were strong and they never faltered–not once–and [she] trusted them. She lived in The Moor, a land of innocence where an animated forest, fairies, pixies, water sprites, and other magical creatures roamed free in a verdant lush land undisturbed by the threat of violence–that is until a human stumbled into their land. Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a farm boy, had all the panache of dried leaf. He and Maleficent, nevertheless, formed a friendship in the Moor that is sealed with “true love’s kiss”. Betrayal then followed, fueled by ambition, and a treacherous act Stefan committed that cut deep into the heart. Had I no hope of the recovery, I may have walked out of the theater!

"They were strong [...] and I trusted them!"

“They were strong […] and I trusted them!”

Some parts of the narrative, however, made me wonder. For instance, is Maleficent the only fairy of her kind? Why is Maleficent so isolated in a forest of thorns with creatures for whom she has no direct association? Who are her friends? Why isn’t there someone–an elder, perhaps–with whom she can consult and who can stand with her while she bears her grief? Perhaps, that’s just it: Maleficent lays bare the threat of isolation and how it breeds abuse, even the will to murder, even the act of rape. In this film, Maleficent’s isolation marks her as an open/easy target for those who wish to devour the very essence of who she is. Isolation sets her up for the kill, and Stefan does with abandon! On another note, there were times in the film I kept asking: you’ve got magic! Why won’t you use it get you out of this situation? Perhaps, that’s just it, again: Sometimes, a woman just has to stay the human course and rest on the hope that she will get out alive to use her magic! After all, her body is the vessel she need to deploy her magic. Hope does come to the rescue in the things which have been stolen from Maleficent. They beat for her. They find her. They lift her up out of the muck and mire! They save her! Therein lies the grace of Maleficent. Mercy!

Anne Sheppard’s costume design is grandiose, but Jolie inhabits it with the confidence of a stalking cheetah. The actress easily transitions from a once trusting, vulnerable friend into a bruised and almost-broken double-crossed villain. I tell you, it is a heart-wrenching scene, and the dialogue written by Linda Wolverton (one line in particular) under girds Maleficent’s most traumatic experience.

Maleficent might disappoint in some scenes but go and watch the film. The twist to Sleeping Beauty is inspiring. Let me just say this: the boys ain’t waking us up any more (think Frozen)! You will not be disappointed!

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Catch a film …
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