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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Into the Woods 2014 * * Stars

Into the WoodsDirector: Rob Marshall
Year: 2014
Rated PG
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick

Johnny Depp has always been known to play weirdos or freaks on camera. 2014's Into the Woods is just another film catering to his fixation for such fodder. His role in "Woods" hightails the fictional Big Bad Wolf and he's on and off the screen faster than a speeding bullet. Does his five minutes of fame really matter though? Not so much. He's just another pawn in this hyperactive mess of a movie that feels more like a stage play than anything else. Characters break into song relentlessly bringing the two hour proceedings at times, to a screeching halt. As I attended a sold out, Christmas Day showing, I thought I should be waiting for riggers to dart across the stage. I also thought the curtains were going to go down after each act, and then I found myself yearning for muted applause from the audience. Oh and I was bored for most of the vehicle's running time. Bottom line: After seeing Into the Woods, I realized that musicals belong in the theater, not in popcorn-munching multiplexes. You won't get a more truer statement from me anywhere.

Granted, this is a flick based on a musical by Stephen Sondheim (he adapted 2007's Sweeney Todd) and a book by James Lapine. Rob Marshall (he shot 2002's highly energized, Chicago) takes on the reins as director and he inconsistently tries to weave four fairy tales ("Little Red Riding Hood", "Cinderella", "Jack and the Beanstalk", and "Rapunzel") into something an audience can follow. Bully for that. He provides Into the Woods with a lush, dangerous look only to have his editor (Wyatt Smith) appear to be on holiday. Too many characters fade in and out, too many scenes don't gel from one to the next, and the songs all sound the same (I heard that's the case with most musicals so count me out on seeing any more of them in the future). In truth, this is a clusterfunk of gigantic proportions, a sort of sabotage on the part of the actors/actresses who truly give it their best effort (Meryl Streep as a witch, kills it and should get her umpteenth Academy Award nomination). They can all sing, they obviously can act, but their jumbled storylines are wasted upon us, the audience. Oh and the script forces everyone to say "into the woods" about a million times throughout. I guess this is catered to the ticket buyer who is not misconstrued by the film's title (ha-ha).

Now with Into the Words almost becoming a virtual, continuous loop of characters breaking out into song, most of the pieces (examples would be "Prologue: Into the Woods", "It Takes Two", and "Magic Beans"), have the same refrain, the same rondo, and virtually the same stanza (musical terms that involve repetition). This became a nuisance. There was one sequence however, where the cast members exhibited impeccable timing and I was impressed to know how they actually pulled it off. If you take in a viewing and listen for the movement, "Your Fault", you'll know exactly what I mean.

Regardless, this wannabe critical darling is almost too intense to harness a PG rating (what with the implied notion of people's toes getting amputated and evil birds attacking two woman causing them to go completely blind). And with its elaborate cast (including Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, and Tracey Ullman), I expected Rob Marshall and crew to right the ship. Negatory. Into the Woods is out of bounds with its incoherency and choppy narrative. Halfway through it, I wanted to leave the theater to go home and have a stiff drink.

Of note: When the final credits for "Woods" came up, I heard about ten to fifteen people clapping. My ten year old nephew who also attended the screening, asked why they were clapping. My sentiments exactly.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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