Saturday, January 17, 2015

Into the Woods (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Into the Woods

Fairy Tale entertainment is all the rage. Witness "Wicked" on Broadway about everyone's favorite greenie meanie from Oz. Then on ABC there is "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm" not to mention the miniseries "Galavant" about bubbly fluff, bravado and damsels.

Now, here on the big screen we have the opportunity to go "Into the Woods" with Rob Marshall's  film version of the James Lapine/ Stephen Sondheim musical production.

The production design, gloomy and barnacled, gives a nod to many New Yorker cartoons and children's books.

A struggling bread baker (James  Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are wishing for a baby. Alas, they seem to be under a curse.

Along with this storyline there is Red RidingHood (Lillia Crawford) and a Wolf (Johnny Depp). There is a Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), a Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), a Jack (Daniel Huddlestone) and a beanstalk, along with one torpid female giant and two Colgate princes.

This is a lot to handle.

The main thrust of the tale concerns the baker and his wish to be a good father. Somehow, a very dynamic witch (Meryl Streep) appears on the scene in the wondrously elaborate manner of a Margaret Hamilton and offers the couple a deal.

In an Oz-like fashion, the two must purloin and obtain a red cape, a white cow, a slipper and a rope of golden hair.

With much fretting and this and that, the medley of characters go forth (where else) into the wooded dark areas of fairyland.

While some character sequences seem lackluster (Corden and Blunt feel a bit anemic, while Crawford's Ridinghood is generic and tepid) the film's shining star is Meryl Streep as a vain yet poignant witch, whose singular performance has eccentricity, nuance and charge. Her performance is one part Wicked Queen while the rest of her is a homeopathic hobgoblin and mother gone astray, while never leaving a bit of realism behind. Streep's amphetamine-angeled and wild-eyed witch is something to see. The Academy was right to nominate her and she alone is the gruesome glue that holds the story together.

Also amusing, albeit predictable in camp, is Depp's hairy one in grandmother's bedclothes.

The songs are pleasant and light, if not immediately catchy.

And when it gets sketchy midway, with all of the marching and slogging over the river and through the wet woods in the quest for charmed objects, a few irreverent jokes hit as if to wake us from a light drowse. Watch for the bronze and bare-chested Charmings.

If that doesn't get you, the witch will jab at you very entertainingly with her stand-alone long-nailed performance. As the blue sable one trailing a train of rats like a rodent-ruffled dress, Meryl Streep gives jazz and juice to what could have otherwise been a routine parade of Disney favorites.

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