I've been a little heavy lately, so time to get back to entertainment (the situation in the American government and education system gets worse daily, and commening on it all the time, while undeniably important, is just too damn depressing to do on what's meant to be an entertainment oriented blog).
Earlier last week I received an email that I won tickets to an advanced screening of Into the Woods. Now, let me be clear. I've been eagerly waiting to see this movie since it was announced well over a year ago. I was counting down to Christmas day until we could go see it. Getting to see it early was a huge treat for me, and let me say, the movie did not disappoint in the least. To anyone who knows me, they'll know this is not something I say lightly or, well, ever, about a new movie: it easily is one of my favorite movies of all time.
Meryl Streep disappears completely into the role of the witch. She's fascinating to watch - you can't take your eyes off her when she's on screen. Her voice has improved tremendously since Mamma Mia. She has some great line readings that I feel truly make her performance Oscar worthy. Stay With Me and Last Midnight are definite highlights of the movie, and I feel I need to watch them both again to get much of the nuances in her performance. She is brilliant in this role, plain and simple.
An aside: I just read an article where Sondheim said she was destined to play the role because Streep is an anagram of Peters (as in Bernadette, who played the witch in the original cast). Literally - only Sondheim.
Back to the movie.
Chris Pine is the MVP of this cast. Seriously - he steals every single scene he's in. Agony is literally the funniest three minutes of screen time I can remember seeing in any movie since Borat. Some people might find it ridiculous, but the scene is brilliantly staged and deserves the roaring laughter it got in my theater (and, I might add, the only full out applause the movie got until the end). I know he won't get it, but he deserves a best supporting nod for this film.
James Cordon is a natural, meaning you can't see him act. He just feels so right in his role as the Baker.
Emily Blunt makes for a strong Baker's Wife. I'll admit I couldn't get Joanna Gleason's performance out of my mind for her, but she is more than suitable for the role. Her Moments in the Woods is excellent, even if I feel the end is a bit unnecessarily padded (on stage, it was done for applause, in the movie it feels like about fifteen seconds of dead space - sorry about the pun).
Anna Kendrick is similarly great as Cinderella, though again Kim Crosby's performance and line readings reverberated throughout. This doesn't mean Kendrick was bad casting, she was wonderful, but she didn't erase the performance from the original cast in quite the way Streep or Pine were able to.
The rest of the cast is very strong as well - there really isn't a weak link amongst them.
The cut songs were missed (especially the second Agony but more because of how great the first one was). No More is only there instrumentally. They couldn't have done the song as it's written given the way the movie is done, and arguments can be made for its inclusion, but I think it worked really well the way that it was done here as it is.
There is a surprise for Sondheim fans at the first night of the ball (I think it was the first night). Not telling what it is, but it made my wife and I grin like fools.
The only thing I would really criticize is the change-over between acts. That's always tough in stage to screen adaptions, and I don't think they quite pulled it off here. The end of act one/opening of act two are played instrumentally, but the scene in the show where the witch comes into the baker's house to tell them about the giant is really missed. When the action of act two gets going (when they face the giant for the first time), characters literally just APPEAR - they're just -- THERE. It's strange.
That's a minor point, though. Marshall's direction is mostly pitch perfect (again, sorry) throughout. He makes some fascinating choices, and even the small amounts of cleaning up to earn the PG rating aren't all that distracting.
That said, I'd love to know where the song written for Streep was supposed to be - and what it sounds like. Guess I have to wait for the DVD on that one.
It really is a fantastic movie. I was grinning through most of the first act's material, and choked up a bit at the end. It's certainly something I plan to see again.
Rob Marshall definitely knew what he was doing with this one.