Into the Woods – A Review

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When I was younger, I was mindlessly flipping through the channels one day (as I was wont to do) when I came across a staged version on Into the Woods on PBS’ American Playhouse. I was instantly enchanted; I’d been lucky enough to be exposed to theater from our high school theater group and the occasional traveling production, but I’d never seen Broadway caliber talent before. My high school peers did a hell of a job and for a school in upstate New York we had pretty stellar production value, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Bernadette Peters belting out a tune. Not only was the talent way better than I was used to, but I was immediately drawn into the story; the idea that Cinderella, Jack and Red Riding Hood could all co-exist in the same world was a completely novel and revolutionary idea to me. Into the Woods most certainly sparked my love of mashups and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the short story that I wrote that first convinced me that I might have some skill at writing involved playing around with the perspective in fairy tales and a bridge between Snow White and Jack in the Beanstalk. So Into the Woods was kind of seminal moment for me – it began my interest in Broadway musicals and inadvertently was part of the origin story for my lifelong interest in writing that culminated in this blog. So y’all should be sending a thank you note to Stephen Sondheim. Everyone else might have been falling over themselves of Les Miserables, but I was an Into the Woods girl. #teamSondheim Oddly, I have no recollection of ever mentioning my affection for Into the Woods to anyone; I think I was partially convinced that I was the only person who watched that episode of American Playhouse and I kind of liked it being my little secret.

Though watching Into the Woods was a fairly important experience for me, I wouldn’t call myself a fanatic. I never got the soundtrack and I never saw the musical performed live. In fact, I don’t think that I saw Into the Woods ever again after that initial viewing until recently and it was only in the last few years that I realized that it was available on DVD. So as much as I enjoyed Into the Woods and it made a distinct impression, I was a little fuzzy on some of the details. I knew the basic plot and remembered some of the songs, but I wasn’t going to win any Into the Woods trivia contests and most Sondheim purists would be unimpressed with my commitment to the classic.

Still, when I heard that they were making a big screen adaptation of Into the Woods, I was very excited and a little bit apprehensive. There were a lot of rumors flying around about what would make it into the film version and what would be cut, as well as the inherent challenge of moving a story from the stage. On the one hand, without the limitations of a stage production, the director of a film has a lot more options on how he or she wants to present things. On the other hand, sometimes what works well with the intimacy of the stage just doesn’t translate to the more removed medium of film; I’m sure that the fights in August Osage County were much more dramatic and raw on stage, but in the movie they were overdone and annoying. Figuring out how to keep the spirit and essence of the musical while making the transition is a difficult one. The fact that Disney was involved didn’t do much to allay my fears, as I worried that they would want to whitewash some of the darker elements of the musical to protect the images of characters that they have coopted and made their own to the tune of a hefty profit. Johnny Depp was also something of a wild card; I knew that he could sing, but he sometimes makes choice that result in it feeling like he’s in a very different movie than the other actors. Would his weirdness work or would it be too campy? I had similar concerns about Meryl Streep, who is obviously a great actress but who lately I have found edges toward being too big in her performances, especially when given the freedom that the role of the witch would provide her. There had been attempts to adapt this play for nearly twenty years and I was sincerely hoping that now that it was finally happening that the whole thing wouldn’t go off the rails.

Thankfully, Into the Woods really worked for me and I really enjoyed the movie. Overall, the changes that were made basically worked for me (more on that) and the actors all did a really great job with their performances – especially the actors who are not necessarily known for their singing. Nearly a week after seeing the movie I still have several of the songs running through my head. I think even those that are more devoted to the original production will be pleased. After how much I hated Les Miserables, it was nice to enjoy a big screen musical again.

In talking to people who have seen Into the Woods without the benefit of knowing the Sondheim original, there are a few things that you need to know going in:

  • This is a musical. You might think that is obvious, but I know several people who went to see Into the Woods without knowing this. I blame the early trailer and clips of the film that were used to advertise the film, since they tended to downplay the singing. Even the versions that did incorporate some of the songs did so in the background, so if you don’t know the film’s background I could see how you might not realize that Into the Woods is a full blown musical. But they start singing pretty much from the jump in this movie; so if you don’t dig musicals, you may want to mosey along.
  • Despite the focus on fairy tales, Into the Woods gets dark. Real dark. If you are you are expecting your typical take on Cinderella and company you are going to be shocked; the first hour or so sticks more closely to the traditional arc of a fairy tale, but Into the Woods looks at what happens after the “happily ever after” and spoiler alert – it ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Into the Woods may feature familiar characters like Cinderella, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, but it also features murder, adultery, multiple people going blind (some more permanently than others) and death. So don’t go into this expecting all sunshine and rainbows just because you think you know the characters and their journey. The stage musical is actually darker, but Disney allowed the film to be messier than I anticipated.
  • This is not a Johnny Depp movie. Sure, Depp is in the film, but his role is really small despite what the ad campaign may try to tell you. So if you are going in expecting a whole lot of Depp, you might want to prepare yourself to be disappointed.

Now that that’s out of the way, Into the Woods brings several favorites from fairy tales into the same universe; the story begins with several characters longing for things – Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants to go to the Prince’s (Chris Pine) festival, the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) want a child, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) wants his cow and best friend Milky White to produce milk so he and his mother (Tracey Ullman) won’t starve and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) wants bread to take to her Granny (hey – they can’t all be high stakes wishes). The Baker and his wife discover that their barrenness is the result of a curse put on them by a witch (Meryl Streep) as retribution for the Baker’s father’s sins. They can break this spell if they obtain four objects: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold. This sets the characters on a collision course with each other in the woods as the Baker and his wife try to procure the necessary objects, Jack sets off to sell his cow, Cinderella flees from the Prince and Red Riding Hood fends off the advances of the Wolf (Johnny Depp). To say much more would be to ruin the fun of discovery, but just when they the characters think that they have everything they want, things go to hell in a hand basket thanks in no small measure to the arrival of a Giant.

Overall, the cast did a really great job; there wasn’t an off performance in the bunch. My minor concerns about Streep were unfounded and she pretty much killed it as the witch. Like, she was legitimately great in my opinion. I was also pleasantly surprised by Emily Blunt, who I really like but I wasn’t sure what she was brining to the table for a musical. She was fantastic as well and I really liked her delivery of some lines. She’s quickly becoming one of my favorites. But the true revelation was Chris Pine who was just amazing. The Prince is supposed to serve as comic relief and be a charming douchebag, and man Pine knocked it out of the park. I think I actually liked his version of “Agony” better than in the original, simply because his performance was so unexpected and they picked a hilariously ridiculous location for the number to be performed. I honestly didn’t think he had it in him to pull off this role as well as he did and he had me cracking up almost every time he was on screen. I also want to cite the moxie that Lilla Crawford brought to Little Red Riding Hood; the audience that I saw Into the Woods with was especially taken by her, calling her a “little bad ass.” I presume they meant that as a compliment.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Depp’s interpretation of the Wolf until I rewatched the original Broadway production and was reminded that the Wolf is supposed to be giving off something of a sexual predator vibe in his interactions with Little Red Riding Hood. If anything, Depp’s Wolf has toned down the innuendo a bit – I’d forgotten that the Wolf in the Broadway play had his genitals featured as part of the costume (the Wolf’s, not the actor’s). With that context re-established, I was more pleased with Depp’s performance and his choices. His lecherousness is toned down, partially I’m sure at the behest of Disney and partially because unlike the stage production, there are actual children playing the roles of Jack and Little Red Riding Hood and the song might be off the charts creepy when song to a young woman.

Some songs from the original production were cut, though in all honestly they weren’t really missed. “No More” is an important song in the stage production, but made little sense given other changes made in the film. The mysterious old man is not in the film, which frankly was an improvement in my book and made an already complex narrative a little les muddled. I was bummed that “Agony (reprise)” was cut, not because it was essential to the story – it certainly isn’t – but because I would have enjoyed more singing Chris Pine. The song reinforces the cad that the Prince is, but I understand their decision to eliminate it. There was also an original song for Meryl Streep that was written for the movie and filmed, but it ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor as well (though it will be on the DVD).

My main issue with the film adaptation is the changes that they made to Rapunzel’s story line. This is where I suspect the fingerprints of Disney are the most apparent, though I wish that they had stuck with the original story. The film version changes how her story is resolved and the result is a weakening of the overall story; the witch’s reaction and the song “Children Will Listen” don’t really work thanks to the edits that they’ve made. Her story has little to no weight in the film and she just abruptly disappears from the narrative. If you don’t know how it was supposed to go, you’ll still notice that something about her arc feels unresolved and the resolution feels tacked on and rushed. This is the one change that I wish they hadn’t made, not out of bling loyalty to the source material, but because I think that the edits made are detrimental to the film as a whole. If executed better or with more explanation it might have worked, but as is it was the one misstep in an otherwise very enjoyable movie. Though, for what it’s worth, I always thought Rapunzel’s storyline was one of the weak points of the stage version as well.

Some other thoughts:

  • Christine Baranski and Lucy Punch have small roles as Cinderella’s step-mother and step-sister, respectively. Always nice to see both of them. Cinderella’s father doesn’t make it into the film adaption, but I don’t think anyone will miss him.
  • Giants are surprisingly easy to deal with. And that means that the big climax of the film doesn’t really deliver. That was a problem that I had with the stage version as well, but the problem is only exasperated in the film. It’s all a lot of buildup to nothing.
  • I really like the decision to move the location of where the song “On the Steps of the Palace” is sung. Makes more sense, is visually more interesting and is just one example of the movie having more flexibility than the stage play.
  • Did everyone else know that Chris Pine’s dad was on CHiPs? I just found this out thanks to The Tonight Show and it blew my mind.
  • My favorite line of the entire movie/play may be “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

Into the Woods is a very enjoyable adaptation of a fairly beloved Broadway musical; it’s relatively faithful to the original and most of the changes made were fairly minor and helped to streamline the story. If you liked the play, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the execution of the film; the cast all do a fantastic job in bringing these characters to life. If you aren’t familiar with Into the Woods but enjoy musicals or creative takes on fairy tales, I think you’ll be satisfied. If you don’t like musicals, I’m not sure why you’re going to see Into the Woods. Reevaluate your decision making process. Into the Woods is a fun movie that kept me entertained and rekindled my love for the stage version. I only had a few quibbles with the film, primarily that I can’t get these songs out of my head.

Into the Woods is currently in wide release.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Getting Old Edition

It’s my birthday this weekend, which is usually cause for celebration, at least in my eyes. Everyone else just kind of humors me. This year, however, I’m just not feeling it and am kind of dreading having to say that I am a year older. There is not legitimate reason for this apathy – it isn’t a “milestone” birthday or anything – and I know turning a year older beats the alternative, but I’m just not in a celebratory mood at all this year. Perhaps I’ve finally gotten over the excitement for my birthday that everyone else got over when they were a kid. Perhaps it is because this year a lot of people have yet to respond to my unofficial party or can’t come. Perhaps it is because I do so many awesome things throughout the year that I don’t really need this excuse to make a big deal out of one particular day. Whatever the reason, as Saturday approaches, instead of my usual giddiness, it’s being greeted with a shrug. I’m happy to see my friends, but that’s about it.

Pop culture, on the other hand, still makes me excited and I had a lot of fun compiling your biweekly roundup of all the pop culture goodness that you might have missed. I just kept finding all sort of cool things to include. So while I attempt to determine what exactly is bumming me out, kick back and enjoy:

  •  Congrats to Bob Newhart for winning his first Emmy! The full list of Creative Arts Emmy winners can be found here. The Primetime Emmys will air on September 22. There may be a live blog.
  • The West Wing fans – Allison Janney performed “The Jackal” last night on the newly revived The Arsenio Hall Show.

 

  • Everyone that I know that watched the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Canelo Alvarez fight last weekend was disappointed. Snoop Dogg Lion, however, won over a pound of weed on that fight.
  • After a lackluster performance at the box office, the planned sequel to The Mortal Instruments has been delayed indefinitely.
  • A new season of Key and Peele debuts tonight:

 

  • Best. Parents. Ever.
  • Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, will be released next Tuesday.
  • People keep making Breaking Bad musicals. Check out Walter White and the Mazing Blue Crystal Meth:

 

  • This is probably NOT a good sign: Pirates of the Caribbean 5 has been shut down indefinitely for script maintenance. Probably for the best; this movie is wholly unnecessary.
  • Eddie Murphy did a reggae song with Snoop Lion. I have no idea if this is supposed to be a joke or not:

 

  • The O.C.’s Sandy Cohen and Ryan Atwood (Peter Gallagher and Ben McKenzie in real life) reunited at Gallagher’s daughter’s concert.
From @petergallagher

From @petergallagher

  • The O.C. is getting a a remake – in Turkey.
  • I am a fan of both Metallica and bluegrass, so I really enjoyed this cover of “Enter Sandman:”

 

  • The first three hosts for SNL have been announced; Tina Fey kicks the season off, followed my Miley Cyrus and Bruce Willis.
  • Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” video is greatly improved with the addition of Nicolas Cage:

 

  • Watch this guy do 13 Muppet impressions in a minute:

 

  • Speaking of Muppets, they did all sorts of great stuff since the last round up. Cookie Monster spoofed some movies:

 

  • Elmo (or a reasonable facsimile) hung out with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen:
@SirPatStew

@SirPatStew

  • Grover sang with Dave Matthews:

 

  • Cookie Monster also found some time to hang out with Loki:

 

  •  UC Irvine is offering a free online course on The Walking Dead. I’m not a huge fan of the show, but I may have to take this just for kicks. I’m thinking that could really spruce up my resume.
  • Ha! Watch Todd from Breaking Bad gun down Justin Bieber:

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No Biebers were harmed in the creation of this GIF

No Biebers were harmed in the creation of this GIF

  • He’s still really good looking, but I’m not digging Joe Manganiello as much without his beard.
  • Eminem turned up during the Michigan/Notre Dame game. It was awkward, to say the least.

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  • Michael Jackson’s Thriller recreated with LEGOs:

 

  • Britney Spears is rumored to be earning $15 million per year for her Vegas residency. Seems as good a reason as any to finally plan my first trip to Vegas.

 

  • This local sports anchor worked 41 Seinfeld references into his segment:

 

He also did a segment full of old school rap references and wrestling references. I think this guy and I could be fast friends.

  • Also announcing tours: Robin Thicke, Jay Z and Kanye (the latter who I am going to see in Madison Square Garden!)
  • Cecily Strong is joining the soon departing Seth Myers at the SNL Weekend Update desk. The last few people to sit at the desk (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon) have gone on to some pretty great things.
  • A writer at UPROXX wrote a tribute to one of the greatest episodes of It’s Always SunnyChardee MacDennis. I wholeheartedly concur.
  • The Ohio University marching band preformed a rendition of Ylvis’ viral sensation The Fox during their game against Marshall.

 

Haven’t see the video for The Fox yet? Here it is, in all it’s weirdness. Watch it now, thank me later.

  • Breaking Bad fans are the best. Los Pollos Hermanos now has its own Yelp page, full of reviews.
  • Fiona Apple covered “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka for a Chipotle ad:

 

Trailers! Get your trailers here:

  • Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco:

 

  • National Geographic’s Killing Kennedy, starring Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin:

 

  • Kill Your Darlings with Daniel Radcliffe and Michael C. Hall (that’s kind of a weird combo):

 

  • Will Forte and Bruce Dern star in Nebraska, the latest from director Alexander Payne:

 

  • James Franco and Jason Statham are in a movie together. Yes, I’m serious.

 

  • A photo of Justin Bieber holding a script for the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie almost broke the Internet.
@justinbieber

@justinbieber

No – he isn’t playing Robin.

As always, we end with the supercuts and mashups:

  • Who knew that Marty McFly was such a screamer?

 

  • A Billy Joel/Kanye mashup sounds way better than you would think:

 

  • Blurred Sanford mashes up Blurred Lines and the Sanford and Son theme song:

 

  • This supercut proves Bill Murray is an awkward kisser.

 

  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail gets a modern trailer remix:

 

  • Les Miserables…..with light sabers:

 

  • Good Will Batman (NSFW):

 

  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia gets the Cheers opening credit treatment:

 

  • And finally……The Dukes of Heisenberg:

 

Have a great Wednesday!

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Epic Roundup edition

So it appears I went a little overboard this week with the links; I was freaking out that I was behind schedule on this post and just started plugging away in compiling links. Next thing you know, the document was nine pages long. I guess I just kind of lost track of what I was doing. So while you wade through all the pop culture goodness I’ve cultivated for you over the last two weeks, I’m going to consider taking a nap after a job well done.

  • Chris Brown is facing possible jail time after an alleged hit and run incident. That’s kind of like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.
  • Don Draper’s childhood home is a real place (and for sale), though it was heavily CGIed for Mad Men. Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and scenes from Chinatown were filmed in the same neighborhood.
  • Get off the ledge – Robert Downey, Jr. is confirmed for Avengers 2 and Avengers 3.
  • Breaking Bad is the latest TV show to get its own beer. Anyone in Albuquerque want to send me some?
  • Um….am I the only one that finds it odd that they are using an Eminem song in the trailer for Despicable Me 2?

 

  • Starz has officially announced a new series Outlander, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon. Not sure it is for me, but sounds interesting.
  • No shocker here – Dan Harmon finally watched the 4th season of Community and he wasn’t a fan.
  • Flavor Flav’s last chicken and ribs restaurant has closed. Fun fact – Flavor Flav is inexplicably one of my Twitter followers (Word up, Flavor FLAV!).
  • Stephen Colbert’s mother passed away last week. If you haven’t seen his touching tribute to her, it is a must watch. I bawled through the whole thing.

 

  • The national nightmare is over – Twinkies, Ho Hos and the rest of the Hostess cake family will return to shelves July 15. I’m guessing the people who dropped a ton of cash to stock up are feeling kind of foolish right now.
  • Someone (brave) got an Arrested Development inspired license plate:

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  • The Faceblock App from the new episodes of Arrested Development can now be downloaded.
  • Shark Week is coming in August – and if this promo is an indication, it’s going to be particularly twisted. RIP Snuffy.

 

  • CNN breaks down the accuracy of the recent Lifetime movie on Jodi Arias (which yes, I watched). Good job CNN – no worldwide crises you should be covering.
  • Nick Swisher and his actress wife Joanna Garcia have released the first picture of their baby daughter and she is just precious:

 

Welcome to the world, Emerson Jay!

Welcome to the world, Emerson Jay!

 

  • Finally! One of Taylor Swift’s (alleged) exes has (allegedly) written a song about her. Oh John Mayer – I knew you were the one that was douchey enough to do this and I love you for it.
  • Jon Stewart was on the Egyptian version of The Daily Show. It switches over to English about 2.5 minutes into the interview

 

I’m still reeling from the death of James Gandolfini and am touched with the various ways he has been honored:

  • The New York Yankees took a moment to observe his passing:

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  • Holsten’s Ice Cream, the locale for the final scene of The Sopranos, saved a table in his honor:

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  • Sesame Street posted a clip of his 2002 appearance:

 

  • Gary David Goldberg, creator of Family Ties and Spin City, passed away. Michael J. Fox remembers him.
  • I’m regretting that I didn’t go to the Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival – it happened only a hop, skip and a jump away in North Adams, MA. I’m especially bummed I missed Wilco’s all cover set, but now I can listen to it online in its entirety.

 

  • Happy 50th birthday to Georgios Kyriacos Panagiòtou (George Michael to the uninitiated).  In honor of half a century, here’s one of my favorite songs:

 

  • A new poster has been released for the final season of Breaking Bad (did anyone else internally yell out Fame? Just me? Moving on….)

breaking bad poster

 

  • Men’s Wearhouse has fired their founder (and star of their commercials). I’m guessing they didn’t like the way he looks.
  • The Village Voice has an interview with my favorite member of The Roots, Questlove.
  • A Street Fighter parody – with cats. My Pumpkin would dominate in this.

 

  • Among the new Houseguest on this season of Big BrotherRachel’s sister (if you watched the show, you know what this means).
  • Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was really exceptional last week – great guests and fun bits – but this Super Mario Brother’s rap is really fantastic:

 

  • Speaking of…this photo makes me deliriously happy:

Rob Stringer Honored As UJA-Federation Music Visionary Of 2013

 

  • The first episode of the Stephen King miniseries Under the Dome did very well for CBS. The rich get richer.
  • An infographic of Leonardo DiCaprio movies.

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  • The first trailer for the upcoming Lego movie has been released:

 

  • This screencap pretty much sums up the 90s:

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  • Parks and Recreation will kick off its sixth season with an hour long episode that takes place outside Pawnee.
  • Disney has (thankfully) decided to change the name of the upcoming Muppets sequel from The Muppets…..Again! to Muppets Most Wanted.

 

  • Ridley Scott. Cormac McCarthy. Brad Pitt. Michael Fassbender. Penelope Cruz. Javier Bardem. Cameron Diaz. All associated with one movie – The Counselor

 

  • The actor in this character might look familiar – he was the awful Oliver on The O.C.

 

  • OK – I PROMISE this is the last Kanye-related thing this week. He made a terrible short film to promote his new album Yeezus that features fellow Kardashian baby daddy Scott Disick and Kim BFF Jonathan Cheban. They are not great actors, but this is kind of hilarious since Disick has always given off an American Psycho vibe. Glad to see he owns his sociopathic-ness.

 

  • This isn’t really pop culture related, but it’s far too crazy not to share (and it happened a few towns over from me).

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts

  • Here’s montage of famous movie actresses, edited to make their heads explode

 

  • Wonder what it would be like if John Lennon auditioned for The Voice? Wonder no longer

 

  • I’m still not tired of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky;” listen to it performed by President Obama:

 

  •  A supercut of all of Troy McClure’s credits on The Simpsons

 

  • Jon Snow gets an 80’s style training montage, as it should be:

 

  • This supercut seems to indicate that David Letterman is kind of obsessed with drums:

 

  • A supercut of zombie headshots

 

  • And finally – Hannibal’s open credits get an Arrested Development make-over:

 

Have a great week!