Into The Woods

 

Into The Woods is a pure delight. The performances are fun and funny. And what a cast!

Wonderful Stephen Sondheim songs bring together characters from favorite fairy tales. (The script is by James Lapine.) The songs have clever lyrics that you can understand. The songs have those Sondheim melodies that don’t always go where you expect them to go.

Into The Woods is directed by Rob Marshall who hit it out of the park with his Oscar-nominated direction of Chicago in 2002. (His 2009 film version of the musical Nine was more like a bloop single.)

The story begins with The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who want a baby. The witch (Meryl Streep) says she will lift her curse on the baker’s family if the couple accomplish three specific tasks. They must go into the woods to get things done.

The large cast of characters also includes Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), The Wolf (Johnny Depp), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Stepmother (Christine Baranski), The Prince (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Jack’s mother (Tracy Ullman), The Giant (Francis La Tour), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and more.

The story that weaves all these characters together is ingenious. Though these are children’s stories, the movie is made for adults. Disney toned down some of the more grownup content from the stage version of Into The Woods to make the film more family friendly. Yes, you can take your kids—it’s rated PG—but younger children are likely to become fatigued.

The film’s strongest performances come from Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and (surprise) Chris Pine. On the down side, the movie seems longer than it is. Run time is 2 hours, 4 minutes. Resolving multiple story lines takes a while. The pace of the film, just perfect at the start, seems to bog down a bit in the end.

But there are joys aplenty in Into The Woods. If you like musicals, you need to experience and enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horrible Bosses 2

 

Horrible Bosses 2 reminds me of a Saturday Night Live bit that fizzles. HB2, like those misfired SNL sketches, has a ridiculous setup and plot, actors you like who are wasting their talents and a handful of chuckles that make it almost palatable.

When you’re watching SNL, you hang in because you know the bit that’s dying will be over soon. With Horrible Bosses 2, you keep waiting for it to get better and hating yourself for having chosen to watch it.

Here’s the setup: After plotting to kill their bosses in the 2011 Horrible Bosses, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have decided to start their own company so they won’t have to deal with bad bosses again.

They develop a product called the Shower Buddy. They show it off on TV. The bit features a visual sexual joke that was done much better in the Austin Powers movies. The TV host (Keegan Michael-Kay) is stunned by the name of their company which sounds like a slur: Nick-Kurt-Dale.

After Burt Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex (Chris Pine) back out of a deal to buy all their Shower Buddys, the trio decide to take drastic action. Here’s where the plot, which centers on kidnapping, becomes ludicrous.

Part of the scheme involves breaking into Julia Harris’s (Jennifer Aniston) to steal laughing gas. As the break-in is underway, she shows up to conduct a sexual addiction self-help group. The hilarity here is minimal, as it is throughout much of the film. (If you enjoyed hearing Aniston talk dirty in the first film, there’s more for you here in HB2. I’m not a prude but I felt kind of embarrassed for her.)

Also in the film is Kevin Spacey, as a horrible boss now incarcerated for crimes committed in the first film. When the trio visits him in prison for business advice, he provides a laugh or two with his profane putdowns. Jamie Foxx plays a hood who participates in the kidnapping.

Honestly, I found the outtakes at the end of the film to be the funniest part of Horrible Bosses 2.

Before you put down good money to see Horrible Bosses 2, take a moment to consider what else is available at your local movie house. There are better options. (Scroll down through this review site for a few good suggestions.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is similar to other spy caper films you’ve seen, with a few interesting exceptions. Ryan (Chris Pine) is not just an ex-Marine in the CIA, he’s also an economist. And the caper centers on world market trading dirty tricks by devious Russians—particularly Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh)—designed to destroy the US economy.

US Navy Commander Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) recruits Ryan for the CIA. He discovers him at Walter Reed Hospital as Ryan is rehabbing from injuries suffered in a copter crash in Afghanistan. Ryan finishes school, joins the CIA and goes to work on Wall Street to monitor economic terrorism.

Upon detecting suspicious activity in accounts run by Cherevin, Ryan chooses to go to Moscow to confront him. Ryan’s fiancé Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) decides to follow along and gets caught up in the effort to fend off the Russian assault on world markets.

Because economic intrigue is not quite enough to sustain an “action” film, a corresponding plot has a van filled with explosives, driven by a man intent on destroying Wall Street physically (even as the wicked Ruskies are planning to beat us down financially).

Okay, there’s a lot going on here and some of it works and some of it does not work. It’s good to see an older Costner in this leadership role. (Seeing him in Navy dress blues briefly recalls that 1987 film No Way Out.) Branagh, who directs the film, is surprisingly good as the Russian bad guy.

Knightley is gorgeous and has shown great acting skills in the past. But in JR:SR, she’s of little value beyond eye candy. Her chemistry with Pine is almost non-existent. Pine is good and, after becoming a star via the Trek movies, has the stature to take on the Ryan role. He defines “rugged good looks.” Guys can appreciate his derring-do and ladies can get lost in those blue eyes.

A couple of plot holes and quick resolutions of complicated business may cause one to say, “Huh?” But if you just play along you’ll enjoy the ride.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is okay for a January release. But that’s what it is, a January release. (Note of interest: it’s rated PG-13, so you can send you mom who hated Wolf of Wall Street to see this one.)

This Means War—(Reese Piece)

Ever had a food item that was good but made better by some special sauce or seasoning? In “This Means War,” Chelsea Handler provides the spice that makes this good movie better.

“This Means War” is a romantic action comedy. All three of those genres get their due. Reese Witherspoon meets two guys—one through an online dating service; the other via video store flirting. She ends up going out with both. Here’s the kicker: The two guys work together as CIA operatives! Plus they are best friends!

Personal anecdote that relates: When I moved to the Twin Cities a few decades ago, the first two women I dated—one via an arranged blind date; the other from a chance meeting at the state fair—both worked at the Three Sisters retail clothing store at Rosedale Mall! (I am now happily married to one of them.)

Back to TMW: Reese’s two guys are Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, two good-looking, likeable guys who realize early on that they’re dating the same woman. But Reese doesn’t know they know each other. Classic sitcom plotting, but handled well here.

Reese gets romantic advice from her married friend, played by Chelsea Handler. Handler is hilarious in this movie. Reportedly, “This Means War” was originally rated R, but some of Handler’s saucier language was clipped to get the rating knocked down to PG-13. I generally ignore “unrated” version DVD ‘s, but might look for this one when it comes out this spring or summer.

In addition to the romance and comedy, there’s action. The film kicks off with a battle in Hong Kong between our two CIA guys and some really mean bad guys. The fight involves gun play, hand-to-hand combat, helicopters and a fall from a tall building. The movie’s climax comes with a well-executed chase scene. The CIA aspect comes into play as each guy monitors the other guy’s wooing of Reese.

If I had to rank the movie’s three elements, I’d put comedy first, followed by action, then romance. My wife—you may remember her from Three Sisters in Rosedale Mall—ranks them exactly the same.

“This Means War” is not a movie to love, but is one to like. Have some fun with it.