There was a flurry of films that hit theatres this Christmas. Partly to qualify for Oscars but mainly as Christmas is one of the biggest box office days of the year. Two of the films at theatres now are movie versions of two of my least favorite Broadway musicals – “Annie” and “Into the Woods.”
Due to buzz and friends’ desires to see them, I went to both films and tried to keep my mind open and opinions from the original versions to myself.
In the case of “Into the Woods,” many of the original songs were missing to keep the movie from being overlong. One of the cut songs “No One” was one of my favorite from the show. In fact, while I love Stephen Sondheim, my main reason for not loving “Woods” was the songs. Almost every tune had the line “into the woods,” making many of them sound the same. It reminded of that child’s game where you throw the term “in bed” at the end of every sentence. This show throws the line “into the woods” at the end of every song.
So having fewer songs that sounded the same was a plus for me. The die hard fans who quoted the film in line are likely upset about this as well as changing the meaning of some of the songs. Also, the mark dark side of the show is now missing as the film is from the Disney studios.
However, I like it now. Fewer songs that didn’t win me over got me to focus more on the talent and story. Rob Marshall continues to be the musical movie director of our time as he surprises me at every turn. Who knew, in “Chicago,” that Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones could sing. But Marshall found that talent inside of each of them and both blew audiences away in that Oscar winning film. He does the same here.
While not famous for it, we all know from previous movies that Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick can sing – and they both do wonders here. But then to discover a good singing voice from Emily Blunt and, even more surprising, Chris Pine, is a true treat.
Streep does command the screen whenever she flies in with her witches powers and Kendrick makes a beautiful, real Cinderella. But Pine – is sublimely spectacular as Cinderella’s Prince as he tongue-in-cheek overplays the love scenes. His “who is hotter than me” love duel against Rapunzel’s Prince, played by the also sexy Billy Magnussen, is reason enough to see this film.
Wait…Cinderella and Rapunzel in the same story? In case you didn’t know “Into the Woods” mixes five darker Grimms’ stories into one show – which also includes Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood.
Little Red’s Wolf is played by Johnny Depp – who is totally creepy as the pedophile and truly adds an edge to his character. Depp fans take note: he’s on screen for five minutes.
The effects and cast are uniformly wonderful and it also reminds us that director Rob Marshall is as talented in the film medium as he is with stage works. While the movie was good, it still didn’t blow me away. And that’s to no fault of Marshall or the cast – it’s just these songs are not my favorite from the Sondheim songbook.
I would like to point out, unrelated to the movie, but the Grand Lake Theatre was not at the top of their game Christmas day. The movie started at 1:30pm and they didn’t let us in until 1:20pm. With the short time between entering the theatre and the movie starting, there was no time to get treats unless you are okay at missing the beginning of the movie. My friend raced to seats and texted me where she was. But I was at the snack bar and missed the previews and the beginning of the movie. Never did find time to go to the bathroom. Also, while you can buy tickets online, you can’t use your phone to go into the theatre and their kiosk doesn’t accept devices so you need to stand in another line. Since we were outside waiting for 45 minutes, it would have been nice to hear an announcement that we should go into the ticket buyers line if we have smart phone tickets. Basically, poor service all around from the Grand Lake Theatre.
Competing with “Woods’ for musical-turned-movie this holiday season is “Annie.”
Everyone who knows me, knows that “Annie” is my LEAST favorite musical off all time. Perhaps if Barbra Streisand played Miss Hannigan, I might go see it. But those songs are so sweet that I feel a diabetic coma coming on. I have never seen such a show that was so corny that I cringe when I hear these songs. Even my Barbra sang “Tomorrow” once and she got it from “crappy” to “okay.”
Still in trying to please family and friends, I went along to the new “Annie.” Tried to keep an open mind as I did like the new Sia song in the movie.
With its updating to modern times, true “Annie” fans might feel cheated and disappointed. But I really enjoyed it.
The old songs had more a modern feel and edge to them, all with a taste of Sia. The black Annie didn’t have that ugly prom dress/maid uniform and red wig to try to endear us all to the sweet little girl who gets into turmoil at the orphanage.
The movie does a great job at keeping mostly the same characters, but in some cases giving them different roles – but still keeping the essence of the original character. For example, the biggest change in this movie is converting the character Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s brother, to Guy, a press agent for Jaime Foxx (who plays the Daddy Warbucks character but is now called Will Stacks). Guy is basically a re-do of Rooster, but it serves this film better than he works for Mr. Stacks.
While much more urban that the original “Annie,” the movie is still sweet and uplifting but not overly so.
Golden Globe nominee (for this film) and former Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, age 11, is proving to be a remarkable young actress. While no great singer, she gives the movie its heart and make us root for her.
Foxx is also in great form and it’s good to see him back in musicals as is Cameron Diaz – people may have forgetten that she sang in her first breakout performance in “The Mask.” Diaz at first seems too young to be Miss Hannigan – but in this retelling, it makes sense.
Even if I tried to fight, I succumbed to the charms of “Annie.” I’ve read a lot of loyal fans of the original don’t like it simply for its changes. But it’s those changes that make me stand an applaud for this fresh, exciting “Annie” I definitely will keep my eye on the next works of co-writer/director Will Gluck, as he is definitely impressed with with bravely taking on such an iconic tale and making it fresh and new.