Into The Woods

into woodsLet’s examine this on paper: an all-singing, Disney adaptation of a Stephen Sondheim musical featuring a selection of traditional fairy tale characters. We’re not exactly salivating. Rather, we’re plugging our ears and running screaming to the nearest bridge with active plans to throw ourselves off.  But wait, we’ll miss the season 1 finale of Homeland (Yes, we’re 2 seasons behind. And what?). Saved by the Brody…

A baker (James Corden) and his baker’s wife (Emily Blunt) run a little bakery (funny that) somewhere in fairy-tale-ville. Happy with their meagre peasant lot they selflessly give free buns to a little girl in a big red cloak (Lilla Crawford) who needs food for her poor grandmother. The only thing missing from their lives is a baby baker.

Cue flashes and bangs as a witch (Meryl Streep) appears, who reveals Mr Baker is victim of a family curse that prevents the couple having a child. To reverse the curse they must venture Into The Woods (see what they did there) and collect items including a cow, a golden slipper and a big red cloak. In the process they’ll encounter Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and his beanstalk and Rapunzel. Tally ho.

Into The Woods, believe it or not, is a joy.  Visually rich, dark and spookily Gothic, the stuff of childhood nightmares, it’s packed with gloriously OTT frightwigs and corseted tulle costumes. All that’s missing is Helena Bonham Carter.  And the actors wind their lungs round the surprisingly complex songs with gusto. But what really makes it work is the tone, hitting just the right notes of arch and knowing, The Brothers Grimm mashed up and reinvented for 2015.  Cinderella (Anna Kendricks) finds herself nonplussed with her preening, caddish Prince Charming (Chris Pine) who petulantly protests he was “brought up to be charming, not sincere”.  The Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) stalks the shrill, brattish Little Red Riding Hood with a drooling lasciviousness that is deeply disturbing, if not illegal.

Like the best ‘family’ entertainment, most will go over the heads of kiddies, who will have buried their head in their popcorn and / or fainted by the time some of the more violent scenes have passed (an Ugly Sister getting her eyes pecked out by a flock of crows, anyone?).  Welcome to The Disney Dark Side.

UK release 9 January

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Chris Pine is doing rather a tidy trade in ‘re-versioning’. First, he gives us a contemporary Star Trek with his cheeky take on the Kirk ‘n’ Spock bromance. Now he’s filling Harrison Ford’s CIA code name in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

We’re going back to the beginning, when Jack was a young whippersnapper. Ridiculously clever, our Jack was studying for a doctorate when he threw the baby out with the bathwater and opted for a hand-on career in the marines. Sidelined by injury after a helicopter crash on a mission, he gets the hots for his doctor, Cathy (Keira Knightly, with a disorienting American accent), then finds himself recruited by CIA handler Harper (Kevin Costner). Actually, The Sloth quite fancies being a handler, we’d keep our charges on a short leash, throwing them the occasional Bonio. But we digress.

An Old Skool crisis is brewing. The Ruskies are planning to take down the US via financial ruin. So not totally Old Skool as that would have involved big tanks and nuclear warheads, but we like a Cold War crisis, so we’ll go with it. Said financial ruin is being masterminded by villain Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Viktor has an Old Master painting hanging in his office, wears black leather murderer’s gloves and listens to opera whilst booting minions across the floor, all well-known movie shorthand for Proper Evil. All Jack has to do is thwart Viktor’s plans for global destruction and save the Western hemisphere. Nay bother.

It’s pleasingly old-fashioned in plot, character and brevity. Stunts look like real, all-action, CGI-free stunts. Fights look like proper, fist-swinging fights. By the same token, it’s not reinventing the wheel and not that much actually happens over the 100 odd minutes, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing. If you want to switch your brain off and indulge in some all-action comfort food, give it a whirl.

UK release 24 January

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Star Trek Into Darkness. Who Says Bromance Is Dead?

star trekYes! This is what we want! Star Trek Into Darkness launches straight into Kirk running hell for leather through a forest of trees made of what appear to be strawberry liquorice shoelaces, escaping angry pasty-faced aliens wearing mustard yellow nappies. So far, so homage to the camp kitsch delights of everyone’s favourite sci-fi show.

Kirk’s escapade on Planet Shoelace causes the near-death of Spock and results in Kirk’s removal from Captain duties. Worse still, he’s referred to another Starship crew away from his best buddy. Noooooo! But not for long as firstly, we’d have no movie and secondly, the Starfleet organisation handily comes under attack from an angry ex Starfleet official, Harrison.  No prizes for guessing who are sent to save the day.

This second outing with the new Enterprise crew sees them all settling firmly into the swing of things. Spock and Kirk’s squabbling bromance takes front and centre, bubbling along nicely. Scotty gets a miniature alien sidekick to bounce lines off and Uhura has a lover’s tiff with a half-Vulcan boyfriend who had no feelings to start with.

But best of all is Benedict Cumberbatch as Harrison, shedding his usual geeky, intellectual persona to reinvent himself with gusto as a fist fighting super villain extraordinaire. Genetically modified to be stronger, meaner, smarter and blood-thirstier than, oooh, anyone else ever, he glowers evilly from beneath his brow, spitting lines like “I’ll walk over your cold corpses” and crushing heads with his bare hands, literally, with much squelching and crunching. Eeew.

As blockbusters go, Star Trek has it nailed. The Sloth’s only gripe: we didn’t get a ‘Live long and prosper’. Maybe next time, guys?

UK release 9 May 2013

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