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

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Email this to someone

August: Osage County. Mommy Dearest.

August-Osage-County-PosterWow, this was shouty and intense. After watching August: Osage County The Sloth had to have a soothing cup of green tea and lie down with a wet flannel on our forehead.

Based on a stage play, it follows a period in the lives of the Weston family, who put the deranged in disfunctional. The supposed head of the family is alcoholic Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd). We say supposed because his authority is somewhat doubtful once we meet Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), a prescription drug addicted matriarchal monster and possessor of an acid tongue that shrivels grown men. No doubt worn down by said tongue, Sam shortly disappears, presumed drowned. And so the rest of the Weston clan return to the family home for his funeral.

Over the next couple of days we meet feisty daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts, wonderfully grey-haired and potty-mouthed), who is separating from husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and argues ferociously with mother Violet about anything and everything. Dippy daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) arrives, trailing her latest flashy, sports car driving new boyfriend. Completing the offspring is sensible daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who harbours a secret passion for her hapless cousin Charles Aiken (Benedict Cumberbatch, for once putting a tight lid on his charisma). Bringing up the rear of this female overload is Aunt Mattie (Margo Martindale), a venomous partner-in-crime to her sister Violet.

With the house bursting at the seams, emotions running high and Violet off her head, tensions escalate to boiling point. Allegiances are made and lost, family skeletons tumble out of closets and we wonder how on earth no-one has actually punched anyone. Then they do.

The stage play roots are very evident. Bordering on the melodramatic, it’s undoubtedly an act-oors film. If you want naturalism, this isn’t for you. But if you’re happy to watch a dribblingly delicious cast get their teeth stuck into something juicy, fill your boots. Just don’t have nightmares about mama Violet.

UK release 24 January

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Email this to someone