In To The Woods

What a pleasant surprise! I usually cannot stand musicals, with the exception of “The Producers” and strangely enough both of either production (Mel Brooks 1967 or Susan Stroman, 2005). Usually it is a mediocre story further ruined by senseless prattling and dancing about while attempting to give voice to song that should be instantly forgotten. So you can imagine the kind of thoughts going through my head as I sat down to watch this movie; they were the types of thought normally reserved for the dentist’s chair.

Bob Marchall’s (Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011) work here gives us a mash-up of Grimm fairy tales based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. While some interpretations of Grimm can be dark and serious, while other try to stay “realistic”, this version is both light & humorous while at the same time keeping a shadow of darkness. There is just the hint of the darker nature of the original Grimm works, while firmly also taking a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the stories

Having been given an introduction to jack struggles with a cow that will not milk and a mother that needs income, Little Red Riding Hood’s visit to her granny, the childless baker and his wife and even Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Rapture Palooza, 2013)with an appearance from Rapunzil with of course the necessary Princes, Charming etc. We see our heroes going through their dark lives wishing for things to be better.

The film opens with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, Les Misérables, 2012) ) being told by his mother (Tracey Ullman, The Corpse Bride, 2005) to sell their cow, who jack regards as his best friend, while at the same time Little Red Riding Hood(Lilla Crawford) is stocking up at the baker’s (James Corden, Gavin & Stacey, 2007+)) getting bread for her granny living in the woods. Life is not too good for the baker and his wife (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, 1014) either, they have no children despite their best efforts. While a little away Cinderella is having her usual step-sister/ball issues which need to be sorted. All of this is put in to context how they all have a wish for something better. And this being a fairy tale , the old witch (Meryl Streep, The Hours, 2006)has to turn up, she lives next door to the Baker and his wife.

Now it turns out that some years ago the witch put a curse on his father and the family in general – no further off-spring; something which goes a long way to explain the couple’s child-baring difficulties. However there is some hope. The spell can be reversed , but only on the blue moon in three days’ time.

Sounds easy enough, but there is a catch the spell needs some items like a blood red cloak, a milk-white cow and hair as golden as a corn husk, oh and a golden slipper. As you see a wish-list such as this can seriously impact on a number of fairy tales. The fact that jack has some giant troubles does not help either. Against this The baker and his wife (despite her heading home a number of times) trek in to the woods to find the items in question, with absolutely no idea how they might find them. Through a series of misadventures they eventually bring together what is needed, only of course to find out that things don’t work as well as they need, so a quick fix is needed.

Throughout the search we are introduced to the various fairy tales as part s of the story. Johnny Depp (Dark shadows, 2012) plays a smoothly menacing Wolf to Little Red Riding Hood, while Chris Pine (Star Trek, 2009) plays Cinderella’ s Prince to a lightly comic effect. As if one prince was not enough, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy, Brother’s Keeper, 2013) also has her prince (Billy Magnussen, The East, 2013).

James Corden is “stand-out” in the role, really adding to the part, while Meryl Streep’s witch is worth the price of admission just for her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an animated Streep in any role. You will note that I’m not mentioning much on the plot, well you can guess what happens Jack when he sells the cow and gets the beans from the baker, or Cinderella’s social challenges. We all know the stories, but what we don’t know so much about is the world these people live in and how.  Overall the casting works extremely well. Every effort has gone into giving us characters which match the years of imagination that have gone in to them, not least of all Jack’s mother through Tracey Ullman.   In a world of coincidences we see the great Frances de la Tour (The History Boys, 2006) playing the Giant, it was in the The History Boys that the world took note of Corden and his work.

This is the perfect movie for a grey winter’s day when you just want to pass an hour or two and enjoy it. The pace is continuous and reasonably quick. The story moves along at a nice pace and stays original all things considered.

Over the years there have been many dramatizations of Grimms’ work, some have worked while other have been painfully bad. This one certainly work. It reminds me of some of the Disney cartoons in places while as a movie it falls firmly alongside The Princes Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987). This is a good thing. Any movie whish stands up to comparison with TPB, can hold its head up high.

Go have some fun and watch this movie, or see the musical J and like all good fairy tales there is a message to it – be careful what you wish for , you might just get it, oh and fairy tales do come through and people can live happily ever after.

American Sniper

It took me a little while to get in to this film and indeed even at the end I was trying to rate it, my initial score now seems harsh after some time to digest the film. Having read some of what has been written about the movie I was interested to see what it would come out like.   What I got was in some way a movie which is very different from much of what Clint Eastwood has produced previously, while at the same time very much the same. The cinema style is different , the wide airy shots are replaced by close-up almost claustrophobic scenes, smooth flowing scenes are replaced by the ragged, clipped fight scenes and tension . There is some of this also to be seen in his earlier work Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) with its own stylization and the telling of the story trough the person of   and his men even down to their dysentery.

Whatever of the style, the sense of detail is still there, we see this from the start. While competing in a local rodeo event he hurts is hand and in the shots that follow we see him use an ice bag. Seeing this I wondered if it would have an impact of the story; no, it was just how Eastwood details a film. The initial story-line may seem different from much of what else Eastwood has done, but at closer inspection it is much in line with previous efforts.

We are told a story about a young man who has a gift, a gift which he knows comes with responsibility and must be controlled. The film is based on the book by Chris Kyle and co-written by Scott McEwen and James Defelice, with Jason Hall writing the screenplay. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, 2012), play the part of Chris Kyle. WE quickly learn that Chris was brought-up with a string sense of justice and the need to protect the weak “the sheep” from the “wolves”. After floating about as a “cowboy” in his native Texas he realises there is something more to life and he want to do something with his life so after seeing the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the news he decides to sign-up. Joining the Navy SEALs he discovers and develops his skill as a sniper.

From the start of his mission we see a man willing to use the great power he has to kill, but only if he has to. Will he shoot a child or mother? What is their risk. Not long after deploying we learn that there is an Iraqi sniper, Mustafa (Samy Sheik, Lone Survivor, 2013) a Jordanian mercenary fighter who is killing US troops and it soon becomes a recurring theme of his time in Iraq, the hunt for his nemesis. Cooper’s character is haunted by the need to do something, to contribute, this is a driver which we see he takes home with him and it is on his return from his first tour that he meets Taya (Sienna Miller, Foxcatcher 2014) with whom he quickly develops a relationship and marries.

As the movie progresses through his tours we begin to see the personal effect on him and the troops around him. Returning to his second tour, he meets his brother, Jeff also deployed. Jeff is a shadow of his former self, clearly shaken to the core by what he has witnessed. There is a certain shock to Kyle in this. As the years progress and we see his life punctuated by tours of duty and spells home the pressures mount. He is a person still struggling. He is driven by an absolute certainty and any diminishing of this certainty will cause a person to question themselves, what they are doing and ultimate lose their focus and concentration, ultimately paying the price for such with their lives. He feels comfortable back “in country”, there is a certainty to what he is doing.

While home he cannot shake the effects of Iraq. Cars are watched in case they are following him. The attitudes of people back home acting as if nothing is happening all weigh on him. On his last tour he recognises the self-doubt and exhaustion he has seen in others, in himself; it is time to get out. When he eventually leaves we see how he has difficulty adapting back to civilian life until he finds his calling helping other returned veterans, those with physical and mental injuries arising out of their time in Iraq. Indeed this is the last thing we see of him is preparing for another day’s journey, this time with another veteran, presumably Eddie Ray Roth . The last scene being his funeral scenes, returning his body home.

This is very much in the tradition of Eastwood’s movies; we see a young talented individual lost but with a gift that can allow them to find meaning and direction in the world. As with many gifts there is a price to pay, often a deep personal one.

This as it turns out is an excellent movie and the first time I have been able to watch Bradley Cooper in a role without wanting to leave the movie early. You will either love or have this movie. Is it the 4 or 5 star production many say it is, I am not sure. It is certainly a 3star and possible a 4 grade movie. Watch it, it is a cut above the rest and really focuses on the personal aspects of the conflict.