Sunday, December 13, 2015

Things Randi Really Liked In 2015

I hate year end lists.

Just kidding, I read all of them just like the rest of you.

But here are things I liked in 2015 regardless of what year they came out.

1. How Big How Blue How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine. It's no secret that Flo and co. are pretty much my favorite band ever. This third album is their best to date and I'm still obsessed with it. I will forever associate it with an extremely sketchy hotel in Macon, Georgia where I was theoretically going to stay the night on my way to Disney World. The wi-fi wasn't solid enough for the download so I had to wait, but dang, it was memorable trying. Not five months later, the music video for Delilah would also find Florence in a sketchy motel, except this one had literal demons, and the one I was in only had blood and dirt on the sheets (yikes).

2. Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt. This show is probably my favorite that has come out of all the Netflix originals comedy wise (I'll get to the dramas later). Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess are fronting a hilariously original show and Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski are the multitudinous toppings on the sundae. You'll laugh, I promise.

3. Hamilton. Anyone who has been within thirty feet of me knows that I can rap all the way through Hamilton with varying degrees of success. I'll excuse you from reading the rest of this post if you wanna go listen to it. It's that awesome.

4. Lizzie the Musical. A rock concept album/musical about Lizzie Borden featuring awesome hard rocking songs? Sign me up.

5. Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino. I don't know why it took me so long to figure out this was on the menu, but once I did, I didn't order anything else.

6. The cute barista at the Barnes and Noble Starbucks who can usually be found serving me these green tea frapps. we should probably talk sometime about something other than how to spell my name or whipped cream preferences. Will we? Probably not, because I'm not good at talking to anybody, much less boys.

7. Dole Whip. My aforementioned trip to Disney World was an awesome week in my summer. And every single day, at some point, usually in the hot afternoon or humid evening, you could find that pastel yellow nectar of the gods in my hand, that fateful soft serve delicacy: the dole whip. Pineapple soft serve should not be allowed to be this delicious, and yet here we are.

8. Crimson Peak. This movie perfectly fueled my performance in Poe's Midnight Dreary. It's like House of Usher turned up to eleven with 200 percent more Tom Hiddleston, so a win win situation.

9. Deaf West's Spring Awakening. The coolest show on the street is fittingly right next door to the coolest show in the world. A re-imagning of the rock musical Spring Awakening, already a favorite of mine, this show is accessible to both deaf and hearing people and is performed in sign language and spoken at the same time. It adds so many beautiful layers of story telling without adding or taking away a single word form the original show. Gorgeous, inventive, and even better than the original. my attempts at signing along to Blue Wind are hilarious.

10. Star Wars. It hasn't even come out yet and I'm just really happy at the influx of Star Wars in my life. Holla at that, am I right?

11. Hellboy. I'm definitely really late to the party on this one. But both the Dark Horse comics and the Guillermo Del Toro films never fail to cheer me up. My vision for a third film: Hellboy 3: The Abe Sapian Synchronized Swim Team. You know you want it.

12. Hand to God. A small Texas town? Religious commentary? A possessed sock puppet? How did I not write this?

13. Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Two really different shows, both totally awesome in their own ways. I love the action packed drama of Daredevil and the terrifying re imagining of Wilson Fisk, finally making him a truly scary villain. I love Jessica Jones being a female led superhero show, David Tennant's sickeningly evil Kilgrave, and Krysten Ritter's excellent portrayal of Jessica herself. Marvel's Defenders are turning out in full force.

14. Nanowrimo.  Holla at me for winning.

15. Didn't He Ramble by Glen Hansard. After seeing this tour de force of a guy live in February, this September release felt like eons away. It was worth it though. An awesome collection of songs with influences from every genre under the sun.

16. Becoming a more independent person and making really hard choices for myself.

17. Composing the score to Poe's Midnight Dreary.

18. Getting to perform that score and be in the show at district and state levels of competition alongside some really hella awesome shows (shoutout to Bob Jones' Axe Man's Requiem and James Clemons' Silenced on Barbour Street, two standout shows full of standout people).

19. Edgar Allan Poe in general tbh.


21. Mr car Butters. I don't know, he's just really great.

Well this devolved real quick. Imma sign off now while I'm ahead.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? (In Which Randi Reviews the Hamilton Soundtrack)

If you had told me about two years ago that the hottest Broadway musical would be a rap musical about Alexander Hamilton, I definitely would have laughed at you. But alas, here we are.

Hamilton is like nothing you've ever heard before. A game changing musical that combines contemporary musical styles and a racially diverse cast to tell the story of the birth of a nation and a legend the history books tend to downplay. 

The man behind all this, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has done an incredible job of breathing life into the stuffy old history of America. We see people like Hamilton, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, heck even King George III, as young vivacious human beings, not old dudes in wigs.

The cast of this show is positively astounding. Lin-Manuel stars as Hamilton, capturing his frantic non-stop style. Daveed Diggs is a true standout, playing Marquis de Lafayette in the first act and Thomas Jefferson in the second. His motormouth work on Guns and Ships is particularly impressive. Leslie Odom Jr. is a revelation as Aaron Burr, creating a full bodied portrayal of a full bodied character, that both Miranda and Odom could have simply played off as the villain. Renee Elise Goldsberry is strong and commanding as Angelica Schuyler, her Act I showstopper Satisfied is one of the very best moments of the show. And shout out to Jonathon Groff for his hilarious turn as King George, for real the funniest part of the show.

If you don't have a lot of time, feel free to stop here. If you do, here's a track by track.

Alexander Hamilton- it's so interesting to see how this song has grown. It started out as a piece at the White House poetry jam a few years back when Lin was still writing Hamilton. This piece perfectly sets up the show and has some pretty awesome moments highlighting what is to come of the brilliant cast.

Aaron Burr, Sir- This is our introduction to Aaron Burr, a central foil to Hamilton. Seeing how the character grows from this point onward is a treat, thanks to the genius writing and the equally amazing work from Leslie Odom Jr. Seriously, this dude is awesome. It also serves as our introduction to Lafayette, John Laurens, and Hercules Mulligan, the latter of which gets some excellent lines.

My Shot- Is it weird to have a showstopper this early in the show? Nope. This is the I Want song for the show, and it is awesome. The section where Hamilton raps "I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory/when's it gonna get me/in my sleep/seven feet ahead of me/" with the snare drum motif that repeats at some key moments later is pretty awesome. What a jam.

The Story of Tonight- This one took a little longer to grow on me, but now it is definitely neck and neck with my other favorite revolutionaries drinking song from Les Miserables. This one really sets up the "forget the stuffy old white dudes" thing for me. Hamilton and co. were young revolutionaries, literally and metaphorically. It is so easy to forget that.

The Schuyler Sisters- The jam to end all jams. In a show like Hamilton, it can be easy to neglect the ladies (God knows how many people have done it before), but instead, Lin brings them to the forefront as an integral part of Hamilton's story. Here we see Peggy, Angelica, and Eliza brought startlingly to life. These were ladies who were taking charge of their own fate and minds in colonial Manhattan. How lucky we are to be alive right now, indeed. 

Farmer Refuted- A song that more easily fits into preconceptions of musical theater, Farmer Refuted could be in a show like Les Miserables, or that other musical about revolutionaries, 1776. However, it does not feel jarring, a testament to the prefect blend created by Miranda. There are some excellent zingers and clever lyrics, and great character insights.

You'll Be Back- A comedy tour de force, this is King George's breakup song to the colonies. Literally. How could you resist lyrics like You cry/in your tea/which your hurl in the sea/when you see me go by. Groff delivers this song perfectly on the cast recording, his timing and inflections are so funny. This role gets all of ten minutes on stage, but don't be surprised come Tony time if King George gets a little love.

Right Hand Man- Wondering where George Washington is? Here he is. This song is  a jaaaaam. It creates the Washington as a man not to be messed with, a little older and wiser than the younguns like Hamilton and Hercules Mulligan, but still a force to be reckoned with. Chris Jackson is both an excellent singer and rapper, and his booming voice fits perfectly with the part. 

A Winter's Ball- This one doesn't do a whole lot for the story, except reveal that Hamilton and Co. were ladies men. If you're short on cash and going for the Hamilton sampler, you can skip this one. It's pretty funny though.

Helpless- Eliza's big Act I song. A doo-wop jam, this really demonstrates Philippa Soo's awesome range of style. It's a bit mushy, but in the best possible way, documenting Hamilton's courtship of Eliza. Super romantic and fluffy.

Satisfied- Arguably the best song in the show. Renee Elise Goldsberry knocks it out of the park. This woman can switch from rapping to singing in a matter of two seconds, and does both extremely well. The wordplay and lyricism in this piece are also some of the best in the show, and advance the story and Angelica's character at the same time. It's an insane song that serves so many different functions, but also is just fun to listen to. This is a HUGE moment, and should be recognized as such.

The Story of Tonight (Reprise)- Is there anything better than tipsy revolutionaries? Answer: no. Not even a sober Aaron Burr can ruin this party.

Wait for It- Thus far in the story, there really haven't been many redeeming qualities for Burr. He's been this annoying guy constantly ten feet behind Hamilton and just a little too late to get in on the spotlight. Non-Stop is his first of a few big moments and creates this perfect foil to Hamilton. "I am not falling short or running late/I am not standing still/I am lying in wait" is the complete antithesis of Hamilton's non-stop philosophy.  And it frustrates Burr to no end. An excellent character number. I tend to feel this one gets a little overshadowed by Satisfied, and while I have to give the edge to the former, Wait For It is a really awesome jam.

Stay Alive- In case you forgot, there's a war going on. This song is intense, but not without it's comedic moments. Not a standout track, but certainly essential to the story.

Ten Duel Commandments- Not only is this one a banger, it also serves as great foreshadowing for a later event in Act II. Also, now you know how to duel someone. I don't recommend trying that out or anything, but hey, the more you know! Also, a fun fact: All the pistol sound effects on this album are from real flint lock pistols, so what actual duelists of the time would have used.

Meet Me Inside- A brilliant insight into the relationship between Hamilton and Washington throughout the story. It's interesting to see how Washington and Hamilton are so similar and yet so different. 

That Would Be Enough- This is the first interaction we see of Hamilton and Eliza once they are married, and it's heartbreaking and perfect. Angelica says in Satisfied that "You will never find/anyone as trusting/or as kind" and this song really brings that side of Eliza out. Their interactions are very sweet and sincere, a contrast to the driving intensity of the last few numbers.

Guns and Ships- a banger to end all bangers, this is a standout moment for Daveed Diggs in his portrayal of Lafayette. He raps like lightning in this song, but every emotion is clear. This brings in the strength of the relationship between Lafayette and Hamilton as well, that will become a part of the narrative later.

History Has Its Eyes on You- A contemplative moment in the middle of the storm, this Washington led number took a few listens for me, but has now become one of my favorite moments. It's also a great tie in to the finale of the show.

Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)-  HOT RESERVOIR THIS IS MY JELLY! Seriously, what a cool, awesome, epic song, for the battle of Yorktown. Hercules Mulligan steals the song, props to Okieriete Onadoowan . Another fun fact: The World Turned Upside Down was actual drinking song for the Battle of Yorktown. Neat stuff.

What Comes Next?- Another great King George moment, although this is weakest of the three. Worth it simply for the way Groff sings "Awesome, WOW." So sassy.

Dear Theodosia- checking back in with Burr and Hamilton as they contemplate their newborn kids, this song is the best Hey There Deililah homage ever. It's very expressive and sweet, and an interesting change of pace.

Non-Stop- the finale of Act I, encompassing all of the motifs from Act I and setting up the shift from war heroism to political intrigue in Act II. Everyone gets their moment, it's everything an Act I finale should be.

What'd I Miss?- Our segue back into  the show is by way of Thomas Jefferson, who was in France during the revolution. A very fitting introduction into the very self-centered portrayal of Jefferson by the ever fantastic Daveed Diggs.

Cabinet Battle #1- FOUNDING FATHER SMACK DOWN. This is the perfect example of Hamilton's mix of history and hip-hop. Also, it's hella funny.

Take A Break- A look at the home life of the Hamilton family, and how Alexander's work ethic can get in the way of things. Also, anytime we can get more Renee Elise Goldsberry makes for a good time.

Say No To This- You know you're making poor life decisions when the entire ensemble of the show is just shouting NO. Spoilers, but Alexander Hamilton had an affair, and this song is all about that. Jasmine Cephas-Jones, criminally underused in Act I, really gets her moment in the spotlight here. This isan awesome take off on an R&B slow jam. As morally dubious as this song is, what a jam.

The Room Where It Happens- You know how I said Satisfied was arguably the best song in the show? This is where the argument happens. Leslie Odom Jr. pulls off this amazing shift of character with his song. The arc of Burr within the show is incredibly intricate and this song is where he finally breaks out of the shell. But if you're just looking for a catchy song, it works there too. That is the genius of Hamilton: catchy jamz and incredible character work.

Schuyler Defeated- the after effects of Room Where It Happens. If you have to, skip this one.


Washington On Your Side- I think this is another big narrative shift in Hamilton, where it goes from Hamilton being on top to his descent. His enemies are finally catching up with him, and Washington on Your Side is the strongest example of that. 

One Last Time- Washington's last jam as president. This is such a sweet song and a fitting farewell to Chris Jackson's excellent Washington. A chill moment in the emotional intensity of act II.

I Know Him- King George's last number in the show is hilarious, as are all of his pieces. Seriously, these are highlights in an already amazing piece.

The Adams Administration- SIT DOWN JOHN.

We Know- IF you thought things were going to hell in a handbasket earlier, you clearly haven't hit We Know.

Hurricane- This is such an interesting variation on both History Has Its Eyes on You and parts of My Shot. An interesting check in with the emotional state of Hamilton.

The Reynolds Pamphlet- The greatest self drag of all time. Also, I can't get over that weird low voice. And "he ain't never gonn be President now" is pretty great too. Also, Renee is cold as ice in this song and it is amazing.
Burn- Oh my God, get your tissues out because the crying starts now. Philippa Soo delivers a shattering performance all around, but this is where she really blows it away. Her emotion that she pours into this song are heartbreaking. Eliza has gone from wanting to 'be a part of the narrative' to 'erasing herself from the narrative'. There's another part yet to come, but this song is such a beautiful piece.

Blow Us All Away- In case you forgot, Hamilton has a son. And just when you remember, you'll wish you had forgotten. Spoilers, but Phillip dies in a duel. It's a lot to deal with on top of the emotional bomb of Burn.

Stay Alive (Reprise)- How about no.

It's Quiet Uptown- A reflective piece on the slowing down of the Hamilton household. This really paints Alexander in a new light, and also reveals more about Eliza's through her forgiveness of Hamilton. I don't think I've made it through this song without crying, and I am not a weepy person.

The Election of 1800- Hamilton is basically a turd.

Your Obedient Servant- This chronicles letters back and forth between Burr and Hamilton leading up to their duel. A bit of humor in the darkest parts of Act II. How passive aggressive can these guys get?

Best of Wives and Best of Women- Get your tissues back out.

The World Was Wide Enough- That fateful duel that some of you may be familiar with. Hamilton and Burr historically duke it out in a shattering fashion. Hamilton's a capella rapping confronting all his fears about death and what he sees on the other side doesn't feel cheesy lie other people might make it.

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story- The finale of Hamilton is really the perfect end to the show. And oddly broad. Eliza tells us how she worked non-stop after Alexander's death, keeping his legacy alive, and her greatest accomplishment was the orphanage in New York. You have no control over who lives, who dies, who tells your story. Luckily, Alexander's story is told by Eliza. And thank God for that.

It's a wild ride, and one worth taking. Whether you like hip hop or not, whether you like musicals or not, whether or not you consider  yourself a history buff or not, Hamilton is absolutely knockout. Yay Hamlet!


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Randi Reviews the Oscars: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The very name Wes Anderson conjures up images of opulence: crazy miniature sets, witty and dry humor, symmetrical shots, maybe a Bill Murray cameo. For some people, it sticks. For others, not so much. I've always been a fan of Anderson's whimsical story telling (The Darjeeling Limited is one of my absolute favorite movies), but The Grand Budapest Hotel is the best blend of all of these signature ingredients, coming together to make a film that is deliciously and deliriously great.

Ralph Fiennes is at his best as the decadent and hilarious hotel concierge M. Gustave. He's like James Bond if Bond had any manners. Hilarious and just a little heartbreaking. You can usually find Fiennes playing villains or at least morally gray characters, so seeing that he does indeed posses excellent comedic timing and a pitch perfect sense of ridiculousness makes the performance that much more awesome.

The cast around Fiennes is just as amazing. Tony Revellori as Zero the lobby boy and F. Murray Abraham as Zero's older self are both fantastic. Tony plays straight man to Fiennes whacky concierge, while also lending that note of sadness and seriousness to the story. Saorise Ronan as Agatha, Zero's love interest, is as always great. I'd love to see her do a more major role in an Anderson film. Jude Law as our narrator is great in a mostly only speaking role. As with many Anderson films, the very very minor characters make it great too. It's good to see Jason Schwartzman, the expected Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton (in old lady make-up nonetheless), Edward Norton, and many others, obviously having fun.

It's a good old fashioned caper movie that in any other hands would probably not have been not nearly as good. The amazing set design, full of bright colors and eye popping intricacy is even better than what one has come to expect from Mr. Anderson. Alexendre Desplat's score, full of jangling strings and weird yodeling, is one of his best.

It's clear that everyone involved in this movie really loved it, from behind the camera to those in front of it. And that's what makes the Grand Budapest Hotel so great, is that it is unapologetic in its silliness and its clear that it was a labor of love. It's a candy coated escapsim with just enough below the surface to not come off as shallow.  I adored it.


Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Oscar Nominations

Believe it or not, I've actually seen a lot of the Best Picture nominations this year.

Best Picture
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

So my pick for the film that will actually win is either Boyhood or Birdman. As far as the one I liked better? Boyhood all the way. I'm going to try and review all of these films so I can get back into writing reviews (I felt that my last couple have been kind of bad because I just haven't had a lot of time to write a lot of things in the past couple of months), but I can tell you right now that Birdman was the most pretentious piece I've ever seen in my life, and it didn't sit well with me. If I want meta, I'll go watch Community. I also really really loved Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson's magnum opus for sure. It's such a fun, well designed, and whacky movie you can't  help but enjoy. I also loved the beautiful romanticism of the Theory of Everything, and the Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are stellar (haha). The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing's code breaking days, was so bland for me, so I'm very meh about that one. I'm planning to see Selma soon, I'm interested to see a good civil rights biopic (I feel like a lot of them are just pats on the back to white people), extra points for being directed by a woman. Whiplash is the obvious underdog, and its greatest reward is probably just being nominated, but I do still want to see it. As for American Sniper, I'll probably skip because it looks just a tad too intense for me, but I'm totally rooting for Bradley Cooper because he has been making some super quality movies in the past few years.

Best Actor
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

As far as who is actually going to win, I'd say it's evenly matched between Keaton and Cooper, with Eddie Redmayne possibly upsetting. Again, I'm not worshiping Birdman like everybody else, so I'm definitely hoping for a Bradley Cooper Oscar, but alas, that's how the world turns.

Best Actress 
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

First of all, let's talk about who is not here, because it is a travesty. Amy Adams gave what I thought was the best performance of the year in Big Eyes, a movie that was also not nominated for anything else, which is terrible, because it was fantastic. It was unpretentious and beautifully done, and perfectly sad and funny in equal amounts. Also, Emily Blunt's excellent turn as the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods should have earned a nod, because not only was she a fantastic singer, she really brought energy to a part that absolutely requires it, without being really over the top. It was a beautifully subtle performance. But nope, we had to nominate Marion Cotillard again fr a movie that nobody saw. Anyway, with Adams out of the race, I'm really not sure who will win, so I'm going to say it's between Felicity Jones and Reese Witherspoon, with maybe Rosamund Pike thrown in as the upset.

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

I have to admit, I'm kind of wanting J.K. Simmons to go in for this one, he's been doing quality work for years and really has never been recognized. But realistically, Ethan Hawke vs. Edward Norton. And again, where is Christoph Waltz for Big Eyes? I know he just won, but I really enjoyede this more nuanced take on characters that he has played more zainly in the past. He truly depicts the intricacies of a controlling and abusive husband perfectly.

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightly (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

For once in my life, I actually really want Meryl Streep to win (I usually think someone else deserves it). But her work as the witch was fantastic, so I'll take that. This is probably the only category I actually agree with in the entire Oscars race this year. If not Meryl, Patricia for Boyhood.

Best Director
Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)
Richard Lanklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

I'm calling Linklater on this one, this movie was a miracle shot over twelve years and it was so good. If not Linklater, Birdman, for pretentious reasons.

That's it from me for now. I'll keep checking in to review these films, and maybe a couple of other things too. Stay tuned!

Randi Reviews the Oscars: Whiplash

I'm going to attempt to review all of the films nominated for Best Picture in the weeks between nominations and the Oscars (and maybe a few that just strike my fancy), just to get me back into writing for my various blogs again, so here goes!

Whiplash is the story of man vs. music, which of course, strikes home with any musician sitting in the audience.

Miles Teller plays an up and coming jazz drummer at the Schaffer Music Conservatory. J.K. Simmons plays the demanding (and that's putting it lightly) instructor/conductor of their top jazz band. It's about how far one will push themselves for music, for becoming great. It's a fairly simple concept but makes an electrifying film.

J.K. Simmons is on fire in this movie. There's one particular scene where he's talking to a colleauge's daughter in the hall before rehearsal, all sweetness and smiles a la his portrayal of fatherhood in the fantastic Juno, and once the door shuts to the rehearsal space, in the blink of an eye, he becomes intense, loud, rude,  and utterly unpredictable. It's one of the most enjoyable performances I've seen from anybody this year.

Miles Teller usually is better than the movie he is in, but here we see a perfect match of actor and material. Teller takes a role that could work on a lot of people and owns it, putting everything in. It's a quietly smoldering performance of a driven musician building himself from the ground up. He matches Simmons in intensity equally throughout the film.

The remarkable thing about Whiplash is how sparse it is. There's nothing between Simmons and Teller physically speaking but a drum set. There are not a  lot of other side characters, and they are usually done away with in a scene or two. It's about the music,and the literal blood, sweat and tears that go into making it well. The final sequence will leave you speechless.

It doesn't stand a chance of winning Best Picture but it is a must see for any musician, or anyone who has ever been completely devoted to something.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Into the Woods

Another Christmas, another movie musical.

Into the Woods, considered the most accessible of Stephen Sondheim's challenging canon, has made a movie debut at last. And just as it did on Broadway, is garnering everything from confusion to cheers to... more confusion.

I was admittedly a little hesitant about this one. I'm a pretty big fan of the original Broadway production with Bernadette Peters in the role of the Witch. A musical movie that does not have a lot of Broadway people in it is usually a warning sign for me that I might be getting something that does not do a fantastic score justice (see Les Mis). And Into the Woods, which features actors who have done musical movies before i.e. Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect which kind of counts I guess, Daniel Huttlestone was a standout Gavroche in Les Mis (edit: I found this out after the first draft of this post but Lilla Crawford who plays Little Red was Annie on Broadway in a production that closed about a  year ago).  Anyway, not a lot of Broadway people in this show that is very Broadway. Into the Woods score is not in any way pop, like the tunes of Frozen or even the bit-of-both in Les Miserables (sorry for all the comparisons). This initially worried me.

However, I am happy to report that I quite liked the movie. I think it is one of the better results of what is beginning to be a new era for the movie musical.

Into the Woods is the most accessible for a reason. It takes some of your favorite old fairy tales, and then some new stuff, and basically runs with it, examining morality and wishes, and that happily ever after rarely turns out like we think it should. It's about delving into the psychological depths of some of the world's most beloved characters.

It follows the baker and his wife, cursed with barrenness by their next door neighbor, the witch, and how they intertwine with stories like Cinderella and Rapunzel and Jack and the beanstalk and Little Red and so on so forth. It plays off of your  Disneyfied expectations of these stories to create something new and not entirely nice.
Which is awkward, because Disney produced the movie.

Therein was another of my doubts about ITW. It was created as a rebuttal to the sanitized fairy tales the youth of American grew up (and are still growing up) on. A PG rating for a musical that could easily be rated R in its original content produced by a company famous for child-safe sanitary fairy tales? It was puzzling to say the least.

And therein was probably the biggest, but one of the few, gripes I had with this film. Did you know Rapunzel dies in the original? Did you know that Cinderella's prince and the Baker's Wife do more than just kiss? I'm not trying to be on my high horse or anything of that nature, but I feel that it took away some of the emotional punch of the story, all in the name of getting it a kid's rating in order to perhaps entice some families. The kid behind me started crying when Milky White, Jack's cow, died. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the things these kids would have to deal with later on in the movie.

However, that was one of my only gripes. This movie surprised me in how good it actually was.

There is not a bad singer in the bunch, thank God. Meryl Streep positively kills it as the Witch, one of the most demanding Sondheim roles. She absolutely commits to it. James Corden and Emily Blunt are perfect for the Baker and his Wife, possessing that kind of every-person quality necessary for this kind of thing. Lilla Crawford brings a Broadway edge to the role of Little Red (which makes sense, since she was in the latest Annie revival that closed about a year ago). Little Red is easily my least favorite character of the bunch in Into the Woods, but Crawford manages to make it more likeable in the film, which surprised me so, so kudos for that. Daniel Huttlestone, who killed it in Les Miserables, plays Jack of beanstalk fame, and does an excellent job.  It's a little weird to see someone who actually looks Jack's age playing him (it's usually someone in their late teens early teens) but Huttlestone is really good and his singing sounds fantastic. Again, it lends that credibility to it. What works on stage doesn't always work on film, and it'd look super weird to have some late teens early twenties  guy playing a kid in a film, even though it works in the show.

I was just a tad disappointed in Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, but only in regards to her singing. It's not that it was bad by any means, I just feel like it did not fit the character as well as a more classical soprano might have. although Kendrick's acting is spot on. She's a very endearing Cinderella. On the other hand, Chris Pine has a pretty good singing voice as the Prince (and gets easily the best moment in the show along with Rapunzel's prince), his acting is so phoned in it takes you out of the story. Luckily, he's not that involved in a lot of speaking scenes. Rapunzel and her Prince are super minor characters, but both are excellent, and I have no bad words about either.

On another note, can we stop putting actors who don't have more than five minutes in the movie top billing on the poster? Johnny Depp makes a very creepy wolf and does good with what is given to him, but he is literally only in it for one song. From the way they were promoting it, I thought that maybe they'd given him some extra stuff, which is confusing, but they didn't.

In technical aspects, the movie also excels. The costumes and make-up are a fantastic compliment to the story, and I especially adored the Witch's costume post-transformation (I promise, that's not a spoiler). The set and production design are just the right blend of realistic and fairy-tale, and the actual Woods themselves are just perfect, so props to the set team. And the orchestrations and music are just beautiful, and props to putting in the first Night Waltz from A Little Night Music in the scene at the ball, that's a really neat Sondheim easter egg!

Anyway, I really did enjoy the movie, and hope this continues to bring movie musicals that are good adaptations that are made to work on screen as opposed to just copying what was on the stage. They're different, and that's not a bad thing.