Into The Woods – A Review

Rob Marshall directs Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden and Anna Kendrick with a host of other stars in Into the Woods an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s hugely popular stage musical by the same name. The musical takes popular children’s tale of Cinderella, Rapunzel,Jack and the beanstalk, the little red riding hood and mashes them together to tell the story of the characters after the happily ever after.

James Corden and Emily Blunt play the baker and his wife who live next door to the witch Meryl Streep. The witch tells the baker and his wife that they cannot have kids because of a spell she cast on his father many years ago and that she would help them lift the spell if they help her make a potion before the blue moon. For the potion the baker and his wife must find 4 things from the different fairytale characters, cow as white as milk from Jack, a cape as red as blood from little red riding hood, hair as yellow as corn from Rapunzel and slipper of gold  from Cinderella.

The four main characters played by Blunt, Corden, Kendrick and Streep take up the most time on screen and are brilliant both individually and also together bouncing off witty, banter-y songs of each other. The opening number where the witch speaks of her garden was one of the highlights for me. Another song featuring 2 brothers, both princes, one to Cinderella and one to Rapunzel, both preening peacocks each trying to out-do the other is by far the most guffaw-inducing number of the movie. Chris Pine channels his inner Elvis and is at his charismatic best. Often I have found Pine to be too broody for my liking but here as the posturing prince charming he has perfect comic timing and the smolder to suit his princely ways.  Meryl Streep is the goddess at whose altar I pray, so it should come as no surprise that I love her in everything she does. But here as the witch she is mesmerizing both as the old ugly one and the young beautiful one as well. I saw an interview with Sondheim where he spoke of Streep being able to bring color to her singing and I wondered what he meant. But when you hear her sing “Stay With me” to Rapunzel you want to get up on your feet and give her a standing ovation as would be customary in a stage show. She is majestic and I wish she does more musicals. Kendrick sure has the pipes as does Blunt, but the standout for me once again is Daniel Huttlestone as jack who first shone bright on the screen as Gavroche in Les Miserables. He bounces around with boundless energy up and down the beanstalk trying to buy back the cow he sold to the baker.

Sondheim’s musical was much loved when it first appeared on stage some 30 years ago and admired for its witty sense of humor and intelligent songs. Bringing him onboard they have kept the essence of the original story alive and the humor carries through. However the first act is stronger than the second and it suffers a little bit due to overcrowding and trying to tie up loose ends with the stories. Having said that I wish a little more attention was paid to the beautiful Crishtine Baranski as Cinderella’s evil step mother and the story of Rapunzel and her mother the Witch been fleshed out a little more.  There is always a little more to the fairy tales than it meets the eyes and Sondheim writes that beautifully. The story of Little Red Riding Hood played by Lilla Crawford and the Wolf played by Johnny Depp ends up being a creepy story of a pedophile wolf who stalks Red. Depp chews up the scenery in the brief appearance and is brilliantly creepy as Mr Wolf. It is a story of the consequences of wishes. Each of the characters wishes for something but then when the wishes come true they are unable to come to term with the consequences of the events that unfold. They lie, steal, cheat and run from all they wished for. This is a story with many layers which are ripe for peeling away with multiple viewing. It is not a child’s version of the fairy tale but a more grown up one only if you looked closely. However having said that there is something in it for everyone, even the kids because as fairy tales themselves they are told beautifully.

This is a truly amazingly crafted movie with wonderful singing by all its stars. The production is lush and detailed and Coleen Atwood’s costume design very fairy tale worthy. This is a movie for all ages and worthy of being enjoyed in a theatre. I hope you are as lucky to have an excellent audience as I did who laughed at the right moments, clapped generously and sang along with the credits.  Take your family Into the Woods and enjoy a Musical done well.

On a side note this will be Meryl Streep’s 19th Oscar Nomination and very likely 4th Win. To those who roll their eyes at the mention of her name go watch Into the Woods and then tell me if anyone else could’ve been a better Witch, wild and erratic yet restrained and vulnerable. Take a bow Ms Streep.

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Finding Vivian Maier – A Review

Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary about an undiscovered artist which unfolds how a forensic case would. We start off with a young man John Maloof buying a box of film negatives at an auction to help with the history book he is writing and hopes that the negatives will have some images of Chicago from the earlier years that he can use. Once he looks at the negatives he realizes it is not what he needs and puts the box away. That should have been it, but the strength of the images keeps haunting Maloof and he starts thinking about who this person was. The name Vivian Maier – a google search reveals nothing (and now there are 4.7 million results) he starts to scan the images and posts them on Flickr – the social network for photography enthusiasts. The response he gets is astounding and he starts piecing the life of this artist together.

A few days after posting the images on Flickr Maloof does another google search and an obituary note for Vivian Maier turns up. She died a few days ago. Getting in touch with poster of the obituary note leads Maloof to a self-storage that holds the personal belongings of Miss Maier. Maloof then starts unearthing other fragments of  the life of this undiscovered artist who for the most part of her life worked as a nanny. There are thousands upon thousands of film negatives with images of such startling quality that it is immediately clear that this was more than just a passing hobby of a nanny.

With interviews from families she was a nanny, a governess, a housekeeper Maloof puts the pieces of the puzzle together. There are audio tapes and even video recordings that Vivian took to essentially document the world she saw through her eyes and the shutter of the rolleiflex. This tells a story of a woman who had a humor about her and the way she captured the world around her with each frame cleverly juxtaposing the extremities of the human existence in the most humorous setting and also not shying away from political commentary.  A number of her striking images are used in this movie but you get a sense of the documentary only scratching the surface of her genius. The picture of the black kid polishing the boots of a white kid is such a strong image that could be looked at in so many contexts that it begs the question of how much more treasure does her entire collection hold.

The humorous woman we are introduced to via the pictures suddenly becomes something entirely different with her previous wards describing her behavior as odd and eccentric, guarded and paranoid, with an odd fixation on the crime stories in the newspapers. It just starts becoming clearer that despite the fact that she obviously knew how talented she was she didn’t feel connected to the world around her to want to share her point of view.  There are tales of how she traveled the world and documented images she took overseas but also of the odd behavior where despite being born in New York she put on a fake French accent and wore manly and ill-fitted clothes. She took self-portraits so there was a definite vanity in her but the face was always in a quizzical and detached expression.  There are two interviews in particular that make you feel for Vivian, one where while she was still a nanny and the family wanted to be foster parents to another child Vivian asks them to take care of her instead and another towards the later part of her life when she runs into an old employer and Vivian begs her to sit with her and spend some time but she can’t as she has to get to the beach. But then there are some interviews which make you question if she was in fact ever a right choice to be a nanny to kids. One generic observation I have looking at all the people who were interviewed in the film is that at least the kids who Vivian looked after seem to all have a certain quality about them that makes them slightly odd, almost a little bitter with a tendency to laugh at the oddest things. I could be reading too much into it but I felt a little uncomfortable listening to these people who would appear to have some discomfort in a social situation.  Also Maloof seems a little suspect to me – about how he rails on against the art establishment for not hosting a Vivian Maier show (MOMA and Tate modern for instance). I really see no point in bringing it up in this documentary which is essentially to bring the brilliance of this nanny cum street photographer who might just be one of the most influential photographers.

But the movie is not about these people – it is about the people Vivian captures through her lens and the story she is trying to tell of the people and the situations she sees around herself. And what a fascinating conversation that is. I wish the movie ended with a collage/montage of more of her images and that a few of her self-portraits.  This is among the best documentaries I have seen because it introduces a subject matter that would otherwise remain unexplored and Vivian Maier is one of the most intriguing characters I have come across – it has been a few days since I saw the movie and her persona and the images he captured still are playing over and over in my head and that laugh she had when she was speaking about the weird phone calls she received after posting an ad in the newspaper for work. Vivian Maier was an enigma and I cannot wait to see more of her pictures.

vm

Dhoom : 3 – A Review

Vijay Krishna Acharya directs Aamir Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra and Katrina Kaif in the threequel to the Dhoom franchise innovatively titled Dhoom: 3. He does not so much as direct them as he shows them snippets of various Hollywood movies and musicals and asks them to imitate those.

Yashraj productions hasn’t been known to turn in quality cinema in many a decades now – but it still manages to make mildly entertaining fare which the Indian audiences and the Indian diaspora abroad lap up with enthusiasm . But with Dhoom 3 there seems to have been no effort made to make even a half intelligent somewhat original entertainment caper.

The story starts off with a Illusionist like setup in a dim theatre aptly titled “The Great Indian Circus” with an aging Jackie Shroff putting up a show for the evil bank guys in shiny suits. Mr. Anderson (our knowledge of western surnames is limited to Mr. Anderson) isn’t impressed and orders for the theatre to be shut down so that he can auction it. Jackie Shroff does what every responsible father does – kills himself in front of his son Sahir, who we are introduced to as the Oliver Twist kid who dresses like Hugo in 1990s Chicago.

Cut out of dream sequence and Aamir wakes up in a loft overlooking the John Hancockbuilding and looking mighty short in front of the imposing Chicago skyline (in my opinion the best in the world). Cut to The Dark Knight-esque bank robbery (of the same post office building) with a very serious looking Aamir walking down the building with the harness that is there one moment and missing the other. The chase goes from The Dark Knight with the underground chase to Aamir being cornered in the parking lot and coming out ala The Dark Knight Rises (the introduction of “The Bat”) and the dumbfounded cops of Chicago mouthing the same lines as those from Gotham’s finest “you are not going to believe this”.

We can’t sustain this Hollywood inspired nonsense for too long we need to go Rohit Shetty on the audiences so cut to Amma Nagar where Uday Chopra is being held captive by a gunda in a shiny suit (see a trend?). Abhishek Bachchan enters riding a Rickshaw through a wall and drives it all over the roofs of the slum just like Bond does through Turkey in Skyfall.  And the chase through the narrow lanes of the slums is also very Mombasa inspired from Inception.

What happens then in Chicago where Jai is called in as the most famous Indian cop to solve the second robbery of the Western Chicago bank and the only clue being a “Joker Calling Card” and a scribbling in Hindi.  What follows is a series of unimportant moments with the introduction of Katrina Kaif who serves no purpose in the entirety of the movie. And I am person with a very pro-Katrina bias and all through the movie she was nothing but awkward. The dance steps she was given were more suited to a person of a shorter frame and she was made to stand awkwardly to compensate for the height difference between her and Aamir. Entirely forgettable is what she was.  The much touted 5-cr song Malang is nothing but a mish-mash of different Cirque Du Soleil routines from their various shows.

how very RENT like!

The big reveal is again Nolan inspired and is almost predictable if you have been following the various Nolan references that are so on the nose that you almost see a Prestige coming.  There is a war-of-the-khan as it was that rages on between two rabid fan-bases the Aamir fan boys and the SRK fan boys. Those in the Aamir camp would be happy to note that this khan does a more convincing job of playing an Autistic/Asperger symptom showing prodigal genius than SRK.

Aamir shuttles between looking constipated when the director’s orders must’ve been to look serious and mean and between a cheerful childlike persona which he does capture very well.  Another positive is the child artist who plays Aamir as the young Sahir – now there is one child artist who does not make me cringe and that is saying quite a lot! I hope the young start gets more roles as he is really good.

The music is forgettable, the sets are recycled, the camera work while slick serves is quite indistinguishable. Aamir’s Tap dancing is so shoddy it shouldn’t be allowed to be screened to public. At one point I felt like patting Aamir’s head as one would to a precocious child ( because hitting a child is not allowed) when he goes “ look I can act serious and stuff” , “look I can tap dance”, “look at my big muscles” alright child go away enough is enough is enough.

I went in expecting to hate the movie and on that front it didn’t disappoint. It is a generic recycled unintelligent mess with more plot holes than I cared to count.  Katrina is wasted and not even given enough screen time to sit and look pretty. Uday Chopra is Uday Chopra, and Abhishek Bachchan is one note. Aamir is part impressive (a very small part where he plays the autistic persona) and part annoying and grating where he plays Sahir. Watch at your own peril!