Tag Archives: chris pine

“Into the Woods” a solid film

Whenever Disney dabbles into fairy tales, especially darker ones, there’s an inherent perception that studio executives will dampen down the story and ‘Disney-fy’ it, making it more accessible for families and taking the darker tone out of it. With Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, there was fear that the studio would subdue the darker third act elements, some of them downright violent, but Disney, thankfully, has let director Rob Marshall tell the story as it was meant to be told.

Into the Woods tells the story of a Witch (Meryl Streep) who places a curse on the house of the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). To remove the curse, the couple must retrieve several objects from other fairy tale creatures such as Little Red Riding Hood (Lila Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone). As the tale unfolds, an escalating series of events and romances converge to bring about a dramatic finale.

Sondheim being Sondheim, the music keeps the film moving even as it struggles at times to maintain its footing with so many storylines and characters. Prince Charming played by Chris Pine, by far one of the most entertaining characters, is given far too little screentime while Jack’s mother (Tracey Ullman) is given far too much. Some of the CGI effects also come off as rather pedestrian and the direction at times lack focus. And while Disney should be applauded for keeping the darker tone and message of the original production, some of the intense moments are either only winked at or glossed over instead of emphasized for true dramatic effect. The strength of the characters however makes up for the film’s shortcomings.

All of the cast excels, Meryl Streep of course stealing the show, but Emily Blunt and James Corden, as the heart of the story, really help ground an emotional stake for the viewer. Even as some musical numbers fall flat for not being cinematic enough or unnecessary and some characters do not hit the mark (Johnny Depp as the Wolf in a rather hideous costume), the journey of the Baker and his Wife keeps the audience engaged in the story. The story is not a children’s tale where things end happily ever after, but a reflection on how those types of stories help us deal with the cruel world around us. That message comes across strong, and the resulting film is enjoyable and thought-provoking.


‘Wonder Woman’ a fine film, but could have been more

Directed by Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman” is by far the best film in DC’s extended universe (though in honesty, that’s not much of a hill to climb). Diana (Gal Gadot) lives on Themiscyra, a hidden Amazonian land. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes onto the island, he lets the kingdom know of the great war happening beyond the sea. This appeals to Diana’s sense of duty and she ventures out to save mankind.

Being the most famous superwoman in the world, it’s past due for Diana to get her own film. Gal Gadot has a great balance of strength and earnestness, though a tad too much naivete, but her virtue represents the character well. The action scenes are exciting and it’s refreshing to see a superhero movie tell a superhero story; a hero who really is just trying to save people.

The problem though is that Wonder Woman is a female superhero and her femininity is not pushed for her benefit except in a few brief instances. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, intended for her to be used as a representation of the power of women, and she certainly is in the film by simply kicking ass, but the repressive male world could have been utilized more and in turn boost her message. Perhaps instead of a band of men that go to war with her, she brings together a group of undervalued women and teaches them the ways of combat and of breaking free from their bonds. And the villain could have been accentuated to represent male oppression. Diana’s presence alone carries a lot of weight surely, but her representation as a feminine power symbol could have been far expanded.

The story is rather thin and predictable as well with some on-the-nose language, but the corniness serves the narrative well. After all, when your villain is named Dr. Poison, you shouldn’t take things too seriously. It should be fun.

And as dramatic as the fight scenes sometimes are, the conclusion of the film is another big, dumb, loud battle with lots of explosions and lightning and blah. A simpler conclusion would serve better.

But the character of Wonder Woman is strong and that is the central point. It’s no longer just a boy’s club of superheroes anymore and with the public on her side, pumping millions of dollars into her movie, maybe, finally, female superheroes will be treated with more respect. It’s way past due.

‘Hell or High Water’ an interesting cultural study

Blending the Western, heist, crime and cultural drama genres, “Hell or High Water” is an interesting, if not earth-shattering, film about life in rural Texas. Made for our times, the film suggests that there is no real line between good and evil, just the will to survive and to try and uphold your morals doing it.

Written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David Mackenzie, the film follows two sets of duos: robbers and brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and the marshalls following them, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). When his mother’s land is about to be foreclosed on after her death, Toby is out of options. He recruits his sadistic brother Tanner to rob a set of smaller banks in order to raise up the funds to pass the land on to his kids. Marshall Marcus is just on the edge of retirement, looking to make the investigation into Toby and Tanner last as long as he can. His partner, Alberto, is the butt end of his neverending jokes about his Native American and Mexican heritage.

A consistent theme of the film are the boiling tensions between people whether for financial, religious or racial reasons. Whether it’s Tanner hating on Mexicans, Marcus joking about Alberto’s heritage or Toby despising the banks and what they’ve taken from him, the environment of the film is set up as take or be taken. The Native Americans lost their land to the white man, the white man lost it to the banks. In this respect, what the brothers do is simply a necessity, blurring that distinction between good and evil. Though Tanner eventually crosses a line that makes his actions indefensible, does the fact that Toby started their enterprise make him just as responsible? And for Marcus, what is to be done now that his career is coming to an end? What has he accomplished? What can he still?

The film is full of ethical questions such as these that are never truly resolved, letting the viewer decipher for themselves their own conclusions. It utilizes the harsh Texas environment as its own character in the film, something so rugged yet valuable, something worthwhile to steal because of heritage and the promise of the future.

The true strength of the film is the buildup, letting the characters and their moments establish the film’s rhythm and beats. By the end, the viewer feels like they really understand each of them and the events that transpire are both moral and tragic.

While it is nothing especially new, “Hell of High Water” is a film for the current time and executed very well; the acting, writing, directing, cinematography are all top notch. It is a strong story.