The holidays are over, but our cultural overlords at the Walt Disney Corporation have decided to surprise us all with an early present for next year: a screen adaptation of “Into the Woods,” starring Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick and others. Directed by Rob Marshall, he of “Chicago” and “Nine” musical fame, this new version is definitely going to be like a Christmas-day present for my girlfriend and I.
The casting is great, right down to the choice of Daniel Huddlestone (you may know him as Gavroche from the film version of “Les Miserables”). Even more enticing is the fact that they are letting Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine update their work. Though Disney is an unabashedly creepy and weird company that insists on celebrating a bunch of awful animation movies that do nothing but reinforce negative gender stereotypes (and, in earlier times, racist and anti-Semitic stereotypes, too), I have to admit that I’m pretty excited for this iteration of “Into the Woods.” The fact that Sondheim and Lapine are attached hopefully means that this movie version won’t lose too much of the unsettling and darkly humourous vibe of the original. Not to spoil anything, but there’s a whole lot of death and a whole lot of blatant sexual undertones (overtones, really) between the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, and it adds unexpected primal depth to the story.
In fact, because I’m percolating with musical excitement and have to wait a whole year to get this particular fix, I’m going to recommend a few others that I’ll be watching again over the next year to satiate myself. Obviously, one could watch “Moulin Rouge,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Grease” or “West Side Story,” but the two you really ought to watch or rewatch this year are “Dick Tracy” and “20 Centimetros.”
“Dick Tracy” is probably the best comic book movie ever made. The only movies of the genre that are in the discussion are “The Dark Knight,” “The Avengers,” and Ang Lee’s “The Hulk,” but I still would probably take “Dick Tracy” over any of them, with “The Dark Knight” a close second–if only it hadn’t been weighed down by Aaron Eckhart’s bad performance and it’s implied support of warrantless wiretapping (as long as it’s done by an unelected one-percenter in a cape). “Dick Tracy” has an even better cast than the upcoming “Into the Woods,” with Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Dick Van Dyke, Madonna, Mandy Patinkin and Paul Sorvino doing excellent work under Beatty’s direction.
It’s not strictly a musical, but there are multiple montages and overlaid song work that give the effect of it being a musical, and Madonna’s depressing and ironic ballads give the film emotional heft. Technically, it’s one of the most impressive movies ever made, with gorgeous matte paintings, a limited use of eight old-timey colors for all the sets and clothing (reflecting the limited disparity of color that old comic books had way back when), and prosthetics to reflect the garish features of the original villains. Oh, and Stephen Sondheim did the songs and Danny Elfman scored it. Seriously, go see it.
For the more adventurous crowd, though, “20 Centimetros” is the film for you. Well, it’s the film for you if you like musicals about narcoleptic transvestite prostitutes and their journey to become transsexual as told through song and dance. Monica Cervera stars as Marieta, a young prostitute that wants nothing more than to undergo gender reassignment surgery and remove the, well, 20 centimeters of the film’s name.
Along the way, she deals with complications from a closeted lover who wants her to stay the way she is for appearance’s sake, the opinions of her friends and coworkers, her narcolepsy, and much more. It’s an absolutely beautiful and heartwarming tale, and it’s hard not to tear up when you hear her version of Queen’s “I Want To Break Free.” The movie is a little hard to find, and it’s mostly in Spanish, but it’s well worth the search, especially if you like musicals. While watching “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the nth time is always fun, sometimes you need variety, and these two movies will certainly give you that.