Meryl Streep wreaks havoc on fairytale characters in Into the Woods
INTO THE WOODS (PG)
Traditionally in fairytales, the bedraggled heroine wins her dashing prince, evil stepmothers get their comeuppance and abducted children escape the clutches of a witch by pushing the treacherous hag into her oven.
Nothing epitomises Happily Ever After like the heady aroma of roasting human flesh.
Into The Woods keeps turning the pages on these archetypal characters, imagining what might happen as they come to terms with their actions and - in most cases - suffer the repercussions.
Light comedy and heartrending tragedy skip hand in hand in James Lapine’s screenplay and Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics, which are ambrosia for director Rob Marshall, who propelled the 2002 film version of Chicago to Oscar glory.
This has nearly as much razzle dazzle including gorgeous costumes, picturesque sets and digitally enhanced magical effects.
Thankfully, Marshall tones down the swirling camerawork and snappy editing here, adopting a gentler rhythm, which is less exhausting on our eyes over two hours.
The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) yearn for a child but cannot conceive.
The Witch (Meryl Streep) next door promises the couple a family if they bring her four objects before the blue moon: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.
The Baker and his wife head into the woods with six magic beans and encounter 12-year-old Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who is off to market to sell his cow Milky White, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who is fleeing from a ball thrown by a charming Prince (Chris Pine), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who intends to visit her Granny (Annette Crosbie) but would make a tasty snack for the lascivious Wolf (Johnny Depp), and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), who is consigned to a tower which can only be accessed by lowering her flaxen hair to a smitten lover (Billy Magnusson).
As the fated hour approaches, the childless couple resorts to desperate measures to collect the objects for the Witch.
Into The Woods establishes its mood with a dazzling overture, “I Wish”, elegantly introducing the characters before their fates intersect.
Streep is typically spellbinding. Her voice soars and our hearts break in her solo to motherhood, “Stay With Me”.
Corden and Blunt add to the film’s emotional heft while Pine and Magnusson are hysterical as regal brothers in their chest-beating, thigh-slapping duet “Agony” atop a cascading waterfall.
With such a large cast to juggle, the script occasionally feels disjointed and some gear changes from broad pantomime to heartbreaking grief are jarring.
But Marshall doesn’t shy away from delivering bitter pills in the final act courtesy of a marauding giant (Frances de la Tour).
Everything has a price, especially your heart’s desire, so be careful what you wish for.
TAKEN 3 (12A)
History repeats with predictably calamitous consequences in Olivier Megaton’s high-octane thriller Taken 3.
In previous films, former Special Forces operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) single-handedly brought down an Albanian human trafficking ring and its underworld offshoots.
He left devastation and an impressive double-digit body count in his wake.
Surely, the east European criminal fraternity would have learnt that Mills and his family are off-limits.
Alas, the Russians haven’t received that memo because they foolishly try their luck against the hulking avenger in this frenetically edited instalment.
Scriptwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen attempt to convince us that the third film is different from its predecessors by engineering a murderous twist that transforms good guy Bryan from righteous hunter into wanted fugitive.
However, once the turbo-charged car chases and bruising fisticuffs begin in earnest, Taken 3 eases back into a familiar bloodthirsty groove.
As the film opens, Bryan is playing doting father to his grown-up daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who is settling down with her boyfriend (Jonny Weston).
Ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) continues to question her marriage to second husband Stuart St John (Dougray Scott), and Bryan gives her a key to his flat if she needs to get away.
Soon after, Bryan returns home to find Lenore in his bed with her throat slit.
He’s the prime suspect and manages to escape local police so that he can call Kim and deliver the bad news about her mother.
“Someone murdered her in my apartment. It looks like I did it,” Bryan confesses.
Determined to clear his name and unmask the real culprit - tattooed kingpin Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell) - Bryan goes on the run from the CIA, FBI and police led by Detective Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker).
“This is going to end badly for you,” yelps one officer during a chase.
“Don’t be such a pessimist,” deadpans Bryan, who risks everything to exact his bone-crunching brand of justice with the help of retired CIA pals Sam (Leland Orser), Bernie (David Warshofsky) and Casey (Jon Gries).
Taken 3 delivers a cacophonous conclusion to the franchise that has reinvented Neeson as a big-screen action star.
Megaton orchestrates the set pieces with brio, sacrificing plausibility at the altar of increasingly outlandish thrills and spills.
Whitaker lends gravitas to his underwritten role as the canny cop, who begins to doubt Bryan’s guilt, while Neeson barks his perfunctory dialogue with aplomb.
“How did I escape?” he growls at one juncture, cueing a cheeky flashback that explains his miraculous survival of a flaming car wreck.
The leading man’s ability to evade certain death becomes a delicious and unintentional running joke.
On this evidence, nothing short of a direct hit from a nuclear warhead could stop him.
Taken 4 A Ride is surely just a matter of time.