New Releases for the Week of December 20, 2019


STAR WARS: RISE OF THE SKYWALKER

(Disney) Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant. Directed by J.J. Abrams

Forty years and ten movies on, and it all comes to this; the final chapter in the saga of the Skywalker family, from Anakin to Luke and now the last generation, the story that has spanned four decades comes to a conclusion. Is it going to be as emotionally satisfying as the MCU finale earlier this year? Probably not.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and action)

A Hidden Life

(Fox Searchlight) August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti. The true story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter who refused to fight for the Nazis during the Second World War at great personal cost to himself and his family. This is the latest from recently prolific director Terrence Malick.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: PG-13 (for traumatic material including violent images)

Bombshell

(Lionsgate) Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow. A group of women at Fox News take on Roger Ailes to try and change the toxic masculine atmosphere he created, leading to a profound shakeup at the official network of the Republican party.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Lake Square, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Orlando, Cinepolis Hamlin, Cinepolis Polk County, Cobb Daytona Luxury, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: R (for sexual material and language throughout)

Cats

(Universal) James Corden, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson. At long last comes the screen version of the hit Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, depicting a group of cats meeting to determine which one of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and return to a new and better life. The film has gotten a great deal of blowback due to the trailer which some found the CGI make-up effects disconcerting.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some rude and suggestive material)
 

Dabangg 3

(Yash Raj) Salman Khan, Arbaaz Khan, Mahie Gill, Girish Taurani. India’s beloved badass cop Inspector Chulbul Pandey is back to take on a new case.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Hero</em
Prati Roju Pandage
Ruler
Thambi

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Hero
Only Cloud Knows
Prati Roju Pandage
Ruler
Thambi

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Ruler

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Prati Roju Pandage

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Hidden Life
Bombshell
Cats
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Mistletoe Movie Madness, Dania Beach, FL

Ocean’s 8


Back in black.

(2018) Action Comedy (Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Elliott Gould, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Richard Armitrage, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Dakota Fanning, Sarah Paulson, James Corden, Dana Ivey, Elizabeth Ashley, Marlo Thomas, Charlotte Kirk, Whitney White, Charles Prendergast, Damian Young, Talia Cuomo. Directed by Gary Ross

 

Sure, we need more films with empowered women doing what men do. The Ocean’s trilogy had an A-list all-star cast including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Bernie Mac and so on and so forth. Why should they have all the fun?

Indeed, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to prove that girls just wanna have fun too but the movie is sorely lacking in the presence of Steven Soderbergh, who wrote snappy dialogue, created a retro mood that recalled the Rat Pack that made the original Ocean’s 11 and let the men loose in Sin City – obviously the cast was having a great time with one another.

Sadly, this heist movie involving the theft of a fabulous Cartier diamond necklace from the equally fabulous Met Gala party annually hosted by Vogue’s Anna Wintour (who cameos as herself, one of a raft of cameos) fails to deliver the goods. As much as the Oceans trilogy felt like all involved were having a great time, this one feels like just another job. The bonding never feels authentic and the chemistry is sorely lacking. Like the distaff version of Ghostbusters back in 2016, the movie feels less of an ensemble and more of a collection of actresses. Don’t get me wrong – some of the sequences here are done with the kind of clever wit that the Oceans films are known for and the movie is entertaining in its own right and it makes some salient points about our celebrity-obsessed culture but it doesn’t hold up to any of its predecessors except maybe the least of the series, Oceans 13.

Part of the problem is that I think the expectations for a distaff version of an established and beloved franchise is that the movie will replicate the feel of the originals and that’s hard enough to do in the first place; throw in that the cast is going to be all-female in a fairly misogynistic society as we have and the movie has two strikes on it before it gets out of the gate. I think that thand their relationships I I think that the biggest mistake that was made here was that short shrift was given to the characters at the expense of a “sisters are doing it for themselves” empowerment narrative and sisters can do it for themselves as Wonder Woman and The Hunger Games have more than proven. It’s a pity that a cast this glittery left me so cold.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the sequences are marvelous.
REASONS TO AVOID: Lacks the camaraderie of the first three films.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, drug use and sexually suggestive content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Gould is the only actor from the first trilogy to appear in this film, scenes were filmed with Carl Reiner and Matt Damon but were both left on the cutting room floor.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews: Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bandits
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Bob Fosse: It’s Showtime!

New Releases for the Week of September 28, 2018


NIGHT SCHOOL

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Keith David, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ben Schwartz, Anne Winters. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Hart stars as one of several misfits taking night classes in an attempt to pass their GED exams. Haddish is the no-nonsense teacher assigned to help them get there.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence)

Cruise

(Vertical) Emily Ratajkowski, Noah Robbins, Kathrine Narducci, Spencer Boldman. An Italian-American boy from the mean streets of Brooklyn falls for a beautiful Jewish girl from Long Island. It’s 1987 and anything is possible.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: NR

Hell Fest

(CBS) Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd, Reign Edwards, Amy Forsyth. A masked serial killer finds a happy hunting ground in a horror-themed amusement park where the guests think that his gruesome murders are all part of the show.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for horror violence, and language including some sexual references)

Little Women

(Pure Flix) Lea Thompson, Ian Bohen, Lucas Grabeel, Melanie Stone. A modern update of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel follows the March sisters as they traverse the often treacherous path from girlhood to womanhood.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and teen drinking)

Science Fair

(National Geographic) Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster. For high school science nerds, their super bowl is the International Science and Engineering Fair. This documentary follows nine students from around the world as they compete for the “Best in Fair,” an award that only one of them can win.

See the trailer and a video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and brief language)

Smallfoot

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common. A bright young yeti discovers the existence of what was thought to be a mythological beast – a human. The news of his discovery turns the world upside down for his people who wonder what else might be out there.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements)

Sui Dhaaga: Made in India

(Yash Raj) Anushka Sharma, Varan Dhawan, Raghuvir Yadav, Govind Pandey. A husband and wife in India discover the need of entrepreneurship while trying to revive the artisan traditions of their homeland.

See the trailer and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

At First Light
The Bookshop
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
The Healer
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Apparition
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
Museo
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab
Pataakha
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Blaze
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Natakam
Nawab
The Padre
Pick of the Litter
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hell Fest
Night School

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

South Asia Film Festival (Maitland, FL)

New Releases for the Week of February 9, 2018


50 SHADES FREED

(Focus) Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Luke Grimes, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Ehle, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Marcia Gay Harden, Bruce Altman, Callum Keith Rennie. Directed by James Foley

This poorly-written BDSM bodice-ripper trilogy comes to a merciful end. There’s a story I think here somewhere but I’m not interested enough to figure it out.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos, GDX, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Romance (loosely)
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, and language)

The 15:17 to Paris

(Warner Brothers) Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Jenna Fischer. Three young American military man are vacationing in Europe, taking a train to Paris when they uncover a terrorist plot. Their actions would make them heroes around the globe. Clint Eastwood directs this using the actual young men playing themselves.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for bloody images,, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language)

Becks

(Blue Fox) Lena Hall, Christine Lahti, Dan Fogler, Mena Suvari. A Brooklyn musician, reeling from the break-up with her girlfriend, moves back in with her ultra-Catholic mom back in the Midwest. Struggling to re-connect with her past and move on in her present, she begins performing in a local tavern where she meets the wife of an old nemesis. This is loosely based on the life of singer Alyssa Robbins.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Insult

(Cohen Media Group) Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud.  This is the Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Lebanon and one of the five finalists. In it, a Palestinian refugee and a Lebanese Christian end up in court over a verbal confrontation that gets blown terribly out of proportion. With the eyes of the entire country on the legal proceedings, the fragile balance between religions in Lebanon could be a victim of the court case if things continue to spiral out of control.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR  

La Boda de Valentina

(Pantelion) Kate Vernon, Ryan Carnes, Omar Chaparro, Marimar Vega. Valentina is the daughter of a politically connected family in Mexico. She has moved to America to make her own way out of their shadow. When her American boyfriend proposes, she is thrown for a loop; her family isn’t the easiest to get along with and she’s uncertain what they will think about an American husband. Throw into the mix a handsome ex-boyfriend and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal the Loop

Rating: R (for language)

Pad Man

(Sony International) Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor. This is a fictional biography of the real life Padmashri Arunachalam Muruganatham, a man who was shocked that his wife used unsanitary cloth to clean herself during her period. He spearheaded a movement to create low-cost sanitary pads for women throughout rural India, even though the subject of menstruation is very much taboo in that country…and it isn’t exactly a topic of polite conversation here either.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Peter Rabbit

(Columbia) James Corden (voice), Margot Robbie (voice), Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne. The beloved tales of Beatrix Potter come to live action combined with CGI life. A rebellious rabbit leads his friends in an attempt to access a farmer’s vegetable garden but the farmer has other ideas.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some rude humor and action)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Aadhi
Colao
Gayatri
In the Fade
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

A Fantastic Woman
Basmati Blues
Colao
Demons 2
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Gayatri
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Aadhi
Colao
Gayatri
Humble Politician Nograj
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Gayatri
Intelligent
Toliprema

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The 15:17 to Paris
A Fantastic Woman
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Peter Rabbit

New Releases for the Week of July 28, 2017


ATOMIC BLONDE

(Focus) Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Til Schweiger, Barbara Sukowa, James Faulkner. Directed by David Leitch

The most lethal assassin in MI6 is sent on assignment to Berlin to smuggle a dossier out of the city which has been destabilized by opposing forces. In a simmering cauldron of betrayal and murder, she is allied with the embedded station chief to navigate the back alleys and halls of power to get what Her Majesty’s government requires of her. She soon realizes that she has been betrayed from within and you know what they say hell hath no fury like. This is based on the Oni Press graphic novel The Coldest City.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, B-roll video and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)

A Ghost Story

(A24) Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Kesha Sebert, Will Oldham. Recently deceased, a ghost – complete with white sheet – haunts his beloved home while silently observing his grief-stricken wife. He is also able to see other inhabitants of the house both past and present. The latest film from director David Lowery has gotten much acclaim on the festival circuit.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for brief language and a disturbing image)

The Emoji Movie

(Columbia) Starring the voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Patrick Stewart. Deep in the heart of your smart phone lies a place called Textopolis where all your favorite emojis live. Each one of them has but one facial expression – except for poor Gene who has many. Wanting to be normal, he and his friends Hi-Five and Jailbreak search the phone and all its apps to find the code that will fix Gene. When unwittingly they discover a greater danger threatening the entire phone, the resourceful emojis will have to use all their skills to keep the emojis from being deleted for good.

See the trailer, a featurette and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude humor)

The Exception

(A24) Christopher Plummer, Jai Courtney, Lily James, Janet McTeer. As the Second World War looms, Kaiser Wilhelm II lives in exile in the Netherlands. A German soldier is assigned to determine whether the Dutch resistance has a spy or spies in the former ruler’s household. In the course of his investigation he falls for a Dutch Jewish girl who may or may not be the droid he’s looking for.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for sexuality, graphic nudity, language and brief violence)

OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Manifesto
Mubarakan
Vikram Vedha

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

13 Minutes
A Family Man
Imperfections
Lady Macbeth
Landline
Mubarakan
My Father’s Land
My Journey Through French Cinema
Vikram Vedha
Wolf Warrior 2

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

A Family Man
The Black Prince
Imperfections
The Last Face
Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back
Mubarakan

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

I, Daniel Blake
Mubarakan
Vikram Vedha

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Ghost Story
Atomic Blonde
The Emoji Movie
The Exception
Lady Macbeth
Landline

 

Kill Your Friends


Alone in a crowd.

Alone in a crowd.

(2015) Comedy (Well Go USA) Nicholas Hoult, James Corden, Georgia King, Craig Roberts, Jim Piddock, Joseph Mawle, Dustin Demri-Burns, Damien Molony, Bronson Webb, Emma Smith, Rosanna Hoult, Ed Skrein, Tom Riley, Edward Hogg, Kurt Egyiawan, Hugh Skinner, Moritz Bleibtreu, Alex Gillison, Ieva Andrejevaite, Osy Ikhile, David Avery, Alannah Olivia. Directed by Owen Harris

Music is a highly personal thing. It can define you, it can color your world, it can take you back to good memories in an instant. It can also make a lot of money for someone.

In the 1990s, it was the era of Cool Brittania, when music from the UK ruled the airwaves. Blur, Oasis and Radiohead were at the top of the charts and even lesser-known bands had their moments in the sun. That was a really good time to be a record company A&R man in Britain.

Steve Stelfox (Hoult) has that very job, and judging from the tabloids it’s all drugs, sex and concerts and that’s pretty much true, but he actually has to sign some bands and those bands actually have to make some money for the label. His good friend Roger (Corden) wants to sign bands that matter, but Steve thinks that’s silly – except that the head of A&R for the label has essentially had a breakdown and the open job is likely Roger’s because he’s been there the longest – and Steve wants that job.

So Steve takes drastic steps to ensure that he has the longest tenure but a curveball is thrown his way when Parker Hall (Riley) is hired; and Hall is bringing with him a highly coveted indie band, the Lazies, in with him. Steve has in turn signed the Songbirds, a Spice Girls-wannabe act who are temperamental and damn near impossible to work with and look to be a dead end for the label.

Steve is aided by his secretary Rebecca (King) who is blackmailing him for a promotion and there is a detective (Hogg)  investigating what happened to Roger, who after interrogating Steve slips him a demo because, you know, he always wanted to be a singer-songwriter. Steve is clever and Steve is ruthless and Steve doesn’t really have much of a conscience; perfect qualifications for the music industry.

Screenwriter John Niven adapted the material from his own novel, and he certainly has some background in the subject – he was actually an A&R guy during the period the novel takes place in. So you figure that some of the goings on had some basis in fact, particularly the back-biting and hustling. That lends an air of authenticity which differentiates this from other films set within the music industry, in which plucky young songwriters who have something to say end up getting a contract. The cynicism here is well-earned.

Hoult is perfectly cast as Stelfox, operating with a furrowed WTF brow alternating with an eye-rolling sneer. The character has been compared to Patrick Bateman in American Psycho but I think that’s a bit of an easy cop-out; Stelfox may be amoral and cynical but he’s not psychotic; he simply has no ethics whatsoever. There’s a very important difference there.

He does the voiceover narration as well, and it’s pretty damn funny. In fact, a lot of the material here is funny to the point I was laughing out loud – possibly because I have an insider’s perspective to the music industry (I was a rock critic for more than a decade) but also because it’s just so damn mean. If you’re in the right mood for this kind of stuff (and I clearly was) there’s a gold mine of laughs here.

I wanted to call attention to the soundtrack. It has a lot of period-accurate and place-accurate music that will instantly bring you back to the era. It’s not all hits either; some of the songs you’ll here were essentially album tracks, but they were not the filler – they were the tracks that could have been singles. There is also some original music and the score is by Junkie XL, who is rapidly becoming one of the best there is.

The movie was a touch too long and there will be plenty who will find it too dark. I will definitely give the caveat that this isn’t the movie for everyone and there are some who won’t take well to the cynical tone. However, as far as it goes, I think the movie accomplishes what it set out to and in fact exceeded my expectations. This is going to be one of those movies you’ve probably never heard of but when you find it on Netflix or some other streaming service you’ll be delighted that you did.

REASONS TO GO: A really great soundtrack. Black comedy that’s laugh-out-loud funny. Nicholas Hoult is spot on in his performance.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit too long and maybe too cynical for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of profanity and a ton of drug use, as well as some nudity, plenty of violence and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie’s protagonist is partly inspired by A&R legend Don Simpson.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: VOD, Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/20/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: High Fidelity
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: London Has Fallen

Into the Woods


Emily Blunt and James Corden are uncertain how critics are going to take their new movie.

Emily Blunt and James Corden are uncertain how critics are going to take their new movie.

(2014) Musical (Disney) Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Daniel Huttlestone, Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Lilla Crawford, Tracy Ullman, Johnny Depp, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, Annette Crosby, Frances de la Tour, Simon Russell Beale, Joanna Riding, Richard Glover, Pamela Betsy Cooper. Directed by Rob Marshall

We all of us grow up with fairy tales. The works of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson are known to us if for no other reason than the Disney animations based on them.

In 1986 legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim took the characters from a number of different fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and turned it into a Broadway musical. The thing got rave reviews, a legion of fans and a boatload of Tony Awards. It is revived regularly to this day. Now Disney is taking it to the big screen and has enlisted Rob Marshall who was successful doing the same for Chicago.

\In a small village on the edge of a dark and deep forest lies a village in which lies a Baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt). They are basically good and decent people who yearn to have a child of their own but they can’t seem to make it work. Little Red Riding Hood (Crawford) stops by their shop and begs for bread to give to her ailing grandmother (Crosby). The good-hearted couple and Red takes a lot more than they bargained for.

They are then accosted by the Witch (Streep) who lives next door who informs them that their line is cursed because the Baker’s father (Beale) stole some magic beans from the Witch’s garden. Dear old dad fled and left the Baker on his own to run the business. However there’s a way out – if the Baker can gather a cow as white as snow, cloth as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold, she can create a spell that will lift the curse and allow them to have children. There is a deadline however for the spell to work.

Elsewhere Cinderella (Kendrick) lives with her Stepmother (Baranski) and that lady’s two daughters – Florinda (Blanchard) and Lucinda (Punch) from a previous marriage – and is being generally ridiculed and abused by the three women. She longs to go to the King’s Ball but that isn’t going to happen; the girl is basically dressed in rags but a gown is required. She is met in the forest by Prince Charming (Pine) who notices the girl’s plucky courage at walking in the woods by herself.

Young Jack (Huttlestone) is somewhat dense and something of a dreamer. His mom (Ullman) is exasperated with the boy; they are very poor and the harvest was bad, their milk cow Milky White wasn’t giving milk and there simply won’t be enough food to last them through the winter. She tells him that he must sell the cow at the market in the village and sadly, he leads his only friend away to market.

Jack and the Baker meet up in the woods and the latter convinces the former to exchange the cow for some beans he had in his pocket which the Baker convinces Jack are magic beans. Jack takes the beans, the Baker takes the cow and when Jack’s mother finds out she furiously chucks the beans away. Turns out that those beans that were the magic beans the Baker’s father stole and had left in his hunting jacket that he’d left behind and which the Baker now wore into the woods. A giant beanstalk grows and you know what happens after that.

Actually, you know most of what happens up until about the middle of the story. Then things start going sideways. Happily ever afters are relatively rare in this or any other world and there are consequences for the things that we do and they aren’t always pleasant ones.

Marshall knows how to bring big production values to his stage adaptations and he utilizes them here. While the movie was mostly filmed on sets, the woods actually look like woods (the set was so realistic that Pine and Blunt got lost in the woods and had to be rescued by a production assistant). The singing which was mostly pre-recorded is also quite adequate, particularly by Streep who has an excellent set of pipes as we learned from Mamma Mia. In fact her performance as the witch is one of the standouts here; she gives a character who is ostensibly wicked depth and feeling, making her a more sympathetic creature than perhaps she has any right to be. Blunt, as the Baker’s wife, is flawed and makes mistakes but she has a wonderful heart and really tugs at the heartstrings late in the film. She also has some pretty fine chemistry with Corden.

Pine and Magnussen both provide comedy relief in the form of a song called “Agony” which involves much posing by a waterfall. We are reminded once again that fairy tales – and Disney for that matter – are all about the princess for a reason. In fact, most of the musical numbers are staged well, although the general complaint that I have with Sondheim is that he tends to overwork his musical themes to death and that is certainly the case here.

The juvenile actors are a little bit less satisfactory. While Crawford is adequate, Huttlestone overacts and sings like he’s in a junior high school play. I normally don’t like taking shots at young actors but it really was distracting from the overall film and lessened my enjoyment of it.

If you come into the theater expecting Once Upon a Time or Galavant from ABC (a subsidiary of Disney) you’re going to be shocked. The tone here is dark, very dark – particularly in the second act. There is some violence, people do get killed (sometimes onscreen as we watch) and people deal with grief, cheating spouses and imminent peril from a very pissed-off giant.

Nonetheless this is still more entertaining than I expected it to be, given that Marshall’s track record since Chicago has been pretty uneven. It also doesn’t have the magic I hoped it would have, given the love that the musical has enjoyed for decades. It’s good enough to recommend, but not good enough to rave over.

REASONS TO GO: Decent performances and some unexpected twists and turns. Fairly strong representation of the Broadway show.
REASONS TO STAY: Drags in places.
FAMILY VALUES: A few disturbing images, a suggestive scene involving adultery and some adult thematic material as well as fantasy action and peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ironically, Emily Blunt who plays a woman unable to have a baby was pregnant during the shoot.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Enchanted
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Two Faces of January