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02/11/15 9:00am
02/11/2015 9:00 AM |

Photo courtesy of Radius

The Last Five Years
Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Opens February 13

Are movie musicals so out of style that even basic rules of composition and choreography are forgotten? Consider the key sequence of The Last Five Years, an adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s beloved all-sung deconstruction of the life and death of a relationship. Cathy, whose story is being told in reverse from the divorce, is getting engaged to Jamie, whose arc is told in sequence from their first night together.

This is the only time the characters are on the same page at the same time, as they otherwise alternate solos in a show that’s as much a concert as a narrative. Director Richard LaGravenese (P.S. I Love You) shoots it in a flashy shot that circles his lovers, but since the camera is handheld instead of on a track, it’s all his operator can do to keep from tipping over. Instead of an emotional crescendo, poor Anna Kendrick gets decapitated by framing.

It’s no surprise Years is a favorite of community theaters, since productions only need two actors and minimal staging. Those factors work against it as a movie, though. Since the actors can’t sing to the camera the way their on-stage equivalents belt to the audience, they now make appearances in each other’s songs. Not only does this rob the central number of its power as the only time their X-shaped timelines intersect, but as they don’t have lyrics they’re forced to mug non-verbal responses.

The film never makes the jumps in time wrenching. There should be a certain amount of whiplash between happiness and despair, a foreboding as outlooks get simultaneously brighter and darker while recurring musical themes reveal deeper ironies.

Kendrick does make for a radiant Cathy, her dreams of stardom both plausible and plausibly out of reach. But while Jeremy Jordan would be one of Hollywood’s biggest stars if it still had room for Gene Kelly types, he’s woefully miscast here. Jamie should be awkward and unsteady, first amazed to be with a “Shiksa goddess,” then rocked by the acclaim and temptations that come with his own artistic successes. Jordan, with his strong jaw and rock-hard abs, is the kind of conventional leading man that Jamie expressly isn’t.

He’s a lovely singer, though. The soundtrack should be dynamite.

12/23/14 1:00pm
12/23/2014 1:00 PM |

frankenweenie

Tim Burton’s Big Eyes could be lumped in with the count-em-three other biographical movies opening on Christmas Day, being that it’s Burton’s first true-ish story since Ed Wood twenty years ago. But it’s also a reunion with Wood screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski, which (for some, at least) shifts the focus from the biography of painter Margaret Keane to the narrative of Burton’s career, which, per conventional wisdom, just hasn’t been the same since, well, take your pick: Sleepy Hollow in ’99, Mars Attacks! in ’96 (his critically disliked flop that at some point became part of his good old days) or yes, Ed Wood, the masterpiece some non-fans seem to love at least in part out of hate for every outright fantasy he’s made since.

Big Eyes is not Ed Wood—not as loopy, not as moving, not as perfect a movie about the making of its beautifully questionable art—and as such may provide further fodder for condescending thinkpieces about what happened to Burton (quick answer: since his supposed prime he’s made, let’s see, a family drama with fantastical elements, a dark musical, a nearly unclassifiable horror-soap comedy, and some family films whose worst crimes are the ease with which they fit into his wheelhouse). But it accompanies Wood and Edward Scissorhands as a portrait of Burton’s native California: sunny pop-art sprawl with undercurrents of dysfunction and menace.

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12/17/14 4:59pm
12/17/2014 4:59 PM |

Photo courtesy of Disney

Into the Woods
Directed by Rob Marshall
Opens December 25

For Stephen Sondheim obsessives, the news that his sublime 1986 musical, Into the Woods, was finally making its way to cinemas was cause for celebration and concern. Sondheim’s material typically hasn’t been treated well in movies; he’s a major theater artist whose multilayered music and lyrics somehow seem diminished on the big screen. (Search Elizabeth Taylor and A Little Night Music on YouTube for an especially horrifying example.) That Rob Marshall was helming the composer’s beloved fractured fairy tale was even more distressing; as suggested by Chicago (2002) and Nine (2009), he’s the 21st century’s answer to lifeless theater-to-film transplant Joshua Logan.

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