Boyhood


What a year! Both Boyhood (2014) and Birdman come out, both with two “gimmicks” that test the conventions and abilities of filmmaking. I find both “gimmicks” as incredible ideas that bring artistry back to filmmaking. In Boyhood, director Richard Linklater follows the life of a boy over 12 years. In the span of two hours and forty-five minutes, you literally see a boy grow up. It’s absolutely incredible.

Boyhood follows the life of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), a six-year old boy. He has an older sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) who is two years older than him. They live with their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) who starts the film as a struggling single mother. Each year, they filmed a little bit, creating a story that spans 12 years. What this film does that other movies with similar themes never achieve is clearly and artfully articulating the process of growing up. What I mean by that is that you not only see the children physically grow older but you actually see them become the people they will be as adults. Samantha starts out as a spunky and chatty girl. Over the years, she becomes introverted and reserved, always hiding behind a pair of headphones or a cell phone keyboard. She doesn’t make much trouble, she goes to college, and she’ll be alright. She makes a pretty big change though, from outgoing to withdrawn, which is fascinating to watch.

Mason Jr. makes another big change. He starts off also chatty, a little strange, but sweet. Over the years, dealing with a couple of horrible alcoholic step-fathers, plenty of moving, seeing his mom finish school and stabilize the household, and interacting with his father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), his journey through boyhood is a little more colorful than his sister’s. He deals with varying degrees of work ethic. He experiments with drugs and alcohol. He finds a passion for photography which keeps him motivated through high school. He becomes a soft-spoken young man with a hint of an anarchy streak in him. He doesn’t open up to people very often, but when he does, he’s loyal. He basically becomes a hipster artist who somehow sidestepped a move to Austin, Texas. This film really accentuates what parents see over the years, succinctly in a film: children meander around, looking for their personalities and characters until they finally discover themselves and root themselves into the adults they will be. I don’t have children and I don’t have any younger siblings, so I haven’t really been aware of this phenomenon. The film brings it to life artistically with poignant clarity.

Arquette delivers the performance of a lifetime. She starts off as a struggling single mother, who works so hard juggling parenting and school in order to give her children a better life. She stumbles into two bad marriages, one of which was very toxic. She finally landed a great job and was able to finally start giving her children a comfort and stability in life they hadn’t ever experienced. Her character is incredibly dynamic and her performance is just as dynamic and beautifully nuanced. At the turn of a hat she can switch from a loving mother to the strict parent and to a vulnerable person. What I find wonderful about her character is that, despite the ill-suited men she kept marrying and their thoughts about her children, she always trusted her children. Even as Mason started experimenting and saying out later, she knew him and trusted him, and I believe that Mason valued that trust and never abused it. Patricia Arquette will surely be winning an Oscar tonight.

Not only is Boyhood a meaningful journey through life, it’s also funny. The film sports a lot of pop culture references that keep each year distinguishable from the one before and after. Early in the film, Samantha smacks Mason with a pillow and starts dancing and singing to Britney Spears’ “Oops…I Did it Again”. Such a funny moment. Later on in the film, Mason and his dad are shooting the breeze and start wondering if there ever will be any more Star Wars movies, which, in itself isn’t funny, but it’s hilarious when the movie comes out the year before a new Star Wars movie is released. Humor is an important part of the recipe for Boyhood. It’s not enough to have a solemn look at the upbringing of children. If there’s no humor and laughter in life, what’s the point? I think the humor beautifully balances out the drama in Boyhood.

I had the opportunity to see Boyhood right when it came out and I missed it. Ever since, I have been eagerly waiting to see it, as it gained more and more acclaim and accolade. Finally, I’ve seen it, and while I wasn’t able to identify with it very much, I was astounded with the story and means of telling that story. The attention and care that Linklater took to actually make this film happen, year after year over twelve years, is absolutely remarkable. For that, I expect him to win an Oscar for Best Director tonight. He had the forbearance to recognize that he had a great cast, particularly in his boy star, who he had to believe would grow into his talents. Boyhood has a remarkable cast who performs beautifully, especially for revisiting their characters once a year. For me, the most important impact from Boyhood is the marvel parents must feel to see their children become the men and women they find for themselves.

Song of the Sea


Wow, what a treat! I have been waiting so long to see Song of the Sea (2014), especially since it was supposed to show at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre about a month ago — but this film is certainly worth the wait.

Song of the Sea is an Irish animated film, nominated for an Academy Award, centered around the Celtic legend of the selkie — a mystical creature who is said to have the form of a seal in the water and the form of a human on land. I cannot praise Song of the Sea for its artistry enough. The animation is absolutely gorgeous. The visual aesthetic not only is technically pristine, but it also creates a unique character for the film. The use of color is astounding. Bright colors shine when you least expect them, which is part of the characteristic ambience of the film. Everything, from the waves in the ocean to the whiskers on the seals, is methodically crafted to create a homogenous, magnificent world. Its style creates an impression that will not be forgotten — and an impression that everyone will try to replicate.

Animated films are the perfect vessels for visually-led storytelling. Some of the best moments in animated films have no dialogue and are driven purely by the visuals and the music. Examples include the gorgeous montage in Up! and the beginning of Wall-ESong of the Sea has one of those moments, when six-year old Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) wakes in the middle of the night and finds these warm points of bright light floating about in her room. She follows them to a locked chest and finds a white coat inside. She creeps out of the house, clad in the coat, dancing about the points of light. She has never uttered a word her entire life, so a sequence devoted to developing her character certainly should avoid the spoken word. Instead, the enchanting music of Bruno Coulais and Kíla highlight Saoirse’s delightful mannerisms and personality. The sequence reveals the innocence and liveliness that lives inside her, even if she cannot verbally express it to her family. The scene continues as she transforms into a glowing white seal. She swims with a pod of seals and explores the sea. These shots in the ocean are mesmerizing, as every aspect underwater is uniquely marked, making it undeniably part of this beautiful world. At one point, the pod of seals swims by a spectacular humpback whale. This entire scene is done without dialogue, and it may be the most entrancing sequence in the film.

What struck me about Song of the Sea, in terms of its animation and its menagerie of characters, is how it likened to a European Miyazaki film. The animation is lush and breathtaking, creating elaborate and inspiring landscapes. The characters are all endearing, yet many have strange eccentricities. There is the old man with the disturbingly long hair, yet endearingly funny; there is the elderly fairy trio who just wants to jam and sing; there are the seals, who have big lovable eyes, that stare a lot. There is a spirit that while many of these characters may look strange or may not be entirely pretty on the outside, they have an innate goodness on the inside, which sits at the heart of many of Miyazaki’s films. The greatest similarity, to me, is the animation of the old women. In Song of the Sea, Macha and the grandmother (both voiced by Fionnula Flanagan) are illustrated brazenly as old women, layered in wrinkles. It’s Macha, especially, with her eyes that immediately made me think of the old hag in Spirited Away. While these depictions of old women may not be the most appealing, I think they’re less cruel and more honest. The lot of the auxiliary characters have flaws, both cosmetic and inveterate, but it is what is inside or how characters change that makes the difference.

While I know it won’t win the Academy Award, it should. This film was engaging, moving, and heartwarming. Saoirse and her brother Ben (David Rawle) interacted delightfully, evoking the chemistry of a real brother and sister. The story is timeless and will age well over the years. This is an animated film that generations can bestow on their little ones, one after the other. The music will enchant you, and the animation will inspire you.

Birdman


Watching Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014) is like watching a dream. The camera takes us on an uninterrupted journey through the St. James Theatre during opening week of Riggan Thomson’s (Michael Keaton) Broadway play. While there are some disguised cuts throughout the film, it looks and feels as though the entire film is one, long take. It’s incredible. It’s very engaging to watch, as if we’re a part of the action of the screen, or at least a fly on the wall in the theatre. It gives the illusion of a dream, because most films do not have that kind of pacing. It’s kind of like watching a play on the screen, but you get to mingle with the characters on stage. It’s a stunning idea, and it’s executed brilliantly.

Maybe another reason it feels like a dream is its use of magical realism. Throughout the film, usually when in conversation with his alter ego Birdman, he exhibits what appear to be magical powers. The entire film begins with a show of tighty-whitey clad Riggan floating in the air. He uses his powers to trash his dressing room and to fly back to the theatre. Are his powers real? No. These powers are manifestations of his depression and  other psychological problems. Riggan’s main problem is that he so desperately wants to take control of his life. He put on this Broadway play explicitly to take control of his career and regain relevance…except it doesn’t seem to be working. His daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) viciously lashes out at him to illustrate just how irrelevant he is. That combined with the brazen conversation he had with New York Times theatre critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), Riggan was more than ready to stand on the ledge.

Which brings us to the film’s ending: what the heck happened? Did Riggan actually fly away? What was Sam looking at outside the window? What gives? Well, Sam had her fair share of issues, so it’s safe to say: daughter like father. There seems to be a peculiar aviary trend when it comes to films about artistic perfection (yes, I’m referencing Black Swan). Riggan has had a lucrative yet unsatisfying early career by portraying super hero Birdman. After rejecting a fourth installment in the franchise, he’s dissolved into obscurity and he cannot stand it. Putting on the play would be a way to step back into the spotlight and receive critical acclaim for his artistry. Turns out, his actions are more transparent than he thought. So now, how is he going to achieve fame again? Relevance begins to morph into buzz, and facing a review that will close his play, he isn’t thinking long-term anymore. I believe he meant to end his life on the stage on opening night by using the loaded gun — especially after that chilling conversation with his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan). He recounts a previous suicide attempt: he tried to drown himself in the ocean but was unexpectedly stopped by jellyfish that stung him and forced him to swim back to land. Opening night — which Black Swan confirms for us — is the perfect time to go big or go home. Except he missed and just blew off his nose. Then, once he heard the review of his play connecting his name to a new wave of American theatre, he feels content to finally let himself go knowing that his name will not fall into obscurity. After he jumps out the window, Sam looks up and begins a similar delusion that her father endured often. In order to block out the sight of him dead on the street below, she imagines him flying away, and that comforts her.

Birdman is a thrilling film that absolutely takes you on a journey. What that journey is, only you can decide for yourself. The cinematography is exquisite, which not only shows off the prowess of the filmmakers but also the virtuosity of the actors to shoot much longer scenes than are normally shot. Keaton delivers an incredible performance, though some may argue that he’s not really acting. After all, he, too, is an actor who played a big super hero (Batman) in his early career and is returning to the big screen after a long time to deliver a big punch. Same thing could be said about his co-actor Edward Norton, who plays the disagreeable Mike. Norton is notoriously difficult to work with, and his character is the same way. How much of this film is fiction and how much is inspired by some reality? Regardless, Keaton and Norton give beautifully nuanced performances, particularly highlighted in the scene where Mike reads lines with Riggan for the first time. They go from messing around with lines, to really getting into the moment, and quickly coming out of it to a laugh from the audience. Stone gives a strong performance, as well, causing fireworks when she disparages her father. Naomi Watts also gives a beautiful performance of a hard-working actress who has finally made it to her first Broadway play. Too bad it won’t last long. Birdman is one of the favorites to win Best Picture. If it wins, it will undeniably be much deserved.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya


The Tale of Princess Kaguya is another installment from Studio Ghibli, based on the Japanese folktale “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”, directed by Isao Takahata. It is a gorgeously animated film, telling the story of a princess who suddenly springs to life in a bamboo forest one day. Despite the very somber ending to the film, I believe that the story offers many positive takeaways.

Firstly, if Princess Kaguya (Chloë Grace Moritz) had never spontaneously germinated in the bamboo forest, the bamboo cutter (James Caan) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen) may never had had the opportunity to raise a child. Their lives were completely changed by having Kaguya in their family, and I imagine that they would not trade that for the world. They appeared elderly at the beginning of the film, and perhaps they had lost children or weren’t able to bear children, so Kaguya’s advent was a blessing.

Secondly, the experience with Princess Kaguya gave both the bamboo cutter and his wife opportunities to 1) recognize, and 2) react to the social structure of their society. By our modern and progressive standards, it’s hard to believe that the bamboo cutter would continue pressing a noble’s life onto Kaguya, She was obviously distraught and unhappy, but he truly believed that he was doing the right thing. He loves her immeasurably, and, because of the social norms of which he’s familiar, he knows that girls long to grow up to marry wealthy nobles and have a life of leisure and comfort. He thinks he has succeeded by giving her this prosperous life, and he finds it hard to understand when she resists conforming to that lifestyle. Although too late, he realizes what she loves in life: her parents, laughter, the natural world — and he fights for her, even if in futility. Along those lines, his wife knows that her daughter is unhappy, but as a woman in her society, she must follow her husband’s wishes. She cannot make decisions or defy his wishes. As the film nears its end, perhaps inspired by her daughter’s own rebelliousness, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She calls for a cart to take Kaguya to their old home, because she knows it will be good for her. This absolutely breaks down some gender normativity, infusing some of her daughter’s feminist constitution.

Thirdly, Kaguya’s insistence that she stays on Earth is important. Essentially, the society that resides on the Moon live in a Pleasantville state, where everything is proper and fine. There is no sadness or anger, but it appears that there is no laughter or joy. Kaguya spends most of her life in sadness and disappointment, unfortunately, but she has known joy and happiness. She plays the koto beautifully, an ability that cannot be developed without emotional experience. While on Earth, she explores the emotional spectrum, and she understand its worth. It is much better to have felt and experienced that to merely exist. Because of the potential for meaningful emotional experiences, she is so desperate to stay on Earth. Even though she is taken back to the Moon with her memory wiped clean, she would say that even in sadness, it was worth feeling.

The deconstruction of social norms and the triumph of the emotional spectrum are, in my opinion, the main themes of The Tale of Princess Kaguya. While it is far from the Disney tradition, I believe Princess Kaguya would be as good or even better a role model for young girls than many of the Disney princesses. She has a personality that she does not compromise. She does not accept what society expects of her, and she tries to find her place in the world.

The film is absolutely gorgeous. Studio Ghibli is known for its stellar artistry and dazzling animation. For the majority of the film, the animation style is coherent and traditionally beautiful. In certain moments of the film, when Kaguya experiences some dreamlike episodes, the animation gets rougher. The lines are harsher and longer. It begins to more closely resemble some traditional Japanese calligraphy paintings, with smearing ink and swift strokes. The emotion that this aggressive animation elicits is powerful, because it already is a visually striking and musically active moment. Those two dream incidents have the most powerful animation sequences in the film.

Lastly, the music has an important role in the film. Along with her radiant beauty, Kaguya is a talented musician on the koto. She sings a song from her heart that turns out to be a song from the Moon. The koto music written for the film is gorgeous. The score is mostly pentatonic, which is in keeping with a Japanese story. There are certain sequences without dialogue where animation and music collaborate to make powerful moments. As illustrated above, Kaguya’s two dreamlike episodes use animation to move the viewer, but because there’s no dialogue, composer Joe Hisaishi is able to create an equal power in the music. Similarly, in the scene where Kaguya and Sutemaru (Darren Criss) are flying through the air, the music takes centerstage with some rhapsodic melodies that sound like flight. Hisaishi also uses music to create discomfort. When the Moon community is arriving to take Kaguya away, they come in a procession. Moon musicians are playing a jaunty and upbeat melody that is the complete opposite of our mood. We’re anxious, hoping that Kaguya will be able to stay, and the music is disgustingly cheery. However, the most impactful use of music in the film occurs anytime the moonlight strikes the bamboo forest. When Kaguya is first “born”, when other riches are presented to the bamboo maker in the forest, music suddenly halts after a jarring strike of a bell. It not only allows the visual light on screen to shine, but it also sounds like a magical light striking the forest. It is unmistakeable and immediately draws attention to the light.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a somber tale that has several silver linings. While Kaguya may have experienced many disappointments in her life, she did know unconditional love. For every sadness she felt, she had experienced a happiness. If anything, her tale inspires us all to take advantage of the people in our lives.

Foxcatcher


I remember how excited I was when all the film blogs started talking about Foxcatcher, because there was tangible excitement over Steve Carell‘s performance. Oscar buzz was already in the air when Foxcatcher made its debut, and now it’s landed Carell an Academy Award nomination. Director Bennett Miller has been nominated for Best Director, but the film itself has not been nominated for Best Film.

That could be that the film has very slow pacing. The film does test one’s patience, but Foxcatcher absolutely needed its measured pacing. Instead of overdramatizing the events of the story, Miller stayed true with the events of the narrative, which led to a slowly developed story. I admire that decision; instead of adding extra material or entering into a dishonest ambience, the film is very close to what actually occurred. Along those lines, the film’s is a character story. The whole point of Foxcatcher is to attempt to understand the two main characters: Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and John E. du Pont (Carell). The screenplay is deliberate in exploring the unstable personas of these two individuals. It takes time and patience for that kind of character exploration, but I think it was well-executed and worth it.

Carell is a comedic genius. He is a charismatic and hilarious actor and person, so it was such a surprise to see him in a role like this one. Bennett commented saying that he wanted to cast someone who nobody would imagine ever committing murder. A common thread among many who knew du Pont was that they never expected him to do what he did. I think I can speak for most people when I say: I have never imagined or thought of Carell in such a violent way — so good job on the casting, Miller! But if you think about it, the du Pont persona isn’t too foreign to Carell. In many ways, the boss you loved to hate, Michael Scott, from The Office, had a lot of similarities. They both craved validation and love. They wanted to be admired and praised. They wanted families and to be father figures. By no means was Carell a stranger to this characterization. Though, instead of acting out in goofy and politically incorrect ways, he’s expressing himself in extremely creepy ways. The potential nominees for Best Actor this year were vast; there are so many great performances by men in leading roles this year. Many have complained about who was and who was not nominated, but I think Carell absolutely is deserving of the nomination. He took command on screen, more strikingly by his silences. His fractured speech left many gaping holes, and each lull was full of palpable suspense. He created a persona that was creepy and unlikeable, which in itself is such a feat for a man of his nature.

During all the discussion of Foxcatcher and its acting strength, Tatum has received minimal attention — and he should be getting a lot more praise than he has. Up to this point, Tatum, like Carell, is also generally associated with comedy, and what he did in this film is absolutely incredible. Not only was it a physical role, where Tatum successfully depicted wrestling practices and matches, it was also, and predominantly more of, a psychological role. Mark Schultz had some issues to deal with, just like du Pont. He was a lonely individual, living in the shadow of his older brother’s success. He wanted admiration and success separate from his brother. Tatum fittingly performs reservedly, as an individual with a lot more going on inside than he lets on. He’s a man of few words, but there would be those times when he has to let out his frustration somehow and he bursts. He’d punch himself in the face, or bang his head against the wall, which would be vivid deviations from his character. Speaking of which, Tatum went beyond the screenplay to make a poignant scene in the film. In the scene where he’s in a hotel room and begins to bang his head against a mirror, he was so in the moment that he broke the mirror. The script did not go so far, but Tatum went there, and the cut he has afterwards is all real. Tatum’s was a brave and daring performance, that should have received more recognition — but, unfortunately, the category for Lead Actor was saturated this year…

…and the category for Supporting Actor was pretty empty this year. Mark Ruffalo plays David Schultz, Mark’s older brother. I don’t mean to imply that Ruffalo performed badly, but his role is quite plain. What he did, he did well, but it was not extraordinary in any way. Though, it was nice to find out that the glasses Ruffalo wears in Foxcatcher belonged to the late David Schultz.

Foxcatcher is a slow-paced character-driven film about a lonely man. Carell and Tatum perform beautifully and Miller paces the film so well that it builds up to a moving climax. Patience is required, but your patience pays off. It doesn’t have the bravado that many of the other 2014 films have, but this isn’t a story for bravado. I hope this film allows Tatum to explore many different roles in the future. And I wonder if you’ll think of Michael Scott any differently the next time you see an episode of The Office.

The Boxtrolls


I keep hoping for more animated films that break away from the Disney tradition, that are more artistic and profound than cute and funny. I envision films like those from Studio Ghibli, animated so beautifully whose stories make you expand your mind. And then there’s The Boxtrolls, which I admit does break away from the Disney tradition, because it is far from cute…and oftentimes far from funny. Be careful what you wish for.

The Boxtrolls means well. In a bourgeois town, there is a huge divide between the aristocrats and the boxtrolls, little ogres who wear boxes around their torsos and live underground. While being strange and borderline disgusting, they are endearing and live their own lives, decorating their lair with garbage and eating bugs. The entire town thinks, though, that they are flesh-eating monsters who will come into their homes in the night and kill them. You can guess that by the end of the movie, they will realize that the boxtrolls are friendly and harmless.

The movie starts off slowly. It introduces the Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), who is a wretched man with misaligned teeth. His biggest desire is to be part of the white-hat club, the most respected of men in the town. He strives to exterminate all boxtrolls, so he can earn a place in that prestigious club. The film introduces this despicable character, and then spends a long time showing the boxtrolls’ domain. They don’t speak English, so they just grunt at each other. They do become endearing, but it is a test of patience more than pleasant film-watching to break through the exposition.

The action does pick up later, but the grotesquerie of the film is too overbearing for the film’s overall charm. While I want for animated films that are not necessarily made for children, this film may end up scaring or disturbing children…and it may disturb their parents, too. The animation is beautifully made. It’s a stop-animation film, and the credits show a little insight into the creation of the animation, but it isn’t all that pleasant to watch. It has all the oddities of a Tim Burton film without any of the charm.

After seeing The Boxtrolls, I’m very surprised that The Lego Movie was not nominated for the Academy Award. They were certainly robbed. Even though The Boxtrolls boasts intricate skills in its animation, The Lego Movie, overall, is sharp, clever, and most importantly: fun!

Into the Woods


I’m not the biggest fan of musicals (blame it on a couple of extra enthusiastic exes of mine), so I was procrastinating seeing Into the Woods (2014). I had heard that, to make it a family-friendly film, much of the second act had been removed, which irked me. All of these preconceived notions kept me from actually seeing the film, and now that I’ve seen it, I must confess: it was much better than I expected.

That being said, let’s talk about musical movies. The way I see it, musicals should be made into movies as a way to bring musical productions to a wider audience. Not everyone can catch Broadway shows in NYC or on tour, especially those in smaller towns. But when musicals are made into films, Hollywood rejects the star power that makes musicals special and vibrant; they value name recognition over vocal talent, and that makes me irate. Throw in a big name if you must, but these productions should do well if the musically-experienced actors are cast. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at Les Misérables (2012). Yes, Anne Hathaway won an Oscar, and she and Eddie Redmayne gave very powerful performances — but overall the film was mediocre at best. The production was extensive and the live-singing idea certainly was interesting, but Les Mis is a tough musical, even for Broadway singers. When you cast some of the bigger/tougher parts with inexperienced singers, it just becomes a mess. We can all agree that Russell Crowe was a disaster. And Amanda Seyfried’s hummingbird vibrato was distracting. Yes, they have star power, but their inexperience detracts from the artistic package. It could have been absolutely magnificent if they had cast appropriately, like Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, a musical theatre veteran. Ok, I’m stepping off the soapbox.

With that out of the way, I’ll say that I enjoyed Into the Woods much more than I did Les Mis, even though it didn’t have as impactful individual performances. As soon as you drop the live-singing idea, things already get much better. Anna Kendrick,  having plenty of musical chops, is a strong Cinderella; Lilla Crawford, also a Broadway veteran, shines as the ever-hungry Little Red Riding Hood; Daniel Huttlestone, perhaps the greatest part of Les Misérables, excels as the lonely Jack; using experienced actors for musical roles is invaluable. Emily Blunt, the baker’s wife, has a gorgeous voice and she performed beautifully both in and out of song. Chris Pine, a charming Prince Charming, apprehensive about his musical abilities, performed a pleasant and entertaining “Agony”. Not surprisingly, even with all that talent, Meryl Streep, who plays the witch, steals the show.

I must confess that, when she received her 19th Academy Award nomination, I was a little skeptical. I thought she was just nominated because she’s Meryl, but her performance was impressive. She’s had experience in musicals before, perhaps most notably in Mamma Mia, but she really nails it out of the park in “Stay With Me”. In the span of that one song, she explores many different emotions and moods and convincingly conveys them all. She starts the song furiously reprimanding her daughter Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), then retracts into a mousy version of the witch that we haven’t seen yet. She’s vulnerable and attempts to explain her intentions for protecting her daughter so extensively. She sings beautifully but meekly, showing us a side to the witch that you maybe didn’t think existed. She then adds the power as she tries to convey just how much she loves her daughter, even though her actions don’t necessarily show that. She withdraws again, finishing her song quietly. Streep explores many different emotions in three minutes: frustration, shame, love, confusion, hope. And what makes it even better is that her performance is daring. She makes the song her own. She doesn’t just perform a nicely-tied-bow of a song, she roughs up some edges and doesn’t shy away from exploring her vocal abilities. She gave me chills with performance, because it moved me and I saw the many dimensions of The Witch.

What made an impression on me when I first saw the show live was the second act and how it tears down the idea of “happily ever after”. In some ways, the film succeeded in it, but in other ways, it did not. Disney produced a very enjoyable film, but taking a dark musical and producing a family-friendly Christmas-time film doesn’t completely work. What moved me most in the musical were those dark, bleak moments that forced me to reflect on the often problematic and dogmatic lessons that fairy tales teach children, and how a myriad of our modern stories have those same problems engrained in them. Into the Woods did not risk fully exploring what could have been a real experience, and that’s a shame. For that, you’ll have to go see a live production of the musical.