Tag Archives: Rob Marshall

Into the Woods



intotehwoodsChicago and Nine director Rob Marshall is the right person to bring this complex Broadway musical to the big screen. Assembling a variety of famous characters from Grimm Brothers fairy tales, the story sends them into the forbidding woods and explores what drives their actions. A few changes from the original have been made, but nothing big; this is still an adult experience, with undertones of even darker things than what we see on screen, with Johnny Depp as a creepy wolf/pedophile. Uneven, mostly because few of the songs are real standouts, but intelligent and gorgeously staged. A good cast, especially Meryl Streep as the witch.

2014-U.S. 124 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Callum McDougall, Marc Platt. Directed by Rob Marshall. Screenplay, Book: James Lapine. Songs: Stephen Sondheim (“Into the Woods”, “No One Is Alone”). Cinematography: Dion Beebe. Production Design: Dennis Gassner. Costume Design: Colleen Atwood. Cast: Meryl Streep (The Witch), Emily Blunt (The Baker’s Wife), James Corden (The Baker), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman… Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp.

Trivia: Emma Stone was allegedly considered for a role.

Last word: “It was always something I always had in the back of my mind, but I wanted to make sure it was the right time. It was in 2011, it was the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and I was watching President Obama speak to the families of the victims on television. He said to them, ‘You are not alone. No one is alone.’ I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. What an important message for children of today.’ Obviously, it’s the sort of penultimate song in ‘Into the Woods.’ It was that moment that I thought, ‘This might be the right time to do this.’ I called James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim and said, ‘Can I have this to do?’ They were thrilled. So it was a nice beginning.” (Marshall, Coming Soon)

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The Greatest Hits of 2014

It’s time for that annual list of this year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2014 for ya.


* Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – This reboot of Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst cum action hero has Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh (who’s also directing), but the trailer disturbingly shows another variation on the Jason Bourne concept.

* Labor Day – Jason Reitman returns, aided by Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. Unfortunately, what looked like a promising drama has now been dumped in the frigid January slot.


* The Monuments Men – George Clooney directs this story about museum curators and art historians trying to rescue vital pieces of art before Hitler gets his hands on them. Starring Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Daniel Craig. Originally slated for a late 2013 release.

* RoboCop – The remake has Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman. One vital question remains: What’s the point?

Also interesting to note this month: Kevin Costner and Liam Neeson will clash in 3 Days to Kill and Non-Stop, two action thrillers that look pretty similar in style and tone. One likely hit will be Son of God, a movie based on material from The Bible as well as previously unseen footage.


* The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson’s new movie has a star-studded cast and an intriguing story set between the world wars.

* Grace of Monaco – Another movie originally slated for a late 2013 release, this one is hopefully better than Diana. Nicole Kidman plays the princess.

* Muppets Most Wanted – The Muppets return for a jewel-heist caper. Lots of star cameos, as expected.

* Noah – One can’t help but being intrigued by a Darren Aronofsky movie about the biblical hero. Stars Russell Crowe, and the trailer has Gladiator-esque qualities.


* Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A summer of big blockbusters begins with this Marvel sequel.


Sabotage – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to movies has been largely tongue in cheek, but the trailer for this film, directed by David Ayer of End of Watch fame, suggests a different approach.

* Transcendence – Johnny Depp stars in this sci-fi flick about a scientist who downloads his mind into a computer. Directing debut of cinematographer and Christopher Nolan loyalist Wally Pfister.


* The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – The sequel looks like it might have the same problems as the first one. On the other hand, the first one was surprisingly good.

* Godzilla – Looks like a tired retread on paper, but director Gareth Edwards and the cast might make a difference. The trailer has the right look.

* X-Men: Days of Future Past – Bryan Singer tries to unite two franchise threads. Let’s hope it’s better than Star Trek Generations (1994).


* Edge of Tomorrow – Tom Cruise fighting aliens. Again. Directed by Doug Liman.

* How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Could become the animated hit of the summer. DreamWorks will be anxious to make sure that the sequel matches the wonderful original.

* Transformers: Age of Extinction – The last time I made the mistake of giving Michael Bay the benefit of a doubt. This time I’m sure Mark Wahlberg will be lost in a flurry of incomprehensible battles.


* Tammy – Melissa McCarthy puts her stardom to the ultimate test, being directed by her husband, Ben Falcone, in a summer blockbuster comedy that has Susan Sarandon playing her alcoholic grandmother.

* Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – The sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) has Gary Oldman (but Andy Serkis is still the star). Directed by Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame.

* Jupiter Ascending – The Wachowski Siblings return after Cloud Atlas (2012) with another sci-fi movie, this one starring Mila Kunis.


* Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel strikes back with another adventure, this one starring among others Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.

* Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s follow-up to their 2005 movie. Postponed for a year after its original 2013 release date. Hardly promising.

* The Expendables 3 – I’ll mention this simply because Mel Gibson plays the villain and the cast also has Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammer. I guess it has to be seen to be believed.

As a Swede, I have to highlight two world-famous fellow Swedes this month: Lasse Hallström is set to release The Hundred-Foot Journey, a film about an Indian family competing with a Michelin-starred restaurant in France, starring Helen Mirren, and Alexander Skarsgård who’s starring alongside Meryl Streep in Phillip Noyce’s sic-fi drama The Giver.


* The Equalizer – Another TV show gets a movie adaptation, this one directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington.


* Gone Girl – David Fincher adapted the bestseller, with Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris set to put the screen ablaze.

* Get On Up – James Brown is the latest music star to get a proper screen biography. Directed by Tate Taylor (of The Help) and starring Chadwick Boseman.


* Interstellar – Christopher Nolan returns with one of the year’s most highly anticipated sci-fi films. Starring Matthew McConaughey, who’s clearly continuing his current brilliant streak.

* Dumb and Dumber To – Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels return after 20 years. Are they getting any smarter?

* Fury – Another film by David Ayer this year (after Sabotage), a war movie set near the end of World War II. Stars Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf.

* The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – Francis Lawrence directs this complex endeavor, where author Suzanne Collins’s book has been chopped into two chapters.


* Exodus – Ridley Scott mounts a comeback after the creative abyss known as The Counselor. This biblical epic, starring Christian Bale, looks more like Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

* The Hobbit: There and Back Again – The third and final chapter in Peter Jackson’s insanely protracted franchise

* Annie – Another movie adaptation of the Broadway hit, this time featuring Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz and Beasts of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis.

* Into the Woods – The Brothers Grimm fairy tales are presented with a twist in this film, directed by Rob Marshall, and starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.

* Unbroken – Angelina Jolie is set to direct this World War II story, which is based on a best-selling book and adapted by the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson.

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Chicago: City of Scoundrels



chicagoPremiere once named this as one of the 20 most overrated films of all time. My take is different: Chicago is the greatest screen musical of the decade. Especially compared to Moulin Rouge! (2001), Baz Luhrmann’s hugely popular but exhausting jukebox musical. At the time, some critics considered Luhrmann’s film a breath of fresh air. Well, Chicago showed that if the right people are hired, a familiar musical story and often-heard tunes can come across as fresh as ever. This movie makes the stunts of Moulin Rouge! look cheap.

Chicago, early 1920s. Young Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is hoping that a fling, Fred Casely (Dominic West), can get her a job at a vaudeville show. When she finds out that he’s been lying to her just to get her in the sack, she’s so distraught that she reaches for a gun and shoots him. When Roxie’s naive husband (John C. Reilly) tries to take the blame for the murder but fails, she’s arrested and sent to Cook County Jail. There she meets Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a vaudeville star that Roxie’s admired for a long time. Velma’s been locked up after killing her sister and husband who had been carrying on an affair behind her back, but has managed to create a decent enough life for herself in prison, collaborating with the corrupt supervisor “Mama” Morton (Queen Latifah) and preparing her trial together with Chicago’s hottest lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). Roxie realizes that if she’s to stand a chance, she also needs to hire Flynn and learn how to play the role of a victim…

Styles of theater and film fuse
The original Broadway production first saw life in 1975, but the story was actually based on a 1926 play, in turn inspired by real-life cases. Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb wrote the original book for the musical; the first run wasn’t very popular, but the 1996 revival seemed to catch audiences in a better mood. Because there’s never been anything wrong with the material. The film is a tribute to Fosse’s style in choreography, and the juxtaposition between the straight storyline (filmed realistically in earthy colors) and the splashy song numbers, played out in an alternate fantasy universe, is highly effective. Every act is pure eye candy, frantically edited and enthusiastically performed by a very game cast. The styles of theater and film fuse in respectful and playful ways. It helps having a song catalog this impressive; John Kander and Fred Ebbs’s tunes are brought to life with tremendous energy, and Danny Elfman’s score fits in perfectly. Standouts include the mesmerizing “We Both Reached for the Gun” and the highly entertaining storytelling of “Cell Block Tango”. Part of the appeal is the film’s sense of humor, but also its darkness. This is a cynical tale of how easy it is to manipulate the public and the media, and the absurdity of the musical numbers underscore that fact. But it’s also a sexy, engaging film; there’s always something worth admiring in every shot. Among the cast, I particularly enjoyed Zellweger who plays her daft character very well, and Gere who got a chance to show a new side of himself.

Chicago is the first musical to win the Best Picture Oscar since Oliver! (1968). It wasn’t followed by a slew of other successful screen musicals even though it was a huge hit, which only shows how tough the genre is. As jukebox musicals keep popping up, especially now, a decade after Moulin Rouge!, I’m still waiting for real originality in this field. 

Chicago 2002-U.S. 113 min. Color. Produced by Martin Richards. Directed by Rob Marshall. Screenplay: Bill Condon. Book: Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb. Cinematography: Dion Beebe. Music: Danny Elfman. Songs: “And All That Jazz”, “When You’re Good to Mama”, “Cell Block Tango”, “We Both Reached for the Gun”, “Mr. Cellophane”, “I Move On” (John Kander, Fred Ebb). Editing: Martin Walsh. Costume Design: Colleen Atwood. Cast: Renée Zellweger (Roxie Hart), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma Kelly), Richard Gere (Billy Flynn), Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Christine Baranski… Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Dominic West.

Trivia: The original story was filmed as Chicago (1927) and Roxie Hart (1942). John Travolta, Kevin Spacey and Hugh Jackman were allegedly considered for the role of Billy Flynn.

Oscars: Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Zeta-Jones), Film Editing, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Sound. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actress (Zellweger), Actor (Gere). BAFTA: Best Supporting Actress (Zeta-Jones), Sound.

Last word: “Catherine, Renée, and Richard all have unbelievable instincts about everything. So when they say something feels wrong, or ‘I feel funny saying this’, you listen. And I did. Every time. This was collaboration on so many levels because they brought the characters to life in a way that I could only have imagined. To find actors who could do this with the gritty reality of ‘Chicago’ and at the same time play the world of Vaudeville and still make you care is unbelievable. These are not likeable characters, in many ways, but you love these characters because of the actors. That’s why I think this film works, because of these flexible actors who can do anything you ask them to do.” (Marshall, BBC)

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

piratesonstrangertideOn a quest to find the fountain of youth, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) contends with an old enemy (Geoffrey Rush), an old lover (Penélope Cruz)… and the fearsome Blackbeard (Ian McShane). The fourth film in this franchise introduces a few new characters, one of which is a romantic interest for our lovably boozy Jack, but Rob Marshall’s take is only slightly less bloated than Gore Verbinski’s two previous chapters. Depp, Rush and McShane are fun, and I love the absurd mermaid attack, but Cruz is less effective and the 3D merely OK.

2011-U.S. 137 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Rob Marshall. Cast: Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Penélope Cruz (Angelica Malon), Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa), Ian McShane (Blackbeard), Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin… Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths, Judi Dench.

Trivia: Inspired by Tim Powers’s novel “On Stranger Tides”. Followed by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017).

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nineAfter a recent string of failures, famous Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is looking to all the women in his life for inspiration…This filmization of the Broadway musical (that was originally inspired by Federico Fellini’s  (1963)) may be a disappointment coming from the director who made the excellent Chicago (2002)… but it’s still worth a look. Shot at Cinecittà (where Fellini made movies), the filmmakers expertly stage and photograph beautiful scenarios that are as much eye candy as all the women. A weak story about a suffering male ego is boosted by a few engaging musical moments.

2009-U.S. 118 min. Color-B/W. Widescreen. Directed by Rob Marshall. Screenplay: Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella. Book: Arthur Kopit. Songs: Maury Yeston (“Cinema Italiano”, “Folies Bergère”, “Be Italian”, “Take It All”). Cinematography: Dion Beebe. Production Design: John Myhre. Costume Design: Colleen Atwood. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis (Guido Contini), Marion Cotillard (Luisa Contini), Penélope Cruz (Carla), Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson… Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren.

Trivia: Javier Bardem and Catherine Zeta-Jones were allegedly considered for parts.

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Memoirs of a Geisha

memoirsofgeishaIn 1929, a nine-year-old girl is sold to a geisha house where she’s trained to become the perfect female companion; love and war await her as an adult. Director Rob Marshall followed up Chicago (2002) with this epic portrayal of Japanese geishas but without the intensity that set his previous film on fire. There’s long stretches where nothing much happens, but the cast is fine (the complaints about having Chinese stars play Japanese are unfair), it’s a pretty interesting story, and the technical qualities are outstanding, not least the cinematography and John Williams’s music score.

2005-U.S. 144 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Steven Spielberg, Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick. Directed by Rob Marshall. Novel: Arthur Golden. Cinematography: Dion Beebe. Music: John Williams. Art Direction: John Myhre, Gretchen Rau. Costume Design: Colleen Atwood. Cast: Ziyi Zhang (Chiyo), Ken Watanabe (The Chairman), Michelle Yeoh (Mameha), Gong Li, Kôji Yakusho, Youki Kudoh.

Trivia: Steven Spielberg and Brett Ratner allegedly considered directing the film.

Oscars: Best Cinematography, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design. BAFTA: Best Cinematography, Film Music, Costume Design. Golden Globe: Best Original Score.

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