Any research on the “war on drugs” ends up yielding the revelation that what should be a simple “cops vs crooks” battle is in actuality a murky and often confusing labyrinth that really expands to “order vs chaos.” Sicario is an ominous crime thriller from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) and it plays a lot less like the model for movies about the conflict between cops and drug dealers than it is the surgical grafting of Steven Soderbergh’s anti-drug opus Traffic and Kathryn Bigelow’s morally ambiguous portrait of the “war on terror” Zero Dark Thirty. Villeneuve applies his cerebral sensibilities to the model laid out in gritty old-school muscular crime dramas like The French Connection and the results equal his most accomplished film to date. Sicario is an at times frustrating work that keeps it’s audiences in the dark as they are posed with questions & conundrums: How far should we go to protect our livelihood? And what are we actually protecting when we decide there are no rules?
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine) is probably the best active filmmaker doing film adaptations of musicals. In his film version of Chicago, Marshall combined staginess w/ the storytelling tools of cinema to create the best of both worlds: flashy musicals brought to life by cinematic inventions. In Into The Woods, Marshall teams up with Disney for his third movie musical, based on a Steven Sondheim stage show and the material has Marshall integrating the music into the action, with characters who really do sing to each other in a story that doesn’t require clunky excuses for them to do so. It probably also helps that the narrative is set at an intersection of classic fairy tales (some have already been adapted by Disney) where singing doesn’t feel quite so out of place, even for musical-averse audiences. The story follows a witch (Meryl Streep) who informs her neighbors, a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), that she can break a family curse if they can retrieve certain objects for a spell. This sends them into the woods (hey, just like the title!), and toward familiar faces playing bit roles in more well known tales like Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), of beanstalk-climbing fame. With masterful direction and an impeccable cast, Into The Woods is a delightful trip through stories many of us are familiar with…for the most part.