Into the Woods: Wit and wisdom from the cast and creators

Into the Woods: Wit and wisdom from the cast and creators

There are dream casts, and then there are DREAM casts.  Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Tracy Ullman, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine star in the new film adaptation of Into the Woods, and all of them bring exceptionally unique and wonderful performances to the movie.

into the woods press junketinto the woods press junket

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the press junket with all of these actors, plus the director, Rob Marshall, the brilliant writer, James Lapine and the producers. It was apparent from the interviews how much everyone enjoyed working with each other, and how having a real rehearsal period resulted in an extraordinary adaptation from stage to screen. Often times musicals don’t make the transition well, but Into the Woods transforms magically on the screen – with the lush sets and art direction and fantastically clever songs.

Rob Marshall talked about this balance and risk when directing a musical at the press conference in this exchange:

MODERATOR: …Rob, musicals being so different from all other genres, are they more difficult to direct?

ROB MARSHALL: They’re very fragile. I mean, I feel like you’re always this far away from like a Saturday Night Live sketch, because if the song doesn’t come out of the story in an organic way, in a seamless way, and you feel the number beginning, it’s dangerous, because of the fact that somebody’s singing. What’s so beautiful about this amazing piece that James wrote and Steve Sondheim wrote is that the material is so organic. I mean, you said this the other day, James, which I loved, which is if you pull the songs out of the piece, the piece falls apart. You know, there are musicals you can take the songs out and it doesn’t affect it at all.

ROB MARSHALL: …But what’s fantastic about this piece is it’s so interwoven. I mean, you can see that in the first [SOUNDS LIKE] 16 minutes, that opening prologue. It’s so beautifully created and written because it moves in and out of dialogue so seamlessly, but it’s very delicate, creating a musical. I mean, I feel like it’s two movies in one when I’m working on it because you have the whole side of the music, etc., and you have the rehearsals and all of that. That’s almost its own thing. Then you have the filming of it and the piece and so it’s a balancing act, and the only way you can do it well is if you have great material and brilliant actors.

Which, of course leads back to the exquisite cast. One of the aspects of Into the Woods that makes it so powerful and successful is the strength of the acting, and the singing seems to organically spring out of those performances.

Since Into the Woods is based on such well known fairy tales – Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel – it was even more important that the actors find something true and universal at the core of their characters that resonates with a modern audience.

Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine talked about this specifically, especially since Cinderella and Prince Charming are two of the most iconic fairy tale characters.

PRESS: …You know, a bunch of us grew up on Disney fairytales, but how do you guys think that these stories apply, or maybe they don’t apply, to the craziness of modern day dating?

ANNA KENDRICK: I think that this has something very mature and modern to say about separation. When Cinderella and the prince, they have this conversation and a lot of people, you know, they’re like, this isn’t your everyday Cinderella and she kicks him to the curb and while that’s sort of true, the fact that it’s done with so much civility and compassion, I think, you know, my parents set an amazing example for me because they divorced when I was 15 and I mean, we’re having Thanksgiving dinner together in a couple of days. And I know that that’s not always the case, but I think that that scene meant so much to me because I feel love for people that I have loved, and I think that’s so beautiful, and I think that’s such an important lesson for children that, you know, people can have disagreements but it doesn’t mean one is bad and one is good. And I feel so grateful to my family for setting this amazing example within separation, and I hope that that scene is a reflection of that.

CHRIS PINE: You know, I think obviously we tell each other stories in life and as storytellers that’s what we do. We tell each other stories so we can understand the world better and there’s catharsis and we understand the models of what a hero could be and what the hero’s journey as a human being is all about. But unfortunately I think sometimes those stories too can be very prohibitive and confining, and this idea that we, especially in Western culture, Western literature, [PH] Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet, that there’s some kind of all-encompassing burning passionate love that will never die out unless you both die, is so depressing and not real. And that these two people, the prince living out this storybook life all the time, in a completely non-relational manner, with a woman that he’s apparently in love with, I think it’s very telling that this relationship, there’s not one conversation until the last moment where they break up. I mean, if you look at the film [OVERLAPPING] it’s just these little eighth page things of looking up gazingly, fervently at one another, and it doesn’t mean anything. And I think the beautiful thing about it is that here’s a woman that chooses to get out of the story of Romeo and Juliet and Tristan and Isolde, it’s like, check it out, I don’t want you, ‘cause you’re lame, and you don’t listen to me. But actually in that final moment he does listen and I think it’s very telling for the prince that he says, “Is this what you want?” He’s actually, [Yeah.] he’s being very respectful and the boundaries are very clear.

And of course, the highlight of the press junket for me was being about ten feet away from Meryl Streep. She, Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman were incredibly funny, smart and really gave a brief master class in acting and an actress’s thought process and methodology during this brief Q&A.

Christine Baranski also talked about fleshing out what can normally be a very stereotypical character: The Evil Stepmother:

PRESS: …Christine, the role of the wicked stepmother is such an iconic character type in stories. What was your take on the role of Lapine and Sondheim’s stepmother and what did you end up bringing to the role?

CHRISTINE BARANSKI: Well, you know I worked with Rob. We talked about what is this particular nature of, you know, she’s always described as the evil stepmother and the evil stepsister. So what exactly does that mean and how is that kind of activated? And actually I found that Cinderella is somebody who just is at the house and she just does thing for us. And a lot of the evil of the character — no really. And then when she suggests that she come to the ball, it’s like are you kidding? Look at your nails, look at your dress and it’s like laughable. They’re very — I think, you know, we wanted to figure out how to make these characters kind of resonant in the contemporary world and this particular trio of women just seem right for presenting a kind of narcissism and fashion absorption and from the brilliant clothes of Colleen (Atwood) are like a little too many ruffles and the hair is just a little too high. And they look like they’re trying so hard and this is their one shot and it’s like they’re getting ready for the Oscars. They’re obsessed. And, you know, they’re just comparing. There’s even a little ad lib in the carriage after we come back from the first night and obviously Cinderella’s girl — some girl was at the ball and I did an ad lib and said, “Who is that skinny girl at the ball?” You just know that these women are just, you know, they gossip. And I think they’re benow. They’re venal characters. They’re narcissistic and opportunistic and we see this. We see this when we kind of watch television or media. It’s very interesting. It’s like, “Mmm, these are women that, you know, it’s part of our culture.” So I’m really happy that we did it this way. It was interesting. It was good.

And lastly, the brilliant Meryl Streep talking about the multidimensional motivations of The Witch – and how it relates to all parents and raising children. This is the very soul of the film.

Into the Woods opens on Christmas Day – be sure to get your tickets in advance!

Follow Into The Woods on Facebook and Twitter.

Won’t Back Down Movie Review: My (ex) PTA President’s Point of View

Won’t Back Down Movie Review: My (ex) PTA President’s Point of View

This week I went to a screening of Won’t Back Down starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  The movie is about a mom and a teacher who band together and use the Parent Trigger law (which is never mentioned by name) to take over and turn around a failing elementary school in Pittsburgh.  The film is loosely based on real events (though in my research I couldn’t find anything other than the Los Angeles based parent trigger law, which was backed by a big charter school organization), and produced by the same man who produced Waiting for Superman. As someone who has been deeply embroiled in the discussion and reality of parents advocating for better schools, for student and parent rights, and as a PA C0-President who has worked closely with many teachers and administrators, this movie got to me on many levels. So, I have decided to break it down in two parts: As a movie and then as a propaganda film.

The Merits of the Movie:

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal are wonderful.  The acting is spot on and engaging.  The script however, is full of holes and clichés and desperate to create dramatic tension because just trying to get names on petitions isn’t all that interesting.  It could be interesting, of course, but the writer and director chose not to show any other parents other than Maggie Gyllenhaal’s plucky, positive, uneducated, but so endearing single mom on a mission.  They also gave Viola Davis a horrible back story having to do with being a mom who couldn’t deal with a colicky baby, rather than the more difficult story I think of how a once great teacher could lose her passion and desire and become completely mediocre.  Holly Hunter had the worst task of the movie playing the Pennsylvania Teachers Union boss – her role was so thinly written that people at my screening giggled when she gave her over the top pro-union scare speeches.  I wondered how members of the Screen Actors Guild (or the screenwriters for that matter that just went on strike not that long ago) could play a part that so demonized another union.   And that brings me to…

The Movie as Propaganda:

OK.  I get it.  There are terrible teachers out there and no one does a thing about it.  They really don’t. They cross their fingers and hope they’ll retire.  But, there are also a ton of great teachers, and a lot of average teachers.  In this school, they pretty much all sucked except of course the young, hot, Teach for America Teacher!  Though he toted a ukulele, not a Superman cape, he was clearly the hero.  For the sake of romantic conflict they also made him pro-labor so he and Maggie Gyllenhaal could argue.  But, don’t worry, once he saw the inhumanity of Holly Hunter he quickly realized the teachers union was the ogre and the cause of all public education woes and joined the turnaround crusade.

Here’s what never happened in the movie:  A discussion by the teachers about how much their principal obviously sucked and how they could push him out and start to collaborate to have the school they envisioned.  OR a discussion with their union leaders that they were unhappy about certain union policies and make themselves heard.  Also – parents and teachers NEVER came together during this process except at the end in the council meeting.  Seriously?  If all you have is a bunch of parent signatures on petitions but no parents showing up for meetings or in classrooms you do not actually have parent involvement.

There was one moment in the film where I thought for sure Viola Davis’s character was going to have a true conflict.  Her awful principal, who knew she was organizing this attempt to take over the school, suspended Viola Davis because of attendance tampering that she did at his directive.  Here we go, I thought, now she will need the union.  This is why teachers formed unions right?  To protect them against petty personal administrators (particularly when admins were dominantly men and teachers were women.)  But, no.  That would have taken away from the union as devil storyline.  So, instead of a real meaningful discussion between Viola Davis and Holly Hunter about what is right and wrong about the union – the two never meet.  I won’t go into the ridiculous scene where Holly Hunter tries to buy off Maggie Gyllenhaal with free private school tuition for her daughter.  Seriously.

I am all for parent power.  I am all for getting rid of the crappy, demoralizing teachers who should not be allowed to step foot in a classroom.  But, this movie made me sad.  I was really hopeful in the beginning of the film because it was about teachers and parents working together – not something you usually see in movies.  This wasn’t some public school movie where the wide-eyed liberal white teacher swoops in to the minority student school and teaches them violin and magically makes their lives better.  We don’t need any more of those either.  But, this was really a giant anti-union propaganda film that missed the mark.  And that’s too bad because it had the chance to really say something about how parents and teachers can make change – and how hard it really is to find great leadership, and what can happen if we put kids first.  There was NO mention of lack of funding at the school by the way, or lack of professional development for teachers, after school programs, etc.  Seems if you just hang lots of butterflies in the hallway and paint the halls you make a great new school.  That’s an insult to all the parents and teachers who really do work their butts off to make their schools better everyday.

Is that a Browser in Your Pocket? The Kingston urDrive Review and Giveaway


Thank you to Kingston for sponsoring this review. Please click here to learn more about Kingston. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. All opinions are my own – as always.

I have a lot of projects to juggle.  Between Beccarama, the Blogging Angels and KidzVuz I have files all over the place, browser bookmarks that make my head spin and audio and video files mucking up various clouds, desktops and inboxes.  Keeping track of all of it is not easy.  But, worse is when I’m somewhere without my computer and all of my saved preferences and bookmarks at my fingertips.  Is there anything worse than being on a foreign computer and not being able to access the files you need?  No.

So, I was excited to try out the Kingston urDrive Data Traveler and see if this itty-bitty USB drive could really help me sort this all out and give me some miniature portability for all of these projects.  First, I should mention, that it only works on a PC.  Second – it’s tiny. Really tiny.  But, it fits on a key chain so you can easily have it with you at all times.  The urDrive is a free, pre-loaded application for organizing and exploring apps, games, and music. It transforms Kingston USB drives into active storage devices– rather than the “old school” device used only to store and transfer data. It has some interesting programs and apps like Facebook, twitter, YouTube and a whole kids section called Fooz Kids which allows for all sorts of parental controls and games.  Now, picture this – you get to your in-laws’ house and instead of getting on their PC and having to use their version of IE or Firefox you plug in your urDrive and it launches your personal browser – with your Twitter and Facebook accounts so you never leave a password or username behind. You aren’t being cookied on their browser or leaving an internet history behind.  Cool right?

Or better yet – your kids go over to grandma’s house and who knows what they’ll get up to on her computer – but instead they can plug in the urDRive and have their kids’ sites already there – plus photos and videos they want to share with grandma.  All on the little drive, easily organized and easy to use.  The urDrive is really perfect for sharing with family when you’re traveling since it’s all stored on one small drive, and you have your personalized features too.

There is definitely some time you have to spend on the set-up.  Like all new devices, the more time you put into personalization the better it will work for you.  The kids section is for younger kids – older than 8 will most likely find it too restrictive and babyish – but for younger kids it’s a great piece of mind when they use other people’s computers that most likely have no parental controls set up at all.  Now you want one right?

Win a 5-pack of Kingston urDrives. They’re such an obvious stocking stuffer for family and friends too! 

To enter:

Mandatory entry: leave a comment below telling me how you currently share photos and videos with friends and family.

For additional entries:

Follow me on Twitter (click the widget) and let me know you did with a comment below.

Like the KidzVuz Facebook Page: Just click on the widget in my right sidebar, and let me know you did!

Only open to US residents, 18 years or older.  Giveaway ends on 11/20/2011 at 11:59 pm.  Winner will be chosen by random.org and has 2 business days to respond and verify their eligibility.  Kingston is the sponsor of this giveaway.  Beccarama will in no way be held legally responsible for any disputes, claims, unreceived shipments or other legal issues arising from this giveaway.

Transport Group’s Queen of the Mist Review (and Get Discount Tickets!)

I don’t often do reviews here on Beccarama.  I have plenty of opinions, but I’m not a technical reviewer who parses the ins and out of products – unless it’s something I really, really want to talk about.  I have been a theater and movie geek since I was old enough to waddle into a theater.  I was one of those 5-year-old kids who could sit through a 2 hour movie, ballet or musical and barely blink, let alone squirm.  It was always magical and engrossing to me.  Growing up in NYC meant I had access to the best of everything – and performing arts was top of that list.  So, when I was invited to join a new blogger group of women bloggers called Mama Drama co-founded by Holly Rosen Fink (theculturemama) I immediately said yes and I will now be reviewing all of the productions I see on Beccarama.

This past week I saw a new production, currently in previews, produced by the Transport Group Theatre Company called Queen of the Mist.  The production takes place at the Gym at Judson – the space is an actual gym that has been transformed into a performance space – the seats are on either side and the action takes place in the center and sides, level with the first row of the audience.  It’s very intimate, and for an intense production like Queen of the Mist, quite powerful.  Here’s the background from the plays’ producers:

Based on an astounding, outrageous, and haunting true story, Queen of the
Mist stars two-time Tony nominee Mary Testa as Anna Edson Taylor, who,
in 1901, set out to be the first woman to shoot Niagara Falls—in a barrel of
her own design. Navigating both the treacherous Falls and a fickle public
with a ravenous appetite for sensationalism, this unconventional heroine
vies for her legacy in a world clamoring with swindling managers, assassins,
revolutionaries, moralizing family, anarchists, and activists. Convinced that
there is greatness in her and determined not to live as ordinary, she sets out
to battle her fear and tempt her fate. With a score that incorporates turn of
the century themes with signature LaChiusa elements, Queen of the Mist is
the story of a single great fall, and how one woman risked death so that she
could live.

Anna Edson Taylor was the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive.  The Queen of the Mist refers to the barrel itself.  It’s a story steeped in turn of the century Americana, touching on the temperance movement, WWI, and the beginnings of ginned up public relations.  In a way it’s the precursor to modern reality TV.

The musical written by Michael John LaChiusa and directed by Jack Cummings is emotionally and musically complex and intense.  The cast is exceptionally strong, led by Mary Testa as Anna Edson Taylor.  Being that close to the actors is a very different experience than a typical Broadway show where the music, dancing and singing are kept at a distance, where you are always aware there is an invisible wall between them and you.  In this sort of space the strength and power of the acting – not just the amazing voices – is what surrounds you.  The connections between the actors, the truthfulness of their emotions and reality of their space were the most compelling part of the show.  It’s absolutely worth seeing for those performances alone.

Here’s a video of the cast meet and greet:

For $10 off the ticket price enter code: TGMAMA

Click HERE for tickets.

For more blog posts on Broadway’s Godspell visit MamaDrama.

Taking the Motorola Xoom to BlogHer and Beyond

Motorola provided me with a Xoom Tablet to test, review and keep as well as compensating me for my participation in the Xoom ambassadorship program.  I did not, however get an embassy or other diplomatic perks.

For the past few weeks I’ve been toting around a Motorola Xoom.  And I truly mean “toting.”  At only a little over a pound and .5 inches thin it has been easy to include in my regular handbag as I walked around the city, flew to San Diego (didn’t even have to take it out of its case for security!), ran from meeting to event to meeting at BlogHer and finally kept my kids entertained while I met with subcontractors and other vendors at my apartment renovation.  Overall, it’s given me freedom I don’t have when carrying around my laptop or relying only on a smartphone.

I have never owned an Android device.  My husband immediately switched from his Blackberry to a Droid the moment he was eligible for an upgrade, but I was hooked into the iphone – and then the windows phone – then back to the iphone – but that’s a whole other story.  So, using the Xoom was my first foray into the Android app marketplace.  I guess it was perfect timing because according to my husband the marketplace recently underwent a huge redesign and facelift.  Initially I found it really easy to navigate – but I also knew exactly what I needed – Kindle, WordPress and Hoot Suite for me.  Angry Birds for my daughters.  Basics covered.  Things got much trickier when I wanted to browse.  The Android app marketplace is not intuitive and I couldn’t get past the “top” apps windows into anything else per category.  Also, just because something is available for one Android device doesn’t mean it works on other Android devices.  What is up with that?

The next thing I did was check out the browser and see how this blog, Beccarama, looked on the Xoom and then how my KidzVuz site looked.  Both were gorgeous.  Since we are going to develop an Android app for KidzVuz in the coming months getting a feel for how apps work on the Xoom was important.  I found the interface to be fairly intuitive and customizable.  The home icon, back buttons, gmail integration, battery and network display are clear, easy to find and easily accessible.  It takes some getting used to taking pics and videos with a tablet.  It’s almost like being a filmmaker in the 1930s with some monster camera, on the other hand framing everything within a 10 inch screen is pretty cool.  As a vlogger I love the ability to switch to the forward facing camera and see myself while I record so I can make sure it looks good, I have nothing in my teeth or crazy dark circles under my eyes.  I also love the keyboard.  It’s big and easy to type on, though I would need a bluetooth keyboard for any serious work.

My own big downside is that I am using the wifi model and for a mom on the go that is problematic.  For a blogger on the go it’s a work killer.  Not being able to tweet and microblog at events is basically like having no hands for me so while I loved having the Xoom with me I can’t use it as I’d want to because I need that instant ability to share and post.  And the share function is really great on the photo and video app on the Xoom where it automatically pulls up sharing outputs like WordPress, gmail, twitter and more.  I love that.

For business meetings I need to be able to pull up KidzVuz and show it off to potential sponsors and partners – asking to log on to their wifi network is just too amateurish.  So, I may purchase a Verizon Wireless or Time Warner MiFi to give me that flexibility.  But, my recommendation would be to buy the Xoom directly through Verizon Wireless with the data plan – and now they’ve lowered the price to $499.99 if you are looking to really work with it and not just use it as a leisure device.

I will continue to test out the Xoom over the next few weeks and see how it integrates with my work/home life.  I still haven’t tested out podcasting, or watching movies with and without the dock.  I will be posting videos and photos from the Xoom soon.  And look out for a kids’ review on KidzVuz made on the Xoom!

Just Dance Kids! Another Great UbiSoft Game Giveaway!

One of my fears as a mom is that as winter approaches my daughters will spend more and more time indoors being sedentary with unspent energy making all of us a little nuts.  So, I love Wii games that get my girls moving.  Just Dance Kids is one of those games.  First of all my 8 year old daughters are very wary of games that could seem too young.  Just Dance Kids has two modes – older and younger kid, which instantly put them at ease and garnered some “cool” points.  On the mom-of-the-80’s plus side there are songs like Holiday and Mickey in the dance list – though not sung by Madonna or Toni Basil unfortunately – but still some songs for a mom who remembers wearing leggings the first time around!

Just Dance Kids is not easy – and best of all not easy to cheat.  My daughters found out long ago that they could cheat the Wii by just moving the remote and not their whole body.  That’s hard to do with this game.  You’ve got to keep up and keep your body moving to get the remote going the right way and earn your points.  The only downside is that there is no practice or learning session, you just jump right and in and try to follow the lead dancer.  It’s not that easy to pick up even on the easy level.  Some rehearsing would have been nice.  But, overall the game kept them dancing, and moving.  On a cold, rainy day it was just the thing to work off those Turkey Day leftovers and keep cabin fever at bay.

Want to win your very own copy of Just Dance Kids for the Wii?  Just leave a comment below telling me your (or your kids’) favorite dance hit!  Want an extra entry?  Follow me on Twitter and leave a comment letting me know you did!

This contest is now closed.

Want to win even more?  Check out my UbiSoft Petz Nursery 2 Ninetendo DS giveaway too!

While Ubisoft sponsored this review, the opinions I’ve expressed here are solely my own and represent my honest viewpoint. Ubisoft, Clever Girls Collective and I promote Blog With Integrity.


Kicking off the Holidays: Petz Nursery 2 Giveaway

This post is part of a sponsored series from Ubisoft, celebrating “12 Days of Giveaways.” See below for how you can enter up to 12 times to win fun and family-friendly video games.

I am allergic to dogs, and cats, and rabbits, and hamsters…you get the idea.  So of course my daughters are obsessed with all of those pets that will never be a part of our home.  And trust me there are days where they’d probably trade me in for a puppy.  But they have learned to transfer their obsession to the virtual world and Petz Nursery is one of their all time favorite games for the Nintendo DS.  Just in time for this holiday season Petz Nursery 2 is hitting the shelves and they couldn’t be more excited!

In Petz Nursery 2 you can:

  • Take care of up to 22 baby petz and help them grow. As newborns, your baby petz will need to be picked up and played with, and eventually taught to crawl. When night comes, help them fall asleep by rocking them or singing them a lullaby.
  • Unlock never-before-seen exotic petz. Animals such as baby pandas, tigers, polar bears, and leopard cubs, you will be able to pamper wolf cubs, piglets, and 4 different breeds of penguins!
  • Play activities with two babies or just one; but make sure you give both babies attention or one will develop faster than the other.
  • Send your baby petz to the Petz virtual world, Petz World, and unlock exclusive exotic animals.

Sounds like hours of fun right?  And all without the sneezing, itchy eyes and 3 am walkings!

You can purchase Petz Nursery 2 at Amazon or Toys R Us but best of all you can enter right here to win your very own hypoallergenic copy!

Enter the Petz Nursery 2 Giveaway by leaving a comment below telling me a little something about your family’s pet – or why you don’t have one.  A winner will be selected at random on Dec. 3rd as part of the UbiSoft “12 Days Of Giveaways” promotion. (open to residents of the continental US only)

You can also win Just Dance Kids for the Wii on Beccarama through Nov. 30th. Click here.

Want more ways to win great games for the whole family including Just Dance 2 (Wii), Battle of Giants: Dinosaur Strike (Wii), Petz Fantasy (DS) and Petz Nursery (DS)? Visit each of these blogs during our 12 Days of Giveaways from now through December 3!

Rookie Moms
motherbumper
DaDa Rocks
Crash Test Mommy
Scraps of My Geek Life
Mommies With Style
The Fairly Odd Mother
All Things Fadra
The Lemonade Stand
Mom to the Screaming Masses
Romy Raves

I was selected to participate in this sponsored series by Ubisoft and Clever Girls Collective. I received a video game and compensation for my participation in this program. We believe in Blog With Integrity.