Visiting Dachau

Movie Rating:
May 21st, 2015 No comments

While I was in Munich, I took a day trip to Dachau concentration camp, which was one of the longest running camps in Nazi Germany. Initially built for political prisoners, it eventually imprisoned Jewish, homosexual, Sinti/Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other people persecuted by the Nazis. Following the war, the camp was used to hold SS soldiers awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

This blog post will be picture-free, because I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take photos in such a place. There are many photos online if you wish to look them up to get a sense of what I’m talking about. During my trip, the weather was incredibly beautiful on all days…except this day. It felt suitable that there was pouring rain on a day that I visited such a sad place where terrible crimes were committed.

I decided to take a tour, because I figured a tour guide would be able to add to the experience, and I also didn’t really want to go alone, as I felt I would be very overwhelmed and sad. This was the right choice: my tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and was able to paint a vivid and horrifying picture of life in the camps. He explained how dumb luck was often what you needed to stay alive – simply being in the right place at the right time. As we walked through the area where the barracks once stood, he said that many people died following their showers simply because the walk back to their barrack was too much for their bodies to bear.

My tour guide took the group around for about 90 minutes before he gave us an hour of time to wander on our own. Until this point I’d managed to remain composed, though overwhelmed. I wandered through the crematorium and the gas chamber, where I encountered a group of German school children – they were about 15-years-old. All German children have to visit a concentration camp as part of their education, and today happened to be that trip for these young people. As I stood there reading the information on the wall, two of the students near me began sobbing and it became too much for me, so I left and walked around the building and burst into tears myself.

There are no words to describe being in the camp. As soon as you enter, everything becomes heavy, and it feels very sad. There’s a sort of emptiness and an unsettling quiet to the area, as if the world knows that terrible things happened here. I highly recommend you visit a camp if you get a chance to do so, because as citizens of the world, I think we have a responsibility to learn about history. Dachau is a stark reminder of the crimes of a terrible regime. I’ve spent years studying World War II, and the Holocaust in particular, but visiting this place made it more real than books or photographs ever could.

One important note is that there are tended grave sites behind the crematorium/gas chamber. These spots mark where the ashes of the murdered were discarded, as well as the execution site. It was very moving visiting these spots, so be sure to do so if you visit. They’re a bit out of the way and hidden, but worth the slight effort it takes to find them.

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Ex Machina

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
May 16th, 2015 No comments

Ex Machina, 2015, UK

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works as a computer program at Bluebook, a popular search engine. He wins a contest and is invited into the reclusive home of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), Bluebook’s CEO. After signing his life away, Caleb learns why he has been brought to Nathan’s home: to test Ava (Alicia Vikander), the humanoid robot that Nathan has developed. Through a series of sessions, Caleb performs the Turing test on Ava, who is remarkably lifelike and human. But as Caleb develops feelings for Ava, he notices that she is being mistreated by the manipulative Nathan and starts to fear for her safety.

Like many films of this type, Ex Machina examines what it means to be ‘human’ and to have feelings and emotions. Is Ava real? Or is she simply a sophisticated computer program? Are her emotions just as valid as Caleb or Nathan’s? These ideas are explored in a remarkably different type of way.

The film is incredibly engaging and thought-provoking, in part, because of the amazing performances by the three lead actors. Vikander, in particular, was remarkable. She should get an Oscar nomination for this role. Ava would not have been an easy character to play, but she portrays her flawlessly. She’s proven herself to be one of the most talented young actresses working today, and I’m so excited to see her getting challenging and engaging roles. She’s amazing. Gleeson and Isaac are very good, as well, and have proven themselves to be very talented actors.

Ex Machina also looks stunning. It is meant to take place in a very secluded area, and various different landscapes are used throughout. Through the cinematography, we’re given the sense of isolation, another central theme of the film. The limited visual effects are used quite well. So many science fiction films today overuse CGI, but this one seemed to use more practical effects, with CGI to augment them.

This is easily my favourite film of the year so far. I’m a huge fan of films of this type, and it never disappoints. Ex Machina is one that you will definitely want to experience in theatres. I cannot give it enough praise.

Age of Adaline

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
May 10th, 2015 No comments

Age of Adaline, 2015, USA

Adaline (Blake Lively) is over 100 years old and has stopped aging following a freak accident. She’s unaware of why she doesn’t age, but over the years, she has kept her distance from people and avoided romantic relationships. Her closest confidant is her daughter (Ellen Burstyn), now an old woman. On New Years’ Eve, she grabs the attention of Ellis (Michiel Huisman), and he goes to great lengths to woo her. He invites her to his parents’ 40th anniversary party, but the weekend turns uncomfortable when she is introduced to Ellis’ father, William (Harrison Ford), and he recognizes her as a past love.

Overall, I liked the film. Lively was surprisingly good as the stoic and measured Adaline, and I loved Ford as the lovelorn William. It’s a fairly predictable film, but it’s an interesting ride. Adaline is a pretty heartbreaking character when you get down to it – everyone she loves ages and dies before her eyes and she remains the same. This tragedy is dealt with in a very heartbreaking, but slightly unconventional way, in a scene that made me weep buckets.

There are issues with the film. Ellis’ wooing of Adaline was troubling – he initially held the fate of a book donation over her in order to get her to go out for dinner with her, and then he got her home address from her workplace when she wasn’t responding to his phone calls. Both actions are seen as appropriate within the context of the film, and they absolutely aren’t. In fact, Adaline apologizes for getting angry with Ellis for finding out where she lives! In most movies of this nature, one or both of the protagonists engage in behavior that would be very creepy if it happened in real life. On one hand, we must remember that these films are fictional and these actions are for the sake of telling an interesting story. But on the other hand, nowadays I fear that people are influenced by films like this where these actions are deemed perfectly fine (especially when she apologizes to him!). So, in that respect, I did often have a hard time seeing Ellis as an ideal partner, which is how the film wanted the audience to perceive him.

That being said, the film is worth watching. I’m not sure I would see it in theatres, necessarily, but it’s worth a rental at the very least!

Neuschwanstein Castle

Movie Rating:
May 7th, 2015 No comments

This day of my trip was easily the most beautiful. Neuschwanstein Castle is located in Bavaria, approximately 2 hours away from Munich, so while I was in Munich I took a day trip to visit it. It’s nestled right in the alps, so you get some of the most amazing views in and around the castle.

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A view from the balcony of the castle itself

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Both Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace were built by King Ludwig II. He’s a man who is still greatly respected in Bavaria, and his mysterious death and possible mental illness are still discussed to this day. He was certainly an interesting figure, that’s for sure.

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Linderhof Palace

Neuschwanstein is about a 40 minute walk uphill. There were horse drawn carriages available but it was a long wait, and I wanted to do the walk myself. It’s a beautiful walk, but it is quite draining, especially for a prairie girl who has rarely spent any time in the mountains!

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Once you get up to Neuschwanstein, you can continue to hike uphill to a bridge where you get a magnificent view of the castle. It’s about another 25 minutes. I immediately decided to do this, because when else would I be back in the area? It was so worth the effort, because I was able to get these photos! If you have long hair like I do, bring a hair tie, though, because it’s windy on the bridge. I didn’t have one, so my hair was flying all over the place.

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Unfortunately you are not able to take photos in either Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, which is why I don’t have any photos of the interiors. You must book a guided tour to see both, and the tours are about half an hour long. I definitely recommend touring both. Linderhof is very fancy, with gold leaf pretty much everywhere. Neuschwanstein is no less impressive – but also incomplete. Only about 1/3 of the rooms were ever finished, but what you do see is spectacular.

I only wish I had more time to explore the area in and around Neuschwanstein. It’s such a beautiful area of the world, with some of the most gorgeous and impressive scenery I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend visiting.

Stories from Munich

Movie Rating:
May 4th, 2015 No comments

During my trip I spent five days in the Munich area – but only two days were spent in Munich itself. The other three days were spent going on day trips in the area around Munich.

Munich itself is a beautiful city, and feels far different from Berlin. It feels more traditional, if that makes sense.

IMG_2591The GlockenspielOn my first day in Munich, I wandered around Marienplatz, Munich’s central square, and the area around it. I didn’t really have any sort of destination in mind – I just wanted to take some photos and see what I could find. I happened upon the Residenz Museum, and had admittedly never heard of it. A quick Google determined that it was a palace, so that was all the convincing I needed to go! IMG_2617This room was one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen. It was constructed almost entirely of shells.If you’re ever in Munich, I can’t recommend going enough. It was a gorgeous palace, and I was lucky enough to have the place almost entirely to myself. There was something so cool and almost eery about having huge rooms and hallways to myself. There are certainly advantages to visiting during what is technically considered the off-season (though the weather was beautiful on all but one day of my trip). IMG_2640I had a ballroom to myself. I did a twirl after I took this photo.Like so many buildings in Germany, the Residenz Museum was badly damaged during WWII. Rooms were reconstructed, and, in some cases, entire wings of the palace had to be rebuilt. The room descriptions often explained what was done to repair each room, but you could generally tell which areas were rebuilt as they were rebuilt in a simpler style. IMG_2651I could hear my footsteps echoing as I walked down this hallway by myself. It was a little bit creepy.IMG_2624I like taking photos of myself in old mirrors for some reason, so I did it in this museum!I did find that Munich was more difficult to navigate than Berlin. Part of it was that the old-style architecture means that the streets tend to look the same after awhile, and part of it was that the signage wasn’t as good. But there are worse places to get lost than Munich, so I never really minded when I ended up heading in the wrong direction. IMG_3030While I was in Munich, I made a point of trying as many local beers as I could. I wasn’t a beer drinker until a few months ago, but I found that I enjoyed every single beer that I tried. Including a very dark beer that was served to me at a restaurant by mistake (I’d asked for a lighter beer, but due to the language barrier, my server must have misunderstood me and brought me the darkest beer imaginable). My only mistake was not taking photos or writing down the names of the beers I tried so I could see if I could find them at the liquor stores here. Next time I’m at the liquor store I’ll take a look in the German beer section and see if I recognize any of the names, though!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
May 3rd, 2015 No comments

Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015, USA

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Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) design a robot with artificial intelligence that is meant to act as a peacekeeper. This robot, Ultron (James Spader) does indeed wish to act as a peacekeeper, but sees humanity as the cause of conflict and a scourge to be wiped out. Enlisting the help of twins Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Ultron begins his plan to destroy humanity.

Age of Ultron is a very full movie. There’s rarely a quiet moment or a chance to breathe throughout, and this was problematic. It feels very rushed, almost as if there is too much story for the film. This also meant that some characters really got the short end of the stick. Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) leaps to mind here. His character was painfully underused – why include him, period? I also had some issues with the romance between Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce. It felt very forced, and while I liked the character developments and revelations that came out because of it, there were other ways that could have been achieved.

One character that was greatly improved over the first film was Clint (Jeremy Renner). We learn a lot about him, and he has far more to do this time around.

Much like The Avengers did, this film features a ton of one-liners and witty dialogue. There’s an excellent running joke throughout the film that begins in the first minute or two of the film. I won’t spoil it, of course, but you’ll know it when you hear it.

Spader is excellent as Ultron – he’s funny, as well as menacing, and has the perfect voice for the role. But, ultimately, he remains a little bit underdeveloped. Several times his connection to Stark, his maker, is hinted at: Ultron is troubled and flawed and very much like Stark. But they failed to delve deep enough into this idea, which is a shame because I think it would have been a good idea to do so.

I saw the film in 3D and would recommend against it. The 3D is decent, but hardly necessary. In addition, it actually made me feel nauseous. Though, I was sitting far closer to the screen than I usually do and I was feeling under the weather to begin with when I saw the film. In any case, I will be seeing the film again, but in 2D. Aside from the 3D, the visual effects are excellent. Watch for the Hulk/Iron Man fight, which is a definite highlight, as far as action is concerned!

While it fails to live up to its predecessor and many of the other previous Marvel films, Age of Ultron is good fun, and still a must-see in theatres. It’s also setting the stage nicely for future Marvel films, and has me excited about Marvel’s future!

Stories from Berlin – The Rest

Movie Rating:
May 2nd, 2015 No comments

During my five days in Berlin, I had the chance to see a lot of the city. Here are some of the other things I did while I was there.

The Berlin Zoo and Aquarium

I was quite impressed with the Berlin Zoo, in particular. It seemed designed to get you fairly close to the animals – if the animals felt like it, anyway. On the day I went, the weather was a perfect 25 C, with a slight breeze, so the animals were very active. And, like everything in Berlin, it was incredibly easy to navigate, with signs and maps everywhere. I had no trouble finding the animals I wanted to see.

This penguin splashed me. It was awesome.

The aquarium was rather interesting, as well, even if it seemed a bit more “standard” than the zoo was. It did have a really awesome reptile exhibit, though! There was also a bug exhibit but I only spent a few seconds in that section before seeing a spider, freaking out and leaving.

The East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km stretch of the Berlin wall that has been painted by a variety of artists. It was amazing to see such a wide range of all different types of art.

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I think this one was my favourite

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This image is iconic, of course.

On my way to the East Side Gallery, I walked past the restaurant co-owned by Daniel Brühl. Unfortunately it wasn’t open yet when I walked by, otherwise I would have gone in for lunch. But, I did take a photo in front of it!

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Topography of Terror

The Topography of Terror is located on the site of the SS and Gestapo headquarters in Berlin. It’s now an indoor and outdoor museum dedicated to the rise of the National Socialism, with a particular emphasis on the SS. It’s a free museum, and incredibly informative, so I highly recommend going.

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Just outside the museum is the longest section of the outer wall that is still standing (from my understanding, the pieces of the wall from the East Side Gallery were not actually originally located there).

I absolutely adored Berlin. The public transit system is by far and away the best I’ve ever experienced. It was so easy to get around that often I only had to look at a map to determine which underground route I had to take. There are also signs pointing you in the right direction of major destinations, which is very helpful, as well. Despite being there for five days, I still feel like there was so much more to see and do, so I am hoping to get back there again in the next few years.

Stories from Berlin – Museums

Movie Rating:
April 27th, 2015 No comments

In addition to my love of cinema and travel, I also love museums. I love gathering knowledge and seeing pieces of art and artifacts. And I especially love history. Berlin has museums upon museums, so it’s no surprise I was in heaven during my five days there. In addition to the Film and Television Museum, I went to many other museums!

Neues Museum

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The Neues Museum is located on Museum Island, and is an Egyptian and early human history museum. This museum was on the top of my list, because it exhibits the bust of Nefertiti, and I have long been fascinated by ancient Egypt. It was a wonderful museum, and I spent five hours combing through every exhibit. You couldn’t take photos of the bust of Nefertiti, but it’s in the centre of a room all on its own so you can view it from every angle. I spent a good twenty minutes slowly walking around it, and examining every detail. The advantage of going during the off-season is that there weren’t many people and I had the ability to do this!

Pergamon Museum

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The Pergamon Museum is also located on Museum Island. It features reconstructed monuments, buildings and statues from the Middle East, and ancient Rome and Greece. While its namesake exhibit, the Pergamon Altar will be closed for renovations until at least 2020, the rest of the museum is worth seeing. It is a smaller museum (I was able to see it in about an hour or so – granted, I wasn’t as taken with the museum as I was with the Neues Museum), but the exhibits are unlike anything I’d ever seen before in a museum. Even if, like me, you’re not as interested in the subject matter, it’s still worth going because everything in the museum just looks so freaking interesting. It felt like I was actually in the places these artifacts came from.

Alte Nationalgalerie

I couldn’t go to Europe and NOT go to an art museum! Going to this museum was a rather spur-of-the-moment decision after visiting the Pergamon Museum. I didn’t have my phone or camera with me (I had to put my purse in a locker), so I didn’t take any photographs. I stuck primarily to the small impressionist section of the museum, as well as the modernist section. There was also a temporary exhibit of portraits of Maori individuals, which was interesting.

Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin)

Possibly my favourite museum visited on my trip. This museum was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, and the building and floor plan is as much a part of the journey as the exhibits themselves. You see, Libeskind designed the building to feature sharp angles, zig-zag pathways, slanting corridors and lots of empty space. The empty space is meant to metaphorically symbolize the absence of Jewish life and culture in Germany. There are three sections of the museum: the history of Jewish life in Germany, Jewish emigration from Germany, and the Holocaust. By no means is this a museum that is easy to navigate, due to its incredibly unconventional structure, but that is part of the point. It creates a sense of uneasiness and genuinely adds to the experience. Not only is the museum interesting, moving, and of course, often incredibly sad, but it is a real experience. I thought about the museum long after I left, and think it’s a must-see museum in Berlin.

Charlottenburg Palace

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Charlottenburg Palace is a beautiful palace in Berlin. It was badly damaged during the war, but reconstructed. As with many of the other palaces and buildings I visited on my trip, you could see where it was reconstructed due to things such as missing ceiling decorations, incomplete paintings, plain room design, etc. I visited many palaces during my trip, but this one felt a little more “homey” than the others. Perhaps because the design of the rooms was a little less ornate than other palaces (not that it wasn’t incredibly elaborate and beautiful!).

In museums and palaces, I’ve always gotten a kick out of taking selfies in really old mirrors. This palace gave me the opportunity to do so, which excited me greatly!

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Bröhan Museum

As I walked towards the Charlottenburg Palace, I came across the Bröhan Museum, which advertised Art Deco exhibits. And, as someone who really enjoys Art Deco design, I decided to pop by after I finished at the palace. Again, I wasn’t able to take photographs, but I did enjoy the museum. It focused heavily on pottery, glassware and furniture from the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements, as well as paintings. Admittedly, I would have loved to see a little more in the way of fashion from those eras, but it was still an interesting museum and a nice way to spend an hour. By the end of that day, I was VERY worn out and sore, though, as I’d gone to the zoo, aquarium, the palace and this museum!

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Stories from Berlin – Film and Music

Movie Rating:
April 25th, 2015 No comments

As many of you are aware, I just returned from a two week trip to Germany (including a day trip to Salzburg, Austria). It was an incredible trip, and over the next few weeks, I want to share some stories from my trip. Along with film, traveling is another huge passion in my life, and I feel lucky to have the ability to go on trips and slowly experience the world.

The first five days of my trip were spent in Berlin. In addition to seeing many museums, a palace, and the zoo/aquarium, I went to two concerts, and a film and television museum.

The Airborne Toxic Event

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I’ve been a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event for many years now. I love the depth and emotion in their lyrics, and I think lead singer Mikel Jollet has one of the most interesting and beautiful voices in music today. But, I’d never been able to see them live, as they’ve never come to Winnipeg. Well, it turns out they were playing a show in Berlin on the day that I arrived, so I bought a ticket the moment I found out. They were playing at a rather small club venue that was standing room only, and I arrived quite early so I was able to get a really good spot. The opening band was a German band (I didn’t catch their name, unfortunately…), and I really enjoyed them, but during the approximately 30 minutes between the opening band and the main event, I really started to feel the jet lag. I ended up sitting on a step in the club and had a little doze – haha! Of course, the moment The Airborne Toxic Event came on I pepped right back up and danced the night away. It was an amazing show, and I’d love to see them perform again.

The Symphony

My second evening in Berlin brought me to the Berlin Philharmoniker. I’d never been to a symphony before, and I thought this trip would be a great time to go for the first time. I really enjoyed it – but I was incredibly tired from a day of wandering around Berlin, as well as the remnants of jet lag, so I was fading in and out a little bit during the show. Nevertheless, to my musically untrained ears, the music was performed beautifully, and the sound quality in the concert hall itself was excellent.

Boulevard Der Stars

Berlin has its own Walk of Fame called the “Boulevard Der Stars”, and it was located near the concert hall, which itself was located near Potsdamer Platz. I came across it after the symphony and took some photos of some of the people I admire:

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I was pretty excited when I came across Brühl’s star! So excited, in fact, that I took the world’s worst selfie with it…

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To paint a picture of just how ridiculous I looked here – I was wearing a skirt at the time, and was sitting on the ground trying to angle myself in a way that I could get my face in the photo. I wasn’t particularly successful, but I have to laugh at how this photo turned out.

Museum für Film und Fernsehen (Museum for Film and Television)

This museum was also located near Potsdamer Platz, and I saw it the night I went to the symphony and vowed to return. This museum, as the name suggests, is dedicated to German film and television. The very lovely and helpful staff at the museum found my presence to be quite a curious thing, and I was asked several times where I was from. I don’t think they expected a Canadian to be interested in the museum, but as a cinema lover, I had to go! It was a very interesting museum (I skipped the television part, but the film portion was very thorough and captivating). It focused quite heavily on Fritz Lang, including an exhibit on Metropolis, as well as on Marlene Dietrich. There were artifacts, including letters, costumes Dietrich wore in films, and photographs, among many other things. There was also a section on more contemporary German cinema that included set pieces, props, costumes, storyboards, and scripts from several contemporary films.

It was an excellent museum, and one of many surprising finds in Berlin. I was glad I found it and visited.

Into the Woods

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 2.5
April 23rd, 2015 No comments

Into the Woods, 2014, USA

A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are unable to have children. It is revealed by a witch (Meryl Streep) that she has placed a curse on the baker’s family, and that until it is broken, they will remain barren. She gives them a list of things to find, which brings them into contact with other classic fairy tale characters who are looking for their own happily ever afters. But in this story, a happily ever after is not what it seems.

Oh, how I wanted to like this film. It’s a musical, and I generally adore musicals, but the film as a whole rings hollow. There’s little character development, so I didn’t find myself feeling any attachment for any of the characters, save for James (an amazing Daniel Huttlestone). We’re shown the characters, but we never have an opportunity to truly get to know them. Most of the characters aren’t very likable, either. Why should I root for a baker that is disrespectful to his wife? And why should I feel any pity for a witch who treats her daughter with cruelty?

It’s a shame, really, because the soundtrack was quite enjoyable and there were some catchy songs. The story itself just doesn’t work very well, and I get the feeling that the issues that presented itself likely only exist in the film version of the musical and not the stage version. How much was cut from the stage version, particularly given that it was a Disney film?

Streep received an Oscar nomination for her role, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why, other than that it’s because she’s Meryl Streep. Her performance was decent, but nothing outstanding (she’s certainly done far better). There were many other female performances last year that were far worthier of that Oscar nomination.

There were some good things about the film. The cinematography was fantastic. It’s dark and moody, which works well within the context of the story. The costume design and makeup were very good, as well. That being said, none of that makes the film worth seeing. I wouldn’t recommend paying to rent Into the Woods – it’s one of those films you may wish to watch once, but just wait until it airs on television.

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