Saturday, December 22, 2007

Review: Sweeney Todd


Hear that?

It's the sound of goths around the world emptying their closets. Now I thought it was so they could buy new clothes in the guise of the new icons of gothdom in this film, the consumptively pale Mr. Depp and Ms. Bonham-Carter; Gene, however, figured that it was in disgust that goth has gone mainstream with Burton's new film. I can see the Halloween costumes next year already churning out of Chinese factories and I can feel a pang of disappointment that the grey streak in my hair is not more prominent.

Okay, yes; I am a sucker for Johnny Depp, which Gene can attest to after sitting through Arizona Dream, but even the NYTimes thought he was terrific in this. He's not got a great voice, but it is an evocative one. Who knew Helena B-C had some pipes on her?

The cartoony opening credits are less effective than the setting throughout. This is Hogarth's London, a pestilential prison on Gin Lane. When Todd sings of his London it's easy to understand his scorn against this back drop:

There's a hole in the world
Like a great black pit
And the vermin of the world
Inhabit it
And its morals aren't worth
What a pig could spit
And it goes by the name of London.


The tragic tale spins out in gloom and shadow that signal the devotion to horror that suits Sondheim's dark vision. Sondheim has realized the power of song to uplift even the most morbid topics (think Assassins) and Burton makes the most of this. While the dark humor remains, make no mistake -- this is a tale of revenge and blood. While the blood is a technicolor spray, the violence is very palpably real -- I winced a lot, especially when "customers" went down the chute. It's not a film for everyone, but if you like it dark and don't mind blood, it's a wonderfully surreal trip.

You know the main cast are going to be great -- Alan Rickman almost makes you pity the Judge, but not for long. Timothy Spall just about oozes oily malevolence. The real bonus is the mostly new younger cast: Jamie Campbell Bower makes for a powerfully hopeful Anthony and Jayne Wisener looks like Christina Ricci's lost sister from Sleepy Hollow and lends Joanna a wistfulness that her tortured childhood predicts. Most amazing is Ed Sanders as the boy Toby who has a range of emotions to present and a great singing voice. There are a couple of cameos (one almost too quick to catch) that add a little extra fun.

While most of the film is Depp and Bonham-Carter, the supporting cast keep the film from devolving into just a star vehicle. The wonderful ambiance throughout really throws you into another world. Some of the set pieces really stun -- the brief party scene is just glorious and the whole meat pie system is perfectly gruesome and plausible. While I still quail at the thought of Burton tackling Alice (as Gene says, how will Johnny look in the blonde wig?), this goes a long way toward resurrecting the reputation of the man responsible for the remake of Planet of the Apes.

If you've got a taste for the macabre with catchy tunes, you'll love it. Just be sure to bring some gin and a meat pie for sustenance.

13 comments:

Jennifer Lynn Jordan said...

Was the too-quick cameo you saw Anthony Head? I saw him for 3 seconds I swear!!

L.C.McCabe said...

I haven't seen it yet, but thank you for your review. Just wondering, but did you notice the continuity problem that Helena Bonham-Carter mentioned about the film?

"The first half of filming I wasn't pregnant, and the second half I was, and because we didn't shoot it in order, I start off with huge breasts, and then I walk upstairs, and suddenly I've got tangerines again. It's melons to tangerines. " she said.

See:
http://tinyurl.com/3b4hec

If you didn't notice that detail, perhaps you'll focus on it in repeat viewings. Besides Johnny Depp, of course.

The movie I want to go see this holiday is Charlie Wilson's War simply because it was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Mike Nichols. That's enough reason right there.

Have a great holiday.

K. A. Laity said...

Jennifer -- Yes! It was, it was. I looked to see if IMDB listed him as an uncredited cameo, but not so far.

L.C. -- LOL, I guess I wasn't looking that carefully at her chest. It's a fairly bosomy movie with all those corsets.

I won't be following you to Charlie Wilson's War for many reasons, among them Julia Roberts (knee jerk revulsion) and Texan politics (my four years in Houston gives me a pass on having to have anything to do with Texas politics ever again). I'm puzzled at the lionizing of the man who funded a covert war and helped arm and train Osama Bin Laden.

L.C.McCabe said...

Kate,

I know that when I see Sweeney Todd that I'll be watching the corsets if for no other reason than I've been alerted to this continuity problem. Thanks to Bonham-Carter herself!

I understand your knee-jerk revulsion to Julia Roberts. I don't happen to share that, but I do have that response with others. Britney, Paris, and Anna Nicole Smith all spring to my mind immediately as falling into that category. Even though it is unlikely that any of them are likely to be cast in any movies anytime soon that I would want to see, (especially Smith.)

It is their inability to utter a cogent sentence demonstrating any cognitive thought that makes so insufferable. They open their mouth and stupid falls out.


The one thing I can say in Charlie Wilson's favor is that the late Molly Ivins liked him. What I know about Texas politics, I learned from Molly.

"Texas politicians aren't crooks: it's just that they tend to have an overdeveloped sense of the extenuatin' circumstance. As they say around the legislature, if you can't drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money and vote against 'em anyway, you don't belong in office."

Ivins knew Charlie Wilson was openly sexist and she quoted him as saying, “You can teach them how to type, but you can’t teach them how to grow tits.”

I know that going into movie, so I won't be surprised when I see boorish behavior. To me, if the movie is as good as its reviews and worthy of its five Golden Globe nominations, it will be because of good writing, good directing and brilliant acting by Tom Hanks.

Hanks is an actor who has the ability to make audiences care for characters who in lesser hands would be unsympathetic. I think of his character in Toy Story as being mean throughout most of the movie. It wasn't until Woody and Buzz developed a bond of friendship in the process of escaping from Sid's room that Woody was redeemed as a character. Even though Woody went from the leader in Andy's Room to a meany, you still cared about him because Hanks is that good of an actor.

Anyway, that was one of the things about Beowulf that just didn't work for me. Either the writing of the script was so flawed that no actor could possibly make it work, or they needed a better actor than Ray Winstone who pull off the difficult task of making a dishonorable lead character sympathetic with all his flaws.

That of course is not taking into account other problems with the movie that we discussed before such as the lack of conflict displayed before agreeing to the golden dipped hottie's malevolent offer as well as the horrible one-dimensional roles for the women characters. All of those things added up to the movie being Beodreck.

Linda

K. A. Laity said...

The world is a much sadder place without the great Molly Ivins. Between the loss of her and of the fabulous Ann Richards, there is very little hope (or good humor) left in Tejas at the moment.

I will be interested in seeing your review of the film. Certainly it's being hailed already -- although Titanic was widely hailed by all and sundry which didn't make me like it any better. It probably didn't help that I saw in on a British Airways flight after being stuck on the tarmac at Heathrow for an hour or two for "mechanical trouble" so they said. Shouldn't there be a rule against showing disaster films on planes?

Tom Hanks seems like a really great guy, but I seldom like him in films.

K. A. Laity said...

Here's the Guardian review, which talks about the high failure rate for taking a musical to screen. Have to say I disagree about the opening credits which I hated (the visuals that is, the music is great).

The Queen said...

Peter Haining wrote a book titled "Sweeney Todd: The Real Story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street" that supposedly tells the story of the 'real' Sweeney Todd - it's interesting, but light, and I came away feeling that it was basically the urban legend of its time that spoke broadly of the class differences.

"...goth has gone mainstream...."

I think the Hot Topic stores took care of that several years ago....

Gene K. said...

Wow, Peter Haining has time for something other than all those Doctor Who books?

K. A. Laity said...

Uh...not anymore.

And, yeah, QOE -- you have a good point about Hot Topic, where you can buy factory made Anarchy t-shirts.

Cranky Yankee said...

And of course, there's the case of Johnny Depp's unoriginal look...copped from Dave Vanian (lead singer of The Damned) circa 1986. Yawn...it's been done before!!

Never-the-less, I am looking forward to seeing the film later this week. Right after we see The Golden Compass on xmas eve.

K. A. Laity said...

What -- you were expecting originality in a Hollywood film?! hee hee.

I look forward to hearing what you think of The Golden Compass. Should get around to writing that review...

The Queen said...

I didn't know Haining had written on anything other than Sherlockiana....

L.C.McCabe said...

It took me awhile, but I finally saw Sweeney Todd on DVD the other night.

It is dark, tragic and morbid as you said.

The beginning credits sequence you thought of as being "cartoony" is actually very reminiscent of the opening sequence in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also directed by Burton. The difference of course is rather than a terribly inefficient yet whimsical method to make chocolate bars, we see blood and flesh being rendered into meat pies.

It does set the tone for the movie.

One thing about that opening and throughout the movie I found a bit bothersome aesthetically was the neon red blood. Blood is powerful enough viscerally without making it look radioactive, but maybe that's just me.

I agree that many scenes were wince-worthy. I suppose that what really bothered my sensitivity was the repeated killings of men who seemed not to have done anything to warrant Barker's wrath or need for vengeance.

It's like, "wow, you won't be having any repeat customers or positive word-of-mouth if you keep killing anyone who walks up your steps."

The ending was horribly tragic all around, but I actually could see it coming and maybe I would have responded different emotionally if I hadn't predicted the one murder Barker would live to regret.

I *think* he did not kill Johanna, but am not altogether sure.

The movie was well done, the singing was wonderful, but I don't think it is something I would want to watch again, making me glad I rented it on Netflix rather than purchasing it. 'Tis not my cup of Earl Grey.