December 26, 2007

REVIEW: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (B+)

Background: Based on Stephen Sondheim's acclaimed Broadway musical by the same name, Sweeney Todd marks the sixth collaboration (and third in a row) between director Tim Burton (Corpse Bride, Big Fish) and Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean...). Also starring are Burton's wife Helena Bonham Carter (Corpse Bride, Harry Potter...), Alan Rickman (Harry Potter..., Die Hard), Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter...), and newcomer Ed Sanders, who will probably be in the next Harry Potter judging by his influences here. All of the actors are indeed singing their parts in Sweeney Todd, though it's not the most challenging musical in terms of range.

Synopsis: After being wrongly imprisoned for 15 years, Benjamin Barker (Depp) returns to London as Sweeney Todd, a scorned barber with a score to settle - not someone you'd want to cross. His primary target is Judge Turpin (Rickman), who not only locked him up but also stole his daughter, Joanna. Todd shacks up in his old shop on Fleet Street, which is now also where Mrs. Lovett (Bonham Carter) operates her "meat" pie shop. She becomes his caretaker and admirer as he plots revenge on Turpin. Also in the mix are Todd's former apprentice (Cohen), his apprentice (Sanders), Judge Turpin's assistant (Spall), and a local sailor who has the hots for Joanna. Plans are hatched, throats are slit, people are eaten, and songs are sung. Just another day on Fleet Street.

I Loved:
+ The overall feel of the production - almost like you were watching it on a really vivid stage.

I Liked:
+ Johnny Depp, waaaay more than in any of the ridiculous Pirates movies for he which he received Oscar consideration. Unbelievable then, but outrageous when compared to this.
+ The rest of the ensemble, especially Ed Sanders as Toby.
+ The music, specifically "Johanna," "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir," and "A Little Priest."

I Disliked:
- The feeling that the second half was either rushed or lacking in story. It just seemed to lose intrigue while it picked up energy. I haven't seen the stage musical, though, so I don't really know how it's supposed to flow.

I Hated:
- The throat slitting - and accompanying hooting, hollering and howling from the idiot behind me in the theater.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 2

Total: 43/50= 88% = B+

Last Word: What is it about seeing people's necks explode with gushing and gurgling blood that causes laughing cramps in the general public? Or, rather, what is it about me that prevents me from seeing the humor in violence, since I'm so nakedly in the minority here? If you can get past it - or you're just not me - then the darkest, bloodiest film of the year (though I didn't see Saw IV) will send you home in fits. I heard similar roaring laughter at The Passion of the Christ and Kill Bill. Anyway, when the camera is not streaked with blood, Tim Burton's dream world glows with great detail. There is hardly a director with such dark, distinct taste (was his Batman the best so far?). I'd like to see a Tim Burton romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant. Sweeney Todd features great musical numbers, a pretty interesting story, and perfect acting across the board. I'm especially excited about this Ed Sanders kid, who looks really familiar but has no other screen credits. All in all it's hard to imagine a different cast for this movie, especially when you consider that Meryl Streep was lined up to play Mrs. Lovett. Wow. To conclude - Sweeney Todd is a lesson in excellent filmmaking, probably on par this year with No Country for Old Men in terms of professionalism. However, it's just not a movie that I really loved. Maybe I could handle watching it on stage, where the blood flood is toned down a bit.

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