Friday, December 21, 2007

Sweeney Todd: Bloody marvelous!

I saw Sweeney Todd at a midnight screening last night, and I have to agree with the general consensus that it's one of the best screen musicals of recent years, and probably Tim Burton's best film since Ed Wood. I've watched the stage production on DVD, so I mostly knew what to expect from the film. Burton and his screenwriter wisely cut some of the longer songs and the plot is more streamlined, but overall it's a pretty faithful adaptation.
The opening computer generated credits were a little too Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for my taste, but as soon as Sweeney and Anthony arrive in the cesspool of London, the film really grabbed me. It takes its time to get to the killings, but that lets us get to know the characters. When the murders do come they're treated as wonderfully twisted Grand Guignol, with more blood spraying than even in Burton's Sleepy Hollow. The ending is abrupt yet entirely appropriate for what is essentially a dark tragedy (though with lots of Burton's trademark macabre humour, of course).
The cast are uniformly great. Johnny Depp overcame by doubts and really did a good job both with his acting and singing. His Sweeney is more introspective than the stage version, and retains his humanity even as his behavior becomes more monstrous as the film progresses (in a memorable sequence he dumps countless dead bodies from his barber chair only to spare one man who brought his wife and child with him). Even better is Helana Bonham Carter. She has a lovely voice and brings out the tragic side of Mrs. Lovett more so than I felt in the stage version. The "By the Sea" sequence where she imagines herself living on a colorful seafront with Sweeney is particularly wonderful. Alan Rickman is great as always, playing the despicable Judge Turpin. Sacha Baron Cohen is hilarious in the small but important role of Pirelli, and his fate is one of the more shocking in the film. Jamie Campbell Bower and Jayne Wisener are fine in the admittedly rather wet roles of Anthony and Johanna. Ed Sanders plays the young Toby and gives an impressive performance for his age. And Tony Head appears in the film (uncredited) for all of five seconds!
Visually the film is near perfect, with the blood given a strangely beautiful quality, especially in the final scene. Stephen Sondheim's music fits with Burton's images (or should that be the other way around?) as well as Danny Elfman's. It's really an intimate screen musical, with no big dance numbers and most of the songs shot with closeups of the actors.
The film comments on various aspects of society, from the mistreatment of the lower classes to the ethics of eating meat, but mostly it's a dark yet beautiful "scarytale" with tunes that are sure to get stuck in your head. It's probably too much to hope that Burton will finally get award recognition for this (Big Fish should have garnered him a few, but it didn't) but the director has shown pretenders like Joel Schumacher and Chris Columbus how you do a bloody good movie musical! I bet my mother would have loved it (even with all the blood) since she always liked musicals and Johnny Depp. I'd recommend it to anyone, even those who normally run in horror from the very word musical.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two Hobbits, my precioussss!

It's been reported all over the net that Peter Jackson has finally ended his feud with New Line Cinema and made a deal to produce not one, but two films of The Hobbit (the second film apparently bridging the gap between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy). While I'm excited that Jackson is doing the adaptation (and not Sam Raimi as was rumoured), do we really need two films? The Hobbit is a pretty simple book, and Jackson's last film, King Kong, was about an hour too long. Hopefully he'll recapture the magic he brought to the LOTR films.
I caught some of I Am Legend while I was working at the cinema today, and it looked like a slightly more faithful adaptation of the excellent book than the previous two films. The CG zampires (or is that vombies?) looked kinda fake, but then don't they always? I also saw the trailers for Iron Man and The Dark Knight. They both looked pretty cool, though I don't know how a serial killer Joker in bad makeup is gonna play with the people who thought Batman Returns was too dark. I can't wait til Sweeney Todd opens. Hopefully I'll get to see it at a midnight show Thursday night.