Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd…

December 30, 2007 at 7:58 am | Posted in movies | 1 Comment

AMC Loews Stony Brook – December 28th

When I first heard this brilliant Sondheim musical I have loved for years would be adapted for the big screen, I was excited. Not only would this intriguing and horrifying tale go the way of Chicago (which I also loved), the master of twisted tales himself, Tim Burton as director?? Let’s say I was tickled black.

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street… and wiseguys, no relation to me. Actually according to Wikipedia, there is no real proof that he ever existed at all. Adapted for the stage in 1979, Sweeney Todd is most known by the men who originated the roles, Len Cariou and in the later televised version, George Hearn. The role of Mrs. Lovett was originated by none other than Angela Lansbury. Cariou and Lansbury appear on the soundtrack that I grew to love and can now recite along with. (A few tracks have made my regularly rotated Broadway shower -um- playlist? singlist? either way.)

Before I begin my review, I must start at the end. It’s going to be difficult to decide which way to lean toward here, as I had a very strong reaction to this movie. Not being used to judging art or film by any preconceived notions, I had a rough time getting my head around one fact. TIM BURTON AND JOHNNY DEPP ARE CLEARLY IN LOVE. lol

They have done 6 (memorable) films together:

  • Edward Scissorhands: Beyond brilliance. Charming story. Ahead of its time.
  • Ed Wood: Artsy film that not many have seen. I personally loved it.
  • Sleepy Hollow: I think I saw that once on a plane. What I remember about Depp’s performance is vague, but Icahbod Crane seemed a fitting role for him at the time.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory… Those of you that know me know that I have a strong connection with this story, having concocted a sequel “script” based on the original book and the Gene Wilder movie edition. My feelings about Depp playing Willy Wonka are similar to that of Sweeney Todd. Except for a brief moment I might actually believe that a man of Depp’s age and coloring could pass for the man-boy Burton portrayed Wonka to be. Not the intellectual, worldly, scientific, paternal Gene Wilder… A scarier Michael Jackson-esque “Come live with me in Neverland cause I’m psychologically damaged by my upbringing” Wonka. Different way to go, but that’s what makes Burton so great. After all, I still have to give props to the man. Burton is a visionary. He gets me every time. Even with my strong reservations about Depp’s casting, I still enjoyed myself. (Throughly creeped out by the Oompa Loompas, but still…)
  • Corpse Bride: Coming off of the Wonka Debacle, Burton’s return to animation was welcomed with open arms. The Depp/Burton chemistry remains, but to be honest I didn’t care for this film as much as I wanted to. There were parts that could have been trimmed, and anyone could see the ending coming from a mile away. But it was fun nonetheless.
  • SPECIAL NOTE- Burton’s film Big Fish does not include Depp, which in retrospect would have been much more ideal for Depp to be cast in. But Pirates of the Caribbean must have kept him away. Sad 😦 Loved Ewan McGregor!

As for Sweeney Todd, there is actually very little I can say about Depp’s performance that is negative (with the few exceptions of strained shouting in place of singing) It’s the fact that Depp was cast at all! In the opening of the musical, Sweeney Todd is a barber who returns to London from wrongful exile at sea after 15 years. He is hardened. He is gruff. He is myred down with the weight of the world and of his own tragic life. Sure he is seeking revenge, but out of anger, not psychotic breakdown. Depp just looks like an anemic insomniac who loves the Bride of Frankenstein.

Again, its a different way to go. But at what point do we say – SQUARE PEG, ROUND HOLE? In a recent interview, Depp even revealed his own reservations about being presented the role. “When (Tim) asked if I could sing, I honestly said “I don’t know. I’ll try.” It was an experiment.” !!!!!! Out of respect for Sondheim, this act of nepotism is above and beyond. I mean, not even auditioning for the top two beloved characters?


That’s right. Don’t even get me started on Helena Bonham Carter. Should we take her as a given now in all of his movies? There’s showcasing versatility as actors and then there’s just casting your friends and wife. Fortunately, I do like her as an actress. She wasn’t half bad and her portrayal fit the direction Burton was going in. However, her voice was a bit too soft at times; either she was trying too hard to come off timid or naive, or she just had one of those pitch/volume ratio problems. (re: Austin Powers) She has this “quality” – for lack of a better term – with most of the parts she’s played recently. It’s not so much that the characters are crazy, but she always wants the audience to think there is more going on than she lets on. Whether its hiding how smart she is, or how much she loves someone, or how desperate she is, or all of the above. Shining moments with “Worst Pies in London” and “A Little Priest” which were handled with the proper irreverence. 🙂

For those who intend on seeing the film for its own merits, I implore you to ignore me. My reaction is merely based on character direction and casting choice. I really enjoyed the overall tone of the movie, all thanks to Burton. His style was conducive to a proper retelling of this tragedy and in the end, its as good as it could get. Baz Luhrmann is to Romeo + Juliet as Tim Burton is to Sweeney Todd.

As with Juno, this film had a number of delightful supporting actors, including but not limited to Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Timothy Sprall (Wormtail/Peter Pettigrew), and Sasha Baron Cohen (Borat). Honorable mention to the boy who played Toby, for whom I was happy to see played by a boy, as the original musical cast a midget. Though memories of Liv Tyler in Jersey Girl resurfaced during “God, That’s Good!”… not sure if that was a good thing or not.

RATING: 4stars (One star also removed for horrific blood effects… I mean, stage blood? pah-lease. pass the ketchup!)
Recommendation: See it in the theaters this week, it’s better than One Missed Call could ever be.



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