Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

You, Me and My Razors

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was slated to have been released end of next month. Then came the relatively strong opening in the West late last year, followed by nominations and wins in the Golden Globes, that it has now been bumped up for release this week, prior to the 3-way fight that the Asian movies will put up in the upcoming Lunar New Year week. I thought it was a no-brainer having to release this early as Johnny Depp is already a household name here thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and here he dons eye shadow and retains the bad teeth to play the titular character.

One can imagine the troubles that a beautiful wife may bring, especially when people in positions of power find it easy to abuse that authority in order to covert her. Benjamin Barker (Depp), as he was originally known, was a naive young barber with a beautiful wife and kid, but corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) felt some strong stirring in his loins, enough to banish Parker for years, and taking a leaf out of Mask of Zorro's villain Don Rafael Montero, adopts Parker's child Johanna, only with plans to make the beautiful girl his wife when she comes of age (shades of Kim Ki-duk's The Bow too).

So Parker returns with bad attitude and probably bad breath as well, to sing his way (you do know it's a musical, don't you?) into implementing his scheme of revenge on those who had trespassed him, and does so with the help of a lousy pie baker Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). He slices and dices with his collection of silver blades, while she bakes and she cooks using ingredients on the cheap, and regular on supply, with a unique taste to boot.

Based on the West End musical by Stephen Sondheim, this film adaptation by director Tim Burton have re-teamed his virtual cast from Corpse Bride with Depp and Carter in the lead roles of Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, complete with pale skin and a gothic wardrobe. They are no strangers to Burton, with Depp having collaborated with Burton since the days of Edward Scissorhands, which puts him in good steed as he now wields the barber blades, and 5 more films thereafter. Helena Bonham Carter, well, is his fiancee, so nuff said about that too. Together they share familiar chemistry already established, and chew up scenes especially when they sing their duets, and you'll feel somewhat sad for Mrs Lovett as she pines for Todd's love, which isn't forthcoming as he's so obsessed with trying to find opportunity to get close to Judge Turpin and exact his revenge.

Tim Burton seemed to have been influenced a bit by the Asian ketchup director Chang Cheh, as blood get spilled by the bucketloads in similar style, and this time, done in very tongue-in-cheek manner with the spurts shooting quite exaggeratedly sky high and the drips emulating volumes from a waterfall. But there's no denying that it is wonderfully photographed, and is something you'd come to expect each time you watch a Burton film, complete with dark humour, and plenty of dark elements and themes. Being a musical, the songs are top notch, and the lyrics really classy, bringing out the emotions felt by the characters without unnecessary pomp, getting straight to the point.

In fact, everyone in the movie, right down to the supporting cast like Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall had lines to sing, and I'm quite surprised to see (and hear) Alan Rickman's piece, together with Depp's, which was, though short, quite wonderful. Alas, and I think I'm getting quite anal here and hopefully I arrest this problem soon, the romance between Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Johanna (Jayne Wisener) seemed a little too contrived and emotionally empty, and I rather disliked the way their love developed, or left hanging - even though we could've guessed the likely outcome, Burton decided to end the movie in the best possible way it could without dwelling too much on the obvious. Which means the final act zooms past a tad too fast after a deliberate, measured build up.

Oh, and watch out too for Sacha "Borat" Baron Cohen in a small supporting role as Italian tout Pirrelli who sells magical hair elixirs, which was well worth its moments. But if there's one thing I'd take away from the movie, is that to beware the barber's blade. Somehow Eastern Promises had started it, and now Sweeny Todd highlights the dangers. Hope it stays in movieland, and not inspire anyone out there who'd think they're the fastest, cleanest shave in town! Recommended for the songs, which lifted the ho-hum story.

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