10 February 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Review

Tim Burton. Johnny Depp. Dark, gothic atmosphere. Eh…musical? If that set of descriptors doesn’t make a tingle of fancy arise in the back of your skull, then there could well be nothing in the skull at all. Either that or you could just not be a fan, which is fair enough. Still, the tingle did come a-knocking for me.

Apparently in a moment of rather epic disappointment, I haven’t seen the Steven Sondheim musical upon which the movie is based – although if it would seem that this would’ve shifted my perspective of the movie somewhat, if the reactions of those who have seen the musical are anything to go by. So I stepped into Sweeney Todd with a somewhat uninitiated view of the proceedings – and with a girl whose last name is Todd, which was rather amusing seeing as mine is Sweeney…irony of ironies, no?

I have to say, I was rather impressed. I generally love Tim Burton movies – yes, even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; although I’ll give a miss to Planet of the Apes – mainly for the dark, slightly disturbing streak that he infuses into his films – yes, even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; although I’ll give a miss to Planet of the Apes. It’s interesting, because it’s almost invariably juxtaposed with what could be construed as rather light subject material. A recluse who likes to cut hedges; aliens invading earth; a man who tells tall tales. And now, a musical about a barber…who just so happens to rather enjoy a good arterial spray.

Burton wonderfully continues with tradition, and here the juxtaposition is between the dark, slightly creepy atmosphere of the London he’s created – every bit the shithole that Depp’s Sweeney Todd insists it is – with the relatively upbeat bounces of the musical numbers. The place is deliciously macabre in almost every respect, from the dark, overpowering presence of the buildings towering overhead, to the splashes of claret that speckle the floors when Sweeney does start on his rampage.

The script – apparently tweaked from the Broadway production for the silver screen – is tight and drives the story along at a pleasing pace, revealing just enough back story whist never getting distracted from the main happenings. It’s also oddly convincing – even with people bursting into song rather erratically – and frequently, albeit blackly, amusing. Sometimes, an old guy getting his throat nonchalantly slashed with a straight razor can’t do anything but bring a rather twisted grin to your lips.

Depp once again shines – if he keeps doing it, he could well be named one of the greatest actors ever – bringing a gravitas to Sweeney, peering out from behind eyes surrounded by dark circles, hating everything he sees and consumed by his quest for vengeance. It’s not just in the spoken parts either, he brings this quality to the songs too, his dark, gravely singing voice dripping with hidden meaning. Helena Bonham Carter too puts in another fantastic turn as Mrs Lovett, Sweeney’s partner in crime and someone who just so happens to be falling madly in love with the man. It’s slightly surreal, yet – again – strangely plausible, mostly thanks to Depp’s charisma shining through, and her interestingly innocent characterisation.

The supporting cast, too, shine wonderfully. Alan Rickman as the antagonist Judge Turpin is suitably evil, yet he somehow brings a mote of dignity to the role; this is a man who was consumed by jealousy, and simply didn’t know what else to do. Timothy Spall could actually be considered as a primary villain, hamming it up delightfully as Turpin’s crony Beadle Bamford. Then there’s a brilliantly silly more-or-less cameo appearance from Sacha Baron Cohen as an ‘Italian’ barber who claims to have given the pope the closest shave ever, and whom Sweeney expertly defeats in one of the more surreal penis-measuring contests you’ll see for a while.

Be warned, however, this is a full blooded 18 certificate. Whilst I could take most of it, there’s one scene towards the end that is a cut above the rest in its gory, rather disturbing nature, and it did have me squirming. Though annoyingly, the credits rolled not a minute later, and thus I was left unsure as to whether or not I actually truly enjoyed the film. But it’s bloody funny, bloody dark and bloody…bloody – and it all adds up to one of the most entertaining films for a while now, and it’ll certainly rank among Burton’s best.

Ross' Rating: 8

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem Review

You know you’re in trouble when a pair of special effects supervisors take the helm of a movie and then – rather pretentiously –dub themselves ‘The Brothers Strause’. It’s, unfortunately, simple fact. In recent memory, how many SFX supervisors turned directors have actually produced a good film? Struggling for an answer, aren’t you? And no, James McTeigue does not count. He was a Second Unit Director, y’see.

Okay, so I’ll man up and admit that I was maybe a tiny bit excited about the new AvP. The simple fact that Paul WS Anderson made such a bloody hash of the first one (no gore? In a movie that pits brutal, gory killer versus brutal, gory killer? Nice decision, numbnuts) meant that the franchise had more or less nowhere to go but up. Or so I thought. Oh how wrong I was.

First thing’s first, let’s get the meaningless criticisms aside. After all, no-one’s expecting a true, subtle masterwork of Citizen Kane proportions. The acting is puerile, the script weak as cream crackers, the characters underdeveloped and total clich├ęs, and the driving force behind the plot so contrived that it’s probably able to tongue its own arse.

The story - such as it is - follows straight on from the previous movie. The predalien that we saw being birthed chews its way through a shipful of predators, causing it to crash land in Unamedsville, America. The predators, being a wiley bunch, send another of their number to control the infestation. It's brainless, full of plot holes - if they keep aliens on board their ship, why did they need to have them frozen under the Arctic circle? - and rather insulting to anyone's intelligence. That and it undermines the essence predators. Meant to be the ultimate hunters, these ones simply lack any brains whatsoever, and so how are we supposed to be convinced that these guys can clean up the mess? Especially when they only send one predator to sort it out. Seriously, what the fuck?

That out the way, we come to my major beef with the film – the direction. If there could’ve been one single saving grace, it would’ve been some flashily directed action and some interesting set pieces. Surprise, surprise, Colin and Greg, bless them, fail magnificently at anything even vaguely resembling intelligent direction. The films signature tussle – a rooftop battle between the Predator and the newly created Predalien – is little more than a prolonged poking match between two men in bad rubber costumes.

Oh, and they’re also a pair of misogynistic morons. I hate throwing that word around – because it seems inherently sexist to me, seeing as it’s okay to kill and maim men, but do it to women and suddenly you’re a bad person… - but there is very little else to describe what’s going on here. Most of the brutal killings happen to the female characters – including a particularly twisted ‘birth’ scene that was just so brainless and sickening that I honestly felt like walking out of the cinema – and their pathetic attempt to make up for it with the stereotypical ‘army chick’ – of which Reiko Aylseworth should be fucking ashamed – does nothing but emphasise the whole issue.

It’s such a shame, because video games have proven that this little battle of the extra terrestrials can be done with intelligence, class and a little bit of humour. What remains is something of a cinematic turd. Of course, it’ll have its fans, but they’re clearly either as brainless as the Strauses, or their SFX chums. The morons.

Ross' Rating: 3