Attend the tale

I know Turff gave us until Jan. 12 to see Sweeney Todd, but since Jeff has started butchering it (har!) in other comments, I thought I’d go ahead and post for all of us to pile on.

Nearly all the reviews of which I am aware have hailed it as a masterpiece. Eh, not so much. Mostly effective, and the music is superb. But directorially, I think Burton is repeating himself. I was not surprised or impressed by any of it. (Pleased and entertained quite a bit, actually, but not impressed.)

Ms. Bonham Carter in particular is spectacularly miscast. Mr. Depp is, as Jeff has said otherwheres, simply repeating his Edward Scissorhands/Jack Sparrow shtick, although it is adequate to the task. Ms. Bonham Carter, on the other hand, I just wanted to smack. I wanted to yell, “Cut!” and ask her, “Sweetie, can you give me some decision-making during this song? I mean, Ed’s only ten, so I can cut him some slack, but Helena, you’re putting me to sleep! Johnny’s doing the catatonic thing, let’s you and I figure out something else, OK?”

I find the decision to leave out the chorus altogether not as offensive as leaving out the humor. Yes, Sondheim’s music will bear the weight of a tragedy, but the original piece is a satirical commentary on human passions, both emotional, physical, and economic. I really missed the counterpoint between Sweeney Todd’s monomania and Mrs. Lovett’s greed.

The Grand Guignol blood was a good choice. At least it provided some color. (I found the limited palette forced and uninteresting.)

All in all, a good movie, barring Helena Bonham Carter, but not quite the masterpiece the professionals are raving about.

31 thoughts on “Attend the tale

  1. I’ll copy my comment over here, to where it now belongs:

    So last night Barbara and I saw Sweeney Todd. I have to say that I was not impressed. The production design and overall look of Old London was sumptuous, but it was nothing that Tim Burton hasn’t done better in films like Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, or even Vincent. Johnny Depp should never have been cast in this role. When he wasn’t channeling Edward Scissorhands or Jack Sparrow, he was evoking his turn in From Hell. I don’t like it when I’m watching a movie and I’m constantly being reminded not of LIFE, but of other (usually better) movies. The music is not as good as the music from Into the Woods, and I would LOVE for that to get the true Hollywood treatment. Alan Rickman played … Alan Rickman. Helena Bonham Carter played … Helena Bonham Carter. The Borat guy was a treat, but his time onscreen was all too brief. Alan Rickman’s sidekick played the same kind of toady role he always plays, and we just saw him do the same thing in the infinitely better Enchanted. I REALLY would have enjoyed seeing some creative casting here, something really brave and against type. Adam Sandler as Todd? Why not? He pulled off Punch Drunk Love, didn’t he? Barb said she would’ve liked to have seen Matt Damon in the role. The film was just what one would expect, from start to finish. Nothing more, nothing less. Bleh. I was not engaged. At least we got 49 Up in the mail today.

  2. I, too, have viewed the Todd.

    Odd little triangle I set up in my head during the first viewing. I found myself preoccupied with the folks in the row in front of me and how they might be experiencing the film. I was viewing it with a kind of knowing anticipation. Knowing the musical and knowing Burton, I was excited about how Burton would take up the challenges cinematically and serve them (piping hot!) to the folks in the row in front of me who had not had, I decided, any prior familiarity with the material. When Burton would execute a particular turn in a satisfactory way, my knowing anticipation would be met, my daughter and I would exchange a conspiritorial grin, and I would feel delight on behalf of the folks in front of me.

    I mention the triangle because it colored my reception tremendously (and probably made a primal and innocent–new–engagement impossible). I need to see it again and not give in to such distractions. I was more gleeful than critical, I think, when Burton’s choices (including casting) rewarded me, and I just blinked through and forgave those that didn’t. It didn’t disappoint as a sample of Burton, however, whose style is pretty consistent and shapes all content to its needs and preoccupations. I wasn’t waiting for a “new” Burton.

    Turning it into an experience of tragedy and alienation was a Burton turn I expected. I didn’t miss the original musical’s quasi-Brechtian framing, probably because I’ve always found that aspect of it somewhat confused. Sondheim wanted framing and commentary and verfremdungseffekt as theatrical atmosphere, mostly, with the messages sort of careening all over the place: a touch of schadenfreude, a bit of collective guilt, a nod to class warfare and preditory capitalism, some cold comfort for Civilization and its Discontents, etc.

    (will continue this later in another commentary; got to go)

  3. ST didn’t make me feel anything. Nothing. Noting at all. It seemed like a hollow exercise. I guess that’s all I have to say about it.

    On another matter, I am SERIOUSLY looking forward to PTA’s new flick, “There Will Be Blood.” From a recent review on AICN:

    …It’s rare I feel this strongly about a film after only one viewing. This resonated for days and days after I saw it, though, and there are scenes I can’t shake, dialogue I can’t stop replaying. More than that, there’s this feeling that I had while watching it… a feeling I used to get a lot more frequently. And I think I figured out why it’s less common for me these days.

    When you’re first falling in love with film, when you’re starting to realize you are a film geek, there are SO MANY amazing, classic, essential films and filmmakers that you need to catch up with. And thanks to video, I remember when I would fall in love with a filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick and I would be able to watch 2001, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, LOLITA, PATHS OF GLORY, THE KILLING, THE SHINING, and BARRY LYNDON all in the space of a week, all for the first time. Do you know what kind of a hole that left in the back of my skull? Once you’ve really caught up to a certain point, though, you don’t get to discover true classics as often, because there aren’t that many left. You don’t get to gobble up whole filmographies at once because you already have. That experience of having my brain chemistry altered by a film is more and more rare these days, and I suspect the same is true for many of you who are also rabid film freaks. You still hope you’re going to feel it whenever you put on some new film, but you’re starting to suspect that you’ve caught up… that you’re not going to get your head caved in as often… and it’s a little bit depressing.

    Well, THERE WILL BE BLOOD was that sort of experience for me. It hit me that hard, that immediately. THERE WILL BE BLOOD restores my faith in American film in general. It is still possible to make a classic, a new film that tells a story in a unique way and that makes no apologies. This is not homage. It’s not post-modern. It’s not pastiche. It’s not a sequel. It’s not a remake. It’s not a reimagining. It’s not ironic. It’s not some ham-handed political screed. It’s not an excuse for style over substance. This is, simply put, a great story about a great character told confidently by a great filmmaker.

  4. I just read a review of There Will Be Blood and it does seem to be a must see. Unfortunately it is highly recommended that one view in a theater on a large screen, something I won’t be able to do as I haven’t been to a theater in years. Thank goodness for DVDs. By the time I see it you guys will have analyzed it to death!

  5. (Kind of interesting. Slogging through the rest of my commitment to responding to the apparently inconsequential Todd will be…now…as miserable as Work. Ah, well…fulfilling my contractual obligation to the group. Rhetorical strategies to shut up conversation have been deployed and I’m not going to struggle. Didn’t know our exchanges were to take the shape of struggle.)

    Sondheim’s original conception did perform a certain commitment to a “social dimension.” But I think this was more pragmatic than political, and I am more convinced of this due to my experience after viewing the film. I was quite sad and miserable afterwards. Burton’s exercise in solipsism and fate, all roads leading to his final Noh-like temporal suspension and punctuation with the closing image, was brutal (to me). It’s not really a purgative tragedy. The stage musical diffuses that effect somewhat, I think, because more of the world seems to flow around and through the events. It allows for a more ritualized approach to confronting the darkness. The film, on the other hand, does not attempt to reach out with any ritualized audience inclusion. We’re left isolated and alone with the final blackness.

    I was going to touch on some of Burton’s missed opportunities, but what the fuck. All the kids on the playground have run over to look at PTA’s new scooter. That’s the place to be.

  6. I’m glad to see marc’s in a good mood. I was beginning to worry. 🙂

    Let me re-iterate that I went into Todd wanting to like it. Wanting to LOVE it, actually. That’s how I approach most films. But there was just nothing there for me to grab hold of. I didn’t even feel “isolated and alone with the final blackness.” I just shrugged, threw away my popcorn, and quietly left the theatre.

    However, after looking at the critical consensus, this must be a personal failing of mine. Fine. I’ll be the dissenter on this one.

  7. Mark, Thanks for finishing your comments on ST. I’ll have to wait for the DVD so the input of this group is always interesting to have before seeing something. Of course, as Jeff said, I reserve my right to be an outlier.

  8. I’m rather tempted to dispense with the viewing of the movie I suggested seeing at this point. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not actually the timing issue (or your reviews, which I have clearly read) so much as the realization that I did not think through my choice.

    In retrospect, I think I conceded too much prior knowledge to our collective lot, as the viewing experience of most of you was that of considering the Burton’s take on ST, not on the ST material AND Burton’s take (this would by necessity by my view, having no real prior exposure to either).

    I’d like to propose another viewing, one you may or may not have experienced, but I think worth the effort. Any of you seen “Spirited Away”? I’ve a copy and would be willing to host the viewing in my theater for any willing participants. What say ye?

  9. You mean the Miyazaki movie? I’ve got it on DVD, but I’ve only seen it once, and that was a couple of years back. I’ll have to re-watch it.

  10. Marc, the stage play was framed by the Ballad, which as you say brought us back full circle to confront what we’d seen. It rather explicity (heavy-handedly? I didn’t think so) made the connection between the passions we’d witnessed and ourselves. I think what I missed from the movie was the universality of it all. Without that framing, the theatricality, even the irony/sardonic humor, we were reduced to spectators of a romantic tragedy, a one-off piece, cleverly done. “That was gross! Aren’t we glad we don’t know any people like that!”

    As I said above, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I just don’t think it was the masterpiece claimed by other reviewers. It’s certainly no Mars Attacks.

    One thing that bugged the crap out of me: the costume designer’s inability to create her own period look. Mrs. Lovett was fine, but the background characters veered all over the place, from 1840s to 1880s, all in one scene. It really looked like one of the Christmas Carols not directed by me: everything but the kitchen sink pulled from the costume shop and put onstage. An eclectic “Victorian” look would have been one thing, you know, all the elements put through the grinder [har!], but it looked as if she just didn’t take the time to come up with a “Sweeney” look.

  11. I am not championing the Todd, just discussion of the Todd as per our agreement. For instance, it would be fascinating to take apart a filmgoing experience in which there was “nothing for me to grab hold of.” (One not need always wield the phallus in response–relax…) But seriously, I think that would be an interesting experience to explore. I am also interested in a viewing experience uncolored by previous familiarity with the musical. Like or dislike? I’m probably in there with Dale, I think. Enjoyed it, but…Burton’s choices left certain absences. Would it be different if I didn’t know the musical? I’d have to think about it. My daughter’s investments in Depp and Rickman are so strong that she had not a quibble with the film.

    I guess I’m saying we don’t have to be on or off some boat of consensus to have an interesting discussion. Who says JB is way off track in his lack of response? He may be on to something interesting or crucial. Turf is in the enviable position of not having “prior exposure” to either Sondheim or Burton. Surely his experience would be of great interest for that very reason. My experience was in part due to enjoying my daughter’s delight more than my own (and wondering about the Other audience’s response). Ultimately, I don’t think we’re after verdicts. Our discussions aim for bigger fish. We nurture engagement, reflection, wit, and sensibility.

    One of my son’s friends told us his father said the film was “satanic.” THAT is the world we’re living in, my friends. THAT is why we dare to speak to another standard. And year by year, those that would nod with this father grow in number. We speak against the fall of night.

    Is “Spirited Away” satanic? (Who knows why I felt a need to assume that would be a question on someone’s table…certainly on that father’s table) No doubt Miyazaki’s congenial Shinto-inspired sensibility will be troubling to some. I fall in the camp that calls it a masterpiece. I have never been disappointed by Miyazaki’s work.

    I have this recurring daydream in which I speak to some religious gathering about a pressing issue of the day and I preface my remarks by saying, “Remember, Satan speaks through me. You should know that at the outset.” Then, of course, I go on to plead for love, tolerance, etc.

  12. So, taking marc’s suggestion a bit further…

    What I meant, I suppose, when I said there was “nothing for me to grab hold of,” was something like this:

    I appreciated the spectacle of the thing. Nothing new, but relatively well-done. Great pageantry. Nothing like Gilliam (ca. 1980) would have done with the same material, but … But still, I couldn’t find anything HUMAN in it. Revenge is bad, toxic. OK, I understand that. I’ve seen The Godfather movies. I’ve seen Oldboy. I’ve read the New Testament. I get it. Capitalistic society is relentless, man eat man. Ok, fine. I’ll go there. But Godard’s Weekend illustrated the point much more graphically. You felt like you’d been punched in the gut. And Greenaway, lest we forget, was a true master at making these same points. Much as I love Frankenweenie and Pee-Wee, Burton is simply second-rate.

    I come back to the main point. I looked around, but I couldn’t find any human beings in this film. Just one-note automatons. Cogs in the machine, fulfilling the needs of the plot. The tumblers fall into place very neatly, and isn’t that dull? A REAL human would shake things up a bit. Dionysus, where were you?

    I found it didactic, cold, and uninvolving. But I guess that’s just me.

    I did enjoy Cohen, though. For the two seconds he was in the thing.

  13. Speaking of Cohen, has anyone besides me seen “No Country for Old Men?” I didn’t like that one, either, which puts me in a tiny minority (at least in the world of film geeks). So I suppose something in me is just off this moviegoing season.

  14. Jeff, you just can’t help changing the topic can you? “No Country for Old Men” is a Coen brothers movie, correct? And I just read someone’s blog who said that ST and No Country for Old Men were his/her favorites movies of the year. So you do seem to be in the minority on these two, which isn’t always a bad place to be.

  15. Re: the Coens, I used to adore them. Loved Raising Arizona (Barb and I quote it all the time), loved Miller’s Crossing, loved Fargo, even Hudsucker Proxy. They started to lose me with Lebowski and TOTALLY left me behind with Ladykillers, or whatever that abortion with Tom Hanks was called. No Country For Old Men I was looking forward to, a return to form. But it just didn’t work for me. Cold, detached … just dead. The villain was one of the greatest screen baddies of all time, though, I must admit. I will never look at oxygen machines the same way again.

  16. I agree there’s something kind of sterile and empty about Burton’s film. It could have been opened up and done as a gritty penny-dreadful streets-of-London panorama, but I doubt Burton could assimilate such textures.

    Coens are brilliant when not too brilliant for their own good. Haven’t seen Old Men yet. I do think they could be at sea as filmmakers if they didn’t have recourse to what I would call “mechanism.” They possess geek-like zeal in contriving their machines. This is going too far, but I’d say in a faint way they are part of a generational snickering precocity akin to Bill Gates and his partner slaving away in that garage. Howl in protest, but think about it.

  17. No, I agree with you, Satan. I think you’re on to something here. I never get the sense that the Coens really believe in what they’re doing, no matter how brilliant it is. They always seem to be a bit removed from the work.

  18. Wow. Forget to check the comments on one of these things for a while (read: 10 minutes) and you can really miss some delicious stuff.

    First things first: marc, as a self-proclaimed neo-fundamentalist I’d say satan would much rather ride on your son’s friend’s father’s words than any ol’ silly movie. satan doesn’t make movies. He uses people to do his dirty work, and his tastes run towards that think they are his enemies.

    You are right in the fact that many would see M movies as “satanic” because they lack the requisite scripture readings. As I said the other night, however (or tried to) my beliefs lean towards the idea that in all beauty lies truth, and in truth there is God. Spirited Away is nothing if not beautiful. That movie will preach.

    I’m beginning to believe our next fireside chat should take on the subject of religion and spirituality. I’ll bring the wine.

  19. Turf, Your words give comfort. I carry around a little voice which I call my “inner fundamentalist,” which I consult in many situations where I want to know “what would my inner fundamentalist think?” I also have an inner Nazi and an inner Utopian Marxist. Needless to say, views are divisive. I have a reflexive need to run out ahead and try to imagine how things will be knocked down, as if that somehow lessens the force of the blow. I am comforted, though, to think that Satan is speaking through my inner fundamentalist, also, along with my inner Nazi and my inner Utopian Marxist.

    I think a discussion on religion and spirituality would be interesting. My inner fundamentalist just said, “A foot in the door. There may still be a chance for you to be saved!”

  20. I’m no fundamentalist, but I’m up for such a conversation … especially if Turff is bringing the wine.

  21. Preview for that looked very interesting. The five second elevator pitch might have involved a reference to Saved!

  22. It kinda reminded me of Ghost World. March should take Molly to see it. My 17-year-old daughter really loved it.

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