Tag: film

The Ten Problems with Spooks…

The Ten Problems with Spooks…

People who know me well know that once upon a time I was safely what I’d call obsessed with a BBC drama about melancholy spies. That show was named Spooks. It ran for ten series with wildly varying degrees of quality from series to series.…

Into the Woods Film Review

Into the Woods Film Review

I’m a bit of a Sondheim fanatic. Incidentally, my Sweeney Todd post on this blog is my most popular post of all time at Inkashlings. I also am a rabid musical fan and I like fairy story revisionism, so you’d think I was over the moon about a film adaptation of Into the Woods. I said in an old review of Kate’s The Wild Girl:

In one of the more interesting fairy story appropriations, there has even been a Tony award winning Broadway musical featuring the memorable rapping witch, Bernadette Peters, in a post modern opretta. With songs like Children Should Listen, Last Midnight and No One is Alone, Sondheim further cemented himself as a musical composer and lyricist of considerable skill with Into The Woods.

It’s fair to say that I care quite a lot about this one. I was more than a little worried, however, when I heard that Disney were making Sondheim’s Tony winning musical. The very idea seems an oxymoron. Though the first act follows tried and true fairy tale paths, albeit by revisiting the origin fairy stories of those we know and love today, the second act tracks what happens after ‘happily ever after’ has faded and becomes a moving treatise on relationships between parents and children and the importance of stories in shaping children. It’s hardly something I would have thought was up Disney’s alley.

I also wasn’t too happy when I heard that Meryl Streep had been cast as The Witch (aside: why must Hollywood insist there is only one woman over 50 suitable for Hollywood roles? It’s very tedious. Years ago Miranda Richardson pointed this out despite cries of ‘sour grapes’ but her point feels more relevant than ever these days. I like Meryl Streep and she’s a wonderful actress, but other excellent older women who act are out there!) It’s just that Bernadette Peters made that role and The Witch is the best character and I couldn’t see Meryl being as powerful a singer as Bernadette. However, it is my brother’s favorite musical and every time an adaptation is put on near us I can’t see it, so I felt like I owed it to him to see it. Also, I quite like Emily Blunt.

Surprisingly, the film isn’t as bad as you’d think it might be. Actually, it’s rather, well, good. The first half religiously follows the first act of the musical, a quest story held together by The Baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who must reverse a witches curse by collecting items from people from popular fairy stories (Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel) so that they might get their long sought after child. This half sits more comfortably with Disney’s modern oeuvre, particularly modern films like Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland. All of the cast are competent singers, with some of them genuinely very good. It’s no surprise that Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche in Les Miserables) is excellent, but though I’d heard Blunt sing once before in Poliakoff’s excellent Gideon’s Daughter, I was surprised by how convincing she was as The Baker’s Wife and Anna Kendrick sang a beautiful Cinderella. Johnny Depp was also perfectly cast as The Wolf and The Prince’s entertain in the wonderful Agony sequence. In fact, the only real quibble I had with the first half of the film was the decision to leave The Narrator in. Given that he didn’t play the part he was meant to play in Act 2 of the film, it just sounded silly to have him tell us what characters were about to do just before they did it and he threw me out of the story. The only other minor quibble I had was that Meryl Streep sounded a bit out of breath during her rapping sequence at the start.

On the other hand, Disney didn’t edit out the line, ‘he was robbing me, raping me,’ which I was certain they’d do. Actually, they left a lot in. Cinderella’s sisters still mutilate their feet to try to win The Prince, Rapunzel’s Prince still gets blinded by the angry Witch, and most importantly of all, they left Little Red Riding Hood’s sequence with The Wolf as an ode to emerging sexuality. I was dead certain they’d tone that controversy down. Johnny Depp was creepily pedophilic as he crooned Hello, Little Girl and when Little Red Hiding is rescued and later sings ‘And I know things now, many valuable things, that I never knew before…’ the Freudian overtones were still there. It was perfect.

Unfortunately, the second act of the film became a bit of a mess, and from what I’ve heard from many of my friends who haven’t seen the original musical, for them it was both incomprehensible and confusingly amoral. It all stems from the fact that they cut the Act 2 Prologue which shows what happens when the initial ‘ever after’ has started to fade. This is really important to the story because it explains why The Baker’s Wife strays and commits adultery with Cinderella’s Prince (because her baby won’t stop crying at all hours and her husband is too insecure to help her look after the baby) and because in cutting this song and later Agony Reprise (the line, ‘ah well… back to our wives…’ is deliciously ironic), we don’t get a sense of just how misogynistic and flighty The Princes are (In the original, Rapunzel’s Prince abandons her in the wood for Snow White and Rapunzel is left roaming the forest mad until she gets killed and Cinderella’s Prince seduces The Baker’s Wife after singing about how much he wants Sleeping Beauty). This omission seriously weakens the character of The Baker’s Wife and makes her seem like a right floozy, though poor Emily Blunt does her best with what she is left with. The cutting of the Rapunzel story arc also makes The Witch’s motives in Last Midnight less coherent, which in turn, weakens the ‘children should listen’ theme.

Still, it was all beautifully sung, and Meryl Streep seemed a lot more comfortable singing Children Should Listen and Last Midnight (my favourite song in the entire musical) then she did rapping at the start of the film. It is also a very complex musical, as all of Sondheim’s pieces are, and filming his stuff well is nigh on impossible, even if Burton did succeed with Sweeney Todd (I would argue this is because he is an auteur director though). The fairy story revisionism part of Into The Woods is only the tip of this rich play. Digging deeper, it is a Freudian look at relationships between parents and children, a post modern take on morality and the way we, as individuals, choose to tell our stories, and a parable about the need to take action, to journey, to do with all of your being (to go into the woods) even if doing so undoes you. I absolutely love that the musical and the film end on Cinderella’s final ‘I wish.’

I’ll leave you with the finale lines which sums up the entire point of the show:

Careful the wish you make,
Wishes are children.
Careful the path they take,
Wishes come true,
Not free.
Careful the spell you cast,
Not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you…

Witch
Careful the tale you tell.
That is the spell.
Children will listen…

All
Though it’s fearful,
Though it’s deep, though it’s dark
And though you may lose the path,
Though you may encounter wolves,
You can’t just act,
You have to listen.
you can’t just act,
You have to think.

If Disney had taken as much care with the second half of the film as they did with the first half, this could have been a second Sweeney Todd. As it is, it’s a passable effort with moments of brilliance.

Into The Woods: 7/10 inky stars

I have read criticisms of this film that criticise it for not casting people of colour. Whilst I get where this criticism comes from and acknowledge it’s a valid one, given that diverse casting is a wider Hollywood problem, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to single out this film for all of the blame.

The Avengers: Movie Review

The Avengers: Movie Review

I have never read many comics- at least, not much beyond the incomparable Neil Gaiman, but I had at least heard of Marvel comics. I had heard of The Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man. Actually, I saw Iron Man 1 and 2, and was…

Dark Shadows: Movie Review

Dark Shadows: Movie Review

I am not a long time Burton fan. I didn’t grow up watching The Nightmare Before Christmas. I didn’t grow up on Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands or his vision of Batman. The first time I watched a film of his, was back in 2005 with…

Genre Spotlight- The changing face of ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’

Genre Spotlight- The changing face of ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’

‘Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,

His skin was pale, and his eye was odd.

He shaved the faces of gentlemen

who never thereafter were heard of again…’

So begin’s one of Broadway’s most chilling musical pieces…

I first saw Burton’s movie in 2008 when it was in cinema’s in Australia. I’d never heard of the original horror story before, and generally I hate horror, but my love for Helena Bonham Carter won out, and got me to the cinema. I ended up seeing the film three times in cinemas because I loved it so much. For me, the power of the movie was the jarring combination of Sondheim’s soaring and beautifully complex score and lyrics combined with the sheer brutality of the story being told. Lovely art direction and acting definitely helped.

My friend lent me a copy of the original penny dreadful, with the popular culture legend based off the weekly periodical, and even though penny dreadful’s are renowned for catering to the lowest common denominator, meandering all over the place, due to their status as a newspaper weekly periodical written by multiple writers, or by writers writing multiple tales at once, I was keen to read this one, if only to find out how much the tale has evolved.

Rather alot it turns out. The original penny dreadful is surprisingly readable, and for the most part, keeps its story straight. Mrs Lovett has about four chapters dedicated to her out of thirty seven and the story starts off with her already in cahoots with Sweeney. Sweeney Todd is a right evil villain, without a backstory for it beyond greed, cunning, and a desire to make it big, quick. Johanna and her lover, Mark Ingistrie (later becoming Antony) are lovers before the story begins, with Mark going to sea to make his fortune in order to marry Johanna. Mark brings back a string of pearls with disatrous results. Sweeney kills the messenger, literally, runs off with the pearls, and kills his clients with wild abandon in an effort to shut up shop and retire fast. His clients get disposed of via the chair which links via passageway to Mrs Lovett’s pie shop. And yes, she does bake those bodies into pies. Tobias is Sweeney’s latest shop assistant and upon finding out about Sweeney’s evil secret is incarcerated in an asylum. Mark Ingestrie is hidden in the narrative right up until the rather obvious end, when he and the plucky Johanna live happily ever after. St Dunstan’s market and church make an appearance, and so does The Beadle briefly, though as a good guy. There is no judge at all.

The penny dreadful was entitled “The String of Pearls: A Romance” and was set much earlier than later play adaptations, much more about the daring do’s of Johanna and Tobias, fighting to survive amongst the cut throats, criminals and madmen of London’s dark underbelly. And of course, centre stage is the romance of Mark and Johanna. Sweeney and Mrs Lovett are are black as you can get, and you don’t spend a second sympathising with either of them.

In subsequent play productions of the penny dreadful, such was the popularity of Sweeney and Mrs Lovett, it was they who started to claim the show more and more, though still with Sweeney as villainous mastermind, in a kind of centre stage one man show. It was not until Christopher Bond reinterpreted the original story in 1970 to give Sweeney a sympathetic backstory based on revenge, with Mrs Lovett as a still willing, yet this time, deeply in love accomplice, that the story as it is famously known today surfaced.

No longer was Sweeney simply a common criminal; now he was a man wrongly accused, sent overseas and torn apart from his family, because the hand of the law was long and corrupt and lustful. His existential crisis leads him to seek revenge for these wrongs, with the judge and his faithful Beadle, the targets of Sweeney’s murders. Mrs Lovett is no longer simply a conniving and cold hearted money maker, she is now a lady lost in a love she can never have. The simple Tobias Ragg just wants somebody to respect him, Johanna falls in love with the sailor boy Antony, even as she is kept in captivity by the lustful judge, who intends to marry her, as Sweeney’s daughter. And the judge is in some ways more of a villain then Sweeney.

Sondheim saw a stage production of Bond’s play and wrote his own musical based off this version, better known today as the justifiably famous 1979 Broadway play, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. 80% sung opretta, the original production starred Angela Lansbury as Mrs Lovett and Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd. Who could forget the powerful  and reoccuring narrational The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, or the heartfelt raw nihilism of Epiphany, the delightful and disturbing humour of A Little Priest, the sweet innocence of Kiss Me, the chilling beauty, power and devestation of Final Scene? Regarded by Sondheim as a musical about obsessional revenge, and by director Harold Prince as a comment on capitalism, class, and power imbalance in soicety, it won alot of awards, but has never achieved the same popularity as musicals such as Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.

Burton’s film adapted for a new audience yet again. This time, and due to the nature of a film medium, the external narration was cut, Johanna and Antony take a back seat for Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett to shine, and Toby is a child, rather than a ‘simple’ man. Mrs Lovett is younger, and her maternal insincts are played up, eyes glistening with longing every time Sweeney looks her way, the camera lingering on her every glance, and movement, as she tries to seduce him so that they can live her dream life, ‘By The Sea.’ In the film version, every fibre of Mrs Lovett’s being is geared towards achieving her impossible dream of domesticity with Sweeney, Toby just wants a family, and Sweeney is so consumed with rage and despair he cares for nothing beyond the judge’s demise. It is, in my opinion, a movie masterpiece.

Burton cast actors who could sing, rather than singers who could act, minimising the theatrical nature of the play medium in favour of strong, visceral, performances.

Johnny Depp’s Sweeney sings in emotion laden rock style, and Helena’s Mrs Lovett is timerous, and soft, oozing both sexuality and soft maternal love. The genius choice to cast Toby as a boy led to one of the film’s finest moments, as Toby sings Not While I’m Around to a devestated Mrs Lovett.

A review by famous Rolling Stones film critic, Peter Travers sums it up best for me: “Sweeney Todd is a thriller-diller from start to finish: scary, monstrously funny and melodically thrilling…Covered in blood, Sweeney is finally engulfed by his emotions, and Depp finds the character’s grieving heart. It’s a staggering moment in a spellbinder of breathtaking beauty and terror.”
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/sweeney-todd-20071213#ixzz1tln2hXON

Though the original penny dreadful spawned one of the west’s most popular tales of urban horror, it is Sondheim’s ingenious musical, straddling both gut churning thriller and melodic beauty, that speaks most to me. Emotional, terrifying, and visceral, it is one of my favourite musicals, and Burton’s film adaptation remains one of the best film’s I have ever seen.

So without futher ado, I urge you to…

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.

He served a dark and hungry god.

To seek revenge may lead to hell,

but everyone does it, and seldom as well

as Sweeney, as Sweeney Todd,

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The Hunger Games: Movie Review

The Hunger Games: Movie Review

Before I say anything more, I should point out that I haven’t read the books by Suzanne Collins. I now wish I had and I will now add them to the ever growing book queue. The movie wasn’t perfect, but it sold me the story,…