July 14, 2011
Action, Fantasy, Film
Alan Rickman, Alexandre Desplat, Daniel Radcliffe, David Thewlis, David Yates, Deathly Hallows, Emma Thompson, Emma Watson, Evanna Lynch, Film, film music, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hedwig's Theme, Helena Bonham-Carter, Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, John Williams, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Matthew Lewis, Michael Gambon, movies, Nicholas Hooper, Part 2, picture, poster, Ralph Fiennes, review, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, score, soundtrack, Steve Kloves
To talk about the end of an era is probably an understatement. The extent to which J.K. Rowling’s books and their subsequent adaptions for the silver screen have impacted teenage culture is a phenomenon quite beyond compare. For the countless fans who have grown up with their beloved characters, this final half of a chapter marks the end of a decade of midnight queueing, hopes, fears and expectations as all the emotional ballast of seven predecessors sets down on Part 2’s shoulders. For those loyally devoted and indeed for the filmmakers and our trio of protagonists it will be a bittersweet ending as they come to terms with the fact that it really does all end here as the teaser posters touted. To live up to such hype is no easy task for any filmmaker but as before, director David Yates and his crew of muggles have diligently captured the magic of the series that only the books themselves can top.
After the rather slowly paced “Part 1,” this hits the ground running and very rarely lets up throughout as out hero and his friends hunt for the final horcruxes and do battle with the dark lord and his minions. After a dangerous journey to the high-security wizard bank Gringotts, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) make it to Hogwarts. Their presence cannot go unnoticed however and soon You Know Who (Ralph Fiennes) and Co are on their way to attack the castle and settle things once and for all. There follows a desperate race against time as all the remaining wizards try to keep the forces of evil at bay while trying to find and destroy those bits of Voldemort’s soul with which he cannot be truly killed. It’s an action-spectacle of the highest order, that maintains a breakneck pace and almost non-stop carnage. And heavy stuff it is too: Hogwarts is being blasted to rubble, the Quidditch pitch burns, so much that we and the characters have come to love is under serious threat here. With such few moments of respite, the racing story draws on the viewer as each and every character reaches his or her own personal climax within the sprawling and incredibly dense plot.
Yates and Steve Kloves’ screenplay manage to walk that fine line of balancing very moving and personal moments amidst the action and this will ultimately prove the real payoff for fans. With such an enormous supporting cast that includes Maggie Smith (sorely missed in previous episodes), Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, David Thewlis and so many more besides, it’s good news that room has been found and the need for closure recognised even for minor characters. Matthew Lewis as Neville and Evanna Lynch as Luna too, both long regarded as some of the finer casting choices among the “child” actors, get to shine in their roles. Perhaps most satisfying of all is the detour that’s taken (at a climatic point nonetheless) to finally reveal the motivation behind Alan Rickman’s shady and complicated Snape. It’s a very fitting send-off and it’s worth seeing the film purely for this as it perfectly embodies the sense of magic, wonder and drama present in the books as a whole. Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe manages to hold it all together even though his personal tale threatens to be overshadowed by the sheer scale of things. Hie performance is perfectly judged and never gives in to sentimentality. A few tears may well flow.
The film is not perfect by any means though the few flaws are much more easily forgivable that in the previous film. For instance, intimate knowledge of the plot is a prerequisite and non-fans will have their work cut out for them in trying to follow who, what and when. Despite being only half a book, Rowling has so much ground to cover that incredulously the film seems rushed at times. The lengthy battle between Harry and Voldemort is a prime suspect here, one that could have been more cleverly devised and could have peeled the villain’s “pure evil” aspect back to reveal his insecurity and motives for being evil in the first place. Furthermore, Yates is unsure as how to handle the resolution of the present-day story, first needing to explain an important plot point gets in the way of what it all means for the protagonists’ journeys. Were it not for the excellent epilogue, the emotional climax could even have been described as underwhelming. However, fans can be forgiven for passing over these minor detriments and in reality, they do not hurt the film in any great capacity.
Also returning for this final chapter is French composer Alexandre Desplat. His score for “Part 1” was polarising, some fans praising his orchestral diversity and style while others bemoaned his failure to establish a musical coherency for the franchise as a whole. His music for “Part 2” lives in a similar situation with very solid action music and reprisal of his own themes from the first part. These aspects are presented on the soundtrack album but in the film go somewhat unnoticed. This is because in several key scenes, by choice of either Desplat or the filmmakers, music by John Williams (and at one point Nicholas Hooper) composed for the first two films is simply inserted by copy and paste. The reasoning for this is debatable but the suspicion arises that Desplat’s score, while full of finesse, could not pack the emotional punch Yates was looking for and the album presentation of new music would support that argument. Unfortunately for Desplat, Williams’ music is far superior and as viewers leave the theatre “Hedwig’s Theme” is what they will remember. It’s disappointing that Desplat could not incorporate the existing themes with his own and make for a rounded and ultimately more satisfying listening experience. As it stands, the album is very enjoyable but hearing it in the film makes us nostalgic for what could have been if the great maestro John Williams had returned to score the final chapter.
“Deathly Hallows” 2.0 is everything the fan-base could have hoped for, delivering a worthy conclusion to one of the decade’s most defining franchises. Sadly, it is the end of an era and it’s time to say good bye.
Score on Album
I hope you all enjoy going to see Harry Potter in the theatres. Why not share this review with your friends in advance on Facebook and Twitter? Thank you all for reading. Now, accio DVD boxset!
January 9, 2011
Action, Drama, Epic/Historical, Film
Aidan Quinn, Alan Rickman, Ardmore, Beal na mBlath, Civil War, Eamon de Valera, Easter Rising, Elliot Goldenthal, Film, film music, Interview With the Vampire, IRA, Ireland, James Horner, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Julia Roberts, Ken Loach, Liam Neeson, Michael Collins, movies, Neil Jordan, Oscars, picture, poster, review, score, She Moved Through the Fair, Sinead O'Connor, soundtrack, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, War of Independence
The part played by Michael Collins in Irish history is controversial to say the least and while history (and one Eamon de Valera) has come to recognise his significance, the animosity that is still felt today among many citizens of Ireland proved his biography a tricky task to commit to celluloid. Neil Jordan’s labour of love to his homeland proved itself adept in storytelling even if its deviations from fact polarised opinions pro-Collins, or rather anti-Dev further. For international audiences not initiated in the emerald Isle’s very recent and tragic past, the film’s politically explosive potential probably passed by without raising its ugly head. Considering however that the effects of the early 1920s can still be felt to this day and that an IRA ceasefire was wishful thinking in the mid 90s, it highly recommended the viewer crash-course themselves before watching this.
Beginning in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising, The film sets out to recount the final years of Michael Collins’ life through struggles for Irish independence and the resultant civil war. This sees him take charge of the fledgeling Irish Republican Army as the “Minister for General Mayhem” in the newly formed rebel cabinet, to hurt the British occupants in any way possible. Through a system of counter-intelligence, guerilla warfare and terrorism his efforts, though effective, prove exceedingly dangerous, and increasingly ruthless and bloody. Played with vigour and great spirit by Liam Neeson in one of the best roles of his career, this portrayal of Collins thankfully does not overly sweeten his role as a terrorist, balancing instead his personal life and friendship with Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn) to root audience sympathy. His relationship with Kathy Kiernan helps this also, although the choice of Julia Roberts for the role is questionable. The initial ally but ultimately political opponent of Collins, Eamon de Valera is played with usual relish by Alan Rickman who sees him as potentially dangerous. Using Collins as a pawn in the eventual negotiations with the British empire, de Valera is primarily portrayed as the villain, a position that is debatable historically but holds more truth than some would like. Overall the ensemble does a good job, no dodgy accents for example and the pairing of Neeson and Quinn in particular makes it all worthwhile.
The most unsung hero of “Michael Collins” is Neil Jordan however. Shooting in Ireland, at authentic locations as well as Ardmore studios, not only does everything look fantastic, Jordan has managed to create a historical epic that is easily viewable as a war or drama film even without being steeped in background knowledge. It is a human tale much more than a political one, even if its protagonist had a weighty impact on the fate of a country, and will make this the pulling point for most audiences. That it also functions as excellent intrigue and thriller viewing, with a generous dose of – mainly dark – humour only shows the delicate balance that Jordan has successfully walked here. His detractors will mainly scorn the blurring of history and reality, particularly the film’s climax at Béal na mBláth. While the events onscreen do enter the realms of fiction at this point, the impact of the film is not diminished in any way by it. “Michael Collins” remains the most impressive and fascinating portrayal of one of the most significant Irishmen and a top-grade historical picture. Yet, despite being hugely popular in Ireland and positive reactions from critics, the film was not a great success abroad, a real shame.
After “Interview With the Vampire” Jordan continued his collaboration with composer Elliot Goldenthal on “Michael Collins.” The resultant score is one of Goldenthal’s most easily accessible, not troubled by overbearing dissonance that prevents many of his works from reaching mainstream exposure. It’s a large-scale orchestral score, with Irish elements inserted through some soloist performances but never falling into cliche traps or becoming endlessly repetitive like some of James Horner’s celtic meanderings. Known best for an arrangement of “She Moved Through the Fair” performed by Sinéad O’Connor, the soundtrack album makes every cue into a highlight, from an energised bagpipe performance in “Winter Raid” to much more militaristic brass and percussion in “Fire and Arms” and “Football” and beautiful piano for “Collins’ Proposal.” In summation, it is a very appropriate and epic score for a film that could ask for no less and was rightly nominated for an Oscar. Highly recommended.
The best way to watch “Michael Collins” is in the company of Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” for the complete picture of political happenings as well as the impact on normal citizens. However, even on its own, Neil Jordan’s film is something not to be missed for any enthusiast of Irish history or fans of good films.
January 1, 2011
Comedy, Film, Romance
Alan Rickman, Andrew Lincoln, Ant, Bill Nighy, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Mack, Christmas is All Around, Colin Firth, Craig Armstrong, Dec, Emma Thompson, Film, film music, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Girls Aloud, Harry Potter, Hugh Grant, Joanna Page, Joni Mitchell, Jump, Keira Knightley, Kris Marshall, Laura Linney, Lúcia Moniz, Liam Neeson, Love Actually, Love is All Around, Martin Freeman, Martine McCutcheon, movies, My Family, Nora Jones, Notting Hill, picture, poster, review, Richard Curtis, Rodrigo Santoro, Rowan Atkinson, score, soundtrack, Sugababes, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Wet Wet Wet
With films like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill” Richard Curtis is one of the few makers of British films enjoying considerable and consistent success across the Atlantic. His assault on the US box-office continued during the 2003 pre-Christmas season, taking on not one but all of eight love stories within a single film. For what was initially a three-and-a-half hour love fest (the final version has been boiled down to a much more bearable 135 minutes), Curtis assembled an awesome cast ensemble of well respected actors and one of the most comprehensive showcases of British talent with the exception perhaps of the Harry Potter series. For good measure some American faces are included as well. “Love Actually” also marked Curtis’ debut as writer and director and while the film doesn’t quite reach the heights of his previous projects, it has since established itself as a firm Christmas favourite.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the film follows the lives of several London citizens and their quests to find or reaffirm love. Led by newly-elected amiable Prime Minister (Hugh Grant – let’s hope that never materialises) who spends his time casting glances in the general direction of Martine McCutcheon’s thighs rather than running the country, all the stories are loosely connected and influence each other. Many characters fit quite neatly into stereotypes, some parts are typecast and it’s all a little predictable, the film nevertheless musters enough charm to remain likeable even through it’s most cheesy moments. Author Colin Firth’s blossoming romance with attractive Portugese waitress Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), Andrew Lincoln’s love for a married Keira Knightley and Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s troubled relationship are the highlights. As humorous as they are tragic, these three cores (as well as the PM one) provide most of the film’s heart. Bill Nighy meanwhile is clearly having a ball as old-time Rock star Billy Mack, trying for Christmas No1 with an adaption of Wet Wet Wet’s “Love is All Around” and carries most of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments. Then there’s Kris Marshall’s Colin who, in a dumb role almost identical to his Nick Harper in “My Family” who jets off to America in the hope of finding hot girls to sleep with. All in all it’s quite complex yet it remains easy to follow and repeat watches may help to catch some of the smaller connections.
The film is not without problems however. As the end-credits roll, there’s a lingering feeling that the balance wasn’t quite right. Some of the plot strands are sadly neglected, like turns from Martin Freeman and Joanna Page in a very unconventional love story. Laura Linney’s attempts to bed her work colleague Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) but is cruelly prevented by a commitment to her mentally ill brother, is another strand that goes unfinished. Instead, the horribly tacky “love story” between Liam Neeson’s son (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and a school sweetheart, could have and should have been shortened considerably. A look at the deleted scenes on the DVD reveal some of the material that should perhaps have made the finished product. In any other film, these factors would contribute to a sagging in the rating, but Curtis handles it all so well and inserts some excellent cameos (Billy Bob Thornton! Ant and Dec! Rowan Atkinson!) that “Love Actually’s” faults are relatively easy to forgive.
Scotsman Craig Armstrong was hired by Curtis to compose original music for the film. Squashed in between a collection of songs by everyone from Girls Aloud via Sugababes and Nora Jones to Joni Mitchell, Armstrong’s score is based primarily around three love themes which are adapted and arranged as necessary. These are the Glasgow Love Theme, the PM’s Love Theme and the Portuguese Love Theme. From beautifully restrained piano to expertly over-the-top heroism, the score is a great if a little short work by the composer. Three tracks were included on the European album, only one on the American edition. Also included is the Billy Mack version of “Christmas is All Around.” In addition, a 20 minute for your consideration promo score is available. Overall, the music is fluffy and certainly lightweight but like the film it is highly enjoyable. As for the songs, well, that depends if you can picture the British Prime Minister dancing around Downing Street No10 to the sounds of “Jump” by Girls Aloud.
“Love Actually” resides on the guilty pleasure lists of some and is ardently adored by others. Its enduring popularity with audiences on this side of the Atlantic and the other is testament to Curtis’ talents and to those of the awesome cast that make it so memorable. At Christmas this film is, actually, all around.
Does “Love Actually” feature on your Christmas movie list? Why not leave a comment with your thoughts or any feedback you might have. Also please share this review with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks and all the best!
December 5, 2010
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Film
Alan Rickman, Bryan Adams, Christian Slater, Errol Flynn, Everything I do, Extended Edition, Film, film music, I do it For You, Kevin Costner, Kevin Reynolds, Maid Marian, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Kamen, Morgan Freeman, movies, Nottingham, picture, poster, Prince of Thieves, review, Ridley Scott, Robin Hood, score, Sean Connery, Sheriff, soundtrack, The Adventures of Robin Hood
Film history has shown little kindness to the legend of Robin Hood. With the exception of that loveable 1938 Errol Flynn caper, Hollywood has tried and failed again and again to create a truly great celluloid version of the man in lincoln-green tights. So too, this big-budget attempt of the 90s ultimately fails to hit the bullseye, no matter how hard it tries. It may be possible to enjoy “Prince of Thieves” simply as a fun adventure romp in its own right but, riddled as it is with a slew of continuity as well as factual errors and some truly awful casting, even the most liberal of fans will scratch their heads at many a turn, wondering just how so much great potential and opportunity was wasted.
Having escaped captivity in the crusades, Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) along with new-found companion Azeem (Morgan Freeman), returns home to England to find things have changed: His home has been ransacked and his father brutally murdered by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) and his minions who have seized power in King Richard’s absence. Forced to hide in a certain Sherwood Forest, Robin joins with a band of outlaws and plots to overthrow the Sheriff in revenge. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Maid Marian is there somewhere, waiting to be wooed and there’s family trouble brewing with Christian Slater’s Will Scarlet. It’s an altogether darker version of the tale than Errol Flynn could ever have imagined, introducing a more serious atmosphere that would also prevail in Ridley Scott’s 2010 version “Robin Hood.” Director Kevin Reynolds seems unsure how to proceed with this however and tries to find a balance with humour – stemming largely from the ever brilliant Morgan Freeman – and some of the more brutal images. There’s nothing wrong with trying to create an adult version of the tale but its execution is often so poor that it is laughable. Critics and historians often snort at the amount of historical inaccuracies and continuity like the fact that the Chinese invented gunpowder or that printing was still a few hundred years away. But really, those are the least of the film’s problems.
What really kills the action is the lead: Kevin Costner, who was truly riding the high wave of success and popularity at the time, fails to ignite any spark whatsoever. Dubiously sporting blonde highlights and a Californian accent (Costner apparently tried to learn a British accent but found it, em, too difficult), we don’t believe his Robin for a single minute. Not only does he rob the role of all sense of fun, his attempts at making his Locksley into a troubled man fall completely flat. Mastrantonio is also one of the poorest Marians we’ve seen for a long, long time. Acting this bad should be made illegal, especially when as handsomely paid as Costner. Also well paid was Sean Connery who turns up at the end for a very pointless cameo. Indeed with a main duo this lifeless and dull, this film would probably have sunk into the dark ages a long time ago, were it not for the performance of one Alan Rickman. His performance as the Sheriff is wonderfully sleazy and furiously demented. What Costner fails to muster in terms of fun, the British veteran can almost recover through chewing scenery and calling off Christmas, this is really the campest of camp. Along with Hans Gruber and Severus Snape, this truly belongs in the gallery of great Rickman baddies. Taking the Sheriff into account, the film remains watchable but we will always lament for what might have been a real action and adventure matinee flick paying homage to the Hoods of yesteryear.
Another aspect of the film’s enduring popularity is its end-credits song “(Everything I do) I do it for You” sung by Brian Adams. This power-ballad was written by Adams and composer Michael Kamen who also provided the rest of the film’s score. And unlike the film, his music conjures the swashbuckling spirit as it should have been. The opening title is of particular note, a rousing fanfare seamlessly incorporating the theme song. This combination is handled well by Kamen throughout although some listeners have complained of long, nondescript sound design passages which found their way onto the soundtrack. All in all however, the music can muster enough power to remain memorable. Sadly, the orchestra’s performance leaves some things to be desired. So if any work is in desperate need of a rerecording to really bring out its quality, this is your score. Let’s hope the day will come.
An extended cut with 12 minutes extra footage was released on DVD but these scenes don’t really help shore up the film. Thanks to performance by Rickman and Freeman, the film just about manages to stay afloat. But definitely not Kevin Costner’s best work.
What’s your own opinion of this particular Robin of the Hood? Please do let me know by leaving a comment with your thoughts and feedback. Also please feel free to follow me on Twitter and subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks and all the best!
November 20, 2010
Adventure, Fantasy, Film
Alan Rickman, Alexandre Desplat, Bill Nighy, Bonnie Wright, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Radcliffe, David Yates, Emma Watson, Film, film music, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Imelda Staunton, J.K. Rowling, Jason Isaacs, John Williams, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, movies, New Moon, Nicholas Hooper, Part 2, Part1, Patrick Doyle Hedwig's Theme, picture, Ralph Fiennes, review, Rhys Ifans, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, score, soundtrack, Steve Kloves, The Deathly Hallows, The Hobbit, The Philosopher's Stone, Timothy Spall, Twilight, Warner Bros.
So it all comes down to this: the beginning of the end. And in order to adapt the finale in more depth than the previous escapades, Warner Bros. decided to split “The Deathly Hallows” into two parts. It’s the beginning of a trend perhaps (“The Hobbit” and the “Twilight” series have followed in the footsteps) with the purpose, some would argue, to milk moviegoers as much as possible. Be that as it may, watching this “Part 1” what becomes quickly apparent is that director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have indeed been able to include many more of fan’s favourite moments that might otherwise have ended up on the cutting room floor. Much of the novel’s first half is recreated quite faithfully, making this (with the exception of “The Philosopher’s Stone”) the film that sticks most closely to the source material.
Forget any notion of “this one is darker” or “Voldemort is getting stronger”. As Bill Nighy’s opening monologue explains we have moved from tensions lying dormant just beneath the surface to all-out war: The forces of evil as led by Lord Voldemort are rapidly tightening their grip on the wizarding and muggle worlds, taking over the Ministry and, in a final-solution like operation begin screening halfbloods, mudbloods and just about every blood in between. Somewhere in this carnage our hero Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) aided by his friends Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) must complete the task entrusted to them by the late Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), that is to locate and destroy the remaining horcruxes, pieces of the dark lord’s soul with which he can never truly die. However tales of a mysterious fairytale leads to the “Deathly Hallows”, three powerful magical objects that may also help to destroy He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Also, there’s no chance of returning to Hogwarts which has been completely infiltrated so “Part 1” becomes a road-movie of sorts, the trio travelling extensively across Britain as they try to remain undetected. This means that the film dispenses with many of the elements so familiar: the castle, the teachers, classes and (most) of the yo-yoing hormones. As always there’s an awesome supporting cast (perhaps one of the greatest British ensembles ever): Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Jason Isaacs, Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton.
In parts the road-movie concept works very well. Yates is at this stage very adept at handling the magic and directs some truly great scenes at the beginning of the picture. Hermione’s farewell to her parents with a memory-wipe-charm is probably the best and something we never see in the book. Harry’s farewell to Privet Drive and the visit to his parents’ grave similarly set new heights for the series. In general the first act sets things up nicely, rolling at breakneck speed, filled with great action in the sky-battle, humour and at the same time finding the space for truly touching emotion and a sense of tragedy or impending doom. The trip to the Ministry to retrieve the locket from a certain Dolores Umbridge is also realised with a great eye for detail and is very entertaining. After the wedding escape though, things become a little hazy in the plot department. Unlike the novel where J.K. Rowling’s canvas to illustrate the to-ing and fro-ing is almost endless, the film struggles here. There’s a lot of woodland scenes which completely drain the energy, pace and urgency that graced the opening. In general there just seems to be nothing happening.
As such the film is also devoid of a truly satisfying climax. This is understandable in a way when one considers that the real drama and epic finale are still to come in “Part 2” but not really an excuse to neglect audience interest in the first part. It seems Yates is unsure how to proceed with the ever increasing sense of pessimism in the face of the overwhelming odds. To compensate for this downward momentum the filmmakers try to lighten things a little bit but this is something that comes across as trying too hard. The scene with Harry and Hermione dancing looks like it accidentally ended up in the wrong film. Most likely, when we’re able to view “The Deathly Hallows” in its complete form, the faults of part one will seem less significant but on its own, you will leave the theatre having seen some great material but dissatisfied nonetheless.
Following a lot of negative comments of his two Potter scores Nicholas Hooper did not return to write the music for “The Deathly Hallows”. In his stead rising talent, french composer Alexandre Desplat took the reins to carry the franchise further. Fans of the composer will find much to enjoy in his score and the soundtrack contains some really fantastic action material, the track “Sky Battle” is of particular note. Those expecting any sort of thematic consistency with the earlier films may be disappointed however as Desplat disregards all of the Williams, Doyle and Hooper material – with the exception of minimal statements of Hedwig’s Theme at the beginning. Neither does Desplat introduce a significant new theme as a replacement such as the elegant “New Moon” theme he wrote for the “Twilight” series. It’s a shame because this could well have been his magnum opus. Still, for most of us, this score will contain more than enough great music to chew on. And at this point it looks increasingly likely that Desplat will return to score “Part 2” so we can expect plenty more of the same.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (bit of a mouthful, eh?) has an awful lot going for it. Fans of the franchise will find much to like about it. For everyone else it depends on whether or not you are willing to withhold your judgement until we see “Part 2” in July. It’s not the best “Harry Potter” of them all but should set up the really epic finale perfectly.
How did you interpret this HP? Please do leave a comment with feedback or with your thoughts. Also please follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the RSS feed. All the best to you!
October 29, 2010
Alan Rickman, Ed Sanders, Film, film music, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jamie Campbell-Bower, Jayne Wiesner, Johnny Depp, movies, musical, picture, review, Sacha Baron-Cohen, score, Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Tim Burton, Timothy Spall
Movie musicals are usually bright, cheery affairs. Devotees of these should be wary then because it was clear from the outset that Tim Burton’s adaption of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical was going to be anything but bright and cheerful. The Tony Award winning musical is a tale of betrayal and bloody (very bloody) revenge. Wrongly accused of a crime by Judge Turpin, who covets his wife, barber Benjamin Barker returns from the prison stay in Australia to his home in London as Sweeney Todd, a ghost-like figure of his former self. He finds that things have changed: His wife was taken and abused by Turpin who now holds his daughter Joanna as his ward. Renting out the studio over Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop in Fleet Street, he goes on a killing spree, providing the necessary fresh meat for her pies which prove an immediate success with London’s citizens. At the same time young sailor Anthony who befriended Todd on the voyage falls in love with Joanna and intends to rescue her from Turpin’s clutches. Not to spoil anything but it all ends in a horrific bloodbath. It’s an interesting if very disgusting premise, taking a musical and placing it into the gory depths of the horror genre.
Tim Burton’s actor of choice is always Johnny Depp whose Sweeney is incredibly brooding. What’s clear is that he’s channelling Jack Sparrow in terms of voice and acting style but that works very well in this instance. His voice is rather thin and not what you might expect from someone who has to sing several songs and difficult ones at that. But this thinness too works very well as Todd is as much a demon or ghost as he is a real person. While some of the songs require him merely to speak in tune, others like “My Friends” allow some breathing space. Helena Bonham-Carter’s singing impresses also, her songs are far more difficult and she hits all the notes perfectly. “By the Sea” is a particular cracker in that sense but she makes it all look incredibly easy. All the other cast members also perform well – Alan Rickman as Turpin, Timothy Spall as the Beadle, Jamie Campbell-Bower and Jayne Wiesner as the star-crossed lovers and one hilarious cameo from Sacha Baron-Cohen as sham barber Adolfo Pirelli, clearly relishing every second of faux Italian accent. Another standout is the young Ed Sanders as Toby who can sing extremely well.
Indeed the shortcomings are less the fault of the cast or even Burton but lie within Sondheim’s musical. The plot never really goes anywhere, it just knows its premise and wants us to recoil at the gore. This is so overdone with fake blood that finding part of a finger in a meat pie is unlikely to elicit even a shudder from the audience at the end. Sweeney himself just sits in his lair slitting throats waiting for Turpin to appear for his revenge, and the whole “By the Sea” sequence bears no relation whatever to the plot. As the screenplay already drops songs like “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” from the original, maybe this could have been done away with as well. Thus, what begins as a gruesomely stylish insight into the downsides of the Victorian period, all becomes rather pointless towards the end. Yes the art-direction quite rightly got an Oscar nomination – it all looks fabulously disgusting – but on the whole the story just doesn’t have enough bite to enthral us. Anyone who can’t see blood of course shouldn’t go near the theatre when this is on.
The best thing that Burton ever did for his “Sweeney Todd” was to employ Sondheim himself to look after the score. Sondheim painstakingly reworked all of it, orchestrating for a 78 piece orchestra rather than the original 27 parts. The result of this is astounding with real depth to the cues, both underscore and songs. Right from the opening organ statement we know that this is going to be darkly epic. Songs like “Epiphany” and “A Little Priest” really shine in the film and on album as well. They just get better and better when divorced from the images. Two versions exist, a regular album and a collector’s edition with a few songs more. Very, very enjoyable.
Despite mostly positive reviews from other critics, I find that the tale of Sweeney Todd gets tiring even if the songs do not. Tim Burton and Co. have clearly put in a lot of effort and are to be commended for it, but all the best effects in the world can’t compensate for the lack of plot development underneath. It’s a wonderfully gothic gore opera in a way but if you seek some of Burton’s best work, this film isn’t among them.
I’m not generally a fan of horror or gore but I sure do love these songs! What did you think of Mr T? Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts or feedback. You can also follow me on Twitter if you were so inclined. Until next time, have a spooktcular Halloween!