Monday, December 24, 2007

Sweeney Todd

I love musicals but not Tim Burton. His movies tend to be too weird or strange for me. Therefore I had mixed feelings when I found out that Tim Burton was directing a musical. In order to stop this battle going on inside I decided to go see the movie to see once and for all if it was good or bad.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a classic musical that many Broadway aficionados have loved throughout the years. In the film, we are first introduced to Sweeney Todd after he has escaped from a wrongful imprisonment which he was sentenced to years ago by a corrupt judge whose motives were and are in no way pure. We see through a flashback that before his arrest he was a happy, upper-middle-class barber who loved his wife and baby daughter Joanna. However we are quickly brought back to the present to a changed man sailing back to his home and hopefully his wife and child. What happens next is full of interconnected stories that all lead to Sweeney Todd’s door while he delves deeper and deeper into his own madness.
I was surprised by my enjoyment of this movie. True it is a musical, which I love, but it is also a Tim Burton movie, which I am not such a big fan of. However, I was pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment of this movie. I think one of the strongest aspects of this film was casting. I thought the casting was extremely well done. Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd steps away from Captain Jack Sparrow and convinces the audience that he is a haunted man who is looking for revenge, and--he can sing. Helena Bonham Carter is also an excellent fit for Sweeney’s equally disturbed partner, Mrs. Lovett. Although some may claim that her singing was not up to snuff I think that is a very unfair judgment. I would like to see those people sing in a cockney accent and see if they end up sounding like Charlotte Church. Alan Rickman turns in a disturbing performance as Judge Turpin, the judge who is responsible for Sweeney’s current lot in life. Timothy Spall, who some may recognize as Wormtail from the world of Harry Potter, gives us a spot-on performance as a corrupt man who only takes the commands of Judge Turpin. Overall, the casting job was great.
This was an extremely bloody movie. Since this is a tale of man who goes mad with thoughts of revenge, I don’t think anyone should expect it to be a lovely little stroll in the park. If you can’t stand blood this is not the film for you. I am not that squeamish when it comes to movie gore sometimes, so I was able to handle this movie. The amount of blood that was shown to be spilt still diminished it in my eyes somewhat, but not too much.
This was a good movie. The actors did an excellent job, Tim Burton did not seem to go too crazy as I feel he does with most of his movies, and it was faithful the story. I never thought I would give a Tim Burton movie anything higher than a 2, but I give Sweeney Todd a 13. I did have to subtract some points for the bloody violence, which was a bit gross, but necessary for the story.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Beowulf (In 3D!!!)

It just hasn't been the same for me since the winter of 2003. For the few years prior to that, we had been getting a steady diet of high-quality fantasy in the form for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Harry Potter movies....well, sorta high quality in the case of the Columbus HPs. I began to equate fantasy at Christmastime the way some people equate stab wounds with trips to Spanish Harlem. At any rate, it seemed like every year after Sam couldn't carry the ring for him, but could carry Frodo was going to be a letdown. Part of this could be because Return of the King is one of the best movies ever made, but I digress. Enter Fantasy Contestant #1 of 2007, Beowulf. Is it a contender? The short answer is no, but despite my hatred of Robert Zemeckis, it came a hell of a lot closer than I ever would have given it credit for.
Zemeckis has always, to me, made films that are either good ideas that aren't quite classic (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Cast Away), too cute for their own good (Forrest Gump), or something else (What Lies Beneath....I'll tell you what lies beneath.....the sound of Alfred Hitchcock turning in his grave. Ahem.) So it's the law of lowered expectations that helped me enjoy Beowulf with the proper frame of mind. It doesn't hurt that the film was written by Roger Avery (Pulp Fiction) and fantasy legend Neil Gaiman (DC/Vertigo's Sandman comics, American Gods). The basic story is thus: King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is plagued by the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover)'s constant attacking of his noisy mead hall. After a particularly brutal slaughter, the hall is closed and Hrothgar sends out for a hero. The call is answered by Beowulf (Ray Winstone), his right-hand man Wiglaf (a rock-solid Brendan Gleeson), and Beowulf's thanes. After being greeted by the king, insulted by the king's wormy advisor Unferth (John Malkovich), Beowulf attracts the attention of Grendel and Pwns him. But further violence occurs late the next night which raises questions. Is Grendel really dead? No, Hrothgar says, it was Grendel's mother. Beowulf goes into the hills into Grendel's cave to confront the monster, and makes a very foolish decision......
I could talk about differences between poem and film, but I've been typing for the last two hours, so no. I will say that I found Beowulf pretty darn enjoyable. I liked the performances a lot, and was impressed with Ray Winstone's commanding presence. I liked how even though he stretched the truth (a lot), Beowulf was still really badass. I liked the themes of being haunted by past decisions, and the how the past catches up with one. It's not terribly deep, but there's more to the film than pretty pictures.....though those pictures are pretty indeed. The motion capture CGI used for Beowulf has come a long, long way since The Polar Express, and there are some shots in the movie that are almost photorealistic. And the 3D?
I saw Beowulf twice: once in Digital 3D at the Loew's Boston Common, and once in 3D IMAX at the Jordan's Furniture in Natick. The picture was nice and clear at BC, and there was only minor blurring in certain 3D effects. I suspect that some of the imperfections result not from the technology, but what the human eye can process in the span of seconds. The glasses for the real 3D were comfortable, and covered my eyes completely. I was, however, disappointed by the IMAX experience. Bulky glasses were passed out that couldn't comfortably be pushed up one's nose so that the lens completely covers the eyes, and it takes some concentration to block out the frames of the glasses, and concentrate on the film. In addition, the Natick theater had a surprisingly small IMAX screen, and the lights in the aisle floors are too close to the ends, and anybody not sitting at least 5 seats in is going to get some pretty distracting glare. I had to lean to the right to compensate for this. The sound system at the IMAX is vastly superior to that of the Boston theater, with a massive subwoofer underneath the floor. The 3D is very immersive, and greatly enhances the viewing enjoyment. If I was watching, say, The Spitfire Grill, in 3D, it would probably get a higher rating than I would otherwise give it. I give Zemeckis a lot of credit for being at the forefront of exciting new technology that will be increasingly more common, I hope.
Overall, Beowulf is a very solid, but not amazing, film. There's lots of eye candy, solid performances, some decent uses of irony and foreshadowing in the story (Has this been THE dumbest year for movies or what?), and fun battle sequences. I would encourage you to see Beowulf in 3D, not 35mm, due to the immersive nature of the format. I give Beowulf an 9(14) out of 22 on the 22 scale (The number in parentheses is for 3D).

Totally Awesome Quotes:

Beowulf: "I am Ripper... Tearer... Slasher... Gouger. I am the Teeth in the Darkness, the Talons in the Night. Mine is Strength... and Lust... and Power! I AM BEOWULF!"

Grendel: (dying in his cave) "He wasth stho strong..........stho strong..."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen

I was not particularly excited to see Ocean's Thirteen. I can sum up the reason for this in two words: Ocean's Twelve.

The Ocean's movies are fairly featherweight affairs, and any sudden jerk away from the charisma-fueled semi-camp really only reminds the audience that they're watching something substance-free. I know this will displease my colleague Particle Man, but the Julia Roberts-playing-someone-else-playing-Julia-Roberts gig was ill-advised. I can understand the whimsical intentions behind such a move, but the same logic that leads the characters to say, "Hey, doesn't Tess look like Julia Roberts?" should also lead them to say, "And don't I look like Brad Pitt?" That and an ending that rendered the rest of the movie irrelevant combined to make for one unhappy reviewer.

So it was with that mindset that I sat down for Ocean's Thirteen, completely ready to skewer it. To my surprise, however, (and, admittedly, chagrin), there wasn't much skewer-worthy here. There wasn't much praiseworthy, but at least there wasn't much skewer-worthy.

At this point, you should be aware what's going to happen: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Shaobo Qin, Bernie Mac, and Carl Reiner get together to perform a heist. The odds seem completely stacked against them, but they pull it off anyway. The end.

There are a few specific differences in this film: The Ocean's gang teams up this time to steal stuff from Al Pacino, who's opening a new casino, and who screwed over Oceanite Elliott Gould in the process. Gould suffered a myocardial infarction as a result of the screw-over, so it's a revenge-job propelled by guilt over Gould's shaky health.

They do neat stuff en route to this goal, I guess, but it's all becoming pretty old hat by this point. In fact, the moments that stand out as great are the moments peripheral to the plot (Clooney and Pitt watching Oprah, for example).

But you know what you're getting from these movies at this point: a cavalcade of stars, some nifty stunts, a bit of inspired whimsy, and a fairly forgettable plot. And because Thirteen nimbly avoided the pitfalls that plagued Twelve, it comes out of the deal with a 5.