Why I Will Always Love Tim Burton’s ‘Sweeney Todd’…

There is no doubt to my obsession with the film version of ‘Sweeney Todd’. And don’t misjudge my love, I’ve seen a stage version of Stephen Sondhemovies_sweeney_todd_johnny_depp_movie_desktop_4368x2899_hd-wallpaper-86197im’s musical which was gory and haunting in much the same way, but despite the lack of vocal strength in the film, I keep going back to it time after time.

There’s no denying Johnny Depp is part of this charm. He is scary, and he is charming, and he leaves you confused over loving or hating the protagonist. For a man whose “Irish” accent came under heavy fire in ‘Chocolat’, his Cockney ain’t half bad, and his singing voice is perhaps the strongest in the film. And stood beside him is the ever-delightful Helena Bonham Carter, playing obsession and love simultaneously to create a gruesomely tragic lead female, meaning we can forgive her lack of vocal range because she’s just so damn good at hooking us into her character.

And where there’s a protagonist, there’s a suave and manipulative antagonist in he form of Alan Rickman, whose Judge Turpin is just so silky smooth in prsweeneytodd-02esentation you can see how he greased the pole to power to keep himself at the top and others at the bottom. Indeed, two of my favourite lines in the film are due to his talent for making everything sound powerful, threatening and intoxicating: ‘You gandered at her, yes sir you gandered at her’ and ‘You’ll kill me boy?! Well here I stand!’ He’s not far behind Depp in singing skills, and he’s just so brutal in his attempts to find companionship you have to watch him get his comeuppance, even if it’s at the expense of Todd’s own humanity.

Not forgetting the stellar supporting cast. From a brief appearance by the wonderful Anthony Head to more significant roles held by Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen, everyone pulls their weight: there is no weak link in the chain of this film. Spall’s sliminess (both his and Rickman’s characters have echoes of their Harry Potter roles, doubtlessly) riles you up to want him to go down with Judge Turpin, and likewise Cohen’s final rolling ‘Meester Todd’ practically has the viewer bringing the razor down before Todd can in condemnation.

Then there’s the music. How can you not revel in the grimy joie-de-vivre in every note, the sense that you want to join in but berate yourself slightly for celebrating the terrible nature of mankind or the tastiness of priest? They’re songs that aren’t pleasant, aren’t romantic, but are base and gritty and show the world for what it is (cannibalism aside, think more in metaphors). And there’s a class element to this; let’s not forget that it’s distinctly pleasurable to see ‘those above serving those down below’ for once in Victorian London.

It’s a film I will never tire of, I’m almost certain of it – it’s a rare thing to see every aspect of a project pull together so magnificently so that we’re really living it until the end, and to have triumph mingled with despair at failure, confusing you as to whether you support or condemn characters. I’m not saying it’s the most complex plot in the world, but it knows what it is: dirty, rotten and a bloody ride to revenge, without becoming hideously and psychologically dark so as to send you away with nightmares or the inability to walk past a red and white barbershop sign.

Nothing’s gonna harm you…not likely on Fleet Street.

‘The Great Gatsby’ (1974)

Does the 1974 film adaptation of ‘The Great Gatsby’ do justice to Fitzgerald’s novel?

I’m typing as I watch, because I’m fast coming to the conclusion that it’s a book that literally, you can translate from page to screen, but imaginatively it is difficult to capture. Nothing is what it seemed in my opinion, it all just seems a bit too arty and not real enough for a novel rooted in the tragic realities behind dreams and ambitions.

Daisy (Mia Farrow) and Jordan (Lois Chiles) are fairly apt for their roles – they are airy with a hint of purpose and drive behind them, although Daisy’s artificiality is sometimes a little too cheesy to bear. Myrtle (Karen Black) is my main female problem. I imagined this complete contrast to Daisy – feminine yes, but in a maternal rather than a fashionable way, attempting to reach fashion but falling short and ending up in the realms before that. Instead, Daisy’s would-be usurper is presented as over-enthusiastic maybe, but her presentation of her new dog to her guests fails to show her as maternal, and links to Daisy’s treatment of her own child. Similarly, Daisy’s near-tears episode when explaining she expects her daughter to be a ‘beautiful little fool’ makes her a little less uncaring than perhaps she should be – her focus is not supposed to be domestic, but social.

I have to say, Nick is fairly apt – Sam Waterston’s slightly nervy and charismatic narrator seems ideal to sit and observe on the fringes of fashionable society, never really involved and never really absent so as to maintain his credibility, but then he’s removed entirely during the additional scenes which loses that perspective and makes his role rather redundant.

Gatsby himself seems a bit too cocky and not at all unsure of himself, yet he’s supposed to be seeking something that is just beyond his reach – Robert Redford’s Gatsby doesn’t seem unsure of himself in a way that would prohibit him crossing the bay and just taking Daisy. His ownership reduces upon the renunion which suits him more: he becomes a nervous potential lover, as opposed to a man who has it all, but there’s just something lacking in the sincerity of this which makes it hard to see him as needing anything. Daisy even says, ‘You were never sentimental Jay’ – then why is this man pining after a dream and a green light?! Why wait eight years for a married woman when clearly you are rich enough to attract many hangers on and wannabe-Mrs-Gatsby’s? Something just doesn’t ring true.

Likewise, Tom (Bruce Dern) doesn’t reflect that word ‘hulking’ at all. He’s too polite, too well kept, and too damn quiet to be capable of breaking someone’s nose in public. ‘Hulking’ becomes mere sulking, pouting because he’s placed between two women he appears to care for – gone is the man who is possibly torn between his desires and his position.

Settings wise, it’s fairly accurate: Gatsby’s house is resplendent, and Nick’s house looks so petite and demure in the face of it that it’s clear why one man survives and another is ruined by equating each to a sense of humility. Daisy’s home shows how comfortable and secure her life has become, justifying her decision to maintain it. The Valley of Ashes is perhaps a bit more built up  than I’d imagined and not quite as desolate, but then I might be being a bit silly with that one: it’s a garage that is surviving, if only barely, there has to be more than Tom making demands of it. 

Then there’s the additional scenes: Daisy tells the story of the eve of her marriage, ruining her cool composed demeanour and turning her into the emotional woman that barely comes through in the book. She spells out a lot of things which ruin subtlety of the novel: ‘rich girls don’t marry poor boys Jay Gatsby’. Well thanks, it’s not as if that was the whole point of your marriage to Tom and your subsequent decision to keep him Miss Daisy. But then I think part of the problem here is my own perspective; having read the book, I know what’s to come, whereas director’s all over the world have to work on the assumption not everyone has read what their work is based on – you only have to look at the backtracking in the final ‘Harry Potter’ to see that. So maybe some things, like the affairs, need pointing out, otherwise they would be lost: it’s a fine line to tread. I’m not sure it would be entirely obvious that Gatsby lives a dubious existence without Tom pointing out he might be in the bootlegging business, so maybe these additions are necessary and I’m just nitpicking.

Thinking of the additions, the scene with Daisy and Gatsby dancing, recreating their courtship, is perhaps my favourite added section. It prepares us for the heartbreak behind those haunting words, ‘you can’t repeat the past’, and how the world they are existing in is only made of memories and the ‘foul dust’ floating in the wake of Gatsby’s dreams.

What strikes me as the most accurate thing in this film is George Wilson (Scott Wilson) – the pale blue watery eyes that seem ghostly, his desperation to continue life in the pursuit of happiness and love, his devastation and subsequent decline after Myrtle’s tragic fate…They all combine to show a man affected by the age he lives in: an age that values the exterior over the interior, where his wife can’t love his simplicity of heart because she thinks the world has so much more to offer. Their argument before the accident is well-placed to show his mental destruction. I think he’s the only character I feel for, which perhaps works to the credit of the whole film: he’s the only character who allows himself to feel naturally, instead of controlling his life by social appearances.

…After watching this film, I’m interested to see how the latest adaptation, courtesy of Baz Luhrman, will turn out: is ‘Gatsby’ something that can be made into a satisfying film, or will something always be lost in translation? It’s difficult to say, but I wait with baited breath to see whether dreams become reality or if they’re shattered once more.

Preview: ‘Horrible Bosses’

After having just been to see a preview for the movie ‘Horrible Bosses’, I can say that it’s horrible in both positive and negative ways: in parts, it is horribly funny, but in others it is just horribly boring.

A lot of it made me think of ‘The Hangover’: three guys who get into an increasingly difficult situation until it reaches boiling point. However, being a much shorter and singular film, it lacks a certain something: charisma, plausibility and depth.

The basic plot runs as such: Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are the employees of three horrific bosses, including the nymphomaniac Julia (Jennifer Aniston), the psychotic Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) and the drug-addled Bobby Pellet (Colin Farrell). When it becomes impossible to either leave the job or reason with the boss, they all plan to murder each others bosses by finding out their weak points. Chaos ensues, leading to a car chase, a reversal of blackmail and one unexpected murder.

Being a succinct hour and a half film, it’s both light-hearted and lacking in the depth which could make the situations funnier. As long as you take it for surface material without a plot-line that would survive scrutiny. A lot of films are capable of surviving on this, but ‘Horrible Bosses’ lacks the instant pull and chemistry of those films that do survive on being far-fetched yet brilliant. I think a lot of this has to do with the cast: individually, they’re all hilarious, but together they lack a proper bond which would make them feel a bit more authentic. Jason Bateman in particular had his subtly funny moments, choosing the slightly more sophisticated manner of getting the joke across without hamming it up and ruining it’s spontaneity within the script. This is also true of Sudeikis and Charlie Day, so it does puzzle me slightly that they gelled in style but not character-wise.

The plot was classic: who hasn’t wanted to show their boss who’s boss? The spiral of events that lead on from the antics of these horrific bosses. In that way, the plot begins empathetically enough. It’s hard to place my finger on where the film lost me, but I did get bored. I think the bulk of the plot was quite slow to start, with the introduction to the main scenarios taking quite a while in comparison to the incredibly fast-pace of the main action, and nothing seemed especially well linked. Julia’s plot in particular seemed quite removed from the premise of the film, and whilst the point was that when Jennifer Aniston is harassing you it might not count as the worst thing in the world, it seemed to depreciate the overall point of the film. Likewise, Bobby Pellet’s story climax was a bit understated in terms of him being a boss, with the majority of the plot being dedicated to horrible boss Dave Harken, who was a bit too psychotic to be overly funny.

Whilst there were definitely laugh-out-loud moments and these moments weren’t overacted and ruined, it was a bit hit and miss overall, and I don’t think it’s one that’s worth more than one watch. It wasn’t through a lack of effort, but ‘Horrible Bosses’ was a bit of a half-hearted film that could have made a lot more of itself.

Review: ‘Black Swan’

Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers

After leaving the cinema, my friend asked which film I would say was better: ‘Black Swan’ or ‘The King’s Speech’. Not an easy choice: both fantastic, and both as different from one another as it’s possible to be. But, after deliberating, I knew the answer: Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ won for it’s sheer ability to intoxicate and psychologically invade its viewers’ minds.

The premise is that ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is chosen to play both the delicate White Swan and the devilish Black Swan in director Thomas Leroy’s (Vincent Cassell) new production of ‘Swan Lake’. Tortured by the desire to be perfect and by threats of having her role taken from her, Nina’s journey from becoming a white swan to embracing her inner black swan is absolutely riveting.

Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis’ (Lily) dedication to the film was incredibly obvious: both had trained well, and are reported as having lost weight though their ballerina training. They had an intense chemistry, which helped the plotline enormously, as it was impossible to tell until the very end whether Lily was who Nina thought her to be: the clash of the swans caused a wonderful sense of confusion that caused a yearning for answers. Equally, Cassell’s performance was just as riveting: his ease as slipping between mentor and seducer highlighted the depths of Nina’s transformation, by pushing her to effortlessly metamorphosise from one character to another.

The musical score was beautiful, bringing the passion of the ballerinas, and the psychological decay of Nina, to tense and entrancing heights. It underlined what we knew, and subtly guided towards questions and conclusions, bringing the film to its dramatic climax perfectly. The seamless movement between reality and fantasy led to a fitting resolution, where Nina’s fate was probably the only suitable outcome to the film after the torments the audience had witnessed. Portman’s performance was stunning: she was delicate and fragile, but convincingly moved to dark and devious without losing any of her momentum. With Kunis’ support, Nina’s inner struggle was perfectly framed within the reality she had been separated from unknowingly. Barabara Hershey, as Nina’s long-suffering mother Erica, definitely needs credit in this respect as well: the guilt felt when realising she wasn’t the one at fault, but the one trying to fix the damage single-handedly complemented the dawning realisation of Nina’s descent into decay.

‘Black Swan’ was a creepy, wonderful and haunting film, and I, for one, am desperate for an encore.

Review: ‘The King’s Speech’

Colin Firth as George VI

Nominated for fourteen BAFTAs , twelve Academy Awards, and seven Golden Globes, ‘The King’s Speech’ has left audiences speechless. With a simple yet moving plotline, Coling Firth’s King George VI is able to create and maintain a depth of character that will leave you riveted.

The story is simple enough: King George V passes away, leaving his son to become King Edward VIII, only for him to abdicate to marry the twice-divorce Wallis Simpson and leaving an unsettled Albert to ascend to the throne. The issue being, Bertie has never been royally built: his stammer, alongside his other habits beaten out of him at an early age, has cost him both the publics, and his own, confidence. His dutiful wife Elizabeth pushes him to try Lionel Logue, speech therapist, who insists on unorthodoxy to tackle the root of the problem, and helps Bertie lead up to one of the most important moments of his regal life.

The best bit about the plot is how unwavering it is: the writers are dedicated to Bertie’s story, and at times when they could have been distracted (with Wallis Simpson, war…) they only acknowledged their periphery before returning to their tunnel vision, and while enough is incorporated to keep the story afloat, it is all kept in to ensure Bertie’s story is fully and beautifully explored. One of Colin Firth’s most touching moments as the wonderful Bertie is telling his daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, the story of the royal penguin, acting as a silent advocate for love conquering all and covering over the fault lines to smooth the way for their own private lives. Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth, is wonderfully portrayed by the beautiful Helena Bonham Carter, whose strength and solidarity with her husband show a united front, helping to collect fragments of the future king’s life in order to provide unity and faith in his abilities. This was also seen in the selfish and impulsive Prince Edward (Guy Pearce), whose taunting of ‘B-B-B-Bertie’ leaves both Firth’s character and the audience speechless: cruelty comes in many forms, but it strikes hardest when loved ones knock us down. It’s horrific to witness the lack of familial support when Elizabeth has been attempting to prop up Bertie’s courage, although Edward’s act of dishonour frames Bertie’s relationship with Logue perfectly. While Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue has been silently breaking down barriers, this incident pushes their friendship together to unify their desires, leading to Logue’s place of honour at the coronation (again, something that could have become it’s own issue with the Bishop’s anger, but dealt with smoothly to continue the story).

Logue and Bertie’s friendship was dealt with brilliantly: it appeared as if from nowhere, despite knowing it would inevitably happen. Logue doesn’t push or force Bertie into action, he sits and accepts his decisions but instantly springs into action when his call comes. Driving through wartime Britain for Bertie was a brilliant finale to this ever-building relationship, turning the emotional into a physical act to show the lengths he would go through for his friend. His gentle approach isn’t too invasive on the screen, which means the story glides along instead of forcibly feeding us the key information. It also means Logue’s step into unfamiliar territory with regards to Edward is a point of confusion for audience emotions: who do we feel sorry for, the friend spurned for giving advice, or the prince resisting power through fear? Their reunion strengthens the resolve, and heightens Bertie’s bravery and Logue’s nobility: they both needed each other to realise when they were wrong and how to be right.

It’s a stunning film, showing that power isn’t all popular opinion would make it out to be: the King needs support to function and lead with dignity, determination, and above all, belief in the power of your own voice. King George VI deserved to be heard, and it’s a voice everyone should listen to.