On the Aisle (2007)

Better than average

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 13, 2007 in Fayetteville Free Weekly.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

I left the movie musical Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street singing "I'm Bleedin' in the Rain." Times certainly have changed.

Sweeney Todd is a throat-slasher of a motion picture. It creates a new genre -- the slasher musical. Adapted from the Tony-winning Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim, it's the tuneful tale of cutthroat's revenge.

A 19th century barber (Johnny Depp) in London is falsely imprisoned (maybe times haven't changed that much) and sent to Australia by a scheming judge (Alan Rickman), who covets the young man's beautiful wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) and infant daughter.

Many years later the barber returns to London and hears that his wife committed suicide and his daughter (Jayne Wisener) is now a ward of the judge, isolated in a room of his house.

The deranged barber -- who now calls himself Sweeney Todd -- joins up with Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter), the owner of a destitute pie shoppe. They partner in a grisly conspiracy to cut the throats of unsuspecting clients seeking a shave. She creates a booming business of meat pies, made from the remains of victims. Eat your hearts out, cream pie throwers of silent movie days.

Sweeney goes on a gory rampage, as he seeks to revenge himself on the nefarious judge. Bloodletting, cannibalism and sadism -- ah, the sweet reveries of the contemporary musical!

Director Tim Burton collaborates for the sixth time with Johnny Depp. Depp has gone from scizzorhands to razor blades.

Sallow and dark, Depp is bleakly compelling as the stricken barber, who goes off into demonic, destructive rages.

Helena Bonham-Carter makes a fiendishly fetching Nellie (in the role Angela Lansbury nailed on stage). Alan Rickman is sinister as Judge Turpin. Nobody does odium better than Timothy Spaal, portraying Beadle Bamford who is in corrupt cohoots with the judge.

Jayne Wisener and James Campbell Bower make a winsome young couple of would-be lovers. And Edward Sanders is credible as a young street urchin.

Sweeney Todd is a new kind of movie musical. It brings several modern updates of songs to mind:

"On the Street Where You Got Sliced."

"Blooddrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."

"Try to Remember Not to Spatter."

"Can You Feel the Blade Tonight?"

"Somewhere Over the Clavicle."

Sweeney Todd ushers in a new age. It's a grave new world of musicals. As director Tim Burton struts in, Sidney Lumet strolls off.

Lumet's latest film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is an unpleasant film with unpleasant characters. It would be easy to dismiss, if it weren't directed by maestro Sidney Lumet.

Lumet's first film 12 Angry Men (1957) makes a stark contrast with his creation 50 years later. In 12 Angry Men, justice and honor prevailed in the person of an urban white knight (Henry Fonda).

In Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, justice and honor are defunct. Gray small-timers have replaced the hero in white.

Lumet has had a luminous career, highlighted by such films as Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Network (1976) and The Verdict (1982).

Lumet's 83 years old, and Devil could be his swansong. It's a baffling choice. Maybe age has made him more misanthropic. Perhaps Before the Devil Knows You're Gone is a metaphor for Lumet and his career.

It's the story of an old man (Albert Finney) with two sons. One of the sons (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plans a robbery of a mom-and-pop jewelry store. The younger one (Ethan Hawke) reluctantly agrees. The robbery goes awry with disastrous repercussions for a family. Who knows whom the sons represent for Lumet -- maybe movie execs?

The final scene when the father walks off into the light is a nice personal exit for the director. But the movie is labored and repetitive.

Recently Lumet, Hoffman and Hawke appeared on the Charlie Rose television show. Rose was his usual fatuous self, with his pleased smirk after he had asked one of his verbose questions -- with pretentious, pregnant pauses.

Long shots showed him looking down on a paper for his next question, while the trio talked. He barely listened, except to interrupt. But the articulate trio wasn't dissuaded. Their conversation was engaging.

Obviously, it was much more interesting than Rose. Unfortunately, it also was much more interesting than their movie.


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