Monday, February 25, 2008

Movie Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd as filmed by Tim Burton plays like the demented flipside to Moulin Rouge!, sharing the stylised sets, the flashy zooms, the bigger-than-life acting and the overwhelming melodrama. This is not a bad thing. The story: a barber takes revenge on the judge who
sabotaged his marriage, locked him up and took his daughter. He hooks up with a woman who is down on her luck and runs a meat-pie shop. As the movie is based on a Stephen Sondheim musical, lots of singing ensues, while the blood starts spraying and the bodies start piling up. The highlight is a musical number in which the couple goes gloriously around the bend, coming up with a cunning recycling scheme for their victims. Less engaging are the numbers and scenes involving the misplaced daughter and her doe-eyed suitor: insanity and evil-doing proves itself to be much more interesting than innocence and virtue.
The cast is great. Sacha Baron Cohen (aka 'that Borat guy') catches a lot of laughs for his silly performance as Signor Adolfo Pirelli, bending the tone of the movie, but stopping just short of breaking it. Alan Rickman pulls off another sneering 'Snape' performance with glee. Timothy Spall and Helena Bonham Carter make the Harry Potter reunion complete, Carter looking very much like her Bellatrix Lestrange character from Potter world. She does a great job of providing the movie with some much needed lightness and heart as the dangerously loopy Mrs. Lovett. Johnny Depp is intense and single-minded but manages to keep Sweeney interesting and borderline sympathetic. I don't know the plot of the original musical, so I can't say if anything was changed, but the ending as it stands seems fitting. With this much bloody murder going on, it can only end in tears.
There is also a twist near the end that I saw coming a mile away, but not so the two people I was with, so judge for yourself if it is obvious or very clever. The moral of the story is: kids, don't let vengeance ruin your life. Also: don't get shaved by strangers and only eat meat at places you trust.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2007, 116 min. USA/UK. Director: Tim Burton. Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Movie Review: Shutter (They are Around Us)

If you're ever visiting an Asian country, beware of vengeful pale women or little girls with runny mascara and long black hair. They seem to be all over the place these days, with a morbid fascination for multimedia. They're making prank phone-calls, showing up in the static on your tv, ghoulishly abusing the internet or haunting videotapes.
In Shutter one of these specimens is getting freaky with photographs and generally messing with the perception of the recently graduated youngsters she terrorises. They might actually be to blame for her current deceased condition - or not. I don't want to spoil the plot and going by this little genre, ghosts don't always need a reason to pick a specific person. Sometimes they are just mean, dead, pissed off and lashing out at whoever crosses their path. In this case, a photograph-happy couple with their own darkroom becomes the focal point for the apparition's anger.
There isn't much new about Shutter. The mood is quiet and morose, the colours are a bit drained and the lighting - or lack of it - is impeccable. Occasionally there is a jump scare with a loud musical cue. The frequency of these increases near the end until both you and the characters get very edgy because any one break in a shot could mean a sudden cut to a scary face appearing into frame. It's only this none-too-subtle 'boo' factor that keeps things from getting boring. There is also a neat, creepy twist at the ending, but it's one of those that does not make a whole lot of sense looking back on the rest of the movie. Mostly recommended if you haven't seen many of these 'creepy girl' movies or if you are next to a date who scares easily and who you want to grab you tight. Shutter is currently being remade in the US, headlining Joshua Jackson of Dawson's Creek fame.

Shutter (They Are Around Us), 2004, 97 min. Thailand. Directors: Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom. Starring: Ananda Everingham, Natthaweeranuch Thongmee, Achita Sikamana.

Movie Review: The Kite Runner

We sell the book (by Khaled Hosseini) at the store I work at, it came highly recommended by reviewers and still I managed to put off reading it long enough for someone to make a movie out of it. I didn't originally go for the book because it seemed to be one of those worthy 'Oprah Book Club' novels in which Big Life Lessons are learned. In the movie version this is indeed the case, but I enjoyed it regardless.
Two boys in Afghanistan (Amir and Hassan) befriend each other and have a strange master-slave dynamic because there is a difference in class status. They spend a lot of time flying kites and there is a competition - which I had never heard of before - in which whoever manages to take down the most other kites wins. This happens by cutting the thread of the opponent's kite, in a way I am still not quite clear on. When something horrible happens after one of these competitions, it breaks up the friendship of the two boys. Amir, the 'master' of the two, behaves horribly to Hassan because of complex but childish feelings. Many years later, Amir is given the chance to redeem himself by rescuing Hassan's son, who has been taken by the Taliban.
The cinematography and the acting are high quality. The movie successfully puts you in a different time, a different place and tells a beautiful story. The only problem is that it tries to tie everything together too neatly, giving the tale a slightly artificial feel. It also leaves one or two interesting aspects of the story untold. But the fact that you would like to find out even more about the secondary characters in a story, can only mean that it really engaged you to begin with. The two child-actors were forced to flee the country after the movie was released. Tragic, but not surprising considering the way the Taliban are portrayed here. It is of course shameful that the Taliban's reputation has been soiled by this movie, as in reality they are of course a warm and cuddly bunch, with hardly any genocidal tendencies at all.

The Kite Runner, 2007, 122 min. USA. Director: Marc Foster. Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada.