Movie Review: SWEENEY TODD The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

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sweeney todd
Paramount Pictures

“There was a barber and his wife, and she was beautiful. A foolish barber and his wife. She was his reason and his life. And she was beautiful. And she was virtuous. And he was…naive.”

  • In the Victorian London, the barber Benjamin Barker is married to the gorgeous Lucy and they have a lovely child, Johanna. The beauty of Lucy attracts the attention of the corrupt Judge Turpin, who falsely accuses the barber of a crime that he did not commit and abuses Lucy later after gaining custody of her. After fifteen years in exile, Benjamin returns to London under the new identity of Sweeney Todd, seeking revenge against Turpin. He meets the widow Mrs. Lovett who is the owner of a meat pie shop who tells him that Lucy swallowed arsenic many years ago, and Turpin assigned himself tutor of Johanna. He opens a barber shop above her store, initiating a crime rampage against those who made him suffer and lose his beloved family.

New Years Eve, 2017. Five hours to Midnight and the start of the New Year. I had a big plate of BBQ’ed wings and a mess of chips n’ cheesy-dip ready, and I readied myself for my annual New Years Eve Movie Marathon. This year, I began my lone festivities by popping in the Tim Burton-helmed macabre musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.

This was the movie that seemed to have divided fans of Tim Burton upon its release in 2007. Mostly, the negative responses had to do with the fact that this was a musical, and they weren’t expecting a musical…even though it was well known that Burton stated he was adapting the 1979 stage musical adaptation of the penny dreadful that originated the character to begin with. Personally, I knew it was going to be a musical; it just took a while for me to pick the perfect time to take in the movie itself. And ringing in a new year in the cold and darkness of a Midwest winter seemed the right time to me. Ten years after the fact, notwithstanding.

It’s a tale as old as time: Fifteen years after being falsely convicted of a bogus crime and exiled just so a corrupt Judge could get freaky with the man’s wife, barber Benjamin Barker (alliteration!) returned to London with something of a chip on his shoulder. He takes up the identity of Sweeney Todd, gets his old barber shop back (which is located above the shop of the “worst pies in London”), and vows vengeance on the man who took his life, his wife and daughter. But first, gotta makes some money, so he manages to settle on a mutually beneficial business relationship with the owner of the pie shop: he kills anyone foolish enough to come into his shop alone for a shave, and she uses that body to be the main ingredient in her meat pies. Next thing you know, business is thriving for both of them, and Todd is getting closer to realizing his revenge against the Judge. But then, there’s the issue of his young sailor friend falling in love with the daughter of the Judge that might throw his plans into disarray. Oh, that and the Judge’s daughter is really his daughter, and his long-thought dead wife might not be entirely dead as well. And the meat pie lady has a massive crush on Todd. Musical wackiness ensues.

Oh, Sweeney Todd was such a delightfully whimsically morbid romp. Musicals always held a certain charm for me, and when you add to that the dark and gritty Gothic setting of Victorian London and Tim Burton’s signature unflinching gleeful morbid style saturating the entire picture, and I now have another annual tradition to add to my movie list. I absolutely love this movie. There are a couple of points where things get a bit long in the tooth, yes, but overall, Sweeney Todd was a satisfying morbid musical tragedy that is recommended.

Movie Review: PLANET OF THE APES (2001)

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Planet Of The Apes ¥ Art Machine job#4112  POSTER C comp VVV.rev1 ¥ 05/30/0120th Century Fox

“Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty human!”

Having been a long-time fan of Tim Burton, there’s been some debate as to what point the quality of his movies began to dip in quality. Some say it began with Mars Attacks! Some say it was with Sleepy Hollow. I am of the opinion that it was his remake of the science fiction classic Planet Of The Apes when the prospect of a new Tim Burton movie began to lose its luster.

Released in the summer of 2001, this particular remake of the 1968 Charlton Heston classic actually started development back as far as 1988 and at one point had Arnold Schwarzenegger starring. Of course, it went through the usual development hell issues, being passed around various directors and producers, and several script rewrites, the movie was put into active production and Tim Burton was hired to direct. By the time it was finally released, hype for the movie was pretty high. I went to the movie the weekend it was released, along with my usual crew of Nex, Cass and Boz. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but as far as I’m concerned, 2001’s Planet Of The Apes was–and still is–a mixed bag.

In the year 2029, interstellar reconnaissance missions are relegated to chimpanzee pilots from the space station Oberon in deep space. On one such mission, a chimp loses communication and vanishes from the radar. Fearless astronaut Leo Davidson launches a rescue mission and, following a malfunction, lands on a jungle-like planet not unlike the earth. To Leo’s astonishment, English-speaking apes and primitive humans inhabit the planet. Following his capture by the apes and consequent escape, Leo assembles a small band of defiant humans and empathic apes in an attempt to re-establish contact with Oberon, but his focus changes following an unexpected discovery. Armed with this new information, Leo leads a rebellion against an overpowering ape force that will result in freedom or complete annihilation.

On the one hand, Burton’s Planet Of The Apes manages to build on the original by way of the set pieces and consumes and effects. The ape makeup was just outstanding, and the actors in the getups were very good at making you believe an ape can talk and reason and stuff. And you have to admit, the story and scope of this was pretty epic. However, concerning the story, it does get snagged up in a few places: Mainly, the whole social commentary wasn’t handled as deftly as it was in the original. Also, while I’m not a purist of the original, I still don’t like the decision to make the humans be able to talk. It seems…wrong, somehow. Some character motivations are a bit questionable and head-scratching, like the tender romance that pops up between Captain Leo and Ari. And don’t get me started with that twist ending, there.

Overall, 2001’s Planet Of The Apes isn’t that bad, really. It’s a movie that’s a bit long in the tooth, will dazel you and then frustrate you. It’s worth at least a rental, there.


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pee wee's big adventureWarner Bros.

“‘Let’s go’? Don’t you want to see the rest of the movie?”
“I don’t have to see it, Dottie. I lived it.”

It amazes me to think that there are generations of kids who will never know the mind-blowing madness that was Pee Wee Herman in his heyday of the 80s. His odd persona brought us absurd surrealist humor subversively disguised as children’s programming. The guy behind the character — Paul Rubens — has been doin that since 1980 as a stage show.

In 1985, Rubens teamed up with up-and-coming director of weird, Tim Burton, to make the first big screen adventure featuring the bow-tie and grey suit wearing manchild. The result was…well, let me tell you…

We begin with the standard day-in-the-life of one Pee Wee Herman, which is — as you may have guessed — not the same as your normal existence. His home is something that would be if Sesame Street was designed jointly by Rube Goldberg and a Japanese game show creator. Pee Wee’s most prized possession is his bicycle, a heavily modified bike that everyone in town thinks is the coolest thing ever…including one Francis Buxton, the spoiled rich neighbor who would do anything to own that bike. One morning, while out picking up some supplies at the mall, Pee Wee returns to find his bike had been stolen! After confronting Francis, who denies stealing the bike (but totally did), Pee Wee gets info from a psychic that the bike is in the basement of the Alamo (it totally isn’t, for obvious reasons), and thus Pee Wee embarks on a cross-country journey to get back his beloved bike. On the way, he meets an escaped fugitive from the law, the ghost of a trucker, a waitress with a dream (and her Bluto-sized boyfriend), a hobo, joins a biker gang, and finally ends up in Hollywood! The psychic may have been a bit off, there.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure remains a constant presence in my movie collection, having owned multiple formats through the years since first watching it in 1986. I absolutely loved the offbeat, whimsical absurdist humor when I was 13, and I still do now. Along with movies like The Addams Family, Gremlins and Ghostbusters, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is something I try and watch every year or so, along with sharing with others the grand whimsical madness of the movie. Greatly recommended for all to watch.


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batman returnsWarner Bros.

“Actually, this is all just a bad dream. You’re at home, in bed, heavily sedated, resting comfortably, dying from the carcinogens you personally spewed in a lifetime of profiteering. Tragic irony or poetic justice, you tell me.”

So, now that the world knows my thoughts on the 1989 Batman movie (and if you somehow missed it, it’s right here), you’re probably wondering if I happen to harbor the same “meh” reaction to the sequel, Batman Returns. Well…yes and no. And as always, there a long-winded story behind this.

Unlike the first Batman movie, I actually watched Batman Returns in the theater when it came out in the summer of 1992. And upon my first viewing of the movie, I wasn’t all that impressed. Looking back there were some factors that lent to that: The big one probably being expecting an action movie based on a comic book character. I was not expecting a really dark comedy disguised as an action movie.

It’s Christmastime (even though the movie was released in June, but whatever, it’s Christmas now), and after a flashback featuring a surprise Pee Wee Herman, we meet Salina Kyle, the rather put-upon secretary of Gotham business magnate Max Shreck, a man who, as the name suggests, is a very power man who probably fades away when the sun comes up. After accidentally discovering some nefarious doings Max’s company was involved in, Max personally pushes her out of a multi-story window, where she presumably dies but then brought back to life by ally cats. Meanwhile, there’s a deformed weirdo that dwells in Gotham’s surprisingly elaborate sewer system, calling himself the Penguin working with Shriek to become Mayor of Gotham. Between that and the appearance of Catwoman in the mix, Batman has his hands full this go-round.

Upon initial watching, I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with Batman Returns. It was just a little too weird for my tastes back then. Of course, as time passed and my tastes and sensibilities developed to what they are now, Batman Returns grew to become my favorite of the four Burton / Schumacher-era Batman movies. I’ve grown to appreciate the darkly Gothic weirdness, the bizarre twisted take of the comic book superhero world. The take on the Penguin here is gleefully terrifying, Catwoman proves to be a perfect foil to Batman (though I found myself wondering more than once how she could actually movie in that vacuum-sealed costume), and Gotham itself is a fever dream of a nightmarish Wonderland architecture. The fact that it is set during Christmas just adds to the ambience.

Overall, if you’re going to watch only one of the four Burton/Schumacher Batman movies, I recommend Batman Returns. Now, to relive the horrors that were the two following Batman movies…*shiver*

Movie Review: BATMAN

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batman (1989)Warner Bros.

“Batman! Batman! Can somebody tell me what kind of world we live in, where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press? This town needs an enema!”

I remember all the hype surrounding the Batman movie of 1989. There was suddenly an explosion of merch items and tie-ins everywhere you turned. The classic 1960s television show was being shown in daily afternoon re-runs on the local UHF station in my area. The billboards were ubiquitous. There was a cereal, for crying out loud. I knew of at least three guys from my class that watched it multiple times in the theaters that summer. Even if you never had an interest in the comic book character itself, you knew of its existence that year, let me tell you.

And I never watched the original 1989 Tim Burton movie. I had better things to do, really. You can send your hate mail to my email address.

Seriously, even though I did watch all the other following sequels in the Tim Burton Batman series in the theater, I never did get around to watching the 1989 Batman, until about last year when I finally got around to popping it in and seeing what all the hype was about. And I know I’m going to be in the minority here, but…I really wasn’t all that impressed.

Maybe it was because I’m writing this post-Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy, or because this is what you would call the Comic Book Movie Renaissance. Maybe it was because everybody who not only have seen it and were equally shocked that I hadn’t yet (despite being both a Batman and Tim Burton fan) and had raised my expectations of this being the GREATEST MOVIE EVER(TM), that I was rather underwhelmed when I did watch it.

Mind you, I don’t hate 1989’s Batman. Far from it, for all of you extremist fanboys out there. It was quite entertaining, and had a nice dark yet whimsical quality that is vintage Burton shining through. For my money, Michael Keaton remains the undisputed Best Bruce Wayne / Batman in cinematic history (all apologies to the late, great Adam West). And Jack Nicholson made The Joker an icon all his own. No argument there. I think everybody should watch this Batman at least once, preferably as a double-header with Batman Returns.

I know, I know. There’s the point that, when this was released, the whole live action comic book adaptations available were dismal, and this Batman proved that you could make a dark and somewhat serious comic book superhero movie without delving into camp. And, I’m sure if my parents did decide to let me watch this back when I was 15, it would have certainly blown my mind, and I would be writing this with less jaded nostalgia glasses.

And so, here we are. 1989’s Batman. I like it, but I don’t love it. It is what it is.


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miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children20 Century Fox

Is this really what you want? Death for Jake and Miss Peregrine, eternal life for me…and a mint for you.”

When his beloved grandfather leaves Jake clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds a magical place known as Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children. But the mystery and danger deepens as he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers–and their terrifying enemies. Ultimately, Jake discovers that only his own special peculiarity can save his new friends.

Back in 2014, while wandering around the local Barnes & Noble, I came across a rather peculiar looking book (see what I did there?). It featured a bizarre, one would say slightly morbid, Victorian era photograph on the cover, and bore the title Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I was intrigued, yes…but not enough to get past the fact that it was in the New Young Adult Fiction pile. Yeah, I may be a bit knee-jerk reactionary when it comes to my choice in fiction. Haven’t been a “young adult” in nigh unto a rustic metaphor, so I passed on that one. As well as the other sequels I saw popping up.

Which is my long-winded way of saying, I haven’t read the books the recent movie is based on. I saw the preview trailer a couple of times, and thought two things: 1) “Huh, it looks dark enough to warrant a watch when it comes out,” and 2) “Tim Burton? But…this isn’t a Disney remake.” Yeah, okay, that was a bit of a cheep shot, there, I admit. But, I did get enough feedback to watch the movie adaption the same weekend it came out.

Concerning the movie itself…wow. Just, wow. I was not really expecting this level of whimsical dark fantasy, mainly because Tim Burton’s output since his take on the Headless Horseman legend (Sleepy Hollow) has been not up to par with some of his classic earlier stuff. But, I was rather impressed. I’m not saying that it’s a return to form for Tim Burton, but I do believe he was able to achive the spirit of his older macabre with modern sensibilities. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

On to the story: A young man’s grandfather–who is the greatest grandfather who ever lived, I should point out–seems to have dementia, and is found dying outside his Florida home, his eyes missing. But, with his dying breath, he implores his grandson to travel to Whales and seek out Miss Peregrine and warn her of a looming danger that’s about to befall her and her young charges. But, once he’s there, he discovers that the home is a burned out husk, having been bombed in World War II, and abandoned since then. Things take a turn for the weird, though, when he discovers that the residents are all alive and well and living in a time loop, experiencing the very same day before the bombing since that year, keeping everyone the same age and living a Groundhog Day scenario. And now this young man, whose life has been very hum-drum and pointless, finds himself charged with protecting the young ones in Miss Peregrine’s care, because he has the same peculiar talent his own grandfather had when he was a resident there: He can see the invisible monsters about to attack. Comes in handy, I’m sure.

Really, I found this movie to be a fantastic and wondrous romp with a delicious dark whimsy that, really, has been woefully missing in a lot of books and movies, and the movies based on the books. I found myself with a big, stupid grin on my face and tingling in a way that I hadn’t felt since…well, it’s been a while since a movie did this to me. Not even the recent Star Wars, I’m afraid. Try not to let the gaping mouth there attract flies. Very unbecoming.