Saturday, December 29, 2007

Three films: Sweeney Todd, Juno, Walk Hard

Could there be any three more different movies? Understand, I saw them over the span of a week, so this wasn't a bizarre triple bill. "Juno" was first, on one of my days off last week, as an antidote to the shopping crowds. I wish I could say I loved it, but it suffered under the misfortune of having a trailer I'd seen about a dozen times, so the best (funniest) lines were already memorized. Laughter is best served fresh, not repeated endlessly. The rest of the film was less funny than smart and touching, so again, a case of a trailer misrepresenting a movie, plus selling its jokes short. I found it entertaining, though, and you can't beat the chance to see Jason Bateman and Michael Cera on the same screen for a case of wistful "Arrested Development" deja vu.

"Walk Hard" just didn't sing for me. (Oh, the puns we have saved up waiting for weak moments like this.) It did a very thorough job of skewering music bio films like "Walk the Line," but in a way that was almost too much mimicry, not enough original humor. Example: a young boy looks out into the bright sunny day and says, "What a beautiful day, nothing can go wrong today! Surely nothing like a childhood tragedy that will torment me for decades, driving my pain into artistic creation?" That's paraphrasing, but it's basically how the film approached the parody - archly self aware, as if the entire joke is knowing what comes next. I guess I expected more free-wheeling goofiness, over-the-top like "Airplane" or completely sincere like "Spinal Tap."

And then, "Sweeney Todd," which came into the playlist only because it is in the theater across the street with many other films I've already seen. I had only a passing familiarity with the storyline (the big plot points) so it felt fresh and new to me. It's certainly a well-made film, with beautiful cinematography (all is dark and gray and dingy, practically the only color coming from the insanely unnatural red of spilled blood - and, oh, how much is spilled), great singing (the young boy playing "Toby" is wonderful), and acting. Helena Bonham Carter has been in many films since, but she will always be Marla from "Fight Club" to me. It's interesting how she turned her early period film persona into one so well suited for twisted and bedraggled. I think it's that beautifully shaped face, so incongruous next to wild hair and eyes and blood and grime.

When the movie first started, with lines sung instead of spoken, I wondered if I'd made a mistake, musical-hater as I am. But quickly I was caught up in it - either because the music was most of the dialog, and so was essential in moving the plot forward (vs. pausing it to belt out a song), or because it's just better music. (Stephen Sondheim!) I think it also helped that it was, as mentioned above, fresh to me, so the experience was meaningful. (Yes, I know, this didn't happen with "Wicked" so I am hopelessly grasping at straws.) Point is, I liked it, even if I found the blood-letting cartoonish (girls behind me giggled uncontrollably whenever a throat was slit) rather than gruesome, as some reviewers have suggested.

And now I find myself nearing the end, without any mention of Johnny Depp. I don't have anything to say, really - I'm not a huge fan, but have always appreciated his talent (from early days on "21 Jump Street" and films like "Benny and Joon.") I think it's interesting that he's Tim Burton's muse just as it's interesting that Leonardo DiCaprio has become Martin Scorsese's, but to be honest, a Tim Burton movie without Helena Bonham Carter would be more of a tragedy for me. (Neither was in "Mars Attacks!" one of my least favorite movies of all times, although it appears every other working actor at the time was.) I have more than one friend who is a Depp fanatic, and I can't argue with that, but I also can't really get on the bandwagon, either. Ho-hum.


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