FLICKER BITS: Sweeney Todd; Atonement; No Country For Old Men

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on January 4, 2008


I was really looking forward to this big screen adaptation of the ‘Sondheim Musical’ that was so thrilling on the stage. I have admired Tim Burton’s work in the past and thought that he could really make a film version that would surpass anything that he had done before. I’m sorry to say that the film is over the top and disappointing.

The story: Johnny Depp stars as Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber. Todd is a man who was sent to prison unjustly by an evil Judge who covets Todd’s wife. They were just married and the Judge secrets away the wife and child while Todd is sent to rot in a stinking London Prison. The Demon Barber vows to get his revenge.

When Todd is released, he bumps into Mrs. Lovett (a pie maker). They cook up, and I do mean COOK up a plot to make her meat pies better tasting with real meat from the upstairs Demon Barber shop, where after he slits the throats of his patrons — a trap door takes them down to the cookhouse in the basement of the Pie Shop. Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs. Lovett. Her acting is not bad, but her singing leaves a lot to be desired. Half the fun of the show is the clever Sondheim lyrics. You could barely hear her sing, “Have a Little Priest” – referring to some pies made from a Priest who had just lost his head upstairs.

Burton has put together the look and feel of London’s gritty days. Everything is bleak and grayish. Johnny Depp is good at the acting, but again the singing is not very strong. His range of acting seems to go back and forth between “Edward Scissorhands” and “Demon Barber”. You just can’t trust him with Utensils in his hands can you?

In the cast: Alan Rickman is the evil Judge Turpin. I could see him getting a supporting nod for an award. Depp is nominated for Best Actor (Golden Globes), but I don’t see him getting the prize. Also good is Timothy Spall as the slimy Beadle Bamford. Comic relief by Sacha Baron Cohen as the rival Barber is flamboyant. And what else could you expect from him?

The young man who plays the suitor of Sweeney’s daughter who is being held more or less under house arrest is androgynous. When he sings ‘Johanna’ walking down the street – it is laughably bad. It would have been better if they sang the song off the screen as he walked down the street.

My favorite part of the flicker was when Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett dance together in the pie shop singing ‘My Friend’–as they whirled around the floor. Here is a sample: Todd: My Friend, my clever friend…Lovett: “Always had a fondness for you, I did”– Todd: …Soon I’ll unfold you. Yes, it was my favorite part until he slit her throat and blood ran all over the floor.

And that is the biggest problem with Burton’s version of the story. There is too much blood and too many times. On the stage it was imaginary. On film Burton has made us watch every little gruesome gasp of life leave the victims. The repetition of blood running down the gutters in the street and on the floor of the barbershop and into the basement is not for the faint of heart.




Keira Knightley is dreamy in this dreamy movie. She has been nominated for best actress (Golden Globe), but lovely as she is, I don’t see her performance that difficult. Standing around looking beautiful is not a hard task.

The movie is gorgeous to look at. In the tradition of “Gone With The Wind” – Atonement sweeps the Screen, as big teeming epics should. It’s great to see the art of storytelling return to the screen.

Atonement is about a love story that never has a chance. Age is against it. Fate takes over their lives and time runs out. The film spans decades. In 1935, 13-year-old fledging writer, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) and the family live a life of privilege in an enormous mansion. The young girl has an older sister, Keira Knightley who is in love with Robbie Turner, It turns out the younger sister also has a crush on Robbie. An opportunity comes around when the younger sister is asked to deliver a letter to her older sister. The young girl reads the letter that has some spicy wording in it for that time (1935) and turns it over to her parents. That is the beginning of lies about a rape in the woods. And the love affair comes crashing down like water starved Calla Lilies.

Then there is War and everything changes. Robbie, who went to jail on the trumped up charges, gets out if he will join the Army. He agrees. Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) brings to the screen one of the most depressing war torn scenes that I have ever seen. You can feel and smell the sweat on the brow of the soldiers walking over their dead comrades. Robbie gets delusional. His mind wanders in and out of reality. What we see on the screen are sometimes memories of what Robbie has held dear to his heart for many years.

The film reminds of “The English Patient” and the Wartime film (Farewell To Arms) that starred Jennifer Jones and Rock Hudson. Like that film “Atonement” also has a similar plot. The soldier gets wounded and the socialite ends up helping the wounded and dying near the battlefield.

Beauty, Grit and Lavishness make Atonement a gripping masterpiece that’s impossible to resist. Will it win the Best Picture this year? It has a good chance, but it will be up against the following flicker.


Josh Brolin – No Country for Old Men. Production Photo.



That question from Javier Bardem in the movie ‘No Country For Old Men’ will make your socks roll up and down and maybe even make you pee in your pants. Here’s the shit-kickin facts. Josh Brolin on a hunting trip finds more than he bargained for. Down in a little gulch by the highway he finds a pickup truck and several other vehicles. Everyone is dead and lying all around the ground or half hanging out of the cars. He pokes around a little and comes across a black bag with over two million cash in it. Naturally, he takes it.

That starts his real trouble. The menacing Javier Bardem is a brutal, psycho and he’s looking for that money. The cinematography is tense, so you will want to see it on a big screen. Directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen know how to keep the tension going. This is a strong film about drugs, crime and bad people. I would not recommend it for young people.

The action in this film is the ultimate rush. It’s pounding and pulsating and believe me, –it will keep you awake. Also, you may never want to stay in any roadside motels anymore. And you thought “Psycho the movie” was scary”? Extraordinary filmmaking, and acting. It’s up for Best Picture and Josh Brolin is up for best Actor (Golden Globes). Its chances are pretty good. I found it to be shocking and terrifying but exciting at the same time.



The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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