Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Edward Sanders, Timothy Spall, Jayne Wisener
Directed by Tim Burton
Distributed by Dreamworks Home Entertainment
“There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit, and it’s filled with people who are filled of shit, and the vermin of the world inhabit it, and it goes by the name of London” — Sweeney
And with that, we’re off on one of the oldest and darkest journeys into madness and vengeance that the world has ever known. Johnny Depp plays everyone’s favorite demon barber with the maniacal glee of a serial killer picking up his first sharpened shiny object, and who better to give him a world to stain with blood than the great Tim Burton? No one, that’s who. Sweeney Todd is a movie so well crafted that it would be easy to sit here and gush like the many geysers of gore that escape the throats of this film’s victims, and honestly with a movie this good and a DVD set this packing, that’s just what I intend to do. Before we tackle all that (and there is a lot to tackle), let’s look at the events leading up to Sweeney’s rampage.
Based upon the Broadway musical and complete with songs by Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd tells the story of Benjamin Barker (Depp), a local barber in London with the perfect life. That is until the vile Judge Turpin (Rickman) takes an interest in his wife and daughter. It’s not long before the judge has Barker, framed for a crime he didn’t commit, sent away, leaving his spouse and child unprotected and in his clutches.
Years later Barker returns to London under a new name, Sweeney Todd, and as soon as he reaches the city’s shores, he’s off to find out what happened to his wife and little girl. Unfortunately, Sweeney finds that Mrs. Barker has passed on and his kid is still being victimized by Turpin as he keeps her locked away in his home. As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well. Todd decides to open up a new barbershop above a meat pie store run by the equally as crazed Mrs. Lovett (Carter), and together the two make quite a team. Sweeney provides the cattle and Lovett does the butchering and the cooking. This goes on as Sweeney rids London of its corrupt aristocracy shave by shave, in the hopes that one day he may be able get his revenge on Turpin and save his daughter Johanna (Wisener).
“Alright! You, sir? How about a shave? Come and visit. Your good friend Sweeney! You sir! Too, sir! Welcome to the grave. I will have vengeance. I will have salvation… Who, sir? You sir! No one’s in the chair come on, come on! Sweeney’s waiting! I want you bleeders. You sir? Anybody? Gentlemen, now don’t be shy. Not one man. No, nor ten men. Nor a hundred can assuage me.” — Sweeney
And vengeance is exactly what Todd has as this film spews blood by the bucketful at a relentless pace. In my opinion this is Burton, Depp, and Carter at their absolute finest. Brilliant is an understatement when referring to Sweeney Todd. For a more in-depth review of the film itself, check out Tristan’s Sweeney Todd review here. Our subject of the day is the two-disc special edition DVD, and WOW is there a lot of ground to cover!
Disc One is home to the film and just a single supplement, the twenty-six-minute featurette entitled Burton + Depp + Carter = Todd. This bit of goodness basically documents the making of the movie from the mouths of the title stars. Covered here are casting, costume designs, character development, and recording the film’s soundtrack. While rock solid stuff, I still have to wonder where the hell the commentary is? That’s the only missing piece of the puzzle in this set, but not to worry — Disc Two more than makes up for the missing track.
Things kick off with footage from a press conference from November of 2007 with director Tim Burton, stars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall, and producer Richard Zanuck. Running about twenty minutes, this is nothing earth shattering, but it’s entertaining nevertheless. The really good stuff starts with the next featurette, Sweeney is Alive: The Real History of The Demon Barber. Coming in at around twenty-six minutes, this bit of supplemental goodness covers the London legend of Sweeney Todd, which dates back to the late 1700’s. Did this happen? Could it have happened? Does this tale share anything in common with that of cannibal Sawney Bean? Everyone from historians to professors get their say, and without question this was one of the most interesting things I’ve watched in a really long time. Excellent stuff! Next up are six more featurettes to pour through, Musical Mayhem: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (twelve minutes), Sweeney’s London (a look at how London actually was during this time period — seventeen minutes), The Making-of Sweeney Todd (twenty-four minutes), Designs for a Demon Barber (a look at the film’s costumes, set decoration and production designs — nine minutes), A Bloody Buisness (a look at the F/X — nine minutes), and the gem of them all, Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition (twenty minutes).
While a little off-topic, Grand Guignol: A Theatrical Tradition, takes a look at the birth of horror theatre in France and the impact it had on both the Broadway musical and, of course, the film itself. As a huge fan of everything Grand Guignol, seeing its history documented from its birth in 1897 to present day was an absolute dream for me! Riddled with still photos and lots of insight, this is one part of this set you just don’t want to miss. But alas, there are still a few more tasty tidbits to discuss …
Things are finally wrapped up on Disc Two beginning with MovieFone Unscripted with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp interviewing Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Running twelve minutes, it’s easy to see the chemistry these two have with each other. You won’t learn anything that hasn’t already been covered elsewhere on this DVD, but it’s still a good time. From there we have The Razor’s Refrain featurette, which is basically an eight-minute musical montage, a photo gallery, and the movie’s trailer.
In retrospect I don’t think I could have handled a commentary too. Sweeney Todd gets my vote for DVD of the year. The film itself is genius, and this set packs everything you could have hoped for and lays it on thick. Hit the link below and get yourself a copy like yesterday!
“They all deserve to die! Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why! Because in all of the whole human race, Mrs. Lovett, there are two kinds of men and only two. There’s the one staying put in his proper place and one with his foot in the other one’s face. Look at me, Mrs. Lovett! Look at you! No, we all deserve to die. Even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I!” — Sweeney
Revenge has never been so ghastly sweet!
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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