Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp join forces for the sixth time to create Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Based on the Stephen Sondheim musical, Burton brings us the darkest and quite possibly the best film of his career. Sweeney Todd is the story of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), a barber who had a happy life with a beautiful wife and a precious baby girl. But there was another man who sought to remove Barker from the picture and place himself at Lucy's (Barker's wife) side. That man is the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) who along with his grotesque confidant Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall) places a false charge on Barker, sending him to prison for 15 years. When the barber returns to London, he starts a new life with a new haircut as Sweeney Todd. Upon returning home, he meets Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the purveyor of the self proclaimed "worst pies in London". Lovett tells Todd that Lucy poisoned herself years ago and his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) is now under the care of Judge Turpin. Enraged, Todd begins slitting the throats of his barber shop patrons waiting for the opportunity to get his revenge on the judge and once again be reunited with his daughter.

If you have seen a Tim Burton film in the past, you should know of his keen ability to create a bizarre atmosphere through the use of unusual sets and characters. His work in Sweeney Todd is no exception, as Burton brings a dark and dreary London to life. The streets that are hidden by shadows in the middle of the day is a subtle metaphor for the cruelty and corruption of the men who live there. With brilliant cinematography, Burton entices and disturbs the audience without being too overbearing. The scenes move with fluidity comparable to the blood that streams from Todd's victims throats. Excellent songs placed in the perfect spots during scenes keep the movie at a steady pace without boring the audience.

But Sweeney Todd would not be the great movie that it was without the brilliant performance from Johnny Depp, who plays the titular character. Worthy of an Oscar, Depp epitomizes the vengeful barber with a chilling perfection. The authenticity with which he portrays Todd is almost startling. His stone faced demeanor exemplifies the anger and pain that is swirling around in this character's mind like a tornado. His expressionless eyes are unwavering, showing the bleakness that lies within him. I also must say this his singing is spot on, and his rough voice is perfectly in line with the movies tone. When I heard that Helena Bonham Carter would be playing Mrs. Lovett, I thought "Oh how surprising, Tim Burton cast his wife in yet another of his movies." To my dismay, Bonham Carter actually did a very good job. Perhaps she was cast because she actually deserved it. Although her performance wasn't a knockout, she seemed very fit to play the ever lively Mrs. Lovett. Her vocal range was a bit limited, but she was able to hold a tune well and provide some solid musical numbers. Alan Rickman gives a very strong performance as Judge Turpin. Rickman, who usually has the same facial expression no matter what movie he is in, always manages to put together an entertaining act. Facial expressions mean nothing when he can so vividly show the internal hideousness of this most foul man. Although his voice doesn't seem to be suited for a musical, he only sings one song and it is a duet with Johnny Depp, a favorite scene of mine. Even though Depp gives the best performance in the film, my favorite performance has to be that of Timothy Spall as the Beadle Bamford. A beady eyed, slimy looking man, the Beadle is an outwardly ugly character that mirrors the Judge's inner unattractiveness. Spall is unforgettable and utterly revolting, which exactly what his character was supposed to be. Sacha Baron Cohen also makes an appearance in the film, but it's only for about 5 minutes. Don't worry about it.

When you watch Sweeney Todd, be sure to have the volume up really high so you don't miss a second of the outstanding score. A risk that comes from making a musical is that every song must be good, because one boring song can displace the attention of the audience for an extended period of time. Luckily, Sweeney Todd hits every note and does not bore. One criticism I do have of the film is that the plot itself does begin to wear thin later in the film. You start to feel that anxious feeling that you get when your waiting for something to end, a feeling that no movie ever wants to provoke. This is no matter, as the tragic ending is perfect, capping off a great movie with a surprising end. Watch this film. Twice. In one day. You'll like it. My rating (9/10)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones returns to the big screen after 19 years in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Before I begin, I must make something clear. I have seen many critics reviews of this film that do nothing but compare it to the original trilogy. I find this to be terribly unfair, and I am here to review this film as a singular piece of work. Harrison Ford stars as the title character Indiana Jones, a professor who insists that the best way to become a great archaeologist is to get out of the library. In this new adventure, Indy faces a new enemy in the form of the Soviets, specifically Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Spalko is a leading scientist that specializes in the study of psychic ability. Her search for knowledge has brought her to Jones, who she hopes can lead her to a source of earth shattering power: a crystal skull. Legends say that whoever returns the crystal skull to its rightful place will be given control over the power it possesses. With some help from old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and her son Mutt Williams (Shia Labeouf), Indy must race against the Soviets to keep this magnificent power out of their grasp. With lots of old style action sprinkled with new age effects, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a fun ride that is thoroughly entertaining.

There is something that has really bugged me about other critics reviews of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and that is the recurring theme of calling it "too farfetched". Are we supposed to believe that the previous 3 Indiana Jones films were not farfetched? In Raiders of the Lost Ark, spirits rose from the ark of the covenant and obliterated Nazis. In Temple of Doom, men had their heart removed from their body, yet they continued to live. In The Last Crusade, a centuries old knight guarded the cup of Christ, and a man drank from the cup and melted. Yet all of these films are considered classic adventure films. So why not Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Yes the inclusion of aliens in the plot may be a bit over the top, but when has the Indiana Jones series not been over the top?

I am not saying Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is flawless, as it is far from it. I do believe that the plot was a bit flimsy, but it became overshadowed by the excellent direction of Steven Spielberg. He will not be winning any Oscars for this film, but Spielberg fluently expresses his knack for creating an exciting feature that knows how to make your heart race. The action sequences in Crystal Skull are very well put together, and Spielberg does a good job of keeping everything within reason. At times, especially in the beginning, Crystal Skull was very bogged down and uninteresting, but once you make it over that hump, Spielberg does not disappoint. Once the pace begins to increase it stays that way and keeps you content.

Harrison Ford proves age is not an obstacle as the dauntless Indiana Jones. At age 65, Ford still makes it seem seamless to encompass the role of the audacious adventurer that we have come to know and love. He seems almost born to play this role. Ford's on screen charm is highly contagious as he seems to illuminate the rest of the cast as well as arouse joy and interest in the audience. Cate Blanchett lays on the thick Russian accent as villainess Irina Spalko. Blanchett scowls her way through the majority of the film, not providing the high caliber performance one would expect from an actress of her level. Shia Labeouf once again proves himself to be a strong young actor as Mutt Williams. Working along with Ford, Labeouf's performance is often times able to keep the movie afloat during those sinking moments that popped up every now and again. I would not be surprised if we see an Indiana Jones 5 that places Labeouf as the lead, and I would welcome this change with open arms. The resurgence of Karen Allen's character Marion Ravenwood seems a bit contrived, especially since she played such a small part in the film. It felt as though the only reason she was there is so that Spielberg could give us the ending that he did. Near the end of the film, I had actually forgotten Allen was even in the movie, because she seemed to blend in with the scenery.

There is one thing you must remember before watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And that is to not expect anything. It is one thing to hope for a movie to be good, and a completely different thing to expect a movie to be good. Having an expectation is another way of having a bias. If you are expecting another Raiders of the Lost Ark, you are not going to get one. Expectations can ruin a movie. Watch Crystal Skull as a single film, and then afterwards you may rank it amongst the other films in the series if you like, but do not judge it by the standards set by the other films.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a solid adventure flick that is not lacking flaws, but is also not lacking excitement. Even with a slow going first 20 minutes, the film picks up momentum that is culminated to a final scene that is visually stunning and beautiful. Crystal Skull does not reinvent the Indiana Jones franchise, but simply continues it as though it never left us. Worth multiple viewings, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a fine addition to the franchise and although it may not be everything you wished for, it is a very good film. My Rating (7.5/10)

Evan Almighty (2007)

Steve Carrell stars in Evan Almighty, a comedy event of biblical proportions. A follow-up to 2003's Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty falls prey to the same predictable storyline and unfunny performances as its predecessor. The movie centers on Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell), a news anchorman turned Congressman who has just moved into a new house with his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and his 3 sons. Baxter just begins settling into his new job, and even manages to get his name placed on a major bill with head Congressman Long (John Goodman). But Evan's life is thrown awry when the God (Morgan Freeman) himself comes and asks Evan to complete a holy mission. He is to build an ark in preparation for an upcoming flood. Evan's everyday life soon becomes overrun with extra facial hair and animals (2 of each, hardy har har), as he attempts to build his giant boat all while trying to convince his family and everyone else that he is not insane. Evan Almighty is chock full of silly slapstick and bird feces, but is completely void of entertainment and merit.

Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston were smart enough to turn down roles in this witless, uninspiring sequel. Tom Shadyac returns as director, and doesn't do a terrible job I must admit. One of the few things that were respectable about Evan Almighty was the special effects. The majority of the film was not impressive, but the scenes where the ark is in action were executed pretty well. Steve Oedekerk, who wrote Bruce Almighty, also returned to pen this screenplay. You can tell the same man wrote both scripts because the dialogue is dry and the progression of both films is not carried very well at all. Evan Almighty becomes a chore to sit through and sometimes becomes unintentionally unbearable.

Steve Carrell does the best that he can with the material he was given as Evan Baxter. Unfortunately, Carrell is reduced to goofball antics to try and get cheap laughs out of the young viewers in the audience. Several times his performance reminded me of an unfunny copy of his character Michael Scott on The Office. It became very visible that Carrell was digging as deep as he could to produce funny material, but came up short every time. Oscar winner Morgan Freeman renews his role as God because he probably had time to kill before The Dark Knight began filming. Freeman appears to be going through the motions and didn't provoke any response, spiritual or emotional, from me even as he gives a speech on the true meaning of the story of Noah. I was simply unimpressed. John Goodman acts as the "villain" of the movie Congressman Long. I watched Evan Almighty twice and I'm still unsure as to why he is the bad guy, but I just played along. Goodman does an OK job here, although it sometimes feels like pulling teeth when he has to look menacing and be disgruntled. A truly awful performance would be the way to describe Lauren Graham's portrayal of a distressed wife of a possibly crazy husband. I was not convinced that this woman was feeling any kind of emotional unrest, and there was not a hint of chemistry between her and Carrell. Comedian Wanda Sykes also has a role in Evan Almighty as Evan's assistant Rita. Basically, whether you enjoy her presence is based on whether you hate her or like her. I hate her. The one genuinely funny performance is given by Jonah Hill, who has previously shown his comedic talents in films such as Superbad and Knocked Up. His role in Evan Almighty is very small, but his on screen charisma and ability to deliver deadpan comedy makes every scene he is in enjoyable.

Evan Almighty is a family friendly film and I do not doubt that some children will enjoy the grade school humor and the cute little animals. But for anybody age 14 and up, this film will just be unsatisfying schlock. Evan Almighty was the most expensive comedy film ever made, but tanked at the box office only bring back slightly more than half its budget. I take some solace in this fact because it tells me that people do have self control and won't spend money to see anything that is put in front of them. Maybe this stand can be taken for movies such as Epic Movie and Date Movie, and we can keep those sequels from soiling our country. In the meantime, don't bother watching Evan Almighty. My rating (4/10)

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

A dysfunctional family brings us one of the most boring dark comedies of all time in the form of Little Miss Sunshine. Despite receiving critical acclaim and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and nominations for Best supporting Actress and Best Picture, Little Miss Sunshine does little to inspire, impress, or entertain. The story centers on the Hoover family, 6 people who have been given tragic flaws that are meant to inspire sincerity and care, but instead you just feel overwhelmed by the overabundance of problems. You have the financially challenged father Richard (Greg Kinnear), the previously divorced wife Sheryl (Toni Collette), the heroine addicted grandfather simply called Grandpa throughout the film (Alan Arkin), the angry-at-the-world son Dwayne (Paul Dano), the suicidal Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell), and the beauty pageant daughter who is far from beauty pageant material Olive (Abigail Breslin). When Olive wins a regional beauty pageant (by default), she is invited to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, which is apparently a big deal. But the only way for her to attend would be to have her entire family drive 800 miles in an old Volkswagon Bus. As you can probably imagine, once these 6 implacable forces get inside a cramped van, drama ensues, ties become unraveled, and even some dreams become crushed. I would go deeper into detail about each character's own little story, but I don't have the time at the moment (friggin homework).

Never before have I disliked so many characters in one movie. Of Little Miss Sunshine's 6 main characters, only 3 were bearable. When you only have 3 good characters surrounded by 3 annoying characters for an entire movie, you don't have a very good film. Greg Kinnear's Richard Hoover was a genuine, certified, licensed and approved, jackass. I felt no sympathy for him as he continuously dug his family a bigger grave with his stubborn attitude. Granted, his character was probably meant to come off as a jerk, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. The writers made him too overbearing and utterly intolerable. I was deeply annoyed by Toni Collette as Sheryl. Of the family, she was one of the least messed up, but I still could not care less about what she was doing or saying. The lack of interest in these 2 characters alone made it near impossible to watch Little Miss Sunshine. Alan Arkin received the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that I previously mentioned, and I don't know why. Arkin was very entertaining to watch in this film, but given the people he was nominated against (Mark Wahlberg for The Departed, Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children) there is no fathomable reason for him to have won. He did provide for I'd say 95% of the comedy in the movie, but he didn't astound me into giving him an Oscar. Abigail Breslin also received an undeserved award nomination, as little Olive Hoover: the little stout girl who dreams of being a beauty pageant queen. Sure it's a cute concept, but Breslin did nothing remarkable with her character. She is a child actor that acted like a child. That's quite the stretch. Little Miss Sunshine is not completely void of interesting people. Steve Carrell and Paul Dano both give stellar performances and if anything, they should've received Oscar nominations. The budding friendship that forms throughout the film between the suicidal Frank and voluntarily mute Dwayne gave the movie a feeling of substance and was the only thing that held my interest. Dano alone should be praised as a wonderful talent for bringing hope to this lackluster movie.

Little Miss Sunshine was in development hell for a while, and perhaps they should've kept it their for a little while longer. The potential to be a great film and being a great film are two very different things, and Little Miss Sunshine never realizes its potential to cross the line and become great. The movie begins to turn extremely unwatchable at the 3/4 mark, after a significant event occurs to a significant character. The ending itself was neither heartwarming nor fulfilling, and was simply too much of a blatant attempt at comedy that didn't fit in with the rest of the movies subtle dark humor. I must admit, the first time I watched Little Miss Sunshine I did enjoy it. But one main part of being a great film is durability. Can this film endure multiple viewings and still be good? No. I watched Little Miss Sunshine two more times and both times I found new reasons to dislike it. If you want to watch this film, do it once and then never again. My rating (5/10)

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange