DVD Traffic Report: April 1, 2008

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

Tim Burton may not seem like the ideal adapter of a Stephen

Sondheim musical, but when you consider the wry ghoulishness of this

throat-slashing tragedy, the aptness of Burton’s

dark flamboyance is clear. With input from Sondheim himself, Sweeney Todd has been smartly and ruthlessly condensed

to fit a two-hour template — some songs cut entirely, several more liberally

pruned — without completely gutting the original musical. Burton’s re-conception of the material is

where the bigger changes have taken place. The casting of Johnny Depp, performing

a brooding character study that shaves the comic surface from his famous pirate

Jack Sparrow, is a stroke (turns out he can sing, too!), but Helena Bonham

Carter, in strung-out goth mode, is never quite able to nail down her character (or maybe it’s just difficult to imagine such an anti-Angela Lansbury in the role). Alan Rickman and the rubber-faced Timothy

Spall can play comic adversaries in their sleep, and the anatomically enhanced Sacha Baron Cohen steals

each scene he appears in as the barber Pirelli. The bloodletting is copious and

graphic, but executed with a theatrical flair that softens the

grisliness. Finally, Burton’s

vision of the aspirationally romantic “By the Sea” is a riot — a perfect

mini-movie with a stone-faced Depp channeling Buster Keaton. It’s a terrific musical in

an uncommonly good year for movie musicals. (A version of this review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.)

Buy it from Amazon.com: Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street or Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Two-Disc Special Collector’s Edition)

The Night of the Shooting Stars (Koch Lorber)

I was going to make a comment about how, when this was released, the arrival of the Taviani Brothers on the international-film scene was being treated like the long-awaited Second Coming of Italian neo-realist cinema, but the two contemporary reviews I could dig up without getting out of my chair were, as the kids say today, pretty meh. Ebert sounds disappointed: “Nostalgia alone is supposed to carry us along, and since everything

happened so long ago, it hardly seems to matter. The Tavianis make an

additional mistake, which is to make everything so beautiful that it

cannot be intensely felt.” Canby is downright dismissive: The Night of the Shooting Stars is one of those life-affirming films

made to order for urban neurotics who behave badly over the breakfast

table, on the subway or in the office. They can attend this Italian

film and, by agreeing with its decent sentiments, feel cleansed in some

small, vicarious way. Then they can go out and be rotten all over

again. It’s not a work that makes one think a lot.” These notices made me think maybe I misremembered the esteem in which this was held, but Ebert also mentions that it won the National Society of Film Critics award for best film, so there you go. Also, The New York Times revisited it in 2001, when Terrence Rafferty called it “an almost inconceivably full movie experience.” When I saw it, I thought it was pretty meh — but I was in high school, so what the fuck did I know? Maybe worth another look.

Buy it from Amazon.com: The Night of the Shooting Stars

Alvin and the Chipmunks (Fox)

I got a kick out of the guy on the IMDb message board complaining that this thing is “Not appropriate for small children.” Not appropriate for anybody, amirite?

Buy it from Amazon.com: Alvin and the Chipmunks or Alvin and the Chipmunks [Blu-ray]

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