Sweeney Todd & Walk Hard

Sweeney Todd & Walk Hard featured image

by Marc Glassman.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Tim Burton, director. John Logan, script based on Hugh Wheeler’s play w/Stephen Sondheim. Starring: Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd/Benjamin Barker), Helena Bonham Carter (Mrs. Lovett), Alan Rickman (Judge Turpin), Timothy Spall (Beadle Bamford), Sacha Baron Cohen (Signor Adolfo Pirelli), Laura Michelle Kelly (Lucy Barker), Jayne Wisener (Johana Barker), Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony Hope), Ed Sanders (Tobias Ragg)

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Jake Kasdan, director & co-script w/Judd Apatow. Starring: John C. Reilly (Dewey Cox), Jenna Fischer (Darlene Madison), Raymond J. Barry (Pa Cox), Margo Martindale (Ma Cox), Kirsten Wiig (Edith), Chip Horness (Nate), Conner Rayburn (young Dewey)

All singing. All talking. All dancing. That was what many of hit movies of the late Twenties and early Thirties were all about—and why not bring them back now? Every movie star from Clark Gable to Buster Keaton was tried out in those glorious times as musical performances. Many were found wanting. In fact, some could barely talk. Very few could dance.

Fast forward 80 years. The musical has long gone out of style as a genre. Is it about to be revived? After the successes of Chicago, Walk the Line and Dreamgirls, perhaps musicals can once again start reaching for the top.

Consider two of the hot releases for the Holiday season, Sweeney Todd and Walk Hard. No one would have thought of Johnny Depp and John C. Reilly as contemporary Gene Kellys or Fred Astaires—until now. True, Reilly was terrific in the small but pivotal role as Amos Hart, the sad sack husband of Renee Zellweger’s Roxie in Chicago, but he hardly seems like a leading man, let alone a commanding singing presence. And Depp hadn’t sung professionally since he’d been in a rock band as a teenager.

The surprise is that both acquit themselves well in their new films. Reilly is a revelation as Dewey Cox, in Walk Hard. Intended to be a spoof of Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash bio-pic, the film goes beyond parody to become a genuinely funny film. Reilly is brilliant as the hard done young singer and guitarist whose rise to fame is forever clouded by the accidental death of his brother. His singing is quite remarkable—and he’s up for all of the over-the-top bits that make silly physical comedies work.

Judd Apatow, the creator of Knocked Up, the 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad outdoes himself. In Walk Hard, he has devised scenes with crazy erotic choreography, a running gag with machetes, ghosts, another running gag with demolished sinks and toilets, a set-piece where a naive Dewey drops LSD with the Beatles and yet another running gag with a drummer who keeps on leading Cox astray into taking more and different forms of stimulants.

You can’t take Walk Hard all that seriously but it does boast a couple of heavy weight talents—Reilly and Apatow. This is a genuine laugh-aloud film, perfect for teenagers and Baby Boomers.

Sweeney Todd is, of course, an achievement on a much higher level than Walk Hard. Tim Burton was the perfect man to adapt the great Sondheim/Wheeler musical about the “demon barber of London” to the screen. Who else could match the play’s accomplishment of making you enjoy and care about Todd, a serial killer and Mrs. Lovett, his accomplice who takes the fruits (and fat and bones) of his labour and turn the bodies into true “corpus delicti”—lovely meat pies?

Depp and Bonham Carter are perfectly cast as the leads and they are more than matched by Alan Rickman as the evil Judge Turpin, Timothy Spall as the arrogant weasel Beadle Bamford and Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, Borat!) as Todd’s first victim, Signor Pirelli. Some of Sondheim’s music is cut including the opening Ballad of Sweeney Todd but much of the score from the play has been retained. Indeed, this is almost a wall-to-wall musical.

If there’s one reservation to total enjoyment of the film, it’s Burton’s insistence of using lots and lots of blood. Yes, it’s a theatrical—or, I suppose, a cinematic—device. I don’t like it—but I do like the rest!

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