DVD Tuesday: ‘Sweeney Todd’, ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’

by W. Andrew Powell

Sweeney Todd
Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd

This week we have what you might call a slow week in new DVD releases, with just two notable films arriving in stores. On the one hand you have the creepy, menacing, and bloody Sweeney Todd, with Johnny Depp starring as the man with the straight razor himself. For those of you not looking for a film about jugular-splitting revenge, Alvin and the Chipmunks also arrives this week, although you might wish Mr. Todd was paying you a visit if sticky-sweet remakes aren’t your thing.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Give the man a hand, he’s finally done it.

Tim Burton has been making feature-length films since the mid-1980s but they all pale in comparison to the epic, and incredibly dark, Sweeney Todd.

Based on Stephen Sondheim‘s musical, which has been ingeniously realized through Burton’s macabre vision, the film stars Johnny Depp as the unhinged Sweeney Todd. Or rather, Depp plays Benjamin Barker, who has come back to London under the guise of Sweeney Todd to seek revenge against Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who had Barker imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.

Turpin was after Barker’s wife, who would not be wooed by the judge, and poisoned herself. Turpin did manage however to take Barker’s daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener), who is now all grown and imprisoned in the judge’s home.

On making his way back to his former home, Benjamin meets the pastry cook Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and tells her that he has come back to seek revenge against Turpin and his associate, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall). Together, the two come up with a plan to lure Turpin and Bamford to Sweeney’s barber shop where the plan is to cut their throats and hide the bodies… in Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies.

Obviously, this is what you would call a very dark, and grim story, and it is a horror film as much as anything else, with numerous bodies piling up in Mrs. Lovett’s basement. While that means it may not be to everyone’s tastes, it is still a remarkable film with great performances, music, and style. Depp is perfect as this aching, troubled character (surprise), and uses his charm to make you love and hate Sweeney Todd in nearly equal measure.

Alvin and the Chipmunks
For the kids this week, and really no one else, Alvin and his chipmunk friends try to claw back the years with an update of these musical rodents we have happily not had to listen to for at least a decade.

Alvin and the Chipmunks places Jason Lee in the role of Dave Seville, a practically out-of-work songwriter who finds his lucky break when our trio of computer animated critters leaps into his life. As the chipmunks rise to fame, they of course wreak havock on Dave’s life, which leads to one zany scene after another.

As Andy Webster of the New York Times said in his review, “Hollywood continues its tired milking of old television properties,” although it should be said that Alvin and the Chipmunks was never much more than a gimmicky concept to begin with. When you aim a film like this at kids, the intelligence of the film quickly become a non-issue because all they will want to see is the crazy chipmunks and their exploits. Adults will not want to sit through it, but if you have already exhausted your entertainment options, at least on DVD, you can plant your kids in front of the TV and let them enjoy the antics.

There is however no replacement for smart, and funny films that kids can also enjoy, like Pixar’s fantastic Finding Nemo. By comparison, if Finding Nemo is a respectable meal that’s rich in vitamins and somewhat healthy for you and your kids, Alvin and the Chipmunks is a deep-fried chocolate bar in a styrofoam container, with a clown on the wrapper, and a cheap toy in every bag.

Television arriving this week on DVD…

The eighth season of Murder, She Wrote brings Angela Lansbury back to the role of Jessica Fletcher, the mystery-writer turned crime solver who lives in a small town in Maine. You would hardly expect so much murder and crime in such a small place, but the show certainly served lots of both during its twelve seasons on air.

Also arriving in its eighth season is That 70’s Show starring Topher Grace, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson, and Laura Prepon, just to name a few. Following a group of teenagers living in Wisconsin during the late 70s, the show has been a huge hit and was one of the biggest scripted shows on the air during its peak years.

And lastly, season one of Becker arrives this week with Ted Danson starring as the strange and easily annoyed Dr. John Becker. Perhaps not as brilliant as Danson’s role in Cheers, Becker is still a funny show, especially for fans of off-beat comedies.

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