Tuesday, 30 October 2007

review: ratatouille (brad bird, 2007)

If there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that Ratatouille comfortably places Brad Bird in the position of being unquestionably the greatest auteur of mainstream Hollywood entertainment since Tim Burton in his heyday. The Iron Giant (1999) and The Incredibles (2004) already demonstrated a genius at work, a talent that could infuse the familiar formula of the family-oriented animated film with genuine warmth and love (as in The Iron Giant), or ambitiously broaden the horizons of Hollywood animation (as in The Incredibles). With Ratatouille, his best film to date (and also Pixar's), he has retained and expanded on these tendencies, creating a dazzling, heartfelt spectacle that's as moving as it is entertaining.

Like The Incredibles before it, Ratatouille steadfastly refuses to fall into either of the two rigid categories that typically define and limit American animated features - the Disney-esque musical fable, or the Shrek-style, pop-culture-referencing, postmodern pastiche. Ratatouille proves, again, that an animated film doesn't have to be exclusively sappy or played entirely for laughs (though there are also plenty of laughs) - it can take itself seriously and aim for genuine emotion. We know this, of course - Hayao Miyazaki, for one, has been proving this for close to three decades - but such reminders are rare in Hollywood blockbusters, and Ratatouille displays a new level of maturity even for Pixar (while resoundingly putting to rest the disappointment of Cars (2006)). Indeed, between this and what we've seen of Wall-E (to be released next year), one has to wonder if Pixar have entered an era of increased aesthetic ambition and risk-taking.

Ratatouille is still, of course, a resoundingly entertaining and endearing adventure that will
enrapture children and anyone with a youthful spirit. And, even on this level, it is remarkable, demonstrating a fluid and breathlessly inventive visuality capable of sublime beauty and inspired visual gags (often in the same frame), sometimes exploding into Chuck Jones-esque slapstick chases. But there is more to it than that. Even on a cursory viewing, Ratatouille reveals itself to be a film not about rats, or food, but about Art (most emphatically capitalized). Remy the rat is a kitchen Mozart cooking up a culinary symphony (the musical analogy is made concrete with the kynaesthetic bursts of colour accompanying his awakening to his sense of taste), and what he yearns for is a beauty that will lift him from his bestial, mundane existence.

Bird's film makes an affecting, stirring case for the transcendental power of Art and beauty, while almost Romantically celebrating the individual genius of the artist capable of such beauty. In a measure of the film's intelligence, however, Bird does not simplify these ideas - the desire for beauty and the dream of personal ambition and fulfillment of the genius come into credible conflict with pragmatism and the voices of family tradition - a conflict that is not painted in black and white, but that creates genuine characters arguing understandable positions.

Neither does Bird shy away from tackling the accusations of elitism that have been fielded against the Romantic idea of the artist as the individual genius. On the contrary, he brings the debate explicitly centre-stage throughout the film, mostly through the musings of the superbly realized, quasi-vampiric critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole). Again, as in The Incredibles, Bird argues for exceptional individuals to be allowed to flower and share their talents for the benefit of humanity, but here he emphasizes that this great talent can be present in anyone. There can be no lower lower-class than the rat, yet that is where genius is found; while Linguini, culinary nobility by blood, is entirely, almost defiantly, talentless.

Little else can be said in conclusion. Ratatouille is a joy that has exceeded expectations; Pixar's best, one of the highlights of the year, and a confirmation of Brad Bird as a great artist to be noticed.

joyous news: a new malick film is on the way

The title says it all, really. Terrence Malick's long-rumoured fifth film, Tree of Life, is now official, with Sean Penn and Heath Ledger the first to be cast.

Not much is known about the plot, yet - rumours about it somehow involving a minotaur at the beginning of time dreaming the universe are great, but apparently unfounded - but surely all that matters is that we are getting another Malick film. I'm sure I've bored many of my friends to death talking about Malick, especially earlier this year when I was writing my Bachelor's dissertation on The Thin Red Line and The New World, but he is in the very highest pantheon of filmmakers, at least by my accounting (along with Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Lynch, Miyazaki and Kubrick), and a new Malick film is definitely a Big Event.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

classic image (halloween special): the texas chainsaw massacre (tobe hooper, 1974)

What is it about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that makes it so terrifying? You must understand that this is coming from someone who has never been impressed, on pretty much any level, by any other slasher film. But something sets TCM apart. I feel it is, perhaps, better even than its cult reputation would have it. There are more intellectually nuanced and aesthetically richer horror films, but none, even today, that come close to achieving its raw, unrelenting, brutal terror. At the most basic, primal, lizard-brain survival instinct level, TCM remains the ultimate horror film.

And yet, the question again. What is it that makes it so terrifying? Why does it succeed where so many hundreds of films that have followed in its footsteps (including its 2003 remake) have, to varying degrees, failed? The most obvious answers are the superficial ones - the technical mastery that allowed director Tobe Hooper and his crew to create, on a shoestring budget, a film of frequently astounding cinematography and editing work; and, on an entertainment level, the relentless, unbroken, breathless tension with which the film is invested.

There are deeper reasons, however. I have already touched upon one in the opening paragraph, and that is its very rawness and bloody-mindedness. There is no polish or gloss to dress up or soften the blow of its subject matter (which is not to say there is no craft in its making, for, as I have already said, there is plenty); it is direct, matter-of-fact and utterly unadorned. Its violence is not intellectualized, or aestheticized, nor is it shied away from in the least; it is not glorified, gloated in or watered down. It is violence, pure and simple, it's ugly, and it feels real. Few other horror films leave one with such an acute awareness of the physicality, the flesh and blood, of human existence, and its fragility.

Another reason for the film's unique effect, I feel, lies in the story itself, and its thematic implications. Unlike other slasher films, TCM doesn't have a killer as an intruder into an ordered, safe world. It inverts the situation: the victims are trapped in an insane, almost alien world where the killer is "normal". This is a world of decay, corruption and death, a nightmare landscape of dilapidated colonial mansions, bones, grime and blood, populated by equally decayed, disfigured, barely-human figures. More than that, this is a place where the securities and laws of civilization have been peeled away - even the local sheriff is in league with the killer.
Civilization here has died and rotted long ago; furniture is made out of bones, while tools and other relics from the outer world are broken down and used to make seemingly pointless sculptures, as if their use has been entirely forgotten. This is an atavistic descent into primal, animalistic, hunter-gatherer humanity, stripped of all intellectual or spiritual pretensions, defined solely by the struggle for survival and the search for food.

And this, finally, is what makes TCM so unnervingly terrifying, even on repeat viewings when you know exactly what will happen - it is an almost unbearably nihilistic vision of "pure" humanity, stripped of social mores and obligations, as a grotesque, horrific, violent animal, living among the remains of its victims. We may begrudge it the countless insipid slasher films it helped spawn, but it is enough of an achievement not to be in any way lessened by the legions that, in reconstructing its elements, failed to come even close.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

classic image (halloween special): dellamorte dellamore (michele soavi, 1994) and santa sangre (alejandro jodorowsky, 1989)

So it's the month of Halloween and, predictably, I'm writing an article about horror films. Since I'm sure your DVD store's copy of The Exorcist is currently sitting there in dread, awaiting what is possibly its millionth Halloween DVD night, I thought I’d rather submit a post that’s a little more off-beat…

Even within the context of cult cinema itself--which is already a contest of the bizarre--let alone in the context of mainstream horror, Dellamorte Dellamore and Santa Sangre are two beautiful, shiny gem-like red herrings. Now these two films aren't exactly what might unanimously be agreed to demonstrate the pinnacle of aesthetic sublimity, and yet they are challenging films in their own right, tinged with a peculiar visual style and mood that defies the strict categorisation imposed by genre and imbued with a seemingly incompatible yet effective blend of genuine Romanticism and self-reflexive irony.

Based on Tiziano Sclavi's Dylan Dog graphic novel series, director Michele Soavi's odd-ball anomaly of a film Dellamorte Dellamore is set for the most part within the confines of an Italian small-town cemetary and chronicles the social isolation of the protagonist, the pretentiously and dramatically titled Francesco Dellamorte, surprisingly played by well-known actor Rupert Everett (who apparently inspired Sclavi's original protagonist). Francesco spends his life casually observing the lives of others turn to dust while he goes about his routine job as Buffalora's local cemetery keeper with only his naïve, mute hunchback sidekick Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) for company. That is, until in the tradition of most films set in cemeteries, the dead start rising from the grave and walking around in a hilarious parody of their former breathing selves and a beautiful young widow known only as 'She' (Anna Falchi) catches Francesco's eye and goes through a series of reincarnations.

The fascinating thing about Dellamorte Dellamore is its fine balance between erotic horror thriller, black comedy, social satire and serious meditative drama. Now I'm aware that these claims may sound suspicious as such descriptions are often used in defense of many a mediocre pornographic B-movie disguising itself as something more. However, it is definitely not the case with this movie, which transcends the limitations of its low budget via Soavi's highly aesthetic eye. As Dario Argento's protégé, Soavi's visual style is clearly influenced by the well-known Italian cult director, yet he succeeds in creating his own unique mood which imbues scenes with a melancholy and eerie beauty that tones down Argento's savage style and makes way for a tone which is more aligned with Francesco's Romantic mind-set. Yet the film also often reflects ironically upon itself, and we begin to intuit that Francesco's narcissistic isolation within the almost dream-like feel created by cinematographer Mauro Marchetti is a cover for his need to strike out at a less-than-ideal society. Still, the quiet and contemplative figure of Francesco strolling through an autumn-tinged daylight world and a misty night time within set designer Massimo Antonello Gelleng's stylized and lavishly designed sets is always more appealing to the viewer than the drab town outside its gates-- one populated by neurotic, fluttering politicians and an array of ridiculous yapping caricatures…..“The more they laugh, the further away they seem. You can never be too different, Gnaghi”, bemuses Francesco as he condescendingly ignores the (false) rumours surrounding his alleged impotence running through the ears of the vulgar town's folk.

The movie is essentially composed of purely cult humour which rather than being camp itself, possesses an intuitively camp sensibility. Combine this factor with scenes which are pretentiously artistic in their visual approach and you have Dellamorte Dellamore, an odd mixture of philosophical ruminations about life and death captured in highly quotable one-liners such as “I'd give my life to be dead”, a bizarre necrophilic yet naïve love affair between a re-animated disembodied head and Gnaghi, fire-flies hanging upon visible strings and an apparition of the Angel of Death composed of pages from a burning phonebook! The film is a feast for those, who like myself, are enamoured of down-right insanity of plot, yet in terms of linearity the film for the most part avoids the often over-convoluted nature of scripts such as those of Argento's Profondo Rosso (1975). It in fact strives for a more 'lovably-evil' vibe than the down-right psychotically malign, while still not falling in line with the purely parodic mood of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series (1981, 1987, 1992). Dellamorte Dellamore in general spins a unique mood of its own, which combined with the seductively misfit-like performance of Everett in this lesser-known role, possesses a charm which is hard to resist from the initial visually gorgeous Argento-style shot right up to the strange and original ending. My only warning applies to the dub: although the movie is officially dubbed in both English and Italian without specifying an original language, I still highly recommend the Italian dub since the only character which doesn't possess a shrill cringe-worthy voice on the English version is Francesco. Moreover, the script is in most instances more effective in Italian in terms of both depth and irony.

In comparison, Santa Sangre is probably even less accessible to anyone who doesn't already share an appreciation of movies that are well, basically, just plain weird! Alejandro Jodorowsky's film, which is probably a red herring in any imaginable context, requires the imagination to work a little harder since despite its intriguing nature, the production clearly plays out in a sequence of highly ambitious ideas which are way beyond its budget. In spite of this, or perhaps precisely for this reason, Santa Sangre holds a fascinating edge which you don't come across everyday.

Following the psychological deterioration of the young Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) after he undergoes a series of childhood traumas within the grounds of his father's circus and his mother's fanatical religious cult, the film unfolds in a line up of seemingly random scenes featuring eccentric characters, tormented personal visions containing brutal religious imagery and a unique twist on the cinematically over-used Oedipus complex. In this way the film deals heavily with a Romanticised vision of the isolated madman figure, and the hardships of social rejection continue to be raised through several minor characters such as the melancholy circus clowns, who unlike Fenix, carry their outcast nature externally. In the meantime, selfish characters in the film often seem to fetishize each other's social or physical differences for their own ends. The film seems pretty obsessed with its inventory of the unusual and among the members of this list feature a muscular, completely tattooed woman with a relentless bent for power through her self-imposed shocking appearance and an ever-suffering mute ballerina with pierrette-style make-up.

With its highly baroque style and imagery as well as its erratic tone--which switches between camp, serious drama and melodrama--the only thing which I have been able to compare its style to is not a film, but a novel. In terms of visuals and instances of mood, the movie does in fact bear a striking resemblance to Angela Carter's eccentric novel Nights at the Circus (1984), although the film often seems to act as a tribute to more than one popular source of influence. A clear example is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek scene where Fenix enacts the concoction of an invisibility potion in what is obviously a tribute to James Whale's classic film adaptation, The Invisible Man (1933). However, throughout the film we sense the poignancy of even the most seemingly random scenes, and as Fenix's quest for invisibility continues to demonstrate his descent into the status of non-entity at the mercy of the figure of his over-bearing mother, this sequence becomes increasingly significant.

Any viewer's reception of Santa Sangre is bound to be mixed since apart from the mesmerising insanity which looms over the film as a whole, one other question remains surrounding it: is this movie camp or is it perfectly aware of the limitations of its budget and its sometimes painfully bad performances? Surely, the decision to have Spanish actors simply learn their lines by rote to appeal to an English-speaking audience has something to do with the often cringingly bad delivery of dialogue, though in the brief scenes where a transvestite wrestler mimes lines to what is obviously a mousy woman's voice recorded on a different track, then there is clearly something more going on behind the scenes. My guess is that Santa Sangre is quite self-consciously displaying its penchant towards happily non-mainstream film-making without being predictably or traditionally controversial.

And in any case, it is probably impossible for such movies to cause any level of controversy since they are so seldom given any attention or understood according to their own particular context, for it is clear that there are some movements or film-scenes which work on a very different wavelength in terms of mood, humour and over-all philosophy of style. This last comment of mine is however not meant in complaint to what may be understood as a general under-appreciation or dismissal of certain cult-appeal films, but rather a relieved reflection on the factors which allow this kind of underdog film-making to continue wheeling around its disturbing little treats even amidst the cynical laughter of the cool kids.

Monday, 15 October 2007

r.i.p. rudolf arnheim

I have just learnt (through Cinematical) of the death, last June, of Rudolf Arnheim (1904-2007), one of the greatest and most important of film theorists. Though there is much to criticize in his theories (as Noel Carroll demonstrates so eloquently in Philosophical Problems of Classical Film Theory), it is undeniable that his early contributions to the academic field of film studies was instrumental in the development of the understanding of film as a new and valuable art form.

Despite the flaws in his arguments, and a certain narrowness in his vision (he continued to criticize the sound film as a dilution of the purity of silent cinema), the ideas expressed in his seminal work Film als Kunst (1932) are still endlessly valuable in understanding the cinematic art. Locating the value of film in the specific ways in which it diverges from the mechanical, photographic recording of reality (and thus emphasizing the inherent artifice, rather than the realist aspect, of fimmaking), he outlined these specific divergences as being the cause of film's expressive power, thus paving the way for much formalist analysis of the medium. He remains one of the greatest and most important theorists of this still-young medium.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

plug: the looney tunes appreciation blog

There can be little argument on the fact that the Looney Tunes, in their heyday, represent the pinnacle of the animated short. We all have our childhood memories of them; the joy comes in returning to them as adults and discovering levels of intelligence and humour you'd never have picked up on before. There can be no greater testament to their enduring genius than the fact that they have surived, untarnished, through decades of Warner Brothers' most valiant attempts to ruin them forever.

But, to the point. A friend of mine has just set up the Looney Tunes Appreciation Blog, a project in which he aims to watch and review one Looney Tunes short per day. It's a worthy enterprise that deserves some attention, so go there.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

review: the proposition (john hillcoat, 2006)

"Australia...what fresh hell is this?"

Standing in the gruesome aftermath of a desperate and frantic gunfight that opens the film in media res, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) looks out at the sweltering, barren landscape of the Australian outback in near-desperation, and anachronistically quotes Dorothy Parker. Later in the film, bounty hunter Jellon Lamb (John Hurt) remarks how all the God has evaporated out of him in this "godforsaken land". The harsh Australian landscape, dusty, bleached, buzzing with flies, endless, mocks Captain Stanley and his repeated platitudes that he will "civilize this land". It mocks the little rose garden his wife (Emily Watson) tends in front of their house, demarcated by a ridiculously out-of-place white picket fence from the vast sea of sand and rock that surrounds it.

The traditional Western dichotomy between the wilderness and the encroaching garden of civilization is present and accounted for, but this is neither a throwback to the classic Western, glorifying the settlers and their work, nor is it a revisionist recasting of the settlers as corrupt spearheads of capitalism, destroying the natural landscape and all it stands for. Here, the wilderness is savage, empty, and so cosmically indifferent to the figures within it that any delusions of taming it are laughable.

1880s Australia in
The Proposition is a vision of hell, a godless, amoral wasteland in which all attempts at civility and civilization seem woefully inadequate. This land - which director John Hillcoat rightly places in the foreground of the film, somehow making sweeping, empty landscapes seem stifling and claustrophobic - is a land of dust, flesh and blood, a place where a man can have little pretentions of being anything other than a beast, and where any sort of morality seems an exercise in futility. Watson's Martha Stanley,a gentle, composed, seemingly upper-class woman, seems, together with the class and domestic values she represents, utterly out of place here.

Here, justice becomes an elastic concept; the word is much bandied about but no-one seems to agree on what it means or how it should be enforced. Captain Stanley, who, despite a distinct roughness, at least possesses some degree of compassion, is the only person willing to look beyond an especially vicious eye-for-an-eye philosophy; but even this slight hint of morality seems like a hopeless match struck in an ocean of darkness.

Nick Cave's voice is clearly evident in the screenplay (he also contributes an unsurprisingly excellent but surprisingly understated score), in its blend of low, casual vulgarity and violence, and high seriousness. There is the distinct hint of Old Testament fire and brimstone coursing through every line of dialogue, resounding with an elaborate but unforced, dramatic theatricality that is entirely appropriate to this resolutely expressionist, despite its dusty grittiness, film. Hillcoat translates the copious acts of violence in the script primarily through effective suggestion and detail - blood being strained from a whip, and so on - though there is one glaring, and memorable, exception (you'll know it when you see it).

The hint of Abel and Cain haunts the central narrative, of Charles Burns (Guy Pearce), the middle brother of a three-sibling outlaw gang, forced to choose between hunting down his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston) or letting his younger brother Mike (Richard Wilson) be hanged. There are also echoes of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (and Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979)), with Arthur seeming to have become a kind of Kurtz figure, a near-godlike legend who has absorbed the spirit of the land.

This is a rich film unafraid to tackle the big themes - family, morality, justice, atonement. But, despite Hillcoat's and Cave's considerable talents, the film would not have worked as well as it does without the contributions of a truly remarkable cast. It is difficult to pick a standout, since all the principal players - Winstone, Pearce, Huston, Watson, Hurt - deliver perfectly-judged performances, from Hurt's histrionic grandstanding, to Watson's understated, restrained turn, to Pearce's ragged, conflicted introversion. Their performances prove crucial, for despite the loftiness of its themes, The Proposition's ideas are expressed through the conflicts and relationships that tie its characters together; the family bonds that link the Burns brothers, Captain Stanley's troubled but affectionate relationship with his wife, his subordinates' flagging trust in his authority, the pact, if there is one at all, between Captain Stanley and Charles Burns; and the crux of the film lies in the way all these relationships come under strain, often violently, as all the characters attempt to follow their own twisted moral compass in a godless, spiritually and materially arid land.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

review: inland empire (david lynch, 2006)

What to say about a film that so determinedly places itself in opposition to rationalization, to logical thought, to being pinned down or reduced into any logical schema? David Lynch's Inland Empire, even by Lynch's standards, is a film that absolutely cannot be reduced to its narrative elements or summed up in a plot outline.

It is, more than any film of his career, or, indeed, than any major film of the last few years, a film of pure images and atmosphere. The transition to DV has suited Lynch well; though the glossy, hyper-real saturation of Mulholland Drive (2001) is lost, the grimy, murky look we gain, all overexposed highlights and dark, grainy shadows, suits the film perfectly - it is difficult to imagine Inland Empire shot on traditional film. Lynch isn't the first major film-maker to switch to video, but none have made the switch so comprehensively, so acutely aware of the possibilities created by the change in medium.

So what is Inland Empire? At its core, it is a labyrinthine descent into an individual and a collective subconscious, a dense, interlocking web of images and stories, a claustrophobic and frequently outright terrifying inner journey into the darker corners of everyday domestic life and the psychic imprints they leave behind.

Having said all this, there is a sort of narrative sense, though the pieces can only begin to fit together once you accept that multiple levels of consciousness and reality are being intercut, and that not every image is to be taken literally, and that the connections are more often emotional, metaphorical or psychoanalytical than logical.

The most obvious story thread is that of actress Nikki Grace (played with terrifying intensity by Laura Dern), a has-been star who is given a role that could put her career back on track. There are complications - an affair with her co-star brings down the wrath of her jealous husband, mirroring the plot of the film under production; while the cast learn that the film is based on a Polish folk tale that is said to be cursed - an earlier attempt to film the story was abandoned when the leads were murdered.

(it is probably not a good idea to read the next couple of paragraphs if you haven't seen the film, especially if you feel it's important to reach your own interpretation first)

There is much more to it than this story, however. Besides Nikki's story, the film is also that of the unnamed woman we see at the start, crying as she watches television. Just like Nikki herself as well as her character in the film, she is trapped in the "old story", the record playing over and over, of desperate marital unhappiness, in whatever form - infidelity, jealousy, abuse, violence, abandonment. The myriad interlocking and overlapping stories that surface and disappear in the swirling mass of Inland Empire orbit this theme, with the endless, hypnotic repetition of images, lines of dialogue and characters all trapped in the same endless drama.

Seeking solace in the television, she finds it (among the pop-culture detritus TV images) in the film (or possibly more than one film) Nikki took part in. Nikki, in confronting and overcoming the demons in her own subconscious, her own "inland empire", while making the film, made it possible for other women, through the stories, to do the same, such that at the end of the film, the unnamed woman is able to welcome her husband back and find happiness. The film, then, is a journey simultaneously into the collective subconscious and into that of two particular women, the actress whose delving into her own subconscious allows for the creation of the stories that are released into the collective consciousness that helps the other woman, the viewer, to overcome her own demons. It is an expansive inner epic in which Lynch explores not only the theme of female oppression - as revealed by the film's subtitle, "A Woman in Trouble" - but also the power of stories and storytelling, and the relationship between the collective and the individual consciousness.

(end "spoilers")

What Inland Empire definitely is, is Lynch unleashed, Lynch redux, Lynch freed completely and totally from any commercial pressures and allowed to go as far down his own rabbit hole as he wishes. The math is simple - if you've enjoyed or appreciated Lynch's previous descents into the subconscious, particularly the fractured psychological dreamscapes of Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001), then you will love this. If you didn't, then this might provide you with the most excruciating three hours you'll ever spend with a film. It isn't for everyone, and that isn't meant as a damning either of the film or of the people it isn't for. It is what it is.

In distilling his vision into its purest, most individual form, and painting it over his largest canvas yet, Lynch has created something that feels distinctly like his Big Statement. I am less eager to label it the apex of Lynch's career than some other critics have been, but that is a testament to the quality of his back catalogue, not in any way a denigration of this film. Inland Empire is another masterpiece, a staggering, frequently jaw-dropping work of pure cinema, an intense collection of gorgeous and terrifying images, a densely layered meditation on consciousness, gender, oppression and the relationship between the artist and their audience. It is a landmark film that offers further confirmation, if any were needed, that Lynch is a cinematic genius with very few equals.

Friday, 5 October 2007

trailer: sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street

I consider myself a big Tim Burton geek (and Lara is an even bigger fan), but even I have to admit that, despite how welcome The Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (both 2005) were after the disappointments of Planet of the Apes (2001) and Big Fish (2003), the last truly great Burton film was 1999's Sleepy Hollow. The question, of course, is where Sweeney Todd will fall - will it be another Planet of the Apes-style disaster, a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style solid crowdpleaser, or the long-awaited next Burton masterpiece?

This trailer suggests he's got the visuals down - the film's highly stylized Victorian London looks stunning, but, then again, we don't expect anything less from a Burton film. The cast, featuring Alan Rickman, Sacha Baron Cohen and Timothy Spall alongside the inevitable Burton fixtures of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, promises greatness, and, though the trailer only gives us a brief hint of song, Burton has demonstrated enough flair with darkly comic song-and-dance numbers in the past to earn my trust. Allow me to be cautiously optimistic, and to look forward to this immensely.