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“Sweeney Todd.”

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"These are desperate times. And desperate measures are called for."
"There’s no place like London!" trills young sailor Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) at the outset of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." And maybe there isn’t, but it does have its cinematic predecessors. Pile the dankest, dreariest sections of Gotham City, Sleepy Hollow and the town that houses the Wonka chocolate factory together, strip away any colors and scatter lowlifes, prostitutes and beggars on the street corners, and you have what the title character of Stephen Sondheim’s musical describes as "a hole in the world like a great black pit," and the setting of director Tim Burton’s goth apotheosis. His able adaptation of "Sweeney Todd" isn’t just dark — it is black on black (with, okay,
generous splashes of red), in look and in spirit, to the extent that
it’s not so much a return to form for Burton as a step beyond what was
once his usual. In the film, the sky never gets lighter than a chill grey, uniformly hideous
aging wallpaper recoils from the corners of ill-lit rooms, people are arrayed
in pallors ranging from chalky to bluish — and the things they do to each other! Orphan abuse, rape, murder, cannibalism — the wicked are punished, and the wronged are punished, and it’s just what they deserve for being around.

It’s all in line with Sondheim’s gloriously Grand Guignol musical, which Burton and writer John Logan have done a workable job of abbreviating for screen (the most notable excision is the prologue, "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd"). The barber Todd, born Benjamin Barker and played by Johnny Depp, returns to London after years of exile for a crime he didn’t commit, bent on finding his wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) and now grown child (Jayne Wisener) and taking his revenge on Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), the man responsible for framing him. When this doesn’t work out, he instead sets himself up above Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shop, shaving throats or slitting them to provide his partner with filling for her pastries. "Sweeney Todd" is very much a musical, with songs bridged by dialogue that’s often also sung, and it’s unapologetic about the fact save that its leads aren’t really singers. Depp acquits himself fine, with a bit of the 80s rock star to his voice, but Bonham Carter has to speak sing her way through. Alan Rickman is good as the licentious Judge Turpin, but child actor Ed Sanders, playing the urchin Toby, is so much noticeably better than the rest of the cast that the contrast can be jarring. Mostly it doesn’t matter, because "Sweeney Todd" isn’t shot like a musical — it doesn’t stop and pull back for its big numbers; the singing, varied as it is, is folded matter-of-factly in with the rest of the action.

"Sweeney Todd" manages to hum devilishly along, skimming through the side story of the earnest lovers (who are, in their whey-faced way, creepier than anyone else in the universe of the film) and slipping in some nasty visual jokes involving the assisted sharpening of a razor and another a group of women in an asylum. The slaughter, when it begins, is unflinchingly disgusting, gouts of blood spurting through the air, the tenth throat slit given no less attention than the first. (Between this, "Eastern Promises" and "We Own The Night," it’s been a big year for the carotid artery on screen.)

Still, strange as it seems for what should be a heaven-made match of director and material, there’s a note of discomfort to the film that grows as the ghoulish humor finally drops away. Burton’s always been one for the outcast exterior and the cuddly interior — as his films have become more mainstream, more stylistically impressive and less emotionally engaged, his continued attachment to the sentimental has seemed ever more forced, which is why plenty of people, ourselves included, rebelled at the gooeyness of "Big Fish" and the explanatory unhappy childhood invented for Willie Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." There’s no space at all for softness in the latter part of "Sweeney Todd," and as a result the film seems a little lost, uncertain in what, to avoid spoilers, we’ll leave as a very unhappy ending. In the same vein, the film flubs what might have been its most twistedly poignant segment for an easy joke. As Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett sings "By the Sea," imagining a blissful retirement with her violent love in a coast town somewhere, we’re treated to a serious of "Scissorhands"-bright scenarios in which, to reinforce their unlikelihood, Depp’s Todd glowers and pays her no mind as she leads them on a picnic, a walk along the pier and a day on the beach. It’s funny, but it takes away from the fact that Mrs. Lovett, who, in her terrifying practicality is really more of a monster than Todd, is also expressing the most relatable and sadly deluded human yearnings you get in the whole film. Now that — that is really fucked up.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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