Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

In theaters.

Mysteries—everything from detective stories to police procedurals to tales of random people stumbling upon crimes—have been a guilty pleasure of mine for years, but serial killers have always been my least favorite type of subject. They don’t interest me because their motives are all but incomprehensible. They’re not functioning as normal people. Every fictional serial killer (I can’t pretend to know anything about the real ones) lives in his own universe, with obscure, arbitrary rules that don’t make much sense from the outside. In short, a serial killer is crazy, and his madness bores me.

I mention this because, intellectually, I don’t think Sweeney Todd is a bad musical or a bad movie, but emotionally, it leaves me so unmoved, so indifferent, that I giggled through half the film. Maybe Johnny Depp’s performance is too opaque, maybe Tim Burton’s direction is too garishly gothic, but to be fair, maybe it’s just me.

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Ten episodes into the second season. Appears on CBC television but also (more relevant to me) in many corners of the Internet.

Lying home on the couch, coughing and wheezing and sulking, I ran out of TV shows recorded on the TiVo. I didn’t really have the attention span for a movie, so I started foraging on the Internet for something to entertain me and eventually stumbled across Little Mosque on the Prairie. I’d read about the Canadian sitcom when it made its debut a year ago, so I decided to check it out.

As the name implies, Little Mosque on the Prairie is groundbreaking! daring! and radical! in that it portrays a Muslim community living in small-town Saskatchewan. The little mosque is led by Amaar (Zaib Shaikh), a handsome young lawyer-turned-imam from the big city of Toronto. Amaar’s relatively progressive approach to Islam puts him at odds with the congregation’s former imam, Baber (Manoj Sood), a more traditional character, but Rayyan (Sittara Hewitt), a beautiful young woman who is both devoted to her faith and committed to feminist principles, hopes that Amaar will be the one to lead her small community into modernity.

There are other characters—Rayyan’s more secular father, her convert mother, Baber’s rebellious teenage daughter, to name a few—but that initial sketch should make one thing clear: Despite all the attention about Little Mosque being groundbreaking! daring! and radical!, it’s actually a very conventional sitcom. Would it surprise you to know that Amaar and Rayyan share an unspoken, unacknowledged attraction to each other? Would you be shocked to learn that, despite his gruff, reactionary tendencies, Baber is a devoted father who truly only wants his daughter to be happy? Or that the small-town locals are somewhat suspicious of Amaar’s big-city background?

Infernal Affairs and The Departed

Both on DVD.

I didn’t see Infernal Affairs in the theater—few Americans did; it played for a matter of days on just a handful of screens nationwide, no doubt to fulfill contractual demands connected to the purchase of remake rights—but I read about the Hong Kong thriller, Netflixed it as soon as it became available on DVD, and absolutely loved it. The smart, relentless plot, the exquisitely crafted parallels, the powerful central performances—it was already great, and I cringed to think of it being remade.

So when that remake, The Departed, came out in theaters last year, I ignored it, despite its great cast, despite the good reviews, and despite the fact that Martin Scorsese had directed it. Seeing The Departed, I feared, would be a betrayal of Infernal Affairs, which I already served as an overeager missionary. (“Ignore the DVD case! I know it’s cheesy, but it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the movie. Which is great! Tony Leung! You saw Hero, right? No? Well, he’s amazing. And everything intertwines so perfectly. It’s so much fun! Really! So you want to borrow it? Oh, The Bourne Identity? Well, yeah, that’s fun, too, of course, but it’s on TV all the time. You sure you don’t want to watch Infernal Affairs instead?”)

But TiVo recently recorded The Departed on its own, and I came down with a miserable cold (which, incidentally, is why it’s taking me so long to get anything written), and I thought, what the hell. It’s Martin Scorsese. Infernal Affairs will understand.

And now I’m torn. Having seen the American remake and revisited the Hong Kong original, I have to admit that The Departed is sleeker and more polished that Infernal Affairs. (To be fair, few directors can go toe-to-toe with Scorsese.) But just as back-to-back viewing forced me to face some of the flaws of my beloved cops-and-criminals flick, it also illuminated some of the original’s strengths.


In theaters.

I wanted to love Juno. You don’t see that many movies with a young female protagonist, particularly one who isn’t monomaniacally obsessed with boys, and this one has such an appealing cast, such promise. I wanted to love it, and I didn’t. Even setting aside the hype, Juno is a disappointment.

A Chanticleer Christmas

Chanticleer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday, December 5.

I like evergreens and Tiny Tim and jolly, red-suited men as much as the next person, but nothing puts me in the joy-to-the-world, God-bless-us-every-one spirit like Christmas music—not the junky Santa Claus stuff but the real carols, simple and candid and tender. That’s why I didn’t mind that the tickets to Chanticleer’s Christmas program were something of a splurge. I love the choir, of course, but I was also excited about the chance to feel Christmassy, for lack of a better word.

Chávez’s Sinfonia india, Dvorák’s Violin Concerto in A Minor, and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5

The New York Philharmonic on Saturday, December 1.

Gustavo Dudamel is younger than me. I couldn’t help but think that as I watched the twenty-six-year-old Venezuelan wunderkind lead the New York Philharmonic as guest conductor. I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I’m not particularly ambitious, however much I might think I ought to be, so people like Dudamel fascinate me.

To succeed so spectacularly at such a young age, surely you must have always known what you wanted to do with your life and pursued it single-mindedly, never slowing, never veering off course, never even questioning your direction. Such a course seems terrifying to me, but if that is indeed how Dudamel has led his life, it obviously has worked for him. The skill, self-assurance, artistry, and joy with which he conducted the Philharmonic musicians, some of whom have been members of the orchestra for longer than he has been alive, were nothing short of dazzling. Expectations for the concert were astronomical (the media breathlessly reported that Dudamel had been lent one of the legendary Leonard Bernstein’s batons for the occasion), and he didn’t disappoint. Led by Dudamel, the Philharmonic delivered one of the best performances I’ve ever heard from that orchestra.