A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 461 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – June 4th, 2011

Unlike last night’s movie, I am very certain of when I first saw this one. I was visiting a friend and a friend of hers worked at a movie theater. So one evening we headed out and saw the last show of the night. There were maybe four of us in the theater and I was terribly tired but I had fun watching it. I was also quite certain that it was a movie made for a niche audience that I just happened to fit into but which would likely be on the small side. It was the cannibalism line that really hammered that home. This is a Tim Burton movie, after all, complete with mainstays Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

This is an incredibly stylized movie from start to finish. Everything about it is polished and intentional, from the angle the Bucket house is tipping to the almost plastic look everyone’s been given. There’s certainly a retro vibe going through much of the movie, but it’s a consciously retro vibe. This movie knows it’s a modern remake and revels in it. There’s a very dreamlike quality here, with the unreal makeup and the song and dance numbers, but that seems to have been Burton’s intention and I can see the purpose of it so I won’t knock it. I would assume that the reason behind it is to place the movie firmly out of our reality and into another world entirely. A make-believe place where it would be possible for a chocolatier to make bitty chocolate birds that flap their wings by putting chocolate eggs on people’s tongues. This isn’t meant to be our world. It never was. It’s a fantasy land. It’s Wonka’s reality.

I think there’s something about the match-up between Willy Wonka and Tim Burton. I can see how Burton would be drawn to the story, both because of the story itself and because of its second main character. A strange and outlandish man who makes things many people love but is regarded as a bit of a weirdo? Yeah, I’m not shocked the Burton took on this particular project. I’m not shocked at Johnny Depp’s involvement either. Wonka’s a great part for him and while it had to be difficult to walk into a role that Gene Wilder played so very well, Depp certainly made the part his own. His mannerisms, his clear aversion to physical touch, his lack of understanding of appropriate conversation. Really, I liked it. I know some people don’t, but I did. Yes, it’s over the top, but so is the whole movie.

Once again we begin with Charlie Bucket, whose impoverished family lives in squalor and subsists on cabbage water. All four grandparents spend all day every day sharing one big bed in the middle of the room and Charlie’s hopeful that some day things will change. And of course they do. This movie doesn’t spend as much time building up Wonka’s factory and the mania over the golden tickets as its predecessor did, but it does make it clear that people are worked up about it. Just not quite as much. We meet each of the other four lucky winners and Charlie does indeed find some money to buy himself some chocolate, but there just isn’t the build-up here. Because this movie isn’t focused on the buildup. The world has been set with the visuals, so it’s not as important to set it with little scenes showing how valuable Wonka bars have become. I’m a little torn on this. I really like how big a deal it is in the first movie, but that doesn’t mean the way this movie does it is bad. It’s just different.

The focus in this movie is definitely the interior of the factory and the character of Willy Wonka. And for the former I have no complaints. The interior of the factory is fantastic, full of bizarre rooms and contraptions and candies. It’s beautifully done and I think this movie benefits from modern special effects and filming tricks that simply weren’t possible in decades past. It makes Wonka’s factory seem less goofy and more unreal and impossible. The Oompa Loompas add to that, largely because they’re all played by the awesome Deep Roy, whom we’ve seen in movies before and have grown to adore. He was recorded many many times for each number, turning in hundreds of performances which were then pieced together to form hundreds of identical Oompa Loompas. Brilliantly done. The dance numbers with all the Oompa Loompas are fun and I have to admit, I like that this movie kept the music to the interior of the factory and the Oompa Loompas. It makes the musical portions that much stranger and yet also less out of place. They exist within the movie’s reality not because people randomly break into song as a general rule, but because Oompa Loompas apparently enjoy creating clever and pithy songs about the misfortunes of others. It’s like Schadenfreude: The Musical!

Having poked around a bit, I think I can safely say that when it comes to the actual events that occur to the children inside the factory, this movie is a bit more faithful than last night’s. Not that I think that’s a measure of quality one way or another (if you’ve been reading my reviews for a bit you’ll know my thoughts on book-to-movie adaptations), but I think it’s interesting. I like both versions, to be honest, but what I like a bit more here is that we get to see the kids after their misadventures in the factory. Alive and relatively well, but certainly affected by their experiences. Which I enjoy. After all, just disappearing never to be seen again is all well and good, but actually having consequences for one’s actions is even better.

Honestly, I’m finding it hard to really review the movie because I do enjoy it in spite of what I know are valid criticisms of it. Too polished, too idiosyncratic, too Tim Burton, too Johnny Depp, too dark. I can see why people would level those complaints at it and I can’t argue with them aside from saying that it’s a matter of taste. I happen to enjoy the aesthetic of the movie and I enjoy the acting. I love Freddie Highmore as Charlie and I think the rest of the children in the cast do very nicely in their roles (though I’ve always disliked the caricature that is Augustus Gloop and feel he never gets time to be a fully developed character, being the first to go once they enter the factory – it’s not his actor’s fault that he gets so little time). The parents are all fun and I love David Kelly as Grandpa Joe (who looks a hell of a lot more like my Grandpa Joe than Albertson did last night). Really, my biggest complaint is the tool they used for dramatic tension.

I really don’t enjoy the whole anti-family subplot for Wonka. Not at all. I love Wonka’s line about how he was having a flashback and oh yes, they’re happening much more frequently today! But the actual content of said flashbacks? Eh. I could have done without it. This was an attempt to give the character of Wonka some backstory and character development. He has this whole childhood trauma thing going, resulting from having a dentist for a father and having to wear horrible headgear and not getting to have candy. And I love the always fantastic Christopher Lee as his father, but I think the entire plot is unnecessary. Depp’s version of Wonka is a walking collection of personality quirks and I think he works better if that’s just how he is. It keeps him a magical figure in a magical story. To have him grow up in a rowhouse and resent being told what to do? That takes away from the mystique of him and I think it lessens the fun of the movie. That aside, however, I like the ending and I like the music and I like the acting and I like the aesthetic and I just plain enjoy the movie. It doesn’t have to be perfect for me to enjoy it and enjoy it I do.

June 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

May 4, 2011

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I’m wondering tonight if it was a mistake to watch the two chocolate factory movies back to back. You can’t help comparing and contrasting the two films. I enjoy them both, and they’re both odd movies with a strange sort of charm to them, but encouraging comparisons between them doesn’t necessarily work in favour of either movie. This movie, for example, has far cooler Oompa Loompas, but it also has an unnecessary extra character wedged into the movie that alters the tone of the whole story. This movie has access to the more advanced special effects of today and has the kind of stellar production design you’d expect from a Tim Burton movie, but it also lacks some of the charm of the first movie.

The two most distinctive features of this adaptation of the book are the very strange performance of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas, all of whom are played by ubiquitous little person actor Deep Roy, who is made even more little here through all kinds of digital trickery. That and the addition of a whole sub-plot involving Wonka’s father the dentist.

This is probably the strangest performance of Johnny Depp’s career, which is really saying something given some of the roles under his belt. Depp’s Wonka is a fay, nervous, peculiar individual. It feels to me like a performance that comes almost entirely from the false teeth. Sort of like how John Turturro created his character in O Brother Where Art Thou from his mouth full of jagged and discolored teeth, Johnny Depp here is all perfect white teeth and a strange haircut. His accent reminds me of the fake American accent used by Graham Chapman as the American tourist wife in The Meaning of Life. Very affected, clipped and awkward. It’s the nervous and almost terrified aspect of the character that really makes him completely different from Gene Wilder in yesterday’s movie. Wilder as Wonka was completely self assured, never at a loss, in command at all times. Depp as Wonka is a lost little boy in a man’s body. I very much prefer the Wilder interpretation.

On the other hand I much prefer the Oompa Loompas in this movie. Rather than hiring a number of little people to play the Loompas for this film Burton chose to hire just one and film him over and over again, compositing them all together digitally into a full chorus of sinister little people. All played by Deep Roy. Now I know this caused some consternation in the fairly insular world of little world actors, because this was potentially work for a very large cast and all went to a single over worked individual, but the end product is simply fantastic to look at. Deep Roy has such a distinctive face, and the complete seriousness with which he portrays all the Oompas is fantastic. The world of top flight super-star little person actors is fairly exclusive. I can think of only a small handful who seem to get virtually every role. Vern Troyer, Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis Kenny Baker and Deep Roy. So it shouldn’t be surprising that after watching this movie I felt like I saw Deep Roy in everything. This was the break out role, however, that really made me notice his work.

This movie is filled with familar faces and fantastic performances. Freddie Highmore, who we just watched recently in Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp, is charming and fantastic as Charlie Bucket. As Grandpa Joe we have the distinctive David Kelly who was so much fun in Waking Ned Devine. My favorite of the other children is Philip Wiegratz as Augustus Gloop. He’s so cheerful in his gluttony I kind of regretted that the movie didn’t have more of him in it.

I did not particularly enjoy the plot with Wonka’s father. I can see what it was trying to do – create a thread about how much we need our family – but it was clumsily done and I didn’t like the way it make Wonka from a mad genius into a scared and lost little boy. I feel like a traitor saying this since the role of Wonka Sr. went to Christopher Lee, the venerable Hammer Horror mainstay and owner of one of the most distinctive voices in the world, but as much as I liked seeing him in the movie I think his part made it a weaker film.

Of course since this being a Tim Burton movie it has to have a Danny Elfman score. I did appreciate that the lyrics for the songs came directly from the original book by Roald Dahl, and I liked how Elfman himself provided the singing voices for all the Oompa Loompas in the same way that Deep Roy provided all the Oompa Loompa performances. The score itself though is unspectacular. Elfman has a certain sound to him, and this score is instantly recognizable as his work. It didn’t really movie me though, which is sad.

I have to say that if I were forced to pick between the two films my preference would be for the 1971 version. I like Wilder’s Wonka better and that version just has more charm to it. This movie is more technically impressive, but it just feels like it is missing something. I would really miss Deep Roy though.

June 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment