“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: One Sweet Ride
The 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” which starred Gene Wilder, is not a particularly treasured memory of my youth, as I gather it is for many others. This may have something to do with “The Candy Man,” a song from the film, which went to #1 the following year in a version by Sammy Davis, Jr., that I hope never to hear again.
So I had no trouble approaching Tim Burton’s new movie, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” as a stand-alone creation. And it’s brilliant. It’s a gleaming, candy-colored fantasy that teems with mad invention — pink taffy gondolas plunging down chocolate-river rapids; a towering fudge mountain dotted with half-pint candy-miners; a room full of quality-control squirrels (possibly real?) industriously test-knocking nuts with their furry little knuckles. Plus a giant-mosquito attack, a miniature puppet holocaust, an alarming meal of mashed-up caterpillars flavored with “the bark of the bong-bong tree,” and, best of all, the welcome sight of several dreadful children getting their, shall we say, just desserts.
Like the earlier “Chocolate Factory” movie, “Charlie” is based on a 1964 book by the late Roald Dahl (another of whose tales, “James and the Giant Peach,” was turned into a 1996 animated feature that Tim Burton produced). The story remains essentially the same: A reclusive candy manufacturer named Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) holds a contest involving golden tickets hidden in the wrappers of five of his world-famous chocolate bars. The five children who find these tickets will be given a guided tour of the legendary Wonka chocolate factory by Willy himself.
In Burton’s movie, as in the book, the first four of these winning kids are little horrors. Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz) is a porked-out glutton. Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) is an insufferably spoiled brat. Violet Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb) is a nasty, hyper-competitive gum-chewing champion. And Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) is a mean, violent video game addict who doesn’t even like chocolate, or much of anything else. But the fifth winner is Charlie Bucket, a smiling, sweet-natured boy whose parents are so poor they can only afford to buy him a Wonka chocolate bar once a year, on his birthday. (Charlie is played by the incandescently cute Freddie Highmore, last seen teamed with Depp in “Finding Neverland,” and one of the rare little movie angels you don’t want to reach out and swat right off the screen.)
This being a Tim Burton picture, there are a number of visual references to old movies, some going back to the silent era. The gray, looming chocolate factory seems modeled on the giant steam engine in “Metropolis,” and the rickety, blown-sideways house in which the Bucket clan dwells, with its eccentric interior angles, could be the second stage at a “Dr. Caligari” festival. There’s a digital revision of one of the opening scenes in “2001: A Space Odyssey” that’s exceedingly clever. And there’s also an homage to the kitsch bathing-beauty routines devised by the choreographer Busby Berkeley back in the 1930s — although here the faces beneath the bathing caps are those of Oompa-Loompas, the chocolate-worshipping tribe Willy employs as factory hands; and all of them are played by one man, the 4′ 2″ Indian actor Deep Roy, who has the tough, deadpan face of an old-time union boss. (The scampering, dancing, sometimes guitar-playing Ooompa-Loompas are a computer-mediated tour de force.)
But the weirdest allusion in the movie is provided by Johnny Depp, who, with his page-boy haircut, rouged lips, lineless white face and high-pitched, breathy giggle, seems almost certainly to be playing Willy Wonka as Michael Jackson — he could be conducting the kids on a tour of Neverland. This is not an image one wants to dwell upon, and it’s a strange, distancing performance. Willy has been given a backstory here: a childhood traumatized by his candy-hating dentist father, played by Christopher Lee. (Lollipops, he tells young Willy in a flashback, are “cavities on a stick.”) So Depp’s Wonka isn’t sinister in the way the Gene Wilder version of the character was; but he’s creepy and unsettling. It’s hard to know what to think of him, without thinking the worst.
Fortunately, the heart of the movie — unusually, for a Tim Burton picture — is Charlie Bucket’s simple, unyielding love for his family. It gives the movie a glow, while Burton’s astonishing visual pyrotechnics, whipped along by one of Danny Elfman’s most furiously protean scores, gives it more dazzle than you sometimes think the screen can contain. There’s no other filmmaker like him, and no other film quite like this one.
“Wedding Crashers”: Altar’d States
This is the funniest lewd movie I’ve seen in some time. It’s funny because its proudly flaunted “R” rating allows it to be. In a period of profit-maximizing lowest-common-kid laugh fodder, this isn’t just another toothless “PG” exercise tailored for what movie watchdogs take to be the tender comedic sensibilities of American teenagers. (They’ll probably love this when the DVD comes out, or maybe — sneaky rapscallions — even before.) And it’s wildly funny because any movie that unites Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, and hands them a wicked script to work with, has little choice but to be pretty hysterical from start to finish.
The boys play a pair of Washington, D.C., divorce negotiators, John Beckwith (Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vaughn). They spend their days trying to cool down warring spouses (“You shut your mouth when you’re talking to me,” a spurned wife hisses) so the lawyers can get on with the job of divvying up the marital property. In their off-time, though, John and Jeremy are all about love, in a way. They’re wedding crashers, making the rounds of other people’s nuptials, scamming the free food and drinks and hitting on any unattached women in attendance. (The movie’s conceit, surely untrue, is that weddings put some women in a vulnerably lovey mood.) Their routine is to claim relationship to some obscure wing of the bride’s or groom’s family — who really knows half the people at a wedding? — and then to ingratiate themselves by being the life of the party: chatting up the geezers, dancing with the little flower girls, knocking out balloon animals for the other bored kids. Then they zero in on the chicks. A little Visine helps (fake tears for the ceremony), and so do a few unctuously crafted lines. (“Some people say we only use 10 percent of our brains,” John coos to one attentive beauty. “I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts.”)
As the movie opens, Jeremy is contemplating a bumper wedding season — 17 shindigs, “only two with cash bars.” Things go great until they decide to take on a tough one: a heavy-security, high-society bash for the daughter of the U.S. Secretary of State, William Cleary (Christopher Walken, in one of his unlikelier roles). While Cleary’s daughter and her groom go through the ceremonial motions, John and Jeremy set their sights on her two younger sisters, bridesmaids Claire (Rachel McAdams, of “Mean Girls”) and Gloria (Isla Fisher). So successfully do they connect with this pair that the family invites them to spend a private post-wedding weekend back at the baronial Cleary estate. Jeremy suspects this is a bad idea, and he’s so right.
First of all, John breaks an ironclad wedding-crasher rule and actually falls for the smart, classy Claire. Inevitably, though, she’s attached — to a big-mouthed, lunk-headed Ivy League boyfriend called Sack (Bradley Cooper, of “Alias”). As John becomes mired in a series of painfully amusing problems deriving from this situation, Jeremy is charging ahead with the seemingly virginal youngest sister, Gloria. In fact, he actually scores. But then, still lolling in a post-coital haze, he hears her shriek, “We’re gonna be so good together!” — and he knows he’s made an awful mistake. (“A stage-five clinger,” he groans to John.)
It’s worse than that, though. Catching a nap in an upstairs bedroom, Jeremy awakes to find himself roped, gagged and straddled by the exuberantly naked Gloria, who crows, “I’m just not being adventurous enough for you!” Then, when she slips away for a moment, he gets to meet the family’s black-sheep gay son, Todd (a nice, pouty turn by movie first-timer Keir O’Donnell), which complicates things considerably.
Several questions now become pressing. Can John get Claire to dump the ridiculous Sack and to see him, John, for who he really is? (Unfortunately, who he really is — or has been up until this point — is a lying, womanizing wedding crasher.) And can Jeremy disentangle himself from the cat-in-heat clutches of the voracious Gloria? And — wait — does he really want to? There’s also the question of the girls’ mother, Kathleen (Jane Seymour), whose small talk with Jeremy leans toward lines like “Call me Kitty Cat” and “I just had my t–s done.”
Owen Wilson, with his fetching heap of tousled blond hair and his droopy-eyed, low-key drawl, and Vince Vaughn, spewing out acid one-liners and withering asides into a coursing river of free-form invective, are a perfect match. Wilson leaves generous amounts of room for Vaughn’s gut-busting fulminations, and slips in tart zingers and goofy observations all around the edges. There seems never to be a moment when they’re not being ridiculously funny, and they’re enough all on their own to sail the picture straight up into low-comedy heaven.
An appearance by Will Ferrell, as a pioneer wedding-crasher who now cruises funerals, is a strained addition to the story. But Wilson and Vaughn get some powerful comedic competition from Isla Fisher as Gloria. Fisher is a 29-year-old Australian actress who’s previously figured in such movies as “Scooby-Doo” and “I Heart Huckabees.” Here, in a performance of foul and fearless originality, she steps out as a full-fledged star. It’s a giddy triumph.
“Wedding Crashers” is the most thrillingly indecent movie of the year — so far, anyway. I’d like to relate some of its really funny lines, but innate good taste forbids it; and anyway, I was laughing too much to scribble them all down. You try.
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