Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): An Amazing Celebration of Magic, Childhood and Madness

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory poster

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” is a well deserved for a reason. I completely understand that when I did poll on which film to honor Gene Wilder should be reviewed that this was the one that won out. This film that really displays how brilliant, talented and creative Gene Wilder could be and why the world lost on of our greats. I can’t wait to continue going through his filmography and learning more about the history of this fascinating and talented man.

     The film was directed by Mel Stuart, written by Roald Dahl (who also wrote the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the film is based on) with help from David Seltzer and produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper.

         The story involves Charlie (Peter Ostrum) finding a golden ticket and winning entrance into the magical Chocolate Factory of Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) with four other children. Things are not as they appear though, as both Wonka and the factory are full of unpredictability and danger.

The Pros: The World – The world is one full of magic that is close to ours but manages to satire ours through exaggeration. It is imagination and possibility and I can’t wait to read the book that inspired it all.

The Writing – Dahl’s writing is brilliant. He is one of my favorite authors and he did a great job making this screenplay. He knew his characters and how to adapt them and his world screen as he worked within the limitations given and in the process created a rich story full of drama and humor.

Snapshots of Humor – A psychologist trying to use a person’s delusions to find a golden ticket, a dictator in Paraguay, the homes of each of our children that aren’t Charlie…each of these is a snapshot of some sort of corruption that in using the golden ticket as the focal point provide a wonderful satire of the different forms of corruption.

The Comedy – The comedy is brilliant! Dahl’s dry humor and satire combined with Wilder’s wit, sarcasm and energy made this film most memorable as both a drama and a comedy.

The Oompa-Loompas – The Oompa-Loompas are refugees who work at the factory. They are fascinating as we see those who lost everything teach those who materially have everything. These guys are brilliant and I really like their songs and designs. The orange face and stark colors live in the popular culture now on what an Oompa-Loompa is.

Willy Wonka – Gene Wilder owns this role. Wonka is a man who you never know if he’s telling the truth or not. He comes in limping and after walks fine, and this was done by Wilder himself to make the audience question everything Wonka does. Wonka than proceeds to let peoples’ vices destroy themselves and he doesn’t care at all except to mock. This is a man who sees himself above it all and is living in his world of madness and imagination…yet he has a good heart, he rewards Charlie for doing the right thing and it is in his relationship to Charlie we see the compassionate core underneath the lies, sarcasm and trickery. He is easily one of my favorite characters in fiction and Wilder made the character larger than life and the best part of this film.

The Take on Vices – Each of the 4 kids are different vices. Violet is spite, Mike is anger, Veruca is greed and Augustus is gluttony. At different points Charlie experiences each vice but grows beyond them by choosing compassion and courage in the end, something they all lacked and each them is destroyed by their vice in turn in the Karmatic place of the Chocolate Factory.

The Good and the Bad in People and Children – Children are celebrated in this, but they aren’t idealized. 4 of the kids are little monsters and even Charlie can be a brat sometimes. Dahl was honest about what it means to be a child and it is in this work we see how they grow and that actions have consequences that will hopefully help the kids stuck in a bad place in their actions, to grow up.

Celebrating Creativity and Invention – The core of the story is a celebration of madness and creativity. Wonka’s world is pure imagination and what he is seeking is an heir with that same madness who can see the bigger picture.

Okay/Pro: The Music – The music is memorable and good but not great. I’d never seek out this music to listen to it on my own…it works for the film though with “Pure Imagination” being the best and most memorable song in the soundtrack.

Charlie – Charlie is flawed and it makes him human. All the other children and their parents are terrible, while Charlie in looking out for his family can become like the other kids too. Charlie is greedy or angry sometimes and that’s okay. It makes the good choices he makes all the better.

Grandpa Joe – I liked Grandpa Joe but since we never learn why he became bedridden it takes away from part of what drives him to get out of bed. I like how he is a mentor and father figure to Charlie though and that he calls out Wonka for not giving them the prize at the end as promised. He’s a stand up guy.

The Other Kids and Their Parents – The other kids are alright. Augustus is forgettable as his mother but the Teevee’s have an energy about them and the Salt’s are great representations of greed, while Violet and her huckster father are entertaining in their own way. I’m not putting them as a pro though since they aren’t complex. They are interesting but lack major complexity.

Okay: Pacing – The pacing is a little all over the place at times, with the scene where Charlie and Granpa Joe take the Fizz drink as the best example. Wonka and the group just go away when before every mistake that the kids make is recognized by the group as Wonka shames their for their vice. This is the only time where he holds off on shaming until after the tour is completed.

The Cons: Certain Songs – Certain songs go on a little too long or mess with the tone a little bit. “Cheer up Charlie” definitely goes on too long as does Veruca’s song. This is made up for the fact that musical isn’t terrible but I’d only describe music as memorable and good, but not great.

     There was so much that worked in this film and managed to push it up from good to great. The greatest credit goes to Wilder with his chaotic take on Wonka whose performance was full of anger, empathy, compassion and madness. There is a reason the film is called “Willy Wonka & and the Chocolate Factory” and not Charlie. Charlie maybe the main character but the action and drama all relates to the antics and choices that Wonka makes and the gambit he puts into play to find his heir.I can’t wait to read Dahl’s original book. Dahl having power over turning his book into film was masterfully done by the studio and with Wilder’s performance and Stuart’s direction a masterpiece of art that celebrates the very nature of art and creativity was born. The three men have all passed on now but their vision, their metaphorical Chocolate Factory lives on in the lives they touched and the art they created. R.I.P. Stuart, Dahl and so recently now…Wilder. To remembering the dreamers and the dreams they made.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

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“Supernatural” Season 10 Retrospect – Terrible Writing, Pointless Deaths, Dropped Arcs and Codependency Continues

Supernatural_Season_10_Poster_HD

    First I have to admit that “Supernatural” has always been a schlocky show, most of what has elevated has been ideas in fan fiction or fan induced subtext to relationships. Beyond that it is really a show that has depended far too much on the charisma of Jensen Ackles (Dean), Misha Collins (Castiel) and Mark Sheppard (Crowley) to carry it, and it shows. So often this show retreads old ground and doesn’t go anywhere new or when it does go somewhere new it doesn’t give any leadup so it feels like an idea that was pulled out on the spot in a list minute writers meeting (Leviathans, Souls as Energy Power, The Mother of Monsters, Demons as ex-humans, etc.).

        Honestly the show should have ended at the end of Season 5, I watched the Apocalypse arc (the filler annoys me most of the time) and that brought what had started in Season 2 or 3 to a close really well. It was complete and there wasn’t anything else that had to be done. At that point the show had gotten so popular though, and this is the CW we are talking about…so they kept it going and now we are where we are now with a Season 11 on the way.

SPOILERS AHEAD

      The series has been through a few showrunners with Eric Kripke in charge up until Season 5 followed by Sera Gamble for Seasons 6 and 7 and ending with Jeremy Carver who has headed the show to current day.

       The story of this season has been that Dean was turned into a Demon since he received the Mark of Cain and was killed and the Mark brought him back to life. This season has been dealing with the consequences of this, as well as how the human blood has affected Crowley in his becoming more human (and the arrival of his mother Rowena) and Sam and Castiel (mostly Sam) going to any means to get rid of Mark of Cain as they watch as it continues to make Dean more unhinged and violent.

The Pros: Dean and Crowley – The Season kicks off with Dean and Crowley having a roadtrip hitting up all the dive bars and drinking and talking while Dean usually gets laid or gets in fights and sometimes Crowley is a part of them. It’s a lot of fun and we see after that there is a friendship and respect there that wasn’t before. Even at the end of the Season, Crowley will always come through to help Dean because of that time they shared together and what they risked prior in getting the Blade to get there.

Castiel and Claire – This relationship is great as Claire and Castiel come to respect and enjoy being with another. Claire even goes into the Hunter business and forgives Castiel for taking over her Father and being his Vessel. These episodes had some really wonderful moments versus the Hannah moments which were okay, but seemed to be trying to hard to force a romance.

Dean and Charlie – Dean and Charlie are bros and it’s wonderful when they nerd out, talk women and life. Charlie has also become a Hunter like Claire and I get why her death would set Dean off. She was the one holding him accountable and holding onto hope, it’s one reason I didn’t believe that she would have backed Sam’s stupid “Book of the Damned” plan. R.I.P. Charlie, like Kevin and Ruby before you…the writers didn’t know how to write you and wasted what you brought to the show.

Dean and Castiel – I am a Destiel shipper and would love a romantic arc with these due to the sexual and romantic tension that often happens between these two. Sadly I don’t see the writers doing that. This season saw more of that with Castiel calling Dean out on his recklessness and how Dean embracing the mark is going to leave Castiel to deal with it for an eternity and Dean wails on him contrasted with Dean helping him out with Claire and being a good guardian to her.

Dean and Death – In the finale Dean and Death talk and they are in agreement that Sam needs to die. Death tells Dean the Mark is holding back the Darkness and that Lucifer gave it to Cain and that’s what corrupted Lucifer and that it is needed to prevent the end. Dean was okay with it until his codependency kicked in and the problems of “Supernatural” came out in full force.

Okay: Metatron’s Potential – Metatron becomes human and is human right now since Castiel took his grace, he brings Castiel back to his grace and is on the run with the Demon Tablet. Metatron has always been fun, I just hope he isn’t wasted and them keeping him around goes somewhere. Right now he is just potential.

Crowley’s Potential – Crowley has put himself out there but still hasn’t fully gone “good” or as much as he can. I’d like to see this happen, even if this ends in death. Mark Sheppard owns this role and he needs better writing as his arc with Rowena was wasted as she is just a terribly written character, doesn’t matter if she’s his mother.

The Cons: Filler – Too many episodes of pointless filler that does nothing for character relationships or growth or even compelling monsters. It is one thing that’s been killing the show for me for years and I’ve rarely been impressed.

Lack of Focus for an Antagonist – Rowena was an antagonist for a while but never felt like a threat, she was only a threat in how she could get Crowley to act stupid. She gets magic at the end but by then her potential was wasted as she had no real motivation. Metatron was an antagonist for a while but forgotten about, Dean was the antagonist for a while too and arguably should have been the antagonist this season, but they un-Demoned him and from there it was just him wrestling with anger. What a waste. Cain also could have fulfilled this role but they turned his potentially Season rampage into an episode where he rampages against his line and gets killed. Again, waste.

Killing Off Characters Pointlessly – This season we saw Cain and Charlie killed off, and with no point in their deaths either. Charlie didn’t die a hero and Cain could have been the main antagonist as his arc with him killing those descendant from him was interesting and compelling. He drove the story far more than any person this season did as an antagonist. Charlie was killed by the Stynes (Descendants of Frankenstein and into dark magic and using body parts to become stronger) they were in it for no point than to push Dean further to the edge by Fridging Charlie, when he already was on the edge. Her death was pointless and Felicia Day deserved a better exit, just like Cain.

   This has been a problem in the show too, with the death of Kevin, Jo, Ruby and countless other characters who are in most cases far more interesting than Sam and Dean.

Sam and Dean’s Codependency Dance – Dean kills Death because once again his brother is more important than the safety of the Universe. They’ve done this so many times that I’m not even going to list them here. If you’ve watched the show you’ve seen every little and big (killing Death) moment of this. It’s tired and old and way overdone. Character means change and these two don’t in regards to one another and dealing with the Apocalypse. Season 5 worked because Dean let Sam go and moved on and had a family. All of that was wasted when he came back and we had soulless Sam. Enough with this, just get rid of Sam and end this dance.

Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner – These two writers are terrible. At one point there was an Angel Civil War going on, they didn’t flesh out any of the players and just did random acts of stuff. They also were the ones who fridged Kevin and Charlie…they are not good writers and taking them out of the show as writers would vastly improve the writing and character arcs.

The Ending – The Darkness is like Leviathans all over again. Leviathans were so dangerous and predated God that he created Purgatory to trap them, the Darkness was around in the beginning and the Mark was created on Lucifer to keep them from destroying the Universe. Purgatory is opened after Castiel devours all the souls of Purgatory and they destroy him to be in the world…the Darkness breaks out when Rowena, Castiel, Crowley and Sam’s plan comes true and destroys the Mark letting The Darkness into the world and it devours everything with horrible CGI…episode ends, and this after Sam and Dean’s codependency dance where Dean spares Sam because baby pictures (really?) and he kills Death.

  Early in the Finale episode Dean talked about how trouble follows them and they cause trouble and maybe them leaving will make things easier. I agree, everything they’ve done has just made problems worse and they don’t have the maturity to admit that because self-righteousness. Dean even goes back for whatever reason and we see the same story that has played out since Season 6 (and earlier ones) played out again. There is no growth, no change…I was only watching for the side characters of Castiel, Crowley and Charlie in the end just like Kevin was a major reason I’d watched when he was still around. The brothers can’t carry this show as their dynamic doesn’t change. I don’t have hope for Season 11, I might watch sometimes for Crowley and Castiel but this season was just terrible and I can’t recommend it. It is more lost potential than can be fully quantified since it has been 10 years.

Final Score: 3 / 10.

Barton Fink (1991): To Become the Common Man

Barton_Fink_(1991)

“Barton Fink,” was once an impressive film. I also have yet to see a bad Coen Brothers film so it may be that everything they make is gold since they put so much time into shooting a scene and exploring the mind and motivations of their characters while keeping an overwhelming theme of loneliness and isolation.

“Barton Fink” was directed, written and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen.

The story involves Barton Fink, a playwright whose successful Broadway show Bare Ruined Choirs leads to some folks in Hollywood wanting him to write the script for a wrestling movie. Once he arrives he finds he has none of the support network he had in New York and that he is completely alone except for his neighbor Charlie, who isn’t all he appears. He soon finds things even more complicated as his writer’s block continues and he finds himself pulled into a murder investigation. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, from the shots of the broken down and later burning hotel, to any time you are seeing things from Barton’s point of view or you see his anxiety and isolation taking hold. The room is big but can be made to be confining, the hotel is beautiful but is made to bleak…that is the beauty of the cinematography of this film that the Coens and Roger Deakins pulled off.

The Music – The music is very minimalist, which serves the plot really well since it gives us time with the characters and creates tension when it needs too. There are some great piano pieces that I plan on listening to later for my own writing. Carter Burwell did great!

The Characters – Characters are usually the strongest part of most Coen Brothers Films, and this movie continues that.

Chet – Steve Buscemi makes a brief appearance at Chet the Bellhop who is miserable and unhappy. Every word he does is a passive aggressive jab and his character looks miserable. He is our first glimpse of how Hollywood spits people out and destroys the common man.

Audrey Taylor – Judie Davis plays the primary love interest for the writer W.P. Mayhew and Barton Fink. In the case of Mayhew she isn’t respected but it is only in it out of a savior complex and the fact that she built him and wrote most of his work. She is a wonderful and trapped character (like most of the folks in the film). We see her escape with Barton only for it to end in her death…Her death actually means something too since she is one of the few better people we meet.

Ben Geisler – Ben Geisler is the producer who is pretty driven and tends to see past most of the crap around him. He also doesn’t care about anyone truly outside of the films he produces. Tony Shalhoub is great in this role as he calls out Lipnick and the studios for how they don’t care and use everyone. He also advises Barton to get advice from another writer which drives the story forward.

The Detectives – The guys are completely Noir, I love their speech patterns as they insult Barton to give them information they can use to find where Charlie Meadows went since he is the serial killer who has been killing women (who fit Audrey’s description) and taking their heads. They are detached as everyone around Barton but are good in their roles as they aren’t completely antagonistic.

Charlie Meadows / Karl “Madman” Munt – Charlie Meadows is the every man and the muse who Barton denies for sometime. He is expressive about his work as a salesman and Goodman was perfect for the role as he’s so jovial and kind of Barton who is a nervous wreck most of the time. The Reveal that was he was the serial killer was powerful too as he admits he only let Barton live because Barton never listened (before he frees Barton from the beadpost he chained him too). He may have killed Barton’s family and Audrey’s head might be in the present he gave Barton before leaving. In that way we don’t know if he’s just mad or if he is in fact the killer, though most signs point to him being the killer given his shooting down of the detectives and everything he implies to Barton. He’s a pretty great character and antagonist. One of Goodman’s best roles.

Barton Fink – This is the best role I’ve seen John Turturro do, which makes me want to see him in more films. He was great in “O Brother Where Art Thou?” but I haven’t ever seen him as the lead character until this film. He is great at playing the nervous writer who fetishizes the common man (doesn’t listen to anyone share their story and will interrupt them to go off on the idealized common man and how noble his profession is) until he’s found he’s become one. For much of the film he isn’t able to connect to anyone except for Charlie, who used him to kill Audrey and he briefly connects with a woman at the end who may be the woman in the picture above his type writer making the illusion of connection around him complete. He is a character who is unable to stand up to himself even after his work is insulted by Lipnick and Capital Pictures, it’s really his stubbornness that keeps him there and fear, which illustrates how by the end he has become the common man trapped in a job he doesn’t want anymore being used by those around him.

The Themes – The themes in this movie are wonderful…the biggest is that of integrity and the connection to the common man. Barton Fink is seeking to tell the story of the common man but it is so involved in himself he’s unable to listen or empathize until he is chewed out and spit out by the studio in turn becoming the common man. He also finds that he was wrong in his idealization of the people as Charlie was really the serial killer Karl “Madman”‘ Munt who killed Audrey and countless other women before taking off their heads. The movie reveals the false faces of the common men like Charlie and also of the higher ups like Lipnick the leader of Capital Boss pictures who has been lying to Barton the entire time.

The Message – One of the core messages of the film is that Barton was right about writing and that Mayhew and making stuff up was wrong. Good writing comes from a place of suffering and pain and Barton is unable to finish his script until than. The world doesn’t want that though as represented by Lipnick who rejects it as “fruity,” and is shown to be as false as Mayhew and the films he desires. It’s a pretty great critique of Modern Hollywood now even as it’s far easier for million dollar schlock to be produced and green lighted (Emmerich and Michael Bay as examples) than for pictures that have character and a deeper meaning. It also shows that if you stay true you to you and the experience of your experiences that you can create something great, even if nobody recognizes it.

Okay/ The Cons: Lipnick – Lipnick is a two faced guy who tells people want they want to hear but in the end cares nothing about the integrity of art or the well being of his employees. In this way he is a great antagonist, but we have no idea why he is this way as his motivations are never truly explored. Not a con completely, but given how well most of the other characters are explored, I wish he’d been given more motivation.

W.P. Mayhew – The drunk writer who just writers for the sake of writing and putting out schlock because it pays the bills. The guy is miserable and slave for selling himself out and his integrity and he’s an abusive drunk to boot as he hits Audrey on one occassion we see. I get he is broken and apparently he’s married to a “Broken” wife which is why Audrey is trying to save him…but I never cared for the guy. The theme of detachment doesn’t serve his character, though I guess that’s the point since his great work didn’t come from any real place.

This is one of my favorite films, but not the perfect Coen Brothers Film. It has great themes, characters, music and cinematography…but some characters who are antagonistic aren’t as explored as they could have been. That’s really the only big problem I can find as the critique of films produced nowadays still stands, as well as the importance of integrity in art and the importance of empathy and connection. If you like the Coen Brothers or are looking for a good drama, I highly recommend this film. John Goodman and Turturro are fantastic as the leads and have some of the best moments in the film. It is well worth checking out.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. One of my favorite films and another great Coen Brothers movie.

Batman: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 22 – Joker’s Favor – The Deal with the Devil

Joker's Favor

“Joker’s Favor,” is one of my favorite episodes. It is one of the best of the Joker episodes and also introduces us to Harley Quinn (though this isn’t her origin episode). The premise is Charlie is having a bad day and ends up accidentally cussing out the Joker. Joker spares his life if he does him a favor, which 2 years he calls upon in order to get back at Commissioner Gordon.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: Harley Quinn – Her voice and crazy style. In this episode she is very much doing her own thing and it lines up with the Joker…we don’t see the abuse in the relationship until later episodes and her origin. She is an awesome character and she pulls off the trap really well too with her reading her “Tribute” to Gordon before Joker and his thugs arrive and the party gets gassed (Which paralyzes them).

The Joker – Is frightening in this one. There is an heir of threat around him from the moment he arrives on the scene and scares Charlie into submission. He is the devil in this episode and is winning throughout most of the episode until the end.

Commissioner Gordon – You see why his marriage fell apart in this one. He lives for his job and it is only after pressure from Batman that he even goes to the event honoring his service.

Batman – Does alright, he is good at what he does and saves the day. The episode isn’t about him though. This is about Charlie, not Batman.

Charlie Collins – You get his anger at having a horrible day and why he erupts at the Joker and how he develops a spine over the course of the episode. The ending of him almost being “The man who kills the Joker,” is brilliant. He scares the Joker since he acts so much like him. His point about Joker being killed as the only way to stop him is right too. It’s a shame Batman didn’t listen, he would have saved a lot of lives.

The script – Is solid as are the locations. It is an eventful episode.

Okay: The music – It is alright. It is strange when it could have been threatening.

I give this episode a 10 / 10. A perfect Joker episode.