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

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): A Fun Tale of Finding Freedom Through Struggles

Fantastic Mr. Fox

     “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is in no way the best of Wes Anderson’s work…but like all of his works it is a lot of fun and has some pretty amazing characters. There aren’t many characters in it, but the characters who do have arcs get the time and attention they deserve that shows just how complex they are as well as giving some great threats to face as they are all forced to grow.

      The film was directed by Wes Anderson who was also one of the producers and screenplay writers. The other writer was Noah Baumbach and the other producers were Allison Abbate, Scott Rudin and Jeremy Dawson. The story came from the same Roald Dahl book of the same name, which I hope to read.

     The premise follows the story of Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) getting caught in a fox trap where Mr. Fox learns she is pregnant. She makes him promise if they escape to give up stealing food which he agrees to. They settle down in the Tree that is close to three dangerous farmers and are raising their son Ash as Mr. Fox begins to get back into the stealing business with their neighbor Kylie Opossum which gets more complicated when Ash’s cousin Kristofferson arrives making Ash feel like even more of an outcast as he is rejected by his father who pulls Kristofferson into his stealing plots. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Production – Everything is miniatures and is done with stop motion animation making the film really unique and cool as the animals move like animals and it gives an organic reality to it you would be more hard pressed to find it was done with animation or cgi.

The Script – Wes Anderson’s script is quick and witty and he does a good job paying tribute to Roahl Dahl as there is a dark survivalist undercurrent through the script and the characters are all reckless in different ways as the war with the farmers gets more intense.

The Soundtrack – Alexandre Desplat does a fantastic job with this soundtrack and gives the world a very lived in feel while paying tribute to bluegrass and country which fit with the survival themes of the film.

Badger – Badger is voiced by Bill Murray and is Mr. Fox’s lawyer and he is the one who should have been listened to. He was right about how dangerous the house in the tree was by being close to the farmers and because he was listened to (and his client Mr. Fox harassed the farmers) he and the rest of the forest creatures became refugees. He holds Mr. Fox accountable and like Felicity forces Mr. Fox to take action to right the wrongs he did by his selfish actions.

Kylie Opossum – Is voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky and is one of the folks who sees the big picture in a lot of ways. He has a credit card and good credit, he is happy in his life but is pulled into Mr. Fox’s schemes because he above all else is a follower looking for identity and fun. In the end he finds both as he comes up with his catchphrase (like Mr. Fox’s whistle and wink) and dances with all at the end.

Ash – Ash is played by Jason Shwartzman and is a disgruntled teen through most of the film. His arc is accepting that he is different as he glares and spits a lot but he learns from his mom Felicity that weird runs in their family and when he makes peace with that he is able to accept responsibility in regards to how cruel he was out of jealousy to Kristofferson. His arc is the most solid as when he accepts himself he is able to have a relationship with everyone else around him and shows that it is the strange stuff about us that are part of what make us who we are.

Kristofferson – Kristofferson is one of my favorite characters. He is a calm, talented fox who does yoga who Mr. Fox adopts as a son by pulling him into his schemes. Kristofferson clearly feels grateful as he eventually gets caught by the farmers and used as bate to catch Mr. Fox. He makes peace with Ash as the end and teaches him to meditate. He doesn’t really have an arc but is mostly put together (more so than Mr. Fox) so others learn from his cool. He was voiced by Eric Anderson.

Felicity – Mr Fox’s wife Felicity is the character who is just as reckless as him until she is pregnant with Ash. We learn she always had that risk taking in her though and see that she sees beyond herself more easily than Mr. Fox as she cares for the forest refugees and pulls Mr. Fox out of himself to where he sees the consequences of his actions and works harder to care for others because of it. I really liked her character and Meryl Streep is fantastic.

Mr. Fox – George Clooney owns this role as his addiction to the thrill of the hunt and experiencing great food and drink lead him into trouble. He is a good person at his core but extremely selfish as the farmers were minding their own business until he began stealing from them again. He justifies it initially as he is a wild animal but when he’s reminded he’s also a father and husband he gets his act together and works on making the refugees a home. His arc is getting outside of himself and he eventually gets that as others risk for him forcing him in turn to risk for others.

Okay: Agnes – Is the fox love interest of Kristofferson who makes Ash jealous. She exists mostly as a plot device and isn’t much of a character sadly beyond supporting Kristofferson and eventually becoming friends with Ash.

The Other Minor Characters – There are Otters and Rabbits and a few other creatures who are mostly background. They have great design but aren’t memorable as characters, they aren’t bad either for what it is worth.

The Cons: The Farmers – The farmers are a good threat but they aren’t all that complicated. They are just defending their property and going to great extremes to do so. The fact that they aren’t complicated is one of the things I didn’t like as they weren’t super memorable and could be interchanged with any farmer threat in a film that follows the story of forest creatures…and they are as complex as their last names (Bean, Boggis and Bunce).

    This was an extremely fun film and my second time watching it. My favorite parts were the interactions between Ash and Kristofferson and Mr. Fox and everyone as he is a selfish guy who creates most of the conflict in the first place, and realizes it so much of his arc is trying to make amends. There are constant consequences and there aren’t really any happy endings…it’s bittersweet as the animals are living in the sewers now and the three farmers are still seeking their destruction, but it has hope. Part of what I always like about Wes Anderson films is how bittersweet they are as well as fun and this film captures both those things beautifully. If you like Wes Anderson, chances are you will like this film.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

Four Rooms (1995): The Misadventures of a Bellhop

Four Rooms

“Four Rooms,” is the story of a bellhop named Ted (played by Tim Roth) as he deals with awkward situations as he is the only one left on duty at the hotel. There are four directors and each does a short story within the events of the day…each story takes place in a different room as per the title and each director covers a room. The stories are based off some of Roald Dahl adult short stories…which make sense given how strange it is and the quirckyness of Ted.

I’ll be doing the assessment of the stories individually (judging the directors by the individual work they did) and after judging it as a whole.

The Honeymoon Suite – “The Missing Ingredient” -Director Allison Anders

The premise of “The Missing Ingredient,” is a coven of witches need semen to ressurect their Goddess Diane since she was cursed 40 years ago and turned to stone and the witch who was supposed to bring it swallowed it. She has seduces Ted to get the semen and they have sex in the cauldron after she puts a spell on him.

This is  the weakest of the stories. The only compelling character is Ted who doesn’t know what to do and Tim Roth plays being the the crazy situations really well over the course of the story. None of the witches are really memorable…the only one who really  stands out is Jezebel who pays Ted to have sex with the witch. She is is as passionate in the role and gives her all for her small role as Roth does for Ted.

Forgettable in the end though and the special effects are really bad. Also way too much telling rather than showing.

Final score for this one is 4 / 10.

Room 404 – “The Wrong Man,” -Director Alexandre Rockwell

“The Wrong Man,” kicks off when a party is calls Ted for some ice but he mishears and goes to the wrong room where a couple is doing theatre where they pull strangers into their drama. Their story is that Ted has slept with the wife and the husband is holding her hostage…from there the husband kisses Ted and has a heart attack. After trying to escape and after one of the partiers in the room nearly throws up on him he manages to get off as one of the partiers is pulled into the act again.

David Broal and Jennifer Beals own this. They make the drama so real that you can’t tell if it is an act or not till the end. They switch between actors and roles deftly…which understandably contributes into Ted’s growing madness. This is one of the best of the 4 stories and Rockwell does fantastic.

Final score for this one is 8.5 / 10

Room 309 – “The Misbehavers,” -Director Robert Rodriguez

“The Misbehavers,” involves Ted being paid by a husband (Antonia Banderas) to take care of his two kids after he goes out with his wife to party. From here things devolve as he wants to avoid taking care of the kids and they discover horrible things from the last guest (a dead prostitute, a needle and open the champagne that the husband had ordered, as well as watching porn).

This one is fun, the biggest problem is that the kids are kind of blank slates so that kind of brings it down. I wish we could have got more scenes between Banderas and Roth since they have good chemistry and the husband is fine even as his room is burning as he holds his drunk wife. Not Rodriguez’s best work…though it does have the fire, blood and Antonio Banderas who and what he likes to use in his movies…as well as the fantasy elements to how crazy the situation gets.

Final score for this one is 7 / 10. It was alright.

Penthouse – “The Man From Hollywood,” -Director Quentin Tarantino

Ted wants to leave but is told to stay on duty because Chester Rush (Tarantino) is in town with his friends and that it is important that they have a good time. Ted goes to check on them and gets pulled into a bet that Rush’s friend Norman (Paul Calderon) can’t light his lighter ten times but if he loses he has to cut off Norman’s finger. Leo (Bruce Willis) is the other friend present as the events unfold. Ted is presented with a dilemma, cut off the finger for 1000 dollars if Norman fails or to walk away and for it remain a possible regret. Norman isn’t able to light the lighter so Ted cuts off his pinky, grabs the money and leaves. It has both the Tarantino abruptness, the moral dilemmas and the violence that define his style.

This is a good but not great Tarantino short. The dilemma is good, but most of the characters aren’t all that interesting. Leo is having issues with his wife so there is that at least going for the script and Rush is a twisted guy who is all about new experiences. It also leaves us wondering if Ted will continue to be a bellboy after the events or if he has had enough.

Final Score is 8 / 10. Solidly good.

What helps elevate a story that doesn’t quite flow together all that well is the music and most of the acting. With the exception of the first room, all the stories are at least alright and the directors do a good job making each scene unique minus the first director Anders. Tim Roth is good as the guy slowly going mad and we’re left wondering after if he finally snapped or if he found peace given he has his cocky spring in his step he had at the beginning of the film.

In the end I would recommend this film, and I would not call it great…and it has moments of good…but that isn’t the reason to watch it. It is worth watching to see how each director approaches their stories and how they express themselves in the work.

Final score is 7.5 / 10