Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

National Lampoon’s Animal House [1978)

As far as I can tell, I have finished my MBA in management.

Two years of extreme work ended yesterday.

And now I am left to ponder just what the hell I did.

Unlike Mr. Blutarsky (0.0 grade point average), I maintained a 4.00 GPA for my entire graduate studies program.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a film like this.

This is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

If you’re not in the right mood, it might turn you off.

But there are plenty of laughs to be had in this classic.

Tom Hulce has a decent shot to join a top-flight fraternity.

His roomie, Stephen Furst is a bit portly and socially daft.

But as in the best college movies, we discover a place for outcasts.

That particular place in this film is the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house.

The 1970s were different.

It was still a joke that the ethnic minorities were segregated into a room at rush parties…along with the blind…and honky dweebs like Hulce (and especially Furst).

It was not a politically correct atmosphere.

It was irreverent.

But the real star in the early going (and throughout much of the film) is Karen Allen.

What a beauty!

James Daughton was briefly in another film we reviewed recently:  Spies Like Us.

Yes, dear friends…this is another John Landis success.

And so Landis seemed to have a sort of pool (including Daughton) from which he was pulling.

Mark Metcalf is appropriately hatable as the Army ROTC officer who makes life miserable for Furst.

But the real inspiration…the spark of genius…is John Belushi as Bluto.

“…when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor”

Exactly.

Also integral is an actor born right here in my hometown:  Bruce McGill (as D-Day).

Plenty of togas.

Lots of beer.  “It don’t cost nuthin’.”

These guys know how to have fun.

And Sarah Holcomb is great.

[Oops…she’s 13?!?]

The film enters “on the road” territory when some of the Deltas visit Emily Dickinson College.

It really is a pretty hilarious bit!

Tim Matheson is the master of strategy for this scraggly band of losers.

I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen this, but Donald Sutherland is really excellent as the professor attempting to interest nonplussed undergrads in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

And so, with that…I’m back!

I hope to get back to reading all of your excellent blogs.

And thank you so much for supporting me even when I was swamped with schoolwork.

🙂

-PD

Fist of Fury [1972)

For most of the world, life is an endless battle.  There are precious few who enjoy existence in a comfortable parentheses.  Indeed, we here in the West can look to the beginning of our literature:  The Iliad.  Rage.  Yes, it is the most intense disgust possible.  Perhaps there are few who take the rage to heart.

It often stems from lies.  Honor.  Respect.  Sympathy.  We do not like it when our fellow humans are sacrificed.  It gives birth to divine disgust when we see innocent people murdered.

Yes, some remember.  Some take it to heart.  And some search for the answers.  They know the story is a lie.  It does not honor the dead for them to be buried in lies.

From the start of this film we see Bruce Lee clawing through the lies just as he claws through the dirt which covers the casket of his dead teacher.  Perhaps few can understand this sort of devotion.

There are very strong emotions which cause such lasting connections.  The emotions are imprinted in our memory.  We become bound to others.  It is our duty to honor them in life and death.

Let’s face it:  the Japanese chose poorly.  How on earth did they ever (with a good conscience) ally themselves with the country which nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Likewise, F.D.R. let those men die in Hawaii.  His policies might have been in the best interest of the people, but he was a cynical bastard.  The blood of Pearl Harbor will forever be on his hands.

And so, we have an ethnic, nationalistic slant to this film.  It is China vs. Japan.  And to a lesser extent it is China vs. Russia.

The setting is Shanghai. A man returns in a white suit to marry his fiancée.  But when he returns, he returns to disaster.

In some respects this film has a rather fumbling plot compared to The Big Boss, but overall it is quite an artful film.  Lo Wei’s direction is generally very good.

Paul Wei perfectly plays the sniveling traitor Wu.  Wu is a translator…basically the opposite of Sibel Edmonds.  Though Bruce Lee initially maintains his composure when taunted by Wu, Lee soon enough returns the gift.

We must remember than Gift is German for poison.  Just as Mist is German for shit.  Dick, by the way, means fat.

Yes, the bearers of gifts turn out to be intimately acquainted with poison.  Perhaps we can find hints of their Nazi leanings in Lo Wei’s direction.  The Japanese seem to have an unfair hold on procedural law in Shanghai at this time.

There is another fleeting bit of cultural symbolism when Chen (Bruce Lee) is refused admittance to a park.  He seems to simply want a thoroughfare to return to his school (after schooling the Japanese dipshits).  Yet now he must answer to a Sikh guard enforcing a “no dogs and no Chinese” policy for the commons.  And so we have a short bit of China vs. India.

Ah, but we risk so much by playing the hero.  The true heroes often lose everything.  That’s what they don’t show you in the Hollywood version.  At least in Hong Kong, they seemed to know that life is a constant battle.  There is such a thing as honorable defeat.  Defeat rarely enters into the Hollywood lexicon when describing the protagonists.

But then arrives on Earth the phenomenon of the fist of fury.  It is strength.  It is passion.  It is torque.  It is velocity.

When Chen discovers the truth, he kills the murderers.  But that is not enough.  It’s time now to track down the enablers and the grand conspirators.  Lee does just this.  Talk about cleaning house!

Listen to “Peace Frog” by The Doors.  Sure, it’s great rhythm guitar from Robbie Krieger, but the lyrics might be Jim Morrison’s best.  Blood in the streets.  Up to my knees.  Up to my thigh.  I’m not sure if Morrison ever read Gérard de Nerval, but it wouldn’t surprise me.  It’s hard not to think of Nerval and Vlad Țepeș when seeing Lee gradually string up body after body from that lamppost. 

But let’s talk about more pleasant things, shall we?  Like Nora Miao, for instance.  She is so beautiful in this film.  And what a cute name!  I can’t help conjuring a cat to mind…Chairman Miao perhaps.

On the humorous side we have Inspector Lo and his two assistants…sartorially identical to Bogart from the neck up.  The disconnect comes when seeing their fedoras juxtaposed with traditional Chinese garb.  It is truly surreal!  Marlowe as Mar Lo.

The Russian connection comes from a visiting martial artist named Petrov.  We must remember that Putin joined the KGB in 1975.  Likewise, before Vladimir became a sixth degree black belt (or red and white if you want to get closer to Russian colors) in judo he trained in the Russian art of sambo (beginning around 1966).  So perhaps the Petrov character is a lucky match to current world leaders.

The villain of the film, Suzuki, propagates a massacre of Chen’s school (which bears a striking resemblance to the thuggery from The Big Boss).  What’s new is the Inspector Clouseau aspect of Lee’s persona.  We see him in disguise as an elderly newspaper salesman, a telephone repairman (!), and a rickshaw driver.  There is even a Chaplinesque visual humor to the telephone company employee portrayal–almost like an invocation of Jerry Lewis.

What is more, director Lo Wei eventually adds a further mystical dimension to Lee’s fighting prowess when his hands move with psychedelic tracers trailing in blurred wonder.  But for every true hero a firing squad awaits.  In the end, perhaps it’s better to run towards the bullets.

-PD