Monday, August 01, 2005

Movie Review(Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), our main protagonist, comes from a poverty-stricken family, living in a crooked house with three generations of other Buckets, including Grandpa Joe (David Kelly). Charlie dreams of winning one of five golden tickets to visit Wonka’s chocolate factory. Able to afford but one bar of Wonka chocolate per year, the odds of him finding the bar containing a golden ticket are anything but favourable. A lucky chain of events unfolds which sees Charlie and Joe visiting the revered factory for a day they will never forget.

This is not a remake of the 1971 Gene Wilder movie. This is both the better movie and the better adaptation of the source material. Screenwriter John August has adapted elements from both Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ and combined them to form a well-rounded story and satisfying conclusion that was missing from the 1971 effort.

Tim Burton’s films are always interesting. The man has a unique visual sensibility, a style of his own which absolutely reeks of eccentricity. The man who brought us Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and Beetle Juice, has once again been inspired by a reclusive misfit; someone who just doesn’t fit into normal society. Mr. Willy Wonka.

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ marks his fourth collaboration with Johnny Depp after ‘Edward Scissorhands’, ‘Ed Wood’, and ‘Sleepy Hollow’. They’re obviously on the same page artistically, which explains how Burton seems to coax great performances from him. Depps’ Wonka is a jarring creation. At once creepy and innocent, comparisons to a certain pale-skinned ‘King of Pop’ are hardly uninvited but the comparison begins and ends with the physical presentation of Wonka. In truth, he despises children (and parents), gleefully excited by the torment inflicted upon Mike Teevee, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop, after they loose the run of themselves in his factory.

Production designer Alex McDowell has a field day catering to Burton’s outlandish vision for the world in which the story unfolds. The chocolate factory itself represents an explosion of imagination, while special mention must go to the chocolate built palace, the new and improved Oompa Loopas, and Danny Elfmans wonderful melding of his own score and music with Dahl’s written word. Funny, wildly inventive, and catering for both adults and children on numerous levels, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is highly recommended viewing.

4 out of 5

Movie Review(Fantastic Four)...

Fantastic Four

The current trend for superhero movies continues apace with ‘Fantastic Four’. The latest effort from Marvel Enterprises is the story of four astronauts whose DNA is fundamentally altered during a freak accident in space (involving cosmic rays, of course) giving them superhuman powers. Reed Richards, played by Ioan Gruffudd (‘King Arthur’), is an inventor and leader of the group. He gains the ability to stretch his body like elastic, and goes by the alias, Mr. Fantastic. His ex-girlfriend, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) gains the power of invisibility, hence the moniker, The Invisible Woman. Her younger brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, ‘Cellular’) gains the ability to manipulate fire, (including engulfing his own body with flame), becoming The Human Torch. Ben Grimm is transformed into a super-strong rock creature, gaining the nickname ‘The Thing’ (Michael Chiklis, ‘The Shield’). A fifth member of the space mission, billionaire industrialist and mission financier Victor Von Doom, is also mysteriously affected by the cosmic blast, and holds Reed Richards directly responsible for the failure of the mission and subsequent liquidation of his company.

Director Tim Story, the man responsible for such cinematic disasters as ‘Taxi’ and ‘Barbershop’, had everything to prove with this movie, the big-screen adaptation of a flagship Marvel comics’ property. The odds seemed to be stacked heavily against him as he battled against internet ‘fan-boy’ outrage from the very start. Upon hearing even the slightest snippets of production information, fans of the comic pounced and complained endlessly about how they felt the property was being mistreated. Debating everything from the suitability of the actors cast, to the costumes and most ridiculously, a certain character’s hair colour. It was getting out of hand, the movie being smothered under the weight of expectation and crippled by increasingly negative word of mouth.

The result is certainly a mixed bag, but not the disaster many were anticipating. Fantastic Four is primarily, a fun family film. Where the other Marvel adaptations (‘X-men’, ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Hulk’) were just bursting with subtext (ranging from racism and homophobia to self discovery), Fantastic Four is a single layer family friendly popcorn movie. What you see is what you get with this movie and in a way it’s a refreshing change. No doubt, the comic fans were upset that their heroes weren’t going to get a ‘serious’ big screen treatment, but the movie actually benefits from not taking itself too seriously. It is the antithesis of the brilliantly dark and minimalist ‘Batman Begins’, but only because the material requires it to be.

Performances by Chiklis and Evans are the notable standouts, with adequate, if slightly mundane, turns from Alba and Gruffudd. Julian McMahon (Dr. Troy from T.V.’s ‘Nip/Tuck’) comes off worst, given nothing interesting to do with a stereotypical comic book villain. The main draw here though is the special effects work. Mostly excellent, with the obvious exception of Mr. Fantastics’ stretching effect, Fantastic Four is a pleasure to look at.

3 out of 5