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Friday Film


Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Here’s something we’ve never seen before: a movie that becomes less interesting the moment Johnny Depp appears onscreen. Introduced with a creepy clockwork fanfare, decked out in neo-Victorian finery, reciting prepared remarks from index cards in a nervous, lilting squeak, Depp’s Willy Wonka comes across less as a paranoid recluse than as a fey, agoraphobic Lost Boy. Gone is the perverse undercurrent of menace that Gene Wilder brought to the role back in 1971 — here, it’s Wonka who’s terrified of the children, not the other way around. And lest we dismiss the chocolatier as just some random weirdo, screenwriter John August, in his only major departure from Roald Dahl’s classic novel, provides multiple flashbacks to Wonka’s own troubled childhood, during which he was deprived of both sweets and affection by his authoritarian father, a renowned dentist (Christopher Lee). Poor little guy couldn’t help but become a sugar-obsessed freak. Thus is one of the most memorably forbidding characters in all of kidlit transformed into a harmless Freudian punchline.

    Which is a shame, because Charlie really cooks until it arrives at the chocolate factory. (The ’71 film, by contrast, is one long, maudlin slog until Wilder shows up.) As always, nominal hero Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) is a bit of a simp, but the other four Golden Ticket recipients are marvelous grotesques — a noxious quartet of raging ids, several of them sporting facial features so bizarrely emphatic (massive eyes, gaping smiles, taut skin) that they might be escapees from Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” video. And while the interior of Wonka’s factory sometimes resembles a Disneyland attraction, director Tim Burton and production designer Alex McDowell do marvels with the surrounding town, on the outskirts of which the Bucket home reclines at an Expressionist angle that makes Pisa’s famous tower look almost plumb by comparison. Indeed, Burton builds up so much manic energy early on that Depp’s timorous conception of Willy Wonka can only act as a barbiturate. A squadron of digitally duplicated Oompa Loompas (all played by Deep Roy) do what they can via a series of elaborate musical numbers, but with all the flashbacking and sermonizing, the film’s edge quickly becomes wafer-thin. — Mike D’Angelo

Review: The Warrior

You might have difficulty pinning down The Warrior at first. It starts off as one of those genre pieces in which a killer sees the error of his ways and flees his evil overlord, thereby incurring his wrath. Here, our hero is Lafcadia (Irfan Khan), an Indian mercenary working for a warlord who does things like torch villages full of screaming women and children when they don’t pay their grain tax or something. The particulars aren’t important — despite the rugged, ethnographic flair of director Asif Kapadia’s style, his broad characters come straight out of Samurai flicks and Spaghetti westerns. What may come as a surprise, however, is the intriguingly nonviolent turn the film takes after Lafcadia decides he’s through with his throat-slitting ways.

    In essence, after a first act full of aestheticized violence, there’s precious little warrior-ing going on in The Warrior. This isn’t a Hollywood bait-and-switch routine where a remorseful hero slaughters armies of bad guys with neck-snapping abandon. No, this time, when our hero renounces violence, so does the movie. Sullen Lafcadia wanders the earth in silence, stopping at choice bits of scenery along the way, in what at times feels like a paint-by-numbers spiritual journey: The first time Lafcadia stares in anguish at his knife, we get the point; by about the twelfth time he does it, you might hear audible groans in the theater. But there’s still something oddly compelling about the film. Kapadia crafts a universe so hostile, so forlorn, that there’s a quiet tension even when our hero does little more than walk across the screen. (Which is fortunate, because he does a lot of walking across the screen.) Khan’s intense gaze deserves some credit, too — the mind reels at the things Sergio Leone could have done with this guy. — Bilge Ebiri

Date DVD #41: A Very Long Engagement
This week, don’t let Preston Sturges’ genius rep trick you into renting his unfunny dud Unfaithfully Yours. And, please God, do not let ill-earned Oscars seduce you into renting Eastwood’s ersatz Million Dollar Baby. Instead, fall for A Very Long Engagement, a whirling wartime romance from French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the mad scientist behind Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children.

    The film is Jeunet’s reunion with his new muse Audrey Tatou, who starred in his fanciful crossover hit Amélie. Again, Tatou plays a wide-eyed, optimistic innocent, and Jeunet sprinkles serendipitious and sunny accidents throughout his picture — but this time, it’s in service of something woolier. Based on a novel by Sébastien Japrisot, the film unspools in WWI France, as the young woman Mathilde (Tatou) and the young soldier Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) fall in love. Then Manech disappears into the fetid trenches of the war, where terrible things happen, and then he disappears. Months pass, but the romantic Mathilde will not accept that he is dead, and she begins her search.

    Casting such a distilled, sweeping romance against a morbid backdrop is a time-tested formula (see Titanic or From Here to Eternity), but rarely do such films treat the horror of war and the thrill of love with equal respect. Some of Jeunet’s scenes are painstakingly reproduced from war photographs of the era, down to the tattered threads and spattered blood — and they’re awfully disturbing. At the same time, Jeunet doesn’t let the historian take over; the film is unabashedly stylized, riddled with fantastic flourishes that range from wild effects to simple tricks. In one scene, a simple breeze rushes through a field of wheat alongside Mathilde as she leaves her home, and it’s as if some god is raking his fingers through the field. The film is filled with such fleeting moments, frightening and lovely, that will likely leave you — and your honey — stunned. — Logan Hill

©2005 Nerve.com.