Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Director: Mel Stuart

1971

On the whole I enjoy Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but there are some aspects which drive me to distraction. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may be able to guess which aspects bother me – the children! While all of the children are repellent only one child really infuriates me and that unfortunately is Charlie Bucket. He is a wet drip of a child with a washed out feel to him, not helped by the poverty he is living in. It’s always a shame when you don’t connect with the lead character as your enjoyment of the film as a whole suffers for it. On the other hand I just love Grandpa Joe so at least there is someone to keep me engaged with the story through to the end as the list of characters declines.

“Although most children’s movies are saccharine, if not silly, Mel Stuart’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novel is a happy exception. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a juvenile black comedy replete with flash visuals, engaging songs, and an over-the-top performance by Gene Wilder as the title character, whose claim to fame is being the world’s greatest candy maker.” (521, R. Barton Palmer, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) To some extent I agree with R. Barton Palmer as Willy Wonka is far less saccharine than many other family films – a great achievement when the whole film revolves around the creation of sweets and candy. It certainly has it’s dark moments – I remember being terrified of the almost psychedelic flashing images played across the walls of the tunnel during the journey down the chocolate river, especially coupled with the slightly creepy song Gene Wilder sings. But for the most part they kind of gloss over the other more bleak aspects of Wonka’s somewhat damaged personality.

I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with my mum the other day and about a third of the way through she said that she preferred the more recent remake, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) by Tim Burton, which naturally set us off on a comparison of the two.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryThere are elements of the story that Burton was able to capture more believably thanks to the improvements in the world of special effects, most noticeably the chocolate river. It’s luxuriously thick and creamy in Burton’s version as opposed to looking like dirty brown water in Willy Wonka. Having said that the rest of the edible elements of the chocolate factory are far more appealing to the lingering inner child within me. To this day whenever I watch Willy Wonka I am filled with envy that I am unable to run amok amongst so many strange and wonderful edible things.

The songs are infinitely more memorable in the original and seem a more natural fit than those employed by Burton. Though I do enjoy the fact that you see the aftermath of the mishaps brought upon the children thanks to their despicable behavior in Burton’s version – one aspect that makes the film a more faithful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s original story.

“Like The Wizard of Oz (1939), Will Wonka is full of strange creatures, artificial sets, and lively song and dance numbers.”(521) My favorite part of Willy Wonka remains the ludicrous Oompa Loompas – so much better than the creepy incarnation Burton thought up. They have become a cultural icon and whenever I see someone with that trademark orange face and green wig I cannot help but be instantly transported back to the wonderfully sublime and silly world of Will Wonka and consequentially my childhood.

There are flaws to Willy Wonka, which I think are only noticeable because there is something to compare it to in the form of Burton’s remake but overall they can be overlooked and I am quite content to watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory whenever it happens to be on television.

Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In)

Director: Tomas Alfredson

2008

“At face value, this Swedish vampire film follows the trend of prudish predators: the vampire as your abstaining friend. Any languishing for sex is thoroughly suppressed. Of course, it helps that the protagonists – blond and angelic Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and the enigmatic Eli (Lina Leandersson) – are (or seem to be) children.” (917, Ernest Mathys, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) As seems to be the recent trend Eli is a conflicted vampire – she doesn’t want to attack people but she needs blood to survive. Her appearance as a 12 year-old child makes her seem all the more vulnerable. Her position takes a turn for the worse when her carer fails to acquire blood for her sparking the bloody events of the film.Let the Right One In

“Throughout the film, pale white palettes abound, and punctured spots of red intervene in this snowy, sleepy and dreamy design.” (917) Let The Right One In has a very stark and somewhat bleak landscape, one added to by setting the film in the 1980s.

“The title refers to the fact that, according to folklore, vampires must be invited in by their victims.” (917) I watch (and read) a lot of things that feature vampires and no two are the same in their approach (the topic of one of my essays while at university), which is what, in part, keeps drawing me back to this subgenre of horror. Most, but not all, vampire stories abide by the rule that in order to enter a household a vampire must first be invited in. And this is true of Let The Right One In. Eli can physically enter Oskar’s flat without an invitation but her body actually begins exsanguination, only stopping when Oskar verbally invites her in. That scene is particularly bloody with blood seeping out of Eli’s eyes, nose, mouth, ears and pores. It’s very much the scene that stood out for me.Eli Let The Right One In

There is something ever so slightly wrong with Eli’s appearance. It’s not anything immediately noticeable, just a slight widening or enlarging of the eyes maybe, but it’s enough to give you the sense that something is off. These alterations become enhanced when Eli is trying to avoid the temptation of blood.

I’m intrigued to see the American remake, Let Me In (2010, Matt Reeves) as it came out not long after Let The Right One In and I’m always interested in the changes Hollywood makes. There is also a stage version playing in London’s West End at the moment but I can’t see how some aspects of the film would translate to the stage.

Let The Right One In thus asks the uncomfortable question whether hospitality means that one has to accept the bad with the good. A pointed commentary on immigration, perhaps; an enchanting fairytale, for sure.” (917)

Life of Brian

Director: Terry Jones

1979

“While trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid accusations of blasphemy by clearly establishing that Graham Chapman’s Brian is “not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy,” Life of Brian plays fast and loose with New Testament characters, and along the way makes both satirical and moral points.” (641, Karen Krizanovich, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Of all the Python’s the one that I would actually choose to watch would be Life of Brian, and on top of that I also find it funny unlike the others.

“Although, the movie, like all the other Python films is essentially a collection of surreal, violent, and very funny sketches held together with a loose narrative thread, this one has – for obvious reasons – a strong story.” (641) It feels more cohesive and put together than Holy Grail, which is most likely because there is a stronger sense of narrative. Life of Brian clearly benefits from having one director this time round, resulting in a more singular vision. In the capable hands of Terry Jones there is a much stronger sense of visual aesthetic – and none of the crazy, if wonderfully crafted, animation elements that Gilliam bought to Holy Grail.

Life of Brian is wonderfully satirical with the signature dry humor Python bring to their most memorable sketches. And thankfully less of the puerile humor that I just don’t see the point of.

Graham Chapman is once again the unwitting hapless hero though a more engaging one than Arthur on Holy Grail. There are some very memorable and clever sequences in Life of Brian – particularly the brilliant ‘Well what did the Roman’s ever do for us’ speech. The stoning scene highlights the oft-times irrational attitudes towards the subject of religion in general, and blasphemy in particular.

Despite it’s extremely silly nature I love the fact that Caesar cannot say his r’s, along with a friend named Bigus Dickus – who also has a speech impediment when he appears. I was practically crying with laughter during that scene.

If I ever have to recommend a Monty Python film to someone still naïve in the knowledge of the comedy troupe it would definitely be Life of Brian – mainly because it is the only one of their films that I actually find comical and therefore their best work in my opinion.Life of Brian

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Director: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones

1975

“The process of making the movie had aspects as darkly comical as a typical Python sketch. For one thing, the two directors didn’t make a compatible duo; they had different visions of the movie’s style, and Gilliam resented Jones’s tendency to reduce the grandeur of his set designs with cramped camera setups.” (590, David Sterritt, 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die)

Monty Python's Holy GrailNow while I am British and therefore naturally understand that elusive British humor, one thing I have never really grasped is the humor of Monty Python. They have moments of shining brilliance where they truly are hilarious but for me these moments are rare. For the vast majority of the time I find them absurd and puerile. And this was certainly the case with Holy Grail. The only moment I found funny was their first interaction with the French – the now infamous “I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

I can completely see how and why this (and other Python offerings) has achieved cult movie status. It’s got easy costumes to recreate that are instantly recognizable. And lord knows it’s quote-worthy. Add to that the other elements such as the horses being coconuts and you have the recipe for an instant cult movie.

Despite not being a Monty Python fan I do have to give them props. They are a hard-working group with almost every one of the core actors, like John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, taking on at least 2 additional roles.

“Like much of Monty Python’s best work, Holy Grail is a keen-minded parody with a political edge, debunking a foundational myth of Western power while playing Brechtian havoc with traditionalist ideas ranging from benevolent despotism to chivalric masculinity. And oh yes – it’s a laugh riot.” (590)

Holy Grail is a completely bizarre film with a very loose narrative that is actually narrated as well. It’s a mish-mash of techniques with real time action and animation often sharing the same scene. It does look quite dated now but I actually think that adds to the film’s cult status and appeal – if you’re a Monty Python fan that is. A lot of the time I found myself getting frustrated with the film due to its outrageous and ridiculous nature.

Wuthering Heights

Director: William Wyler

1939

“William Wyler’s film version of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is unsurpassed as a gothic tale of inextinguishable passion, thwarted by social circumstance and mischance.” (144, R. Barton Palmer, 1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die)

Wuthering HeightI find myself disagreeing with pretty much everything R. Barton Palmer has to say about Wuthering Heights.

I was unmoved by the narrative and the sets did little for me either. Indeed while watching the film I felt quite enclosed even when on the moors and couldn’t figure out why. Now knowing that the moors were created in the studio sound stages it all makes sense. “It is the acting of Olivier and Oberon as the doomed lovers, framed against the forbidding wildness of the studio-crafted moors, that makes the film most memorable.” (144)

I didn’t really know the story of Wuthering Heights, just that Heathcliff and Cathy were one of the infamous literary couples, up there with Elizabeth & Darcy, Scarlett & Rhett, Jane Eyre & Rochester. Theirs is a doomed love, which usually makes for an epic story. Unfortunately that’s not how I saw them when watching this version of Wuthering Heights. I found Cathy to have a spoilt child-like temperament, which did not endear her character to me. And the relationship they form is a toxic one – and not just to themselves but everyone else unfortunate enough to orbit the pair. I didn’t see much love, doomed or otherwise, but rather an unhealthy obsession with possessing the other to the destruction of everyone and everything around them. “Heathcliff’s speech about the life they will live together is one of the most poignant moments in any Hollywood film.” (144)

Despite not liking the film I am intrigued by the possibility that the doomed love story of Heathcliff and Cathy was lost in translation and might actually bring myself to read the novel.

Tsotsi

Director: Gavin Hood

2005

“Chweneyagae and Pheto give remarkable performances in a film that powerfully conveys the brutality and squalor of the urban slums of Johannesburg – while maintaining a strong belief in the human spirit, which resists being crushed under the oppressive weight of poverty.” (905, Edward Buscombe, 1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die)

Every time I watch a film like Tsotsi or City of God (2002, Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund) or even Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle) I’m forcibly reminded that there are still people living in abject poverty in brutal locations around the world. At the same time films like these make me take stock not only of the world at large but also everything I am incredibly lucky to have in my life that more often than not I take for granted.

As always when watching a foreign language film I found it took me a while longer before my ears clicked into the language at which point the film flowed more naturally. It’s a curious language – one that seems to be a mish-mash of languages – with bits of English occasionally appearing. It’s quite pleasant to listen to which is sometimes at odds with the violence surrounding, and yes carried out by, Tsotsi.

“At last, having failed to defend himself to Miriam, Tsotsi is forced to confront the nature of his life and the direction it is taking.” (905)

The driving force of the narrative comes from a botched carjacking in which Tsotsi inadvertently kidnaps a baby. Over the course of the next 6 days we witness something remarkable – the transformation of a self-titled thug (Tsotsi) as he rediscovers his humanity.

“If at times the direction seems overly theatrical – with heavy pauses while we absorb the significance of a scene – this is a small price to pay for the film’s powerful insights.” (905)

I found his interaction with a paralyzed man the turning point. He initially intends to take the man’s money by force (as usual up to this point) and instead goes on to reveal part of himself, through his story of an abused dog … one we later witness with some incredible and heart-wrenching acting from said dog.

By far the most interesting aspect of Tsotsi is seeing Tsotsi’s attachment to the child, who is adorable.Tsotsi