Monday, July 25, 2005


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I only saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory about a year ago at Boback's house, and while I admire the trippy '70s imagery and Gene Wilder, I hold no particular special affection for it. The new one is quite good. Freddie Highmore is a more appealing Charlie, and the pre-chocolate factory scenes are much more pleasant to get through. The previous version was bogged down with incredibly depressing, joyless settings, unnecessary and forgettable songs, and an overemphasis on the candy espionage (who cares?). The new version tides us over with Grandpa's tales of Willy Wonka's history. Also, Charlie's family life, while appropriately poor and humble and living in a ramshackle house, is warm and pleasant and watchable in a way the other one wasn't. It's much easier to connect to and care about Charlie here.

Inevitably, Charlie gets lost in the second act, amid the other troublemakers and the factory spectacle. And the third act, which resolves Wonka's tacked-on daddy issues, seems ill-fitting and drawn-out. It doesn't spoil the movie, but it left me with lingering questions as to how Wonka's backstory fits in with the rest of the movie, and how Wonka's issues with his father tie into the parent/child relationships of the spoiled brats who visit the factory.

Another reason to see Charlie is that it's Danny Elfman's best work in years. His Spider-Man music was fine, but I dare you to hum it. Burton has always inspired Elfman's most memorable tunes, but not in his more recent movies. The Charlie score is distinctively Elfman, and may be his best theme since the underused Men in Black theme, which seemed to get more play in trailers for other movies than Men in Black itself. Plus Danny Elfman's versions of the Oompa-Loompa songs play off diverse styles of pop music and feature Elfman's own vocals.

Cynthia suggested the IMAX version, which was worth it, much more so than the IMAX of Matrix Reloaded.

Around the World in 80 Days

Finally got a chance to rent last summer's Jackie Chan bomb. It's an odd mix of overly broad comedy, really obvious jokes you feel like you've heard before (after publicly heaping the insults on a person assumed absent: "She's right behind me, isn't she?"), scattershot celebrity cameos, and mediocre Chan action. It's hard to tell who this movie is for. The filmmakers probably intended "something for everyone," but clearly that hasn't happened. The first 10 minutes are especially painful, but fortunately it picks up (a little) after that.

There is more Chan action than I expected, which was nice, but none of it is especially memorable, and the featherlight tone never allows you to feel that anyone could ever be hurt. It also adds to the feeling that you're watching several different movies mashed together. At the film's start, Chan seems to be the main character, but by the end, we're seeing things more and more from Steve Coogan's (24 Hour Party People) Phileas Fogg character. Especially after the China sequence, Chan does little but handle the action and disappear into the background once it's over.

Coogan does his best with the comedy and even makes some bits work that really shouldn't. He even pulls off the big dramatic moments and makes you care about Fogg's sense of betrayal--almost to the point where you forget what movie you're watching. The French woman who tags along ends up being a likable presence, too.

The celebrity cameos are all over the map. They include Schwarzenegger, the Wilson bros., Rob Schneider, John Cleese, and Kathy Bates. Is there any guiding logic to this? It seems driven more by who was willing to do it. But the cameos do work, especially Luke and Owen Wilson as the Wright brothers, and the stunt casting successfully makes comedy out of writing that's nothing special.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of cameos geared toward Chinese audiences, including Karen Mok (the pop singer who appeared in So Close and also cameoed in Shaolin Soccer), Daniel Wu (New Police Story), and longtime Chan collaborator and pal Sammo Hung (CBS's Martial Law).

The movie is pretty much a big mess, and it's not hard to see why it bombed. But it's okay fun if you really have to see everything Jackie Chan does, even if one of the writers did work on The Librarian: Quest for the Spear.


Meli said...

A few weeks ago the mini series of 80 Days, starring Pierce Brosnan, was shown on TV, commercial free, in order. I don't know why, but I watched/taped the whole thing. It was good! Probably much better than the Chan version.

Zack said...

You know, I saw part of the Coogan/Chan 80 Days while eating dinner. It seemed fine, really. Not sommething I would pay money to see. Didn't ruin my meal. It was fine. Not nearly as bad as the movie posters, which I think had more to do with it bombing than the actual film.