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 Post subject: Paul King: Wonka (2023)
PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2023 7:18 pm 
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Prime holiday fare already

The Paddington folks have given us a beautiful prequel of the 1964 Roald Dahl Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The 1971 favorite starred Gene Wilder, whom Tomothée Chalamet echoes a little, but the look and the mood of this new film is more fable-like and upbeat, and the cruelty element of Dahl has been greatly diluted. The Oompa Loompas are still slaves, but they are represented only by a digitally miniaturized Hugh Grant who is imperious and hilarious. Things end happily, with a bonus song.

As Robbie Collin of the Independent, who says this is "the most fun you'll have in a cinema all year," sums it up, "Paul King and his co-writer Simon Farnaby have concocted a wholly self-contained caper about a plucky young chocolatier taking on a cartel of older, meaner rivals – then dusted it with enough details drawn from both Dahl’s novel and the 1971 film to make the branding add up."

There are many notable actors, especially English ones like Olivia Coleman as the exploitive innkeeper Mrs. Scrubitt - the best nasty bitch she's ever played, and "Downton Abbey's" rich-voiced Jim Carter as Abacus Crunch, Rowan Atkinson as an iffy priest, Sally Hawkins as Willy's lost mamma, and others.. There is a high proportion of black actors (you'll find nobody non-white in the Wilder film): most notably there is Noodle (Calah Lane), the talented orphan who becomes Willy's companion after helping him escape from Mrs. Scubitt. Another impressive black actor is Paterson Joseph, as Slugworth, one of the three cartel baddies with very elegant diction.

These secondary cast members shine as is the way in English films, but this is all about Timothée Chalamet. He engaged us in Little Women, amused us in Lady Bird, dazzled and moved us in Call Me by Your Name, he was royal in Dune (ongoing), which a host of fans await. By now he is a big name star who can't be mentioned in America or abroad (including France, where his father was born) without the words "charmer" and "charming" being heard. He is a delicate, pretty creation, a kind of confection himself. So if you don't buy that, Wonka won't work for you. But for those in search of tasty but light holiday fare, Wonka, which has sweet songs, rich period settings, and an impressive mise-en-scène, is the treat you are looking for.

The Metacritic page for Wonka provides a confusing panorama, winding up with a grade of 66% after perusing sixty reviews, but don't be misled. The many glowing reviews are topped off with three 100's from major English critics, for the Guardian, Telegraph, and Observer, and a rave a little further down from the Independent. If there are 18 raves, and 22 reviews with a "good" rating in respectable sources, over if aaong all the 60 reviews counted there are some lousy ones, this movie has nonetheless made a great showing. And for good reason; it's a precise and gorgeous entertainment, a colorful twittering machine of almost baffling richness. Luckily Timmy holds it firmly together. He has a sure touch.

I wasn't sure that he could charm me non-stop at center screen for most of a musical fantasy feature. But his manner, as always, is engaging; his singing is sweet and likable; and the answer was yes, he could. I never looked at my watch, even though Wonka is only four minutes short of two hours. After looking at the 1971 Gene Wilder Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory directed by Mel Stuart, which some exclaim Wonka will never replace (why would it? how could it?), the latter looked drab by comparison with this gleaming prequel. Some have declared Wonka overelaborate. It has nothing of Willy Wonka's bright, plain and contemporary look: it's a beautiful chiaroscuro fantasy Powell and Pressburger might approve.

Chalamet's Wonka arrives on a boat in costume that looks Dickensian. But this is a "fantastic creation based on 1930's London." There is a magnificent grand Rolls Royce of the period to convey the evil three-man chocolate cartel who are out to squelch, and if necessary drown, Wonka. It was partly filmed at Bath, Oxford and London itself, but mostly made at the Warner Bros. studio, and it looks very much the latter. The big cityscapes and the grand interiors of buildings are dark and vague, with momentary architectural highlights. The people are bright and colorful, with Wonka dancing about in his long antique jacket and fluffy, curly hair. (Such hair can never be tamed, and changes from shot to shot.)

But if that's the worst that can happen, you can imagine what a satisfying adventure this is.

Wonka, 116 mins., had its London premiere Nov.28, 2023, opening in many countries throughout December. It opened in US theaters today, Dec. 15. Metascore currently 66% (3 100's, 3 90's, 12 80's).

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