Groaning with Charlie

I have a very strong if fragmented opinion of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That’s because I saw only the opening 35 minutes last Thursday evening, so take these words with a grain of salt and read someone else for an in-depth review.
But I know what I know, darn it, and I’ve always been able to spot problematic movies in ten minutes or less (just like I can tell if a script is any good or not after reading the first ten pages), and for whatever this method or impression may be worth to readers, I despised this Tim Burton/Johnny Depp film.

Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Not in the way I hated Mr. and Mrs. Smith (that’s a kettle of fish I can’t bear to savor any further at this point) but because it feels like such a rank and oppressive Tim Burton ego trip. Burton is an immaculate visual composer, but Charlie has been made with such a lack of humility and directorial restraint that it sucks up all the oxygen in the room.
Forget Johnny Depp’s Michael Jackson-esque performance…this is what I know and feel and sense up and down. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros., 7.15) is not truly a children’s film. It’s a movie by, for and about a 46 year-old director who has tended more and more over the last few years to over-emphasize and over-indulge for visual composition’s sake alone.
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Thick Burton syrup has been poured over each and every frame. It’s an ooze-fest, this film.
It’s all about Burton more or less proclaiming, “Me! This movie is about me! Aloof, detached, visually exacting. I know you all know this, but I need to say again that I’m an absolute master at creating these lavish, ultra-particular compositions, especially when I have a lot of money to work with…and Brad Grey certainly saw to that.”
Of course, all great filmmakers invite you into their world and make essentially the same film over and over again. I guess I’m basically saying that Burton has nothing to say any longer and has become an anal-obsessive bore in a pictorial/compositional sense.

Not that any of this will matter commercially. Charlie is tracking through the roof and will make a huge bundle this weekend.
I didn’t leave Charlie after 35 minutes because I hated what I was seeing, but because I had to scoot over to a 7 pm screening of The Wedding Crashers — a film I was very much looking forward to — in the same plex. I was extremely relieved to escape into the world of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson after suffering so badly in the House of Burton. It’s possible I was extra-delighted with Crashers because of this.
Two days later (i.e., last Sunday) I happened to catch an hour’s worth of Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 Gene Wilder film that Burton’s film is based on even if he says it isn’t (he’s been telling everyone he didn’t like the ’71 film and that his version is primarily based upon the Road Dahl book).
I tend to have a bad time with kids’ films and I had therefore avoided Wonka my entire life, but here I was finally watching it and, to my surprise, half-enjoying it right away. It has a certain fanciful quality and an easy-going attitude, and Wilder — in the top-hatted lead role — manages to pitch his performance to both kids and adults.
And Stuart’s film seems to be much more about the Dahl book (which I’ve skimmed) than Burton’s film is.

Gene Wilder in Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

The Corpse Bride may be a successful turnaround, but for now I’m thinking Burton might be over. Seriously. I think he’s caught up in his own mystique and mythology, and Charlie is the latest proof. Burton’s absorption in just-so photography and production design has become an end in itself…a bore.
There doesn’t appear to be anyone at Warner Bros. who’s aesthetically planted or strong of character or well situated enough to tell him “no, this is too much” or “no, this doesn’t quite work” and so Burton goes hog-wild during shooting. He’s not off the reservation; he’s floating above it. He’s become an auteur the way Michael Cimino was an auteur when he was making Heaven’s Gate.
The Tim Burton of Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice is dead.
The bad Burton…the Burton of Planet to the Apes, Mars Attacks, Batman Returns, Big Fish and Sleepy Hollow (a beautifully-made spooky-fable movie, but mainly about production values) now rules.
To paraphrase Pauline Kael, when Burton’s on the set he seems to act like mad royalty, adding rooms to the palace. He’s rolling in the clover of his own imaginings, in production bucks, overly indulged, given to excess, etc.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory director Tim Burton

A little voice told me last weekend I should see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory start to finish, despite the lethargy that awaited, so I made my way to Manhattan last night (i.e., Tuesday) to see an IMAX version. Alas, I arrived about ten minutes late and was told there were no seats. I snarled and expressed disappointment with the publicists in the lobby, but I was secretly glad.
Last Thursday’s brief exposure was, for me, the next thing to absolute proof that I’d be in for a very rough time with a complete viewing. There has never been and there never will be a movie that turns out to be good after rubbing you the wrong way for the first 35 minutes. If a movie has the right stuff, you can always tell…you can smell it like good food.


The Warner Bros. publicist at last night’s IMAX screening told me it’s studio policy to forbid or prevent journalists from reviewing a film off an IMAX print — a completely ridiculous and absurd position, of course. If anything, IMAX presentations tend to enhance a film’s value, not detract.
I saw Batman Begins in both 35mm and IMAX versions, and while both provided every last visual and thematic point that director Chris Nolan intended, the IMAX, naturally, had more of a “wow” impact. But I wouldn’t have missed a thing if I’d only seen the IMAX version. The film is the film is the film.


Michelle Pfeiffer (l.) flirting with an obviously delighted journalist during June 1982 press schmoozer at Manhattan’s Paramount building (located back then at Columbus Circle) to promote Grease 2.

Down With Capote

A bird…you know, one of those little tweety birds…told me a few days ago that Bennett Miller’s Capote (Sony Classics, 9.30) is probably going to play the Toronto Film Festival. I guess that’s not much of a surprise, is it?
I’ve also learned that Douglas McGrath’s Have You Heard?, the competing Capote biopic that Warner Independent will distribute, will open in September 2006.
It finished shooting in April 2005 and therefore could have been ready for release before the end of the year, but two Capote movies going up against each other during the final four months would have probably been destructive on both ends.
I would have loved to see both come out simultaneously. I would think that people inclined to see a Capote biopic in the first place would make a point of seeing both no matter what. But that’s not the majority viewpoint.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote and Catherine Keener as “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee in Bennett Miller’s Capote (Sony Classics, 9.30).

Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the celebrated author in Miller’s film (I can’t wait to see this…is there any way Hoffman won’t totally kill in this role?) and Capote lookalike Toby Jones plays the lead role in the McGrath version.
There’s an understanding that both films will cover more or less the same arc in Capote’s life, beginning with Capote’s research, writing and triumphant release of “In Cold Blood” in the early to mid ’60s, and then go into the downfall period of the ’70s and ’80s.
The latter period was partly caused by and certainly highlighted by Esquire magazine’s publishing of an excerpt from Capote’s never-finished roman a clef called “Answered Prayers,” and ended with Capote’s 1984 suicide, which Gore Vidal famously called “a very wise career move.”
Catherine Keener will play Capote’s lifelong pal Harper Lee (author of “To Kill a Mockingbird’) in Miller’s biopic. Sandra Bullock will play Lee in the McGrath.
Both will focus on Capote’s very intense, possibly sexual relationship with convinced Clutter family killer Perry Smith. Mark Ruffalo will play Smith in the McGrath film; Clifton Collins, Jr., will play him in the Miller version.
The only thing giving me pause about Toby Jones is that he’s played the voice of “Dobby the House Elf” in the Harry Potter movies and “Smee” in Finding Neverland.
Postscript: For whatever reason my source in Laura Kim’s office at Warner Independent didn’t tell me when I spoke to her on Wednesday that McGrath’s Capote film has been retitled Have You Heard? and is therefore no longer being called Every Word is True.
In preparing my story I somehow overlooked a New York Times piece by David Carr that discusses the two Capote biopics, and was posted on 7.13.

Not Bad

I realize Tom Cruise gags have gotten tedious over the last couple of weeks, but this one…well, you tell me.


I missed seeing Michael Bay’s The Island (DreamWorks, 7.22) at one of those sneak preview showings last weekend, but I caught the premiere on Monday night at the Zeigfeld. Not my kind of flick, but the after-party at Roseland was terrific — extremely tasty food, not too crowded, ambitiously decorated.
I don’t know why exactly, but there were more big-breasted girly-girl types at this event than at any other social gathering I’ve attended in Manhattan since I arrived here six and half weeks ago.
I’m holding my reactions to the film until next week sometime, even though the sneak made it fair game. Here are two responses — one from Fox 411’s Roger Friedman, the other from Movie City News’ David Poland.
A critic friend is calling it “viscerally abusive and totally prosaic,” and says “watching it is like reading a letter by someone who’s a terrible writer, but thinks he’s compelling your attention by SUDDENLY SHIFTING INTO CAPITAL LETTERS and ENDING SENTENCES WITH FIVE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!”

Follically-challenged thirtysomething guy at Monday night’s after-party following the premiere of The Island

Michael Bay, director of The Island

Adult-sized, Matrix-inspired clone fetuses, straight from the Island shoot and used at entrance-way decorations for lavish Island party at Roseland.

Island Tracker

“Maybe the reason that The Island isn’t tracking very well is simply that the damn trailer gives away every possible plot twist and surprise in the movie.
“I realize that’s a common complaint today, but it’s one thing to do it for Pride and Prejudice (which every college-educated woman in America has already watched the miniseries of) and another to do it for a Matrix-y sci-fi thriller which depends, in large part, on the clever ideas and secrets it will dole out as the movie goes along.
“If you watch that trailer, you quickly learn that (1) there is no Island (several lines of dialogue state this explicitly to remove any doubt), 2) the characters are clones being harvested for body parts, something seen not only in Parts: The Clonus Horror but basically in Coma and Logan’s Run, meaning it’s basically another ’70s remake, (3) they run away and there’s a big car chase (hey there’s a novelty in a sci-fi movie these days), (4) one of the high points is them having sex for the first time and being wowed by it, and (5) Steve Buscemi apparently playing the same disaffected scientist role he played in Spy Kids 2.
“Would anyone have cared about seeing the original Matrix if its trailers had given away its major revelations and high points so determinedly?
The Island needed to have some mystery about it and let the sinister secrets be revealed slowly; this trailer makes sure you know there’s absolutely nothing here you haven’t just seen in Minority Report or on an average night on the Sci-Fi Channel.
“Watch the trailer in a big crowd and you can feel the air going out of a promising (if a bit old hat) premise. If The Island tanks, it’ll be a suicide.” — Mike Gebert


Columbus Ave. and 74th Street — Tuesday, 7.12, 7:40 pm.

Looking south from Seventh Ave. and 50th Street, just after leaving the Island party — Monday, 7.11, 11:35 pm.

Has anyone out there actually bitten into one of these Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Hostess Twinkies…like I have?

Aboard Metro North train heading for Westport, Connecticut — Friday, 7.8, 8:05 pm.

Bedford Avenue and 5th Street — Monday, 7.11, 5:35 pm.

Security line at Loews 42nd Street plex to get into press screening of The Wedding Crashers — Thursday, 7.7, 6:59 pm.

“Has anyone ever said that you overplay your various roles rather severely, Mr. Kaplan?”

Eastbound L train — Thursday, 7.7, 11:10 pm.

Bedford and 2nd Street — Monday, 7.11, 5:40 pm.

Tim Burton decline chart and theory, submitted by Grant Peterson.