August 26, 2010

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

YET ANOTHER FIRST for Dash: We finally took a step out of animated movies and watched his first live-action film.

And we did it with one of my all-time favorites – not just from my childhood, but to this day.


Poor paperboy Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) and his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) dream about what lies behind the factory walls of reclusive candymaker Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder). Then one day, Wonka throws a worldwide contest by hiding six golden tickets among his chocolate Wonka bars, granting the winning ticketholders a tour of his factory.


So many elements come together to make Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory a deliciously timeless classic that it’s best to address them one by one…

The cast.
Wilder seems to be genuinely enjoying if not relishing his role as the eccentric Wonka. He comes off as alternately endearing and maniacal – spouting off quotes from Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Keats as he implicitly tests the honesty and goodness of the kids touring his factory.

13-year-old Ostrum does a great job of getting the viewer to root for good-hearted Charlie, who ultimately finds a golden ticket (in one of the film’s most exciting, uplifting moments) and is joined on Wonka’s factory tour by the other winners: German glutton Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), obnoxious Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson), spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole), and television addict Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen).

The music.
The songs by composers Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse have stood the test of time, with many still memorable after 40 years: Wonka’s signature tune, “Pure Imagination;” “Cheer Up Charlie,” which could have come straight from the classic Disney songbook; the cautionary songs by the Oompa Loompas, Wonka’s pint-sized, orange-skinned employees; and “The Candy Man,” written for the film and later made famous (or infamous) by Sammy Davis, Jr.

The settings.
From Charlie’s could-be-anywhere village town (in reality, Munich) to the fantastic rooms of Wonka’s dream-like factory, the settings are truly the stuff of fairy tales. The set pieces in the factory are amazing – a world of chocolate rivers, candy trees, fizzy-lifting drinks, and fruit-flavored wallpaper (director Mel Stuart credits the imagination of Oscar-winning art director Harper Goff).

Author Roald Dahl adapted his own book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the Willy Wonka script (with a polish by first-time screenwriter David Seltzer), yet apparently he hated the film. With all due respect to Dahl, it doesn’t matter. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a wonderfully yummy treat with a morality-tale center – a fun adventure that speaks not only to children, but the kid inside each of us.

* Both Anthony Newley and Sammy Davis, Jr. wanted to play the role of the candy store owner who sings “The Candy Man” in the film, but director Stuart felt it would be too showbiz and would shatter the illusion of the story. (The role went to Aubrey Woods.)
* When the children first enter the sprawling Chocolate Room, their reactions are real – it was actually their first view of that set.
* Skip the 2005 DVD release and watch the 2001 edition, which features a bunch of extras including an insightful, often funny commentary by the now-adult Wonka kids.

What did Dash think?
Dash did enjoy Willy Wonka, giggling and chuckling along the way – though I don’t think he was as enthralled with it as I’ve been over the years. Maybe it was because it was his first non-animated film, or because it ended an hour past his bedtime. Bottom line: While I think he liked it, I don’t anticipate repeat viewings.

Will your kids like it?
Kids of a certain age (I’ll say 7 and older) will really enjoy Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a visual and musical feast, Wilder’s Wonka is an iconic character, kids can really get behind the character of Charlie…and really, isn’t it the dream of any child to have their own chocolate factory? (Though maybe these days, it’s more about owning a fruit-snack factory.)

Depending on your sensitivities, there may be a few things to consider if you’re thinking of letting wee little ones watch Wonka:
* The implied off-screen fates of the children who didn’t listen to Wonka during the factory tour, including being made into fudge, de-juiced before exploding, burned in a furnace, and stretched with a taffy-pulling machine
* A scene where a wife must choose between her kidnapped husband’s life or giving his captors her case of Wonka bars (it ends with a soft punchline aimed at adults)
* Passing references to Grandpa Joe’s pipe tobacco
* The boat ride on the chocolate river is a nightmarish, bad acid trip with Day-Glo colors, creepy images (including the beheading of a chicken), and Wonka’s scary a capella song (with a reference to “the fires of Hell”) which ends with him screaming the lyrics before stopping the boat

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I hope that she had already seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child, but if not, here’s your chance. It’s great viewing for you and her to share, either with or without kids.

I want my right arm back and I want it NOW!!!

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
* Director: Mel Stuart
* Screenwriter: Roald Dahl
* Stars: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Michael Bollner, Denise Nickerson, Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Roy Kinnear
* MPAA Rating: G

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August 20, 2010

Yellow Submarine (1968)

TO GET IDEAS FOR future movies to review with Dash, I recently rented The New York Times Essential Library: Children's Movies: A Critic's Guide to the Best Films Available on Video and DVD by Peter M. Nichols from our local library.

While most of Nichols’ recommendations were for older children, and some were downright questionable (Jurassic Park?!), his last entry was one that not only seemed appropriate for Dash’s age, but one I had overlooked in my [age withheld] years on this planet: The Beatles’ animated classic Yellow Submarine.


The gentle, colorful, musical people of Pepperland are attacked by the music-hating Blue Meanie (Paul Angelis) and his minions, who silence Pepperland’s citizens by turning them into gray, colorless statues. The captain of Pepperland’s Yellow Submarine (Lance Percival) realizes there’s only one group of people who can save them, and that’s the Beatles: John (John Clive), Paul (Geoffrey Hughes), George (Peter Batten), and Ringo (Angelis again).*

* According to Nichols, the Beatles hated cartoons, and they blew off voiceover recording sessions until the filmmakers had no choice but to hire sound-alikes.


Even someone who hasn’t seen Yellow Submarine can guess its two dominating elements: the animation and the music. And they’d be right.

The animation is reflective not only of the era (the late ‘60s), but also the Beatles’ then-psychedelic phase. It’s filled with trippy non-sequiturs that use a generous mix of pop-art photography and traditional yet far-out 2-D animation.

The music includes three new Beatles songs along with many of their classics, including “Yellow Submarine,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “All Together Now,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Nowhere Man,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and “All You Need Is Love.”

And the script? Well, despite the work of five screenwriters (including a rewrite by Love Story scribe Erich Segal) it’s really incidental compared to the animation and music, and is treated as such. The “Beatles” speak mostly under their breath, with put-on Liverpudlian accents, swallowing many of their punchlines in the process.

If you’re not a Beatles fan, you still owe it to yourself to see Yellow Submarine at least once. It’s more of an experience or a rite of passage, but see it to say you saw it.

What did Dash think?
At several points, I really thought Dash was going to say Yellow Submarine was weird, boring, or scary. However, he really enjoyed it, chuckling and giggling quite a few times. His favorite character was The Boob (Dick Emery), a rhyming, philosophizing creature who tags along with the Beatles…and who’s not as smart as he thinks.

Bonus: The night after watching Yellow Submarine, there was a glimmer of hope in Dash’s musical edification: I caught him singing “Eleanor Rigby” on his way to the dinner table.

Will your kids like it?
Watching Yellow Submarine with Dash (and his little brother Jack-Jack), I learned that what adults see as trippy, kids see as funny. They were both laughing often at the silliness of many of the sequences. I think kids of all ages would enjoy and appreciate the film, whether it’s for the animation, the antics, the music, or all three.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a Beatles fan, then yes…but of course, if she’s a true fan, she’s probably seen Yellow Submarine already. Either way, if she’s never seen it, it can be a fun experience for her, you, and the kids to enjoy together.

Next time, let's take the newspaper taxi.

Yellow Submarine
* Director: George Dunning
* Screenwriters: Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, Erich Segal, Roger McGough
* Stars: Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoffrey Hughes, Lance Percival, Peter Batten
* MPAA Rating: G

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August 14, 2010

A Force of One (1979)


That name ring a bell?

No? Okay, how about these names:

The French Connection.
High Plains Drifter.

Ernest Tidyman wrote all three of those screenplays (and won the Oscar for French Connection). He also wrote the Shaft book series as well as several other novels before his death in 1984.

Based on that pedigree, and the fact that High Plains Drifter is one of my all-time favorites, I searched for more films written by Tidyman. Unfortunately, he had a rather limited screenwriting career, and only a fraction of his films are available for home viewing.

Still, one of Tidyman’s credits sticks out in his filmography, compared to the classics mentioned earlier. Of all things, it’s a Chuck Norris movie: 1979’s A Force of One.


Santa Monica, California: It’s Christmastime, and someone is killing narcotics detectives by using martial arts. Stumped, the Santa Monica police enlist the help of champion kickboxer, martial arts instructor, and Vietnam vet Matt Logan (Chuck Norris) – who helps train the detectives in martial arts and offers some insight to help determine potential suspects behind the killings.


In A Force of One’s DVD extras, director Paul Aaron says he did an uncredited rewrite of the script to make it “fit Chuck more” (never once mentioning Tidyman by name). That explains a lot, since I can’t imagine Tidyman was the author behind such a lackluster film.

The dialogue is forgettable and by-the-numbers, accompanied by a plot, cinematography, and soundtrack that make the film feel like a glorified episode of any given cop or detective drama from the ‘70s. Some of the scenes even seem ad-libbed, and not in a good way.

In addition to the weak script, there’s substandard acting by nearly everyone involved – including Jennifer O’Neill, Clu Gulager, Ron “Superfly” O’Neal, and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace.

Sadly and perhaps ironically for a Chuck Norris film, the martial arts sequences are sparse. Scenes of Norris handing out ass-whoopings outside of training and kickboxing matches are limited – which leaves him lots of time to dole out dialogue in his trademark monotone delivery. The action sequences that do take place are dated and bland, with many of the martial arts fights shot in slo-mo, accompanied by cheesy sound effects.

I’m hoping that A Force of One was either a quick paycheck movie for Tidyman to help him pursue other (read: better) creative endeavors, or that Aaron’s rewrite eliminated nearly all of Tidyman’s dialogue. Because what’s left is a ponderous, underwhelming film.

* Tidyman is one of the few white people to win an NAACP Image Award, an honor given to him for creating the Shaft books.
* Norris’ opponent for his big fight in the finale, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, was also John Belushi’s bodyguard. It was Wallace who found Belushi dead from a drug overdose.


Is it suitable for your kids?
A Force of One is rated PG. It features several bloodless killings, mostly by the breaking of necks. There are scenes of drug dealing and drug use, including men snorting cocaine and a girl with track marks on her arm. There are also a few mild profanities.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Highly doubtful. And even if she is a Chuck Norris fan, he’s made much better films than this (comparatively speaking).

Kicked him so hard, he made him blurry.

A Force of One
* Director: Paul Aaron
* Screenwriter: Ernest Tidyman
* Stars: Chuck Norris, Jennifer O’Neill, Clu Gulager, Ron O’Neal, Bill Wallace
* MPAA Rating: PG

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August 9, 2010

Win a Nanny McPhee Returns Prize Pack!

YOU COULD WIN one of three prize packs from the upcoming Universal Pictures film Nanny McPhee Returns, starring Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal and opening August 20th in theaters.

Each prize pack includes:
* Youth T-shirt
* Notebook
* Crayon Wheel
* Lunchbox

How to Enter:
Comment on this post by August 22, 2010. I will then pick three comments at random and post the winners on August 23. (Winners will then have to e-mail me their mailing addresses to receive their prizes.)

  • You must have a link to your e-mail address on your Blogger profile page. If not, you must provide your e-mail address in your comment.
  • Prizes are available to United States mailing addresses only. (International readers can enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail.)
Official Trailer:

Good luck!

August 3, 2010

Moonlight (2002)

AH, YOUNG LOVE. I remember my early days of pubescence: Meeting new girls, the awkward conversations, smuggling drugs in my lower intestine…wait, what?

12-year-old Claire (Laurien Van den Broeck) discovers a wounded, bleeding boy (Hunter Bussemaker) in her family’s garden shed. The boy was serving as a mule for drug runners, but was shot and left for dead when he didn’t “deliver” all of their contraband. Claire, who is going through puberty and discovering the appeal of boys, keeps him a secret from her parents (Johan Leysen and Jemma Redgrave) and nurses him back to health. One day, while changing his soiled drawers (stay with me), she discovers little baggies in his stool – the remaining contraband the dealers wanted before they shot him. When the drug runners realize he’s still alive (and may still have the rest of their stash), what lengths will Claire go to protect him?


Filmed in the small European country of Luxembourg with an English-speaking cast, Moonlight is an atmospheric tale of young, awkward love between a strong girl and a shy boy, featuring beautiful cinematography by Guido van Gennep (his first feature) and a bare, haunting score by Fons Merkies. In many ways, Moonlight feels like a prototype for Let The Right One In (minus the vampire angle, though blood plays a significant role in both).

Van den Broeck carries the film exceptionally well, showing acting chops well beyond her years (she was just 13 when Moonlight was filmed) – using her commanding eyes to convey emotion and “speak” for silent, extended passages of the film.

A couple of nits: There’s a bleeding parallel between Claire and the boy (her menstruation, his wounds) that never fully comes together. And the third act tapers to an ending that’s a bit too artsy and nihilistic compared to what preceded it.

Moonlight won a handful of awards, either for Van den Broeck’s performance or the direction of Paula Van der Oest. It’s an overlooked little film if you’re searching for something interesting, intriguing, or off the beaten path.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Van der Oest must have an obsession with bodily fluids, because Moonlight has at least one graphic scene each of menstrual blood, bowel movements, urination, and vomiting. Also, the film may be a bit too “European” for some viewers’ tastes: There’s drinking, smoking, and drug-taking by Claire and the boy, and Van den Broeck is briefly topless in a sex scene with him. In terms of violence: The drug dealers beat and stab one of their own to death, Claire rips an earring off a man who gave her and the boy a ride, someone is killed with a pair of scissors to the throat, a dog is killed, and there’s an attempted rape.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I honestly don’t know. It probably depends on her tastes. If you think she’d like an added dimension of vampires, you both might be rewarded more with the similarly-themed Let The Right One In.

There…there’s where we left the better ending.

* Director: Paula Van der Oest
* Screenwriter: Carel Donck
* Stars: Laurien Van den Broeck, Hunter Bussemaker, Andrew Howard, Johan Leysen, Jemma Redgrave
* MPAA Rating: N/A

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