Five children gather on the grey steps of the famed Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory for a once-in-a-lifetime peek inside. With poor Charlie Bucket is the gluttonous Augustus Gloop, spoilt brat Veruca Salt, gum-chewing overachiever Violet Beauregard and know-it-all Mike Teavee.
Each has a scrumpalicious Golden Ticket in one hand and their respective guardian in the other -“ and there’s a lesson to learn before the day’s end.
Willy Wonka, the strangely charming but eccentric and reclusive proprietor, is in his best top hat and velvet long coat. As he declares open the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory tour, he reveals a pair of oversized scissors extending from his hand.
The man beneath the top hat and Prince Valiant bob first worked with Charlie’s iconic director in Edward Scissorhands. The moment seems a perfect valentine to the lasting creative partnership between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, the creator of this latest film version of Roald Dahl’s classic morality tale Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Burton and Depp have turned out a darker Willy Wonka than Gene Wilder’s 1971 creation. Burton and screenwriter John August (who penned Big Fish for Burton) sail closer to Dahl’s original story but throw in a twee back story about Willy Wonka’s estranged relationship with his dentist father. But this aside, the film is as devilishly delicious as Gene Wilder’s version Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Depp brings more than a fun dash of Tina C camp as Wonka, and there’s a disconcerting smudge of Peter Pan-esque Michael Jackson to Depp’s high-pitched confectionary genius.
The cast has plenty of fun – from Noah Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter as Charlie’s poor but good-hearted parents to horror star Christopher Lee as Willy Wonka’s dentist father Wilbur. The spritely David Kelly stars as Wonka’s one-time employee Grandpa Joe, who joins Charlie on the factory tour.
Young Charlie, played by Freddie Highmore, was last seen opposite Depp in Finding Neverland.
But there is plenty of sugar in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it comes in the form of a velvety chocolate river that flows past a candy forest. Production designer Alex McDowell matches Burton and Dahl’s extravagant vision splendidly inside the chocolate factory which we and Wonka’s guests see from aboard a glistening dragon boat spun from pink sugar and a glass elevator that goes any which way.
The Oompa Loompahs, the diminutive Wonka Chocolate Factory workers, are brought to life by actor Deep Roy who is replicated by the dozens and sings, dances, harvests and even does a mean drag as an Oompa secretary.
Gus Van Sant insists Last Days is a fiction merely inspired by the final days of Kurt Cobain. No one really knew where the Nirvana singer was during the days before he took his life in 1994. But in Van Sant’s mind. Cobain was clanging about the house, mumbling incoherently. Not that Last Days is a biographical film. Van Sant insists it is a fiction inspired by Cobain’s suicide and is simply a vehicle to explore the isolation and loss that might lead to someone taking their own life.
Blond Cobain look-alike Michael Pitt (The Dreamers, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) plays Blake, a young rock star overwhelmed by his fame. He clangs about the house in a black negligee, nods off in a corner and entertains the Yellow Pages salesman who comes knocking.
Last Days is part of Van Sant’s experimental trilogy of ‘what if’ films about death. Elephant imagined the lead up to the Columbine High School massacre. Gerry followed two friends lost in a desert.
These films also abandon dramatic narrative structure in favour of a fly-on-the-wall observational approach. This isn’t necessarily so rewarding for the audience in trying to understand Blake’s drive to die. Yet Last Days is oddly compelling, if only for its parallels with Cobain’s life, and is bound to find favour with Nirvana fans up for a spot of Cobain adoration.