Thursday July 7th is Chocolate Day! In honor of such a tantalizing holiday consider watching one of the following tributes to one of life’s most decadent pleasures; the flower of the cocoa bean. Warning-watching these may bring on sudden cravings.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) This musical fantasy directed by Mel Stuart (Four Days in November, One is a Lonely Number) with a legendary performance by dreamy eyed Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka about how Charlie Bucket receives a Golden Ticket to tour Wonka’s Chocolate Factory along with four other children is one of the most beloved children’s films of all time especially for the iconic scene when the children reach the main room of Wonka’s factory with the edible forest and chocolate water fountain. Adapted from the Roald Dahl classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory there’s also the 2005 film version as well directed by Tim Burton starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.
Consuming Passions (1988) This black comedy based on the 1973 radio play Secrets, tells the tale of a chocolate factory preparing to launch a new product. Unfortunately a worker falls into the vat during production and the horrified owners fail to recall the chocolates. When the newest chocolates become a surprise hit, the factory owners realize they have inadvertently stumbled on a new key secret ingredient for candy production. Starring Sammi Davis, Vanesssa Redgrave, and Johnathon Pryce.
Like Water for Chocolate (1992) Adapted from the novel and directed by Alfonso Arauby the same name by Laura Esquivel. As the youngest daughter Tita De La Garza (Lumi Cavazos) is forbidden to marry and instead charged with caring for her mother until the day she dies. Pedro (Marco Leonardi) is in love with Tita but marries her sister Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi) instead to be close to her. Tita a chef, begins to sublimate her passions into her work and thus we get some of the sexiest cooking scenes ever recorded on camera. It earned all eleven Ariel awards from the Mexico Academy of Motion Pictures including Best Picture and became the highest grossing Spanish language film ever released in the U.S. at the time.
Chocolat (2000) This film adaption of the Joanne Harris novel of the same name stars Juliette Binoche as Vianne Rocher a expert chocolatier who travels to a sleepy French town in 1959 with her daughter Anouk to open a chocolate shop at the beginning of Lent-much to the displeasure of the town mayor the Comte de Reynaud (Al Molina). The all-star cast also includes, Johnny Depp, Carrie Anne Moss, Judi Dench, Lena Olin and Peter Stormare, it was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Picture.
The Dark Side of Chocolate (2010) In this 46 minute long documentary available online, journalists Miki Mistrati (The Massive Killer) and Robin Romano (Stolen Childhoods)investigate how the worldwide chocolate industry is fueled by child trafficking in the Ivory Coast.
Photo from Bigstock.
It stands for “Big Friendly Giant,” and though he’s older than history can tell, this is the only name he has. The redundant nomenclature is care of an insomniac orphan who sees something she isn’t meant to see and that changes her life — and the world. On the surface The BFG is a simple yarn for children. However it also presents opportunities for audiences of all ages to look at their positions in the world and decide whether or not things are as they should be. That this very British movie should come out at a time when Britain is facing some real, potentially history-changing turmoil is clearly a coincidence, but a serendipitous one.
Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, The BFG the movie follows the tale of a little girl named Sophie, played by 12-year-old newcomer Ruby Barnhill. Sophie’s parents died when she was even younger, leaving her in the care of a negligent caretaker, Mrs. Clonkers. Very little time is spent addressing the nature of Clonker’s shortcomings, though we see Sophie locking up the house at night, making sure the clocks are on time, and telling off the loud drunkards who stumble out of the nearby pub at 3 a.m. It is during such an exchange that she notices an overturned trash bin, and then the giant hand that sets it right.
Though she doesn‘t know it yet, the hand belongs to the only non-cannibalistic giant in the world. Still, she’s seen too much, so that hand comes through the open dormitory doors and snatches Sophie from her bed — blanket, book and all — and whisks her away. Sophie is carried hundreds of miles from London, but after a bumpy start and a couple of failed escape attempts, the little girl and the big, gentle, elderly looking chap develop an understanding and friendship that bridges the gap between their sizes.
Her new friend collects good dreams from “dream country” that he delivers to sleeping children. It’s a lifestyle we soon see is endangered by the nine other inhabitants of “giant country,” a dreadful, quarrelsome group of child-eaters who are much bigger and much stronger than the BFG. (This group’s leader is Fleshlumpeater, played with great baritone menace by Jemaine Clement.) They just want to find the children and chow down. What the BFG eats instead will bring a knowing smile to those well versed in the Dahl lexicon.
Sophie witnesses the bullying the BFG endures, the lack of privacy and respect for his work, the utter disregard the other giants show for him and declares that something must be done. There is a lot to be said about bullying in this scene. There’s the question of how you handle it when you’re so much smaller and so very outnumbered. There’s the idea that no matter what you should try to stand up for yourself, or at least protect yourself. There’s the notion that the good guy will always be outnumbered and outmuscled, and the insistence that even then one can triumph over adversity with a little cleverness and cunning.
What follows is a child’s take on international cooperation, the triumph of good against evil, punishment of the chronically wicked, and the delightful effects of fizzy drinks.
The first half of the film is quite slow and, despite several attempts to grab the viewer with perspective tricks, lacks the energy one would expect in a Steven Spielberg movie. The trudging pacing is offset somewhat by the gorgeous, luscious scenery and attention to detail with respect to the titular character. The BFG, played by Oscar winner and Shakespearean actor extraordinaire Mark Rylance, bears many of Rylance’s features. From his sloping eyebrows to his sort of tight-lipped half-mumble, character artists have created an expressive and mostly realistic-looking figure. In close-up you can see pores in his skin, micro-wrinkles, wild hairs growing out of seemingly unexpected places for what is, for all intents and purposes, a high-level cartoon.
Where the filmmakers have succeeded in creating a distinct look and feel, that slow half made me question how members of the young target audience would sit through it. Kids won’t necessarily be captivated by the technological expertise. They want a good, entertaining story. And this is one; it just takes some time to get there.
A series of thoroughly silly scenes set in Buckingham palace kick things up to a really enjoyable pace. Laden with flatulence humor and sight gags, these scenes will no doubt tickle younger viewers’ funny bones and keep them giggling. These same scenes also make some interesting statements about acceptance, inclusion, trust and open-mindedness — something that perhaps we don’t see enough of these days. Penelope Wilton and Rafe Spall make a charming comedic duo as queen and footman, and no doubt kids will find the royal corgis utterly hilarious.
As with so many of Dahl’s stories, the ending is a mixed bag of dark and light, and it doesn’t deny the truth or strength of a child’s feelings and loyalty. It’s a mostly happy end, just tinged with sadness, but that may be more evident to the parents than their children. All in all, it’s a fine translation of a beloved classic and a beautiful look into a world of pure imagination.
The BFG opens nationwide July 1, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Films.