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WONKA: 4 STARS. “a scrumdiddlyumptious family film for the holidays.”

Everyone from Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader to The Ghostbusters and the Godfather have been given the origin story treatment, so why not Wille Wonka, the mysterious and mischievous chocolatier created by Roald Dahl? That’s the premise of “Wonka,” a new musical now playing in theatres.

‎Timothée Chalamet plays the title character, the young version of the Wonka seen in 1971s “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” and 2005s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but his sartorial style is already in place. Decked out in a top hat, purple waistcoat and flamboyant scarves, Wonka arrives in town with the dream of opening the greatest chocolate shop the world has ever seen.

“I’ve spent the past seven years travelling the world,” the magician, inventor and chocolate maker announces, “perfecting my craft. You see I’m something of a magician, inventor, and chocolate maker. So quiet up, and listen down. Nope. Scratch that, reverse it.”

His original idea was to make chocolates his mother (Sally Hawkins) would love, and after years of study he learned to concoct delicious, unusual candies. His caramels are salted with the tears of a Russian clown. His cherries come from the Imperial Gardens in Japan and his marshmallows are harvested from the mallow marshes of Peru, and some of them, like the Hoverchoc, have magical, gravity defying side effects.

Trouble is, the city is under the thumb of the Chocolate Cartel, sweet treat tycoons Mr. Prodnose (Matt Lucas), Mr. Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) and Mr. Slugworth (Paterson Joseph). They don’t like Wonka or the threats his chocolates pose to their businesses. “He’s good,” snarls Fickelgruber. “Too good.” But they really hate his idea of making affordable chocolate for the working class.

“Send Wonka a message,” says the sinister Slugworth.

Nothing is going Wonka’s way. The local Chief-of-Police (Keegan-Michael Key) threatens to bonk him on the head, the Cartel is out to ruin him, he’s indebted to work house owners Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and Bleacher (Tom Davis) and a small orange Oompa-Loompa (Hugh Grant) accuses him of stealing cocoa beans.

Despite the odds, with the help of an orphan named Noodle (Calah Lane), the optimistic Wonka is certain he can make his dreams come true and make his mother proud.

Directed by “Paddington’s” Paul King, “Wonka” replaces the weirdness of past film adaptations with whimsey. From the fanciful set and costume design to the heightened performances and relentlessly upbeat tone, it is as sweet as any of Wonka’s magical confections. A celebration of the power of dreams, it’s satisfying and delicious, and tonally feels like a companion piece to the others rather than a revisit or a nostalgic look back.

Chalamet’s Wonka has little to do with the reclusive, narcissistic, judgmental character as played by Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp. He is still an eccentric outsider, but in this version he’s also the emotional core. King and co-writer Simon Farnaby flesh out his story, adding in a backstory that includes a strong connection to his mother and huge dollops of earnestness. That light and airy feel is balanced, somewhat, by the addition of nasty capitalists who want to crush Wonka’s dreams for their own benefit. But make no mistake, this is all chocolate and charm.

Chalamet plays Wonka as a charismatic oddball but without the cynicism that colors other portrayals of the character. The “Dune” star replaces cynicism with a delightfully clever naiveté, anchoring the film’s light and breezy tone. His Wonka pays tribute to, but isn’t an impression of Wilder or Depp. It fresh and fun work, with credible singing and dancing, even if the songs aren’t exactly earworms.

In their handful of scenes, Chalamet cedes the screen to Grant. In what is easily his silliest role ever, Grant finds the fun, playing a testy Oompa Loompa on a mission.

“Wonka” is a scrumdiddlyumptious family film for the holidays. A lavish movie, powered by pure imagination, it is life affirming, with a sense of wonder. It doesn’t enthrall in the same, off-the-charts measure that King’s “Paddington” movies do, but really, what other film does?

RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN: 3 ½ STARS. “tells its story with panache.”

“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,” a new animated coming-of-age story from Dreamworks, now playing in theatres, flips the usual idea of the tentacled sea creature from fearsome to heroic.

The Kraken-out-of-water tale isn’t a franchise—although it may be the beginning of one—but it does owe a debt to recent Pixar films “Turning Red” and “Luca,” movies about the transformation of body and expectations.

Years after leaving the sea to live on land and raise their family, ocean creatures Agatha (Toni Collette) and Peter Gillman (Colman Domingo) are secretive about their past. “We’re from Canada,” they say to explain away their blue skin, gills and lack of spines.

Fifteen-year-old daughter Ruby (Lana Condor) goes along with the lie, and admits to “barely pulling off this human thing.” At school, she feels different and has a hard time fitting in outside of her squad, a small group of BFFs.

“I just want to be Ruby Gillman, normal teenager,” she says.

Despite her mother’s strict rule of never going near the water, days before the prom, when her high school, skater-boy crush Connor (Jaboukie Young-White) almost drowns, Ruby dives into the ocean to rescue him. Contact with salt water releases out her true self, a giant luminescent, kraken. “I’m already a little weird,” she says, “but I can’t hide this.”

In short order Ruby learns of her heritage, and that her grandmother, Grandmahmah (Jane Fonda) is a warrior queen, the Ultimate Lordess of and ruler of the Seven Seas, and charged with keeping the undersea world safe from the main maritime threat—evil mermaids.

“But people love mermaids,” says Ruby.

“Of course they do,” says Grandmahmah. “People are stupid.”

Grandmahmah wants Ruby to become her successor and possibly settle an age-old score.

Themes of self-acceptance, family love and overcoming insecurity are common in films for kids and young adults, and “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” is no different. But what it lacks in originality—“Turning Red” got to the transformation as a metaphor for coming out of your shell first—it makes up for with good humor, fun voice work, particularly from Jane Fonda and Annie Murphy as a mermaid, and an engaging lead character.

Ruby is a sweet-natured math nerd wrapped up in a blanket of insecurity. As she attempts to navigate high school and her newfound kraken alter-ego, she never loses the teen aura that makes her so relatable. She may be able to morph into a giant, but the biggest things in her life remain her family and friends. It’s heartfelt, and somehow, not as sappy as it sounds.

“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” may not break new ground, or part the oceans, but it tells its story with panache, finding a way to merge a kid-friendly story with some decidedly adult jokes.


This week on the Richard Crouse Show our first guest today comes from a musical family. Martha Wainwright is daughter of folk singer and actor Loudon Wainwright III and singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle. Her older brother is Rufus Wainwright… but she has made her own mark with a series of critically acclaimed albums. Her latest is “Love Will Be Reborn,” a record that appears to cover the period of time where Wainwright divorced her husband after about a decade of marriage. “Love Will Be Reborn” was recorded in Wainwright’s hometown of Montreal, in the basement of her cafe, Ursa which also served as a studio. Martha joins us via Zoom from Ursa in Mile End in Montreal.

Then we meet Nicole Dorsey, the director and screenwriter of “Black Conflux,” a film now on VOD after a very successful theatrical run. “The Globe and Mail” praised the story of the lives of a disillusioned teen and an alienated man that converge in 1980s Newfoundland for its “atmosphere of dread and depiction of rural life as a hotbed of sexual fantasies and violence.” Stick around, there’s lots to talk about on that one.

Finally, Marvel’s latest superhero stops by. He’s Canadian, you already know him from starring on “Kim’s Convenience,” but very soon he’ll be best known for playing the title character in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” He’s Marvel’s first Asian superhero, his name is Simu Liu and here joins us today.

Listen to the whole thing HERE!

Here’s some info on The Richard Crouse Show!

Each week on the nationally syndicated Richard Crouse Show, Canada’s most recognized movie critic brings together some of the most interesting and opinionated people from the movies, television and music to put a fresh spin on news from the world of lifestyle and pop-culture. Tune into this show to hear in-depth interviews with actors and directors, to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of your favourite shows and movies and get a new take on current trends. Recent guests include Ethan Hawke, director Brad Bird, comedian Gilbert Gottfried, Eric Roberts, Brian Henson, Jonathan Goldsmith a.k.a. “The most interesting man in the world,” and best selling author Linwood Barclay.

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Metro In Focus: The fraught relationship between faith and film

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-10-18-04-amBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

This weekend professor of religious iconology and symbology Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) returns to theatres in Inferno, the third movie in the Da Vinci Code franchise.

In 2006 the fictional Harvard prof made his big screen debut, uncovering the complicated personal life of Jesus Christ in The Da Vinci Code. Three years later he used his knowledge of symbology to unravel the mystery of a secret brotherhood called the Illuminati and thwart a terrorist act against the Vatican.

In between those two movies I received dozens of outraged emails, long tracts regarding Dan Brown’s books, the up-coming movie, The Illuminati and the veracity of the stories.

In response to the anxious folks who contacted me, concerned the film, which had not been released yet, would be a dangerous piece of anti-Catholic propaganda, I wrote a forward to my Angels and Demons review, pointing letter writers toward the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. They described Angels and Demons as “harmless entertainment which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity.” Their review noted it is filled with historical inaccuracies but went on to suggest that one could make a game of pointing out all of the film’s historical mistakes.

In other words, don’t take it seriously and you’ll have a good time. Despite the Vatican newspaper’s warm embrace, the film still ignited a firestorm of criticism from people upset about the story’s alleged anti-Catholic sentiments, “malicious myths” and churches being associated with scenes of murder.

Inferno sidesteps religious controversy with a tale of a deadly virus that threatens all of humanity, but cinema and religion have often made for uncomfortable pairings.

In 1999 the Catholic League denounced Dogma’s tale of two fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) trying to get back into heaven as “blasphemy.” More recently uproar erupted over Darren Aronofsky’s unorthodox take on the story of Noah. Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, loudly objected to the film’s “insertion of the extremist environmental agenda.”

Perhaps the most controversial religious film ever was The Devils, based on Aldous Huxley’s nonfiction book The Devils of Loudun. Years before Ken Russell made the movie, a filmmaker approached Huxley wanting to turn the story of a radical 17th century French Catholic priest accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, into a film. Huxley said, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t make a movie out of this.’ He thought there was no way the story could be presented in an entertaining way without short-circuiting people’s minds. Turns out maybe he was right.

Forty-five years after its release Russell’s film is little seen but much talked about. Banned, censored and still unavailable in its complete form on Blu-Ray, the movie’s graphic church orgy offended many—and was cut to pieces and removed by censors—but it’s more than shock and titillation. It’s a film that makes a serious statement about the struggle between church and state but does so in an entertaining and provocative way.

Lots of movies contain violence or sex or religion, but Russell mixed all three together in one toxic cocktail. If released today The Devils may not inspire riots in the streets, as it did in 1971, but if presented in its complete form the following indignation would make the Angels and Demons protests seem tame.