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Concert Review: Guns N’ Roses – Democracy Now! Or, Who The Hell Are You People?

Billboard — Even on a sticky Halloween night in Florida, with much of the crowd in costume and spooky holiday decor swinging from the rafters, nothing could quite out-weird the main spectacle: watching 1/8th of Guns N’ Roses perform a batch of 20-year-old smashes — as well as a few from a record originally slated for release during the first Clinton administration — in front of, among other things, a large and inflatable Homer Simpson balloon.

Welcome to the jungle, kids. We’ve got fun and games.
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Review: Dave Chappelle explains that whole thing about South Africa

Florida Times-Union — So how do you review a Dave Chappelle show in a newspaper most generally enjoyed by folks over their morning Cocoa Puffs? Well, first, you leave lots of it out, like the extended bit about the show “Cheaters,” or hilarious tale of an old fight with a crystal meth addict, or the series of stories regarding the gynecologist. Especially that last part.

But that’s easier to do than you think, because only about half of the first of Chappelle’s two sold-out shows at the Times-Union Center on Tuesday night fit the strict constructionist definition of comedy. Divorced for years from his insanely successful “Chappelle’s Show” and still clearly reeling from the bizarre media speculation regarding his self-imposed exile to South Africa, the Dave Chappelle who turned down $50 million from Comedy Central is a new animal these days, and much stronger for it.

Sure, on the surface, 2006 Chappelle is the same guy you watch on the DVDs, laser-quick with his trademark riffs on race relations, “Girls Gone Wild” videos and his own fragile reputation (“Rest assured, if you see ‘Half Baked 2,’ I ran out of money,” he cracks, probably not kidding). He’s sneaky with his smarts, masking them under dorm-approved comic riffs, and quick to diffuse whatever tension he builds by breaking himself up in fits of innocent-looking hilarity, rubber limbs flailing all over the place.

But there’s a fire in his more measured paces now, a bigger purpose, and it’s grounded in that bizarre exodus that sent him to Africa for an unspecified time. As pure his motives may have been – the explanation of which seems to be the point of his return to the stand-up circuit – there’s still something about a guy who turns down fat bags of cash to do a dozen episodes of skit comedy. Well, strike that – there’s something in America about that guy, and that difference provides the crux of an act that’s now grounded in “The Game,” which seems to have become for Chappelle what the obscenity trial was to Lenny Bruce.

That’s because after a typically rat-a-tat-tat opening set involving rumors of his own insanity (“When you read in Newsweek that you’re crazy, you start to think … maybe I’m crazy!”), the illegal immigration debate (“I only knew immigration was a problem when I started finding Mexicans in my hiding places”), and invading Iraq while North Korea waved nuclear threats around (“We don’t invade countries with WMD – that shit’s dangerous!”), Chappelle smoothly careened off of his comedy highway into a craggier, hard-to-predict and fairly astonishing monologue.

Fully getting into it involves way more ink than we have, and besides, it ruins the closure he provides at its end. But it proves a visceral riff on capitalism, American excess, the structure of language and the genesis of subtle stereotyping and it stars Iceberg Slim, a notorious Chicago pimp from the ‘40s. Chappelle spins this tale like a master storyteller, and though you know this is a guy who Richard Pryor christened the savior of smart comedy in America, his story of a pimp, a “bottom bitch” and a briefcase of cash transcends even those accolades, and blows the future of this onetime sketch comedian wide open. Most importantly, it concludes with the nature of The Game, and the real reason Chappelle fled to Africa. It’s a secret. But he knows. Just trust him.


Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band — What can a poor boy do but play in a ragtime band?

st_springstePopMatters — Nothing — absolutely nothing — about the scene at Bruce Springsteen’s concert in Indianapolis hinted that there was Bossness afoot. The crowd was smartly dressed and orderly; purple chandeliers hung on stage; and in the pit, general admission fans jockeyed politely for position. More beer stands were shuttered than open, and there wasn’t a single line for a single bathroom. On an unseasonably sticky Indy night, it was hard not to look out at the yawning green lawn (empty as it was) and think sadly: Jimmy Buffett fans are gonna stuff this entire space next month to hear him sing about cheeseburgers.

But, such is the bizarre alternate universe that has swallowed Springsteen’s strangely under-attended summer tour with the 17-member Seeger Sessions Band. Rambling along languidly in almost clandestine fashion, it may take the prize for the Worst-Pitched Concert of the Summer.

For the Hazy Davy’s sake, I’m as big a Bruce homer as they come, but I’ll admit, at first the idea of enduring a folk-powered evening of Pete Seeger songs made me want to sprint home and smooch my copy of Born in the U.S.A.. I like Bruce, and I like Pete Seeger, but when the Boss indulges his folkie leanings, the results are songs like “Nebraska” or the equally festive “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Both tunes are perfect for curling up in an abandoned warehouse and chugging a bottle of whiskey, but that’s hardly what you want to do at a sunny amphitheatre show.

And that’s why this Seeger business is such an out-of-left-field surprise: against all odds, it’s fantastically fun. Seeger’s name is on the ticket, sure, but in Springsteen’s hands the music gets an enormous, big-band, horn-powered treatment that can only be explained with commas: gospel, blues, folk, rock, and zydeco (there is totally a washboard in the encore). All of this pours out of a tap attached to New Orleans. This is a big Big Easy show, a tribute to the flooded city. It’s Bruce born on the bayou, part mourning, part hope, part house party, part cry for rebirth — all metaphors you may remember from Every Other Thing Bruce Springsteen Has Ever Done.

In the Seeger band’s debut performance at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, the mood was understandably subdued, mournful, and respectful. Now, though, the band indulges the spirit of the city, pulling great joy from great pain. As the man slyly howled in the show’s ragged, revved-up version of “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”, “What can a poor boy do but play in a ragtime band?”

To be sure, this tour involves a certain degree of trust, particularly when you’re dropping 90 bones to hear what my buddy Bradshaw rightly predicted was, “Bruce singing “Froggie Went A’Courtin.'” In fact, everything about Springsteen’s brief summer tour seems to exist in a slightly altered reality. It’s a universe where twentysomethings square dance, where “Nebraska”‘s lo-fi monotoner “Open All Night” becomes a showstopping rave-up, where an emotional high point is a venomous cover of a forgotten blues song that’s been retrofitted as an indictment of the government’s bungled response to Katrina.

No one really knows what to make of it — particularly those who rise and fall with the E Street Band. But what it might lack in the fist-pumping mass catharsis of “Badlands”, the tour makes up for in the fist-pumping mass catharsis of “My Oklahoma Home.” Frankly, I can’t remember having a better time at a Bruce show. Or any show, for that matter.

Nor can I remember attending a show where the performers seemed to be having a better time. Aside from during songs about New Orleans, there was a smile on Bruce’s face the entire time. And it was with that smile that he drove his 17-piece mean machine through horn-kissed, house-rockers: “Old Dan Tucker”, “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”, “Pay Me My Money Down”.

If Bruce approaches the E Street Band as a man with a legacy to jealously protect, he approaches the Seeger Sessions Band as a work-in-progress, a means to no particular end, a science-fair project that’s produced way better data than expected. He does it with a satisfyingly enviable glee. In Indy, he indulged a clever request from a seven-year-old fan down front who brought along a stuffed green frog. “I think we got a request!” Springsteen beamed, igniting the band’s first-ever “Froggie Went A’ Courtin'”. Bonus gag: The kid reported that his name was River. “I think I’ve got another one I can do, too,” Springsteen cracked. Zing!

But this is music that’s pure, old-timey American — a phrase that rankles Springsteen aficionados and detractors alike. Springsteen, the poor bastard, carries the torch as one of America’s greatest living rock ‘n’ roll icons. Fair or not, it’s the sort of thing that happens when you stamp your flank in front of the stars and stripes on an album that sells a million fourfillion gajillion copies. But here’s the funny thing — the album We Shall Overcome actually is the treatise on American music that the pinheaded conservative right thought Born in the U.S.A. was; it’s just as sneaky in that context as U.S.A. was sneaky outside of it.

As such, political overtones burbled to the surface throughout the show. Wartime prayers appeared in the form of the Irish tale “Mrs. McGrath”, the story of a mother whose son returns home after seven years without his legs. Of course, the showstopper was Springsteen’s refashioning of Blind Willie McTell’s “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” Bruce kept the first verse and rewrote the last three to reflect Katrina: “Me and my old school pals had some mighty high times ’round here / And what happened to you poor black folks well it just ain’t fair,” he sang, recalling the infuriating scene last fall in which President Bush stood with Trent Lott and said he looked forward to partying on Lott’s soon-to-be rebuilt porch. It’s brutal discourse.

The show ended with a sweet, acoustic-based “When the Saints Go Marching In”, stripped of its horn-fueled zaniness and recast as a melancholy prayer shared by Springsteen and guitarist/vocalist Marc Anthony Thompson (who records as Chocolate Genius): “And some say that this world of trouble is the only one we’ll ever see / But I’m waiting for that morning when the new world is revealed.”

For the encore, a guy came out and, in a moment of purely Bruce-ian shtick, played dishes, bowls, and a kitchen sink…. with a spoon. “Jesus Christ, be careful,” Springsteen joked. “That’s my mother-in-law’s goddamned silverware… Patti’s gonna fucking kill me.”

A certain sense of something surrounds the E Street Band these days — not complacency necessarily , but an expectation of sheer reliability, a pretty decent bet against disappointment. It’s like a meal at the Cheesecake Factory or watching a Braves game. E Street shows in the past few years have been good, even great, but also, at times, workmanlike. And I think, truly, that Bruce fears slipping into that hazy zone of complacency. Hence, the silverware.

As such, this piece should have probably been about finding new ways to enliven one’s catalog or legacy. It should have probably used the word “reinvention” a lot and been filled with lively clichés about Neil Young. But for all this wearying talk of meanings and metaphors and the usual Springsteenian subtext of a blue-collar rock n’ roll Joe trying to save the world, I also cannot remember having had this good a time at a show. If Bruce sneaks into your town this summer, check it out. It doesn’t seem much like a Springsteen show, and that may be the best thing about it.


Review: “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” as American as baseball, apple pie and Bruce Springsteen

Popmatters — Bruce Springsteen’s latest record is a folk tribute to Pete Seeger that’s about a thousand times as fun as that description might suggest. But it’s also an album as American as apple pie, baseball and … er, well, Bruce Springsteen. A review of “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”

 


Live review: Both sides of Ben Harper in Jacksonville

Florida Times-Union — Ben Harper is the missing link between human and mix tape, a shuffle button that can walk. His set is the jam-band counterpart of the menu at the Cheesecake Factory: nearly every style is readily available (as long as you don’t feel like anything too weird), and if you think you can trump it, you just haven’t turned enough pages. Feeling like reggae? Try the “Steal My Kisses/Pressure Drop” medley, wash it down with a crisp Red Stripe. A little wah-wah funk? Might I suggest the “Excuse Me Mr.” Some sensitive-guy singer-songwriter stuff? Ah, the “Another Lonely Day” is excellent tonight. A review of Harper’s sold-out show at the Florida Theatre.


Live review: This thing, called Queen + Paul Rodgers, I just can’t handle it

At worst, Queen + Paul Rodgers comes off as an adequate cover band, one made only a little less creepy by the participation of two original members. At best, it comes off as a marginally more- than-adequate cover band. This is Queen like I’m Lou Rawls. A review of the band’s sparsely attended Arena gig.


Live review: Keith, country’s Urban legend in Jacksonville

Florida Times-Union — I drive a Honda mini-SUV, couldn’t pick Tony Stewart out of a crowd of two and never once had anyone find my tractor sexy, and I’m still about twice as country as the fantastically popular Keith Urban.

Only the music business’ obsessive need to fragment itself puts Urban anywhere within miles of country; bizarrely, his meat-and-potatoes rock n’ roll no longer has much of a place on rock radio, MTV or VH-1.

The only safe harbor for a guy of his constitution – equal parts Seger, Garth and the Goo Goo Dolls – is the land of Music Row, where the word “rock” does not automatically conjure up thoughts of Nickelback.

But country is in desperate need of a personality and star-power transfusion, and Urban provides it to remarkable degree. Here’s an Australian dude who woos Nicole Kidman, whose shows possibly boast country’s lowest hat-to-section ratio, who covers Tom Petty and who arrives on stage to a friggin’ Jesus Jones song.

Supporters say those are the sounds of country’s long-standing walls being torn down. But a more cynical sort might say they’re the sounds of maximum crossover appeal, and that Urban is just merging marketable styles from all decades, authenticity be damned (watch how often the word “covers” appears in this review). iPods play Jesus Jones next to George Jones, so why can’t he? Somewhere, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash do loop-de-loops in their graves, while somewhere slightly warmer, accountants do them in corner offices.

Urban’s sound is pure comfort food, musical fuzzy slippers, a sonic Super Target. His titles go like this: Days Go By, Better Life, These Are The Days, But For The Grace Of God. His riffs soar where eagles dare. He’s obsessed with the images generally attached to conservativized country — blue jeans, blacktop, sunshine, ol’ buddies at the corner bar – but, as usual, they prove little more than stock art (when Urban sings Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’, you get the sense his emotional investment ends after the first verse, the one about the girl who’s crazy ‘bout Elvis, before all the bad stuff happens). He’s Bon Jovi with an occasional banjo and, somehow, fewer emotional gray areas; he sees a million faces, and gently rocks them all.

But all that said, Urban proves a performer of irrational likeability. Sure, Urban strains for the maximum potential audience (look at ya with the Sweet Home Alabama cover, ya big lug), plays crowd-yelling games and congratulates himself on his extended set times (Keith, I like you, but lots of bands play two hours, buddy). But his easy charisma, anthem-ready voice and above-average guitar chops make him an unfailingly engaging fella, even when he’s indulging in plodding monster ballads like Rainin’ on Sunday, his cover of Garth Brooks’ cover of Billy Joel’s You May Be Right, or You’ll Think of Me, a massive hit about breakups that clones much of Bruce Springsteen’s One Step Up. The end result is often potent but strangely detached. The place is packed and jumping when the lights go down, but plenty of folks scoot by encore time to beat traffic.

This is country in 2006 – pure, easy accessibility.

One of country’s biggest superstars never wears a hat, spins Prince on the P.A., covers Brooks and Dunn and grants himself a solid Eddie Van Halen-sized guitar solo 15 minutes four songs in. Lays down on the floor and everything. The ladies text dreamy notes to their friends, the guys nod appreciatively. Urban’s out to take mass appeal to new heights, and it’s working.


Live review: Springsteen’s “Devils and Dust” tour — dream baby dream

Like the saying goes, you don’t have to be a Bruce Springsteen fanatic to appreciate his current tour — but it helps.

Springsteen’s current solo Devils and Dust trek is designed as a sprawling, contemplative look at the Springsteen catalog, particularly its quieter back pages. It’s billed as an acoustic tour, but last Friday’s show in Tampa found him hopping between six-string, piano, electric guitar, pump organ, electric piano and ukulele. Familiar songs are certainly played, but he’s not out to simply strip down his anthems. No, he’s out to revisit the dustier corners of his catalog, and he does it with subtle, startling power.

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This was the case once before when Springsteen hit the highway behind an acoustic record. Like 1982’s Nebraska and 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, Devils is a bleak, character-driven disc; also like Joad, it’s set in the dust-and-poverty choked Southwest. It co-stars prostitutes, amateur ultimate fighters, immigrants who died crossing into Texas.

But as was the case on the Joad tour, funny things happen when Springsteen brings Devils’ downcast songs to stage. The Tom Joad tour began as two hours of character sketches of permeating bleakness, and ended over a year later as a fundamentally different show, full of older tracks, personality and surprise (and culminating in sex puns and a song about a mall Santa in a strip club). The show becomes a sprawling and contemplative career overview., punctuated by humor and personality and the sense the Springsteen couldn’t be more pleased bringing these songs out.

First, he quickly moves away from his source material. In Tampa, Springsteen performed 26 songs but just five from Devils. And in many cases, the older songs are rebuilt from scratch. Reason to Believe got a Howlin’ Wolf treatment, with Springsteen roaring the vocals into a distorted bullet mike (think a dying CB radio ratcheted up to 11); it was all disorienting antagonism instead of somber reflection.

Springsteen has been flying without a net all through the tour, monkeying with arrangements and digging into crates — he’s done something like 130-plus songs. Still, the smorgasbord of rarities last week raised the eyebrows of even the online setlist hawks at places like the invaluable fan site Backstreets. The 1980 ballad Fade Away opened on electric piano, along with a veritable suite from The River Fade’s B-side Be True, I Wanna Marry You, Two Hearts and a heart-clutching Wreck on the Highway on electric piano. There were two from Tunnel Of Love — Ain’t Got You (which he wrote as a smirking answer all those who ask “what it’s like to the Boss”) and the plaintive One Step Up. And two from Nebraska, including the pitch-black State Trooper.

In addition, and this is the fun part, Springsteen starts to get chatty, like the wine’s starting to kick in or something. He sets up rim shots that could be swung home in the Catskills, riffing that his relatively lame Human Touch is considered a masterpiece in Norway, or that the uber-wordy Blinded By the Light explains why he never did drugs, although he’s “looking forward to doing them soon.” Springsteen led off Jesus Was An Only Son, a Galilee-set lament solely interested in the relationship of Jesus and Mary, with an extended monologue on his Irish/Italian roots, including a line about Catholicism being a religion of great beauty and faith, as well as “abject horror and terror.” Springsteen even stopped the song mid-stream to bring home some of its points, giving, or at least indicating, access to the machinations behind his songwriting.

But the latter doesn’t even come into play on the show’s biggest dice-roll: Dream Baby Dream, a track originally recorded in 1979 by NYC synth-drone duo Suicide, that closed the night and is one of the most bizarre things he’s ever brought to stage (a dancing Clarence Clemons notwithstanding). It’s little more than a mantra — a sea of phrases like “Come on, dream baby dream, I just wanna see you smile, dry your eyes” — that on paper sounds like a recipe for goodwill-slaughtering disaster. And indeed, it’s either a revelatory moment of thematic unification or a head-scratching snooze, depending on how you felt about the preceding two hours.

Indeed, this show probably split a certain chunk of the ticket-buying crowd; I heard at least one guy walking out lamenting that Springsteen didn’t play “more old stuff,” by which he almost certainly meant anything with some combination of the words “Glory” and “Days” in the title. No, this one’s for the longtime fans, the majority who sat in reverent politeness and not those who couldn’t keep their giggles and “whooooos!” contained within their comfortably appointed skyboxes. This is Springsteen rebuilding, refocusing, putting the spotlight back on his songwriting and reimagining what it’s like to be the Boss.


Movie Review: “The Island” — What kind of paradise harvests your organs?

Florida Times-Union — The Island is this summer’s second Ewan McGregor movie about clones, but there’s one big departure from Star Wars: In this one, he gets to emote!

Then again, since The Island is directed by Michael Bay, the auteur behind dialogue-driven indie flicks such as The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, most of that emoting is of the yelling-while-plummeting-off-a-skyscraper variety, with a little bit of the screaming-while-being-chased-by-helicopters variety and a small dash of the hollering-during-a-shootout-in-a-train-station variety.

A logic-free shoot-’em-up masquerading as a Matrix knockoff, The Island takes a slick idea and quickly scuttles it under action cliches — it’s the kind of movie that says: Why have a guy just fall, when you can him fall into a very large wine rack? As with anything Bay, it has plot holes the size of hot-air balloons, but the good sense to, if one of those holes becomes too obvious, blow up some cars.

Set in the near future, The Island kicks off with a neat hook: A legion of developmentally stunted white-clad drones work methodically in a self-contained colony that, they’re told, has been sealed off from an outside world that’s been “contaminated.” Their moods are monitored, their gruel-heavy diet is controlled and they toil in the hopes of being sent to “the island,” a futuristic Margaritaville you can only get to by winning a lottery.

But if you’ve ever read more than three pages of sci-fi, you know that winning a lottery is never, ever a good thing. Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) is suspicious of the whole place, especially when his crush, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), becomes a lucky powerball winner.

And though Lincoln’s every step is tracked, he gets “proximity warnings” every time he spends more than 14 seconds with Jordan and his urine is always scanned for quality, he manages to sneak around long enough to uncover the truth about the place: Evil Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean, overdoing it) is growing extra humans that he harvests for parts for his rich clients. “You guys are just replacement engines on their Bentleys,” the “insurance policies” are told.

Bay sets it up nicely, and for a minute, he even lets you hope that The Island might be gearing up to make a statement on stem-cell research, or maybe the ethical limits of science or the fundamental nature of humanity. And then he punts the action outside to L.A. and stages a brain-rattlingly loud car chase.

From then on, there’s nothing you won’t see coming a mile down the turnpike. Action set pieces whiz by in flurries of jump-cut confusion (in many of the schizophrenic fistfights, Bay has to put glasses on one of his competitors so audiences have a fighting chance at knowing who’s punching what). Clone Lincoln seeks out his “sponsor,” Real Tom Lincoln, who, surprisingly, owns a very fast car. Steve Buscemi plays Steve Buscemi. Djimon Hounsou adds class as an assassin hired by Merrick to track down the “product,” but there’s never much drama about which side he’ll end up on.

And, sure, this isn’t the sort of thing that demands a lot of logic, but come on: There’s only one Tom Lincoln in 2019 L.A.? How does Clone Lincoln know how to handle a flying motorcycle, or, for that matter, a car, or, for that matter, his shoelaces? Who’s handling security in this bunker so badly that Lincoln gets to go play with a butterfly when he feels like it? And what of the clones? There’s a fascinating story to tell about the events right before the closing credits, but Bay pathologically steers clear of philosophizing, probably because that would require talking scenes.

Oh well. Johansson looks great at all times, although McGregor, as he did in Star Wars, totally mutes his natural roguishness for some reason (until the clones hook up with ultra-rich Real Tom, who’s a kick).

But you can’t help but get the feeling that 10 years ago, in the pre-Independence Day age, this would have been the summer blockbuster. This summer, scuttled at the end of July and without half the buzz of the Sith or the Batman, The Island is destined to be quickly wiped from your memory.


Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: Sometimes you feel like a nut

Florida Times-UnionNot that there was ever much doubt, but Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s take on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is completely nuts.

It’s too nuts sometimes, and not quite nuts enough in others. But fans looking for Burton’s new-era-Seuss madness and Depp’s nuttiness will go home quite happy, their eyes taffy-pulled as much as Mike Teavee’s body.

Charlie — not a remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 Gene Wilder classic, Depp has stressed, but a more faithful take on the Roald Dahl book — still stands as one of children’s literature’s weirdest brain-scrambles. With its demented protagonist, roster of unpleasant kids and rather detached take on child welfare, it’s sort of a version of Seven with way, way more marshmallows.

But it’s exactly that monstrous dark side that makes it the perfect playground for Burton, who rises and sleeps with this sort of glistening madness, and Depp, who, since his pitch-perfect, Oscar-nominated turn in Pirates of the Caribbean, knows he can make big studios pay for as much bizarro behavior as he wants.

What he gets away with is an uneven but pathologically watchable man-child who ends up proving more psychologically bruised than the wild-eyed nutcase dialed up by Wilder (and often not far from Depp and Burton’s tremblingly innocent Edward Scissorhands).

The Michael Jackson parallels pretty much jump off the screen: Depp’s Wonka lives in his own sealed universe, talks like a 14-year-old, has Mary Tyler Moore’s hair, wears Victorian clothing, gives in to fits of inappropriate giggles and is seemingly completely unprepared for life with other humans. Part of Wonka’s twisted outlook is explained in flashbacks involving Wonka’s father, played by horror vet Christopher Lee, and though I’m not the movie expert here, I can definitively say that Lee has come up with American cinema’s best-ever pronunciation of the word “caramels.”

Depp’s a hoot to watch, even if something about his mood swings — sometimes mysteriously dark, sometimes garishly innocent — never quite gels.

At least until a ragged new ending, the story remains the same: Penniless Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, Depp’s sad-eyed co-star in Finding Neverland) scores one of the prized Golden Tickets that grants him and his kindly grandfather (David Kelly) a one-day tour of the candy recluse’s castle (“Everything in here is eat-able!” cries Depp. “I’m even eat-able!”).

The other winners are the unforgivably gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz, who does not appear without chocolate on his mug), bratty Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), ultra-competitive Violet Beauregard (Annasophia Robb) and Mike Teavee (Jordon Fry), who’s been upgraded from a couch potato to a connoisseur of violent video games. As the tour goes on, each repugnant little mutt ends up suffering a comically gruesome fate, which is followed, without fail, by a dance number.

Needless to say, the film doesn’t really rev up until the gang gets to Wonka’s factory. And if the ’71 film had a dark undercurrent, this one parades its weirdness, and it becomes a careening boat-ride of fantastical contraptions, bizarre back rooms and production numbers by the Oompa Loompas, who have been shrunk to 2 feet tall, are all played by actor Deep Roy and walk off with every scene and dance number they’re in (especially the funk one).

Still, for all their arty giddiness, the scenes in the factory, and the final act, struggle to find their mood, and Burton, as he does, hints at more darkness than he ends up being comfortable providing. Where Wilder had a terminal glint of mischief in his eye, Burton lets Depp hint at nefarious, possibly pre-conceived intentions that are never quite explained. (Burton pulls his punches, too — in the Oompa Loompas’ first production number, they assure the gaping throng that “Augustus Gloop will not be harmed”). And there’s the matter of the show-closing semi-sweet Lesson, which is as clamped on as Lessons get.

But, like Charlie Bucket says, candy isn’t supposed to have a point, and this movie isn’t either. And when Burton and Depp are left to frolic in their own gooey playground, they serve up a nutty, creamy, fizzy factory that’s too weird to have possibly come from anyone else.


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