Wonka - Photo Warner Bros. Pictures
Wonka – Photo Warner Bros. Pictures

If you’ve read Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” perhaps you’ve wondered where Willy Wonka came from. Obviously, filmmaker Paul King (“Paddington”) did because he has devised “Wonka,” inscrutable Willy’s origin story – tracing how he became a famous chocolatier.

In this prequel, impish young Willy Wonka (Timothy Chalamet) is first seen perched atop a ship’s mast, sailing into London harbor. Looking for somewhere to sleep, Willy is lured by conniving Bleacher (Tom Davis) into renting a room from Mrs. Scrubbit (Olivia Colman), who swindles him into indentured servitude.

That’s how Willy winds up confined in her basement laundry workhouse where he befriends a resourceful urchin named Noodle (Calah Lane). Together, they devise not only an escape route but also a plan to enable Willy to sell the amazing array of delectable confections that he magically concocts from his tiny travel kit.

But first, they must overcome the evil machinations of the Chocolate Cartel, a trio of greedy merchants (Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas and Mathew Baynton) who bribe the corrupt, gluttonous Chief of Police (Keegan-Michael Key) to thwart all Galleries Gourmet competitors.

(FYI: As a teenager, Roald Dahl attended the prestigious Repton School in Devonshire which was located near a Cadbury’s chocolate factory. Occasionally, new chocolate bars would be sent to the boys for taste-testing.)

Scriptwriting with Simon Farnaby, Paul King sugar-coats every candy-colored scene. Enchantment reigns as exuberantly upbeat Willy relentlessly transforms a decrepit emporium into a whimsical wonderland, musically heralded by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination,” evoking memories of Gene Wilder’s classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971).

British musician Joby Talbot’s score contains many playful new songs by Neil Hannon; the most memorable is “A World of Your Own,” sung with great appeal by Timothy Chalamet.

Depictions of the diminutive Oompa Loompas have always caused controversy. While posthumous changes have been made to his most offensive portrayals, Roald Dahl himself revised these characters, which were originally depicted as black pygmies from “the deepest and darkest part of the African jungle.” 

This film’s Oompa Loompa (Hugh Grant) is a tiny, cruel creature with orange skin and green hair. Curmudgeonly Grant has been outspoken in his ire directed at the use of motion-capture technology, a CGI process that he loathed. And British actor George Coppen, who has dwarfism, has criticized the casting, insisting that the miniaturized role should have gone to someone from his short-statured community.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wonka” seduces audiences with a sweetly scrumptious 7, playing in theaters.

Leave the World Behind - Photo Netflix
Leave the World Behind – Photo Netflix

Desolate, post-apocalyptic movies have become a Netflix holiday tradition: “Don’t Look Up,” White Noise,” and “Bird Box.”  Now there’s a new one.

Adapted by Sam Esmail (“Mr. Robot”) from Rumaan Alam’s best-selling 2020 novel, “Leave the World Behind” is a paranoid, tension-filled, futuristic nightmare.

The story begins in a Park Slope, Brooklyn apartment, where early-rising advertising executive Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) awakens her professor husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) and teenage children – Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) and Archie (Charlie Evans) – with a surprise: she’s rented a luxurious Airbnb on Long Island for the weekend.

Upon arrival, they’re delighted to discover the elegant, glass-walled, modernist house has a swimming pool and is near the beach, where they’re soon enjoying a picnic. 

Gazing at the ocean, Rose, who is obsessed with the TV show “Friends” and feels deprived because she hasn’t been able to watch the conclusion, notices an immense oil tanker that seems to be heading toward shore, eventually running aground where they’ve been sitting.

That’s just the first of many ominous, inexplicably bizarre environmental catastrophes that follow a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Tuxedo-clad G.K. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his sassy 20-something daughter, Ruth (Myha’la Herrold), claim to be the vacation home’s owners seeking shelter for the night because there’s a blackout in Manhattan.

When mild-mannered Clay invites them in, acerbic Amanda is dubious, particularly since G.K. says he left his ID and wallet behind. (“I f***ing hate people,” she’s already proclaimed in the film’s prologue.) 

Is she prejudiced because they’re Black? Race and class obviously figure into suspicion – on both sides – as an escapism/doomsday scenario unfolds.  

Television reception and WiFi fail. Herds of deer gather near the pool, along with a flock of flamingos. Threatening political leaflets in a foreign language are dropped from a plane and deafening sonic booms emanate from the sky.

Eventually, G.K. and Clay seek help from a neighbor (Kevin Bacon), who turns out to be a survivalist, determined to protect his own property. (His name Huxley is obviously a nod to Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World.”)

And when Amanda and Clay try to drive home, they find the highway completely blocked by miles of empty self-driving Teslas that have crashed into one another.

So what’s happening? G.K. offers this explanation: The first stage is isolation. Disable communication. Synchronize chaos. Terrorize with covert attacks and misinformation, leaving weapons vulnerable to military extremists. Without a clear enemy or motive, people will turn on each other, resulting in civil war.

On the Granger Gauge, “Leave the World Behind” is an ambiguously speculative, suspenseful 7, streaming on Netflix.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.