Wonder Wheel (2017): Woody Allen’s Swan Song (Review)


Despite having Oscar winning Brit actress Kate Winslet on board,  along with fellow Brit performer Juno Temple, Wonder Wheel feels too much like Woody Allen’s swan song in the world of film. Set in 1950’s Coney Island, the film, written and directed by Allen, is part nostalgic remembrance of a by-gone era and part semi-autobiographic nuance.

Despite a stellar cast that includes Jim Belushi and Justin Timberlake, Wonder Wheel is sheer drudgery on celluloid. It is difficult to watch and bogs down repeatedly in several areas. The dialogue, complete with heavy accents and stilted delivery, feels forced and overdone.

Timberlake sounds like he is doing a Woody Allen impression, while Belushi; who is loaded down with an awkward character and dialogue that is   old fashioned and more suited to a amateur dramatics society than a huge film, struggles to make his Humpty feel real.

Humpty (Belushi) is a carousel operator at Coney Island. His wife Ginny (Winslet) has a boy from another marriage and is a former “actress.” Carolina (Temple) is Humpty’s child from his first marriage and she is on the run from her husband; a gangster.

Mickey (Timberlake) is narrator of the film and a lifeguard who is having an affair with the older Ginny. He meets, and falls for, Carolina. The end result is a messy-ish love triangle that ends in tears for all involved.

All these characters are shallow and somewhat two dimensional. Humpty is built up to be a real punch-happy ogre when he drinks. Yet, when he does hit the sauce, never lives up to his billing. Carolina is trying to escape her hoodlum husband and Ginny lives in the past.

The only part of the film that feels legitimate occurs when Ginny describes how she feels about working at the clam house at Coney Island. The unhappy woman, who suffers from migraines, explains that she is playing the role of waitress at the eatery. It is the one moment of truth in the entire film.

There are parts of the film that can be seen as autobiographical. At one point Ginny tells Humpty that he treats his daughter like his “girlfriend” and that when she “dump’s him” again he will be miserable. A little too close to something that one can image Mia Farrow saying to Woody Allen in real life.

None of the characters in the film are likable. We do sympathize to some degree with Ginny; burdened with a son who is a firebug, but none of these people come across as real. Each relationship seems forced and laborious. Wonder Wheel seems more like a stage play than a film.

The actors all either over-act or “under” act. Belushi never really seems to have a handle on Humpty and Winslet goes all “Blanch Dubois” when Woody’s alter ego Mickey, chooses the wrong skirt in the last half of the film.

Wonder Wheel  is not an enjoyable film to watch. While Woody Allen has managed to deliver consistently on his “niche” films, this time he comes up short. The tale is not up to par with his past works and one wonders if perhaps the filmmaker should not hang up his pen and camera.

Winslet manages to make the most of her drama queen role as Ginny and Temple shines equally well as the mixed up youngster who married poorly. Belushi and Timberlake are miscast and the film itself limps to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Wonder Wheel is a shaky 3 star film that annoys rather than entertains. Give this one a miss…It really does feel like Woody Allen’s swan song.


Horns: Daniel Radcliffe in Joe Hill Horror Fantasy (Review and Trailer)

Horns: Daniel Radcliffe in Joe Hill Horror Fantasy (Review and Trailer)

Daniel Radcliffe has well and truly left that zagged Harry Potter scar behind by playing the protagonist Iggy Perrish in the Joe Hill horror fantasy, Horns. The 25 year old English actor has taken another dark step into the world of horror after his first visit in the 2012 film The Woman in Black (Based on a long running West End play of the same name in London.) In both films the young performer who cut his acting teeth in the world of wizards, muggles and Hogwarts, leaves behind his J.K. Rowling character to play more grown up and dark roles.

Killer Joe (2011): Texas Trailer Trashy


Directed by the legend that is William Friedkin (who scared us silly with The Exorcist and thrilled us with The French Connection) and written by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the play that the film was based on) Killer Joe takes great pains to tell us that all the things we suspected about American “trailer trash” were true.

There is even an ending to the film that could have come straight off the Maury show. But  despite looking like a Jerry Springer or Steve Wilkos episode gone wrong, Killer Joe steps into the dark territory of the black comedy with overtures of depravity and being dirt poor in the southern gothic arena of Texas.

While mixing my metaphors, I do have to point out, that KJ is not politically correct nor does it try to keep from using southern stereotypes to send its message. From the incredibly rich “good ol’ boy” that Chris needs to payback to the illiterate shambling hulk that is Chris’s father, each and every character in this film are stereotypes. Even Killer Joe himself.

But perhaps none more than Dottie; Chris’s sister. Dottie’s mother tried to kill her when she was an infant by holding a pillow over her face. An act that Dottie solemnly relates to Joe as one she remembers. She also tells him that her mother thought that she had succeeded but that she, Dottie, wasn’t dead.

But I am getting ahead of myself here, so I’ll get back on track now.

The plot: 

The film follows the trails and tribulations of the Smith family in one of the poorer Dallas trailer parks. Chris owes a lot of money to the local redneck loan shark and he is desperate to pay him off. He approaches his dad, Ansel  for a thousand dollars to keep ‘Red’ from killing him.

English: Thomas Haden Church at the 2009 Tribe...
Actor Thomas Haden Church plays Ansel.

Ansel doesn’t have a thousand dollars and with a hangdog delivery states that he’s never had a thousand dollars in his entire life. Ansel’s wife Sharla hates Chris and wants him thrown out of their trailer which Chris has come to after his mother Adele has kicked him out of hers.

Adele is Ansel’s ex-wife and according to her boyfriend Rex, is worth 50 thousand dollars dead. Rex also tells Chris that the money would go to Dottie and he reveals the existence of Killer Joe, a police detective who is also a contract killer. He tells Chris how Joe operates and Chris decides that his mother Adele must go.

Since Chris and Ansel don’t have the money to pay Joe up-front, Joe decides that he will take Dottie as a ‘retainer’ until the job is finished. Unfortunately things don’t go as planned.

The Cast:

Matthew McConaughey
Emile Hirsch
Juno Temple
Thomas Haden Church
Gina Gershon
Marc Macaulay

The Characters:

While Killer Joe could be seen as an ensemble film, it really follows Dottie and Chris. Dottie, who obviously suffered brain damage from oxygen deprivation when her mother attempted to smother her, is what we would have called simple or “touched” when I was a boy. Nowadays, in this more politically aware world, we’d say mentally challenged. Chris is just trouble on two legs. He has a penchant for failure and his failings unfortunately touch a lot of people, especially his family.

Killer Joe, besides being a cop and a contract killer, is a cold and detached man who likes things spelled out and who does not, apparently, like foul language.

Chris and Killer Joe.
Chris and Killer Joe aka Emile Hirsh and Mathew McConaughey.

The other two immediate characters are Ansel and Sharla. Looking and acting like refugees from the Maury Show, these two are living proof that Texas trailer trash exist and they both possess a disturbing nature and disposition.

Adele, the object of the proposed hit and Rex her boyfriend are shadowy figures that we never really see, even though Adele is the catalyst that moves the main theme of the film along.

The Twist:

There are several twists to this film and all are done expertly. Woven into the action and coming from different directions, the best twist of all is Dottie. I can say nothing more, otherwise this will fall under “spoiler” territory.

The Verdict:

By the time this film reached its climax I sat shaking my head in wonderment. This was darkly entertaining and disturbing at the same time. I knew people like Ansel, Chris and Dottie when I was growing up. Luckily, I knew of someone like ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper, but had no direct dealings with him. The most this version of Joe was capable of was petty larceny and blackmail.

So for me, these stereotypical characters had a stamp of reality in their makeup.

Friedkin has lost none of his deft touch and the film works in spite of its reliance on stereotypes.  I would give this film a solid 5 out of 5 stars simply for the very last twist in the film. If it doesn’t leave you sitting and looking at the screen shaking your head? I will be surprised.

William Friedkin and his wife Sherry on the re...
William Friedkin and his wife Sherry on the red carpet for the UK premiere of “Killer Joe” (Photo credit: EIFF)
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