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

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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.

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How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008) Real Life, But Not

Poster for How to Lose Friends and Alienate PeopleThis, sort of, biopic about Brit journo Toby Young is entertaining fodder. Never mind that it took me around seven years to finally watch this film, there were reasons…Okay? Essentially, like most amusing features based upon humorous memoirs, the film is about real life, but not really. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is pretty much fictional from the first frame. Where Toby, renamed Sidney, for the film worked in New York for Vanity Fair magazine, Pegg’s journalist works for Jeff Bridges, in the guise of Clayton Harding owner of Sharps a celebrity focused glossy.

It is fun, at the start of the film to see Thandie Newton, as herself, interacting with Pegg’s character, probably a payback for appearing together the previous year in Run Fatboy Run! and what’s wrong with that?

The romantic interest in the film is played by, alternatively, Megan Fox, who had not yet insulted her Transformer’s producer Michael Bay and Kirsten Dunst who had just finished her Spider-Man run as Mary Jane. There are a number of respectable names in the film. Gillian Anderson, whose character may, or may not be a cougar who tempts Young into dancing with the devil so to speak.

Everyone in the film looks ridiculously young, no pun intended. Pegg looks like he has regressed age-wise from the superior television comedy Spaced and Fox looks very different as well, having not gone that final step with plastic surgery that “refined” her face, and body even further. Sadly, there is no cure for “toe-thumbs.”

Jeff Bridges could have been Shemped at the start of the film as he talks to Pegg’s character looking away from the camera. In fact, the Oscar winning star could have phoned his role in as it did not require an enormous amount of effort on his part. The same could be said of Dunst.

Danny Huston, however, excelled as the sleazy and oily king of the paps who heads up the “show and tell” portion of the magazine. I will admit a soft spot for Huston whom I fell in love with initially in 40 Days of Night and then later in The Warrior’s Way and American Horror Story.

The beginning of the film offers such familiar British acting worthies as Chris O’Down, James Cordon and Fenella Woolgar as well as the more famous English stars in tiny cameos, Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet; and Australian star Toni Collette.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is amusing and at one point it borrows from the second of the Cornetto trilogies, Hot Fuzz, where they do a riff on the “Can I have your autograph” gag. Compared with other Pegg offerings, this film is much better than, say, Burke and Hare but not quite on par with any of the Cornetto trilogy films.

On Netflix at the moment, along with A Fantastic Fear of Everything and while the biopic is definitely worth a look, the latter film can be missed without too much guilt. 3.5 out of 5 stars for this older funny film.

1 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Divergent: Being Different Can be Murder (Review)

Divergent: Being Different Can be Murder (Review)

In the 2014 science fiction film Divergent, being different can be murder…literally. Adapted from the novel by Veronica Roth and the beginning of a trilogy, this film is yet another look at a post apocalyptic world where control and conformity are the key to survival.

Carnage (2011): Comedy of the Correct

Carnage (2011 film)
Carnage (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished watching Roman Polanski‘s Carnage. Adapted from the play ‘Le Dieu du carnage‘ written by Yasmina Reza and adapted for the screen by Yasmina and Roman Polanski. I have not laughed so hard in ages.

John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster play Michael and Penelope Longstreet whose son Ethan gets the business end of a stick in his mouth from Zachary Cowan son of Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz).

At the beginning of the film both couples are united in their dual purpose of handling the fight between their sons like civilized adults.

Investment broker Nancy and her lawyer husband Alan both admit that their son Zachary hit Ethan in the mouth with a stick as part of a fight.

Michael and Penelope are magnanimous in their acceptance of Zach’s parents admission of culpability. Everything is correct and proper.

The trouble begins when Nancy and Alan attempt  repeatedly to leave with promises of returning with Zachary later in the evening to get the boys to talk out their differences.

The longer the two couples are together the more their separate facades begin to slip and the true nature of their relationships with family and each other starts to show. As the cracks widen we get to see the real people underneath.

Penelope is an anal bleeding heart liberal who is rabid in her belief that people can settle their problems in a civilized manner.  Michael is a hot headed, short tempered, narrow minded bigot.

Nancy is a stressed out, bored and unhappy woman. Alan has no interest in anything that does not directly affect his business.

As the situation gets consistently worse, a bottle of scotch is introduced into the mix, with hysterical consequence’s. As the two couples drink, allegiances are formed, broken and reformed.

What was initially couple versus couple, the ebb and flow of the group dynamic goes from men against women, to the couples doing a metaphorical ‘do-se-do’ where the couples switch partners.

The alcohol relaxes their inhibitions and brings out the childishness and selfishness inherent in all the ‘adults’

Polanski has lost none of his touch in this brilliantly funny ‘domestic’ comedy. Of course the writer of the original play Yasmina Reza deserves a huge amount of credit for writing such brilliant multi-layered characters.

God of Carnage original West End production poster

I will warn you, the first part of the film is a little hard to watch. It is a little like watching a train lumbering forward into a crash and you know that the characters are not going to be able to avoid it.

But hang in there, like a slow building avalanche, the interaction  between the four people gets hysterically funny. It’s worth the wait.