Tag Archives: John Goodman

WONDER WHEEL

Three Star Rating

“In the world of cinema not everything always has to be about change and innovation. The world will after all never be short of its fair share of boundary-pushing pioneers. Besides, it’s not as though Woody’s not played his part over the years.” – Wayward Wolf.

Whilst the same three stars may adorn both this review and that of our ‘old friends’ at Time Out, it is however hard not to take issue with the opening gambit of their somewhat dismissive take on Woody Allen’s latest film, Wonder Wheel.

“Feel like watching a new Woody Allen film?” they enquire, knowingly…

“Nobody does these days.” They continue…

“Currently languishing in movie jail, the controversial director soldiers on.”

In light of this and other such ‘glowing’ testimony, I think the term ‘soldiering on’ is probably highly appropriate here. It seems that poor old Woody can barely even buy a favourable review these days.

In some ways they do have a point though. But is it entirely fair?

Once again we are introduced to familiar concepts and scenarios within which an assortment of semi-neurotic characters experience the same kind of angst and existential headaches that we’ve become well accustomed to over the years.

But so what if that’s the case?

Since when did anyone watch the latter day films of Woody Allen expecting groundbreaking content or some sort of revolutionary approach to film-making?

I’d suggest that watching Allen’s films these days – and I mean this in a complimentary sense – is like putting on a favourite pair of comfortable shoes. Some will of course have long discarded these for more fashionable alternatives, but for many they’re simply indispensable. You know how they fit, exactly the type of journey they’ll provide you with, and that they’ll get you to where you both need and want to go.

And if that seems overly-safe or kind of uninspiring, then so be it. In the world of cinema, not everything always has to be about change and innovation. The world will after all never be short of its fair share of boundary-pushing pioneers. Besides, it’s not as though Woody’s not played his part over the years.

Wonder Wheel is a fictional tale with occasional narration from its author and one of its key characters, the aspiring writer and summer lifeguard, Mickey (Justin Timberlake), whose story centres around a family of larger-than-life characters living in the shadow of the famous aforementioned big wheel in New York’s holiday resort of Coney Island. Here resides carousel ride operator and recovering alcoholic, Humpty (Jim Belushi), his second wife and local waitress Ginny (Kate Winslet), and her young son from another marriage, Richie (Jack Gore). The archetypal, hard-to-love, ginger step child.

It’s a fairly cramped set up thus causing a certain amount of friction within the family unit; a state of play not helped by the family’s ongoing financial difficulties and Richie’s compulsive pyromaniacal tendencies.

Nevertheless, things are just about holding together for Humpty’s clan.

But when the lives you live are built upon the unstable foundations of sand – almost literally in this instance – it’s never really going to take much to bring things tumbling down. And the cracks in the foundations soon begin to appear when the daughter that Humpty disowned some years back – Carolina (Juno Temple) – unexpectedly arrives back on the scene having run away from her no-good hoodlum husband.

Romance soon blossoms between Carolina and Mickey. This scenario in isolation is not necessarily problematic, but the fact Mickey is already involved in an illicit affair with Carolina’s step mother, Ginny, is.

This awkward tangled web of love and lies slowly drives Ginny out of her mind, and to add insult to injury, Carolina – having ‘sung like a canary’ to the authorities regarding her husband’s nefarious activities – now leaves everyone in a predicament, susceptible to the looming threat of a visit from the mob, and all that that would entail.

Chaos reigns.

But despite this pervading sense of unease, Allen’s Wonder Wheel takes a predominantly romanticised view of a Coney Island summer, embellished frequently by the oh so flattering orangey-golden hue of the summer dusk light, and the multi-coloured glow of the Wonder Wheel’s neon lights.

There’s a good collective chemistry between the cast members, and it’s great to see Jim Belushi back on the big screen again, producing a sort of John Goodman-esque depiction of his character, Humpty. Justin Timberlake and Juno Temple both convince in their respective roles, whereas Kate Winslet on the other hand, as good as she is in her portrayal of the emotionally tormented Ginny, tends to suffer a little from the fact that in certain scenes it’s almost impossible not to imagine a wild-haired Woody Allen himself playing this particular role of exponentially increasing neuroticism.

Ignore the naysayers, folks. Though I may be something of a lone voice here, all things considered, the much maligned Wonder Wheel – whilst admittedly not seeing Allen at the peak of his powers – is nonetheless pretty decent fare. To suggest otherwise I’d say is either a little harsh or perhaps indicates some kind of ulterior motive at play.

Can’t think what.

Hmmm.

Wonder Wheel. A cautionary lesson of what goes around comes around in a tale of forbidden love, vanity, jealousy, revenge and regret, all unfolding within one metaphorical 360 degree karma-infused turn of Coney Island’s most iconic leisure attraction.

 

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KONG – SKULL ISLAND

“John C. Reilly… Half Biggles, half Monty Python’s guardian of the juniper berry bushes…”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

 

What exactly are the key components of a big money-making, blockbuster film?

Stick to a well-worn, tried and tested formula? Tick. Make it larger than life with every emphasis on special effects over a cleverly-crafted narrative? Tick. Explosions, explosions, and shed-loads of them?! Tick. The list goes on and it reads like an accountant’s check-list – to borrow a Mark Kermode-ism, if I may.

Talking of big money blockbusters… Pounding his barrel chest in the furriest of fury, everyone’s favourite, easily-irked ape returns to the big screen once again, administering a plethora of simian beat-downs to those unfortunate or unwise enough to incur his wrath.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts has hold of the directorial reins for this latest slice of over-sized monkey mayhem, positioning Kong as the king of all he surveys on some hugely hazardous undiscovered island tucked away in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the southern hemisphere.

To all intents and purposes, Kong: Skull Island is ludicrous from start to finish, yet admittedly great fun for those that have no problem depositing their grey matter at the door, in advance.

Political agendas, lesser-known conspiracy theories, and very obvious Hollywood licence have all been taken and fused together with the same sort of care and attention that one might expect from the YTS kid on day one, creating a mad mish-mash identity crisis of a film which struggles to come across as anything like a coherent whole.

No matter, if it’s hugely impressive special effects that you crave, together with explosions, monster fights and a fair share of giant entities that will make your skin crawl, you’ve come to the right place.

Set in the immediate post-Vietnam war era, scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman), and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), have for many years been labelled ‘whack-jobs’ for their obdurate stance pertaining to an insistence that there are as yet undiscovered giant beings walking this earth, on as yet unchartered lands. Somehow the pair manage to convince the powers that be to provide them with a post-communist-bashing military chaperone for their investigative party, to aid them in their attempts to justify their apparently outlandish claims.

Team assembled and prepped to go, they set off on the craziest of kamikaze escapades. But regardless of the scale of the danger that’s set to confront Randa and Brooks’ expedition, as ever, it is man who will prove to be his own worst enemy.

This is no Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park or Apocalypse Now, though it clearly draws a hint of inspiration from each. What it is however, is a fun romp that positively hurls everything into the mixer, absolutely insists that we suspend our disbelief for a couple of hours, and hopes above all hope that some of this fairly poorly thought out carnage actually sticks – which in fairness, it does… to an extent.

Whether he’s swatting helicopters from the sky or wrestling the lizard creatures that inhabit the dark recesses of hollow, inner earth – there’s that conspiracy theory – Kong, the last of his line, is a totally preposterous yet impressively realised creature here, inexplicably roaming and policing the rugged terrain of his ancestral kingdom.

Samuel L. Jackson is well cast as the career military man only too glad to accept Randa’s assignment, kicking his heels as he is, now that the Vietnam war is over. John Goodman as ever gets a bit part role which only succeeds in underselling his considerable acting ability. Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are both decent enough as the fresh-faced war photographer / journalist and expedition leader, respectively. And then there’s John C.Reilly’s vaguely amusing character, Hank Marlow. Half Biggles, half Monty Python’s guardian of the juniper berry bushes, he’s been stranded on Skull Island since World War II, and let’s face it, he’s had enough.

It’s all cobbled-together, disjointed nonsense, but strangely likeable nonsense nonetheless, and if like me you’re bullheaded enough to see those closing credits out to the bitter end, there’s an inevitable little extra ‘something’ ham-fistedly bolted on, which, like the rest of the film, will be of no surprise whatsoever.

Franchise-worthy? Tick.

Hmm.

FILM REVIEW: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), wakes up lying on a mattress, hooked up to a drip in an underground concrete bunker. If that isn’t worrying enough, she’s additionally chained to a pipe that’s fixed to the wall in there.

The last that she remembers, she was driving along a main road at night, so quite how she’s gone from the one state of affairs to the other she’s unable to say. Understandably though, she has an overwhelming desire to escape.

Her ‘captor’ is Howard (John Goodman), a larger-than-life character who, according to him anyway, is going to be, along with an additional bunker-dweller, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), her only form of company for the next year or two.

For you see, there has been some kind of ‘attack’ on the U.S home soil, the fallout from which will render any hopes of leaving the bunker’s secure casing most fool-hardy indeed.

Through an exterior window, two mutilated pigs and the sudden appearance of a traumatised, facially disfigured woman appear to back up Howard’s far-fetched story.

To add further legitimacy to proceedings, Emmett admits to actually having asked Howard to let him into the bunker when it all kicked off outside.

So, what does one do? Take the word of a strange man who saw fit to create and kit out a survival bunker in his backyard and potentially lose a couple of years of one’s life in the process, or remain sceptical and look for a way to escape?

This is the conundrum facing  Michelle and for three quarters of the film, though not brilliantly done, the suspense and slow unravelling of the truth of this unusual predicament makes 10 Cloverfield Lane perfectly engaging and decent viewing…

…which is what makes the film’s absolutely wretched, bolted-on, dumbed-down car crash of a conclusion such a massive disappointment.

Somehow director Dan Trachtenburg has managed to snatch defeat from the hands of a modest victory here with an absolute smacked-about-the-face stinker of a finale and in doing so, successfully undoes any good work that had preceded it within a most lamentable final fifteen minute spell.

The whole shebang is left wide open to an almost inevitable sequel, though quite what that would entail and more importantly why it would be even be deemed necessary is another thing altogether.

Gord bless Hollywood.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Trumbo

I encountered a review of Jay Roach’s Trumbo the other day. It was critical both for being inaccurate and for presenting an overly favourable depiction of a man who was by all accounts notoriously hard to get on with and a bit of a pain in the arse.

I couldn’t possibly comment on this being relatively ignorant of the man and his life’s work, but turning this wholly negative, ‘thumbs-down’ review on its head for a moment, I would argue that Trumbo is in fact an excellent piecefor those very same reasons.

Jay Roach’s biopic, in spite of the relatively heavy nature of the subject matter, takes a fairly light-hearted, almost whimsical approach to the remarkable life of Dalton Trumbo; but lacking in substance and weight, it is not.

Strangely comic and almost cartoonish in his portrayal, Bryan Cranston nails his depiction of the infamous Hollywood screenwriter and political activist. Perhaps it’s Trumbo’s relentless chain-smoking or the flippant nature of his retorts, but there are shades of Groucho Marx about Cranston’s Trumbo, whilst Roach’s direction borrows slightly from latter-day Woody Allen in many respects, adding considerable charm and levity to the story.

That’s not to say that Trumbo by definition is a comedy. It isn’t.

Mid 20th century America was a tough place to hold ‘radical’ political beliefs. With the Cold War hanging over the nation like a bad smell and the trepidation of ‘what may be,’ American minds were rightly or wrongly preoccupied within a climate of fear and anti-Russian, anti-Communist sentiment.

For those like Dalton Trumbo, a man who held the civil rights and welfare of all American citizens as paramount to a well balanced and fair society above anything else, there was a very real sense that the net was widening and indeed closing in on them.

Trumbo, buoyed from signing a lucrative writing contract with Metro Goldwyn Meyer, a deal that would well and truly set him up for life, would soon find his life and career taking a serious downturn. Not just the American authorities was it, hell-bent on pulling the rug from beneath him, but the herd mentality of a media-fed public, lapping up the propoganda of the times, would also adopt the position of ‘defenders of the flag,’ unwittingly undermining their own freedoms by policing both the ‘commies’ and themselves in the process.

Trumbo and his circle of politically like-minded friends and confidants are predictably put through the wringer by the U.S authorities and shunned by those they had assumed were either friends or trustworthy acquaintances, with law after law passed deliberately to demonise them and their kind, ever further.

For the outed Communist Trumbo, a potential spell of incarceration is a very real possibility, but worse still, a blacklisting at the hands of the powers that be in Hollywood, spells potential career disaster.

Dalton Trumbo is however a canny customer, made of sterner stuff. Indeed, time will truly reveal the brilliance of the man and his ingenious methods of biting back at those who see fit to ruin him…

There’s a hell of a lot to like about Trumbo.

Bryan Cranston is terrific in the lead role, and his job is made that much easier being backed up most ably by a tremendous support cast:

Diane Lane is stoic, motherly and wonderfully feminine, portraying Trumbo’s long-suffering wife, Cleo. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the conflicted actor Edward G. Robinson, Louis C.K is Alen Hird, Trumbo’s close friend and fellow screenwriter of similar mind, whilst John Goodman weighs in, quite literally, with his take on the larger-than-life character, Frank King, the owner of a film company specialising in turning around God-awful films in record time, without any bullshit.

A special mention to Helen Mirren too. She portrays Hedda Hopper, a ‘Time’ journalist and critic as loathsome as she is influential, and a woman whose poisonous pen can and does make or break the best of them.

Trumbo, in spite of the at times sobering content and heavily political sub-text, positively jollies along. There’s a good pace to the film and a reassuring sense of quality about both script and direction, akin to a well-directed Spielberg yarn, and above all, the comforting realisation that everything’s in exceptionally good hands here.

There’s always a danger that biopics end up being dry, box-ticking exercises, but in Trumbo, director Jay Roach has got it spot on. He’s succeeded in revealing the life and times of one of America’s finest and most prolific screenwriters, Dalton Trumbo, not just as an interesting historical account, but as a properly engaging cinematic event, and that’s no mean feat.