Tag Archives: Kate Winslet

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.

 

FILM REVIEW: Triple 9

Last year’s truly excellent Sicario raised the bar for hard-hitting, brooding action thrillers. Triple 9, in some ways at least, takes the baton and runs with it.

A gang of criminals together with a number of ‘dirty cops’ are up to no good, using their expertise, insider knowledge and street know-how to pull off a number of heists at the behest of the Russian Jewish Mafia.

On what they presume has been the successful completion of their most recent escapade, they are distressed to discover that their paymasters are not only unhappy with its outcome, but insistent upon one further job, blackmailing them in the process.

It’s a job that’s bordering on the impossible, and any thoughts of successfully navigating its myriad issues are impossible without pulling a ‘Triple 9’ distraction tactic (a ‘Triple 9’ being the recognised police reaction code for killing a police officer).

It’s clear that this job is going to be particularly problematic.

With major personal concerns at stake, the gang pursue this final goal, but very quickly all best laid plans begin to unravel and it becomes clear that some of the people they’re depending upon have not read the script properly.

In an increasingly volatile environment, a game of double-cross, bluff and revenge ensues and it’s left to redneck wayward ‘straight’ cop, Jeffrey, (Woody Harrelson), to attempt to foil this plot and come to the aid of Chris (Casey Affleck) – a genuinely straight cop and the unwitting pawn in the criminals’ game – in the process.

There’s good support from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clifton Collins Junior and Norman Reedus, amongst others, all of whom are convincing in their respective, crooked roles, whilst Kate Winslet’s turn as Russian Mafia boss, Irina Vaslov, is both sinister and beguiling.

John Hillcoat’s direction is strong and purposeful, maintaining a good pace and urgency that both captivates and enthrals as the action unfolds. He’s engineered a plot line here that’s powerful and relentless, weaving in and out, wrong-footing as it goes, springing some genuine surprises.

Add to this a thumping soundtrack from Atticus Ross, reminiscent of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s great work in 2015’s Sicario, driving the action on and ramping up suspense levels in the process, and it’s all too good to be true, right?

In some ways, yes, for there’s one key problem with Triple 9.

For all of the good things that it brings to the table, ultimately it comes across as a film whose director has cherry-picked his favourite aspects from any number of his favourite crime thrillers, moulding them all together; not always convincingly. It’s a film therefore that falls victim to its own over-complicated ambition. In attempting to lead the viewer on a merry dance, Triple 9 does rather tie itself in knots, ultimately falling over itself and losing its way a little towards the end.

Don’t let that be a deterrent though.

It’s not perfect. There are flaws and things that perhaps should have been addressed prior to the final cut, haven’t been.

Nevertheless, Triple 9 still successfully manages to pack a considerable punch and stands ably on its own.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Steve Jobs

A short archive snippet aside, predicting with surprising accuracy it should be said, the future of the home computer, Steve Jobs parachutes us straight in at the business end of things.
Mid-conversation, back stage at the launch of the ‘revolutionary’ new Apple Macintosh computer, Jobs (played well by Michael Fassbender), is discussing and arguing the toss with whomever may be in the room at the time; very much setting the template for director Danny Boyle’s biopic of the late, influential Apple maestro.
It’s dialogue-heavy. Very heavy in fact.
This of course is not a bad thing per se. Major film releases could certainly benefit from a greater focus on dialogue, it’s true, but when does it all become too much?
Essentially, Steve Jobs is a sequence of conversations between the single-minded entrepreneur and those both integral and peripheral to his life. All too frequently these discussions degenerate into bitter arguments when Jobs’ ideas, vision or personal life are brought into question.
From Danny Boyle’s take on things, it would appear that Jobs was a man that relished a debate, the way one does when absolutely convinced of the correctness of one’s actions and motives. Jobs seemed to have no intention of swaying from his point of view. Some will argue that that’s very much why he was so successful.
On the receiving end of Jobs’ stubborn, fait accompli-esque mind set are, amongst others, his loyal head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman (played well by Kate Winslet, although how it took me until the end of the film to realise it was her, remains a mystery), the long time, long suffering brilliant programming mind behind Apple’s until then most successful product, the Apple II computer, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of Jobs’ child whose financial struggles and subsequent histrionics are of constant irritation to the Apple chief who seems almost non-plussed by her plight.
Or perhaps he was just too focussed to notice?
Either way, it is clear that Jobs needed like-minded people around him. His powers of diplomacy with those that didn’t ‘get him’ were somewhat lacking.
It’s hard to make up one’s mind on this one. It’s certainly worthy of a further viewing, if only to fully ingest the true direction of the conversations.
The problem seems to be that a film which is unafraid to be dialogue focussed repeats the trick time and again. One discussion / argument follows another and then another and then another, diluting the impact of both their intensity and content. Significant swathes of the film seemed to somehow pass me by as I tried on a few occasions unsuccessfully to accurately recall what had just happened, and I’m not one to switch off, impatient for the ‘action scenes.’
Perhaps it was a lack of concentration on my part? One thing is for sure though, Steve Jobs is hard work. It offers no light respite (normally a good thing), but I feel that it suffers as a result.
Plaudits to Danny Boyle for a brave approach in putting together what appears at least to have been a labour of love; I’d guess that Jobs was someone that Boyle had great affection or at least admiration for? That much seems to be evident.
Certainly the Steve Jobs story, whilst subtle and a bit of a slow burner, is an incredibly clever one, full of cunning, little or no compromise and a sense of tactically mastery and one worthy of the big screen, no doubt.
It’s just a shame that to anyone other than absolute aficionados of Jobs’ work, it’s a film that will go down as heavy-going and ultimately a little unsatisfying.