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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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FILM REVIEW: Black Mass

A lot has been made of Johnny Depp’s return to a ‘serious’ role.
In Black Mass, he portrays James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, the violent gangster boss that made South Boston his own in the late 70s and 80s.
It’s true, Depp is decent enough.
Heavy layers of makeup, piercing blue eyes and slicked back thinning hair; he certainly looks the part, adopting an unnerving appearance, well in keeping with the apparently sinister nature of the man.
Whitey was a small time gangster that got a taste for the big time and thanks to fellow ‘Southy’ (South Boston) resident and childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) – who had worked his way up to a significant level within the FBI – an arrangement is reached by which Whitey supplies Connolly with all that he needs to take down Boston’s existing Italian mafia. In return, Connolly agrees to turn a blind eye to Whitey’s on-going ‘small time’ antics.
Of course, with the Boston Mafia now shut down and out of the picture, the way is clear for Whitey’s mob to take full advantage and expand their operations throughout Boston and beyond safe in the knowledge that the FBI will not interfere. This is something altogether more problematic for Connolly, particularly when a new head of FBI operations takes up the reins and starts to make waves.
Whitey’s kingdom is suddenly in jeopardy and there’s a very real possibility that everything’s going to start crumbling around him.
Director Scott Cooper seems to have approached this project from the Scorcese school of direction. No bad thing of course, but it’s all a bit Goodfellas-lite. Yes, it tackles key themes like violence, treachery and a growing sense of paranoia but ultimately, it never really brings anything new of note to the table.
More than ever a film such as this needs a real unique angle from which to approach the subject matter, or at the very least a good number of memorable set pieces that burn into the old grey matter.
Despite such negative overtones, Black Mass is in fact perfectly watchable. It’s well paced and engaging, with decent support performances from the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard and Kevin Bacon, to name but a few, but like so many before it, it’s in many ways on a hiding to nothing.
Since the likes of Coppolla, Scorcese and Leone left their indelible mark on the epic gangster / crime caper genre, it’s hard to think of many or indeed any that have truly hit those heady heights and remained long in the memory.
Yes, there are memorable moments; they’re just not memorable enough to help Black Mass to really stand out.
Baddabing.
On a particularly positive note, it’s an absolutely immaculate 1970s/80s retro set / clothing-fest for those of us that happen to be fans of the architectural and design trends of that era…
Probably just me then.