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One Of Woody’s Worst Films May Be His Best Looking

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WONDER WHEEL (Dir. Woody Allen, 2017)

The most striking thing about Woody Allen’s latest film, his third project for Amazon, is how lushly lit it is. Leading actresses Kate Winslet and Juno Temple’s red and blonde hair appears to always be glowing in golden light, whether in day or night scenes; and the gorgeousness of the color schemes employed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is palpable in every scene.

It’s too bad that it’s all in the service of the tired themes and clichéd characters that make up WONDER WHEEL, yet another nostalgic period piece from the Woodman – one that recalls the aura of his previous works CAFÉ SOCIETY (which Storaro also shot) PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, RADIO DAYS, and that fantasy flashback in ANNIE HALL where Allen’s Alvy Singer reminiscences about being brought up underneath the roller coaster in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn.

In very Allen-esque opening narration, Justin Timberlake sets the scene: “Coney Island, 1950s. The boardwalk.” The camera pans over a crowded beach until it hits Timberlake, as Mickey Rubin, a lifeguard who identifies himself as an aspiring playwright, breaking the fourth wall to tell us he’s got a story to tell, “in which I am a character so be warned as a poet I use symbols and as a budding dramatist, I relish melodrama and larger than life characters.”

Mickey introduces Carolina (Juno Temple), who has unexpectedly come back into the lives of her carousel operator father Humpty (Jim Belushi), and her stepmother Ginny (Winslet), because she is seeking refuge from the mob due to being marked by her never seen gangster husband.

Humpty and Ginny live in a shabby apartment, which used to house a freak show, with big open windows that has a great wide ranging view of the park including of the towering ferris wheel of the title. This is all back-drop to a well worn narrative involving a love triangle between Mickey, Ginny and Carolina.

Ginny dreams of running off with Mickey, but then Mickey falls for Carolina, despite the threat of a mafia hit job, which is made clear in a bit that has Sopranos regulars Tony Sirico (in his sixth film for Allen) and Steve Schirripa come to question Humpty about his daughter’s whereabouts.

There’s also a subplot about Ginny’s pyromaniac son that doesn’t really go anyhere, but it does provide shots of fire that go along with the rest of the movie’s orange bathed in blue glow.

Perhaps in the same vein that Andrew Dice Clay gained cred for his role in Allen’s BLUE JASMINE, Belushi puts in a great supporting performance as an angry, broken down working class slob who trying to stay on the wagon. I wouldn’t say it’s quite worth a Oscar nomination, but it nicely continues the ‘hey, Jim Belushi isn’t bad!’ vibe from his appearance on the Twin Peaks revival early this year.

Winslet’s acerbic Ginny is the dominant character here as the film seems to focus on her neurosis over her stepdaughter’s impending involvement with Mickey, and her frazzled attempts to thwart their romance. Winslet puts her all into her acting and anchors the film until it and she goes off the rails.

Timberlake’s Mickey wasn’t lying when he said he uses symbols as he even says “The heart has its own hieroglyphics” when trying to chose between Ginny and Carolina. He also speaks of “the tragic human condition” while giving Ginny a book of Eugene O’Neil’s plays for her birthday – an example of Allen’s screenplay laying it on a bit thick.

All this is transparent decoration around another one of his ‘women be crazy’ plotlines. The repetitive and overly drawn out dialogue doesn’t help either.

WONDER WHEEL’s melodramatic (Mickey wasn’t fooling there either) mix of hefty philosophizing with an all too typical tale of ill-fated infatuation makes for one of Allen’s least satisfying films of his later career.


But while it’s far from his best work, it may be his best looking movie. With hope, the Woodman, in his next film, A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK in which he’s again working with cinematographer Storaro, will come up with a story that’s as good as the visuals.


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STEVE JOBS: An Intensely Talky Character Study In 3 Acts

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STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2015)


A
s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and director Danny Boyle have stressed repeatedly, this highly anticipated portrait of the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs isn’t a biopic – it’s an intensely talky character study told in three acts, each set backstage at crucial product launches in Jobs’ career.


The first third is set in 1984, at the launch for the original Macintosh at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, California. We meet Jobs (Michael Fassbender in his sharpest performance yet and with a flawless American accent to boot) fretting over making the computer say “hello” to introduce itself when turned on for the presentation.

In snappy, witty dialogue largely delivered within walks and talks – a very familiar Sorkin device – Jobs argues with key Mac engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and his trusted marketing chief Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) over the issue.


Hertzfeld protests: ““We’re not a pit-crew at Daytona, this can’t be fixed in seconds.”

“You don’t have seconds – you had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time,” Jobs responds.

“Well, someday, you’ll have to tell us how you did it,” Hertzfeld replies through a smirk.

Yep, there’s that Sorkin snap!

Floating in and out of Jobs’ orbit are Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley, who needles Jobs about how they used real skin-heads in the famous “1984” Apple television commercial; Seth Rogen as Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, who wants Jobs to give credit to the Apple II computer team in his speech; and most importantly Katherine Waterson as Jobs’ ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, and her five-year-old daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss), whose paternity Jobs denies.

These interactions take us up until Jobs is introduced onstage, then the film transitions to the man and his team preparing for the launch of the NeXT computer system at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. This time our genius is worried that the dimensions are off on what’s supposed to be a perfect cube of a computer.

As he makes the rounds through the facility, Jobs argues with the same folks – Sculley, Woz, Brennan – but he’s beginning to bond with his daughter, played at age 9 by Ripley Sobo, so there’s some significant development there.

The concluding third of the film concerns the launch event for the iMac in 1998 at the same venue as the ’84 Macintosh, and yet again we see Jobs go through the tangled motions with his minions (no, not those Minions!). Perla Haney-Jardine fills the shoes of his daughter at 19, who, of course, gets to finally connect with her father.

There’s some patented Sorkin character cutesiness present in such moments as Jobs telling his Walkman carrying daughter that he’s going to put “a thousand songs in your pocket” (the iPod, duh!), and when Wozniak and Jobs bicker over a Beatles analogy (“I’m tired of being Ringo when I know I was John,” Woz complains), but overall it’s a meticulously sculpted screenplay that’s a shoo-in for a Oscar nomination. I prefer Sorkin’s script for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but this is in the same lofty class.

As some scenes are strained and some beats are repetitive, STEVE JOBS falls just short of greatness, much like the man himself as these three spotlighted products were financial failures, but its strengths which lie in the delightfully punchy performances by Fassbender and everyone in the cast (seriously, there is no weak link in this ensemble), the volumes of perfectly on point one-liners, and Boyle’s inspired stylistic choices like using different film formats for each era (’84 in 16mm, ’88 in 35mm, and ’98 in digital) elevate it into a series of speculated conversations well worth cinematically eavesdropping on.


Jobs was a visionary, but, yeah, he could also be bit of a dick. Boyle, Sorkin, and Fassbender’s take on the man is that he was well aware of that, but it couldn’t be helped because “there is no off position on the genius switch,” as David Letterman would say.

More later…