Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wonder Wheel (2017, Allen)

If nothing else, Woody Allen's WONDER WHEEL serves a a living testament to Kate Winslet's bravery. As Ginny, a hard-working, adulterous 39-year-old waitress in 1950s Coney Island, she's being fed some of the worst lines Allen ever penned (the competition has become fierce in that department lately): all faux-Williams and faux-O'Neill high-strung banter that by now doesn't sound merely dated; it sounds exhumed.
And yet, miraculously, she makes her character come to life; she shines through all the retrograde crap Allen piles on her -- she even manages to act as if Vittorio Storaro weren't emptying his oldest bag of tricks upon her head all the time, bathing her in alterating hues of blue and yellow as if he just stepped off the set of ONE FROM THE HEART and had some leftover filters to spare.
Freshness hasn't been Allen's forte at least since SEPTEMBER (1987), in which he first conjured up his fake-leather world of chamber drama, drained of humor and fueled solely by dregs of great modernist playwrights Woody refused to honor by not imitating the shit out of them. WONDER WHEEL moves past SEPTEMBER -- and well past Autumn in general: this is a wintry movie, frozen in a grimace at once irritating and (strangely) endearing. The movie serves as the final proof that Allen hasn't been leaving his own head much for years now: Winslet's last big scene is a sad parody of a grand Blanche Du Bois moment, with the actress fluttering about in a once-glamorous gown, rattling her cheap jewelery around (with a flower in her hair, for God's sake) and speaking lines like: "Forgiveness... What a cold place our world would be without it". (Side note: someone should cast Winslet as SUNSET BLVD.-era Gloria Swanson, asap.)
Besides the disastrous turn by Justin Timberlake (playing a stereotype of a 'young and hungry artist' so dated, he doesn't get a single believable line), it has to be said that most of the cast here is terrific, with Jim Belushi doing a fantastic work in a role of Ginny's husband (that resembles Danny Aiello's turn in PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, only deepened). Juno Temple is a sexy, odd kitten with real thoughtfulness to her sad face. And of course there's Ginny's depressive, pyromaniac teenage son, who spends most of the movie burning stuff up in a misdirected rage that's the only genuinely curious element of the plot. I think he's an Allen's stand-in; the eternal loner and born melancholic who can't help but torture himself and gaze into the fire that consumes his own life.
The movie is terrible; Winslet and Belushi are great; and Woody could use a talk to someone besides Woody. I bet the spirits of Williams and O'Neill have been hollering at him to shut up for a while now.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Little Men (2016, Sachs)

Finally caught up with Ira Sachs' LITTLE MEN, one of the finest films of 2016. A quiet study of a budding friendship and a cautionary tale of real estate market tugging away at the very essence of urban community, it's perhaps most fascinating as a double portrait of a father and a son: the former letting go of ambition and the latter just forming his grasp upon it. It's understated; it's not big game hunting when it comes to emotion -- and yet it leaves you transformed the way a movie like Irvin Kershner's LOVING (1970) did back in the day.
I highly recommend it (if only for Greg Kinnear's wonderful performance as a man whose sense of failure has beaten him to a pulp inside, and yet who never, ever lets it show to his loved ones -- except when he's on stage, doing the job he's being payed to do).