“Wonder Wheel” Review

Wonder-Wheel-Poster

At the beginning of Woody Allen’s new film, Wonder Wheel, Justin Timberlake’s character muses through narration on the state of Coney Island – how it was once a glittering jewel of America but now seems seedy and decrepit. I couldn’t help feeling that makes for an accurate description of Allen himself, who has released at least one new film every year since 1982. While early films like Annie Hall and Manhattan are recognised as iconic and innovative pieces of American cinema, it’s harder and harder to appreciate the filmmaker’s works in light of highly public sexual assault cases and his uncomfortable personal life, particularly in the Post-Weinstein “Me Too” era. Perhaps it’s time for Allen to step away from the camera.

Yet until he does people will keep seeing his films, so I’ll try to consider Wonder Wheel on its own merits. Kate Winslet plays Ginny Randell, a waitress working in Coney Island who’s unhappily married and having an affair with Micky Rubin (Timberlake), a lifeguard. When her husband’s daughter, Carolina, comes to them for help escaping her mobster fiancé and his goons, Ginny begins to go through a mid-life crisis as she becomes increasingly threatened by Carolina’s interest in Micky and the opportunities offered to her that Ginny feels she missed out on. Allen’s scripts are famous for their dialogue and there’s plenty of it in Wonder Wheel – indeed, at times I felt like I was watching more of a play than a film as characters bustle through the sets in unbroken takes, performing their lines to an unseen audience rather than each other. Winslet in particular seems to be struggling with this – she’s an extraordinary actress who has plenty of lengthy emotional monologues to deliver, but her performance is hampered by Allen giving her little to hold onto or connect with. Many of Ginny’s most personal revelations are shot with just Winslet on screen, cutting back to other actors after she’s finished talking, so it often feels as though she’s just talking to herself. Allen has assembled a fine cast of character actors but rarely allows them to interact with each other, so they feel self-contained and isolated. Only Juno Temple as Carolina and, surprisingly, Timberlake manage to make it work. Temple is flawless as the wide-eyed yet scarred ingénue, and hopefully this role will serve as a stepping stone to more leading parts in the future, and while Timberlake’s acting abilities aren’t quite up to the same standards as some of his co-stars he approaches his part with such unbridled enthusiasm that I was more drawn to his character than nearly any other.

Famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who also worked on Allen’s last picture Café Society, fills the film with lush, rich colours. The neon coloured lights of Coney Island are reflected on the characters’ faces, shifting tones and intensity as scenes progress, but while it looks stunning it never seems to be done with any real purpose. I was never quite sure what the purpose of Wonder Wheel was at all, to be honest. The script lacks Allen’s famous wit, the romance feels shallow and empty, and the characters are too melodramatic for the drama to have any lasting effect. There is a strong sense of nostalgia throughout the film within the soundtrack and the 1950s setting, but Allen doesn’t seem to be making any real point about the past – just living in it.

2 stars.

“Justice League” Review

Justice League

Superman is dead! The Earth is in danger! Quick – assemble the Justice League…so they can bring Superman back to life and let him deal with it.

Technically that’s a spoiler, but it’s unclear how much of a ‘twist’ Superman’s resurrection is meant to be…despite dying at the end of 2016’s Batman v Superman (Zack Snyder), much of the marketing for Justice League (Synder again, with Joss Whedon directing some reshoots) features references to Superman. The film even opens with new footage of Henry Cavill back in the blue suit, so there’s no question of whether or not Superman will return to life – simply how it will happen. The answer, unsurprisingly, is really dumb.

While the viewers know that Supes will be back, it appears to the characters of the film that he’s gone for good. Taking advantage of the Earth seeming undefended is the new extra-terrestrial villain Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), a giant CGI alien who fulfils all the requirements of a superhero-movie villain without a single distinguishing trait. He wants to destroy the world and make it his own, with bland bad-guy dialogue and a character design so forgettable they might as well have just left the footage of Hinds in the motion-capture suit untouched. Yet while Marvel Studios will often have generic villains in favour of more colourful and developed heroes, Justice League struggles to even make that work.

Ben Affleck is back as Batman, who is trying to bring together a team of heroes to stop Steppenwolf’s invasion. Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman is a welcome return, still riding on the wave of success from her solo outing this year, and she’s joined by newcomers Cyborg (Ray Fisher), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). DC clearly wanted to get as many of its biggest characters in this film as they could, but they don’t seem to know what people like about these characters beyond their iconic natures. As a result it’s hard to care about anything that’s going on, feeling like DC is relying on audiences already liking their characters rather than developing them in any way. Even Danny Elfman’s musical score betrays this motive, utilising snippets of John William’s Superman theme and his own Batman theme to remind you of better superhero movies.

DC needed a win with this film to prove Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman wasn’t a fluke, and it didn’t get one. Joss Whedon’s script attempts to add more humour into the darker world established by Snyder but the jokes fall flat. The CGI is aggressive and cartoony, removing all sense of danger from any of the fights. The story is predictable, and the characters one-note. While it’s better as a whole than Batman v Superman, it also lacks any of the surprisingly effective scenes that its precursor had to make it memorable despite its flaws. Justice League instead ends up a film that’s never quite terrible, but never feels worth remembering.

2 stars.