Wonder Wheel
New Woody Allen Pic Proves Terribly Disappointing

I suppose Woody Allen was due for a dud. After being distracted during the ‘90s by a bitter divorce and custody battle, the four-time Oscar-winner had enjoyed quite a resurgence since the turn of the century with a string of critically-acclaimed offerings that included Small Time Crooks (2000), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), Match Point (2005), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight in Paris (2011) and Blue Jasmine (2013).

While Wonder Wheel might not be Woody’s best film, it’s certainly his worst of this millennium. The film is set in the ‘50s on Coney Island, where the first thing you notice is that everybody’s white, whether on the beaches or in the amusement park.

Yes, movies made back then were often lily-white productions which gave no hint that African-Americans even existed. But it’s a bit of a head-scratcher to witness a director taking his cues from a less-enlightened era, as if there’s still a reason, today, to hide the fact that there were plenty of black Coney Island patrons.

Besides constantly asking myself, “Where the black people at?” the picture had this native New Yorker cringing at many of the characters’ inauthentic Brooklyn accents. The most distracting was Jim Belushi’s vaguely-familiar staccato. It took me half the movie to figure out that he was imitating the classic Chicago accent appropriately adopted by Dan Aykroyd to play opposite John Belushi in The Blues Brothers (1980).

Equally-unconvincing, if not as annoying, were the manners of speaking of co-stars Justin Timberlake, Kate Winslet and Juno Temple. Bensonhurst-born Steve Schirripa was the only lead actor to have the local cadence correct. Perhaps Woody shoulda also let Steve serve as the cast’s voice coach.

Besides all of the above, the unengaging script left a lot to be desired. At the point of departure, we learn that a middle-aged waitress (Winslet) is cheating on her carousel operator husband (Belushi) with a young lifeguard (Timberlake). The plot thickens when her miserably-married stepdaughter (Temple) moves back home unexpectedly, and proceeds to fall head-over-heels for her hunky lover, too.

This critic couldn’t figure out why Timberlake was intermittently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly. Worse is the absence of any trademark Woody Allen humor, unless unintentionally funny moments count. Overall, a cinematic disaster that makes The Room (2003) look like Citizen Kane (1941).

Fuhgeddaboudit!

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, smoking and mature themes
Running time: 101 minutes
Production Studios: Amazon / Gravier Productions
Distributor: Amazon Studios

 

 

Lady Bird
Saoirse Shines as Rebellious Teen in Touching, Coming-of-Age Adventure

Saoirse Ronan is only 23, but she’s already been nominated for an Academy Award twice, for Brooklyn (2015) and Atonement (2005). Now, she’s a shoo-in to land another nomination for her memorable turn as the title character in Lady Bird.

It’s hard to say whether three times will prove to be the charm for the Irish ingenue, since this has been a banner year for actresses, with powerful performances turned in by worthy competitors like Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand and perennial-nominee Meryl Streep. Win or lose, Ronan deserves all the accolades she’s getting for exhibiting an enviable range in a very demanding role as a tormented teen constantly in crisis.

Life is an emotional roller coaster for this college-bound senior. And as the film unfolds, it’s easy to see why. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is an iconoclast who refuses to conform, whether she’s rebelling from her overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf) or breaking the rules at her Catholic high school. She dyes her hair a bizarre blend of red and pink, and insists on being addressed as Lady Bird by everyone.

Despite being an academic underachiever, she’s banking on college as her ticket out of town. She hates boring Sacramento, and won’t settle for a school anywhere but in New York City. But instead of studying to pick up her grades, she indulges her impulses by running for class president and trying out for a role in The Tempest. Plus, her hormones are raging, and she’s a little boy crazy, too. So, excuse her for not being able to keep her eyes on the university prize.

The plot thickens in a variety of surprising ways it would be almost evil to spoil here. Suffice to say that Lady Bird is a fantastic, female-centric, instant classic reminiscent of both Juno (2007) and Bridesmaids (2011). Written and directed by Mumblecore-movement maven, Greta Gerwig, the picture is also ostensibly semi-autobiographical, since the Sacramento native attended an all-girls Catholic school before moving to Manhattan to attend Barnard College.

A delightful crowd pleaser well deserving of Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality, teen partying and brief graphic nudity
Running time: 93 minutes
Production Company: Scott Rudin Productions/ IAC Films / Management 360
Distributor: A24

 

OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam’s Kapsules
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Dec. 15, 2017

BIG BUDGET FILMS

Ferdinand (PG for action, rude humor and mature themes) John Cena plays the title character in this animated adventure about a peace-loving bull who’d rather stop to smell the roses than chase a matador’s red cape around an arena. Voice cast includes Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Gabriel Iglesias, Boris Kodjoe and Davud Tennant.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence) Second episode in the sequel trilogy directed by Rian Johnson (Looper) finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) embarking on an epic, intergalactic adventure with the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to unlock the mystery of “The Force.” Featuring Adam Driver. Lupita Nyong’o and the late Carrie Fisher.

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (R for profanity and violence) Bill Pullman assumes the title role in this Western, set on the plains of Montana, about an aging cowboy who enlists the assistance of a young gunslinger (Diego Josef) and a lawman (Tommy Flanagan) to track down the outlaws responsible for the gruesome murder of his friend, a newly-elected U.S. Senator (Peter Fonda). Cast includes Jim Caviezel, Kathy Baker and Joseph Lee Anderson.

Beyond Skyline (R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Sci-fi sequel about a veteran LAPD detective (Frank Grillo) who mounts a daring attempted rescue of his son from an alien spaceship that vacuumed the entire population of Los Angeles off the face of the Earth. With Bojana Novakovic, Johnny Weston, Kevin O’Donnell and Iko Uwais. (In English and Indonesian with subtitles.)

Killing for Love (Unrated) Tabloid news documentary revisiting the events surrounding the high-profile murder trial of University of Virginia student Elizabeth Haysom and her German boyfriend for the decapitation of both of her parents.

The Leisure Seeker (R for sexuality) Romantic romp revolving around an elderly couple (Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren) who embark on a road trip from Boston to Key West to recapture their passion for life and love. Support cast includes Joshua Mikel, Kirsty Mitchell and Janel Moloney.

Permanent (PG-13 for profanity, crude humor, sexual references and mature themes) Coming-of-age comedy, set in the South in 1982, revolving around a white ‘tweener (Kira McLean), new to a town, who ends up ostracized at school after her hairdresser accidentally leaves her with an afro instead of curls like her idol, Farah Fawcett. With Patricia Arquette, Rainn Wilson and Devin Albert.

Sundowners (Unrated) Buddy comedy about a couple of jaded wedding photographers (Phil Hanley and Luke Lalonde) who get a break from the monotony when they land a gig in Mexico. Featuring Tim Heidecker, Cara Gee and Nick Flanagan.

Youth (Unrated) Coming-of-age adventure, set in the ‘70s, revolving around the trials and tribulations of members of a military cultural troupe. Ensemble cast includes Xuan Huang, Miao Miao and Caiyu Yang. (In Mandarin with subtitles.)

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