Wonder Wheel

Posted on November 30, 2017 at 5:36 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, drinking, references to alcoholism
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and off-screen violence, references to mob killings
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 1, 2017
Date Released to DVD: March 3, 2018

Copyright Amazon 2017
Writer/director Woody Allen continues to explore questions of fate, chance, and choice he has addressed with much more art and understanding before in “Wonder Wheel,” a dreary, dull story set in 1950’s Coney Island. Unlike the character who talks about responsibility, Allen tries to duck his own failures by having his stand-in narrator tell us that the story is filled with metaphor and symbolism. That stand-in is Justin Timberlake as a lifeguard named Mickey who wants to write big, dramatic plays like Eugene O’Neill, and he addresses us directly in an unsuccessful attempt to make the story appear more meaningful.

Mickey, who is going to school on the GI bill after his service in the navy during WWII, is having an affair with a married older woman, Ginny (Kate Winslet). She is a waitress at a clam joint on the boardwalk, but she tells him she is a former actress who is just playing the part of a waitress. Her husband, Humpty (a blustery Jim Belushi) runs the carousel. She has a young son from her first marriage who lies, steals, and sets fires everywhere. And Humpty has a daughter named Carolina (Juno Temple), estranged since she married a mobster five years earlier, who shows up because she is on the run. She has left her husband and shared some information with law enforcement, and now goons want to kill her.

All of this could be set up in a few brief scenes, but this is a movie where everything has to be said at least twice, just to drag it all out. Slate’s Sam Adams writes that Allen is trying to justify some of the highly-controversial choices of his personal life and attack his former partner (and mother of his current wife) in this film. It is equally possible to read it as a mea culpa, with Ginny’s confession that she destroyed her one chance at personal and professional happiness when she betrayed her first husband, belatedly realizing he was the love of her life, but just could not help herself. Is this fate? A recurring character flaw? Allen does not seem interested enough to follow through.

The production design gorgeously brings to life the look of 1950’s Coney Island, the beach, the boardwalk, and the rides. Ginny and Humpty literally live under the ferris wheel that gives the film its title, reminiscent of Alvy Singer’s family living under the roller coaster in “Annie Hall.” Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro gives a romantic glow to many of the scenes, perhaps making a link between Ginny’s red hair and the fires set by her son. The actors do their best to bring the characters to life, but with a repetitive, underwritten script and sour, dreary tone, it is as though instead of putting his characters in a story he tossed them like pennies in search of an I Ching fortune. In life, we can debate the role of destiny, fatal flaws, and choice. But a writer is in control of all three for his characters, and no amount of visual flair or acting talent can obscure the failure to make those choices meaningful.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and situations, adultery, strong language, drinking and alcoholism, references to domestic abuse and child abuse, smoking, and references to mob violence.

Family discussion: What symbols can you identify in this story? What does the ferris wheel mean? What about the fires?

If you like this, try: “Crimes and Misdemeanors”

Related Tags:

 

Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

The Mountain Between Us

Posted on October 5, 2017 at 5:48 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril, plane crash, animal attack, characters injured and killed, disturbing scenes
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: October 6, 2017
Date Released to DVD: December 26, 2017
Copyright 2017 20th Century Fox

A surgeon named Ben (Idris Elba) and a photojournalist named Alex (Kate Winslet) have to find their way home after a charter plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies. Both of them were stuck at the airport after their flight to Denver was cancelled and both had an urgent need to get to their destinations as quickly as possible. He was scheduled to perform a critical brain operation on a child. She was on her way to her wedding after completing an assignment taking pictures of gang members. So Alex introduces herself to Ben and finds a pilot (Beau Bridges) who agrees to take them. When he tells them he didn’t have to file a flight plan because they were only going to be in the air during daylight, they might have shown some concern. But they were in a hurry. In fact, they were in so much of a hurry that neither one of them told anyone what they were doing either.

So when the pilot has a stroke and the plane crashes at the top of a mountain, no one knows where they are. They have almost no equipment and even less food. They do have the pilot’s dog. Kate is wounded, but Ben handily applies first aid, including a custom made splint fashioned from airplane shrapnel. As she is sleeping, he buries the pilot and assesses their situation.

The location footage is gorgeous and beautifully filmed. But the script, based on the book by Charles Martin, is so soapy you could wash a week’s laundry in it, with much more focus on the artificial differences (despite her injury, she wants to take action while he thinks it is safest to stay where they are) and under-imagined peril. What we want to see is the brave and clever ways they solve the problem of survival. What we get is bickering, hurt feelings, a non-surprising revelation, and a romantic encounter, with a coda that turns the whole adventure into a meet cute. Elba and Winslet don’t have much chemistry, in part because her character is immature and reckless, not nearly as charming as the movie thinks she is. Their conversations are not especially revealing or illuminating for them or for us. What should be an inspiring story becomes a weary slog.

Parents should know that this film includes constant peril, with a scary plane crash in the mountains, animals, ice, deprivation, a bear trap, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images, sexual references and situation, brief strong language

Family discussion: How did Ben and Alex rely on their professional skills in evaluating their options? What were their biggest differences?

If you like this, try: “Touching the Void,” “127 Hours,” and “K2”

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Romance

Collateral Beauty

Posted on December 14, 2016 at 4:41 pm

Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers

With typical understated euphemism, the military calls the damage inflicted on non-target sites and civilians “collateral damage.” Screenwriter Allan Loeb calls his new film a fable and he asks us to consider the possibility of “collateral beauty,” beauty that is revealed only when our pain forces us to pay attention. Emily asked in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” The State Manager answers, “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.” This movie would add, “And those who are grieving.”

Howard (Will Smith) is confident, charming, and successful when we first see him, asking his partners and the employees of his advertising agency, “What is your Why?” He is not asking them to participate in a discussion of existential metaphysics and man’s search for meaning. He was asking them to think about how to describe their client’s products to answer the potential customers’ Why questions. Death, Time, Life, according to Howard, are what we grapple with. “We long for love, we wish for more time, we fear death.” Products that help people feel that they have some control over mortality and intimacy are the ones that will sell.

But three years later, Howard has suffered the most shattering loss of all, the death of a child. He sits in his office creating elaborate domino structures and then watching them fall. He’s “the domino champion of crazytown” and the jobs of everyone in the company are at stake.

Howard no longer even speaks to his friends and colleagues, Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena) and he no longer meets with clients. The business is in trouble. They have one hope — a sale of the company. But Howard will not discuss it, and he controls the majority of the stock.

Desperate, Whit, Claire, and Simon hire a detective (Ann Dowd) to help them build a case that Howard is not mentally stable enough to control his voting shares. She tells them Howard has been writing letters to express his pain. He has written to Death, to Love, and to Time. And so Whit, Claire, and Simon hire three actors to play the roles of Death (Helen Mirren), Love (Keira Knightley), and Time (Jacob Latimore), to answer Howard’s letters. Best case scenario, they make it possible for him to move forward by engaging directly with his questions about life and pain and loss and meaning. Worst case scenario, they document his mental instability so they can override his ability to block the deal.

White, Claire, and Simon each have their own problems, it turns out, and the actors provide some gentle guidance on that as well. And Howard is provoked into responding. Each encounter makes it possible for him to take another step toward re-engaging with the world, including attending a grief support group for parents whose children have died.

I was touched by the film’s willingness to do what it asks Howard to do — to confront death, love, and time and ask what it all means and why it hurts so much. Its heartfelt sincerity and lovely performances beguiled me into its world. It is worth seeing for Mirren’s exquisitely witty turn alone. She is clearly having a great time playing the part of a Capital R Theatrical Capital-A Actress. Norton is also excellent, especially in scenes between Whit and his tween daughter who is furious at him for cheating on her mother. Naomie Harris as the leader of the support group has a sweet gravity that is as important to bringing some grounding to Howard as his conversations with the embodiment of abstract concepts. And Smith brings all of his full-out charisma to the role of a man who cannot figure out how to go on when he has lost everything that matters because his view of the world has been shattered into sub-atomic particles and nothing makes sense. Howard has become a man who spends days adjusting the precise placement of elaborate domino structures and then knocks them down and leaves the room without watching the way they knock each other down.

The raw elements of Smith’s acting anchor the more fanciful and symbolic elements of the story, tenderly told, with a conclusion of warmth, healing, and perhaps some connection to a fourth spirit, hope.

Parents should know that this film includes themes of loss and devastating grief, including death of children, and a few swear words.

Family discussion: If you wrote letters to Time, Death, and Love, what would you say? What other concepts would you write to? What is collateral beauty, and does it take a profound loss to be able to see it?

If you like this, try; “Our Town,” “Truly, Madly, Deeply” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”

Related Tags:

 

Not specified

The Dressmaker

Posted on September 22, 2016 at 5:29 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for for brief language and a scene of violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and tipsiness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence, murder, sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 23, 2016

Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Kate Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, a woman with secrets who returns to the tiny Australian town that threw her out as a child. She has become an accomplished couturier, working in London, Paris, and Milan. And she is a master of the bias cut, pioneered by Vionnet, whose photograph she carries with her for inspiration. This film, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham is also, in its way, cut on the bias, alternately wildly funny, wildly romantic, wildly satiric, and, at the same time, dark and tragic. Some will find that disconcerting; others will find it refreshing.

It is 1951. Tilly arrives home in the dust-covered town, her stylish heels stepping off the bus onto the dirt road. She goes up the hill to her mother’s shack, when there is a question from the local sheriff. “Is that…….Dior?” It is not; it is one of Tilly’s own designs. But she acknowledges the Dior inspiration. Sargent Ferrat (Hugo Weaving) is dazzled by the bold colors and sumptuous fabrics of Tilly’s designs. He’s a secret cross-dresser.

Winslet is marvelous as Tilly, who has come home to see her mother, known as Mad Molly (Judy Davis of “My Brilliant Career”), to find out the true story of what led to her exile, and to extract some revenge, both of the “living well is the best” variety and of the old-fashioned “make them suffer” variety as well. Tilly, then known as Myrtle, was abused by her teacher and the students in her class because she was poor and because her mother was not married. After an incident that resulted in the death of a boy in her class, she was sent away. The experience was so traumatizing that she cannot let herself remember exactly what happened, and worries that she was responsible, as everyone thinks. “Am I a murderer?” she asks of her mother.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse and editor Jill Bilcock bring a vibrant energy to the storytelling that suits the theme of Tilly’s force and focus having an impact on the insular little town, and it is a lot of fun to see assumptions challenged and relationships in upheaval. There is a woman crippled by her wife-beating husband, a pharmacist who seems to be suffering from ankylosing spondylitis as he is bent over parallel to the ground. A civil leader gives his wife, agoraphobic and germophobic since the death of their son, knock-out medicine and then rapes her when she is unconscious. There are vicious gossips and snobs. And there are a few kind-hearted people, Ferrat, who regrets his treatment of Tilly and Teddy (Liam Hemsworth, clearly relishing the chance to speak in his native accent and very swoon-worthy when he removes his shirt). Molly becomes less mad and more feisty under Tilly’s care. Ferrat is not the only one who cannot resist the chance to wear something spectacular. “A dress never changed anything,” a local girl longing to be noticed by the town’s most eligible bachelor says to “Tilly.” “Watch and learn, my girl. Watch and learn.” And we know a Cinderella at the ball moment is coming — when it does, it is breathtaking. Soon, the tiny backwater is populated with ladies wearing haute couture. This has to be a dream assignment for a costume designer, and Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson (Winslet’s clothes) rise to the occasion with fabulously gorgeous and entertaining dresses.

The heightened quality of the story makes the darker turns unexpected and disconcerting. It is not as much of a feel-good movie as it originally promises. But it has its odd pleasures, and one of them is that, like its heroine, it has style to space.

Parents should know that this movie includes some strong language, drinking and drunkenness, sexual references and situations with some nudity, adultery and questions of paternity, domestic violence, murder, and very sad deaths.

Family discussion: What did Tilly want from her return home? Why was Teddy different?

If you like this, try: “Strictly Ballroom” and “Muriel’s Wedding”

Related Tags:

 

Comedy Drama Movies -- format Romance Satire
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik