Wonder Wheel

‘Wonder Wheel’ is the latest production from writer/director Woody Allen. Many of his films have garnered huge praise over the decades, with the evergreen helmer showing no signs of slowing down. Whilst his personal life has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, professionally his work has stood the test of time. He isn’t one to suddenly change his creative spots and ‘Wonder Wheel’ is no different. As interesting and engaging is previous movies, ‘Wonder Wheel’ spins a web in the uniquely engrossing Allen style.

Ginny (Kate Winslet) is the wife of carousel operator Humpty (Jim Belushi). Living the life of a carnival spouse on Coney Island during the 1950’s, Ginny becomes bored. When Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard, suddenly arrives on the scene Ginny’s world is turned upside down. It becomes further askew when Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) arrives and also falls for Mickey. Throw in a cabal of dangerous criminals from Carolina’s past, the possibility for a less than idyllic existence dramatically increases.

‘Wonder Wheel’ is vintage Allen. Whilst it isn’t consistently hilarious and certainly isn’t a comedy, his gift in digging deeply into his characters remains. Winslet delivers a powerhouse performance as Ginny, a neurotic housewife desperate for escape. Although living in a world of delivering fantasy to the masses, her desires for her own fantasies lead to a path of emotional turmoil. Allen knows how to wring a lot from his fine ensemble who successfully conveys the fears and frustrations of their roles with occasional actor Timberlake effectively mirroring Winslet’s acting talent.

Another star of ‘Wonder Wheel’ is cinematographer Vittorio Storaro who brings the 1950’s seaside to colourful life. This is one of the few recent Allen films to fully embrace the surrounds in which his characters live with the sometimes stagey feel of his stories opened up more here. Although his movies can be an acquired taste, Allen knows how to write a captivating story such as ‘Wonder Wheel’. His characters may be ones you would avoid at any cost in real life, he makes you care what happens to them with the film’s dreamily lush look adding to the script’s atmosphere.

Allen’s films have been described as cinematic works of art. ‘Wonder Wheel’ certainly looks dazzling and adds another creative feather to the Allen repertoire. Those who have followed his work for years should be satisfied with his latest with his skills for strong characterisation still intact.

Rating out of 10: 7

The Zookeeper’s Wife

There are many tales of World War 2 bravery which have provided much dramatic fuel for cinema since it ended in 1945. Many have been harrowing accounts of atrocities and evil done in the name of nationalism. There have been others which have been uplifting amongst the horror with the best of humanity seen through the worst. Derived from Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ is a generally interesting story of defiance against the might of scurrilous oppression.

Dr Jan Zabinksi (Johan Heidenbergh) and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) are the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo. When Poland is invaded by the Nazis in 1939, their world falls apart. Witnessing their Jewish friends in the Warsaw ghetto go through hell, they decide to act. Jan and Antonina strive to save as many as possible by using their zoo as a hiding place for the desperate and persecuted. With the German army ever present, the constant danger they face leaves their lives hanging in eternal peril.

Any film set during World War 2 has to overcome the obstacle of making it unique. Literally countless stories have been told about the conflict so that we feel we know it all. ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ feels very familiar with Jan and Antonina resisting against tyranny. Their determination to protect friends and strangers was admirable with the threat of death ever present. Niki Caro directs these scenes with the right balance of foreboding atmosphere and optimism.

Where the story falters slightly is not having the courage of its convictions. The script feels very ‘safe’, as if it’s scared to go too much into the realms of the darkness surrounding its characters. This lack of bravery dilutes the emotional intensity with some characters’ actions feeling unconvincing. You don’t feel as drawn into the movie as you should despite good performances. The notion of pure evil and how trust is abused is effectively conveyed as those involved cope with the horrors faced.

Not as memorable as it could have been, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ is a rather routine affair. Little of the eternal darkness of the surrounds is truly felt with a screenplay pulling its punches. War is still hell no matter the script’s quality with the real-life bravery of those standing up to injustice one that should always be applauded.

Rating out of 10: 6