Wonder Wheel

wonder-wheel2.jpgSwanner: Woody Allen’s new film takes place in a two bedroom apartment in 1950’s Coney Island. The story centers around 5 characters: a carousel carney Humpty (Jim Belushi), his adult daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), his new wife, Jenny (Kate Winslet) and her lover, Mickey (Justin Timberlake), and Jenny’s firebug son, Ritchie (Jack Gore). Written very much like a play, we first meet Carolina, (who is on the run from her gangster ex-husband) who has come to her estranged father looking for sanctuary. Jenny is very supportive of having Carolina stay with them till she realizes she’s losing Mickey to her stepdaughter.

Allen, who wrote and directed the film, creates a tragic story of a family on the edge of implosion. The film makes reference to Eugene O’Neill, and this feels very much like something O’Neill would have written. The mother going mad while her abusive husband fawns over his daughter, constantly confessing their secrets to each other. Staged mostly in their apartment, with walls and doors made of glass so no one really has privacy, Allen brings out some big performances.

Winslet is outstanding as we watch her slip into madness. Belushi gives a surprisingly dramatic performance, making Humpty someone to fear. Juno Temple adds such a simple innocence to the film, even if her character is really just a gangster’s moll.  Timberlake, who also serves as our narrator, plays Mickey a bit understated, considering the over the top performances of the rest of the cast. Cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, spies on the characters, taking us with him like an eavesdropper, brilliantly lighting scenes to mirror the emotions of the characters. I have to admit I was hoping for a bit more humor in the film because Allen usually isn’t this dark. It’s not one of Allen’s best movies, but certainly is not one of his worst.

Swanner: 2 1/2 stars

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Ferdinand

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Swanner: The film starts with Ferdinand as a young bull who, after his father does not return from his bullfight, escapes to find himself a better life. Ferdinand finds a new family and is living happily till an incident sends him back to the place he escaped from. Set in Spain, where bullfighting is a cultural event, it’s a bit hard to see this as a story-line for a children’s film, but it does tackle the subject matter gracefully and it shouldn’t be too frightening for most kids.

Much like Coco, it was nice to see a cast of Latin characters giving us a chance to learn more about a culture some Americans won’t know anything about. Director Carlos Saldanha, along with six screenwriters, give a solid story-line, with likable characters that all learn a lesson in the end. The voice actors are quite good as well with John Cena, Jeremy Sisto, Raul Esparza, Bobby Cannavale, and Kate Mckinnon who was outstanding. The film is also bright and beautiful because Ferdinand loves flowers and butterflies which gives animators lots to work with.

As I mentioned before, bullfighting is a strange element to center a children’s story around. They’ve made it a bit scary but a happy ending is guaranteed. As a child I was taken to a bullfight and, as one would expect, it affects me still today. I don’t think anyone watching Ferdinand will have the same response I did, but if your kids are going to be traumatized by Ferdinand’s father not returning, or learning what happens to the bulls when they are no longer needed, then maybe it’s a bit too adult for your child. All in all, Ferdinand is funny and great too look at with an ending to send you home smiling.

Swanner: 3 stars

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Swanner: As a fan of movies, nothing is more satisfying than an audience, breathless with excitement over the opening of a film. No other franchise creates that kind of excitement like the Star Wars series does.  I remember standing in a line for the 4:30 pm showing of Return of the Jedi for four hours, and still sitting 5 rows from the screen. I knew it was going to be a once in a lifetime experience, to see the movie for the first time with a fan crazed audience. Seeing The Last Jedi was no let down.

When we last were in a galaxy far far away, Kylo Ren had killed his father, Han Solo, and Rey had found Luke Skywalker. This film starts up where that film ended. The cast is terrific and it really gives hope that the series will continue on no matter what happens. Rian Johnson wrote and directed the film with the mastery of all of the great directors. Know your story, know your audience, and always give them hope that good will ultimately win. Something Ridley Scott has forgotten with the Alien series.

As you can tell, I’m not giving any spoilers in this review. I’ll just let you know that if you’re a fan of these films, you’ll have a great time. As you leave the theater, you’ll probably be buying tickets for another showtime, if they are available, and laughing and crying in the car on the way home. While in the theater, you’ll cheer your favorites, jeer the villains, and always remember the first time you saw The Last Jedi. Star Wars has become an American Institution that parents pass down to their children, and their children will do the same.

Swanner 4 Stars

The Disaster Artist

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Swanner: In 2003 there was a movie released called The Room. It was a film made by a man named Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), who had no business making movies. Along with a few friends and a lot of cash, Tommy makes the movie, considered to be “so bad it’s good.” Director James Franco, and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, bring the making of that film to the big screen.

Judd: I was a little nervous about going into the movie, with The Room having the cult status that it does. My fears were confirmed, but then assuaged, within 20 minutes of the movie. The audience immediately started laughing and commenting at the “in-jokes,” which interrupted the rest of the audience (me) from getting into the movie. It’s at about the 20 minute mark when Tommy is trying to pitch his movie to Judd Apatow, where the movie takes a turn into a serious docudrama/comedy, and the cult nerds quieted down and realized that maybe they could actually learn something new about the movie.

Swanner: That was the same point for me in the film when I started getting where they were going and that this should be fun. It’s also where we started see more familiar faces and the moviemaking begin. Greg, Tommy’s only friend and co-star, has been running with anything Tommy wanted to do, so once the crew shows up in the film, they get to express what the audience has been feeling the whole film.

Judd: The cast is pretty amazing, featuring James and Dave Franco; Josh Hutcherson; Seth Rogen; Zac Effron; Sharon Stone; Megan Mullally; and Brian Cranston just to name a few. Because of the affection people have for The Room, I’m sure it wasn’t hard for Franco to get people involved. The cast gets the audience’ attention, but it’s the story that keeps them there. The movie does a great job of showing what it must have been like to work with someone with no talent, but tons of money. The doubts they had about the quality of the material; why they stuck with the film all the way to the end.

Swanner: The Disaster Artist works because James Franco’s performance of Tommy is real. He embraces Tommy and becomes him. I had not seen The Room before seeing this film, so I did  miss out on how well they captured the awfulness that was The Room. Fortunately during the closing credits they do show some side by sides of both films so you don’t have to see the original film… believe me!

Swanner: 2 ½ stars
Judd: 2 ½ stars