5 ideas about a movie: Wonder Wheel

Movie reviews

Hello!

A feature from one of the most polarizing yet still working directors in Hollywood. This is Wonder Wheel.

IMDb summary: On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his beleaguered wife.

  1. Wonder Wheel was written and directed by Woody Allen. Despite all the allegations and rumors, he is still able to keep his career afloat. This is even more surprising when one considers the current political climate in Hollywood. What is even more disturbing regarding Allen and this particular film is the fact that this movie focuses on the relationships between a mother, a stepdaughter, and a young man – a topic that might be too closely related to the filmmaker himself (he married his stepdaughter in 1997).
  2. After a series of Europe-centric pictures (Vicky Cristina BarcelonaMidnight in Paris, To Rome with Love, and Magic in the Moonlight), Allen has returned to his native US and explored a number of different time periods and parts of US with his latest films: Irrational Man, Cafe Society, and A Rainy Day in New York (premiering next year). While the temporal and the physical places might have constantly been in flux in Allen’s films, the topics that he investigates have stayed the same. Wonder Wheel explored love (the most signature and simultaneously universal theme) and really dug deep into it. The film also celebrated movies as both art and escapism. It also looked at the concept of unfulfilled dreams (a personally relatable topic) and had a dark twist (also, very Allen-like).
  3. The feature also examined writing as an occupation and looked at its tools of dramatization and symbolism. The film also presented life as a script that we write (or have written for us). Wonder Wheel was a bit meta too: not only did it break the 4th wall but it interrogated the differences between the real-life stories and the fictional ones. From the directing standpoint, the movie felt indie and old school. The long takes and the soft colors added to the aforementioned feelings. The jazz score was lovely too.
  4. Kate Winslet (Collateral Beauty, Triple 9, The Mountain Between Us, Steve Jobs) played the lead in the movie and, while she was undeniably great, I’m wondering why she chose this role in the first place. I saw Ginny (her character) as an absolutely stereotypical female character – highly emotional and always needing a man to rely on. Looking past these typical traits, Ginny had some interesting qualities that probably intrigued Winslet too, like her selfishness, shadiness, and her trivial choice to not save Caroline (her stepdaughter). That choice seemed like Ginny’s big stage moment – the meeting point between her life and art (Ginny used to be an actress).
  5. The supporting cast of the film was quite good. The aforementioned Caroline was played by Juno Temple (Black Mass), who brought delightful youthfulness to the role. Justin Timberlake (Trolls) was believable as the guy Caroline and Ginny fancied. While he isn’t the best actor, Timberlake was fine in this role (probably not one far from his life). Jim Belushi played Caroline’s father and Ginny’s husband and was also okay. All of the performances had a touch of the theatrical but that fit the film’s tone, as it explored the idea of life as a dramatic and symbolic story.

In short, Wonder Wheel was a fine film. Not Allen’s best and not an awards’ contender but perfectly watchable and interesting.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Wonder Wheel trailer

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Movie review: Trolls

Movie reviews

Hello, everyone!

Usually, I go to the cinema on a Friday or during the weekend. However, I made an exception this week and went to see a film on a Monday afternoon as a reward for finishing a very depressing anthropology essay (I wrote about race and racism). As a result, I chose a movie that I hoped would make me smile and would lift my spirits – Trolls. So, let’s see if the film succeeded in that regard!!

IMDb summary: Enter a colorful, wondrous world populated by hilariously unforgettable characters and discover the story of the overly optimistic Trolls, with a constant song on their lips, and the comically pessimistic Bergens, who are only happy when they have trolls in their stomach

Writing

Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, writers of the Kung Fu Panda series and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, penned the script for Trolls and did a good job. The narrative was not the most original – it had the basic rescue plot, a storyline of hero’s growth, a dead relative (a Disney/Pixar staple in a DreamWorks film?) and even a Cinderella-esque plot-line on a side. However, it was executed effectively. Trolls was cheesy and had heart: it was pleasing to the eye, the mind, and the soul. It portrayed universal topics of friendship and family and looked for the balance between positivity and negativity. It overcame the problematic and a tiny bit cruel premise that one can only be happy by hurting others with a concluding notion that happiness is inside all of us, but sometimes we need others to bring it out. The film’s jokes were mostly aimed at children, but a few more adult lines were also slipped in, including ‘Little slappy, make daddy happy’ moment. I also appreciated ‘the happiness equals pizza’ scene.

Directing

Mike Mitchel (worked on the Shrek movies and the new SpongeBob film) and Walt Dohrn (co-wrote the Shrek series, the Madagascar series and Rise of the Guardians) directed the film and did a nice job. I loved the fact that they and the DreamWorks animators just went all out with the colors. Trolls was an absolute explosion of the rainbow – all big and bright. I loved the troll’s hair and the way they used it as a tool or a weapon. Both the hair and all other surrounding textures appeared to be very furry and soft – I really wanted to physically touch that world. The structure/appearance of the trolls’ bodies reminded me a bit of smurfs, although it was actually based on the Danish woodcutter’s Thomas Dam’s designs. Because of the way trolls acted, they also had some similarities to minions. I wish that Trolls would become the new Minions because I am so tired of those yellow fire-hindrents – they are literarly everywhere. Trolls’ movements (or singing, dancing, hugging, and scrapbooking) were realized nicely as well: they moved realistic enough but also had the right amount of fantasy’s fluidity. Lastly, the movie had a mid-credits scene, so make sure you stay through the first part of the credits to watch it.

Music and Voice Work

Christophe Beck was responsible for the music and he did a fairly good job. The film had a good mixture of well-known pop songs and, since I enjoy pop music and different covers of it, I liked the overall soundtrack. My favorite performances were the sadly happy ‘True Colors’ scene and the unapologetically bright and explosive finale with ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’. That song was literally everywhere this past summer (and will probably re-appear after the release of this picture) and was the best marketing for the film. However, I wish they would have released the movie’s version with both Kendrick’s and Timberlake’s vocals, instead of it just being sung by Timberlake. Both of them did a good job with their songs and dialogue, though. Kendrick (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Pitch Perfect and upcoming The Accountant) was bubbly and sweet as Poppy and Timberlake (Friends with Benefits, In Time, upcoming Woody Allen project) was moody and whiny enough to be Branch. Branch’s character was probably the one that I related the most to. I also liked the meta-moment when Branch said ‘I don’t sing’ even though the person behind his voice is literally one of the greatest singers/entertainers of out generation.

The supporting voice cast included a few actors, a few comedians, a few singers and even a few YouTubers: Zooey DeschanelRussell BrandJames CordenGwen Stefani, and Icona Pop all had characters to bring to life. Youtube was represented by Ricky Dillon, Kandee JohnsonGloZell GreenCarrie Hope Fletcher, and Connie Glynn (Noodlerella). All of them were supposed to have voice cameos in the film, although I’m not sure in which versions. I definitely know that Carrie and Connie aurally appeared in the UK version – the one I saw.

Rate: 3.75/5

In short, Trolls was a delightful little film. It had superb animation, some nice songs, and good performances from the voice cast. The story lacked originality but entertained me in that familiar kinda way. Next similar film – an animated musical comedy SING will be coming out in December/January!

Trailer: Trolls trailer

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Eurovision 2016!

Music

Hello, my dear readers!

Once a year, the whole of Europe and Australia (and even the US for the first time) turns on their TVs and witnesses one of the most bizarre international events – the Eurovision Song Contest! Eurovision is supposedly a musical contest and yet it has always been extremely political and biased. This year was no exception! Actually, 2016’s show might be the most political Eurovision ever.

To begin with, let’s focus on the bright side and talk about the positive aspects of the event. The 61st edition of the contest was held in Stockholm, Sweden thanks to Måns Zelmerlöw, who won in 2015 with the song Heroes. This wasn’t the first time that Sweden won the contest (it was actually the 6th – previous wins in  1974 (ABBA), 1984, 1991, 1999 and 2012 (Loreen)), so the Scandinavian country was/is an experienced host nation and I think that they did a fabulous job. The event was hosted by Zelmerlöw and the fan-favorite Petra Mede and they actually were pretty funny and worked well together. Of course, there were plenty of awkward and uncomfortable moments, but that’s just part of the Eurovision’s charm.

A few stand-out moments from the hosts and the guests of the show were: the dance/acting performance The Grey People in support of the refugees during the 1st Semi-Final, the dance performance Man v Machine during the 2nd Semi-Final, the satirical, tongue-in-cheek performance by Petra and Mans and the appearance of/interval act by Justin Timberlake during the grand final.

The actual songs were pretty good as well. This was probably the most even playing field I have ever seen in all my 12 years of watching the Eurovision. There was no clear winner before the show or even during the voting.

My favorite songs came from the following countries: Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Latvia, Austria, and Russia (I feel ashamed to mention that last one). Ukraine was not one of my favorites – the song was not of my style or taste – but I appreciated it and was happy that they won.

I also did not hate my native country’s – Lithuania’s – song. We did pretty well this year, finishing in 9th place. That’s the 2nd best result for my country. This was the first year that I actually was able to vote for my native land as I no longer live there.

Now,  about the politics and the voting. This year, the jury’s and public’s votes were announced separately and this decision made for an even more intense watching experience. Stand out moments from the announcement of the votes:

  1. Australia took and early lead and won the jury’s votes. Everyone was expecting it to win and then Ukraine shockingly dethroned it.
  2. The juries were more biased than their respective nations. The professionals voted for their neighboring countries much more than the public did. I would have expected the public to be more biased, while the juries should have been way more objective.
  3. Ukraine and Russia were the last two countries to receive the public’s votes. Russia was the fan-favorite and could have won but it did not receive enough points. So, Ukraine had the best payback ever for the current political situation in Crimea. It gave Russia some hope and then crushed it completely. When you find out that a)Ukraine’s singer is of Crimean Tatar descent; b)her song was about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars during the 1940s by the Soviet Union and c) the song features Crimean Tatar’s language and cultural vocal styles, this revenge win is even more iconic. Layers upon layers of politics. 
  4. Germany’s jury gave 12 points to Israel. I guess the blame for WW2 is still on Germany’s jury’s minds.
  5. Poland received 7 points from the jury and 200+ points from the viewers. This was probably the biggest divide that the professionals and the public had ever had. I have a theory on why the viewers liked Poland’s performer – he looks like Weird Al Yankovic – internet-famous American parodist and singer.

All in all, I had a lovely time watching this year’s Eurovision. The show had enough pleasant surprises and a few listenable songs. Have you watched the show? Who were your favorites?

My posts on/about 2015‘s Eurovision here and 2014‘s Eurovision here.

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