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Uncle Woody brings us “Wonder Wheel”

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By Shirrel Rhoades
At the Movies

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Woody Allen has become that eccentric uncle who visits once a year, becoming a little more boring, absent-minded, and losing his focus with each drop-in. He tells the same stories over and over, but with slight variation, making us wish for the sharper, funnier, more insightful Uncle Woody of old.

“Wonder Wheel” is Woody Allen’s annual movie offering, another return to the Coney Island of his memory, introducing us to the wife of a carousel operator and his estranged daughter, both of whom are sexually interested in the same lifeguard.

Kate Winslet (“Titanic,” “The Dressmaker”) plays the wife Ginny. She describes it as the second most stressful role she’s ever taken on.

Woody described the casting process: “ The first person I cast was Kate Winslet, then I cast a young girl named Juno Temple who I thought very much of, and then I cast Jim Belushi who I thought was absolutely perfect for it.” That gave him the wife, daughter, and husband.

For the lifeguard who is the love object for the two women, Woody called on his friends. “I thought, who could I get that would be an interesting guy to play a lifeguard in about 1950? I was sitting and talking with my brain trust. Someone said, ‘What about Justin Timberlake?’” And there he had the characters for his latest romance-drama.

Justin Timberlake (“The Social Network,” “In Time”) gives us a wannabe playwright who is working as a lifeguard at the beach. “I relish melodrama and larger-than-life characters,” the guy says -- mouthing Woody’s own sentiments.

Although Timberlake’s character doesn’t quite come off larger than life, Kate Winslet’s Ginny fills in the gaps. As a failed actress who works at a clam bar, Ginny yearns for more. Winslet injects her majestic sadness into the caricature role of a disappointed alcoholic.

Juno Temple (“Dirty Girl”) adds an energetic performance as Ginny’s husband’s daughter, a slightly shady gal on the run from the mob.

Thus we have a prototypical Woody Allen love triangle, the overly dramatic lifeguard setting out to rescue a damsel in distress until he lays eyes on the younger woman.

Most moviegoers will be comparing Kate Winslet’s decomposing Ginny with Cate Blanchett’s unraveling heroine in “Blue Jasmine.” Fair enough.

Uncle Woody has dropped in for his annual visit, so expect to hear some of the same-old stories, told in different ways with backdrops that harken back to bygone days. This is the Coney Island seen in the opening scenes of “Annie Hall,” the odes to earlier times we encountered in “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Radio Days,” the confused mishmash of relationships where age differences do (and don’t) matter.

As far as Uncle Woody’s stories go, this is not a bad one. Just not as sharp and original as the stories he used to tell.

“Bad Moms Christmas”

Is a Holiday Sequel

What goes around comes around, as they say. As much as our children drive us crazy, we probably drive them nutty too. So why should we be surprised that the same thing applies to us and our own parents?

That’s the comic premise of “A Bad Moms Christmas.” 

This movie is a holiday sequel to an earlier movie called “Bad Moms.” You may have seen it. Starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn, it was the story of a trio of mothers who rebel against suburbanite norms. Kids get fast food instead of carefully packed lunches, store-bought donut holes are contributed to the local bake sale, the single mom starts dating, the pushy head of the PTA gets challenged for her position, the gals start kicking up their heels.

That earlier movie ended with the lead actresses interviewing their own real-life moms during the final credits.

Maybe that fillip was the inspiration for this new release, “A Bad Moms Christmas.” Here, Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon, join the original trio to play their on-screen moms, turning things topsy-turvy.

This time around, Amy (Mila Kunis) is stressed out about Christmas. She wants to keep peace on earth, but her hard-to-please mom (Baranski) is coming for the holidays. Kiki (Kristen Bell) is wrangling her kids with the Christmas decorations when her overly doting mother (Cheryl Hines) shows up early. And Carla (Kathryn Hahn) is excited when her hippy-dippy mom (Susan Sarandon) steps off a tour bus, dooby in hand, for a surprise holiday visit.

To commiserate among themselves over this maternal onslaught, the gals meet up at the local mall and proceed to get drunk at the food court, give Santa lap dances and steal an ugly Christmas tree from the shoe store.

No surprise, as these comedies go, the moms, children, and grandmoms manage to resolve their issues and come together for a happy Christmas. With a lot of funny mishaps in between.

Future Spoiler Alert: The three grandmothers become friend and the movie ends with them heading arm-in-arm for Las Vegas. Will the next film in this series be “Bad Grandmoms”?

Top Ten Movies

based on TV skits

Hollywood not only recycles TV shows into movies, but also bases movies on short comedy skits and reality shows.

Here are my Top Ten examples:

10. “Jackass: The Movie” (2002) -- This cringe-worthy movie starring Johnny Knoxville was based on a TV show that featured dangerous frat-boy pranks. In fact, it also spun off “Jackass Number Two,” “Jackass 3D,” and “Jackass 3.5.” Enough already!

9. “The Gong Show Movie” (1980) -- Based on the deliberately-bad-performances variety show, host and creator Chuck Barris took his wonky concept to the big screen.

8. “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (2006) -- British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen spun this (and several other movies) off the various personae he created for his “Da Ali G Show” on BBC.

7. “Dudley Do-Right” (1999) -- Brendan Fraser was the go-to guy for movie versions of cartoon characters. Along with this movie based on a “Rocky & Bullwinkle” short feature, he did a credible job with the Tarzan parody “George of the Jungle” (1997).

6. “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” (2014) -- Another “Rocky and Bullwinkle” spinoff, this animated story about a brilliant talking dog and his pet boy was always one of my favorites.

5. “Life of Brian” (1979) -- This Monty Python parody on Jesus was an irreverent masterpiece. Graham Chapman starred as the reluctant savior.

4. “Wayne’s World” (1992) -- The misadventures of two doofuses with a public-access cable show was spun from a “Saturday Night Live” skit by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. There was even a so-so sequel.

3. “Office Space” (1988) -- Mike Judge’s cult classic had its roots in shorts which ran on SNL. Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston are standouts in this tale of revolt against a greedy boss.

2. “The Blues Brothers” (2000) -- Not only several movies but a House of Blues restaurant chain came out of the John Belushi - Dan Aykroyd musical numbers on SNL. John Goodman substituted for the deceased Belushi in the “Blues Brothers 2000” sequel.

1. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975) -- This King Arthur takeoff was inspired by “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” zaniness. The opening scenes with the ongoing “gallop gallop” of two coconuts substituting for clopping horses will forever be remembered as a classic comedy bit.

No, “It’s Pat” didn’t make this list. Nor did “The Ladies Man” or “Coneheads.” And Al Franken’s “Stuart Saves His Family” is being left off as punishment for … bad behavior.

srhoades@aol.com

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