Woody and Winslet's Wonder Wheel

Boy, people really are missing how good this movie is.  And please don't get me wrong.  If you're against supporting Woody Allen given Dylan Farrow's recently re-stated allegations against him, I'm not about to try and change your mind.  Unlike a lot of cases, where the accused was either convicted or confessed, it's tough to decide upon a final opinion in this case.  I don't want to influence anyone from trusting their instincts here; I just want be sure people are making an informed decision strictly in terms of the merits of this film.  Because all the reactions I've read strongly suggest Wonder Wheel is just another lower tier effort, a disposable weak entry in Allen's extensive catalog; and that's just not the case.  It's a flat-out good movie.  I mean, obviously, it's not for everyone.  If you tell your tweens you're going to see Black Panther and then shove them into a screening room for this, I'm not suggesting they'd thank you for it.  But if it matters to you whether Wonder Wheel (and/ or Universal's blu-ray release) is actually any good or not, then let's have a look.

Update 3/14/18 - 3/28/18: Gotta be pro.  Added the DVD edition for a proper comparison.
Admittedly, it asks a lot.  Like I mentioned in my review of one of Woody Allen's last pictures, he's happy to wear his influences on his sleeve.  It's more than homage - we're meant to be in on it.  It's part of the experience, from the 8 1/2 experience of Stardust Memories to the wild notion of him breathing life into the famous manual Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask; these are the toys we're invited to play with Woody, combining his distinct humor and point of view with the source material.  And in Wonder Wheel, O'Neil is mentioned in this script more than some of the main characters.  Our protagonist narrator even turns to the camera to prepare us, "be warned, as a poet, I use symbols; and as a budding dramatist, I relish melodrama and larger than life characters."  So really the question may be more about how interested are audiences in a theatrical (in the sense of the stage) story like that in 2018.
Not that I'm saying the film is immaculate perfection.  Having that kind of set-up doesn't future proof the film from criticism anymore than having Mark Duplass turn to the camera in his first scene and saying, "this film is packed full of aborted ideas and plot contrivances that never go anywhere" would force us to regard The Lazarus Effect as an unparalleled work of genius.  You could just as well tell a great melodrama with larger than life characters or a terrible one.  In fact, over the years, more filmmakers have probably done the latter.  But this film has a lot going for it.  Kate Winslet gives an award-worthy performance (and this is really her story), and Jim Belushi, hot after a winning role in Twin Peaks: The Return, still nearly manages to steal every scene.
The supporting cast is quite strong, too.  Juno Temple holds her own against some major actors, the kid, in his small role, is hilariously written and played; and if you keep your eyes on the bit players, you'll spot a few Allen regulars, like comic Bobby Slayton, The Sopranos' Steve Schirripa, David Krumholtz and even Debi MazarJustin Timberlake is the weakest link.  I've been impressed with him in The Social Network and Alpha Dog, but here he seems to struggle to speak in the style of the period.  The 50's era Coney Island location is great, and I can tell you from my dad's reaction, pure, uncut nostalgia porn for a select demographic.  The blue and gold color scheme does come dangerously close to going over the top at points, but overall Vittorio Storaro's photography is elegant and absorbing.  And it's impressive how much use Allen is able to make out of a single, old Mills Brothers tune (it's not the only song in the film, but it almost feels like it).
So, this is Allen's latest film with Amazon Studios, and this time the DVD and blu-ray are from Universal.  Last time they were from Lions Gate and the time before that they were from Sony.  I guess things are a little catch as catch can with him over there, but hey, I'm happy just to still get a properly pressed blu with a minimal token special feature (this is Woody Allen we're talking here).  And Universal's bid has substantially lowered the initial asking price, so it's all good news.  While we're at it, can we get a disc for Crisis In Six Scenes, too?
2018 US Universal DVD top, 2018 US Universal blu bottom.
This time around, it's not a combo-pack, so we've just got a blu.  Woody did shoot this on film, so this is a pretty straight-forward port of their DI to disc.  The only way you could really expect more is if they were to give us a 4k disc (yes, please! But it was hardly like in this small film's case).  Colors are certainly strong, the image is sharp when it wants to be.  There seems to be a soft film grain effect added to the feature, I guess to give it a more traditional feel, but that's down to the film itself, not Universal's blu-ray presentation.  The same can be said for the film's unusual aspect ratio: 2.0:1.  It's apparently a trending ratio that ties in with this film's DP, Storaro.  Interesting stuff; but anyway, it looks and sounds pretty great, with a dual-layer disc, while the DVD's predictably softer and less clear.

The blu features a DTS-HD 5.1 mix, while the DVD gives you a choice between lossy 5.1 and 2.0 mixes.  And both include optional English subtitles.
Well, maybe they did on the special features.  This is Woody, so we're used to that; but the sole feature here is a very brief, 3 minute featurette that cuts together footage of a cast and crew Q&A with a few red carpet soundbites.  Still, it's worth the watch.  Timberlake enthuses about how Wonder Wheel is like a play on locations.  But that's it; not even the trailer.  I'm a little surprised they left off the trailer, but whatever.  This does come in a slipcover, though, so there's that.  But then again, it just reminds me of the far superior poster art [right] they forsook at the last minute in favor of the typical Hollywood "big head" art for both the cover and the slip.  Oh well.
So, okay, this is no special edition.  That was never in the cards anyway.  But this is a first class, high quality presentation of the film.  And that's fitting, because it's a first class, high quality film.  So add it to your collection or don't.  But don't let 'em tell ya you're not missing anything.

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