Reviewing Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, Laline Paull’s The Bees, and the final season of Broadchurch.
FILM | Wonder Wheel (2017)
Set on Coney Island in the 1950s, Wonder Wheel is nostalgic, tragic, comic—and in many respects fairly standard Woody Allen fare: Once again, the old master tells a story involving unfortunate amourous adventures, social climbing, and organized crime. So you pretty much get what you expect. Yet, Wonder Wheel stands out among Allen’s crowd in at least two respects: One, Kate Winslet, whose role is slightly reminiscent of Cate Blanchett’s in Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013)—and whose performance here is about the same degree of chillingly impressive. And two, a focus on visual detail that is probably unprecedented among Allen’s works: From the set design brimming with period detail, to the play with contrastive lighting, to a couple of magnificent long takes (cinematography: Vittorio Storaro) that draw you right into the action (where chances are, you don’t really want to be), Wonder Wheel, for being almost formulaic in plot, sets new standards in terms of visual and emotional depth. Definitely worth watching. (4/5)
BOOK | Laline Paull, The Bees (2014)
Hypes often get through to me very late. So it is that I only recently learned about Laline Paull and her debut novel, The Bees. When I did, though, I immediately picked up a copy at a local bookstore and started reading. I loved the idea of a dystopia/fable set in a beehive. I was immensely intrigued as to whether and how the author would manage to make the characters relatable while also letting them think and act like, well, bees. And I must say, Paull did an incredibly good job at fusing fact and fiction here. An equal feat of research and imagination, The Bees immerses you in a microcosm that seems unique, strange, yet on occasion frighteningly familiar—and it is of course in the latter aspect that this novel’s political potential lies. However, what exactly this potential amounts to, I’m still not sure of. If Paull followed a particular political interest, it has escaped this reader’s notice. In terms of themes and how they are woven into the narration, her book seems almost convoluted when compared to other novels of the dystopian genre. The slick style of, say, Margaret Atwood (who, incidentally, found Paull’s debut “oddly gripping”) is missing here. And as for the immersive effect, I noticed my own fascination with the world of the bees gradually declining over the course of the – slightly lenghty and rather repetitive – story. Somehow, at some point, I almost stopped caring. Which is sad because we never should stop caring about bees. And it is for this very reason that I would, paradoxically, still recommend The Bees: because it gives center-stage to a species that is as mysteriously fascinating as it is essential to our world’s ecosystem. And because, for all its narrative length, Paull’s debut novel does this in an informed and often inventive way. (3.5/5)
TV | Broadchurch, Season 3 (2017)
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m almost the opposite of a TV nerd, but I do think that a satisfying followup to a good (or in this case: great) TV series needs at least the following two ingredients: On the one hand, a certain amount of innovation; and on the other, “more of the same”, so to speak. And that is exactly how Broadchurch continues: While keeping with the setting and cast of characters (largely), the third season doesn’t deal with a murder case, but with rape. And what a new angle this provides: There is, contrary to our viewing (and reading) habits, no quiet, dead body. There is a living, human being, who has experienced, and suffered through, an unspeakable act of violence. And so the first episode of this season starts by focusing on the survivor/victim (I won’t get into that debate) during the days after the assault. “Chilling” is the word that comes to my mind when I think back to that episode. Chilling because the drama seems (as always in Broadchurch) real and tangible. If anyone ever questions that rape is a crime with utterly detrimental effects, sit them down and make them watch just this one TV episode. The humane and universally relatable depiction of the protagonist (played by Julie Hesmondhalgh) is also where this deeply haunting season of Broadchurch is generally at its best. Where it isn’t, on the other hand, is in its sketchy and clichéd characterization of literally all male characters (with the exception of Tennant’s): It’s not because you tell a story (partly) from a female point of view and because you follow a feminist agenda that you have to resort to porn-watching macho stereotypes across the board. To an extent, admittedly, that might be a consequence of constructing a whodunit with only male suspects. However, a slightly more balanced and nuanced depiction of the different characters would have made this final season of Broadchurch even better than it already is. (4.5/5)