No matter what is said about Woody Allen's personal nature or tendencies behind closed doors, the one thing that can consistently be said about him is he develops great roles for his actress. All of his better films half well-developed female characters and generally well directed actresses fleshing out those characters. It's why actresses jump at the chance to work for cheap on one of his films.


From Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall", to Maureen Stapleton and Geraldine Page in "Interiors", to Mia farrow in "Broadway Danny Rose" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo", to Dianne Wiest in "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Bullets Over Broadway", Judy Davos in "Husbands and Wives", Mira Sorvino in "Mighty Aphrodite", Penelope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", to Cate Blanchett's marvelous take in "Blue Jasmine". (Note: Woody Allen films have won or recieved over 50 Oscar bids.) His actresses have won six acting Oscars.


While it is impressive that Woody has earned sixteen Oscar nominations for writing - with three wins - it is guiding the talent to perform well that keeps him busy. And, like I said his best films have been carried by the female talent and the female characters.

His latest film is a prime example of him getting strong performances from his female talent who breathe extra life into their characters. When you watch "Wonder Wheel", your attention immediately turns to first Kate Winslet's Ginny character, then to Juno Temple's Carolina character.


Ginny is married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), the operator of the big Ferris Wheel at Coney Island. He is not her dream man, but he's mostly stable and will do in a pinch to provide some sort of guidance to her off-kilter son Richie (Jack Gore). Her own life has gone to the crapper and derams of being a great actress have long since faded to black.


That is until Mickey (Justin Timberlake) shows up and catches her eye... and other parts. Mickey is also an aspiring actor who is pretty sure he's going to make it; but right now he's a lifeguard and beach gigolo. But more importantly to Ginny, he is her ticket off the boardwalk. When she was married to her first husband - a drummer - she was sure her life would be golden. What a come down.


Entering the picture is Humpty's estranged daughter Carolina who is on the run from her mob husband (whom Humpty warned her to dump). The last place he would look for her is at her father's dumpy joint, so that is where she winds up. It is a perfect hideout until she to gets jiggy with Micky. Yes Mickey two-times on Ginny.


None of this is going to work out well but it sets the stage for Winslet to shape her character into a femme fatale much like Blanche Dubois (Tennessee William's "Streetcar Named Desire"). It works up to the point that you realize that none of the male characters aren't nearly has well developed, though Belushi does try his best.


Kate takes over and delivers a performance that nearly mirror's Cate Blanchet's "Blue Jasmine" performance - nervous breakdown and all. However, we get a more fiery tone, especially once Ginny figures out that Mickey is cheating on her. When she and Juno take over, the film rocks. The lush cinematography by Vittorio Storaro ("The Last Emporer", "Dick Tracy", Apocalypse Now") provides the perfect backdrop for the drama that unfolds.


While this is far from Allen's best work, it does prove once again that he gets his best performances from his female talent.


"Wonder Wheel" is a so-so Woody Allen film with great performances from the female talent just like those from his best films. Kate Winslet may have tossed herself into the best actress award mix with her emotional and well nuanced performance.   -- GEOFF BURTON