Nightmare Alley (2021)

Synopsis: In 1940s New York, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) joins a travelling carnival and meets Mary Cahill (Rooney Mara). Together the two of them set up a fake psychic act to con people out of money in this neo-noir thriller by Guillermo Del Toro.

This was not what I expected. I knew it would be dark, and I knew it would be impressive. But I thought it would be fantastical and strange. It’s not, it’s incredibly grounded, in fact, it’s downright sceptical towards a lot of the tricks of the trade, James Randi would be proud. The story isn’t as focused on the carnival as the advertising would make you think. Most of the characters are only that prevalent in the opening. Now in the past, I’ve talked about how I dislike that kind of thing, how losing all your characters after the opening can make it seem like it was pointless. But it worked for this. Even when the characters aren’t on screen, their presence is felt in the actions of the main character. So they never really feel like they’re not there.

Plus it helps that the rest of the film is incredibly compelling. This is essential a Del Toro film noir, and I love what he did with it. He’s perfect for that genre and it makes me wish he did more. His visual style suits it so well. There’s a dark beauty to the visuals and the lighting makes everything sharp and impressive. The music is good too, but it is probably the least memorable part of the film. Everything else is a 8/10 but that’s just a 6. Across the board the performances are fantastic. As much as I’ve enjoyed Bradley Cooper as an actor, this is probably the first time I’ve seen him in something and been truly lost in his performance. It baffles me how this film has been nominated for so many awards, yet his performance hasn’t (as of the time of writing anyway).

I should point out that this is a remake of a 1947 film starring Tyrone Power (whose daughter Romina makes a cameo in this), which itself was based on a book. I don’t know how much it changes from those two source points, but I want to know. Because of this film, I want to see the original, I want to read the book. The original was not a financial success, only finding acclaim afterwards. Sadly it looks like this might do the same. It’s a shame as this is probably the best-made film of the year so far. Seems like one of those films where people who see it like it, but not enough people see it. I’m hoping it makes it back on streaming etc as this deserves to be successful. If you sit down and watch this you’re going to like it. You might now enjoy it, but you’ll like it. This isn’t a happy film you watch with your family, this is a film you watch on your own like you would read a book. You set time aside, turn the lights off, and sit in the dark as you let the world take you in. Set aside something afterwards though, the ending is brutal. Well not the ending itself, but the inevitable aftermath. You know what the ending means, you know what it will end up leading to for the character, and so does he, but he can’t do anything about it. He has to just resign himself to his fate, and as an audience, so do you. It’s bleak, but really the only way this story could end.

This could be the final week this film is available for viewing at many cinemas across the UK, so get to it as soon as you can. I say it a lot, but this truly deserves a cinema viewing if you can.

End Of Year Film Awards

Best Actor

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals. Better known as “That kid from Kick-Ass”. One of the things about Kick-Ass was that it was about a hero who looked absolutely nothing like a hero, in fact there’s one scene where he threatens somebody and they just laugh at him. Yet in this he’s absolutely terrifying. His despicable nature just oozes out of the screen every second he’s on. Genuinely unsettling, and utterly compelling.

Also:

Bradley Cooper – Joy. If only because he’s responsible for the best moments in the film. His scenes with Jennifer Lawrence almost make her up her game, and it’s a much better film during those all too brief moments.

Best Actress

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Brie Larson – Room. Did you watch this film? Then you know why. She was just amazing in this. Everything about her performance was perfect. I saw this in January, which meant I had 11 months of performances which couldn’t even match it.

Also:

Madison Wolfe – The Conjuring 2. A performance beyond her years.

Julia Roberts – Secrets In Their Eyes. The first time I feel I’ve truly “got” her as an actress. Superb.

Best Script

Eye In The Sky: A film which could have been very bad if written differently. Same plot, same actors, same director and this film would not have only been bad, but catastrophically awful. As it was this film was perfectly paced. When doing a film like this you do run the risk of attempting methodical and instead just ending up with it being boring and too slow. You need to slowly crank up the tension through dialogue, if it goes wrong, it’s awful, but when it works it’s phenomenal. A fitting epitaph to Alan Rickman’s career.

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Worst Film

The Boss: I really want to like Melissa McCarthy, but she keeps making terrible films. Her character in this is extremely unlikeable with almost no character arc that redeems her. In almost any other film she’d be the main villain.

Best Film Moment

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Arrival – The meeting scene. There’s a moment in this where Amy Adam’s character first meets the aliens. It’s about ten minutes long and you can’t take your eyes away from the screen the entire time. Everything about it is perfect, the look, the acting, it all builds towards something which if there’s any justice will become as big a part of pop-culture iconography as scenes from Close Encounters, ET, or Alien. A moment full of pure wonder that truly shows what film can do.

Worst Film Moment

Batman Vs Superman: Martha. A moment which almost became shorthand for “awful and nonsensical”. The thing is, it does kind of make sense when you think about it, it could have been very believable that seeing someone as a person with a family will change your outlook on them, but the way it was delivered simply wasn’t good enough.

Best Film

Room: Excellent script, some of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time, and truly beautiful. This isn’t just film, this is emotional spectacle cinema. A film which I saw very early on in the year, and yet almost 12 months later it has still stuck with me.

Best Film To Look At

Arrival: A film shot with the warmth and cosiness of a home video. Science fiction (more than any other genre) seems to define itself by it’s look. And this film does more than enough to join the greats of the genre.

Also:

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. 

Beautifully shot, the action scenes are brilliantly choreographed, and the costumes are superb. You could watch this on mute and still find things to appreciate.

Most Disappointing Film

Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

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This film had so much riding on it, so for it to fall as much as it did (critically at least) is very disappointing. Especially since the problems in it are easily fixed. Some of them aren’t personal preference, they’re basic storytelling mistakes. I know it sounds awful to say but this film should end somebody’s career, you cannot make some of the mistakes they made in this film and still hope to make films. It had such high potential too, it really needed to be great, but in the end it was merely only “okay”

Also:

10 Cloverfield Lane

A film of three thirds: the first two are really good, matching up and in some ways surpassing the original, tense and claustophobic, just brilliant. Then it’s all thrown away in the final stretch until it dissolves into what William Shakespeare would describe as “a massive pile of wank”

Central Intelligence. It took too long to get to the point of the film, and there weren’t really enough “laugh out loud” moments. Reminds me of Hear No Evil, See No Evil, in that the chemistry between the leads is better than the actual fil.

Most Surprising Film

The 5th Wave

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I expected this to be just low-grade YA shlock. Yet it had a really really good plot and some excellent moments. Yes it wasn’t the greatest film I saw this year, but it was a lot better than I thought it would be.

Also: Goosebumps.

Very solid and well made kids horror film. I saw some reviews of it which criticised it for “looks like it was made for children”, which, you know, it was. It’s like criticising porn for being aimed at people who want to masturbate. Yeah it means it won’t make much money among people who want something to watch in the evening whilst drinking a glass of red wine in the evening, but it’s not meant to.

The “Well I Liked It” Award

The BFG: Called by some people “one of the biggest box office bombs of 2016” and I truly don’t get why. In a year which was the best one in recent memory for kids films, this one still stood out in a very crowded bunch. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again; there are many great films, only a select few are “magical”, and this is definitely one.

Best Marketing Campaign

Deadpool: A very violent comic book film, what would be the best way to market this?

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That’s actually pretty brilliant. During the run up to the release to this (way way back at the beginning of the year) Ryan Reynolds was on point, uploading almost in character updates on the film. If anybody doubting how well-suited he was to the role hopefully had those doubt squashed like a bug. Actually he continued it past release, doing new adverts to celebrate the film being out for a month in cinemas. A magnificent campaign which worked wonders. If there’s any doubt how successful this campaign was I’ll point this out; it meant people wanted to see the film, despite the fact that most peoples knowledge of the character being X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Musings On Marvel: Day 10 (Guardians Of The Galaxy)

Director: James Gunn (Slither, Super)

Budget: $232million

Box Office: $773million

  • Did kids listen to this music back then? I mean, I did, but I was weird.
  • Hah, “was”
  • Plus, is a song which includes the repeated refrain “big boys don’t cry” a good song to listen to in the circumstances?
  • Can’t anyone become a superhero without their parents dying nowdays? That’s the rouble with the world today, kids lack motivation.
  • I’m curious as to what happened in those 26 years. Ok, it’s not as big an issue as it was in Fantastic 4 (or to give it it’s proper, stupid title: Fant4stic)
  • How have the batteries lasted that long?
  • Or the walkman?
  • Or the tape itself?
  • I mean, I went through about 5 cd players in my youth, and I very rarely went to space.
  • The main hero kicks a tiny animal in the face. But it’s okay because they’re not earth-based. Which is a bit weird as when he was a kid he started fights with people purely because they hurt frogs. And now here’s him, as an adult, gleefully punting animals like rugby balls.
  • “bereet”, is that because she looks like a beet?
  • “your culture is a disease” that’s racist.
  • Groot lost his arms. That’s an arm chopped off in every one of the stage 2 films. Seriously, why do Marvel hate limbs?
  • “I live for the simple things, like how much this is going to hurt” That’s exactly what I was told last time I had sex.
  • “I’m going to slather you in jelly” that sounds sexual.
  • “this one here is our booty” still sounds sexual.
  • So he wants to protect her despite her causing massive physical harm to him and being responsible for him getting arrested. Why? I theorise it’s entirely because he wants the booty.
  • “Your words mean nothing to me” oooooooo, vienna. 
  • “I could care less whether you live or die”. Ok, let’s get one thing straight America, that phrase makes zero sense. “I could care less” literally means “there is a situation in which I could care less, therefore I do care a little bit”. The phrase should be (and is, in every other country in the world) “couldn’t care less”. Because it implies you don’t care at all so there is no way you could care even less. The way you say it implies that despite the fact you don’t care much, you still care a little bit. “I could care less” basically says “I care a little bit”, which defeats your purpose.
  • I bet he never uses that “snap a neck from a distance” on any of the heroes.
  • “your demeanour is that of a child” yeah, and you’re wearing make-up like a teenage emo kid. You shouldn’t be killing people, you should be writing poetry on your blog about how girls ignore you.
  • “all fire on my command” why not start with that?
  • Those headphones blocked out a prison riot? My headphones get drowned out by cars driving past me.
  • Not even that, but surely he should have seen something on the video screens?
  • Okay his face is covered, but his hands aren’t, flying through space with uncovered hands would surely cause problems.
  • He got abducted as a kid, how many kids know of Jackson Pollock?
  • Surely he’s been threatened before? He collects artefacts so must have people attempt to rob him all the time, you’d think he’d have a defence set up.
  • Bowie song! And now I’m sad. Seriously, what is going on this year? I found a facebook status a few years old about how bad it was that three celebrities had died that year already. That seems like a blessing compared to this year. Prince, Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman, Wood, the PG tips monkey.
  • “I will not succumb to your pelvic sorcery” That’s pretty much exactly what my girlfriend said to me the first time we met.
  • Holy shit Bradley Cooper gives a REALLY good vocal performance here.
  • And with that he tells an entire bar full of outlaws how much money you’re about to come into.
  • Hey it’s a tesseract.
  • “it’s not a purse, it’s a knapsack” no, it’s a satchel. Indiana Jones has one.
  • I haven’t seen Star Wars but I imagine it’s basically this.
  • “normal people don’t even think about eating people” Oh, I guess I’m not normal then.
  • Where did they get those matching red suits from? Did they stop at Matalan before continuing with their quest?
  • “I think of them as paper people” Now, he doesn’t understand metaphors, so does that mean he literally thinks they’re people made of paper?
  • “I don’t think anyone is 100 percent a dick” you’ve never met Katie Hopkins then.
  • “We’re just like Kevin Bacon” doing awful adverts for EE?
  • Wait, wasn’t the city evacuated? Where are all these people coming from?
  • The two sisters are attacking each other with swords. I HATE these kind of fights. The ones where it cuts away before each impact. One on one fight scenes should cut as little as possible so the fight flows in one continuous motion. That way it looks like an actual fight, instead of a movie scene.
  • She chops off her own hand. Seriously, marvel hates limbs.
  • So he’s still using that stone just to throw people backwards instead of killing them?
  • “your guardians of the galaxy” Hey, that’s the title of the movie!
  • “what are you doing?” does it matter? Just kill him. Are people really distracted by singing and dancing? They’re not, trust me I tried.
  • “it’s probably good we didn’t deliver him to his dad like we were hired to do” The worst dialogue in this entire movie. It’s like the script writer didn’t know how to deliver that information so just turned one of the final scenes into an exposition heavy nothing piece.
  • “Ronan was only a puppet” No! That’s a metaphor! And that’s not what he’s meta-for. By which I mean, that line doesn’t make sense in the universe that they’ve created.
  • Howard the f*cking duck.