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.

The Shape Of Water (2017)

Don’t watch this film! I mean it, do not watch this film. It’s one of those films that’s actually impossible to sit down and watch. You do not watch this, you absorb it. You sit back and let it take over every single ounce of your being. You sit there and marvel at the beauty you see before you, this is cinema as art, and is one of the most awe-inspiring things you’ll see all year. Guillermo Del Toro should now be given free reign to make whatever film he wants. Actually, I’d love to see him do an episode of Doctor Who or Black Mirror. Every shot looks like a watercolour painting, full of the majesty of colours and wonder. The music too is superb, you won’t leave the cinema humming the melodies or anything, but it enhances every single scene it’s in, it really compliments the images to the point where it almost seems like the scenes were made to match up with the music, as opposed to the scene coming first and music being decided later.

It’s not just behind the scenes though, the people in front of camera help make this brilliant. Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones deserve every accolade thrown their way. They’re mute characters who have to lead the film, that’s not easy. It could be argued that it’s slightly easier for Sally Hawkins as she at least gets sign language to utilise, but that’s like saying it’s easier to run a marathon with one leg than no legs. It still takes remarkable skill from her. Ordinarily this would be the best performance I see all year, but unfortunately for her, Three Billboards also exists. It’s a shame that both existed in the same year as it meant one had to lose out on deserved awards. Doug Jones is also pretty darn great in this, doing sooooo much with body language that you kind of don’t realise he’s not speaking, he doesn’t need to.

The supporting cast also pulls their weight, obviously since Richard Jenkins got nominated for best supporting actor. Michael Shannon also deserves praise. His character is utterly reprehensible, partly due to the writing, but also due to how he plays it. He completely loses himself in the character, holding absolutely nothing back.

My main issue with this film? It’s really hard to criticise. It’s all so beautiful, everyone is so great, and the story is so heart-warming and emotional, it ties all the loose ends up but also leaves room for different interpretations and questions about the characters. That’s why this review has been so hard to write, it’s difficult to make “this film is amazing!” into a compelling piece of writing. That’s my opinion though, others think differently. Not many others though, mainly Rex Reed from the New York Observer. Who wrote (and I won’t link to it, I don’t want to increase his views):

“This horror film masquerading as a fairy tale is about a mute woman who cleans toilets, scrubs floors and falls in love with a monster from beneath the sea. The pathetic girl is played by the wonderful British actress Sally Hawkins, who specializes in defective creatures herself.”

A few points: 1) it’s not a horror film. At all, it’s a fantasy film. It may use a few horror tropes and conventions, but it’s still at its heart a fantasy film, albeit one aimed at adults.

2) “pathetic girl”. Fuck you. Fuck you in the ear. She’s not pathetic, and if you think that then I worry for you.

3) “defective creatures”. Ok, this is just a horribly offensive comment. Just because someone is mute does not make them a defective creature you ableist asswipe.

The review only goes downhill from there, referring to Get Out as “overrated piece of junk” and getting the director’s name wrong. Look, I know Benicio Del Toro is a good actor, but he’s not a director. Yes, they have similar names, but you can’t call yourself a film reviewer if you can’t distinguish between the two. It would be like getting Billie Joe Armstrong and Billie Jean King confused. I find negative reviews fascinating when they’ve clearly not actually watched the film. The best example of this was Toy Story 3 where the reviewer seemed to only watch the opening 5 minutes, getting the villain wrong, the story wrong, and his final mark wrong. Don’t be like that guy, don’t be wrong. Buy a ticket to Shape Of Water and revel in its greatness, you’ll thank me.

Why We Love….The Witches

1. The Story

Roald Dahl may have hated almost every film that was made of one of his books, but to me, they usually work pretty well. Willy Wonka will always have a special place in my heart (mainly because of Gene Wilder), and The BFG last year was so good it was described as

“fairy lights and sunshine on celluloid”

by someone incredibly important and intelligent (yeah, it was me). Am I missing any out?

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This film really speaks to me for some reason

Oh yeah, that one. So whilst Dahl hates them, films of his work are generally loved by people. That’s down to the worlds he creates, the fact he writes FANTASTIC child characters, and of course, the stories. With a lot of children’s books, you look at them as “books for children”, books which are fine if you’re young, but lose their magic as you get older. And the ones that don’t suffer from another problem; you can easily see their influences. You can read them and think “oh, the author obviously has read x before”. These don’t, they’re unique stories, wonderfully told, that’s why the films work.

2. It’s quite dark.

Well, I saw “quite”, it features a scene where the main villain changes a small child into a mouse. It’s not instantaneous, it’s like you can feel it happening to you, you can tell it’s not painless. It also features a scene where the villain tries to push a baby off a cliff. I love kids films like this, ones which you watch them as an adult and think “why did we let kids watch this?”. It’s kind of basically a kids horror movie (much like Goosebumps, which I still recommend everyone go see). I mean, the opening features a child being cursed so they disappear into a painting. That’s not a kids movie, that’s a fucking Twilight Zone episode.

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3. Ensemble Cast

Okay, the kids acting isn’t exactly good, but the adults are. Jane Horrocks is lovely and her silent disgust is evident throughout, Rowan Atkinson is good with the small amount he’s given. My favourite though is Mai Zetterling. This was one of her final films and she really shines, it makes me sad she wasn’t in more things. She’d have been perfect as Aunt May in a John Hughes made Spiderman movie in the 80’s (what a good idea for a blog that would be, that’s foreshadowing).

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4. Anjelica Huston

This film is hers. She doesn’t so much chew the scenery, as cut it into small manageable pieces and delicately nibble on it. She plays such an evil character with so much poise and sophistication (so much so that she doesn’t seem to walk, but glide) that she almost becomes likeable. I think she may be one of my favourite actresses, when she’s good she’s REALLY good. There’s this, The Addams Family, and 50/50, and I’m sure there are many others which I’ve yet to watch. She’s one of the few actresses I’d really love to be able to meet and just talk about her films with her.

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Side note, is it just me or did she have a resemblance to Anne Hathaway

5. Possible remake

Usually, I’d be set against this, but apparently, if it gets made it will be done by Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, with Jennifer Lopez as the main witch. I want that so much. And now I’ll end this the same way I end every day; with casual attempted infanticide.

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