It’s been four years since Guillermo del Toro won a Best Picture Oscar for The Shape of Water, and this is the first feature film he’s worked on since. Of course it’s not the only film that had to shut down because of the pandemic. Per this Indiewire article, they stopped the shoot when shooting was halfway done in the Spring of 2020.
Though he’s known for his horror films, I’m intrigued by the fact that Nightmare Alley is a noir thriller. The story is based on a novel by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946. Per Wiki, it’s a study of the lowest depths of showbiz and its sleazy inhabitants—the dark, shadowy world of a second rate carnival filled with hustlers, scheming grifters, and Machiavellian femmes fatales.
An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.
Behold it’s first trailer:
… Now this is the kind of film I’d watch just for the cast! Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, and David Strathairn. Wow!! Apparently Cooper replaced Leo DiCaprio in the lead role, which is fine as I quite like the pairing of him with Blanchett who looks sultry as a femme fatale psychiatrist.
Is he man or beast?
Willem Dafoe’s narration repeatedly asks that question about one of the unexplained mysteries of the universe… the carnival world is inherently bizarre and mystical, filled with freaky ‘wonders of nature.’ But perhaps there’s a twist here? Sometimes it’s the ones considered regular/ordinary who turns out to be the ‘beast.’ I love that this trailer keeps us in suspense and not give anything away.
Now, I haven’t seen the original film, but I watched the trailer 1947’s version last night, starring Tyrone Power. This one reportedly isn’t a remake of that, but a re-adaptation of the novel. I love how from the film has that Old Hollywood look about them, I bet even it would look just as stunning in black and white.
One thing for sure, it’s going to be a visual feast!! The production design alone is freakin’ amazing, which is to be expected for del Toro… everything he’s done always look so hauntingly beautiful. As a big fan of period films, I can’t wait to marvel at the set pieces, costumes, lighting, etc. when it comes out.
Nightmare Alley is scheduled to be released on December 17, 2021… I can hardly wait!! This is definitely the film to go to the cinema for!
I remember back in 2008 when I saw the trailers for Iron Man. My hubby was excited for it but I kept rolling my eyes when it came on and said how silly and vapid it looked, only to be bowled over when I finally got around to seeing it. It’s the same case with this one, only this time my hubby agreed with me that it looked just like another loud popcorn movie, nothing more than another Transformers movie mixed with Independence Day. Well, I guess the lesson I learned once again is ‘don’t judge a movie by its trailer(s)’ 😀
The plot (yes there IS one, in case some of you are wondering) is nothing we’ve never heard before but it’s played out quite efficiently here. The swift exposition at the beginning showed us that a war between humankind and a bunch of humongous sea creatures called Kaiju (Japanese for strange beast) have been going on for some time. The narrator, Raleigh Becket, was only five when the first attack began in San Francisco. He’s a former pilot of this man-made giant robots called Jaeger (German for the hunter) who left the force when his co-pilot brother got killed in battle. We learn that it takes two pilots to control each of those Jaegers, whose minds are locked in a neural bridge called ‘The Drift.’ Apparently, the deeper the bond between them, the better they fight.’
Right away I was pretty absorbed by the story and the characters, and what’s at stake at the seemingly-inevitable apocalypse as these Kaijus have become stronger and more relentless with each attack. Fans of giant monsters movies like Godzilla, etc. would have an especially enjoyable time watching the fight scenes of Kaiju vs. Jaegers. The I have to admit that though I’m not into monster movies, I too was caught up in the whole spectacle!
The fight scenes are well-staged and though it was certainly loud and bombastic, it didn’t have the dizzying effect like the battle scenes in Man of Steel. Though the battles between the steel vs organic giants are quite relentless, there’s a constant reminder that these aren’t simply mindless robots that are fighting, but there are people inside these steel beasts that get hurt with each punch. The film certainly lives by its motto ‘Go Big or Go Extinct’ as the scale is just massive, but yet it’s not bloated in terms of content. Seems like each scene has a purpose that justifies its 2 hrs 11 min run-time. The meticulous amount of details of the set pieces are also muy impressive. Each of these Jaeger have a name, and the main hero is called Gypsy Danger – the only remaining analog robot, and in one interview, del Toro said it’s meant to resemble a WWII fighter jet calling it “a mixture of deco skyscraper and John Wayne.”
I give props to Guillermo del Toro for his unbridled passion for his $180 pet project, fusing it with digital artistry and spectacle worth raving about. He said in interviews that Pacific Rim contains all his bucket list rolled into one movie, and it shows! I’m glad that during the fight scenes, the director didn’t resort to quick cuts or blur effect so we’re still able to make out just what the heck is going on. What I appreciate most of all, is how emotionally satisfying it is. THAT ultimately, is what makes a movie so gratifying and memorable.
The last movie I saw that del Toro directed was Pan’s Labyrinth, which was excellent albeit too disturbingly violent for my taste. No doubt this movie is far more accessible and commercial than the 2006 fantasy drama, but del Toro’s deft touch and zeal for the material is palpable. He’s assembled the best of the best in the biz, working with ILM (its chief creative officer John Knoll, is the co-creator of Photoshop) on the SFX, as well as composer Ramin Djawadi on a rousing score that already becomes my personal favorite!
Acting-wise, I think everyone is pretty well-cast. 33-year-old Brit Charlie Hunnam (of the Sons of Anarchy TV show), is pretty decent as Raleigh, and he’s got a nice narrating voice. He’s also got a nice chemistry with Rinko Kikuchi (THAT girl from Babel), and the martial arts training session is brimming with sexual tension. But to me, the real STAR is the hunky and charismatic Idris Elba. I’ve liked him since I saw him Rocknrolla years ago and he’s always been fun to watch. But man, he’s so incredibly magnetic in this movie! He’s got such a strong screen presence, plus he looks fantastic in that Jaeger pilot suit I barely noticed anyone else in that Shatterdome facility once he shows up! That ‘cancelin’ the apocalypse’ speech rates right up there with Bill Pullman’s speech in ID-4.
The supporting cast deliver some of the funniest parts, most notably Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as the oft-bickering scientists, and del Toro’s regular Ron Perlman as a Kaiju black market honcho. I love the creative character names, too: Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, Perlman’s Hannibal Chau, Day’s Newton Geiszler.
FINAL THOUGHTS:This is definitely one of the most fun I’ve had this year watching a movie! Despite the predictable plot — the ending echoes other disaster movies like again, ID-4 and Armageddon — this movie still has some fresh concepts to set this one apart. In fact, I think action directors Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay have some things to learn from del Toro, as he’s able to deliver a visual feast without falling into the ‘style over substance’ trap. Plenty of eye candy and thrilling action, but not devoid of emotion either, what’s not to like? When Geiszler shouted ‘That’s two-thousand five-hundred tons of awesome!’ I can’t say he’s exaggerating!
We saw the screening in IMAX 3D at our local theater and the picture quality is the best I’ve seen in a while. My hubby and I plan to see this again in the next couple of weeks, maybe even at the real IMAX. Depending on the box office receipt, I wager that this movie is going to revive the big-monster movie genre… for better or for worse!
P.S.Do stay for a bit after the end credits. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.
What do you think of Pacific Rim and/or monster movies in general?