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!
There are no shortage of based-on-true-story movies out there, but I’m always up for uplifting stories, especially those that also offer escapism to a distant land on my bucket list!
Dream Horse offers just the thing… starring the always reliable Toni Collette as Jan Vokes, a small-town supermarket cashier by day and bartender by night in Wales. Who can’t relate to a small-town gal (or guy for that matter) with big dreams? I mean, who hasn’t dreamed to live a different life or even live a slightly bigger life that offers more than a mundane existence. I immediately relate to Jan as the film shows her working day in and day out and obviously bored out of her wits. Her domestic life with her husband Brian (Owen Tease) is becoming ho-hum as well. He seems to have lost as much zest for life as he does his teeth, who spends his days sitting by the telly watching reality TV.
That is until one day, Jan overhears a few people talking about horse racing at a bar, led by Howard Davies (Damian Lewis). Davies is an accountant who leads a syndicate, that is a group of people who purchase ownership of a promising race horse. He has had mishaps in the past where he nearly lost it all, but he hasn’t given up on his dreams. At first he was reluctant to join Jan on this adventure, after all she has never done such a thing before. Yet her tenacity and quick learning finally got Davies to come around to join her in the syndication. Now, the hardest part is convincing the townsfolk, with their meager earning and barely any knowledge in horse-breeding/racing, to also join in on the venture!
Welsh filmmaker Euros Lyn and screenwriter Neil McKay seems to have a personal kinship with this story, and it shows. There is something so earnest and sweet about how the whole thing comes together, and the camaraderie of the group is just lovely to watch. I also love horses despite only having ridden one years ago as a kid, so it’s wonderful watching Jan and Brian breed Dream Alliance, that is the name of their race horse. Australian thespian Collette can pretty much play anything believably, so even sporting a Welsh accent is NOT outside her wheelhouse. Even surrounded by mostly Welsh cast (Damian Lewis is half Welsh), she fits right in and always brings something extra to every role she does. She’s also convincing as a horse breeder in the way she interacts with Dream Alliance in the movie.
Though for the most part the film is quite predictable, there are some suspenseful moments during an important horse race, and a conflict brewing within the group as Dream Alliance proves to be a champion horse. The group may see opportunities to profit, but Jan remains steadfast as this dream of hers was never about the money. The film’s predictability doesn’t dampen the film’s enjoyment however, as there are so much to enjoy here and one can’t help but be caught up in the joy of it all. It’s the quintessential feel-good movie and the filmmakers/cast make no qualms about it. I especially love the moments where the townsfolk takes the racing elites down a peg or two. They actually threw names such as Andrew Llyod Webber as the owner of a hot British thoroughbred racehorse named, get this, Too Darn Hot! I was expecting Sir Webber would make a cameo, but it was not to be.
I actually enjoy watching race horse scenes in movies (I should make a list of memorable ones soon!), and there are plenty to enjoy here. They filmed the major horse races on location, in Welsh Grand National and Newbury Racecourse. DP Erik Wilson (who shot both Paddington films) did a wonderful job making us feel like we were right there at the race, and the way he shot the horses definitely set your heart races! I also enjoy the music by relative newcomer composer Benjamin Woodgates which complements the tone and horse-action scenes perfectly.
It’s amazing what a dream can do… not just to a person but to an entire community. It’s also heart-warming to see that Jan’s relationship with Brian also improves with this new venture, as Jan’s dream AND her dream horse literally injects a new life in everyone. In the case of Davies, it also brings a sense of closure in regards to his own late father’s aspiration to be a jockey.
This film is so gorgeous, filled with stunning, lush images of Welsh countryside that I can’t wait to finally visit Wales one day. As customary with movies based on true events, before the end credits rolled, we get the facts + photos of the real people depicted in the film and how much they actually earned from winning all those races. I was flabbergasted by it, but then again, it goes to show that for the Vokes (and also Davies), it never was about monetary gain. It’s cool to see the Vokes are still in the racehorse-breeding business, though Dream Alliance has long retired. There’s a Welsh expression ‘hwyl’ which is pronounced ‘hoo-eel’ to express a great deal of energy, fervor and enthusiasm. Well, this film certainly captures that spirit and then some!
DREAM HORSE is playing in theaters and
will be available for PVOD on June 11th
Have you seen DREAM HORSE? I’d love to hear what you think!
With a provocative title like Knives Out, the film had better be a sharp murder mystery. Fortunately, writer/director Rian Johnson and his stellar ensemble cast delivered! The film embraces the tropes of the whodunnit genre – the wealthy dysfunctional family, the historic mansion, and an eccentric detective investigating the case… but it cleverly turned it on its head. It’s not as eerie, chilling or overly dark, in fact, Johnson kept the mood rather light and even seemingly frivolous. But don’t let that fool you, it’s suspenseful when it needs to be and oh, it’s just so delightfully entertaining!
The film starts out with the death of the family patriarch, crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), following his own birthday celebration. Soon the family gathers to mourn him, while in reality all they care about is how big of the inheritance they’d get. Given the suspicious nature of Harlan’s death, the detectives promptly arrive to question the members, including the debonair detective Benoit Blanc, whose involvement in the case is a mystery in itself.
Daniel Craig seems to have a blast playing Detective Blanc, with a rather quirky Southern Accent. The accent perhaps intentional to contrast him from the WASP-y, Massachusetts-bred Harlan family, much like Agatha Christie’s Poirot’s mustache sets her protagonist apart from the people he’s investigating. Craig definitely stands out even amongst this stellar cast, but the real star of the film is Ana de Armas who plays Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s loyal nurse who can’t lie without vomiting. That bit lends to some hilarious scenes in the film. This is only the second time I saw her since Blade Runner 2049, but she’s proven herself a versatile actress. Here she looks plain as can be, dressed in the dowdiest clothes, but portrays a seemingly-helpless-but-smarter-than-you-think character so well that you’re never quite know just who she really is.
I won’t go into more plot details, as this is the kind of film that’s best to go into it blindly. Any fan of murder mystery would get a kick out Johnson’s clever plot that keeps you guessing. Every single member of the family could have been the culprit, and that’s what made this kind of movies fun. I kept thinking things would go one way and it went another direction, keeping things suspenseful yet light and mirthful. Most of the action takes place inside or around the mansion, but there’s enough going for it to keep you engaged. It goes to show that a good script the best special effect of all, no amount of special effect or stunning visuals can make up for a good story.
I also love the fact that the writer/director makes good use of his eclectic ensemble cast, even Plummer in the flashback scenes. Each actor have their moment to shine, though of course some are memorable than others. Chris Evans clearly relish on playing a spoiled brat, practically the black sheep of the family… quite a departure from his goody-two-shoes Captain America role. The cozy-but-oh-so-sexy aesthetic no doubt spikes up sales of Fisherman sweaters everywhere. I always adore the chameleonic Toni Collette and she’s fun to watch as a lifestyle guru, perhaps channeling Gwyneth Paltrow a bit with her Goop empire. It’s also amusing to see Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson as a couple. I think Jamie Lee should get more leading roles even now in her 60s, this sassy woman’s still got it!
Rian Johnson got so much flak for The Last Jedi which I actually enjoyed. I’m glad he’s back directing an original story as he’s clearly a gifted storyteller. In addition to the shrewd plot, he manages to inject a not-so-subtle jab about today’s political climate in regards to immigrants. I think the Best Original Screenplay Oscar nod is well-deserved, oh and the cast should’ve been nominated for Best Ensemble at SAG Awards too! The last shot of the film is absolutely brilliant… the expressions of the cast and an ingenious use of a particular prop is one of the best cinematic final scenes ever. I can’t help but smile every time I think about it!
I’m glad I was able to catch it before it left local cineplex as I missed the press screening back in November. Apparently a sequel is in the works for this, centered on Benoit Blanc with Craig reprising his role (so Craig is trading James Bond for Blanc, Benoit Blanc. Ha!) Normally I’d roll my eyes whenever sequels are announced, but I’m open to this idea, let’s hope the follow-up sequel’s script is as clever as this one.
Have you seen KNIVES OUT? Well, what did you think?
Netflix has truly become a force to be reckoned with in terms of original content, the fact that they apparently planned on making 90 original movies this year alone… with budgets up to $200mil! In the Winter time, streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon are a staple for me, as weather can wreck havoc on your moviegoing plans (esp when we’re plagued with Polar Vortex!). Thankfully, many of Netflix original programming are pretty high-quality, and they attract high-quality filmmakers and talents.
In Velvet Buzzsaw, Dan Gilroy re-teamed with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, who were both excellent in Nightcrawler. It’s a satire thriller with a rather whimsical tone, offering a tongue-in-cheek commentary about the relationship between art and commerce. Right from the first trailer, I was hooked by the premise of a thriller set in the L.A. art world AND the outstanding cast.
The main players of the movie are art critic Morf Vandewalt (Gyllenhaal), gallery owner Rhodora Haze, and an ambitious agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton). One fateful day, Josephina found her neighbor Vetril Dease dead in her apartment complex. As it turns out, Dease was a painter and a plethora of his unseen work are stored in his apartment. Josephina stole a bunch of them, and upon showing them to Morf and Rhodora, they’re convinced they’ve stumbled into something truly lucrative and decide to profit from Dease’s work. So voilà! Rhodora showcased Dease’s paintings in her posh gallery along with some over the top pieces like a talking [creepy-looking] robot and a giant interactive sphere. Everyone was mesmerized. Everyone from curator assistant Gretchen (Toni Collette) and another artist who’s kind of in a funk Piers (John Malkovich), Rhodora’s rival Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge), are all equally enamored. Dease’s work becomes a social media hit and the paintings can net 8-figure sum. But of course it’s all too good to be true. There’s evil lurking behind those paintings, ready to exact vengeance upon whoever tries to profit from them.
Daveed Diggs & John Malkovich
Rene Russo & Zawe Ashton
Strange things start to happen, as people begin to notice that the paintings actually move. I’m glad I don’t have many paintings in my home as those scenes are really quite eerie. I don’t know who the actual artists are who created the paintings for the movie but some are really amazing. Predictably, people who stand to profit from Dease’s work are starting to get killed one by one. It kind of lessens the suspense of it all but I don’t think Gilroy intends to make a ‘twist-y’ movie a la M. Night Shyamalan. I started to play a guessing game with my hubby as who’s gonna be offed next. It didn’t quite descend into the Final Destination franchise banality where the writers just have to figure out a ‘creative’ way to kill their characters. That said, some of the death scenes are pretty creative. It seems Gilroy decidedly made Velvet Buzzsaw a kitschy satire, as if he didn’t really take this story too seriously.
Performance-wise, I think most of the actors are solid. Gyllenhaal seemed to relish playing a neurotic, flamboyant, ‘sexually-fluid’ art critic, delivering an over-the-top performance with such glee it was amusing to watch. Glad to see Russo in a meatier role here and she looked absolutely convincing as a gallery owner. Collette doesn’t have much screen time but she’s always memorable in any role and here she plays the pretentious museum curator with aplomb. I’ve never seen the British actress Zawe Ashton portraying the loathsome snob Josephina, well she definitely made quite an impression here.
Overall Velvet Buzzsaw didn’t have quite the shock value as Nightcrawler, which is still the better Gilroy-Gyllenhaal collaboration. This one feels shallow, one might even say frivolous, which is ironic as the outside world often views the art community that way. It’s also lacking a deep emotional resonance as most of the characters are so unsympathetic. In fact, I got so annoyed by Josephina and her greedy, duplicitous ways that I can’t say I was sorry to see her go. As a non-horror fan though, I was pretty entertained by it and thankfully it’s not as gory as I had been led to believe. (if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, I suggest you avoid it as some of the ‘deaths’ actually happen in the trailer!)
I read later that apparently Gilroy was inspired to write the script because of the whole Superman Lives debacle. He was the writer of that project that was supposed to be directed by Tim Burton starring Nicholas Cage. He was dismayed that Warner Bros pulled the plug, he’s quoted as saying ‘Wow, I just spent a year and a half. Nothing I wrote is gonna ever be seen…I was looking at the waves and I was like, ‘I might as well come down and write words in the sand and have the waves just wash them away.’” (per The Playlist) Interestingly, he wrote a scene with one of his character on a beach. So I guess if there’s one takeaway from this movie, at least the way I think Gilroy envisioned it, is that, an art is more than just a piece of commodity and the level of success shouldn’t define it.
Despite its flaws though, props to Gilroy for his creativity and taking us to a world rarely depicted on screen. Heck, the character names alone is ingenious… Morf Vandewalt, Vetril Dease could be such fun band names! One thing for sure, I probably won’t be able to see an art gallery/museum the same way again after this.
Have you seen Velvet Buzzsaw yet? I’d love to hear what YOU think!
Directed By: Ari Aster Written By: Ari Aster Runtime: 127 minutes
Hereditary begins with Annie Graham (Toni Collette), her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and her children Peter (Alex Wolf) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) coping with the recent death of Annie’s mother. Strange and terrifying events quickly begin to occur following the family matriarch’s passing, hinting at a dark family secret that might not have died with her.
This is one of the most suspenseful and unsettling horror movies I’ve seen in a while, and that tone is maintained the whole way through. The pacing is excellent; it works so well in building the tension. The beginning takes plenty of time establishing the characters’ backgrounds, but it doesn’t feel like it drags, because the exposition all feels very natural, thanks to a combination of strong writing and and stellar acting, especially from Toni Collette. The real inciting incident of the film (which is horrifying) takes so long to build up and is so drawn out, but it’s so effective.
Visually, this film is very creative, and not necessarily due to over-the-top special effects. The majority of the effects are practical rather than CGI, and for the most part, they’re pretty understated. This, combined with a good use of lighting and clever camera work, makes for a terrifying viewing experience.
I only have a couple complaints about this movie. Firstly, there isn’t much to Gabriel Byrne‘s character. I’ve enjoyed him in other movies, and I know he can act well; he just isn’t given much to work with here. He doesn’t really interact much with the rest of the family, which makes his chemistry with them so awkward that I initially thought he was the stepfather and not the actual father. It’s not that he seems emotionally distant, which I could almost understand, because it would make the tone feel even more uncomfortable. He just feels unnecessary. I know Annie and the kids are the real focus of the movie, but his character could have been removed and the film wouldn’t have lost anything vital.
Secondly, the ending kind of gives me tonal whiplash. It’s not a bad ending- it’s foreshadowed well, and it has a Rosemary’s Baby vibe that I appreciate- but it also feels more bizarre than the rest of the movie does; still twisted, but in a different, kind of jarring way. It’s a weird note to go out on.
Overall though, this is a fantastic horror movie. It’s well-written, the acting is mostly excellent, the visuals are skillfully done, and it will stick with you long after you leave the theater. If you enjoy scary movies, definitely check out this one.
Have you seen ‘Hereditary’? Well, what did you think?
New York City police detective John Shaft (nephew of the original 1970s detective) goes on a personal mission to make sure the son of a real estate tycoon is brought to justice after a racially-motivated murder.
I’ve been curious about this movie for some time but I forgot that it’s available on Netflix streaming. As my hubby and I were in the mood for an action flick, this was a good a time as any to finally check it out. One thing I noticed right away was how young Samuel L. Jackson looked here, though this was made only a decade and a half ago. He’s basically playing the same tough guy character as Nick Fury and a bunch of other action roles – same snarky attitude and that cocky swagger.
It’s interesting to see him go after some rich SOB Walter Wade Jr. played by Christian Bale, the same year he also plays another rich psychopath in American Psycho and 5 years before he plays an even richer guy Bruce Wayne, but at least he uses his privilege for good in those Batman films. He’s quite convincing as some racist bastard, you really wants to punch his smug face every time he’s on screen. But he’s actually not the most memorable villain in this flick, that’d be Jeffrey Wright who plays a ghetto drug kingpin Peoples Hernandez. It’s amusing to see an African American actor playing a Hispanic man, he’s definitely the movie’s scene stealer here.
The rest of the supporting cast was pretty good. Toni Collette is quite memorable here too as the witness Shaft’s trying to convince to testify and rapper Busta Rhymes provides comic relief as Shaft’s frantic driver. I haven’t seen the original Shaft films, but I’m familiar with Richard Roundtree who had a supporting role as Shaft’s uncle. I also like the fact that they didn’t make the beautiful Vanessa Williams to be just the eye candy factor or damsel in distress, in fact she actually saved Shaft in one key scene.
The movie itself was pretty entertaining – good pacing, interesting characters and dynamic action scenes. Yet it wasn’t just all about car chases and shootouts, as the story was pretty involving but not overly complicated. John Singleton definitely had style and some of the camera work was pretty cool to watch. It’s also quite violent and there are as many F-bombs flying out as there are bullets, I read on IMDb that there were F-word was used 165 times in this movie, wow! At least the violence wasn’t too gratuitous. The finale also still manages to surprise me, and I remember not having recovered yet from the tense scene between Shaft and Hernandez. Not a bad rental and I’m glad I finally saw this one. I’m actually surprised there isn’t a sequel to this, I’d think that it might’ve been a hit back then.
It’s quite a memorable weekend for me as my hubby and I celebrated our 10th anniversary on Friday. We had a wonderful dinner Friday night and went shopping for a new ring on Sunday afternoon as my anniversary present 😀
Since we’ve already seen The Great Gatsby early in the week (check out my review), it’s home cinema time. Looks like a lot of you did go see Baz Luhrmann’s literary adaptation as it managed to make about $50 mil (which is about half of its production budget), but not great enough to top Iron Man 3 which made $72 mil to top box office for its second week.
Anyway, I’m only going to do a mini review of both of these films. So here goes:
Jack Reacher (2012)
I’ve been wanting to check out Jack Reacher for a while and it’s finally available to rent this weekend. I’m not going to review it here as Ted already written one here. Here’s an excerpt:
In the end I thought it was a well made action thriller that didn’t take itself too seriously and I like the fact it has that old school 70s thriller feel to it. I would definitely love to see more of Jack Reacher films in the future.
I think I’d agree with Ted’s 4/5 rating. I thought it was an engaging thriller that’s more focused on the who-dun-it story instead of just some overly fast-paced but vapid shoot-em-ups. I agree that the action scenes were well-directed and that you could actually SEE the action as director Christopher McQuarrie didn’t employ the overused fast-cuts with dizzying blurry effect. I think Cruise’s performance here is much stronger than in Oblivion, but then again, there’s more focus on character development here than simply showing pretty visuals.
It’s interesting casting to see two Brits playing American in this movie: David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, who are both pretty good here. I’d say Oyelowo even upstaged Richard Jenkins but can’t really fault Jenkins as his role is actually pretty boring. But the scene-stealer is Werner Herzog, simply because he just lends such as sinister portrayal of the main villain who was a former POW at a Soviet Gulag. He’s menacing but more in an amusing kind of way.
Muriel’s Wedding (1994)
We didn’t plan on watching a wedding-themed movie for our anniversary, but we ended up seeing an Australian coming-of-age comedy Muriel’s Wedding. I’ve been wanting to see this for a while as I quite like Toni Collette as an actress. She’s so talented but quite underrated IMO, as you probably could attest if you’ve seen her performance in Emma, The Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine, etc. This is the first of her earlier roles that I saw, which not only displayed her versatility but also her dedication to her craft as she had to gain 40 pounds to play Muriel!
Set in Australia, the protagonist is a misfit girl named Muriel who always wants to escape her miserable life in a fictitious town called Porpoise Spit. The title of the movie refers to Muriel’s obsession with getting married, even to the point of snapping photos of herself in wedding gowns. Collette owns her role as Muriel, featuring a bravura, no–holds–barred type of performance from start to finish. Despite some cheesy and even cringe-worthy moments, overall this movie is an amusing journey about self-acceptance and also a celebration of friendship. Rachel Griffiths is wonderfully spunky as Muriel’s BFF Rhonda, who endured a pretty drastic sudden change that’s heart-wrenching to watch.
One of the major highlights is of course, the wedding scene. If I had seen it before I made my top 10 movie wedding list, I’d have included the one here. I’ve always wondered why the groom has that befuddled look on his face in all the photos from this scene, and now I know why!! If you’re a fan of 70s music, particularly the Swedish band ABBA, then you’ve got to rent this movie. I find myself humming Dancing Queen and Fernando a lot the past couple of days, ahah.
I’d readily recommend both of these movies so give it a go next time you’re looking for something to rent! …
Well, that’s my weekend roundup folks. What did you see this weekend? Anything good?