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!
Directed by: Robert Eggers Screenplay by: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
In his best performance to date, Robert Pattinson plays a lighthouse apprentice assigned to a much older keeper played by Willem Dafoe. Set in Nova Scotia in the 1890’s, this film takes place in an isolated lighthouse. As a never-ending storm rages, the men fight to maintain their sanity.
By using time appropriate set and costume design, director Robert Eggers creates a film visually fitting the time it is placed. He also chose to use 35mm black and white film at 1.19:1 aspect, which is the presentation of film used at the time. This heightens the eeriness and increases the tension felt between our two players by focusing on the claustrophobic nature of being trapped in the small frame and therefore the lighthouse.
This film is beautifully shot by Jarin Blaschke (The Witch). He is highly skilled at what he does, almost to the point it doesn’t even feel like artistic choices being made. The choices all seep into the background and one is able to focus on film without being pulled out. The editing is also well done. There are times when one isn’t able to make sense of what they are seeing and it adds to the mania of the characters and the observed discomfort.
To top it off there are so many influences, the film feels a bit crowded and disjointed. From Roman mythology, classic power struggle and Jungian psychology, this film has numerous underlying themes that play off of and against one another. This makes for a difficult watch but is a very rich and worthwhile film for genre enthusiasts to tackle.
– Review by Jessie Zumeta
Have you seen THE LIGHTHOUSE? Well, what did you think?
Oh where do I begin with this one… frankly, I’m still a bit discombobulated by what I just watched last night. When I saw the trailer over a week ago, The Last Thing He Wanted looks like an intriguing political thriller, and the fact that acclaimed writer/director Dee Rees is at the helm made me even more intrigued to see it. After I watched the film, I found out it’s based on Joan Didion‘s Orange Prize-winning novel, the UK’s ‘s most prestigious literary prizes. Well, despite SO much going for it, plus a star-studded cast, this movie still doesn’t amount to much.
The film actually started off to a pretty riveting start. We see Anne Hathaway‘s Elena McMahon, a veteran DC-based reporter who’s covering El Salvador’s political crisis in the early 1980s with her colleague Alma (Rosie Perez). They barely escape with their lives as paramilitary troops storm the press office and started shooting. But as soon as she’s back in DC, her editor ends up sending her to cover Reagan’s re-election campaign. She took it begrudgingly, only after Alma encouraged her to take the assignment as a way for her to interrogate top ranking politicians. One of them is George Shultz (Julian Gamble), a then Secretary of State of the Reagan administration, whom she suspects is involved in weapons smuggling in Nicaragua.
During the campaign trail, she gets a call from her absentee father Dick (Willem Dafoe) who turns out to be ailing in the hospital. It’s when Dick asks her daughter to be his sub to complete a ‘deal of a lifetime,’ which involves flying to a mysterious location with a huge amount of mysterious cargo, that things start to really go awry. The place she lands turns out to be Nicaragua and finds out her Dementia-suffering father is actually an arms broker. Soon things spiral out of control and it’s clear Elena is out of her depth.
I have to say the plot is actually not that convoluted on paper, but somehow the muddled script and haphazard direction makes it feel that way. About a half hour in, I was already pretty frustrated with the movie… and growing even more irritated by Hathaway’s melodramatic acting. Initially, I sympathized with Elena and rather enjoyed seeing a plain-looking Hathaway in a role I don’t normally see her do. But her narration and [over]acting style here quickly becomes more and more aggravating. It also doesn’t help that the camera work with its random focus-shifting style makes me a bit dizzy. I don’t know if the DP is trying to add tension in the many scenes of people having conversations, but it’s quite distracting.
Then there’s Ben Affleck (who reportedly replaced Nic Cage) in a role of a mysterious ambassador. As a comic-book fan, obviously I get a slight kick out of seeing former Batman and Catwoman on screen, but soon I also get irritated by Afflecks’ lethargic acting style though his screen time is pretty minimal. Then suddenly there’s a scene that comes out of nowhere that takes me out of the movie entirely. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): What’s with the half-boob nudity?? Is Dee Rees trying to brazenly show a nude woman who’s a breast cancer survivor?? I think we got that point across from her expository dialog with her dad earlier on. By that point, my hubby and I just looked at each other, completely aghast by this befuddled, incoherent mess that’s unfolding before us on screen. I have to say Affleck’s expression is basically the same throughout the movie, whether in bed with a naked woman or eating pie with his colleague.
Now, I’m not familiar with Didion’s work but I’m willing to bet the novel is far better than its screen adaptation. In fact, I still think it’s an intriguing story that when done properly, would be a potent international thriller. But the way it’s adapted here, screenplay written by Rees and Marco Villalobos, feels disjointed with an uneven pacing from start to finish. The central character Elena is nearly impossible to relate to as a human being, and her motives are incomprehensible. Her relationship with her father is an odd one that doesn’t ring true. Even the way the film tries to paint her as a caring mother who’s constantly on the phone with her young, unhappy daughter in a boarding school barely registers.
The supporting cast is pretty much wasted here, though not because of the actors’ performances. The one character I find intriguing is Perez’s Alma and Edi Gathegi‘s Jones, but both characters are so underwritten. There’s also Toby Jones appearing towards the end as an expat who runs the hotel Elena is staying at. Now, I like Toby Jones, he’s a great character actor, but their scene here feels so disconnected from the rest of the movie and goes on way too long. Speaking of the ending… well, as if the rest of the movie weren’t enough of a head-scratcher, the finale is one big WTF moment. To add insult to injury, the finale also feels like a ‘Minnesota goodbye’ where it just went on and on, complete with all kinds of slo-mo and over-drawn narration.
Now, I’ve described this film in the worst possible way and it pains me to do so. This is the third* feature by Dee Rees, and I know just how tough it is for a female director of color to get a job in Hollywood. I suppose every director should be allowed to have a misstep or two, heck, most male directors continue to get job after job even after making multiple misfires. In any case, I wouldn’t use this one as a film that define Rees’ work, but it’s truly unfortunate that this movie is as bad as it is given all the elements–story, setting, cast–seemingly in place.
* I incorrectly said this was Rees’ first feature in my original post, but she had done two features prior to this, Pariah and Mudbound.
Have you seen The Last Thing He Wanted? Well, what did you think?
There are SO many things going on during Twin Cities Film Fest! It’s fun to see filmmakers and talents coming to present their films and see them do the red carpet interviews! This year I’ve a couple of bloggers helping me out not just in reviewing stuff but also in doing interviews. That’s super helpful as I can’t be in two places at the same time (can someone invent something that enables us to do that?)
In any case, thanks to FlixChatter’s blog contributor Andy Ellis, we’ve got an interview with Lea Thompson and Madelyn and Zoey Deutch, her two daughters and fellow collaborators in The Year of Spectacular Men. So the film is Lea’s directorial debut based on Madelyn’s script and the three starred in the film together.
Take a listen to Andy’s interview below:
I first met filmmaker Jack Norton when his documentary Jug Band Hokum was playing at TCFF in 2015. I’ve seen Jack & Kitty at various events and film screenings since, but it’s so cool to see them back at TCFF, this time as musicians!
Jack and Kitty are high school sweethearts that play Organic Vaudeville and Jug Band Folk for All Ages. They are an Emmy Award winning musical duo that also makes critically acclaimed films and television. Based in Minnesota, they love to perform concerts nationwide and play a variety of folk instruments including: banjo, guitar, ukulele, washboard, jug, kazoo, harmonica, whizbang, rumba box and much more. The Minneapolis Star Tribune hailed them as “one of the most entertaining groups in the midwest!”
I remember that when I talked to Jack a few years ago how much he admired filmmaker Sean Baker (who made his breakthrough with his film Tangerine, shot entirely on an iPhone). So I’m so thrilled that he ended up working with him on his new film The Florida Project, starring Willem Dafoe!
Take a listen below on how the collaboration got started… and also specifically about their music.
Check out their Facebook page for events in the area and around the country. Subscribe to their YouTube page too, while you’re at it.
Watch them share their incredibly inspiring story of how they went from homeless to having four songs in THE FLORIDA PROJECT.
Jack & Kitty are the loveliest, funnest people you’d ever be blessed to meet, so thank you guys for chatting with me!
Stay tuned for another interview post tomorrow with Victor’s Last Class’s filmmaker Brendan Brandt … thanks Laura Schaubschlager!
This review is part of Epileptic Moondancer’s PSH blogathon. I selected the second last completed movie by Hoffman before his death. He died a week after the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival.
A Most Wanted Man
A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.
It seems that spy movies in Hollywood often fall into two camps, the high-octane action thrillers a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, or the slow-burn, analytical style you’d find in John le Carré‘s work. This one falls into the latter, and I feel that one must have a certain patience to fully appreciate these kind of slow-burn film. The last film based on le Carré’s work I saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The main draw for me to see that one was Gary Oldman. Similarly, I was drawn to see this for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. It’s set in the city of Hamburg, Germany, where my late mother went to college for a couple of years.
The film opens with a mysterious hooded man sneaking into the city whom we later learn is a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). An espionage team led by Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) suspects from Russian intelligence that Issa is a potentially dangerous terrorist. There’s also a matter of a Muslim philanthropist the team is monitoring as there’s reasons to believe he might be funneling funds to terrorist activities.
Honestly, the way the plot unfolds is pretty slow and I had to turn on the caption. It’s something I wish I could’ve done when I was watching ‘Tinker Tailor‘ on the big screen as the plot was pretty complex for my little brain to discern. But what’s fascinating to me is how the whole spying thing seems rather uneventful. For the most part, it’s a lot of eavesdropping, observing, and a whole lot of talking. No shootouts, foot/car/boat chase or physical fighting for a good chunk of the film. The protagonist Günther isn’t exactly built for THAT kind of action, though he did punch a guy for being abrasive to a woman at a bar, but that’s about it. Yet the story was still quite engrossing and it kept me curious to find out just who this Issa guy is. One of the main reasons is Hoffman’s acting.
It still pains me to realize he’s gone. He was such a skilled thespian who could *disappear* into his roles. Here he totally became the character — a chain-smoking, world-weary, astute, yet compassionate intelligence agent, complete with a believable German accent. Even his voice sounded different, slightly lower than I usually hear him speak, and he managed not to overdo the accent that might resort to simply an impersonation. It’s a testament to his charisma as an actor that I enjoyed watching him do mundane office stuff or simply conversing with people.
As I mentioned above, this film doesn’t paint a glamorous life of a spy. It’s a grounded, more realistic look at the business of espionage where everyone has secrets and it’s all about maneuvering through shrewd, calculating and duplicitous people so you don’t fall into their trap. Apparently John le Carré was a member of British Intelligence at some point, so the plot definitely rang true. I have to admit I had to really pay attention and try not to miss any details. It was rewarding as you became invested in the journey, though the ending was quite a frustrating one. Not that it was badly-written, but it’s more about me expecting a hopeful ending that’s tied neatly with a bow. Well, if you don’t like endings that get you all riled up, this is not a movie for you.
This marks the first Anton Corbijn film I saw, but looking at his filmography, the Dutch filmmaker seems to specialize in slow-burn, measured thrillers (Control, The American). So I guess he’s the perfect director to adapt le Carré’s work. He assembled a pretty solid supporting cast here, starting with the always watchable Robin Wright. She had a key role as an American diplomatic attaché who also took a keen interest in both of Günther’s cases. I enjoyed watching two excellent character actors bantering and outsmarting each other. As a German banker, Willem Dafoe played quite an understated role here, which kinda messed with my head a bit as I kept expecting him to do something totally bonkers.
I was quite impressed by Russian actor Dobrygin in his English-language debut. I actually thought he was a UK actor as he has one of those familiar faces. It’s key for his role to keep the audience guessing whether he’s a good or bad guy and he certainly pulled that off. He kept us at a distance but somehow able to garner our sympathy. I hope to see more of his work so hopefully Hollywood would cast him in more English-speaking roles. As for Rachel McAdams, though she did her best, somehow I didn’t quite buy her in this role. I guess I pictured someone with a bit more edge as an immigration lawyer, someone like Noomi Rapace perhaps?
As the film gives us a glimpse into the bureaucracy and intricacy of espionage, it’s apparent that it’s a world full of gray and not much black/white. “To Make the World a Safer Place” is a line uttered in a couple of key scenes by two different characters. It may sound like a simplistic, even clichéd line, but the second time I heard it, I realized the significance of it and what it was intended to be. This film astutely illustrates that in the world of secret intelligence, nothing is ever what it seems to be.
This film is not for everyone as the deliberately slow pace might be considered boring to some. I can’t lie that there are times I feel it’s perhaps too slow-moving, though the quiet moments are still charged with suspense as the stakes get higher and higher. The stunning cinematography, especially the night shots, give a foreboding, atmospheric feel that help immerse you into this world of intrigue. The thematic elements and relevant subject matter definitely stay with you after the end credits. I highly recommend this for fans of slow-burn espionage films, but even if you’re not, it’s still well worth a watch just for Mr. Hoffman’s electrifying performance.
Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Well, what did you think?
‘Don’t judge a movie by its trailers,’ That’s a saying I often live by, for better or for worse. But in the case of John Wick‘s trailer, which was groan and eye roll-inducing the first time I saw it, I’m glad I ignored my first instinct and saw it anyway.
The movie is as lean as its protagonist, the eternally-youthful 50-year-old man that is Keanu Reeves. It’s lean in running time (1 hr 36 min), dialog, as well as plot. The movie keeps things simple and doesn’t try to be anything else but a stylized revenge thriller. All you need to know is that John Wick is a former mob hit man who re-emerges after 5-year retirement when some dumb punks break into his house and kill his dog given by his late wife.
The swift exposition reveals that those punks are actually the son of his former employer, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist). John Leguizamo‘s great in his brief scene as Aureilo, a car shop owner frequented by the thugs who’s also friends with Wick.
Viggo: Why did you strike my son? Aureilo: He stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog. Viggo: Oh.
The over-the-top way the movie tells us the protagonist is entertaining and hilarious. The filmmakers – former stunt professionals David Leitch and Chad Stahelski – are in on the joke and they’re smart enough NOT to take things too seriously for this type of action flicks. I read a review from a top critic that says action flick is about movement and given the stunts background of the filmmaker, they certainly subscribe to that adage. I remember critics described the stylized action of Zack Snyder’s 300 as the ballet of death. Here we’ve got the bullet ballet of Gun Fu, which is a martial-arts fighting in close-quarters with firearms that’s common in Hong Kong action cinema. It reminds me of John Woo’s style, but without the doves. Though the style is not exactly groundbreaking, it somehow still feels fresh and a heck of a lot of fun!
People keep asking me if I’m back…. yeah I’m thinking I’m back
One of the secret ingredients of this movie is no doubt its leading man. Say what you will about Keanu Reeves but he’s got screen charisma. And not only that, he can effortlessly earn our sympathy, which is essential in any revenge fantasy. John Wick may be ruthless, but he’s not heartless and that layer of vulnerability is what Keanu often brings to even his most action-packed roles. His brooding, taciturn and trademark stoic mode is put to good use, as well as his physical prowess in pulling off those action stunts. I’ve always liked Keanu and I really don’t think he’s ever *left* even with the recent big flop of 47 Ronin. All the supporting cast like Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane did a good job despite not having much to do. The two that stood out to me were Lance Reddick in his brief appearance as the hotel manager frequented by hitmen, and Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist who actually makes for a memorable villain this time around. He’s so lame in Mission Impossible 4, but here he displays a genuine sinister side with a sarcastic sense of humor. I also like the fact that Viggo is kind of a reluctant bad guy, he doesn’t really want to fight Wick but he knows he has to. The only character I don’t care for is Adrianne Palicki‘s Mrs. Perkins which is totally unnecessary. It’s as if the filmmakers just want to have a femme-fatale character in here thrown for good measure.
In case you can’t tell already from my review, yes I enjoyed this movie! Armed with gorgeous cinematography by Jonathan Sela, Tyler Bates‘ dynamic soundtrack (who did a great job scoring 300 as well), and bad-ass & kinetic action set pieces, I’m glad I saw this one on the big screen. The action stuff looks gritty and actually fun to watch, sans the dizzying quick cuts or extreme slo-mo that plague most action movies these days. It’d look great in IMAX too I bet, though seeing all those exploding heads and limbs getting stabbed in such a huge screen would’ve been too much for me. Given how violent it is though, the movie is actually not that gory. The gunfights are done in quick succession and there’s no lingering open wounds that make your stomach churn. Still, the scene after scene of carnage does make me wince at times, but hey, it comes with the territory.
This movie should please action fans with its unabashed love for thrilling, preposterous action and no-nonsense storyline. Again, it doesn’t try to be deep or philosophical, the protagonist just wants to get back to those who wronged him. Pure and simple, the only moral of the story is, ‘don’t mess with John Wick!’ The ending is ripe for a sequel and you know what, I wouldn’t mind seeing it if Leitch/Chad Stahelski and Keanu are involved.
I read The Fault in Our Stars and absolutely adored it. You can read my full review here! The dialogue was witty, sharp and fun and the characters were well developed. I’m also a huge fan of the television show “Friends.” Each friend lends a different perspective and balances each other out. Without all six friends, the show wouldn’t work. After digesting the novel in one sitting, this is precisely how I felt about each character. So, when I discovered TFIOS was destined for the big screen, I’ll admit I had my reservations. With that said, the film happily exceeded my expectations.
Forget what you might’ve heard, but this is not a film about cancer. It’s about relationships; more specifically, two teenagers who experience real love for the first time. Cancer just happens to be their particular obstacle. Fun fact, the title is actually borrowed from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar:”
“Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is battling Stage IV thyroid cancer, forcing her to wear a nasal cannula and carry an oxygen tank. Augustus (Gus) Waters (Ansel Elgort) has osteosarcoma (bone cancer) which caused him to lose part of his leg. The two meet in a cancer support group and they bond over ‘An Imperial Affliction,’ which just so happens to be a novel about a woman dealing with cancer.
For being so young, their relationship is so mature yet innocent at the same time.
Both Woodley and Elgort were believable as romantic interests, and, in my opinion, captured the sarcastic and clever nature of their respective characters. More importantly, not only did they portray the fear of living with cancer as teenagers, but also showed they are more than just their cancer. Even with death close on their heels, they demonstrated compassion and wisdom beyond their years. Woodley and Elgort perfected the boldness and insecurities of their characters.
Woodley and Elgort actually appeared in another blockbuster YA film adaptation as brother and sister in Divergent! Admittedly, Elgort’s role was somewhat forgettable. However, to be fair, he isn’t integral to the plot of the first story; whereas, I was blown away by my introduction to Woodley. I can pleasantly say Elgort’s performance in TFIOS will not be so readily forgotten. He was gentle, sweet, caring, and was surprisingly confident for one so young.
There was one character I was particularly looking forward to seeing encapsulated on-screen. Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) is the author of ‘An Imperial Affliction,’ but abruptly ended his novel in an unorthodox manner. Questions on what happens to the characters have plagued Hazel, and now Gus. Even though his novel was a vast success, Van Houten became a recluse and moved to Amsterdam. Needless to say, Van Houten is a quirky, bitter and cantankerous character, who also happens to be an alcoholic. I purposely avoided watching too many trailers and monitoring casting, as I wanted to be, for the most part, uninformed. So, I won’t spoil the surprise for you. I will say I loved the casting choice, and I think you will too. After seeing the film, I don’t think there was anyone else who could’ve pulled this character off (without being too showy or typecast).
Also, I was relieved to see a majority of the novel remained the tone and plot remained intact. There were a few tweaks and edited scenes I would like to have seen fully, but as a whole it really works. Director Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) has created an accurate, beautiful and humorous interpretation of a most beloved novel. I think in large, this is due to the fact author John Green was consulted and marginally involved with the production. Nevertheless, he has given his stamp of approval.
I highly recommend seeing this film; although, be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster. If crying in a dark movie theatre surrounded by strangers doesn’t appeal to you, then maybe save this one for the privacy of your own home. However, if you are bold enough, go see this film! It’ll make you laugh, cry and swoon all at the same time.