Nightmare Alley caught my eye in the first few minutes with it's distinct visual style. Think Shape of Water, but more sinister. The weight of this dreadful tale is first delivered through it's visuals. Though it's not long before darkness creeps into the story. Bradley Cooper plays Stan, the classic man running from his past trying to blend in set up works here thanks to the colorful cast he's merging with. Dafoe, Collette, Perlman, and of course Mara, create a dynamic setting for us as a traveling circus crew. Their personalities range from delightful to insane with Dafoe leaning more towards insane. He's the leader of the crew. The business man who "trains" geeks to be shown off as beastmen. He explains the process. You take a homeless drunk, one real bad off, and you offer him a job with a shot of alcohol - drugged with morphine. He thinks he's in heaven for a minute and a week later he's locked up in a cage half mad and eating chickens raw for entertainment. Unfortunately, its way more detailed in the film. Stan doesn't act on anything so foul, but he takes advantage of the human heart in another way - Mentalism. Through this stage act he gains power over people's emotions leading him down a dark path of his own. The film feels split down the middle. The first half being this circus spectacle that makes you feel grimy just by watching. The second focuses on Stan's scheme to get rich through his mentalism act. I enjoyed the first half way more with all the different characters. Bradley was great but I didn't find Stan to be well fleshed out and when he took the spotlight it only served as aggravation for me. He's not someone you're going to root. There is plenty of foreshadowing to the end of the film and by the time it got there I was happy for it to end. This is a very well acted and brilliantly shot film that will make you feel sick to your stomach by the credits. I appreciate it. I even recommend it, but I don't see myself watching it again.
Paul Schrader has been writing profound character studies since "Taxi Driver", which is as far back as I'm familiar with. So don't expect The Card Counter to be spectacular. Instead, expect it to be slow burning and dripping with atmosphere. Then you'll be as prepared as possible. Oscar Isaac plays "Will Tell," which is a nickname he's given himself. Will travels the country making a modest living as a card counter. He never makes too much at one casino and that way he never causes trouble. He's not even worried about getting caught. Card counting is nothing compared to the skeleton in his closest though, which when revealed early in the film becomes the focal point of this character study. Just like environmental issues are the real deal behind "First Reformed." Gambling, cards, his crazy intellect and dedication, it's all a distraction from his past. I'd love to dive into that topic now but I think it's best experienced during the film if you don't already know. Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, and Tye Sheridan all bring their A game to deliver this great story about redemption.
"I met the girl I'm going to marry one day."
Licorice Pizza is simply about two young people growing up and falling in love in the Valley. Perhaps more importantly though, it's a love letter from director Paul Thomas Anderson to his hometown. As someone who has never been to South California, I felt invited into a living, warm, and bright town that is bursting with opportunity. Gary Valentine (Hoffman) is a fifteen year old entrepreneur and takes advantage of this opportunity as an actor and a owner of business. We don't know his motives or aspirations previous to meeting Alana (Haim), but we understand that after his aim is 100% on her. The above quote is one of the first lines in the film. He wants to make her happy. If selling water beds in the summer will help get him closer to her than damn it, he's going to do it. Alana continuously falls for his fun traps and eventually for him. That's not a spoiler its just the synopsis. The joy of experiencing this film comes from the scene by scene adventure. We never know where these kids are going next as they swirl around the Valley. Paul Thomas Anderson has never made a film so light hearted and whimsical and damnit, it's such a fun experience. It will have you laughing out loud and when the film is over you won't want to leave. The two main actors, Haim and Hoffman, are making their debut with this film. Picking Cooper, the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, was an excellent choice that must have been emotional for Anderson as a life long collaborator with his Philip. It's clear these two have just been launched into stardom. They were excellent.
Wes Anderson's (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Grand Budapest Hotel) new film is about an American newspaper outpost located in a fictional French city. It tells several different stories with topics ranging from the food portion of the paper to the politics section. Each story is a self-contained narrative with colorful cast members such as Benicio Del Toro and Timothy Chalamet. Fans of Anderson expect a great cast and the French Dispatch may be his finest ensemble yet. I enjoyed each portion of the film thoroughly. Though my particular favorite was from the arts section of the French Dispatch. Featuring a suicidal artist (Del Toro) who art connoisseurs decide is the greatest artistic mind of his generation. Painting from inside of a prison, the art community goes to great lengths to provide him with the necessary tools to keep him painting. The painter, Moses', only real inspiration is the prison guard Simone (Seydoux). Who after several nude painting sessions strikes up a love affair with Moses. I'll stop there. Through each of the different paper sections we notice a common motive in each of the central characters - which is of course, the many complexities of love itself.
Adam Mckay made another comedy to watch while you're stoned. Not a stoner-flick because that would insinuate that its about potheads. No, it just has one pot head in it. You just won't really want to watch this film sober. I happen to be kind a stoned right now and don't really want to write about this film, which is sad. I was really looking forward to taking a break from anime to watch a highly anticipated film that would then launch me into another insightful binge of films. Nope. We got a 150 minute film that doesn't take itself seriously at all. It's got serious talent behind it, seriously big names starring, and it's about a really serious matter that will end the world - but it manages to do very little and in result makes you feel nothing beyond a few laughs.
"If I could live any place and any time, I'd live here, in London. In the '60s."
Edgar Wright's newest film is a brave departure from his typical structure. Instead exploring a genre of horror known as giallo, which originated in the same time and place that Last Night in Soho is so fond of - the swinging '60s. At first, this is a film about a fashion student who moves from the countryside to the big and overwhelming London to pursue her dream. It's not everything she wanted it to be. That is until she starts experiencing a second life while sleeping, as a showgirl in the 60s. Wright's biggest fans will notice the small details that callback to his other works, but otherwise it's a very refreshing film from the seasoned director. It doesn't always work for me - but when it's in full swing it's a sonically and visually impressive work of art with a killer cast and one hell of a twist. There's also an important lesson to be learned from this story. The good ol' days is a fallacy.
When everything great about this film combines; breathtaking visuals, the thunderous score, it's timeless source material. It creates moments of such overwhelming energy and emotion that I found myself with tears and goosebumps. It isn't often that recent films have that effect on me. Now I've already seen this film twice and it was by far better the second time. Without having to catch every sentence, in fear of missing vital lore crammed into a runtime (even 3 hours wouldn't have been enough), I was able to lay back and enjoy this visceral sound and visual experience. Such magnificent quality and showmanship from Denis Villeneuve and Hans Zimmer. There wasn't a bad actor in the bunch either. Chalamet found levity within a character tossed and turned by his situation. Rebecca Ferguson, a veteran when in the same room as Timothy, was able to deliver the weight of Lady Jessica's powerful part in this story. A surprise highlight for me was Jason Mamou's Duncan Idaho. Part One was light on action, but the few moments of intense hand-to-hand combat were featuring my new favorite character, Duncan. It will be a long wait until Part Two and I'll be spending that time reading the source material, which is long over due for me.
The Green Knight boasts a unique visual language and does not disappoint those who've come to know A24 for original experiences. Yes, this will be a challenging two hours for many as well as a very spiritual experience for those willing to endure it's dark mystery. Fans of David Lowery's A Ghost Story will be more akin to the tone and pace of The Green Knight, which borrows the world partially (and will divide fantasy fans) of Arthurian lore. This is more avant-garde than your typical Camelot fare and in all the best ways. It takes its time building an atmosphere around the personal experiences of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), a troublesome nephew of King Arthur. The film is spliced into little chapters with title cards (which most people won't even be able to read) and each acts as a stepping stone or roadblock in the life of Gawain. At first glance it doesn't all connect and I'd only expect those fluent in Arthurian lore to find the connections. However, this is what makes this movie great. Even without a concrete plot it managed to be hypnotic and alluring in ways I never expected. My suggestion is to experience this movie without any expectations. Though if you've read this far you're likely to have some now.
Jim Halpert's (aka Krasinski's) highly anticipated sequel to the 2018 hit horror film is finally here. He successfully got audiences to flock to the theaters for the first time this summer and that alone is a huge success for the movie industry. Experiencing A Quiet Place Part II in a packed theater reminded me why I hated packed theaters so much. Much like our restless audience the pacing of this film is also restless. Part II is quality fan fare pushing the limits of the first film's audible tension to a point where the whole quietness isn't even a big deal anymore. There's a lot more dialogue, aliens, and action. This will please fans of action packed sci-fi thrillers as well as fans of the original. Though, it will slightly disappoint anyone hoping for more world-building or development in the over-arching plotlines. This is crowd-pleasing and thrilling action that serves no more purpose than to entertain. For me it wasn't everything I wanted, but I know others with less expectations will be perfectly pleased. Krasinski is obviously a talented filmmaker and I hope he takes a more ambitious step with the next chapter.
Zack Snyder never ceases to amaze me with his self-indulgent style as he continues to think outside-the-box with his uniquely ultra-violent concepts. He's possibly the most active filmmaker of dawn of the Covid era with two big budget streaming releases. I've only watched one of them. I won't be watching his Justice League unless someone pays me to. Army of the Dead's runtime was almost pushing it for me landing at nearly 3 hours. Though admittedly, his plot follows typical structure and doesn't feel overly hashed out never lingering in one spot for too long. On the other hand, the script is often terrible enough to make any screen time unfavorable. The characters here are copy and paste with less development then you'd expect from a video game character. Each character has one or two quirks and that's all we really know about them. So when they start falling prey to the vicious, goretastic zombies there wasn't any tears to follow. But this is exactly what the film does right. The zombies are a ton of fun to watch and the headshot hunting action heroes give them one hell of a fight. Thanks to streaming I was able to rewind a few of the most badass moments and relive there glory. If there's any reason to watch this movie it's the epic nature of it's violence, but you probably already knew that. Don't expect anything deeper. Even if the Snyder diehards are trying to add conceptual depth to this plot where none exists.