“I’m not going to forget you. Just like you’re not going to forget me.”
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza feels like a movie from a few decades past, reminiscent of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous with its journey of self discovery in a nostalgic 1970s setting. The ten year age gap between Alana and Gary is uncomfortable — even if Gary is the pursuer, he is just 15 at the outset. Alana’s initial reluctance gives way to jealousy when she sees Gary interested in girls his age, and the inverse would surely be unpalatable. The script is uncritical, seeing Alana as a late bloomer and the coming of age story is really hers, with less of an arc for Gary (who is based on Anderson’s friend, Gary Goetzman). Both leads are newcomers, but display aptitude — Alana Haim conveys much through subtle expressions, whilst Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a regular Anderson collaborator) exudes a caged energy as the permanently hustling salesman. The storyline meanders, sporadically engaging and running a little too long, although it chooses the right moment to end. I can only assume that nostalgia has a great deal to do with the strength of Licorice Pizza‘s critical reception, not only for its setting but the style of filmmaking. I found myself unable to identify with the characters or to find any depth to their inconsequential journey.
“People are desperate to tell you who they are. Desperate to be seen.”
Where Guillermo del Toro’s previous film, The Shape of Water, featured a mute protagonist, the manipulative Stanton Carlisle is quite the talker. However his larconic introduction, sporting an Indiana Jones silhouette and barely speaking for the opening 20 minutes, allows us to breathe in the 1930s carnival world that lends itself to del Toro’s visual mastery, at once fascinating and unpleasant. When the plot demands that Carlisle’s mentalism act graduates from carnival to cabaret, Nightmare Alley remains sumptuous but can feel hollow. The cast is excellent, with a smattering of star power and a smorgasbord of supporting character actors. Bradley Cooper is on strong form as the noir anti-hero, charming yet greedy, perfectly offset by Cate Blanchett’s underestimated femme fatale — their scenes together are the best part of a deliberately slow burn story that meanders for slightly too long, punctuated with an abrupt jump that makes a well-signposted conclusion less satisfying. Whilst its storytelling can be faulted, Nightmare Alley is never less than vividly captivating.
“Everyone’s fighting over the same pie and ignoring the crumbs. I live off crumbs.”
The true story of how two reunited schoolfriends in their twenties found themselves awarded lucrative arms contracts by the Pentagon is as unsettling as it is absurd. Director Todd Phillips channels Scorsese but falls into the same trap as The Wolf of Wall Street — in striving to entertain, the film inadvertently glamourises what it seeks to criticise. Jonah Hill is excellent as Efraim, inducing revulsion whilst also demonstrating how his partner is drawn in. Unfortunately, David is sketched blandly and — with the story narrated from his perspective — it hamstrings our connection with the subject matter. The human cost of the arms trade lies largely outside the scope of this film (in contrast to the powerful opening of Lord of War), with David’s eventual disillusionment coming from the strain that deception places on his relationships and his safety, rather than from real character growth.