“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.
“Most people want to be Kajillionaires. That’s the dream. That’s how they get you hooked. Hooked on sugar. Hooked on caffeine.”
Miranda July’s offbeat fables feature oddball characters brushing against the harshness of the normal world, but with enough warmth and brightness to maintain a comedic atmosphere. Kajillionaire‘s focus is Old Dolio, a tragic figure in her mid-twenties, neglected by her petty criminal parents so that she is uncomfortable with human connection or affection, much as she craves it. Evan Rachel Woods appears strikingly like a young Jason Mewes, from her hair and wardrobe to a wiry physical performance as she contorts herself to avoid the gaze of cameras and people. The film is slow to make its intentions apparent, with her parents’ decision to bring an outsider into the team first suggesting a jealous rivalry, though gradually we see that it forces Old Dolio to reckon with her own familial relationship. A memorable scene features the group acting out regular family life in a stranger’s home, which July plays for light comedy whilst also also making us aware that this easy charade is unfamiliar to Old Dolio and painful to pretend. Kajillionaire meanders a little too much but a strong closing scene provides a pleasing resolution.
“The only thing they can’t forgive is not being from God’s Pocket.”
A meandering script and loose directorial hand underserve a talented cast in this story of a fictional blue collar Philadelphia neighbourhood, coping with a tragedy and hostile to outsiders. The posthumous release of one of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances was bound to engender a favourable reception, but John Slattery’s directorial debut is a disappointing vehicle in which to take one last ride. It misses the mark in shooting for an absurdist tone, the darkly bizarre moments simply feeling out of place rather than comedic. God’s Pocket is worth watching for the acting alone but, much as the film glosses over Leon’s funeral, do not expect a fitting send-off for Hoffman.
“When he looks at me, the way he looks at me. He does not know what I lack or how I am incomplete. He sees me for what I am, as I am.”
What if Guillermo del Toro made a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film? There is a surprisingly whimsical tone as we are introduced to the life of mute Elisa and the idiosyncrasies of her few friends. This merges with del Toro’s signature eye for detail in fantasy creatures when she discovers the amphibian man imprisoned at the lab in which she works (it is a big year for the underappreciated Doug Jones between this role and Saru, the best character in Star Trek: Discovery). The bond between the two forms the core of the film, surrounded by a series of strong supporting performances. Drawing together disparate aspects of drama, fantasy, a heist, romance and espionage, this is a stunning, unusual piece of filmmaking that is more than the sum of its parts and lingers long afterward.