Nightmare Alley (15) ****
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (12A) ***
alley of nightmares, the new film from Guillermo del Toro, sees the Academy Award-winning Mexican author delve into film noir with the usual nastiness in a new adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 black-hearted novel about a carnival con man negotiating the cost karmic of a deceitful life. Gresham’s book was previously the source for the 1947 classic starring Tyrone Power. The new film, which del Toro co-wrote with film critic Kim Morgan, is set in the run-up to America’s entry into World War II and stars Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle, a man whose desperation to move on from his past brings him into the fold of the freak-show of a traveling carnival, where his burgeoning talent for self-creation is fueled by the psychics, illusionists and carnival barkers whose he is witnessed daily deceiving the public.
Here, del Toro does not stop to portray the exploitative and tragic side of this marginal way of life. When he first stumbles upon Carnival, Stanton attends a so-called “geeky” show in all its crucifying chicken misery, and del Toro’s natural affinity for monsters can’t help but make us realize. the poor souls forced to perform this way. , especially when Stanton learns the truth about how they are tricked into degrading for the promise of steady employment. But as with the audience who pays to see the geek show, Stanton is only a rung or two above that kind of modest existence and, in a country just emerging on the other side of the Great Depression, he carves out a future for himself by taking what he learned from it and creating a classier act that will allow him to put his skills to good use scamming wealthier clients – something that brings him closer to Molly, the showgirl from Rooney Mara’s carnival, but also from Cate Blanchett’s icy femme fatale sphere, Lilith Ritter, a psychologist with a list of wealthy clients and a side business to her.
What follows is an entertaining and noxious trawl through Stanton’s rise and fall as his life of deception eventually spirals into a life of self-deception that leaves him ill-equipped to deal with the true horror that lies ahead. hides within the social elite he is so desperate to conquer. Cooper is great in the lead, mostly because his movie star aura effectively turns us into his cues – we don’t want to believe his character is a villain. It helps that del Toro knows how to play us too. It’s a movie that can comment on its own creation by having the characters discuss the ins and outs of misdirection, but del Toro wants to draw us into the story by having us participate in it, not shatter his reality in us. flattering to think we’re above it. To that end, its lavish visuals and high-profile cast (including Toni Colette, David Strathairn, Richard Jenkins and Willem Defoe) make it easy to absorb into the world of film, but it’s always ready to confront us with the bloody reality of what more cynical of the genres. It’s a film noir where the monsters can’t hide in the shadows forever.
There’s something to be said for how Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical drama Belfast manages to turn his childhood experiences of The Troubles into such exuberant coming-of-age drama. Shot mostly in shimmering black and white, the film unfolds as a more upbeat Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s elegiac homage to his own otherwise idyllic childhood living on the fringes of civil unrest. In Branagh’s case, however, he wastes no time in throwing us into chaos.
Opening in the summer of 1969, the outbreak of sectarian violence comes into vogue with a swirling camera shot showing how a riot suddenly engulfs the figure of ten-year-old Branagh, Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill), a happy -go-go-lucky kid whose street becomes a target for Protestant extremists determined to drive Buddy’s Catholic neighbors from their homes. Buddy’s family are Protestant themselves, but his principled father (Jamie Dornan) and long-suffering mother (Catrione Balfe) refuse to choose sides or tolerate hatred and thus find themselves increasingly ostracized in the their own neighborhood.
While the film explores some important themes, it’s at its best when it captures the resilience of its pint-sized protagonist, Branagh keeping his camera low to replicate Buddy’s point of view and adding plenty of nice touches. , such as family trips to images where big-screen magic unfolds in color, temporarily lifting everyone out of the gray reality of their own troubles.
The music industry doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to dealing with mental health issues, so kudos to Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road director Brent Wilson (no relation) for leading by example in this compassionate portrait of the creative genius behind the Beach Boys. After interviewing him several times as a music journalist, he struck up a lasting friendship with Wilson, who agreed to let him make a film about him as long as it consisted of them walking around LA talking .
The conversations that follow are tender, unadorned and often moving and although the film is complemented by archival footage and talking-head hagiographic interviews, hearing the vulnerable Wilson reflect on the ups and downs of his life and his music in a way that feels intimate. without being exploitative, it is worth it.
All films in theaters from January 21
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