We explore 1947’s Nightmare Alley, directed by Edmund Goulding, and compare it to Guillermo del Toro’s new adaptation of the material, which we find superior in almost every way. Mike in particular finds, in the reflection of Goulding’s version, useful ways to appreciate del Toro’s, which at first blush he found uninspiring. We discuss the portrayal and use of the geek, the differences in the introduction of the protagonist (played by Tyrone Power and Bradley Cooper in the old and new films respectively), del Toro’s greater focus on mood and scene setting, and how thoroughly Goulding’s film adheres to the noir genre. And we express our joy at seeing del Toro’s version at the grand reopening of the Electric, the UK’s oldest working cinema, which we completely forgot to do in the last podcast.
We talk swoony visuals, alcoholism, a femme fatale pastiche, moral descent, Bradley Cooper’s sexual presence and more in our discussion of Nightmare Alley, Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name.
Horror tropes pervade I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Charlie Kaufman’s oddball drama about a girl doubting her relationship, but it can’t be considered a traditional horror. Instead, it turns these tropes inwards, likening a controlling, toxic relationship to an isolated, threatening, haunted house. It’s a fascinating and brilliant idea, but despite the film being well-observed and intriguing, it’s not engaging enough, and offers little opportunity for confident interpretation. Mike has little sympathy for its developing surreality; José wants more humour. Still, it’s an ambitious, interesting film, and worth delving into.
An accomplished film, with good use of long takes that nonetheless feels visually and narratively unsatisfactory. I hated the grey look of the film and how little attention seems to have been paid to the use of colour. Our conversation includes considerations of the compositions and props, including repeated imagery of miniature models of the family’s home, and complaints that it feels that the film’s various patternings don’t add up, or at least we can’t add them up: we feel they’re meant to be expressive but we can’t figure out what layers of expression they might be adding.
The Horror genre has been the most consistent and incisive of genres in critiquing American culture recently but is this a particularly good example of it?. What are these film’s themes and what is it saying? Mike compares it to Kill List, It Follows and we digress onto a discussion of The Exorcist. We wonder if it might be part of the film’s project to go off the rails. If so, it succeed. We both love Toni Collette but we discuss also how in its cruel and brutal treatment and imagery of women there might be a whiff of misogyny, in spite of a potentially feminist slant of Toni Collette’s character voicing things women might feel but are rarely allowed to express. Is it as clever as it thinks it is? What is it about? Mike really likes the way the camera is used, how it frames and re-frames in long-take, how that enables an appreciation of the performances and earns the trust of the viewer. Gabriel Byrne is wasted.
Very funny in spots, now seems more contrived in others. Little Miss Sunshine predates the 2008 financial crash though there is still a mourning for a past ideal of America that the film values, longs for, and represents as now lacking. Steve Carrell is very convincing as the gay brother; the relationship between him and his sister (the marvelous Toni Collette who is wasted but nonetheless very good here) made touching in small details: the holding of hands, the looks. The film is a bit crude; the jokes mostly revolving around pretending to find scandalous and funny what comes out of Alan Arkin’s mouth and what the little girl (Abigail Breslin) does. I found the scenes with the policeman chuckling at the pornography rather forced and somewhat sad. I would say it was an easy indictment of contemporary America except so few films attempt any critique at all that any effort must be appreciated. It was a big box-office hit.