Ep 47: Nightmare Alley
Welcome to REEL Film Reviewed, the show that delivers short, spoiler free reviews of films, TV shows, and limited series. Followed by a deep dive discussion. Brought to you by your host, Kris Chaney. Here is REEL Film Reviewed.
Welcome back everyone. This episode, REEL Film Reviewed, Nightmare Alley. This makes six out of 10 films nominated for the Oscars that I’ve watched so far. I have already reviewed some of the 2022 nominated films. And my plan is to release reviews on the ones I have not reviewed before the Oscars on March 27th. I also want to remind everyone that that is the weekend of podcast Movement evolutions in LA, which is from the 23rd to the 26th in March. So look for me in the REEL Film Reviewed shirt.
If you are still in town, Sunday night, the 27th is the Academy Awards ceremony in LA. I’ve been a couple of times and some friends of mine have made it closer to the red carpet, and it’s a pretty fun event for film nerds. By been, I mean that, I’ve been on the outside, not inside, Not yet Anyway. There is obviously the sea of people that are there to photograph and interview the celebrities as they walk the red carpet, but they used to have stands out there for people to purchase seats in and some can manage to be in a good spot for free, if you don’t mind standing on the street or in, some odd position.
But, you could probably get some better picks now with phones. Back when I was going, which was about 10 years ago. All the images that I have are in my memory. Camera phones were not what they are today, and I was pretty far away. Covid restrictions may have impacted this, and it may not be the same as it has been in the past.
But anyway, let’s get into the spoiler free review. Guillermo del Toro’s take on Nightmare Alley follows the rise and fall of Stanton Carlisle, a Carney turned mentalist, and how his abilities became his. One of my favorite things about Del Toro films is his ability to tell a complete story beginning in the middle.
Most of his films give you a backstory, but typically they begin following the protagonist after something has occurred in their life to bring them to where they currently are that we’re looking at or in the middle of their adult lives. And he was clear in stating that this was not a remake of the 1947 Nightmare Alley, but his re adaptation of William Lindsay.
Gresham’s novel as he has done in many other films. Del Toro gives us just enough backstory at the exact right moments to deliver a compelling and overall dark story. I am a big fan of film, Noir. It is one of my favorite film genres, and the 1947 film was a great example of this. While this film has a slightly slow beginning, it developed into a dark film noir tale.
The production and costume design perfectly accomplished a classic carnival look and feel. The walking scenes were some of my favorites in the film. They had large attraction signs, cages for the freaks and geeks, the strings of the flags that line the sky, kind of like telephone wire, and of course the costumes of the performers.
There was a lot to design from the attire common for the 1930s to the 1940s, as well as the costumes that they would wear for their acts. Also, keeping with the time period and the materials that were available back then for Carney’s to afford and be able to use for their costumes. A lot goes into costume design, and I’m always impressed with the overall look of a film like Nightmare Alley
Guillermo del Torois known for his imagery, The Shape of Water being the most recent Oscar winning appearance that he’s had in 2018, that was nominated for a few Oscars, including Production Design. Nightmare Alley was nominated this year for Best Picture, Production Design, Costume Design, and Cinematography. And I’m sure it’s going to win one of those at least.
The cast. This was a great combination of talent with the main cast being Bradley Cooper, Kate Blanchett, Tony Colette, and Rooney Mara. There’s a couple performances that I’m gonna call out. First being Willem Dafoe. You cannot make your way through this film, ignoring Dafoe and the character of Clem. He goes back and forth on your emotions between liking him and his straightforward approach to life and hating the person he shows from time to time.
But he is what and who he is, and the character is definitely memorable. David Strathairn played one of my favorite characters, Pete, who was the mentalist, Stan meets at the carnival that he works at. He becomes kind of a mentor to Stan, and I enjoyed the character and the role he played in Stan’s development.
Bradley Cooper. I don’t know if I’ve spoken too much about him on my reviews. Those that know me in person know that I’m not typically a big fan of his. I was very impressed with his performance this time. I know that he’s done serious roles before, but to be honest, I haven’t cared too much for him in those films despite liking the films themselves.
In this, I enjoyed the way he played Stan through his development from the beginning to the end of the film, and I think he had the opportunity to show his versatility in this role, and he took it. The real view, seven out of 10 stars, making this a REEL film, not a REEL dud. Thankfully. There were some slight pacing issues, along with some continuity errors, but overall, this was a very well done film.
It told many stories throughout Stan’s journey, and I enjoyed the train ride it appeared to have us on. The performances, the production design, and the full circle storytelling were the standout points for me in this. Nightmare Alley was released in 2021. It is rated R and it has a run time of two hours and 30 minutes. It was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. Kim Morgan is also credited for writing. It is based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham. It’s Stars Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Kate Blanchett, Tony Colette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Pearlman, and David Strathairn. It can be viewed in theaters, HBO Max and Hulu.
All right. Here is the spoiler alert warning, those new to REEL Film Reviewed, after this point, I will discuss this review further potentially, and likely revealing spoilers. Thank you for listening to the spoiler free review. I’ll be back after a word about my sponsors.
Welcome back, everyone. Let’s dive into the REEL-View Hollywood comparison. The REEL-View rating was seven out of 10 stars. The meta score was 70. Popular opinion was 7.2, and Rotten Tomatoes was 79%. Alright going over the key points to this film. The story is the rise and fall of Stanton Carlisle, and this film gave us just that the rise. We see him in the beginning, obviously coming from a dark past and takes a job as a Carney, which I don’t know about anyone else, look like one of the worst jobs in the world.
I was thinking about that as I watched them tear down the entire carnival to get it loaded up and moved to the next location. The huge tents were set up on large wooden stakes, and it was certainly a lot of hard work and they were doing it all in the rain and being paid a dollar for the labor. I know this was worth more than than it is today, but it’s still hard to imagine how far $1 used to go. Another way, the film displayed great imagery in getting us in the time period by mentioning simple things like 10 cents for a hot bath, which was not usually a daily thing.
Even though it looked terrible, it also kind of gave us a nostalgic feeling of freedom in being unattached. The old phrase, run away to join the circus is pretty much exactly what Stan does at the beginning of this film. We see him as a quiet drifter, a laborer, and then eventually an engineer when he builds the attraction for Molly.
And we learn how he has visions for acts and for his own act. He’s artistic. He draws a lot of what he sees, and then he meets Zeena and Pete and begins working as a part of their act and develops his skill and his act before displaying it in front of an audience of the police and some of the carnival attendees and the workers.
His story unfolded nicely as the young man with enormous potential and creativity, and of course the love interest with Molly. And she ends up joining him, and then we see his development continue. He becomes successful with Molly giving up her act and acting as Zeena once did for Pete for Stan’s Act.
Molly knew Pete and Zeena before Stan as we know, and she is aware of the act and the secrets behind it, and that is one of the things I enjoyed most. He is not alone in knowing his secrets, and sometimes his gift is so strong it does surprise even those that know the secrets behind. And at the end of the shows behind the scenes, Stan always shows his true colors that it is all a trick.
He doesn’t seem fulfilled even after his success and with being with Molly, and it’s not until he pushes the envelope the way that Pete and warned him not to, that he begins to act as though he is achieving something. Breaking down the REEl-View, what I enjoyed. The story was foreshadowed when Pete tells Stan about why he stopped doing the act and when Zeena warns him again, not to do the Spook show, as they call it.
It was basically telling him if he tried to play God, he would pay the price. There are no supernatural appearances or anything other than. Hard consequences that comes of Stan pretending to be a true medium over a mentalist. It’s not made clear that the line is blurred with Stan if he actually believes that he has a gift in his attempt for completing the con over Ezra Grindle.
He knows that he must be convincing, and there are many tales of those losing their true selves while trying to convince others that they are someone or something else. And then at the end, he agrees to become the geek. This was a huge moment for me in the film because this was told word for word by Clem how to scout a geek earlier, and this was also foreshadowing to me because it painted the image of the worst role that you could have in a carnival.
Based on one of the worst roles in real life, an addict, and I thought this is the exact opposite of who Stan wants to become. He doesn’t even drink. I think for many. This may have been a surprise, but then of course he does start to drink, and the only criticism that I have for this film was the slow opening.
It took focus for me to watch this film pass the first 30 minutes, but it did have my attention once it got going and watching it a second time, it doesn’t appear to be as slow as it was in the initial viewing. Really the way that this film came full circle with starting Stan off the way that he started, as I mentioned, as a laborer into an engineer developing his own act.
Getting the girl and then coming all the way back down to an enormous fall into being the geek. So much so that he’s happily accepting the role at the end of the film. Really an enjoyable two and a half hours .
All right, some did you know facts? There are a lot of ’em actually. There’s a quite a few different things that you can look up and learn about this film.
Most of the early scenes were filmed after production was suspended during the Covid 19 pandemic and Bradley Cooper lost 15 pounds during this time and he appeared younger, in the film, so that’s why they shot most of the early scenes after production was suspended. Bradley Cooper claimed many tabletop props were possessions of Guillermo Del Toro, that I totally believe.
Geek, as we see in the film is kind of a key role in the carnival attractions. This came from the German word, geck, meaning fool or simpleton, and it was a term used around circuses and carnivals to describe a man or a woman who would bite off the head of an animal and drink its blood. This was a typical geek show in the mid 19th Century.
Leonardo DiCaprio was originally chosen for the role of Stanton Carlisle, and he actually passed on two projects to do this film. However, when financial negotiations fell through, Leo opted out shortly after he was replaced by Bradley Cooper. Rooney Mara was pregnant during production and she gave birth to her child while production was suspended due to the pandemic.
That is all I have for you, everyone. As mentioned, this was six out of 10. For the Oscar nominated films this year, I’m gonna go ahead and release reviews on the other ones that I haven’t already reviewed. Please continue to let me know how you felt about the films via Twitter, social media sites, anything that you can find me on, all of that information is in the show notes.
As always, I do enjoy our conversations, so make sure that, you let me know what you thought of the film. Thanks for listening to everyone. I’ll catch you next time.
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