Nightmare Alley

Viewed – 06 April 2022 Disney+

Guillermo Del Toro is one of my favourite directors, so anything he comes out with is going to grab my attention. However this latest effort seemed to appear out of nowhere with little of the fan fair his movies usually attract. Bradley Cooper plays a guy seemingly drifting from place to place due to a troubled past, and gets taken in by a travelling carnival in the 1940s. There he develops a skill from conning audiences with fake psychic ability and chooses to take that skill to con the social elite out of thousands.

Del Toro’s style is once again showcased, even if it’s more subtle than say Hellboy or The Shape of Water. The movie is beautifully filmed, given an old fashioned, somewhat silent movie aesthetic. The carnival setting is perfectly freaky too. However this is very much a film-noir with a femme fatale in the shape of Cate Blanchett and a flawed hero in Cooper. Support is also decent, with appearances from Ron Perlman, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara and Toni Collette.

Due to the mentalist/grifter plot this can be hard to follow at times, and at 2 and a half hours, the movie drags slightly, especially in the first half. However with a clever final act that does make you wish you’d concentrated more early on … as the movie hints and lays bread crumbs to its twist – I felt this was one of those movies that may benefit from repeat viewings. As it stands, whilst not Del Toro at his best, this was still a well acted, stylish and cleverly-constructed movie. Worth a watch.

Verdict: Good

Side Effects

Viewed – 31 July 2013  DVD

On initial release, the big draw of this was that it was to be the final film of Director Steven Soderberg’s prolific career.  Now I wouldn’t say I’m either an admirer or dislike the movies of this acclaimed filmmaker, having enjoyed the likes of Traffic, Haywire but rarely totally loving his style, which is normally fly on the wall realism with a shimmer of Hollywood style.  He attracts big names to many of his movies, but often sticks with a set group of actors – and this is no different.


Jude Law is a psychiatrist who stumbles upon the case of depressive young woman, Emily (Rooney Mara) who having just attempted suicide by driving her car into a wall – he agrees to treat her.  After being recommended a new drug by a work colleague, a fellow psychiatrist played by Catherine Zeta Jones, Law’s treatment of Emily soon takes a turn for the worse when unexpected side effects become apparent.

Good to see Mara in a more interesting and absorbing role than that of the disappointing remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, with this complex character suiting her better, making for a promising young actress.  Jude Law is a personal favorite of mine and think he gets better with age, and here he is very good as a doctor in a difficult situation.  Less appealing is the normally enjoyable Zeta Jones who apart from clearly looking like she’s had some work done, just doesn’t suit the rather manipulative turn she presents here, but was still kind of sexy.  Soderberg’s swansong may lack the multi-layered complexity of some of his other work, but is a more than worthy end to an acclaimed career, with enough twists and turns to keep this viewer gripped (with one particular heart-in-mouth moment).  However as the subject wasn’t overly appealing, I came away not exactly blown away even when certain unexpected developments were revealed.  Soderberg’s movies have often left me feeling like that, like he could churn this kind of material out in his sleep – and as always it’s cold and clinical, with the odd good moment.  I won’t say some of the things here didn’t get me thinking, they certainly did … just not enough.

It sounds harsh, and don’t get me wrong he has made some good movies, this included, but he’s never wowed me, so I for one won’t miss his work all that much.   One for fans or anyone who finds the subject intriguing.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Viewed – 23 April 2012  Blu-ray

I don’t normally agree with remakes of foreign movies, but in the case of this much-anticipated American adaptation, I have a major reason to make an exception … David Fincher.  Arguably one of the best directors of the moment, who has crafted some of the finest movies of the last ten years of so, namely Seven, Zodiac and Fight Club.  Newcomer Rooney Mara takes on the role of Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker for hire who gets involved with disgraced magazine journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) when he is hired to investigate a 40 year mystery by an ageing business tycoon (Christopher Plummer).  Blomkvist soon discovers he’s been given the job of piecing together the clues revolving around the disappearance and suspected murder of the tycoon’s niece, Harriet, and subsequently uncovers the shady dealings and murky past of a wealthy but complex family.

Fincher’s adaptation of the acclaimed novel by the late Stieg Larsson, and the first part of the famed ‘millennium trilogy’ that also comprises The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest, seems faithful not only to the book but also to the Swedish movie of the same name that made a cult star out of actress Noomi Rapace.  For me having seen both versions, I found this the hardest to follow.  Set like the book and the other movie in Sweden and with the same character names, locations etc, I think the Swedish version actually benefits from being subtitled, and many of the places, names and little details come across clearer when you’re seeing them printed at the bottom of the screen.  This of course doesn’t help Fincher’s movie as the strong accents and foreign names are harder to grasp when hearing them as opposed to reading them.  This version also differs in several key areas, such as how Blomkvist and Salander finally get to work together, how Salander’s mother isn’t even featured, but replaced by a stronger focus on her former ‘guardian’, and the ending is changed significantly, proving much less satisfying.  It puzzled me why Fincher made these changes, but having not read the book, I can’t say which movie is the most faithful.  Performances-wise Rooney Mara is excellent as Lisbeth and every bit as tough and complex as Noomi Rapace was, even if I felt I warmed to Rapace’s performance quicker.  Daniel Craig however, although likable brings nothing that Michael Nyqvist didn’t achieve back in 2009, failing to stamp his own identity on the character.

To conclude this is a fascinating effort from David Fincher who brings plenty of style and his usual attention to detail to proceedings, even if for a film-maker of his calibre, I was left wanting.  Considering the hype of the books or the acclaim of the Swedish movie, this should have been the definitive version … but for me, just felt competent rather than truly blowing me away.  Yet there is still enough here to make me wonder just what we’ll get with the two proposed sequels, which I’m already guessing could turn out superior.

Verdict:  3 /5

Incidentally, a post on the blog ProdigalFilmStudent has compared both movie adaptations, which makes for fascinating reading, but as can be expected, is spoilerifick.