Who appears on the cast of an ensemble feature is just as much a reason to view as the plot or those in the directing chair are reasons. It sounds unreasonable, but it is true. Many have suffered through the slog of catching up with the unknown, shadowy parts of their favourite filmographies. There is a reason, naturally, that people have watched Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Whether that is because their father marks it as their favourite film or because it is a feature that J.K. Simmons featured in is beyond the reasoning. Take refuge in the ensemble feature, good or bad. Burn After Reading happens to be good. Just good, mind. Not more than that.
Ambition and nightmares fuse rather nicely throughout Nightmare Alley, a modern spin on the defiant, dormant neo-noir genre. Every so often, a creative will come along and be so sure of their abilities in reviving it. Naturally, whether the work they offer is great or godless, they are met with stirring reviews and a box office bomb. Nightmare Alley is on that course regardless and probably knew it. To know that and persevere is bold and inevitable because Nightmare Alley is a certainly grand film and far closer to the top of the Best Picture pile than any of the others to be given such a nod. It is at least filled with worldbuilding and experimentation, which is no surprise since Guillermo Del Toro helms this delightfully twisted feature.
Honourable the intent of Johnny Depp may be, his decision to continue adapting the written word of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson has been a reductive and testing period for his career. His work on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas combined a strong performance and a blessing from the writer, along with Terry Gilliam behind the camera. Dragging Bruce Robinson of Withnail and I into the directing chair for the first time in almost twenty years is a bold and ambitious move. Thompson would have approved of such a wild and crazed decision, but not of this feature that sees his early novel, The Rum Diary, adapted for the big screen. Paul Kemp’s rum-soaked journey through journalism was not set to see the light of day. Not in this state.
Hard-pressed to name one other book from David Baldacci, Absolute Power will have to do. Not because it is widely passed around through circles of friends to read and discuss, but because Clint Eastwood thought he’d be a great Luther Whitney. He is not entirely wrong. A master thief who may be the key to unlocking a criminal investigation involving the President of the United States, this late-1990s feature from Eastwood plays with its title rather nicely. What is there to be done when the absolute power of office is abused to cover up a cold-blooded murder? The confusion and hushed words that make themselves apparent in this thrilling script are a nice touch and the important key to unlocking Eastwood’s intentions.
Michael Caine plays tough men. He has done so since the early days of his career, and rarely does he break cover to offer anything other than that. Even in his twilight years, Going in Style and the Batman trilogy, offered up a performance that does not suggest age has gripped him or slowed him down. It is a testament to his craft, and the ageism of the entertainment industry has yet to grip him. Still, it is with the timid and cautious appearances that he performs, perhaps, at his best. Hannah and Her Sisters, for instance, places the often cool, collected Cockney in a place he does not often venture. He is reliable and charming still, but he is vulnerable and frightened and riddled with doubt. Such is the way of a Woody Allen picture.
The comedy genre is one of the few strands of film that ages dreadfully. One little slip up, cultural appropriation or timely nod to a no longer relevant media personality and you’ve nearly crushed the entire build-up of the film. Some are rather timeless, like Chuck Norris’ brief cameo in Dodgeball, or Adam Sandler’s little role in Dirty Work. Nothing kills the pace of a film quite like a comedy that feels very much a product of its time. It can’t be all that bad though, especially since Me, Myself and Irene cements itself into the “Jim Carrey is a zany fun lover” brand of moviegoing. I couldn’t imagine a worse time if I’d tried.
The Rum Diary is absolute eye candy for those of us that believed we wanted more Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson collaborations. Taking apart one of the authors lesser known works and adapting it for the big screen is surely a risky decision to make, right? Still, who cares, I went into The Rum Diary hoping for another fix of the lovably drunk, scarily drugged up writer. Seeing what he gets up to in the 1960s of Cuba should have been a lot of fun, but instead we’re left dragging ourselves through a truly redundant movie.