Nightmare Alley – Movie Review

Nightmare Alley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hey there film-o-philes, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review yet another Oscar nominated film. This time I watched Nightmare Alley. Before you step right up to view the review do be warned there will be spoilers below. So if you care deeply about such things go on down to your local picture show and take it in with the other rubes before you continue on to the big show review below.

Nightmare Alley is about a drifter named Stan Carlisle who finds himself working for a traveling carnival. Along the way he picks up the tricks the show men and women use to draw audiences and make a quick buck. Stan is gifted at conning the public and making a show out of it.

He learns some routines he can take on the road with a woman named Molly as his partner. They put on what amounts to a psychic show which is no more than Stan just reading people’s body language and Molly giving verbal cues to help Stan look like he is psychic.

Soon he meets a woman named Dr. Lillith Ritter. She has connections to some fairly influential people and Stan gets the idea to run a con on these people. I’m not going to tell you what happens from there because you need to see it for yourself.

The film is utterly brilliant. It has a great setup and an extremely satisfying payoff. Bradley Cooper puts in a masterful performance as Stan and Cate Blanchett is amazing as always. Add to that Ron Perlman is in the film and the star studded cast is quite impressive. Oh, and did I mention Willem Dafoe is in this also? Cause he is and he is amazing. The movie looks gorgeous as well.

There’s a bit of blood here but it’s not overly gory. And while this might be considered to be horror by some I think it’s closer to a psychological thriller.

So far, out of all the Oscar nominated films I have seen this is the one I think should win. But to be fair, I have not seen them all yet and I could be surprised. I still think this deserves five stars though because I honestly don’t see how it could be improved. Guillermo Del Toro proves once again he is a master storyteller and this film is well worth watching.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

The Power of the Dog – Movie Review

The Power of the Dog

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hello out there fellow film lovers, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review yet another Oscar nominated film. This time it’s The Power of the Dog. Be warned there will be some mild spoilers below so if you care about that, turn your horse around, trot on over to the movies theater and see the film then ride your way back here for the review.

The Power of the Dog is a western set in the 1920’s starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons. Cumberbatch plays Phil a tough and mean cowboy who learned ranching from his fabled mentor Bronco Henry. Plemons plays Phil’s brother George. George marries Rose played by Kirsten Dunst.

Phil is very menacing and let’s just say his presence does not bode well for Rose or her son Peter. Peter is considered to be somewhat of a “sissy boy” according to Phil and he relentlessly antagonizes the boy at the start of the movie. Peter is almost grown but he still seems to fear and loathe Phil.

I won’t go into a lot more detail here so I don’t give away the whole film but the ending is worth sticking around for as it’s the best part of the whole movie.

While this is a decent film and fairly enjoyable, I really don’t think it’s Oscar worthy. Perhaps it is just me but I couldn’t quite buy Cumberbatch as a cowboy. I love him as an actor and I think he makes a great Dr. Strange and an absolutely brilliant Sherlock Holmes. But with this film, his western accent really seems forced and just doesn’t work.

Dunst and Plemons both play their parts very well and I found all of the other characters believable. I just never found myself really seeing Cumberbatch as the cowboy he was portraying.

If you love westerns this is a good one and even if you don’t the ending is worth sticking around for but I can’t rate this above average for a movie.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Drive My Car – Movie Review

Drive My Car

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hey film fans, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another Oscar nominated film. The big awards ceremony is tomorrow so I’m doing my best to get through all the movies before then. Buckle up for this one because I’m reviewing the Japanese film Drive My Car. Be warned that there will be spoilers ahead so if you care about those things make a u-turn, go back and watch the movie and then come back here.

If you do watch this movie, buy the extra large popcorn because it’s got a very long runtime of three solid hours. The movie is about Yūsuke Kafuku an acclaimed theater director and actor who is married to a screenwriter named Oto. Early in the film it’s established that Oto loves Kafuku but she has affairs with other men. Kafuku doesn’t confront her about it but Oto seems like she might confess one evening. Only, Kafuku comes back home to find Oto dead of a brain hemorrhage.

The story skips to two years later when Kafuku agrees to doing a residency in Hiroshima where he will put on the play Uncle Vanya with a multilingual cast from several different countries. One of the cast members is a young man named Takatsuki who in all likelihood had an affair with Oto.

While at this residency, a driver named Misaki Watari is assigned to drive Kafuku to and from his rehearsals due to some policies of the theater. Watari is about the age Kafuku’s daughter would have been if she had lived.

The film is about all the connections these people have to one another, most of them through tragedy of one kind or other. As the film progresses Watari and Kafuku have a deeper and deeper connection.

I can’t say much more without giving a lot of the film away. What I will say is that the movie has a quiet brilliance to it. It’s not paced like most western films are and there is definitely a lot of dead space in its three hour run. However, that’s clearly an intentional choice and overall works for the film.

I’m not sure if it is deserving of the best picture but it certainly deserved to be nominated and there are impressive performances here from the cast.

If you like long, somewhat slow dramas this is a great film to watch. Just realize you’ll be dedicating a good chunk of time to it.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

King Richard – Movie Review

King Richard

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Hello film fanatics, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another Oscar nominated film. This time I watched the Will Smith movie about the world’s two most famous tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard. Fair warning there are some spoilers below.

The main reason to watch King Richard is for the Oscar worthy performance put in by Will Smith. The film tells the story of the struggles Richard Williams faced and overcame in order to get his two girls on the professional tennis circuit before they became two of the best known athletes in the world.

The film tells a story of a family and a man who go from the streets of Compton, CA to stardom and riches in the pro tennis world. In a lot of ways this film mirrors any other inspiring sports story movie. We cheer for the Williams sisters to grow into their potential and hope for the best for them. What’s unusual in this story is that the focus is not on the athletes themselves but rather on their father and first coach.

The choice to have Richard Williams as the focus makes some sense because he mapped out the lives of his kids before they were ever born. While it might be considered borderline abuse to have a comprehensive career plan for a kid before they have even touched foot on the planet there is no denying that most of Richard Williams’ plan worked. Whether that made for great lives for his daughters or not is up for interpretation in my opinion.

The story is inspiring, however, it truly glosses over some of the worst aspects of Richard Williams, in some cases leaving just a line or two in the movie to make any inferences about some of his more negative qualities.

The third act of the film really reminded me of Rocky. Just a quick warning but I am going to drop a Rocky spoiler here. In the film Rocky the whole point of the movie is not for Rocky Balboa to beat Apollo Creed. Rather, it’s to see if he can last a whole fifteen rounds with his opponent. In the last act of King Richard we see Venus Williams first pro match. No one thinks she can actually win but it remains to be seen if she can hold her own against the number one ranked player in the world. Spoiler alert if you didn’t know, she is able to hold her own but does lose the match. Even so, what she did was unexpected in tennis at the time.

Another criticism of the movie here is that while it is about both Venus and Serena the main focus other than Richard really is Venus here. This is despite the fact that the way they were raised it was almost inevitable they would be pitted against one another constantly.

Sometime I would like to see the actual story of the Williams sisters from their perspective rather than from their father’s. It does a bit of a disservice to all they have accomplished.

Another positive in this film though is the performance of Jon Bernthal as Rick Macci. He puts in an Oscar worthy performance with plenty of subtle nuance to his character.

While I don’t think this should be the favorite for best picture there are stellar performances here worth watching. Just remember as you watch that this story is not a complete story and it’s told from the somewhat biased perspective of Richard rather than the actual athletes who have done so much.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

West Side Story (2021) – Movie Review

West Side Story (2021)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Hey film fans, Slick Dungeon here. I’m back to review the next pick on the Oscar list, West Side Story from 2021. There will be some mild spoilers in this review so if you feel strongly about that go watch the movie first and come back here for the review.

West Side Story (2021) is the film that dares to ask what if Romeo and Juliet was set in New York amidst a couple of gangs of street thugs who not only look tough but are also really good at choreography and harmonizing with one another. It answers this bold question with a resounding… meh.

The plot is basically Romeo and Juliet through and through. The songs might have been innovative at the time they came out but now they don’t really land. The film looks good but it doesn’t have any real substance.

I don’t have anything against musicals, in fact I like a lot of them, and I don’t have anything against West Side Story the musical. But watching this updated version felt wholly and completely unnecessary. While the acting and singing and dancing are all fine here and the cinematography is fantastic this still felt seriously outdated. Not to mention the fact that there is an old version of this musical which everyone is always going to think of as the best version of this musical.

If you’ve never seen West Side Story or never read Romeo and Juliet maybe the events in the film will come as a surprise to you but I guarantee you, you have seen this story before. The songs are passable but still feel like they come from a bygone era of both theater and cinema and don’t exactly resonate in today’s era.

If we are going to nominate a musical with something to say that might resonate with a current audience, I think In the Heights would have been a far better choice.

If you are a huge fan of musicals and have been just hoping for a decent remake of West Side Story this will serve you well. Anyone outside of that audience can really skip this one and be none the worse for it. Maybe go watch Tick, Tick… Boom! or even Encanto instead. Those are far more innovative films and in my opinion more worthy of Oscar nominations than this one.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

CODA – Movie Review

CODA

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello film fans, it’s Slick Dungeon. This week is Oscar week and since I am a total and complete unabashed cinephile I am going to do my best to review as many of the best Oscar nominees as I can. These reviews are in no particular order they just happen to be the ones I’ve seen most recently. The first one up is CODA. Be warned for these reviews will contain some mild spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie go watch it first and come back here if you care about spoilers.

CODA is about Ruby Rossi, a child of deaf adults. She lives in a fishing community in Gloucester, Maine with her parents and her brother who is also deaf. Because the rest of her family are deaf, Ruby is often called upon to interpret for her family, even when it may not be convenient for her. She also loves to sing. This is hard for her family to understand since they can’t hear her voice.

The plot of the film revolves around Ruby struggling to have her own life, outside of her family. She connects with her choir teacher Mr. Villalobos who wants to mentor her. Ruby has to contend with life, friends, and her family struggling to make a living in a very difficult industry mostly populated by those who can hear.

I don’t want to give too much away but the film is reminiscent of a number of sports films. Still, the movie has a lot of heart. And the soundtrack here is top notch. On top of that, Emilia Jones who plays Ruby has quite the set of pipes and has a great turn here playing the character.

I would say this film is an Oscar worthy nominee. And it’s really nice to see a film portray the deaf community in a real way without oversimplifying or ignoring the unique issues in that community.

If you like films that will lift you up by the end but might make you cry a little (I’m not crying, you’re crying) this is a great choice. We’ll see how it holds up compared to the other nominees but either way this one is a film worthy of watching.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Fresh – Movie Review

Fresh

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello horror fans, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another movie for you. This time I watched Fresh starring Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones which is now streaming on Hulu.

Before I launch into the review I need to warn you about spoilers. I can’t really review this without giving away a huge moment in the movie so if you are bothered by spoilers please watch first and then come back here to read the review.

Okay, one last warning because I am definitely going to spoil some plot points here.

Still with me? Okay good. Have you watched The Tinder Swindler and decided dating apps are just not your thing because, well, look at what happened there? Fresh shows us why it’s a terrible idea to meet someone in real life so I think we can all just agree dating sucks.

Noa (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) is tired of dating and sick of dating apps. Along comes Steve (played by Sebastian Stan) who seems kind of awkward but maybe an alright guy. And the best part is Noa meets him in the grocery store where you can find real, actual people without swiping left. She ends up going on a date with him and things seem to be going well.

It’s moving a bit fast but she brings him to her apartment where they hook up. He’s even still there in the morning and seems nice enough. Noa tells her friend Molly about it and the friend is rightly concerned. Steve also doesn’t seem to have any social media presence which might be a little sketchy. Regardless, Noa likes him enough to agree to go on a weekend trip with him to a “surprise location.” Against her better judgement she goes.

She arrives at Steve’s house where they are supposed to stay before going on their trip. They have a little chat and a nice drink and here’s where I am about to drop a huge spoiler so seriously last chance to watch first.

Steve drugs Noa and she wakes up chained to the corner of a room. Steve calmly explains to Noa that he’s going to keep her alive as long as he can but he’s going to sell her meat, slowly, to people who are willing to pay for it.

Turns out Steve is the Blue Apron of cannibals. He traps women, carves them up small pieces at a time, and sends the human meat out in boxes filled with items and trinkets that belong to the women he has trapped.

I’m not going to spoil a lot more of the movie here but let’s just say the rest of the movie is what you might expect. Noa tries to figure out how to get out of the situation and Steve is a psychotic violent person who tries to stop her.

Sebastian Stan puts in a great performance as Steve finding just the right edge of being able to present himself as a nice guy but with menace just under the surface. But Daisy Edgar-Jones puts in a truly masterful turn as Noa who doesn’t just spend her time in hysterics over her situation but is able to be clever throughout (other than impulsively agreeing to go on a trip with a near stranger)

Clearly this movie has a bit of blood and gore in it but I do have a pro tip here. Whatever you do, absolutely do not, watch this movie while you are eating dinner. Trust me.

The ending is believable and interesting and overall the film really works. The only thing that kind of bothered me here was that I don’t think the market for what Steve was doing would be there and as sustainable as the film implies.

But the film does make a pretty strong statement about the state of dating in this era.

If you like movies with a lot of suspense and a bit of gore that tend to be more psychologically disturbing than anything this one is definitely worth a watch.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Lloyd the Conqueror – Movie Review

Lloyd the Conqueror

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here. I’m back to review another movie. This time I watched Lloyd the Conqueror which is the only complete, feature length movie I know of about LARPing. If you don’t know, that stands for Live Action Role Playing. It’s basically Dungeons & Dragons but everyone is dressed up and hits each other with fake swords and stuff. Just a quick word of warning there will be some spoilers below so if that’s important to you, watch the movie first.

This movie starts out with a group of three friends who miss out on their community college assignment because they ended up playing a few too many hours of a new video game. (Side note: I think we’ve all been there) The problem is, the class they messed up their assignment in has the most brutal grader of the whole school and if they don’t pass, well goodbye to college. It’s basically Bill &Ted’s Excellent Adventure but instead of going back in history, these guys have to LARP. Why must they LARP? The teacher offers them an, “infernal accord” where if they play in the local LARPing tournament and beat the teacher’s team they will get an A. The teacher has won this tournament so many years in a row there are no contenders anymore and he needs a team to thrash so he can keep his record intact.

So, right here you have probably read enough to know where this is going. The guys who are failing, led by Lloyd, are first defeated in this tournament but then come back to face off with their teacher/enemy in the end. Along the way they learn that LARPing isn’t just for total nerds and they end up having some fun as well.

The movie has a lot of good things going for it. For starters Brian Posehn and Harland Williams are in it and if you’re enough of a nerd or comedy fan, you should know why those names are good to have in a film like this. The LARPing doesn’t take itself too seriously but it does stay true to the spirit of role playing most of the time.

There are some bad things going for this though. The first one I feel obligated to point out is there is an inordinate number of homophobic jokes here and I don’t think we can excuse that as a product of its time considering it came out in 2011. The second issue here is that it does lean in so hard on the LARPing that it gets kind of annoying. I mean, role playing is fun and all and I’m down to dress up in costume but the movie makes it seem like anyone who does this more or less dedicates their life to it. Finally, and this is just a personal issue, there was a joke insulting Star Wars and I’m a big fan of that franchise so I had to dock it half a star right there.

Thankfully the movie is not overly long so if you’re curious about LARPing it’s worth a watch. If you’re a super nerd it’s definitely worth watching and you’ll probably get a few chuckles out of it. However, I hope there will come along a better movie for LARPing. Maybe something similar to what Stranger Things did for Dungeons & Dragons.

Fantastically yours,

Slick Dungeon

The Mad Women’s Ball- Movie Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here back to review another movie for ya. This time I watched The Mad Women’s Ball on Amazon Prime. Please be warned there may be some spoilers below so if you hate that sort of thing, watch the movie before reading.

This is technically labeled as horror by Amazon but that’s really stretching it for this film. The movie is about Eugenie Clery who is able to communicate with spirits. We never actually see any of the spirits and there’s not so much as a single jump scare here but the plot is central to the fact that Eugenie does, in fact, communicate with spirits.

The film is a period piece set in France just after the death of Victor Hugo. The first scene is Eugenie attending his funeral and then going back home to tell her family about it. I think this quickly establishes her independence and helps the audience to know she’s an intelligent woman who may be ahead of her own times. She lives with her father, brother, mother and grandmother. The brother seems to support Eugenie’s independent spirit while the father is sternly against anything going outside of traditional roles for women.

The audience knows for certain Eugenie is communicating with spirits because she knows things no one else can and there is a very convincing performance here by Lou de Laâge as Eugenie. As things go on, Eugenie lets her secret out once too many times and this is where the film really gets going. Her father and brother take her to a mental asylum (which is what these places were called back then) and because they are men, and they can, they leave her there indefinitely.

If you’re a long time reader of my blog you have probably read me railing against the trope of the mental asylum in horror more than once. It can be old and tired and oftentimes downright offensive to people who have mental illness. On the flip side of that, there are films that get this right. They make the characters in these institutions feel like people not just a convenient reason to have someone run around with a knife to scare the audience. The Mad Women’s Ball is one of these rare exceptions that truly gets this right. The character are real, fleshed out characters, with a multitude of motivations, reasons for being where they are and hopes and dreams. All the while, many of them are there for unfair and unjust reasons, and since this is an asylum for women, it’s pretty clear the men are the ones who get to decide if they stay or go.

Eugenie is understandably upset and afraid when she is dropped here so of course she’s labeled hysterical almost immediately. Things keep turning worse for her as she either states she talks with spirits or is scared by them. She quite reasonably argues to people who are going to church that it’s no more crazy to believe in spirits than to believe the incidents of spirits in the bible. Those people weren’t locked up but Eugenie is.

All in all I think this film is a blistering criticism of the patriarchal routes of modern mental health care and more than any other film I can think of shows how out of touch the doctors of the time were with their patients. The real horror here is not at all that Eugenie can speak with spirits, it’s how these women are treated, put on display, looked down upon, and overall abused. At the same time it doesn’t simply put all men in the same bucket of horrible. Eugenie’s brother seems to be a kind and caring man who actually thought he would be helping his sister by placing her in the asylum.

If you want a film with excellent performances, set in an asylum, where the characters are multidimensional and the plot does not feel like it is simply trampling over the issues of the time, this is an excellent film to check out. My only real criticism here is it is a bit slow at points and there is a lot of silence in the beginning which makes it feel like a bit of a slog at the start. However, once Eugenie ends up in the asylum there is plenty of movement of the plot and things get interesting after that.

Have you watched this one? If so, let me know what you thought of it in the comments.

Dramatically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Movie Review – Unfriended

Unfriended 2014 Film

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hello people, it’s me Slick Dungeon! I’m back to review another movie for you. If you haven’t seen Unfriended from 2014 you may want to click away from your instant messaging apps, hang up from Skype and log off of Facebook so you can go watch the movie before I spoil the whole thing for you in this review. You have been warned.

For this review, I’m going to start with the good. The acting here is really solid and all the performances are more than believable. The idea of the movie is pretty clever. Basically, a teen girl was bullied into suicide a year ago. A year later a group of her friends are on a Skype call and weird things start happening. At first they blame one another but it’s soon obvious that it’s at the very least a hacker, if not something more supernatural trying to torment them. They use the technology of the time in a way where if that happened to you, you would probably be pretty freaked out by it. This did lend to some mystery and a few decent scare moments. I thought this was a good setup and was hoping for something good to come out of it.

Which brings me to the bad. Some of the problems of this movie are that you are basically watching a zoom call and people typing, editing, re-typing and all of the annoying things you see in a chat message in real life. This has the effect of being distracting and sometimes boring. There are also a ton of pop up windows, resizing frames, moving stuff around on the screen etc. that are just distracting and sort of pointless here. Some of this is actually a function of the fact that this was made in 2014 and it’s honestly kind of impressive how far we have come from then in the way of communication tools.

And like almost all good horror movies there is a twist at the end. I’ve got to say this twist was so obvious and telegraphed that I didn’t find it shocking at all. It’s pretty much what I expected. I think maybe in 2014 this would have worked but it doesn’t in my opinion now.

I feel like this would be an interesting re-make in the age of zoom meetings though and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something out there like this that I don’t know about. Overall, this was an okay movie but I think the thing I found most horrifying in it was the video connection speeds and user interfaces we used to put up with. (shudder)

Digitally yours,

Slick Dungeon

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.