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At The Movies: ‘Nightmare’ misdirection

“Nightmare Alley” is a potentially great film that took a left turn down a wrong road.

The period piece about a carny barker in 1930s-early 1940s Midwest America has a stellar cast, fine art direction, excellent cinematography and is directed by no less than Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro.

Despite all that, “Nightmare Alley” is somewhat of a dead end.

“Nightmare Alley” is billed as a film noir psychological-thriller. Noir it is, as in dark cinematography, characters and story. Psychological it is on a pop psychology level. A thriller it is not.

In “Nightmare Alley,” Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) runs off and joins the circus after he departs the scene of a crime he may or may not have committed. The circus owner (Willem Dafoe) takes a shine to Stan. Stan takes a shine to Molly (Rooney Mara), an electrifying sideshow performer who could con Edison.

Stan learns the ropes of the circus. This includes putting up and taking down the circus tent. The circus is filled with all manner of curiosities, including Bruno (Ron Perlman), a strongman; a dwarf (Mark Povinelli), and a geek (Paul Anderson), the latter unfortunate soul put on display for a gullible public.

Stan and Molly depart the circus for wealthier marks in swanky restaurants. Stan targets a rich man (Richard Jenkins) and befriends a psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett).

From then on, the life of crime begins to catch up with Stan until he begins to unravel.

Del Toro (Oscar recipient: picture, director, “The Shape Of Water,” 2017; director, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” 2008) seems better suited to magical-realism, and metaphorical and fantastically-plotted cinema. “Nightmare Alley” is straightforward narrative, melodrama and not particularly compelling.

Del Toro directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Kim Morgan (feature film screenplay debut) based on the 1946 novel of the same title by William Lindsay Gresham. A 1947 film version starred Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell.

Bradley Cooper (Oscar nominee: actor, “A Star Is Born,” 2018, actor, “American Sniper,” 2014, supporting actor, “American Hustle,” 2013, supporting actor, “Silver Linings Playbook,” 2012) plays the role low-key. It’s that kind of role.

For the first 10 minutes or 15 minutes of the film, he has one brief line of dialogue. In his opening scene, Cooper resembles Indiana Jones. If Harrison Ford ever doffs the fedora and lets go of the bull whip, Cooper would be a natural successor.

Mara brings grace and intrigue to her role, which is also rather monosyllabic.

Dafoe is a lot of fun and has a lot of fun in another one of his scenery-chewing roles.

Blanchett (Oscar recipient: actress, “Blue Jasmine,” 2014, supporting actress, “The Aviator,” 2004) is a hoot and a half as a Veronica Lake style femme fatale.

Toni Collette is memorable as a mentalist. David Strathairn makes an impression as her husband. Mary Steenburgen has a small role.

The carny world and stylized restaurant, office and mansion interiors give the film the sense of gritty authenticity meets opulence.

Most of the film’s scenes are lensed too darkly for the settings and actors to make more than an impression rather than a connection with the movie-goer.

The film has an over-all dreary tone, turgid pace and is emotionally-cold despite its pedigree. A term used in sleight-of-hand tricks and magic, that of misdirection, would apply.

I went down “Nightmare Alley.” Proceed at your own risk.

“Nightmare Alley,”

MPAA rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for strong, bloody violence, some sexual content, nudity and language; Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller; Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. Distributed by Searchlight Pictures-Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

Filming of “Nightmare Alley” began in January 2020 in Toronto, and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; halted in March 2020 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, resumed in September 2020 and concluded in December 2020, with locations including Buffalo, N.Y. The credits include a listing for COVID Compliance Officer.

At The Movies:

“Nightmare Alley” was seen at AMC Center Valley 16, Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, Upper Saucon Township. The wearing of face masks is recommended at the movie theater.

Theatrical Movie Box Office,

Jan. 7-9: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” continued at No. 1 at the box office for one month, with a still robust $33 million, in 4,012 theaters; $668.7 million, four weeks, to became the sixth highest-grossing film domestically all-time and the eighth highest-grossing film worldwide all-time at $1.54 billion.

The year 2021 ended with North American box office revenue at $4.4 billion for 2021, a 91 percent increase from 2020, but a 61 percent decrease from the pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic year of 2019.

“Sing 2” stayed in tune at No. 2 with $11.9 million, in 3,713 theaters, $109 million, three weeks, to become the first animated feature film to pass $100 million since Disney’s “Frozen II” in 2019.

“The 355,” the female spy thriller, opened at No. 3 with a disappointing $4.8 million, in 3,145 theaters.

4. “The King’s Man” dropped one place, $3.2 million, in 3,040 theaters, $25 million, three weeks. 5. “American Underdog” dropped one place, $2.4 million, in 2,728 theaters, $18.7 million, three weeks. 6. “The Matrix Resurrections” dropped one place, $1.8 million, in 2,875 theaters, $34.3 million, three weeks. 7. “West Side Story” dropped one place, $1.4 million, in 2,290 theaters, $32.1 million, five weeks. 8. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” dropped one place, $1.1 million, in 1,501 theaters, $125 million, eight weeks. 9. “Licorice Pizza” dropped one place, $1 million, in 772 theaters, $8.1 million, seven weeks. 10. “House of Gucci” moved up two places, $632,348, in 607 theaters, $50 million, seven weeks.

Box office information from Box Office Mojo as of Jan. 9 is subject to change.




R: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett direct Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Marley Shelton in the Horror Mystery Thriller. It’s 25 years later in Woodsboro, where all is still not well.

Movie opening date information from Internet Movie Database as of Jan. 9 is subject to change.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES Cate Blanchett (Dr. Lilith Ritter), Bradley Cooper (Stanton Carlisle), “Nightmare Alley.”