FILM OF THE WEEK

NIGHTMARE ALLEY

Guillermo Del Toro’s first film since his Oscar winning glory with THE SHAPE OF WATER is certainly one of this year’s most eagerly awaited events. It is based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel which was first turned into a movie in 1947 with Tyrone Power as Stanton Carlisle, the ambitious man who finds work in a carnival.
Del Toro has assembled a spectacular cast for his brilliantly designed and stylish production of the film noir classic. Bradley Cooper is now Stanton, the man still haunted from his past, who finds work at a travelling funfair with ambitions of becoming a mentalist himself. He runs away from the carnival with electric girl Molly (Rooney Mara) and believes he has hit the jackpot when his path crosses with the mysterious psychiatrist Dr Lilith Rotter (Cate Blanchett)…
Cooper is very effective as the vulnerable hero caught up in circumstances beyond his control. The supporting cast which includes Willem Defoe, Toni Collette and Rooney Mara provide solid support but it is the commanding presence of Blanchett that demands attention from her very first entrance. Blanchett learned her craft on stage before she became a screen goddess and knows brilliantly well how to use her movement and voice to great effect. She is the ultimate femme fatale and deserves plaudits for her mesmerizing performance.

BELFAST

Kenneth Branagh’s most personal film is taken from his own experiences when he was boy in Belfast during the last 1960’s. 9-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill) is a happy boy – both at school and at home and is loved by his parents and grandparents. He also enjoys playing in the streets with his friends but unware of the brewing political turmoil. His parents (Jamie Dornan & Catriona Balfe) are over protective and are seriously considering a new life in England or perhaps Australia, while his grandparents (Judy Dench & Ciaran Hinds) never fail to give their invaluable advice…
Branagh’s witty script offers his actors smart dialogue with plenty to chew on and it is not a huge surprise that Branagh cast two of the most attractive actors around to play his parents. But is its newcomer Hill who is the real revelation here. It is superbly photographed by Haris Zambarloukos, who uses crisp black and white to great effect with occasional splashes of colour when the family is watching films like ONE MILLION YEARS BC and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANF or a play like A CHRISTMAS CAROL. A lovely film!

CICADA

I first saw Matthew Fifer’s impressive directorial debut at the 2020 London Film Festival and on a second viewing, I found it even more involving. It is hardly surprising that it feels true and authentic as it is based on Fifer’s own personal experiences. He also plays Ben, an attractive New Yorker still haunted by his childhood memories. He is busy having one night stands with both men and women until he meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), with whom he immediately forms a strong connection…
Again, unsurprisingly, Fifer shares a strong chemistry with co-writer Brown and their explicit sex sequences feel natural and tender. It is a low key production which explores effectively the protagonists’ state of mind which changes into a lighter tone whenever Ben visits his eccentric therapist Sophie (Cobie Smulders).
An honest portrayal of love and the pursuit of happiness!

SCREAM

The original SCREAM made a huge impact back in 1996 and ignited 3 sequels – with SCREAM 4 being the last instalment eleven years ago. The franchise became almost a parody in the last couple of films, but thankfully three of its original characters are still very much involved in the latest. The same opening as ever – a young woman all alone in a house in Woodsboro answers the phone to a menacing voice who threatens to kill her. And soon after the body count begins and everybody is a suspect…
It’s good to see Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette reprising their roles and adding gravitas to the proceedings. An enjoyable sequel with clever twists but no match to the earlier films!

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH

Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy has often been adapted for the screen – most recently in 2015 by Justin Kurzel with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cottilard and most memorably in 1971 by Roman Polanski and 1948 with Orson Welles.
Joel Coen’s black and white version belongs to the Orson Welles’ style and boasts amazing designs. Denzel Washington and Frances MacDormand excel as the power mad couple whose vaulting ambition leads to murder. Kathryn Hunter is also a revelation as the three witches. Superb production values and a classy cast make this a worthwhile experience. (APPLE)

TORN

Another intense and must-see documentary about the dangerous life of climbers following the recent SOLO and THE ALPINIST. Max Lowe’s terrific documentary celebrates the life and personal achievements of his father Alex Lowe, a fearless climber who sadly perished on the slopes of a Tibetan mountain following a deadly avalanche in 1999. He was lost along with his cameraman David Bridges but miraculously Alex’ best friend and fellow climber Conrad Anker survived…
It is genuinely moving film – Max gets his mother, two younger brothers and Conrad to talk about their father and share their memories with the help of some home movie material. It is a long journey for the family to come to terms with their immense loss and their story is told with some unexpected twists of fate along the way.

MEMORY BOX: Joana Hadjithomas’s trip down memory lane was screened at last October’s London Film Festival. It is based on her own teenage letters and diaries and follows the story of Maia, a single mother living in Montreal with her teenage daughter Alex. Unexpectedly one day a big parcel arrives full of notebooks, tapes and photos but Maia refuses to open the box and relive her past memories when she was a teenager in Lebanon. But Alex wants to know more about her mother’s past life…An intriguing film told with imagination and style.

SÉANCE: An overfamiliar premise for this revenge ghost thriller which takes place at the Eveldine Academy for Girls, where new arrival Camille Meadows is invited to join a late night ritual. The spirit of a dead former student is called and soon after the body counts begins… Suki Waterhouse is effective as the Academy’s mysterious new girl under Simon Barrett’s routine direction but overall the film lacks thrills. (SHUDDER)

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