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Film round-up: January 24, 2022

Maria Duarte and Van Connor review Nightmare Alley, Cicada, A Journal for Jordan, Memory Box and Hostile

Nightmare Alley (15)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
★★★★

ROLL up, roll up! — to a deliciously macabre yet exquisitely stylish film noir remake of the 1947 Nightmare Alley, in which Oscar-winning visionary director Guillermo del Toro takes you down a twisted rabbit-hole of a cautionary tale about US capitalism.

Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, it chronicles the meteoric rise of Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a travelling carnival employee who is consumed by ambition and, after learning the tricks of mental manipulation from a seer called Zeena (Toni Collette), he starts targeting the wealthy members of US high society.

However, he soon meets his match in reverse femme fatale and psychoanalyst Dr Lilith Ritter, played smoulderingly and enigmatically by the fabulous Cate Blanchett.

Reuniting with cinematographer Dan Laustsen, del Toro delivers a meticulously detailed and visually stunning thriller (which definitely needs to be seen on the big screen) with a stellar ensemble cast, exploring the blurred lines between illusion and reality; success and tragedy — the story of a man who sells his soul to the art of the con, which never ends well.

Though a touch on the long side, it is worth sticking until the end — both shocking, and inevitable.

Maria Duarte
In cinemas January 21

Cicada (15)
Directed by Matthew Fifer and Kieran Mulcare
★★★

THIS isn’t your usual run-of-the mill New York love story; it walks a fine line between narrative and documentary as it examines a number of complex issues such as sexual abuse and loss, with frankness and sensitivity.

Co-writer and director Matthew Fifer and co-writer Sheldon D Brown relive part of their own experiences as Ben and Sam, who hook up after a meeting at a book stall where Sam (Brown) is looking through a children’s pop-up book.

Ben (Fifer) is very open about his sexuality and is used to being shag-and-go man — as a diverse montage shows — until he becomes involved with Sam, who is more reserved and has yet to come out to his workmates or family. Both have secrets and demons to confront, and Fifer and Brown deliver very brave and heartfelt performances. Definitely worth seeing.

Maria Duarte
In cinemas January 21

A Journal for Jordan (12A)
Directed by Denzel Washington
★★

CONTINUING Denzel Washington’s directorial streak for would-be inspiring, mid-budget dramas (plus that random Grey’s Anatomy episode), A Journal for Jordan teams the Oscar-winning thesp with the undeniably gorgeous pairing of Michael B Jordan and Chante Adams for an fleetingly moving, but more often sodden 130 minutes.

Jordan’s the soldier killed in Iraq, with Adams the pregnant widow (and future Pulitzer winner) left behind to raise their child with only her fallen partner’s journal to help raise their son.

Catnip to the Nicholas Sparks crowd no doubt, it requisitely heaps on the slush so hard they should add syrup and sell it out of a kiosk.

It is, however, rather solidly directed and quite well performed — Adams in particular a standout. Pedestrian writing and a looming sense of stiffness consistently hold proceedings back, but it’s in the scenes where Adams is briefly given the room to delve deep that this journal finally becomes worth reading.

VAN CONNOR
In cinemas January 21

Memory Box (15)
Directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
★★★★

NEARLY 15 years on from their last narrative feature outing — 2008’s Catherine Deneuve-led Je Veux Voir — Lebanese husband-and-wife filmmaking duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige take on the sins of the past with their latest offering, Memory Box.

Said sins belong to Lebanese war refugee Maia, whose life as a working mother in Canada is rocked by the arrival of a secretive package from home. At first seeing the duct-taped cardboard box as an albatross dragging her new life down, Maia is soon forced to face her demons when curious teen daughter Alex seizes upon it as an opportunity to better understand the mother she’s always found holding back.

Somewhat at odds with its tonal sensibilities, yet landing every bit as effectively as the stellar performances from leads Rim Turki and Paloma Vauthier, is a sense of startling visual inventiveness.

At times staged like a frame-jumping riff on the Take On Me video, yet thoughtfully utilising these interludes for the outright benefit of mining likability, it’s indicative of the off-kilter arthouse creativity that Hadjithomas and Joreige bring to an otherwise already rock-solid and captivating family drama. With a whopping retro soundtrack to boot.
VC
In cinemas January 21

Hostile (12A)
Directed by Sonita Gale
★★★★

AN EXPLORATION of the British government’s thus-far successful attempt to craft a (officially designated) hostile environment for migrants in Britain, this harrowing documentary from Sonita Gale makes for essential viewing at the point of British history in which we find ourselves.

Chronicling the stories of several migrants — each equally shafted by a different component of an ever-mutating immigration system — Hostile’s certainly not for the faint of heart as it explores just how much mortifying disregard for human life a smirking, opportunistic Cabinet can gleefully dole out.

Gale’s look into a world that has (shock) somehow become an unending revenue cycle for processing and admin shores up its stance most impressively by casting its gaze thoroughly backwards in time as well. It punches towards preachy — understandably: this is literally, after all, a matter of life and death for some — yet Gale’s eye for a compelling interview ensures it’s equally just as punchy.

VC
In cinemas January 21

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