At The Movies: Nightmare Alley feels retro but fresh; Scream is a failed attempt at recovery

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Alley of Nightmares (M18)

150 minutes, opens January 13 exclusively at Cathay Cineplexes, 5 stars

It has been a long time since a film that reaches the quality quadrants of story, cinematography, acting performance, and entertainment value has seen the light of day.

Nightmare Alley ticks all the boxes – it’s a lush and luxurious piece of work that functions as a retro homage to noir cinema as it evokes emotions of romantic desire, disgust, and curiosity.

Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is a man of few who appears to be on the run. He accidentally stumbles upon a carnival run by Clem (Willem Dafoe), known for his stage acts and monster show, in which human grotesques are offered as entertainment.

Clem offers Stan a job, and soon after, the intelligent and ambitious handyman attracts the attention of artists – among them, clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and magician Molly (Rooney Mara). At the carnival, Stan acquires skills that will serve him for the next stage of his life.

This movie has been called a psychological thriller, but it works more like a harsh detective story. Stan might not look like the cynical sleuth walking through a city of shattered dreams, but he’s a researcher – hunting through a dark forest filled with creatures more predatory than him.

Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro, along with co-writer and wife Kim Morgan, adapts William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name – in an effort to give Stan a more tortured story, which is shown in a flashback series. This accomplishes the feat of exposing the characters while adding a lot of visual flair.

In a film deliberately filled with dark archetypes – the antihero, the cuckold, the savior angel – Cate Blanchett, who plays the creepy psychiatrist Lilith Ritter, fills the femme fatale role without falling into the purr of Jessica Rabbit, the cigarette – blowing cliché.

This is just one of the many strong performances of this work which looks like a classic film but, at the same time, completely fresh.

Scream (U18)

114 minutes, opens January 13, 2 stars

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