John Lui film correspondent recommends

Films picks: Life, Bone Tomahawk, The Good Dinosaur and more

Dane DeHaan (above left) and Robert Pattinson (above right).
Dane DeHaan (above left) and Robert Pattinson (above right).PHOTOS: SHAW ORGANISATION, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

LIFE (M18)

112 minutes/3.5/ 5 stars

The relationship between an  artist and subject is not a new topic for cinema, but here the dynamic is given some retro glamour. James Dean (Dane DeHaan) is a young actor in 1955 being groomed  for stardom. Dennis Stock  (Robert Pattinson)  is a photographer who will make the Life magazine shots that capture the actor's spirit and define cool for generations. 

Director Anton Corbijn  (The American, 2010), a photographer known for his portraits of U2 and Joy Division, brings out great performances from both actors, especially DeHaan.


BONE TOMAHAWK (R21)

132 minutes/4/5 stars

A western-meets-cannibal movie mash-up sounds like a joke premise, but this taut and disturbing thriller proves that audacious genre-bending can work if its makers love and respect the forms.

Death-metal drummer, novelist and  first-time feature film-maker S. Craig Zahler succeeds by getting the basics right.

His cast is outstanding, starting with  Kurt Russell as Sheriff Hunt, the leader  of the hostage-rescue posse that includes  Matthew Fox as Brooder, the town cad,  and the Oscar-nominated Richard Jenkins  as the scatter-brained deputy Chicory.


THE GOOD DINOSAUR (PG)

101 minutes/4/5 stars

In an alternate universe, where dinosaurs did not become extinct and have learnt to create communities, there is Young Arlo, who comes from a farming family. A raging river sweeps him far from home one day. He makes a return trek, dogged by a feral human he names Spot.

Just as you are about to relax into what  looks like a movie for the under-10s,  something happens to turn it all upside down.  In one of the best horror-movie character switch-ups to happen in recent times,  someone who appears at first to be a  friend does something that proves  that first impressions can be fatally wrong.

First-time director Peter Sohn is ready  to make scenes as strange and scary  as a child's survival story need to be. 

The Good Dinosaur is a masterpiece of minimalism; there are almost no references  to our world unless it is to up-end  expectations. Because there is so little explanation, when Arlo meets someone new,  he is as much in the dark as we are; there  is a shared anxiety that never lets up.


CAROL (R21)

119 minutes/4.5/5 stars

It is the early 1950s and New York shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara, above) attends to customer Carol (Cate Blanchett). The pair strike up a friendship, one that will grow into something deeper.

In this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price Of Salt, director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy adopt a detached, almost clinical approach.  So, while you have the stares of longing, the sideways glances and the coded speech  of the classic repression romance, Haynes  also makes the actors speak and move deliberately, their formality matching the meticulous 1950s set design. 

This touch of theatricality puts a focus  on the isolation of Therese and Carol, who  live in a world they cannot fully inhabit,  much less relax in. It's a reminder that  in 1950s America, their lives had to be performed, not lived.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2016, with the headline 'Films picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe