The Assassin (PG)
106 minutes/3.5 stars
There is little doubt that this is an important film - the venerated Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien hasn't released a feature in eight years and this take on the wuxia (historical martial arts) genre is his picture with the biggest budget to date. But what follows is not an easy watch.
Hou's interests lie in timelessness, nature's rhythms and compositional elegance rather than in telling a ripping yarn.
He has taken the rigour of his hero, Japanese film-maker Yasujiro Ozu, and applied it to wuxia, which, like the Western (of the cowboy variety), is the most pliable of genres.
The Assassin won this year's Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival for Hou and was a nominee for the Palme d'Or, the festival's highest award.
Starring Chang Chen and Ethan Juan, the film contains an austere beauty, but it's made by a cineaste for cineastes.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (PG13)
117 minutes/3.5 stars
Long on frothiness and light on plot, this is the swinging 1960s as imagined by people who see it as non-stop fun, punctuated by the threat of nuclear war.
Based on the cult television series, this origin story introduces secret agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and his frenemy Russian counterpart Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, both above).
Director Guy Ritchie drives the action scenes with unexpected and wonderful R&B and jazz selections. While not quite up there with Steven Soderbergh at his Ocean’s Eleven best in packaging exposition as entertainment – the narration lacks the wryness – Ritchie at least never lets his characters talk narrative when he can show it.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (PG13)
105 minutes/4 stars
Don’t be put off by the premise’s hipster vibe. This year's Sundance is genuinely sweet and it embraces the sadness at its core, rather than look at it with ironic distance.
Earl won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, the same two wins Whiplash (2014) earned before it went on to nab an Oscar for supporting actor J.K. Simmons.
Like Whiplash, Earl is a coming-of-age story, seen from the point of view of aspiring film-maker Greg (Thomas Mann), forced by his mother (“The Lebron James of nagging” according to his narration) to spend time with family friend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is dying of cancer. The illness provides plenty of drama and the humour is feather-light, coming mostly from the variety of high school and parental oddballs that beset the put-upon Greg, whom Mann plays with a wonderfully mopey physicality, his rounded shoulders looking as if they would snap from the weight of his woes.
I AM ELEVEN (Rating to be advised)
94 minutes/4 stars
Australian film-maker Genevieve Bailey took six years to make this documentary about children on the cusp of teenhood. When she was 11, she says, she was the happiest she had been in her life, and wondered what the experience was like for children of that age in other parts of the world.
She begins with one child in Japan and, after glimpsing the lives of more than 20 kids, ends with the story of an Aboriginal girl in her home city of Melbourne.
From an orphanage in Kerala, India, to an elephant farm in Thailand to the suburbs of America, Bailey proves that talking to the right 11-year-old can be the most educational and uplifting thing an adult can do.
WHERE: The Projector, Golden Mile Tower, Beach Road MRT: Nicoll Highway ADMISSION: $13 INFO: Schedule & bookings at theprojector.sg