JOHN LUI AND YIP WAI YEE RECOMMEND

Film Picks: Birdman, Kingsman, Black Sea and Shaun The Sheep

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (M18)

129 minutes

****1/2

In this update of the spy movie, young Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a lad from a working-class neighbourhood, is the son of a secret agent killed in the line of duty. As a favour to his dead father, senior agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) offers the young man a chance to become a spy, as long as he passes the arduous training.

Meanwhile, billionaire idealist Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) announces a plan to give the world free mobile phone service.

With a resume that includes Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011), director Matthew Vaughn keeps proving himself to be a writer, producer and director with a gift for turning comic books into movies that revel in scenes of spectacular, cinematic violence.

There is also fun to be had watching quintessentially British actors Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine - men who have played memorable gentlemen spies - spoofing themselves. The more intense the emotion, the stiffer the upper lip.

John Lui


ST 20150227 JOPICKS273PDL 1094484m

BLACK SEA (NC16)

115 minutes

***1/2

Director Kevin Macdonald (How I Live Now, 2013; The Last King Of Scotland, 2006) set out to make an old-fashioned submarine thriller and he has pulled it off.

Captain Robinson (Jude Law) is a laid-off submariner who hatches a plan to recover Nazi gold, lost and forgotten in a submarine lying at the bottom of the Black Sea.

He finds an ageing Soviet undersea vessel and a rag-tag crew. Together, they take to the icy depths to claim their treasure.

The scene is set for primal urges to take over within the claustrophobic confines of the sub.

What plays out draws less from wartime submarine epics than from classic thrillers in which the best and worst instincts emerge when desperate men are placed in desperate circumstances, with nowhere to run.

JL


ST 20150227 JOPICKS27Q8BA 1094475m

SHAUN THE SHEEP (G)

85 minutes

***1/2

Based on the British stop-motion television series for children, this movie sees Shaun the sheep break out of his boring farm and go into the wider world. When their master The Farmer ends up in the city with a bout of amnesia, it is up to Shaun and his sheep friends to bring him home to the countryside.

This work by the creators of Wallace and Gromit never tries to be overly clever or vulgar to attract more mature audiences.

Yet, there are enough pop-culture references and witty, visual gags that should please both parents and young children.

The biggest feat here is that the film succeeds without a single word of spoken dialogue. The characters' grunts, growls and moans are sufficiently articulate.

Yip Wai Yee


ST 20150227 JOPICKS2754XN 1094483m

BIRDMAN (M18)

119 minutes

*****

Watch the film that won the Best Picture Oscar and three other prizes at this week's ceremony. The middle-aged Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) years ago walked away from lucrative sequels featuring him as the superhero Birdman.

In this story about his bid for redemption on Broadway, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu wants audiences to feel grubby, not elevated. Stage actors bicker and snipe, going insane over trivial issues.

In almost every scene, characters use language as weapons - to manipulate, unnerve, distract and, of course, browbeat. On screen is the world processed through Riggan's ego, sitting atop a mind fracturing under stress.

JL