JOHN LUI AND BOON CHAN RECOMMEND

Film Picks: Birdman, Whiplash, Into The Woods and more

A still from Birdman, starring Michael Keaton (left) and Edward Norton. -- PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX
A still from Birdman, starring Michael Keaton (left) and Edward Norton. -- PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX

BIRDMAN (M18)

119 minutes

*****

In this story of an actor, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, with Edward Norton), who walks away from lucrative sequels featuring him as the superhero Birdman, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu wants audiences to feel grubby, not elevated, as he takes them into the belly of Broadway, where people bicker and go 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.

John Lui


ST 20150116 JOPICKS16WHIP 984090m

WHIPLASH (NC16)

106 minutes

*****

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a drums student at a prestigious music conservatory, lands a spot in the student orchestra run by legendary conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, far right). As competition season begins, pressure builds and Andrew finds himself giving up more to become the top-flight drummer that Fletcher thinks he can be.

Simmons' Golden Globes win for Best Supporting Actor earlier this week is deserved - his turn as the monstrous Fletcher will trigger post-traumatic stress in survivors of the education system here.

The centrepieces of the movie are the exchanges between Fletcher and his proteges, in general, and with Andrew, in particular.

Like a classic jazz tune, this movie takes a simple theme - what is an acceptable price for artistic greatness? - and with the application of craftsmanship and imagination, builds it into something approaching greatness.

JL


ST 20150116 JOPICKS16BHO 984318m

BHOPAL: A PRAYER FOR RAIN (PG)

96 minutes

***1/2

On Dec 2, 1984, a gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, killed more than 3,000 residents of a nearby slum. This fictional recreation of the events weaves real people (Carbide chief executive Warren Anderson, played by Martin Sheen) with fictional characters.

Production values are excellent in this British-Indian co-production. Indian-born director and co-writer Ravi Kumar structures the work in the Western movie tradition. The first and second acts lay out the political and economic reasons that cause the disaster in the third act.

This film does not just side with the victims, it also names the parties responsible for the disaster. On that count, it stands far above other similar historical disaster movies that tip-toe around accountability.

The movie will be screened at Golden Village cinemas, go to gv.com.sg for locations and tickets. The screenings are arranged by Darpan Singapore, organiser of regional Indian film festivals.

JL


ST 20150116 ANNA 8 984369m

INTO THE WOODS (PG)

124 minutes

****

This adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name is easily the composer's most accessible work. The characters here - including Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Witch (Meryl Streep) and Wolf (Johnny Depp) - are familiar ones from fairy tales we have grown up with and some of the songs have a nursery-rhyme simplicity, even as he imbues them with his usual wit and depth of feeling.

Part of the fun is seeing how the characters and stories collide and ricochet off one another in this intricately plotted brand new tale, scripted by James Lapine, who had also penned the book for the original musical.

Most of the actors here can act and sing. But it is with some of the biggest names that casting falters a little.

Streep does not quite measure up to actress Bernadette Peters' indelible Broadway take on Witch - she cannot keep up with the pacing of her opening number and ends up letting the music lead her instead of the other way around.

Quibbling aside, the fun and charm of the musical remain intact. Fairy tales often paint a black-and-white picture, but Sondheim points out that "Witches can be right/Giants can be good".

There are lessons here, and not just for children.

Boon Chan