John Lui Film Correspondent recommends

Film Picks: Carol, The Good Dinosaur and more

Rooney Mara.
Rooney Mara.PHOTOS: SHAW ORGANISATION, WALT DISNEY STUDIOS

CAROL (R21)

119 minutes/4.5/5 stars

It is the early 1950s and New York shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara) attends to customer Carol (Cate Blanchett, far left). 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 is a reminder that in 1950s America, their lives had to be performed, not lived.


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 boy 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 masterpiece of minimalism; there are almost no references to our world unless it is to up-end expectations.


MACBETH (NC16)

113 minutes

A Scottish general stabs his way to the throne because of a prophecy, then finds that forecasts from witches come with rolls of fine print.

Leave to others ideas about setting Shakespeare's plays in non-traditional places and periods. Australian director Justin Kurzel gets mediaeval on you: The world of Macbeth is frontierland, a wild place cloaked in fog, mud and grass. Everything looks lived-in and worn out.

Previous film adaptations, most famously by Roman Polanski in 1971, play up the pomp and colour. Kurzel mutes colour so much the film looks near-monochrome.

The action takes place mostly outdoors. While you feel sorry for everyone standing exposed to what looks like freezing weather, each frame, composed with the deliberation of a Zen garden, is beautiful.


BONE TOMAHAWK (R21)

132 minutes/4/5 stars

A Western-meets-cannibal movie mash-up sounds likea 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 makes his risky concept pay off by getting the basics right.

His cast is outstanding, starting with Kurt Russell (above right) 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 (above left) as the scatter-brained deputy Chicory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline 'Film Picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe