JOHN LUI RECOMMENDS

Film Picks: Kingsman, Wild, Black Sea and more

Colin Firth (right) and Taron Egerton star in Kingsman: The Secret Service, an update of the spy movie. -- PHOTO: FOX 
Colin Firth (right) and Taron Egerton star in Kingsman: The Secret Service, an update of the spy movie. -- PHOTO: FOX 

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (M18)

129 minutes

****1/2

In this update of the spy movie, 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 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 in watching quintessentially British actors Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine - who have played memorable gentlemen spies - spoofing themselves. The more intense the emotion, the stiffer the upper lip.


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WILD (M18)

116 minutes

****

Director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby, through a torn toenail scene and others like it, offer a master class in how to tell a story without words. Based on the best-selling 2012 account of a solo 1,800km hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) grows up adoring her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern).

Dern's Bobbi is heartbreakingly fragile; the bond between mother and daughter is fierce and tender, never mawkish.

Both deserve their Oscar nominations (Best Supporting Actress for Dern and Best Actress for Witherspoon) but the younger actress' performance as the woman determined to fix herself, one step at a time - or die trying - drives the movie.


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WORLD CINEMA SERIES: THE FILMS OF NURI BILGE CEYLAN

Winter Sleep (2014) and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (2011) made the top 10 lists of critics everywhere on their release. Both films won prizes at the Cannes Film Festival - the Palme d'Or for Winter Sleep and the next most prestigious, the Grand Jury Prize, for Anatolia - and were official entries to the Academy Awards by Nuri Bilge Ceylan's homeland of Turkey.

Ceylan makes films that draw on Western traditions of liberal thought as well as his own cultural currents of religious belief, class divisions and local politics.

Winter Sleep examines the pretensions of a small-town landlord who believes himself to be intellectually superior to his neighbours, while Anatolia follows a group of people over the course of one night as they try to work a murder investigation on a cold, dark plain.

Three Monkeys (2008), Climates (2006) and Clouds Of May (1999) are three other works rounding off this retrospective on one of today's most interesting film-makers.

Where: Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road MRT: Dhoby Ghaut When: Today - Feb 22, various times Admission: $8 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555) Info: www.nationalmuseum.sg


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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 submarine. 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.