John Lui Film Correspondent recommends

Film picks: Swedish Film Festival 2016

Trespassing Bergman is a film on the life of film-maker Ingmar Bergman (above).
Trespassing Bergman is a film on the life of film-maker Ingmar Bergman (above).PHOTOS: SWEDISH FILM FESTIVAL, SHAW ORGANISATION, UIP

SWEDISH FILM FESTIVAL 2016

The first edition of this celebration of Swedish cinema includes Call Girl (R21, 2012, 140 minutes), a dramatisation of a scandal that rocked the country in the 1970s when it came to light that politicians frequented a brothel that included underage girls.

The film was selected to open the Stockholm International Film Festival, going on to win the Silver Audience Award.

Trespassing Bergman (M18, 2013, 107 minutes) is a documentary on the life and legacy of legendary film-maker Ingmar Bergman, featuring interviews with film-makers such as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, John Landis, Lars von Trier, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Claire Denis, Takeshi Kitano, Lee Ang and Zhang Yimou. Variety magazine says the work combines "awe and irreverance".

INFO: Now till Sunday, The Projector, Golden Mile Tower, 6001 Beach Road Tickets at $10. Go to theprojector.sg for schedules and bookings


SPOTLIGHT (NC16)

129 minutes/ 5/5 stars

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe articles uncovering the sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, this thrillingly ambitious movie lays out how dozens of paedophile priests in Boston not only escaped arrest, but were also shuffled to parishes where they preyed on more children.

The Globe's reportage would show that how, at all levels, the city had failed its young.

Liev Schreiber (above left), Mark Ruffalo (above centre), Rachel McAdams (above), John Slattery and Michael Keaton (all playing journalists) and Stanley Tucci (as lawyer Mitch Garabedian) perform flawlessly, but the triumph of this work, nominated in the Best Picture category at the Oscars, lies in what it avoids.

Nobody makes a speech about the nobility of news reporting or complains about the sacrifices journalists make.

The movie avoids making villains of people, instead going after the harder target: Complacency.


THE BIG SHORT (NC16)

131 minutes/ 4/5 stars

The movie's audacious idea is that to grasp the horror of the 2008 financial crisis and how it ruined working-class America, the audience has to understand concepts such as collateralised debt obligations, credit default swops and subprime mortgages. So director and co-writer Adam McKay incorporates a touch of the comic grotesque into each of his traders.

Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling, above) despises anyone less shark-like than he is. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is an Asperger's numbers savant with a glass eye.

Mark Baum (Steve Carell) flourishes because he trusts no one. Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) is a bearded mystic of money. All believe the banks are doomed because of risky bets on the housing market.

McKay, in adapting the book of the same title by "maths for common folk" popularist Michael Lewis (writer of Moneyball, also made into a movie), makes sure the infotainment segments pack the same chutzpah.

That self-aware silliness in the service of telling a story laden with technical jargon works because McKay's curiosity is infectious. He is like that goofy science teacher who is willing to don a ridiculous hat to demonstrate photosynthesis.


ROOM (PG13)

118 minutes/ 4/5 stars

The story of a woman imprisoned as a sex slave should, by normal reckoning, be nothing more than exploitation.

Room makes it work as a serious, thought-provoking drama with the bonus of pitch-perfect performances from its leads playing mother and son.

Imprisoned in a tiny four-walled structure, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) cares for her son, five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay, both above), the result of visits by her captor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers).

Jack calls the only world he has ever known "Room".

To him, the space is not a prison, but a cocoon. Why should he care about leaving? This is Stockholm Syndrome, from birth.

The film, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, is distressing to watch, but it is never explicit.

The cruelty fills each frame like an invisible gas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Film picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe