John Lui Film Correspondent & Boon Chan Media Correspondent recommend

Film Picks: The Good Dinosaur, Macbeth, The Program and more


PHOTOS: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, SHAW ORGANISATION, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

THE GOOD DINOSAUR (PG)

101 minutes/4 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.

He tries to be a good son, but is held back by his fear of everything.

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.

First-time director Peter Sohn is ready to make scenes as strange and scary as a child's survival story needs to be.

The Good Dinosaur is a masterpiece of minimalism; there are almost no references to our world unless it is to up-end expectations. Because there is so little explanation, when Arlo meets someone new, he is as much in the dark as we are; there is a shared anxiety that never lets up.

John Lui


MACBETH (NC16)

113 minutes/3.5 stars

A Scottish general stabs his way to the thone 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 (starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, both above) looks near-monochrome.

There are no shots of castles with spires gleaming and flags fluttering. Buildings are dark and squat, with the royal chambers as bare as monasteries.

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.

John Lui


THE PROGRAM (NC16)

104 minutes/4.5 stars

"We transformed your lousy little Eurosport into a global brand," spits American cycling team manager Bill Stapleton (Lee Pace).

The sneer is aimed at an anti-doping official who has the temerity to suggest that cyclist Lance Armstrong's test results are not as clean as they should be.

Stapleton's contempt for the official does not just show the kind of bullies he and Armstrong could be; it also reveals the imbalance of power between athletes and the bodies that struggle to govern them.

Not only that, you get an idea of how the Tour de France became so riddled with money politics that only cheaters could win.

Stephen Frears directs with a clear and damning moral centre. Ben Foster's (above) Armstrong is cinema's best villain in ages, a man who was a thug when he was on top and, after the fall, saw himself as a victim.

John Lui


OUR TIMES (PG13)

134 minutes/4 stars

In this high school love story, Truly (Vivian Sung) is a Plain Jane student who has to do the bidding of troublemaker Hsu Tai-yu (Darren Wang, above). They become friends and she helps him woo the popular Minmin (Dewi Chien), while he nudges her in the direction of dreamy basketball player Ouyang Extraordinary (Dino Lee).

The movie is aware that it is tapping into an evergreen set-up:

The characters are introduced as the dreamboat every school has, the bad boy who is always present and the school belle every boy dreams of dating.

So what if Our Times does not reinvent the wheel? Sometimes, you just need to execute well what is tried and tested.

Boon Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Film Picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe