THE MONKEY KING 2 (PG13)
119 minutes/ 3.5/5 stars
In this sequel to the 2014 hit, the well-known Journey To The West finally gets under way. Released by Tang Sanzang (Feng Shaofeng) from imprisonment, the monkey king Sun Wukong (Aaron Kwok) is tasked with escorting the monk on his pilgrimage to collect scriptures. Along the way, Sun has to protect his master from the soul-sucking White Bone Demon (Gong Li, above) even as she pits teacher against disciple with her cunning manoeuvres.
This is an improvement over the first instalment. In just two years, the CGI has advanced to the point where the depictions of a ferocious tiger, a horse-eating dragon and the White Bone Demon as a billowing surge of smoke are remarkably realistic. Kwok, who played the Bull Demon King in the first outing, takes over the titular role from Donnie Yen and is persuasive as the proud simian deity, while Gong is resplendent as the silky villain.
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 other parishes where they preyed on more children. The Globe's reportage would show how the city had failed its young.
Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery (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.
108 minutes/ 3.5/5 stars
Whether you find this superhero origin story a worthwhile watch depends on how you feel about Ryan Reynolds at maximum snarkiness. It can be hard to take. He has little of the goofiness or self-deprecation of other good-looking actors with a comedic bent. Special forces soldier Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is diagnosed with incurable cancer. A shadowy group offers a cure, but it comes with a catch. When you are a "Merc with a mouth", as the mercenary Deadpool is supposed to be, you need comic foils. Weasel (T.J. Miller) and Wilson riff in a passable Judd Apatow-like fashion when Deadpool is not spouting pop-culture references to the camera, mid-battle. Even the sex scenes with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) become fodder for laughs. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick wrote the very funny, genre-stretching Zombieland (2009), so they know a thing or two about finding absurdity in blood and gore. Deadpool has some of the wit and satirical bite of the 2009 movie - just enough to make up for the snark.
THE DRESSMAKER (PG13)
119 minutes/ 3.5/5 stars
Australian comedies can be hit or miss - for every classic such as Muriel's Wedding (1994), you get a vile A Few Best Men (2011), a justifiably forgotten stoner flick. In spite of their differences in quality, both of them share a few traits - a willingness to explore bad taste and unlikability in characters and a rambunctious approach to plotting.
That is how it is here. Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet, left with Liam Hemsworth) returns to the outback town of Dungatar after years spent making clothes in haute couture houses in Europe. She yearns to regain a memory of what happened the fateful day at the schoolyard a quarter of a century ago, in an event that caused her to be sent away from home.
Adapted from the Rosalie Ham bestseller, this work keeps the book's sprawl, not just in story but in tone. Tilly's mother, Molly (Judy Davis) is a cackling madwoman out of a Dickens novel, while the electrifying effect of Tilly's dresses on the townspeople comes from a feelgood rom-com. Winslet and Davis' performances anchor this rambling affair. The story zigs when you expect it to zag, but that is not a bad thing, especially when its characters are so engaging.