John Lui Film Correspondent & Boon Chan Media Correspondent recommend

Film Picks: The Revenant, The Monkey King 2, Spotlight and more

Leonardo DiCaprio.
Leonardo DiCaprio. PHOTOS: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, SHAW ORGANISATION

THE REVENANT (M18)

156 minutes/ 4/5 stars

Fur trapper and scout Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a bear. His companions, having survived an attack by natives, leave the badly injured Glass behind with his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

Mexican director and co-writer Alejandro Inarritu is fascinated by the frontier as an Eden, a place in a state of grace. Fitzgerald and white men from the "civilised" parts of the American continent bicker over money and are willing to kill for it, while the native Americans, along with some "good" whites like Glass, take from nature only what they need to live.

But the absolute winner here is the cinematography by Inarritu's frequent collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki. The pair scored a Best Picture Oscar for Birdman (2014) and have another Best Picture nod for The Revenant.

In the battle that opens the picture, the camera flies through the 10-minute scene without cuts.

A lot has been said about 3-D's immersiveness, but in that heart- pounding sequence, as arrows cut the air, it feels real enough.

John Lui


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, left) from imprisonment, monkey king Sun Wukong (Aaron Kwok) is tasked to escort 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) even as she pits teacher against disciple with her cunning manoeuvres.

This is an improvement over the first. 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 from Donnie Yen and is persuasive as the proud simian deity, while Gong Li is resplendent as the silky villain.

Boon Chan


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 how, at all levels, the city had failed its young. Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams (both above), Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery (all playing journalists) and Stanley Tucci (as lawyer Mitch Garabedian) perform flawlessly, but the triumph of this work, nominated for Best Picture 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.

John Lui


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), 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 is distressing to watch, but it is never explicit. The cruelty fills each frame like an invisible gas.

John Lui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2016, with the headline '(No headline) - JOPICKS05'. Print Edition | Subscribe