Film Picks: Kimi, Parallel Mothers, Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

A still from the film Kimi starring Zoe Kravitz. PHOTO: WARNERMEDIA

Kimi (M18)

85 minutes, available on HBO Go, 4 stars

Many film-makers have tried to weave stories out of the isolation of working from home, but few have succeeded.

Add Kimi to the list of those movies that work. Had it been released in another reality where the pandemic did not happen, this thriller from acclaimed American director Steven Soderbergh would still make an impact.

Angela (Zoe Kravitz) cannot leave her Seattle apartment because she is agoraphobic. This is just as well, because she works from home. Her employers own the Kimi device, a smart home assistant similar to Alexa or Siri.

Angela trains Kimi by listening to, and interpreting, commands from real users that are too garbled for the system to understand. One day, she hears a Kimi user, a woman, make a cry for help. Is it real or is Angela projecting her private trauma?

Veteran thriller writer David Koepp (Panic Room, 2002; Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 2014) has a screenplay that taps current worries about smart devices stealing privacy. Soderbergh makes the discomfort real and personal by creating the vilest, most recognisable screen villains seen in recent times: Angela's bosses, who recite maxims about employee welfare, but who care only for the welfare of the corporation.

Parallel Mothers (R21)

A still from the film Parallel Mothers starring Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION/EL DESEO D.A. S.L.U

123 minutes, now showing, 4 stars

Celebrated Spanish film-maker Pedro Almodovar makes one of his most overtly political films yet in this story, set in a present clouded by a stubbornly unresolved past.

Janis (frequent Almodovar collaborator Penelope Cruz) is a photographer who, after a single encounter with a man she just met, becomes pregnant. Opting to keep the baby, she meets Ana (Milena Smit), a teen from a wealthy family and soon-to-be single mother, in the maternity ward.

Their encounter will carry consequences, especially for Janis, who is also trying to open an official study of a mass grave close to her ancestral village, the site of executions during the Spanish Civil War.

Writer-director Almodovar displays his usual mastery of woman-centred melodrama, a talent that encompasses his ability to draw arresting performances from veteran actress Cruz and relative newcomer Smit.

The film has been rewarded with two Oscar nominations, for Best Actress for Cruz and Best Original Score.

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (M18)

A still from the film Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash starring Marthino Lio (left) and Ladya Cheryl. PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

114 minutes, now showing exclusively at The Projector, 4 stars

Pulpy action meets critique of Indonesian politics and manhood in this weird but enjoyable mash-up of a movie, adapted from the acclaimed 2014 novel of the same name.

Inside a revenge plot, there are impotence jokes, kickboxing duels, street races and, thrown in for good measure, a haunted house. Edwin, the mononymous director who also adapted Eka Kurniawan's best-selling book, makes intelligent choices that stop this ambitious work from lapsing into slapstick silliness, Quentin Tarantino quotations or chaos.

His deftness in keeping the tone poised between ironic humour and serious drama helped it take home the Golden Leopard for Best Film at last year's Locarno Film Festival.

Set in the 1980s in a rural part of the country dominated by oligarchs with ties to the military, the lonely and troubled Ajo (Marthino Lio) is a local lout known for starting fights. While trying to kill a shady businessman, he runs into formidable bodyguard Iteung (Ladya Cheryl). Their combat melts into compassion, which blossoms into love. Their relationship forces him to confront his humiliating secret: his impotence.

Mexican film-maker Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006) unpacked national historical trauma in a fantasy involving fairies and fauns.

In this sly look at the link between injured male pride and violence, Edwin takes the same indirect approach - the language of the Indonesian action cinema to address wounds left over from decades of murder and theft by men in uniform.

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