Film Picks: 3688, Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, Sicario and Black Mass


3688 (PG)
100 minutes 4/5 Stars

The colours pop and the characters have their feet in HDB-land, but their heads are alive with art and music from another time. In a world that has little time for dreamers, they struggle to be one with their passions.

Welcome to the world of Royston Tan.

Fei Fei (local singer Joi Chua) is a single, 38-year-old parking attendant looking after a father (stage actor Michael Tan, both above) struggling with dementia.

He used to be a Rediffusion technician and believes himself to be still employed by the now-defunct cable audio service, much loved by the Cantonese- and Hokkien-speaking communities.

In Tan's first feature in seven years, he shows why his forte is detail and mood, not story structure, and this work's lack of narrative discipline can be infuriating. What people expect from Tan is sparkle and heart and, luckily, there is plenty of that.

John Lui

105 minutes 4/5 Stars

Don't be put off by the premise's hipster vibe. This year's Sundance winner is genuinely sweet and embraces the sadness at its core, rather than look at it with ironic distance.

Earl won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, the same two wins Whiplash (2014) earned before it went on to nab an Oscar for supporting actor J.K. Simmons.

Like Whiplash, Earl is a coming-of-age story, seen from the point of view of aspiring film-maker Greg (Thomas Mann, far right, with co-star R.J. Cyler), forced by his mother ("The Lebron James of nagging," he narrates) to spend time with family friend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is dying of cancer.

The illness provides plenty of drama and the humour is feather-light, coming mostly from the variety of high-school and parental oddballs that beset the put-upon Greg, whom Mann plays with a wonderfully mopey physicality, his rounded shoulders looking as if they would snap from the weight of his woes.

John Lui

121 minutes 4/5 Stars

FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt, left) agrees to be part of a joint task force to track down a big-time drug lord, believing she can help to accomplish something meaningful by doing so. But she keeps getting stonewalled by her superior Matt (Josh Brolin ) and she is uneasy about the presence of the taciturn Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) on the team.

Sicario, which means hitman in Spanish, plunges right into the middle of a raid mission which ends up literally blowing up in the faces of the team. French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve then executes the extraction of a man close to the drug lord from Juarez, Mexico, back to American soil with terse precision.

In contrast to the intensity of the action, Blunt's Kate is a no-nonsense agent who keeps her emotions in check. She is also the moral compass of the scene and, as the film wades into a morass of complications, viewers look to her for direction.

Boon Chan

122 minutes 4/5 Stars

In a story that could have come from the film factories of India or Hong Kong, but which actually happened, the Feds protected Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger and his Winter Hill gang, believing they were the lesser of two evils compared with Boston's Italian mob.

As Bulger (Johnny Depp, above right, with Joel Edgerton) rose to power, his younger brother William (Benedict Cumberbatch) was marching up the ranks in the state legislature.

Based on a 2001 book by two journalists and helmed by actor-friendly director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, 2009; Out Of The Furnace, 2013), Bulger is shown to be an ambitious dealmaker, a vain man with a hair-trigger temper, but who also happened to be a loving father and son to a sainted mother.

That character study is powered by Depp's depiction of the man as a coiled spring, as likely to give an associate a hug as three lead slugs in the face. The film is picking up Oscar buzz and deservedly so.

John Lui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline '(No headline) - JOPICKS18'. Print Edition | Subscribe