A class (struggle) of its own


Snowpiercer

BONG Joon-ho’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller tries to cram a lot in its storyline but somehow doesn’t end up feeling bloated or tiresome. The pacing is perfect and the plot well thought out. In the year 2031, mankind’s attempt to stop global warming goes awry, causing the entire planet to freeze over.

The survivors board a special train that goes around the world non-stop, powered by the “Eternal Engine”. The train’s creator, Wilford, and the upper crust of society live in the front end of the train, while the back end is populated by the poor. The lower class soon revolts, and a group of them make their way to the front towards a confrontation with their “saviour”.

At once a parable of class struggle, Snowpiercer is also an allegorical tale about the fallibility of man and a scathing attack on capitalism. It contemplates the effects of blind religiosity, and the conflict between human survival instincts and moral values. — Allan Koay 

Saving Mr Banks

I REALLY didn’t like Mary Poppins creator PL Travers (Emma Thompson) at the start of this movie. She was fussy, irrational and rude, making me want to slap her ... several times.

But as the movie went on, and the story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tried to get her final approval for the Mary Poppins movie unfolds alongside the tale of a young Australian girl (Annie Rose Buckley) with a loving, imaginative, but troubled father (Colin Farrell), you get to see how she became the way she was.

The success of this movie is down to the cast, all of whom give excellent, spot-on performances, right down to minor supporting roles like Paul Giamatti’s Ralph and Rachel Griffith’s Aunt Ellie. Screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith also give us a couple of absolute gems in their dialogue.

All is not sweetness and light in this movie, despite the Mary Poppins connection; but the realities it portrays of a difficult family life, and even the fierce protectiveness over one’s creations, give it depth and nuance.

A touching story, with a peek behind the scenes of movie-making. Movie nerds should stay to hear the actual recording of Travers collaborating on the movie over the end credits. — Tan Shiow Chin

Philomena

PHILOMENA? More like Philomena-l. (OK, that was lame.)

Although this Stephen Frears-directed book-to-movie adaptation probably won’t win the Best Picture Oscar it’s nominated for this year (it just isn’t the Oscar type), Philomena is a story so heartwarming and endearing it deserves its time in the spotlight (enough about Gravity, 12 Years A Slave or American Hustle).

Based on the 2009 investigative book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee, the film tells the true story of a woman who embarks on a journey to find her long-lost son. As a teenager, Philomena was forced to give away her son, Anthony, to a convent in Ireland in the 1950s.

Now 50 years have passed and Philomena, who has spent every waking moment thinking about her son, teams up with former journalist Martin Sixsmith after an interesting turn of events.

It’s absolutely beautiful to see the cynical 50-year-old Sixsmith getting into squabbles with the ever-hopeful old lady, portrayed by Steve Coogan and Judi Dench respectively. Funnyman Coogan, in particular, impresses viewers, convincingly pulling off a dramatic role while the usually tense Dench had us in stitches, playing a neighbour you would want to have living next door.

There’s one powerful lesson to be learned here – that life’s greatest pains can be alleviated, though not completely, by the simple act of forgiveness. — Kenneth Chaw

The Book Thief

SET in a small town in Germany, it follows the life of a girl named Liesel as she arrives at her adopted parents’ house at the onset of WWII.

Undoubtedly there have been many films about this awful war, but very few concentrate on the German children and the effects and toll of Hitler’s rule on them. German children learn school songs by heart, only the words are terribly prejudiced; that children are made to memorise them makes it a huge tragedy.

Liesel – who developed a love for words – projects the many injustices of war with what she sees and experiences. For example, during a book-burning exercise, or when a Jewish refugee has to hide from the world just because of who he is, or when her best friend is recruited into a military programme.

War never makes any sense, and seen from a child’s point of view, it makes even less sense. — Mumtaj Begum

Non-Stop

THE key to enjoying this airborne thriller is to keep your expectations low.

The premise is simple yet interesting: air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) has to take matters into his own hands on a transatlantic flight when he receives a series of anonymous text messages threatening the safety of his fellow passengers. Within the enclosed space of the airplane, everyone is a potential suspect, and Marks has to race against time to uncover the truth.

With plenty of wrong turns and red herrings, the movie does a good job of keeping us guessing, even though the ultimate reveal isn’t really worth all the drama that came before. Non-Stop is not going to be the most memorable movie you watch this year (or even this month), but it does a decent job of serving up the necessary suspense, drama and action to keep you engaged. And while a part of me laments this paycheque-cashing route Neeson continues to take, he is still extremely watchable and carries the movie with his tense performance. — Sharmilla Ganesan 

Pompeii

IN the last days of the Roman city of Pompeii, before nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed it in AD79, a young gladiator (Kit Harington) and a nobleman’s daughter (Emily Browning) fall in love. Then Jack Bauer comes along and wrecks the party. This cheesy meld of disaster movie with sword-and-sandal flick does just enough to be enjoyable, though it’s not sufficiently over the top to qualify as a guilty pleasure (more debauchery, please).

What works: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s steely smoulder and commanding presence as a gladiator fighting for his freedom; Harington’s earnest turn as the ruthless killer known only as The Celt (initially) until love melts his heart (cough); and the CGI-heavy but adequate disaster sequences where director Paul WS Anderson channels Roland Emmerich. Kiefer Sutherland provides the OTT factor as the cartoonish but totally hateful villain, backed up by Grimm’s Sasha Roiz as his cartoonish but totally hateful henchman. A rather ridiculous chase scene amidst the volcanic mayhem raises the silliness quotient, as do the actions of several characters. But I liked the action scenes and also the way they ended the film. — Davin Arul

The Monuments Men

COMEDY, history, drama and suspense. The makings of a good movie. And those ingredients are present in that order of importance is George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, about a group of men who venture into war-torn Europe to save and reclaim the great artworks stolen by Hitler. At its core, the story is heart-warming and full of reverence for history, peppered with some suspenseful moments. And you might learn a thing or two from the movie; for example, did you know that Hitler was planning to build the Fuhrer Museum, touted to be one of the biggest art museums in the world? And the characters are funny, earning decent laughs from the audience, and endearing.

Bill Murray and Bob Balaban’s on-screen chemistry is just a pleasure to watch. You can appreciate Clooney’s noble cause in highlighting the atrocities of the Nazis but the characters are not given much depth, leaving their motivations obscure. Having said that, this is not a character-driven story. The sheer scale of the Monuments Men’s adventures and mishaps is enough to keep you entertained and maybe, come to realise the value of art and history. — Dinesh Kumar Maganathan

 

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