Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 17 Mar 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

The difference between Ouija: Origin of Evil and the original film is like night and day. Where the successful 2014 Hasbro board game adaptation was pedestrian and eminently forgettable, this prequel, under the reliably solid direction of Mike Flanagan (Oculus), is better crafted in all respects. It displays a revitalised commitment to characterisation that minimises the sense that we’re being fed shameless, watered-down product placement. Stylistically, the film is stacked with unabashed vintage signifiers (old grainy Universal Pics logo, cigarette burn reel changes, etc), but it rarely feels like self-conscious pastiche. Flanagan’s ample character-building legwork and witty, inventively rigged scares, and the cast’s solid performances, raise this one above the average cash-grab. For fans of Bad Seed-type movies, It’s worth a look solely for the exceptional Lulu Wilson, who gives a monologue about strangulation that’s sure to go down as one of the genre’s most spine-chilling moments.

Operation Avalanche (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 17 Mar 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.0

Imagine a found footage version of Capricorn One made with Primer’s homespun ingenuity, and you’ll have an idea what to expect with Matt Johnson’s technically deft, but tonally flat faux-documentary. Rewriting history with a different backstory to the 1969 moon landing, this blend of fact and fiction should find an audience with celluloid-sniffing cinephiles, conspiracy theorists and alternate-history enthusiasts alike. It works more effectively as a tribute to the lost art of analog filmmaking and practical effects than a paranoid espionage thriller. In their obsessiveness and dedication to detail, Johnson and crew's geeked-out, period-aesthetic know-how is quite impressive and admirable. But for all its cunning wizardry, Operation Avalanche would have benefited from a stronger emotional core. Johnson isn’t able to bring more than restless bluster to his character. Operation Avalanche is supremely crafty, but one wishes it had a bigger soul to ground its arch machinations.

Passengers (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 10 Mar 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:2.5

Passengers is yet another expensive lesson in why throwing millions of dollars worth of star power and slick special effects into a movie doesn’t equate to an engaging cinematic experience. Perfunctorily directed by Morten Tyldum, the film is nothing if not derivative, playing like an extravagantly spruced-up Silent Running with bits of everything from Gravity to 2001: A Space Odyssey filling up its runtime. Jon Spaihts’ script initially promises a provocative, potentially rich dialogue into ethics and morality, and it’s hard to resist the glossy eye candy of state-of-the-art luxury-cruise-ship sets. But if you’re wondering what the ultimate answer to the film’s intriguing, if somewhat misleading, tagline (“There’s a reason they woke up”) is, it’s fairly underwhelming, and not worth all the build-up. The stranded-in-space/last-man-on-Earth cliches mesh uneasily with the stalkery romance, and eventually the film gives up and goes into big, dumb disaster-movie mode. Chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence mostly bland, but Michael Sheen adds some life as a robot bartender.

A Flickering Truth (2015)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 10 Mar 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

As rapid digital advancements continue to sweep our celluloid past away, it’s always welcome to have docos like A Flickering Truth around to advocate for the significance of preserving film. Although set in war-ravaged Afghanistan, its overarching message is universal, and could easily apply to any culture with a filmmaking history. What makes A Flickering Truth particularly powerful is how the narrative inextricably links the tumultuous political backdrop of Afghanistan to cinema’s capacity to inspire change and educate. Evocatively splicing in unearthed, scratched-up film footage with the present-day efforts of archivists trying to salvage damaged reels from dusty hangars, A Flickering Truth reveals itself not only a moving, elegantly crafted tribute to film restoration but also a fascinating, insightful snapshot of life under the oppressive Taliban regime.

Captain Fantastic (2015)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 3 Mar 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.5

Captain Fantastic culminates in a conclusion that’s overly neat and sentimental, but for a decent part of its duration, writer/director Matt Ross wrings a fine balance of pathos, humour and angst from the material, while allowing Viggo Mortensen to shine in a deservedly Oscar-nominated performance. Playing a father who homeschools his six children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Mortensen is never not present on-screen. His layered, soulful portrayal relays a range of emotions -- compassion, intelligence, discipline, self-doubt -- required in weighing up the struggles and virtues of unorthodox, off-the-grid parenthood. It’s tempting to view the aggressive rejection of social norms as cult-like and abusive, and conventional methods of upbringing and education as shallow and limiting, but Captain Fantastic, while sympathetic towards Mortensen’s character, doesn’t labour a specific worldview on the audience. Even if the film doesn’t amount to more than a tearjerker, at least it’s a well-made one, and Mortensen is worth the price of admission alone.

Headshot (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 3 Mar 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.5

Just in case The Raid films weren’t enough to convince you that Indonesia is now officially the world capital for thunderously violent martial arts actioners, here’s Headshot upping the ante -- and then some. Plot-wise, it’s fairly rudimentary, featuring an unremarkable memory-loss premise that doesn’t give us much of an intricate puzzle to unravel. The Raid star Iko Uwais still isn’t the most charismatic thespian. He gets a few tender scenes to emote alongside co-star, romantic interest/hostage-bait Chelsea Islan, but as expected, he’s best when he lets his limbs do the talking, and thankfully the film grants him a bounty of opportunities to do so. The fight choreography -- often rough, chaotic, gripping -- makes every blow count, with lengthy, spatially coherent takes and circling tracking shots enhancing the eye-watering, pulverising mayhem at every turn. If you have a weak dispossession, look elsewhere, but if you’re in the mood for thrilling, utterly wild, stunt-filled bloodshed, Headshot hits the spot.

Doctor Strange (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 24 Feb 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

Next to Thor, Doctor Strange is Marvel Studios at their most deliriously cosmic. This second entry in the Third Phase of their ever-ballooning Cinematic Universe lacks the consistently witty repartee of previous films: its protagonist, an arrogant surgeon who finds his calling as a sorcerer after a crippling accident, is an icier character to warm up to, a bit like Tony Stark minus the urbane charm. Benedict Cumberbatch is an agreeable fit for the role however, and once we get over the thuddingly formulaic origin story stuff, Doctor Strange serves up an abundance of dizzying visuals for the eyes. The special effects are among Marvel’s most ambitious and kaleidoscopic to date, brimming with reality-bending dimensional portals and spell-casting wizardry that sometimes approach the giddiness of Hong Kong wu xia fantasy films. It’s goofy as all get out, but if you can roll with seeing Mads Mikkelsen in raccoon-like mascara and ponytail, or Scott Adkins getting attacked by a red cape, Doctor Strange is a frequently eye-popping good time.

The Wave (2015)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 24 Feb 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.5

Norway isn’t exactly a country known for producing huge effects-driven blockbusters. But Roar Uthaug’s The Wave is a pretty good attempt at emulating Hollywood’s glossy disaster flicks, and actually better than most recent examples from any American studio. Of course, it doesn’t have the luxury of Hollywood budgets; the centerpiece tsunami, while awe-inspiring in its own right, could perhaps use a few more dollars to finesse its pixels. But it’s still a slick, well-crafted, pleasingly grounded piece of work that proves you don’t need to super-size to Roland Emmerich-style apocalypse-porn to make a good old-fashioned disaster drama. The Wave is prone to silly tropey moments – e.g. a pivotal character who’s blissfully unaware of the impending disaster, just ‘cause – but overall it works where it matters. The story is uncomplicated, the characterisations are sincere, the suspense efficiently modulated, and the pace ticks over briskly.

The 9th Life of Louis Drax (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 17 Feb 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:2.5

Alexandre Aja’s frustratingly uneven track record continues with The 9th Life of Louis Drax, a film so tonally unstable in makes his previous oddball work Horns seem straightforward in comparison. At worst, it’s much duller than it looks – but on the odd occasion that it clicks, the film is just unusual enough recommend a viewing for anyone curious. Aja never really settles on a discernible rhythm or shape for this adaptation of Liz Jensen’s novel, which comes across as a muddle of bad marriages, mind control, dream sequences, sea monsters and mysterious letters. The 9th Life of Louis Drax fluctuates between Jean-Pierre Jeunet-style magic realism and Hitchcock-tinged psychological mystery, and both fail to create effective drama. Jamie Dornan is laughably miscast, out of his depth as a coma doctor, but there’s unintentional comedy to be had watching him attempt to voice a 9-year-old kid.

Under the Shadow (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 17 Feb 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

Under the Shadow is a terrific, compact, richly layered metaphorical horror with an uncommon setting for western genre fans: war-torn 1980s Tehran. With this highly charged political backdrop, first-time director Babak Anvari shows tremendous skill augmenting familiar maternally-themed terrors with more specific social ones, such as women living under the strict, oppressive grips of sharia law. Narges Rashidi’s stellar, fiercely resolute performance as an increasingly perturbed mother caring for her daughter while her husband is drafted, drives the film, which effortlessly morphs from domestic ordinariness into a claustrophobic, reality-bending apartment chiller worthy of early Polanski. Filled with truly unnerving sound design and deftly calibrated scares, Under the Shadow is a gripping, frequently creepy experience to behold.