High-Rise (2015)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 13 Jan 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

For the past several years, British director Ben Wheatley has been making waves in the genre scene with nifty, idiosyncratic low-budgeters like Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England. High-Rise, an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian sci-fi novel, is effectively a showcase for what the man can achieve with a bit more money. It’s the flashiest, slickest thing he’s made yet, visually arresting, impeccably designed -- veritable proof of his directorial brio. But it’s also as disorienting, inscrutable and unrepentant as anything he’s done, featuring slippery plot shifts and nightmarish, tripped-out imagery that’s equal parts Luis Bunuel, Terry Gilliam and Nic Roeg. High-Rise is certainly not going to please all tastes, but if you have the fortitude or patience to simply run with its wild mix of class warfare, brutalist architecture, slimy decadence and societal collapse, it’s one hell of a trip worth taking.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 13 Jan 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:2.5

Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is, undoubtedly, an ideal match for Tim Burton’s perpetually Peter Pan sensibilities. Too ideal, perhaps. The novel’s time-loop premise almost serves as an unintentional allegory for Burton’s career: will he forever remain unchallenged, content to be the go-to director to adapt children’s fantasy material for the big screen? Plenty of his signature macabre touches are on display (creepy puppets, Harryhausen-esque skeleton armies, carny backdrops), but they are wedded to the synthetic digital gloss now endemic of modern young adult and superhero blockbusters. It’s fundamentally Burton attempting his own Harry Potter, or X-Men, but the end result feels oddly lifeless. Matters aren’t helped by Asa Butterfield’s wooden, charisma-free lead performance. Only the reliably sublime Eva Green, as Peregrine, leaves any sort of impression. Indiscriminate fans of Burton or gothic whimsy might enjoy this more than others.

The Trust (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 6 Jan 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.5

While Nicolas Cage’s recent career has seen him slumming in generic, forgettable straight-to-video vehicles, Alex and Benjamin Brewer’s The Trust shows the actor hasn’t completely lost the kooky charm that characterizes his best roles. His off-kilter energy animates this otherwise run-of-the-mill caper flick, where he stars alongside Elijah Wood as a cop who hatches a plan to rob a mysterious steel vault. It’s not the most plausible scenario – part of the plan involves importing a $10K drill from Germany – and the script unfortunately backs itself into a corner in the final stretch. But the disarming, likeable chemistry between the unpredictable Cage and straight-laced Wood gives the film its own gently dopey groove. Jerry Lewis turns up in a weirdly – criminally – brief cameo as Cage’s dad. Slightly better than average, but keep your expectations in check.

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 6 Jan 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused is still perhaps the final word on rites-of-passage high school comedies. This “spiritual sequel” doesn’t quite attain similar highs, but it offers a comparably spirited, undeniably feelgood rush. As with Dazed, there isn’t much plot to speak of – it’s a total hangout movie, a bro-down of pot-smoking, locker-room pranks, hazing rituals and porn-staches. The relaxed charisma of the mostly fresh-faced cast compensate for their characters’ lack of dimension – Dazed featured a more varied ensemble than drooling baseball jocks. Everybody Wants Some!! is definitely Linklater in his element; it’s probably not a “necessary” film, but for a college-era Dazed redux, it’s just infectious and effortless enough that you won’t be able to resist its wistful, rose-tinted nostalgic allure.

Our Kind of Traitor (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 30 Dec 2016
  • Aaron's Rating:3.5

Our Kind of Traitor may not rank up there with the best John le Carré movie adaptations, but if you’re just after an old-fashioned spy yarn with solid performances, decent suspense and a sufficiently absorbing plot, this one will pass a couple of hours easy. It’s definitely one of le Carré’s easier-to-follow narratives, centering on an English professor and his barrister wife who become involved with MI6 agents, Russian mobsters and corrupt British politicians. Stock Hitchcockian stuff to be sure, but director Susannah White brings a lean, sure hand to the material, and Anthony Dod Mantle’s artful, elegant cinematography – the film’s true star – kicks the film up a notch. Stellan Skarsgård, though sporting an uneven Russian accent, offers up one of his more colourful portrayals of late, a burly mobster shaded with brutishness, honour and warmth. Ewan MacGregor does a serviceable milquetoast everyman thing, while Damien Lewis is enjoyably slippery as a George Smiley-style spook.

Jim: The James Foley Story (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 30 Dec 2016
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

Jim: The James Foley Story isn’t just a skillfully crafted documentary about the first American citizen who was executed by ISIS in 2014, but also a powerful, emotional tribute to the brave, selfless work of freelance conflict journalists everywhere. Made by Foley’s childhood friend Brian Oakes, the film pieces together an effective portrait of grief (family members still grappling with the complex nature of his death) and an engrossing, unsettling peek into life on the bloody frontline (warning: graphic, upsetting footage abound). Most interesting section of the doco chronicles Foley’s captivity alongside fellow journalists, and the way they were able to forge solidarity under such nightmarish, unthinkably adverse conditions. The surviving journalists speak fondly of Foley, and it’s here his innately humble spirit becomes truly transcendent and inspirational. Exceptionally moving.

The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 23 Dec 2016
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

If you’re an avid watcher of courtroom dramas true crime procedurals, The People v. O. J. Simpson is simply not to be missed. This first in the anthology series American Crime Story, it’s an utterly riveting look behind the scenes of the notorious murder case involving the former titular American football star, who was tried in 1994 for the gruesome killings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The show isn’t without flaws: the casting of Cuba Gooding Jr, John Travolta and David Schwimmer is iffy, and a tad too cartoony for my liking; showrunner Ryan Murphy’s histrionic visual style sometimes gets in the way of what is already an electrifying drama. But these issues are counter-balanced by crackling performances from others in the cast, such as Sarah Paulson, Sterling K Brown and Courtney B Vance. The writing is sharp and timely, studded with incredible twists and turns that keep the viewer hooked throughout its ten pacey episodes. In the end, it’s not a simple murder trial – Simpson and Goldman, sadly, become unfortunate footnotes in the ensuing circus – but an enthralling American tragedy that wrestles with race, justice, media and celebrity. A powerhouse, crackerjack mini-series.

I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 23 Dec 2016
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

A future cult classic in the making, I Am Not A Serial Killer genuinely feels like some freshly unearthed horror sleeper from the ‘80s – hell, even early ‘90s. Shot on beautifully gritty 16mm, this might be the smartest, most genre-blending twist on the serial killer genre since the underrated Mr. Brooks. Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are) is terrific as a socially withdrawn teenager who discovers his elderly neighbour (a fabulous creepy Christopher Lloyd) might be a homicidal maniac leaving a trail of corpses in their town. The meandering narrative, told naturalistically, might baffle and test the patience of those seeking more straight-ahead thrills. But if you're open something more off-kilter and unpredictable, I Am Not A Serial Killer’s mix of moody coming-of-age, dark humour, psychological suspense and atmospheric Midwest dread should make for an endearingly strange watch.

Sully (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 16 Dec 2016
  • Aaron's Rating:3.0

The flat, no-frills, sluggish direction of Clint Eastwood’s late works continues to plague Sully, but this is his shortest film in quite some time, and that helps in its favour. His workmanlike approach, through veering close to TV movie, also complements the everyman ordinariness of the extraordinary event that it recounts: the 2009 emergency landing of a passenger airplane in New York’s Hudson River by veteran pilot Chesley Sullenberger. It’s an inherently intriguing subject, so there’s no need to sensationalise it anymore than it already is. Combining tactful re-enactments of the disaster, and a less-than-subtle dramatization of its subsequent NTSB investigation, Sully ultimately lands as another of Eastwood’s studies of heroism, absorbing in spurts, but minor in most respects. It rests on the shoulders of Tom Hanks, whose impeccably subtle performance as Sullenberger delivers a humble, noble character worthy of our attention for 90 minutes, and not more.

Rams (2015)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 16 Dec 2016
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

If you like your comedy on the super-grim and droll side, then this bone-dry, thoroughly idiosyncratic Icelandic gem might appeal. Others might struggle to find anything worth laughing about in this story about two deeply estranged, middle-aged sheep-farming brothers, Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson), who must come to terms with the fallout from the terminally diseased livestock. Writer/director Grímur Hákonarson’s economical script burns slowly, establishing an undercurrent of comic ruefulness and tangible sense of place in its sparsely scored, beautifully shot portrait of lonely, remote rural life. Moments of terrific deadpan wit – a dog becomes a messenger between the siblings; Gummi carting a blind drunk Kiddi to hospital in a bulldozer – and the leads’ enigmatic, bittersweet performances build to a genuinely powerful and cathartic ending.