The Family (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 14 Jul 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.0

There’s probably a better-crafted doco to be made about the bizarre doomsday cult of Anne and William Hamilton-Byrne, but Rosie Jones’ uneven but watchable The Family will do for now. It would take a lot to screw the fascinating story up: in the ‘60s, Anne, believing herself to be Jesus Christ incarnate, kidnapped a bunch of babies and raised them in seclusion in preparation for the apocalypse. Fans of docos like The Source Family, Jonestown and Waco: Rules of Engagement should be captivated, as Jones unearths the disturbing details of the Melbourne-based cult’s abusive practices (brainwashing, LSD trips, shock treatments). Featuring dramatic reenactments, home movies, taped recordings and present-day and archival interviews with former sect members, The Family appears comprehensively researched, but struggles to find a cohesive shape to its narrative, shifting uneasily between a victim’s story, manhunt thriller and crime exposé. Visibly traumatic recollections definitely pack a punch.

Solace (2015)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 7 Jul 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:1.0

Even if you occasionally get nostalgic for those cat-and-mouse ‘90s serial killer movies like Se7en et al, Solace should be avoided at all costs. Strictly for the curious, this wretched, bottom-of-the-barrel “thriller” is easily one of the worst projects any of these actors has ever been involved with. Anthony Hopkins has clearly entered the lazy-ham Richard Burton stretch of his career, sleepwalking through his role as a police psychic pulled out of retirement to nab a serial killer who, as it turns out, is also psychic. The high concept premise is thoroughly stupid, but there’s potentially trashy fun to be had with it -- something the film has practically none of. Afonso Poyart’s terrible, needlessly hyperactive direction ultimately sinks the whole thing; you’ll find episodes of Hannibal that are infinitely more stylish, better acted and written this turkey. Perfect as a sleep-aid.

The Music of Strangers (2015)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 7 Jul 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.5

Morgan Neville follows up his joyous Academy Award-winner 20 Feet from Stardom with another worthwhile, celebratory music documentary. A look at the story of acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s world music group, the Silk Road Ensemble, The Music of Strangers taps into the transformative, inspiring language of music in these times of global chaos while addressing complex issues of cultural identity and tradition. Structurally, it’s a little patchy, but the doco is never dull, finding stories of hope, stirring emotion and soulful artistry as it delves into the backgrounds and philosophies of these musicians. The 90-minute running time means some players in the large, revolving ensemble, made up of gifted musicians from Asia, Middle East and Europe, get lost in the mix. But the ones that do, such as Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and Chinese pipa master Wu Man, have substantial, timely tales to share. Recommended for music doco enthusiasts.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 2 Jul 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

Comic book’s favourite wisecracking webslinger returns with a revitalised sense of purpose in Jon Watt’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, a film that’s exuberant and invigoratingly light-on-its-feet in a way the last few entries weren’t. Sony made the right call enlisting the creative assistance of Marvel, who definitely know a thing or two about crafting successful superhero movies. However, some of Marvel’s problems do remain: there’s too much intrusive attention paid to dotting the i’s of their Cinematic Universe (it could do with a few less Tony Stark/Captain America appearances). But the good stuff is really good, from Tom Holland’s immensely engaging Peter Parker to the earthy, charming John Hughes high-school comedy vibe of the screenplay. Watt (Cop Car) and his arsenal of writers do a terrifically supple job of weaving familiar teen-movie tropes (field trips, house parties, prom nights) around all the vertiginous, CG-heavy superhero derring-do. Easily the best Spider-man movie since Spider-Man 2.

A Cure for Wellness (2017)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 30 Jun 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.5

It’s heartening to see that major studios are still giving A-list directors millions of dollars to produce something as perverse and icky, yet incredibly slick, as A Cure for Wellness. Gore Verbinski’s foray into Grand Guignol traditions resembles Shutter Island by way of Crimson Peak: super-bloated, but visually entrancing and feverishly charged with mood and atmosphere. Its resemblance to Scorsese’s big-budget 2010 psychodrama is further pronounced by the presence of Dane DeHaan, who channels the jittery energy of DiCaprio in his role as a Wall Street hotshot drawn to a mysterious wellness institute located in the remote alps of Switzerland. A Cure for Wellness has big, complex, relevant things to say about the ills of modern society. But those themes are buried under a cornucopia of lavish sets, Gothic imagery and perplexing narrative developments involving eels, nefarious experiments and a bloodline-obsessed baron from two centuries ago. A beautiful-looking mess.

The Founder (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 23 Jun 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.0

John Lee Hancock’s The Founder is a fantastic movie for Michael Keaton fans, especially those who have been enjoying his post-Birdman comeback. His boundless energy and wide-eyed charisma are front and center, perfectly tailored and matched for the role of Ray Kroc, the fast-talking milkshake-machine salesman who wheeled and dealed his way into owning the largest fast food empire in the world. As a biopic of Kroc, and a cautionary yarn of capitalism’s evils, it’s a little iffier, entertaining enough, but very meat-and-potatoes in execution. It’s clear Hancock wants to highlight the less-than-wholesome side of Kroc’s business practices, the ugly patina of greed, opportunism and hubris lurking behind those bright, iconic golden arches. But The Founder is almost like a McDonald’s burger itself: satisfying in the moment, but utterly formula-bound, and lacking any lingering impact.

Army of One (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 23 Jun 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.0

Today Nicolas Cage’s output seemingly consists of one interchangeable DTV dross after another, but every once in a blue moon, something will come along that’ll remind us why we used to love the guy. Larry Charles’ Army of One is that kind film, featuring Cage at his most manic and eccentric in a while, bearing those kooky comedic gifts that have been somewhat underused in recent years. Sporting some of his craziest hair since Con Air, Cage plays real-life weirdo Gary Faulkner, a Colorado handyman who embarks on a mission to capture Osama Bin Laden… because God told him to. Army of One isn’t consistently funny nor is it exactly subversive, but treads the fine line between the stupid and the sweet. The film recognises there’s something entertainingly daft about watching a motor-mouthed Cage bumbling around in Pakistan, smoking hash, wielding a samurai sword and getting caught up in all sorts of strange shit. Charles handled the fish-out-of-water stuff better with Borat, but Army of One has its likeably moronic moments.

Life (2017)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 16 Jun 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.5

Originality is definitely not something you’ll find in abundance in Daniel Espinosa’s Life, a stranded-in-space alien shocker that should only surprise those who haven’t seen The Thing, Alien or Gravity. However, as far as bald-faced Alien rip-offs go, this one is not too shabby, and actually works more efficiently as a straight-up sci-fi horror flick that Ridley Scott’s muddled back-to-basics attempt Alien: Covenant. You'll be familiar with the stock types on board the ship: the inquisitive, philosophical scientist, the foolhardy engineer, and so forth. But the cast do their best to instil some semblance of dimension into characters that are essentially walking alien chowder. The creature, dubbed “Calvin”, starts off a innocuous-looking leafy plant, before evolving into a beastly starfish/squid/jellyfish mix thing that's the main source of the film's slickly disgusting set-pieces. For viewers who like on their alien movies on the gross side, that’s one thing Life has going for it: it’s surprisingly nasty.

Don't Think Twice (2016)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 16 Jun 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:4.0

Stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia made a pretty good directorial debut with his semi-autobiographical indie Sleepwalk With Me in 2012. His follow-up, Don’t Think Twice, is even better, fulfilling the promise of its predecessor to deliver an insightful, bittersweet, sharply acted and written ode to artists grappling with failure, fame and friendship. Birbiglia stars as Miles, a veteran member of a tight-knit improv troupe in New York who find themselves at a crossroads when one of their own, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), gets snapped up by a popular live comedy TV show. Although organically funny, and not above taking aim at showbiz douchebaggery, Don’t Think Twice shouldn’t be mistaken for an out-and-out comedy. There’s a lot here that confronts very authentic and painfully real situations that arise during transitional periods in life: birth, death, dissolution of relationships, responsibility and sacrifice, and the age-old battle between commerce and art. It’s all wrought with a terrific balance of pathos and laughs. A real under-the-radar gem.

Willow Creek (2014)

  • Reviewer: Aaron Yap
  • Date Added: 9 Jun 2017
  • Aaron's Rating:3.0

I’m as tired and weary of the ubiquitous found footage genre as the next person, but I still occasionally hold out hope that there’ll be one with the ability to surprise, or even shock, me. Willow Creek, comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s first full-blown stab at horror, isn’t quite there, but there are hints here that indicate if matched with the right material, he definitely has the smarts to pull off a really awesome horror flick. As it is, this shakey-cam dip into ol’ Bigfoot lore takes plenty of familiar cues from The Blair Witch Project and its ilk, blending suggestive wildlife threats (mountain lions! bears!), hostile backwoods locals and lost-in-the-woods hysteria into its scare bag. The build-up will probably be too leisurely for some -- almost half the film is over before anything of significance happens. But the faux-doco interviews were fairly enjoyable, and the film’s masterful centrepiece -- an extremely long, terrifying take inside a tent -- is worth the wait.