Title Year Critic rating Date
 
Little Men 2016 4.0 19 May 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Little Men

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

Both an affecting, astutely sketched portrait of adolescent friendship as it is one of New York’s gentrification, Ira Sach’s Little Men refines his knack for crafting small, quiet, and quite lovely, character-focused dramas that favour subtle eddies of emotion in place of big swinging histrionics. As two 13-year-old besties caught in the middle of a property conflict between their parents, Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri give wonderfully naturalistic performances, with Barbieri particularly stealing his scenes with a confident swagger reminiscent of a young De Niro or Pacino. They’re aided by Sach’s sensitive writing, which infuses the complex, irrevocable scenario with nuance and feeling that refuse to reach for neat resolutions. Little Men is a patient, low-key study of how youthful bonds build, strengthen and fray under the pressure of difficult adult decisions. A perfect anti-blockbuster tonic.

Patriots Day 2016 3.5 19 May 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Patriots Day

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

It’s arguable whether Patriots Day should ever have been at all. As with Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, this film proves Peter Berg to be something of a sturdy, tough, action-minded dramatist of recent American history, especially focused on charting the courage of men under extreme pressure. But the tragic subject of Patriots Day -- the 2010 Boston Marathon bombings -- is a bit tricker to parse on ethical and moral grounds. Berg has made a highly effective movie, no doubt, a suspenseful, sharply executed procedural that both conveys the chaos and devastation in the explosion’s aftermath and the nervy tension of the ensuing manhunt. It’s also a worthy love-conquers-hate tribute to the strength of Boston’s people, civilians, and medical and law enforcement personnel alike. But as a piece of Hollywood entertainment that repackages a still-fresh tragedy, Patriots Day can’t help but leave a bitter aftertaste either. Perhaps a more considered documentary would have sufficed, instead of casting Mark Wahlberg as a fictionalised character who saves the day.

The Magnificent Seven 2016 3.0 12 May 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

The Magnificent Seven

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

Agreeable but unmemorable, this remake of the iconic 1960 John Sturges western -- itself a redo of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai -- is noticeably informed by a surface-level “wokeness” that’s attuned to our sociopolitical zeitgeist. The core cast of motley gun-for-hire drifters is drawn from a more diverse ethnic pool than previously managed. It also locates a headstrong female character in Jennifer Lawrence dead ringer Haley Bennett, who plays vengeful boss to the men while acquiring enough badass moves for us to imagine what Katniss might’ve been if she ever set foot in the wild west. However, nothing about the film’s handling of race issues comes close to the bristly provocations of Tarantino’s last two westerns, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. This Seven mainly hews to its time-tested source template, ticking off familiar crowd-pleasing beats. Even if he remains one of the least distinctive action directors on the planet, director Fuqua feels more present in the set-pieces than he’s ever been, lending a Peckinpah-esque ferocity to the bullet-strewn, high body count climax. The flinty, leathery cool of the original ensemble is missed, but Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, both staying well within their comfort zones, are fine in the Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen roles.

American Honey 2016 4.5 12 May 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

American Honey

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

Some will find Andrea Arnold’s sprawling road movie American Honey interminable and excruciating: it clocks in at nearly three hours and doesn’t offer much by way of conventional plot to go with its length. But if you’re already a fan of Arnold’s previous work, or partial to meandering-but-hypnotic, journey-not-the-destination-type narratives, this is one stunningly immersive and remarkable film. Inspired by a New York times article about “mag crews”, Arnold has created a beautifully rich microcosm of capitalist America, simultaneously epic and intimate, compassionate and critical. Arnold’s regular cinematographer Robbie Ryan, once again shooting in her preferred Academy ratio, captures gritty, yet strangely otherworldly images from the Midwest milieu. There’s not a bad note in the cast, from the plucked-from-the-streets naturalism of astonishing newcomer Sasha Lane, to a genuinely brilliant Shia LaBeouf as her mentor. A sensory trip in every way, American Honey probes the troubling, savage exploitation of youthful have-nots but finds hope and camaraderie in their journeys together

Zero Days 2016 3.5 5 May 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Zero Days

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

The fictional super-hacker exploits of Mr Robot and Blackhat don’t seem so far-fetched now after watching Zero Days, a riveting but unsettling look at Stuxnet, a malicious, powerfully advanced self-replicating worm that crippled many global infrastructures, chiefly an Iranian nuclear facility, in 2010. Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney, who seems to be cranking one out annually, not only does a skillful job condensing large swathes of tech-speak into digestible portions, but also contextualising key historical events that have led to the cyber attack. For fans of spy thrillers, Zero Days works a paranoid charm, featuring equally revealing and tight-lipped interviews with high-ranking former officials of the CIA, NSA and Mossad, and internet security detectives who persuasively attest to the larger implications of Stuxnet. Gibney’s doco ultimately argues that the rules of war in the 21st century have been rewritten, with battlefields now taking place behind the veil of sophisticated, slippery code.

Hacksaw Ridge 2016 3.5 5 May 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Hacksaw Ridge

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

Mel Gibson returns to brutal, bloody form with Hacksaw Ridge, a balls-to-the-wall war flick that showcases his prowess for staging violence in eye-watering detail while thickly laying on Christian themes amid the carnage. Centred around the cliffside battle at Okinawa in WWII, the film contains some of the most graphic, gruesomely realistic depictions of warfare since Saving Private Ryan, thrusting the viewer into a fiery sea of charred corpses, exploding limbs and bullet-ridden skulls. Gibson’s sledgehammer approach can be overbearing at times, and it goes without saying, doesn’t always jibe with the pacifist stance of its subject, Desmond Doss, a combat medic who went into the field without a weapon and ended up pulling 76 soldiers to safety. But for all its faults and numerous cliches, Hacksaw Ridge remains a gripping watch. It’s uncompromisingly keyed into the symphonic madness of the moment, and Andrew Garfield turns in a fine, sensitive performance that hangs the film’s narrative threads of heroism, faith and patriotism together in deeply committed fashion.

He Never Died 2016 3.0 28 Apr 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

He Never Died

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

An audience more forgiving of left-field genre pics might warm up to Jason Krawczyk’s endearingly oddball He Never Died more than others. It’s the sort of hard-to-pin-down indie that doesn’t quite get there, but just quirky and charming enough with its hybrid, genre-splicing narrative to appeal to those who know what they’re in for. A lot of it rests on the weirdly inspired casting of greying punk rock icon Henry Rollins, generally seen in supporting parts, in the lead role as some kind of immortal vampiric deity. The low budget shows, and those wishing for a more fleshed-out story won’t find it here (the film almost plays like a failed TV pilot). But if you think you can make room in your viewing schedule to watch a terrifically deadpan, blood-slurping, Bingo-playing Rollins beat up mafiosi, He Never Died’s mix of supernatural comedy, crime-noir and romance should serve up some darkly amusing moments.

La La Land 2016 4.0 28 Apr 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

La La Land

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is no The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but as an old-fashioned throwback to the Technicolor musicals of yore, it’s a polished, crisply directed and unabashedly crowd-pleasing attempt. The film continues Chazelle’s interest in capturing jazz on-screen, which he previously did with his 2014 breakout hit Whiplash, albeit in a more sweaty, nerve-rattling manner. In comparison, La La Land is light, airy and thoroughly romantic, a candy-flossed cinematic valentine to struggling artists chasing their dreams in the City of Angels. As a pianist-for-hire and an aspiring actress who fall for each other, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have an easy-going, if not exactly electric, chemistry between them. One wouldn’t call their singing and dancing skills exceptional but the job gets done, and Chazelle whips up such an intoxicatingly dreamy mood, it’s not hard to get swept under the spell. The opening sequence, a musical number set in a traffic jam, is a dazzlingly elaborate highlight which the film never quite tops. Perhaps not a complex, deeply studied meditation on jazz, but it’s a solid, starry-eyed pick-me-upper.

Bad Santa 2 2016 1.5 21 Apr 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Bad Santa 2

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

The first Bad Santa wasn’t a great work of art. But it took a one-joke idea and made something enjoyably twisted of out of it. For any curmudgeons who would prefer a lump of coal in their stocking than to participate in warm-fuzzy festive cheer, Billy Bob Thornton’s memorably cranky performance as Willie Soke, a sexist, alcoholic, thieving misanthrope, was the ideal whiskey-soaked respite. This sequel, arriving like a grubby gift no wanted some thirteen years later, repeats the same schtick all over again, but ups the ante in political incorrectness to a degree that’s frighteningly dull. Bad Santa 2 can’t help but feel exhausted, coming after a whole generation of Bad Teachers, Bad Moms, Dirty Grandpas, and other garden variety Todd Phillips/Judd Apatow gross-out joints. Kathy Bates is occasionally fun as Willie’s butch, tatted-up long-lost mother Sunny, but the novelty’s worn off, and all that’s left is an overlong, unfunny and awfully desperate desire to shock and offend.

Train to Busan 2016 4.0 21 Apr 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Train to Busan

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

Pitched somewhere between the character-driven, road movie intimacy of Jeremy Gardner’s terrific indie The Battery and the colossal, big-budget action of the Brad Pitt misfire World War Z, Train to Busan more than lives up to its Snowpiercer-with-zombies premise. As per zombie movie formula, the flesh-eating pandemonium is served with a helping of social commentary, here embodied by the film’s privileged fund-managing prick of a protagonist, Seok-woo (Gong Yoo). Hardened gorehounds might feel a little shortchanged by the relative lack of splatter and the familiar nature of the zombies. But Train to Busan finds tremendous narrative propulsion in its mode of transport, exploiting its every nook-and-cranny for claustrophobic, nerve-jangling suspense while leaving ample breathing space before each obstacle hits. Sharp, visceral fun for genre fans.