Title Year Critic rating Date
 
Equity 2016 3.5 24 Mar 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Equity

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

With recent films like Margin Call and The Big Short covering similar ground, Meera Menon’s Equity might not contain too many revealing insights into the wheelin’ and dealin’ world of Wall Street. However, the film makes for a welcome alternative as it puts a distinctively female spin on a largely male-dominated subject. We’re used to seeing greasy Gordon Geckos in our cinema, but not Naomi Bishop (Breaking Bad’s solid Anna Gunn), a tough-talking investment banker who provides a gateway into the film’s examination of how workplace sexism continue to affect career women in positions of authority. The corporate thriller stuff is reasonably straightforward, with standard two-faced scheming and dog-eat-dog power-plays fuelling the narrative. But Equity is still a work of particular interest, especially where it grants the female characters strong, driven arcs and assertive characterisations generally reserved for men.

Allied 2016 2.5 24 Mar 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Allied

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

You can see what Robert Zemeckis and writer Steven Knight were gunning for with Allied: an old-fashioned spy yarn, set during World War II, mixed in with a bit of sweeping romance, and a dash of Hitchcock. There are obvious nods to the Bogie classic Casablanca. But the final product, however handsomely mounted, can’t hold a candle to the films it labours to emulate. Sure, Zemeckis can be relied on for one or two dazzling set-pieces -- an early shootout in the film stands out. But the rest of the film is rather tepid, resting too much on Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard’s unevenly matched chemistry to do the heavy lifting. The radiant Cotillard seems to be putting a lot more effort in than Pitt, who sleepwalks through the role in one of his dullest performances to date. Bored perhaps? He’s certainly been here before with Mr. and Mrs Smith and Inglourious Basterds. For a more exuberant and entertaining take on similar material, catch Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book.

Ouija: Origin of Evil 2016 4.0 17 Mar 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

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 3.0 17 Mar 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Operation Avalanche

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

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 2.5 10 Mar 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Passengers

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

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 4.0 10 Mar 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

A Flickering Truth

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

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 3.5 3 Mar 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Captain Fantastic

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

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 3.5 3 Mar 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Headshot

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

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 4.0 24 Feb 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

Doctor Strange

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

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 3.5 24 Feb 2017 Aaron Yap Read review Close review

The Wave

Reviewer: Aaron Yap

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.