• Nightwish - Imaginaerum - The Score (2012)

    Imaginearum is a quite creative movie conceived by Nightwish mastermind Tuomas Holopainen that I would recommend you to watch. This release is the score of said film. While other bands or artists who make movies, most recently Bruce Dickinson and X Japan to just give two popular examples, use songs from their regular studio albums and cheaply compile them to so-called soundtracks, this score has something better to offer.

    The songs are influenced by the preceding studio album Imaginearum. The themes of the different songs can be found in the thirteen songs of this score. However, one doesn't get bland instrumental versions of the original symphonic metal songs. Instead, one gets atmospheric, creative and diversified orchestral music that sounds surprisingly stripped-down by Nightwish's own standards. The tracks support the movie's atmospheric visuals in the first place which means that straight-forward bombast is missing here. Since the album combines classical orchestral music with a few choirs, keyboard samples and occasional Irish folk sounds, this release can't even be categorized as symphonic metal. As far as I know, only the particularly dramatic ''I Have to Let You Go'' that goes back to ''Last Ride of the Day'' includes a few electric guitar sounds.

    Still, this score will keep you entertained from start to finish if you like soundtracks as it offers splendid diversity and clever references to Nightwish's original music from the last album. The dreamy ''Orphanage Airlines'' that smoothly references the catchy ''Storytime'' is a first highlight that invites you to dream yourself far away. The album also includes some more rhythmic and vivid tracks like ''A Crackling Sphere'' which takes its inspiration from ''Arabesque''. ''Deeper Down'', which is closely inspired by ''The Crow, the Owl and the Dove'', is the only track featuring soothing vocals by Anette Olzon and Marco Hietala but the track blends in perfectly with the other twelve songs because it respects the soundtrack's dreamy and stripped-down atmosphere. The vocals are only used as if they were additional instruments which makes them work splendidly.

    I am certainly not a fan of all the ambitious projects Nightwish has accomplished thus far. Endless Forms Most Beautiful felt bloated and the compilation Decades was completely useless. However, Nightwish's creative movie Imaginaerum and its dreamy score should get more attention and praise. It will not only please to fans of the band but to anyone who likes musical fantasy movies with an enigmatic touch. Petri Alanko managed to keep the spirit of the original Nightwish songs and transform them into timeless orchestral music with depth. Ignore the negative reviews and join a ride full of imagination.

    Final rating: 85%

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  • Isle of Dogs (2018)

    Usually, I'm not a big fan of animation movies but Isle of Dogs certainly deserves the praise it gets. I would even consider it the best animation movie since the brilliant Wall-E ten years ago. I predict this movie is going to win at least one Academy Award next year.

    There are several elements that make this film stand out. First of all, the stop-motion animation manages both to honor influential animated films and series of the sixties and seventies and to develop some stylish retro-chic that makes the movie look fresh. The numerous references to Japanese culture in form of clothes and settings, drinks and foods as well as spoken and written language are quite charming. The story is interesting enough as well and follows a group of dogs who help the orphaned nephew of a tyrannic mayor who wants to exterminate dogs find his vanished guard dog. The film teaches values such as courage, democracy, freedom, friendship and resilience. Its messages are important for children but also apply for adults. Despite its intelligent plot and intriguing intentions, Isle of Dogs is a movie that remains entertaining and easy to digest. The dog characters complement one another in a humorous way and especially Chief is quite sympathetic as tough dog with a soft core. The human characters aren't as detailed but also rather charming, especially the resilient Atari and the courageous Tracy. The fates of dogs and humans will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

    There isn't much to criticize about this beautiful movie. The plot could have been a little bit more creative and surprising. The movie might moralize a little bit too much here and there. There are a few too many flashbacks that break the movie's flow. It's debatable whether choosing an American exchange student as one of the protagonists in a story taking place exclusively in Japan was truly necessary. However, all those things are only minor details that won't take away from your enjoyment of this superb flick.

    If there is a movie for the whole family to watch this year, it has to be the beautiful yet profound Isle of Dogs. Wes Anderson's latest project is emotional, entertaining and intelligent and should please the brains and hearts of old and young cinephiles alike. If even someone who usually doesn't appreciate animation movies a lot like me likes this film quite a lot, I guess it must be something truly memorable.

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  • Sandome no satsujin / The Third Murder (2017)

    The Third Murder is a gloomy courtroom drama that deals with complex topics like control, fatherhood and righteousness. The story revolves around young lawyer Shigemori who is asked to defend mysterious Misumi. His father once defended the strange man when he committed murder in the past and he managed to change his impending death penalty into a life imprisonment sentence. Soon after his release from prison, Misumi admits to have killed his former boss in order to steal his wallet and settle some gambling debts. However, Misumi soon starts offering different versions of what actually happened. Shigemori is unable to figure his client out but determined to win the case. He starts investigating the complex case himself and stumbles upon the victim's quiet wife and their handicapped daughter who seem to have something to hide. While trying to win the case, Shigemori doesn't only learn more about the lives of everyone involved but about his own family life.

    The Third Murder is a movie that is quite tough to watch. Its pace is particularly slow. The investigation process is contradictory, difficult and inconclusive. The film doesn't offer any shifts in action or tension. The conclusion won't please those who are expecting a dynamic crime flick. 

    However, this film has an almost hypnotically gloomy atmosphere that gives it its very own style from start to finish. The characters are quite intriguing because they are difficult to figure out. Protagonist Shigemori almost pales in comparison to his fascinating client Misumi who meanders between being a manipulative madman, a calm sage in harmony with himself and a mentally broken elder. The dialogues are particularly well-written. The acting performances are quite credible and almost make the movie seem to be a documentary. The locations suit the sinister atmosphere very well as they manage to look beautiful despite their bleak darkness. The calm and precise cinematography completes the picture of this soulful drama.

    In the end, you will appreciate The Third Murder if you are ready to watch a slow-paced courtroom drama with an inconclusive plot but intriguing characters and gripping atmosphere. This movie most certainly isn't for everyone but it's good at what it's attempting to be. Patient viewers will be rewarded with some intellectual food for thought.

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  • Lao shou / Old Beast (2017)

    Old Beast is a quite sinister drama that takes place in the desolate city of Ordos and its immediate surroundings in Inner Mongolia. The story revolves around an aging businessman who has run out of luck and must work as debt collector. He spends his time drinking, gambling and hanging around with former associates and friends. He fails to take care of his sick wife and flirts with a young prostitute instead who plans on leaving the autonomous region. When his wife collapses during one of his prolonged absences from home, his children and their families bring her to a hospital and try to collect some money to pay for an expensive operation that could improve her serious medical condition. The reckless elder however steals a part of the sum and uses it for his own purposes which leads to a psychological and physical clash with his family members. Rejected, isolated and ashamed, the old beast tries to come clean and organizes some changes in his life.

    There are several elements that make Old Beast at least partially interesting to watch. The desolate grey buildings in the steppe go along with the aging and disillusioned main character who faces the consequences of a slow economic decline after years of prosperity. The movie has a constantly depressing atmosphere and almost feels like a documentary criticizing greed and its consequences in the contemporary Chinese society. The lead character who is brilliantly played by Tu Men represents the flaws of prosperity perfectly but it's fascinating to see his moral values recover throughout the film.

    However, the movie is quite hard to sit through despite its honorable intentions. The plot could be summarized in a few sentences and feels plodding and stretched. Aside some appropriate social criticism, the movie doesn't have much to offer. Several scenes feel dull and pointless when we observe the main character lying in a small bed in a cheap hotel for a few moments, when we see him sitting on the ground in the streets for several minutes or when we watch him prepare some medicine for his wife for a prolonged period of time. The side characters seem intriguing at first contact but aren't fully developed as the movie almost exclusively focuses on the main character. This risky approach certainly is a missed occasion. The movie feels dull, predictable and repetitive after a while. The movie's main idea to criticize the consequences of greed certainly goes along with the agenda of the Communist Party of China which makes this movie feel like a clumsy propaganda film to a certain degree.

    In the end, you could appreciate Old Beast if you like moralizing dramas with depressing atmosphere and a dose of social criticism. Old Beast has an intriguing purpose and a few positive elements like the great acting performances, the precise cinematography and the desolate settings. However, the movie rarely entertains. It feels dull, predictable and stretched. If you aren't a fan of gloomy dramas, you should stay away from this difficult movie.

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  • Appointment with Death (1988)

    I have appreciated numerous cinematic adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels, including Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun that have been released throughout the seventies and eighties. The movies have convinced me and fans all around the world with charismatic star actresses and actors, characters with charisma, charm and depth as well as unpredictable twists and turns in the addicting plots. None of these things can be found in this dull film.

    Let's start with the few positive elements. The photography looks gorgeous and was filmed on location in Italy and Israel. The movie makes you want to visit these exotic locations. The only convincing actress is Piper Laurie who plays the cold matriarch brilliantly. Sadly, her character gets killed halfway through the movie. The few investigative flashbacks in the film's second half at least make you guess who might have committed the murder for a few moments but the outcome is surprisingly simple.

    On the negative side, we have not only surprisingly shallow characters but also unconvincing actresses and actors. Peter Ustinow who once again impersonates Belgian detective Hercule Poirot looks slow, old and dull and he speaks way too much without saying anything significant. His wit, sharpness and good manners of yore seem to be gone. The moment when he finally solves the crime feels artificially stretched. The story isn't particularly exciting either. This isn't only due to the fact that none of the characters evokes any kind of sympathy but also to a surprising lack of twists and turns leading to an unusually predictable outcome. The directing of the movie is also lacking sharpness as it takes almost half of the running time to introduce the numerous characters before anything significant happens. The second half of the movie feels somewhat rushed on the other side and a few questions are left unanswered. The film's conclusion is also rather underwhelming and seems misplaced. The source material is only partially to blame here since the resolution has been shortened considerably for this adaptation.

    In the end, Appointment with Death is the weakest cinematic adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel and there have been quite a few. The movie hasn't aged well at all. The acting performances are mostly underwhelming, the characters are uninteresting, the movie has strange pace, the plot is a routine job at best and the conclusion is disappointing. I can recommend the other adaptations mentioned in the introduction but would recommend anyone to stay away from Appointment with Death.

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