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  • Siberia (2018)

    Siberia is a slow-paced romantic thriller that has received a surprising number of unfair reviews. While the movie is certainly no genre highlight, it convinces with solid acting performances, a gloomy atmosphere and a realistic story.

    The story revolves around an American diamond merchant who travels to Saint Petersburg in Russia for a big deal. Upon arrival, his contact person has vanished and the rare blue diamonds are also gone. A local gangster boss however insists on getting these diamonds delivered as quickly as possible and gives the merchant forty-eight hours to find them. The diamond merchant wants to save his reputation and travels to the Siberian hometown of his partner. He learns that his partner attempted to double-cross another gangster boss by trying to sell fake diamonds. The diamond merchant now understands that what seemed to be a perfect deal is a dangerous situation. Even the Russian secret service starts investigating. The diamond merchant however gets unexpected help from a cosmopolite café owner he falls in love with and a former South African trade partner. The diamond merchant must try to find his contact, get the deal done and cooperate with the secret service in order to leave the country alive.

    Siberia's main flaw is that the film is quite slow-paced before the final thirty minutes finally increase intensity.

    However, the movie convinces on several levels as well. Every scene has a purpose for the story. The bear hunting scene for example shows us how the café owner's brother starts to trust the diamond merchant and tolerate the relationship between his sister and the mysterious foreigner. The acting performances are convincing and honest. Keanu Reeves plays a calm and experienced man which explains how he could be involved in diamond trafficking but his insecure and tender side also shows that he is despising some of his partners and longing for a fulfilling relationship. The story involves numerous interesting side characters such as an intimidating gangster boss and a cunning secret agent. The settings of the movie are splendid and vary from one of the world's most beautiful cities with Saint Petersburg to rural towns in Northeastern Siberia. The story is complex but always easy to follow thanks to its smooth pace. The ending of the movie is unconventional but realistic and certainly offers some food for thought.

    The more I think about this movie, the more positive elements I find. I would recommend it to patient viewers with an interest in Russian culture. If you like slow-paced Scandinavian, German and British thrillers, you might also possibly like this movie. If you expect Keanu Reeves to play a similar role to his John Wick character, you won't find it in here. If you need thrillers to be fast-paced and focused on explosive special effects, you've got it all wrong. Siberia is a gloomy thriller that stands out with its unique style nowadays and focuses on character and story development rather than impressive action scenes and baffling plot twists.

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  • The Salvation (2014)

    The Salvation is a Danish western and while this might sound surprising at first sight, The Salvation is easily the best western I have seen in many years and a solid candidate for western of the decade or even of the century. The story revolves around a quiet Danish farmer named Jon Jensen who welcomes his wife and son in the United States of America after years of separation. On the night of their arrival, the peaceful farmer gets savagely beaten up by two thugs. They then proceed to rape his wife in front of their son before killing both of them. Jon Jensen takes his revenge but soon learns that one of the criminals was the brother of an influential local land baron who now plans to kill Jon Jensen. Since the local land baron controls the town and people close to Jon Jensen, he can only rely on his brother and needs to be extremely careful to survive. It soon becomes obvious that either the local land baron or the Danish farmer has to die to end the conflict.

    There are numerous elements that make this movie great. The story is very emotional and gritty but always remains realistic and easy to follow. The settings look absolutely splendid and especially the dirty oil town where the land baron lives with his thugs looks memorable. The camera work is detailed, epic and precise. The atmospheric soundtrack enhances the movie's sinister atmosphere. The action scenes are authentic, gripping and tough. The movie doesn't overuse special effects and goes back to the stylistics of classic westerns from the sixties. The acting performances are absolutely splendid. Mads Mikkelsen who incarnates the quiet protagonist underlines once more that he is one of the greatest contemporary actors. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a charismatic antagonist who really incarnates everything you might dislike about another person. Eva Green plays a silent femme fatale whose intentions aren't always clear and whose development throughout the movie is truly intriguing.

    I have thought long and hard about negative sides of this movie but there simply aren't any. This western is enjoyable from start to finish, not only for western fans but for anyone who likes excellent cinema with vibrant action scenes, intense atmosphere and interesting characters. The Salvation proves that the western genre isn't gone and forgotten yet but can still be entertaining and vibrant in the twenty-first century without denying its roots and style.

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  • Freedom Call - M.E.T.A.L. (2019)

    It's been a while since I have tried out a Freedom Call record and I am by no means a big fan of overtly joyous power metal with simple melodies and repetitive positive lyrics. However, this particular style that was quite popular when the band was founded two decades ago and reached its heights fifteen years ago has become a rarity these days. Listening to this type of music that is often refered to as flower metal is a refreshing change of style. Especially when it's executed as brilliantly as on M.E.T.A.L..

    M.E.T.A.L. is Freedom Call's tenth studio record but the band never sounds bland, old-fashioned or uninspired. This album oozes with uplifting atmosphere, joyful lyrics and catchy melodies. While other groups sing about the number of the beast, the German quartet opens the album with the white metal anthem ''111 - The Number of the Angels'' and you can't help but smile when you hear the playful guitar melodies, speedy rhythm section and engaging vocals filled with optimistic power. ''Spirit of Daedalus'' is simply an excellent European power metal song that could have been released by genre legends such as Gamma Ray, Helloween or Edguy two decades ago and shows that Freedom Call also convinces with topics about legends and musicianship that is a little bit heavier regarding the vibrant guitar riffs. Title track ''M.E.T.A.L.'' might come around with stereotypical lyrics honouring the metal genre and scene one would have rather expected from HammerFall, Manowar or Primal Fear two decades ago but the song is performed with so much honest conviction that you simply can't escape its addicting vibes. Freedom Call's M.E.T.A.L. is a joyful ride through vibrant European power metal territories for forty-three carefree minutes.

    Even though some song ideas end up getting slightly repetitive towards the end of the album, M.E.T.A.L. doesn't include any fillers and should appeal to European power metal fans of old date. This record's limited edition includes two acoustic versions of Freedom Call classics and shows that this band also transmits positive vibes in a stripped-down concept thanks to its gifted guitar players and skilled vocalist in particular. The bland cover artwork certainly doesn't do the vibrant energy of the song material and the production justice.

    Freedom Call's M.E.T.A.L. spreads so much joy that it can only be enjoyed in small doses but if you need to get a positive smile upon your face, there isn't anything better you could listen to. The songwriting might be repetitive, the music might go back twenty years in time and the lyrics might be simplistic but the record is performed with so much energy, honesty and warmth that you won't care if you appreciate this type of music. In sinister moods and times, this uplifting record is a true relief.

    Final rating: 75%

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  • Equilibrium - Renegades (2019)

    Equilibrium has been going through changes throughout the past ten years but even by the band's experimental standards, the group's sixth record Renegades will almost certainly be received controversially by critics and fans alike. Brand new bassist Skar also performs clean vocals throughout the record. There are now two keyboard players, namely band leader and only founding member René Berthiaume and his girlfriend Skadi Rosehurst who has only just officially joined the band. The danceable and modern ''Hype Train'' features additional female vocals by Julie Elven. ''Path of Destiny'' features a German rap break performed by The Butcher Sisters. The band covered The Hooters' ''Johnny B''.

    As you can see, there are a lot of things going on here. Some experiments do work surprisingly well. The clean vocals are a nice addition, especially since Robse's hoarse and low harsh vocals are fairly limited and have never equaled original singer Helge Stang with his passionate shouts. The additional keyboardist expands the band's soundscapes as several songs sound danceable and contemporary as the band leaves its epic folk roots almost completely behind. Among the better songs are the epic opener ''Renegades - A Lost Generation'' with its melodic guitar and keyboard work connecting to the band's predecessor Armageddon, the solid mixture of clean and harsh vocals in ''Tornado'' that slightly recalls gothic metal bands like Crematory and the upbeat ''Himmel und Feuer'' as the only song with entirely German lyrics that goes back to the band's first two records without sounding unimaginative. Especially the record's first half is really solid.

    Other experiments just don't work and simply make you scratch your head. The additional female vocals in ''Hype Train'' are unspectacular and would only have worked with a more skilled or at least more unique singer. The German rap parts in''Path of Destiny'' are cringe-worthy and just don't fit into an otherwise solid epic symphonic metal song. This track sounds like a failed attempt at writing a nu metal song. The cover of The Hooters' ''Johnny B'' never equals the feeling of the brilliant original tune and especially the parts with harsh vocals are unintentionally amusing. The choice of this cover song also doesn't blend in with the other tracks dealing with mostly ecological and environmental issues.

    At the end of the day, Equilibrium's Renegades leaves confused listeners behind scratching their heads. Despite its band name, this record doesn't sound even remotely balanced and is too experimental for its own good. Some outside help in the songwriting department might have helped the band deliver a more coherent and consistent effort. Still, an experimental record is better than copying the past glory of the first two albums in my book. The final result is hit and miss but with more positive than negative elements to mention. Its sheer diversity invites for multiple spins and is certainly very entertaining. At this point, one wouldn't be surprised if the next album were to incorporate free jazz elements with Mongolian throat singing but the band shouldn't forget that less is more.

    Final rating: 75%

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