• Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

    The unusually titled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a big cinematic surprise towards the end of the year, receives massive critical acclaim and is even considered a favourite for the upcoming Academy Awards. All these positive reactions are well-deserved.

    The only reason why I don't consider this film excellent is because of the rushed exposition and the aborted resolution. It would have been interesting to get a more detailed introduction instead of being thrown right into events based upon something that happened seven months earlier and which the viewers will have to figure out step by step. The open ending certainly has an intriguing artistic approach but my curiosity was certainly longing for a few more answers.

    Everything that is actually shown on screen is though excellent. The story revolving around a bitter mother coping with the brutal death of her daughter is desperate, infuriating and touching. 

    The characters is in this movie are dynamic and round as they have a lot of depth and smoothly change throughout the movie. Even the side characters such as an abusive ex-husband, a determined black sheriff and a provocative war veteran with a filthy secret are very interesting.

    The acting performances by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are incredibly authentic and powerful. 

    The movie manages to combine tense moments related to classic thrillers, tragic moments inspired by heartfelt dramas and a solid dose of absurd and black humour in a balanced way. Especially the humorous parts make the tragic story more bearable and the characters more human. As a spectator, you are constantly torn between wanting to cry, laugh and yell at the screen. The emotional power of this movie is of the grandest kind.

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the movie you didn't know you have to watch this winter. It's a detailed, emotional and intelligent film with an immersive flow that requests multiple views. This film restores some faith in Hollywood cinema which had been rather unconvincing this year. I certainly hope the movie gets even more recognition and that cinemas around the world keep screening movies like these that take their audience seriously instead of only focusing on shallow sequels and superhero flicks.

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  • A Bag of Marbles / Un sac de billes (2017)

    A Bag of Marbles is yet another novel and movie about the fate of a Jewish family during the Second World War. Don't get me wrong, it's an important topic, a dark part of history that shall never be forgotten and a thematic that is sadly still relevant nowadays. However, so many novels and movies have already explored the exact same approach presented in this film: Au revoir les enfants, Life is Beautiful, The Book Thief, The Diary of Anne Frank and Schindler's List are only some movies that immediately come to my mind. Instead of getting another similar scenario, it would have been interesting to follow the torn family of collaborators in this film for example. Another fresh change could have been to finally offer the perspective of young German soldiers manipulated by propaganda and disillusioned by war. Since this is a French movie, it's also a little bit too convenient to simply blame the foreign enemy and would have been much more interesting to investigate the crimes of Marshal Pétain in depth. Why not make a movie about revolting French antisemitism in the Dreyfus Affair? Or a movie about France's own racist attitude in their colonies? Instead of trying out anything new, A Bag of Marbles plays it safe and the fact that the novel and movie are based upon true events doesn't help much. 

    On the positive side, the acting performances by the teenagers incarnating the two brothers are stellar. The changes of locations keep the movie entertaining and give it an epic touch. The addition of numerous quirky side characters who are trying to find ways to hide their fears adds diversity to the film. There are a few memorable scenes such as the father beating up his own son to teach him how to deny his identity, the younger brother stepping up to save a family of collaborators in an act of civic courage and the same character desperately running after his desperate sweetheart whose family just got attacked by an angry mob.

    On the other side, the story doesn't offer anything new, is slightly dull and slow-paced in the middle section and only touches the surface of several interesting characters such as the Jewish doctor or the family of collaborators. Several chapters from the novel aren't included in the cinematic adaptation and a few details are also changed. Instead of showing the brothers endlessly wandering across mountains, the film should have spent more time developing the numerous interesting side characters and giving some additional information about the historic background.

    In the end, A Bag of Marbles is ultimately a good film but suffers from being just another movie about the fate of a Jewish family during the Second World War. The movie itself has its reasons to be, has a quirky and epic approach going for it and convinces with two really good lead actors. However, European cinema has been saturated with movies of this kind over the past three decades and this film fails both to offer anything new and to compete with its numerous competitors. The most authentic, gripping and sinister movie of this kind is the outstanding The Pianist. But if you really want to get an idea of the horrors of the Second World War, you have to visit a former concentration camp which is an absolutely life-changing experience.

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  • Silence (2016)

    Silence is a quite ambitious project by star director Martin Scorsese and it isn't a surprise that this film has failed at the box office. It is particularly long with a running time of one hundred sixty-one minutes. The topic of Jesuits resisting persecution in feudal Japan is quite unusual. Aside of Liam Neeson, who only has about ten minutes of screen time, the movie focuses on rather unknown actors. Still, Silence is one of Martin Scorsese's best movies. It's obvious that he cared about this film and wanted to make it something special, regardless of grossing numbers.

    On the positive side, Silence grabs your attention with a topic that hasn't been treated much and might even be unknown to most audiences. Following the struggles of two Jesuits in feudal Japan who try to spread hope to the few isolated Christian communities while trying to find their mentor who hasn't come home from a mission almost feels like watching an elaborate documentary. The movie is historically authentic, includes fitting costumes and landscapes and exposes us to Japanese and Portuguese customs.

    Secondly, the acting performances in this movie are absolutely stellar. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver have good chemistry and convince as initially motivated Jesuits whose faith is severely tested in their quest for survival. The supporting actors are also quite convincing from a resilient, old and clever inquisitor to a disillusioned, insisting and rational convert.

    Thirdly, the movie has a quite sinister atmosphere that fits the serious topics. This is supported by the rural landscapes since most of this movie either takes place on the raw coasts of Southern Japan, the wild forests of several Japanese islands and the muddy city of Nagasaki where it always seems to rain. The dark lighting techniques, the gloomy soundtrack and the use of moments of tense silence also contribute to a very artistic, detailed and epic movie.

    On the negative side, the film is obviously quite long. I didn't get bored at any time because I found the topic so fascinating but I have to admit that some scenes are somewhat redundant or repetitive. If you are looking for a movie with vivid action sequences, numerous different locations and long-winded dialogues, you won't get any of it. This movie is slow-paced, precise and atmospheric and tries to transmit a desperate vibe instead of quirky entertainment.

    The ending of the movie blends in very well with the rest of the film and I liked it but it's quite unorthodox and maybe even unexpected by Hollywood standards.

    To keep it short, it's great to see that renowned directors like Martin Scorsese still aspire to experiment in the autumn years of their careers. Silence is refreshingly different and unique from any other Hollywood production of recent memory. It has a unique topic, great acting performances and an intense atmosphere. If you are a viewer with an interest in historical topics who likes to think outside the box, you're probably going to appreciate Silence as much as I did.

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  • Dunkirk (2017)

    Dunkirk was a disappointment and is easily Christopher Nolan's weakest movie to date. There were many issues I had with that movie: confusing overlapping story lines, exchangeable characters without any depth, mostly faceless acting performances, a constantly numbing, overtly dramatic and repetitive soundtrack and lots of headache-inducing shaky camera passages, even in parts of the movie when nobody is getting attacked. Those who call this movie one of the greatest war movies of all times clearly haven't watched many films of that kind. Over the past twenty years, films such as Saving Private Ryan, The Pianist, Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, My Way and Battle for Incheon: Operation Chromite all had intriguing characters, gripping tension, memorable scenes, moving soundtracks and spectacular special effects. Before you voice your opinion about Dunkirk or any of its reviews, you should be familiar with movies like these.

    However, there were still a few elements that I liked about Dunkirk that made the movie entertaining and overall slightly above average. First of all, the storytelling is an interesting experiment, as it follows the Dunkirk evacuation from three perspectives: land, sea and air. The land perspective is the most gripping one and follows the epic odyssey of a young British Private. The sea perspective has its strengths when a tragic accident happens on the boat of a courageous civilian who wants to support the Royal Navy but the characters could have been a little bit more fleshed out. The air perspective is the weakest one in my book despite an epic finale because the fight sequences always exactly look the same and it's at times hard to follow what happened to whose plane. A strong element of the movie is its historic accuracy despite a few fictionalized characters here and there. The settings look authentic and especially the uniforms and planes look realistic. It must also be added that stories about the war shall not be forgotten as history tends to repeat itself and as it's important to honour those who fought for the freedom of the future generations.

    In the end, Dunkirk has its merits and doesn't go the easy way with heroic characters, stunning special effects and traditional plots. However, the numerous overlapping plots are at times confusing, the characters are mostly redundant and the omnipresent score doesn't add to the movie as it was intended by the makers. If you are interested in the Second World War and have watched numerous war movies already, you might be interested in giving Dunkirk a shot as well. However, if you are less familiar with war movies, you might easily get bored with this film and should watch the movies I have mentioned in my introduction first.

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  • Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

    ''Hacksaw Ridge'' is a superbly crafted anti-war movie and easily the best movie of its kind since the release of the South Korean war epic ''My Way'' five years earlier. This movie is based upon true events and tells the story of Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Thomas Doss who enlists in the Army to take part in the Second World War to defend his country but refuses to carry a gun due to his religious beliefs and negative experiences with his violent father who is a war veteran. In the beginning, Doss is bullied, criticized and rejected because of his convictions but he ends up gaining the respect of his brothers in arms during the crucial Battle of Okinawa where he saves the lives of seventy-five soldiers as a medic.

    The movie can basically be divided into three parts. The first part introduces Desmond Thomas Doss' life in Lynchburg, Virginia. It shows us how he almost killed his brother as a child because his fighting was encouraged by his broken, brutal and depressive father who is a war veteran of the First World War. It also shows us how his father abused of his wife and almost shot her. Desmond Thomas Doss had to fight his father to protect his mother and swore to never touch a gun again. It also shows us how he fell in love with a local nurse called Dorothy Schutte that he would later on marry. This part of the movie shows us a caring, peaceful and smart young man with clear and strong convictions.

    The second part of the film shows us how Desmond Thomas Doss enlists in the army. Initially, he convinces with good results during his training and gets along with most of his brothers in arms. It's only when he openly refuses to carry a gun that he gets rejected by his brothers in arms who are encouraged not to trust him or follow his actions by their superiors. Desmond Thomas Doss gets bullied both mentally and physically by his brothers in arms and has to face some time in prison as well as a trial for disobeying the orders of his superiors. In the end, the charges against him are dropped when a former commanding officer and brother in arms of his father states that Doss' refusal to carry a firearm is protected by the Constitution of the United States of America. This part of the movie shows us an authentic, honest and persevering individual that holds onto his beliefs despite all the hardship he endures.

    The third part of the movie takes places during the Battle of Okinawa at a place nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge. Doss' and his brothers in arms must take down the strategically placed Japanese forces atop a cliff. The battle turns out to be pitiless, long and brutal as losses are heavy on both sides. At night, Doss is the only non-injured American who remains on the battlefield to save as many injured soldiers as he can all by himself despite Japanese soldiers occupying the territory. This part of the movie shows us a brave, selfless and strong medic who risks his own life to save as many brothers in arms as possible.

    Aside of the inspiring story of a selfless medic, this movie convinces on many levels. The acting is authentic and emotional. Especially the main character portrayed by Andrew Garfield has a lot of sympathetic charisma. His father and war veteran portrayed by Hugo Weaving shows us a torn character who is brutal and depressive on one side but also honest and determined to help his son during his trial no matter what. Another great character is the main character's wife Dorothy Schutte played by Teresa Palmer who convinces as a selfless, faithful and elegant young woman who loves her husband for all the right reasons. 

    Aside the extraordinary acting, one must point out the movie's epic cinematography. The costumes and settings are authentic and unpolished. The last third of the movie shows us quite brutal, graphic and gripping battle scenes that truly show us the horrors of war. These scenes are not gratuitous, melodramatic or overwhelming, they are just as close to reality as it gets. These intense scenes kept me on the edge of my seat. Another element I liked is the balance between wide shots to capture the horrors on the battlefield and the close-up to capture the emotions on the faces of the injured soldiers in the last forty-five minutes or so of the movie.

    To keep it short, ''Hacksaw Ridge'' is a memorable anti-war movie that convinces with an unusual, epic and detailed story line, outstanding acting performances and gorgeous cinematography. It's one of the best war movies in recent memory and also an outstanding drama at the same time. The only reason why this movie didn't get the highest rating is the fact that it focuses a little bit too much on the religious views of the main character. I'm aware of the fact that these beliefs are incredibly important to the main character but the movie felt a little bit repetitive, overwhelming and melodramatic concerning these elements that almost felt like religious propaganda at certain points.

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