• 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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  • The Straight Story (1999)

    ''The Straight Story'' is an authentic, heart-warming and optimistic road movie about an old man who wants to make peace with his estranged brother and goes on a long trip on his lawn mower to meet him one last time. This film is basically the antithesis of David Lynch's other movies which are often gloomy, surreal and uneasy. Still, there are a few typical David Lynch trademarks in this film. The characters are very eclectic and developed in a detailed manner. The camera techniques are calm and smooth. The movie's pace is slow and I would even describe it as peaceful.

    One thing that stands out is the acting of Richard Farnsworth. It doesn't feel like he is playing a character. It feels like he is just being himself: a stubborn, thoughtful and wise old man who wants to do things his way. This character is very likable which helps viewers caring for or even identifying with the character. Even the side characters are very profound and sympathetic. The main character only meets friendly people along the road that help him out when he is running out of money, looking for shelter or having an accident. I thought that the conversation with a young female runaway about family values around a campfire and the conversation between two war veterans in a bar were absolute emotional highlights of this film. Scenes like these offer a lot of food for thought and may make more sensitive viewers cry because they are so beautiful. The dialogues add a lot to this since they are written with great care. The main character doesn't speak much but when he does so, he always has something meaningful to say. Since the movie is based upon true events, it even feels more authentic and could be situated somewhere between a drama and documentary.

    The movie has a very philosophical side without ever being pretentious. Recurring topics are the beauty of nature, coping with loss and sadness, dealing with painful memories, the downsides of getting old, the meaning of life, optimism and perseverance in difficult circumstances and the values of family and friendship. While younger audiences might find this movie too smooth, it has so much depth and talks about what life really is about. I would suggest any teenager or young adult to experience this film with an open mind and to think about the real essence of life beyond money, popularity and wealth.

    David Lynch once said that ''The Straight Story'' might be his most experimental film and this is definitely the case. It's an emotional, meaningful and wise movie where sensitive scriptwriters, an imaginative director and gifted actors joined forces to create a truly beautiful gem that should be more popular than it is.

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  • Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)

    "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" is a stunning movie that mixes dramatic elements with a very special kind of humour. It also portrays the clash of Eastern and Western cultures and includes a thought-provoking dose of social criticism. Based upon an urban legend, this film is carried by its unusual and almost surreal plot and main actress Kikuchi Rinko who plays her role in a credible and gripping manner.

    The movie tells the story of the antisocial office lady Kumiko from Tokyo. She lives alone with her rabbit Bunzo who seems to be the only living being she cares about. She suffers from a bad relationship to her mother who puts a lot of pressure on her and expects her daughter to get married and promoted as soon as possible since she is already in her late twenties. Kumiko refuses to develop any relationship to old classmates, colleagues or singles. At her job, she despises her boss who tells her that she is getting too old to be his personal assistant. Kumiko has no future and starts to escape from the sinister reality by watching movies in her small apartment. One day, she discovers an old VHS copy of the American movie "Fargo" hidden in a cave next to a beach. Kumiko doesn't quite understand the real story behind the movie and believes that the treasure hidden in the film exists for real. She tries to get more information about the locations of the film in an awkward way. One day, she decides to simply take a plane to Minnesota by using the credit card of her company. She arrives in the United States of America and lives a cultural shock that only gets worse when her credit card gets blocked. Kumiko continues her journey without any money, very poor English skills and no clue where she really needs to search for her treasure. She meets a lot of weird characters from solitary widows to deaf cab drivers, gets confronted with weird sects and unpleasant restaurant owners and discovers new locations from shabby second hand shops to isolated chairlifts on her adventurous journey to Fargo.

    Apart of the exciting locations, the very solid strong cast, the unpredictable plot, the topics of the clash of cultures and the sinister portrait of a solitary woman, this movie convinces with a more and more surreal atmosphere that leads to an intriguing ending that can be interpreted in different ways.

    On the other side, the film has a very slow pace and notable lengths despite its short length. The movie lacks true highlights and doesn't have any real action or tension. Despite the great acting performance by Kikuchi Rinko, it's difficult to identify with the repulsive and weird main character and to get an emotional connection to the film.

    In the end, I can only recommend this movie to fans of surreal arts and Asian cinema. Don't watch this movie because you liked "Fargo" because there isn't any real connection between this film and the popular original apart of the weird treasure hunt plot and a few locations. Personally, I had a unique experience watching this eccentric movie in the key of David Cronenberg, David Lynch and maybe Denis Villeneuve but I wouldn't revisit it anytime soon.

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