• Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)

    Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is one of the Quentin Tarantino movies that is the most difficult to describe. Usually, there are movies of his that convince with atmosphere, depth and twists such as Inglorious Basterds or films that are rather shallow, referential and confusing like Kill Bill. The only movie that is somewhere in between both extremes might be Jackie Brown that convinces with great acting and cool retro atmosphere but disappoints with unnecessary lengths and a weak story. This new movie could be compared to Jackie Brown.

    The acting performances, especially by a very cool Brad Pitt and a vividly emotional Leonardo DiCaprio, are absolutely outstanding. Without the two brilliant main actors, this movie would have been painfully average but the strong acting performances make it a good movie, neither more nor less. The movie truly manages to capture the spirit of the end of the golden age of Hollywood with numerous references to popular television series and movies such as The Green Hornet and Rosemary's Baby. The movie cleverly mixes facts and fiction.

    However, the movie clearly overstays its welcome with a running time of one hundred sixty-one minutes. The film takes more than two hours to introduce all characters and settings until the climax unfolds in about ten minutes. While most of Quentin Tarantino's movies have a clever twist, the one used here is slightly disappointing at first contact but at least offers some food for thought in hindsight. This is the kind of movie that grows on you as you think about it later on while it slightly disappoints while watching it.

    This movie should be recommended to those who are either interested in the history of the American film industry or admire Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio who would both deserve Academy Awards for their extraordinary performances. The movie however has massive lengths and an almost unspectacular story. It's worth being watched at the cinema but overall slightly overrated due to the massive critical acclaim any Quentin Tarantino movie seems to receive.

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  • Through Black Spruce (2018)

    Through Black Spruce is a sinister drama shot in northern Ontario in and around Moosonee and in and around Canada's biggest city Toronto. The movie presents two story lines that are closely connected. After a young Cree model disappeared with her criminal lover in Toronto, gang members who want money from them put pressure on her resilient uncle in remote but beautiful Moosonee as they believe he might know more about their mysterious disappearance. Meanwhile, the model's twin sister travels to Toronto to find out what really happened and soon realizes that the vanished couple had a volatile relationship and got into trouble with criminals.

    Based upon an award-winning novel, the most fascinating thing about Through Black Spruce is that the story is particularly realistic and honest. Many First Nations women get involved into drug trafficking and prostitution and end up getting caught in a vicious circle of addiction, isolation and violence. This movie shows one such case and portrays the desperate situation with bleak atmosphere, slow precision and cold realism. The locations meandering between the small town of Moosonee which only connects to the rest of the province via the railway and the gigantic city of Toronto where people with numerous backgrounds meet are facsinating to watch. The acting performances by lead actor Brandon Oakes and lead actress Tanaya Beatty are excellent as they rely more on body language and facial expressions than lengthy dialogues and extravagant clothing or make-up. The award-winning soundtrack underlines the movie's sinister atmosphere perfectly.

    The movie might have got several negative reviews because of its slow pace but this approach actually adds to the increasingly frightening atmosphere. Some reviewers criticized the story in general and the film's ending in particular but both focus on realism rather than satisfaction and blend in very well with the rest of the movie. There are some gloomy action scenes here and there to spice things up but they are fittingly integrated. If you are expecting a fast-paced movie with a twisted plot and vivid special effects, then this movie simply isn't for you. The unique style of this crime drama however makes it a memorable experience and should particularly please those interested in First Nations cultures.

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  • The Grizzlies (2018)

    The Grizzlies is a profound drama based upon true events that shows how a young teacher and lacrosse player named Russ Sheppard accepts a job in remote hamlet Kugluktuk in Nunavut which has the highest suicide rate of any community in North America. People suffer from the lack of perspectives, the haunting past of residential schools, drug abuse, domestic violence and alcoholism. Russ Sheppard is motivated to inspire change upon arrival but soon realizes that students disrespect him because of his skin colour, don't hand in their assignments and skip school. He doesn't give up however and wants to start a lacrosse competition which is something the community has never seen before. After initial negative reactions, the young teacher convinces more and more students to train, form teams and participate in challenges and tournaments. The teacher and his students now need to convince the entire community to finance a trip to a national competition in Toronto.

    The culture, history and well-being of Canada's First Nations has always been a very important subject to me and that should be the case for any Canadian or person who identifies with Canadian values. What Canadian governments have done to First Nations is often rightfully described as a genocide and no excuses can heal the wounds of the past. It's a long and painful process for First Nations to embrace their identities again and this struggle can be seen throughout this touching film. The first scene of the movie shows how a teenager chases his dog away and then commits suicide. The new teacher is often about to give up when he gets physically assaulted by a student, learns of another student having committed suicide and witnesses brutal domestic abuse. Despite those realistically gloomy circumstances, this movie shows that the remote community needs something to believe in and that there are great human beings within those desperate souls. The movie perfectly balances depressing and hopeful elements and is a moving tearjerker. It's great to see movies like The Grizzlies or Indian Horse getting critical acclaim and attention and such movies must be selected to represent Canada at international film competitions like the Academy Awards as well.

    If you are Canadian or sympathizing with Canadian values, you must watch this emotional drama that is The Grizzlies. Even nowadays, prejudice, racism and rejection of First Nations is still a problem and this movie helps decreasing such issues and promoting the togetherness of all communities in Canada. The film's noble intentions are amplified by oustanding acting, superb cinematography and a profound story.

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  • Arctic (2018)

    Arctic is an intense survival drama that convinces with raw acting performances, beautifully bleak landscapes and a realistic plot that convinces from start to finish. The story revolves around a middle-aged man who crashed his small plane somewhere in the Arctic Circle which killed the only other passenger on board. His daily routine consists of checking fishing lines for food, mapping his surroundings and running a distress beacon with a dynamo. One day, a small helicopter approaches but just when the survivor thought he would be rescued at last, the helicopter crashes in the snowstorm, killing the pilot instantly and injuring the young female passenger very seriously. The middle-aged man attempts to nurse the young woman back to health. She can hardly move nor speak and the two characters can barely communicate. The middle-aged man finds a map inside the crashed helicopter that identifies a camp that seems to be located at about two days of walking distance. He decides to go on this journey with the injured woman but the woman's difficult condition, fading hope, rough landscapes, a hungry polar bear and difficult weather conditions decrease their chances of survival.

    The movie convinces with stellar acting performances with no dialogues only very few monologues. Danish veteran actor Mads Mikkelsen had already proven in the past to be able to entertain despite the absence of dialogues in the experimental Valhalla Rising. He does it again in this more accessible film and his body language and facial expressions are stunningly realistic. The landscapes are beautiful yet bleak as the survivors travel through polar deserts, climb icy mountains and discover hidden cages underneath the ice. The plot is surprisingly realistic for a survival drama as the main character is quite intelligent and does everything he can to guarantee his partner's and his own survival. Despite his pragmatic approach, fate doesn't seem to be on his side and has logical mental and physical consequences. The film's unusual ending also offers some food for thought.

    Along with the brilliant Jungle which is based upon a true story under quite different circumstances, Arctic is one of the greatest survival dramas ever made and easily beats unjustifiably acclaimed movies like the unrealistic The Mountain Between Us. This film doesn't offer romantic escapism but bleak survival horror which is the only acceptable approach for this type of story. A more light-hearted version would be an insult to anyone who suffered similar fates in real life. Arctic is grippingly realistic which helps viewers empathize with the character of one the world's greatest actors. If you like survival dramas, this film is a mandatory reference for you and you should purchase this film once you have stopped reading my review.

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  • Roma (2018)

    Roma is a critically acclaimed drama by renowned director Alfonso Cuarón that has autobiographical elements and is also a homage to the housemaid he grew up with. It tells the story of young maid Cleo who works in the suburb of Roma in Mexico City in the early seventies. She works for an upper middle-class family who is on the verge of falling apart when the father never comes home from a business trip and has secretly started a new life with a younger woman. Cleo has some issues of her own as she is pregnant with a child she has never wanted and the child's father vanishes as soon as she tells him about it. At the same time, civil unrest increases steadily in Mexico City and has profound impacts on the entire country. In this time of change, Cleo tries to make it through and find out what she really wants to do with her life.

    The movie has several strong points that justify its great reputation. The camera work is calm, intense and precise. The movie is shot in black and white which gives it nostalgic depth. The acting performances are authentic and especially rookie lead actress Yalitza Aparicio has a raw natural talent. The movie deals with several profound topics such as family, friendship and trust. The film isn't moralizing but the viewer can't help but think about the characters' at times debatable or controversial actions, decisions and thoughts. This movie invites you to analyze, discuss and think about it.

    The film also has a few downsides. The pace is particularly slow and at times dragging for no justifiable reason. The film would have been more concise, entertaining and intense if it had been shortened by at least a half hour. While the plot is intriguing, it starts without a proper introduction and also ends without a conclusion which underlines a somewhat unfocused script writing. The movie basically exposes a slice of life but fails to wrap up its loose ends.

    In the end, Roma is a good drama that convinces with authentic acting performances, great camera work and profound topics that offer food for thought. However, the film isn't as great as its reputation and suffers from a slow pace and unfocused script writing. If you like emotional dramas or Mexican culture, you should watch this movie. Everyone else can however ignore it and shouldn't get too excited over the exaggeratedly positive reviews. Shoplifters, another foreign drama nominated for an Academy Award, is clearly the better film and should have gotten the attention Roma has received over the past few months.

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