• 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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  • It feels like one has already been there before

     

    Here comes another Nazi drama set in Germany under Adolf Hitler's dictatorship. It's so sad that a country with such a rich history is often reduced to only twelve years of its past. Where are moving dramas about the fight for German independence in 1848? Where are war movies about the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 that changed an entire continent? Where are conspiracy thriller related to the dramatic Spartacist uprising in 1919? Where are tragicomedies about the sad period of the Weimar Republic? What about a valuable movie about the creation or the fall of the Berlin Wall? All people get to see in relation to Germany are movies about evil Nazis. It's getting really redundant and closed- minded by now.


    Despite its content, I decided to watch the movie because it had received excellent critics and because the events are shown through the eyes of a young girl whose mother was a Communist, whose young brother died and who must integrate into a small town where she lives with her new parents and meets a lot of interesting people from an imaginative but sick Jew hiding in her host parents' basement over the literate and melancholic major's wife to her new best friend and neighbour Rudi who is in love with her and some Nazi bullies and her rude children. The concept is interesting enough and ultimately works thanks to a convincing acting by the empathic and wise host father played by Geoffry Rush, his emotional and severe wife portrayed by Emily Watson and some convincing youth actors such as Nico Liersch. I'm still asking myself why the Germans weren't portrayed by German actors in here which would have been even more credible, especially concerning the main character, but this is only a slightly irritating detail.


    Apart of the acting, the movie convinces with greatly detailed settings and appropriate moods that really put you right inside a small German town during wartime. The movie is atmospheric and feels authentic and realistic as well. The camera and light work as well as the choices for images and words are very well done. The use of a few German words here and there works well but would have needed a few subtitles for those who don't speak that language.


    The problem is that it takes quite a while to get into the mood of this film and until significant events happen like the host father's departure for war or the dramatic bombings of the small town. It's a good idea to show the everyday life of those villagers but this movie definitely has its lengths and lacks a coherent story line. Some people might leave the movie alone after thirty or even forty minutes because of its slow pace. You definitely need to bring some attention, patience and some historical knowledge to fully appreciate this film. I didn't have any personal problem with that but it might definitely be considered as a weakness by many.


    What I found even worse is the idea that the story is told by a voice that introduces himself as the Death. I think this adds nothing to the story and it feels like a pseudo-intellectual touch close to arrogance. I also had my problems with the abrupt ending and the movie's epilogue. Where the almost sarcastically incidental but grisly expectable ending of "All Quiet on the Western Front" worked very well, the similar idea used for "The Book Thief" isn't what you have been prepared for since the beginning of the movie and feels rather random.

     


    Fans of sophisticated movies set in Nazi time and slow paced dramas with a lot of details will appreciate this movie which might even get some Academy Awards nominations because this kind of challenging movie is what older critics like. Anyone else should be sure to bring some background knowledge and patience to enjoy this film. It's a quite solid book adaption but definitely not a classic or the biggest highlight of the year.
     

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  • Amsterdam (2013)

     

    "Amsterdam" is a quite unusual but promising movie from Quebec. The film starts as a comedy flick. Three quite different childhood friends want to escape from their everyday lives. They tell their wives or girlfriends that they would go on a hunting trip in the forest but in fact, they take the plane to Amsterdam to have some fun together. They are drinking a lot and smoking a lot of weed as well. I'm not sure it's a good idea to show a car driver having a sip of vodka and adults and family fathers boozing around but it tells us a lot of contemporary French Canadian society. 


    The most revealing scene comes when the three actors go to the red light district. One characters passionately sleeps with a prostitute and can't get enough, another one wants to have fun but doesn't manage to because he has to think about his wife and the last one only gives the prostitute some money to make his friends think he is cool enough to go with her but in fact he doesn't even think about betraying his wife. The three friends are spying each other and their final decisions reveal a lot of what will happen next.  

    The only thing I might complain about is the stereotypical image of Amsterdam that gets underlined in this movie. I have been several times to Amsterdam and it's a beautiful and very cultivated city with a lot of great things to visit. The city is though only reduced to a place where people are boozing, taking drugs and sleeping with prostitutes. This view is quite naive and closed-minded; one could even say slightly racist. 

    Anyway, from this moment on, the movie gets an unusual turn. It becomes a suspenseful drama with a quite dark atmosphere. One of the three friends learns that his girlfriend is pregnant but instead of being happy, he gets scared and decides not to come home with his friends. A big argument kicks off but the desperate man doesn't change his mind. He wants to stay in Amsterdam for a few more days and his two friends return to their families. 

    Nobody has the guts to tell the truth. The two remaining friends are afraid they could lose everything they have and realize that they didn't really think of the consequences of their decisions before. They spin a web of lies and tell that their friend went out in the woods after an argument and didn't come back. Soon, the police and their families realize that the two men didn't tell the whole truth but due to a series of coincidences and stupid actions, nobody comes close to reveal the truth. 

    Their friend doesn't come back after few days and even not after a few weeks when the autumn goes by and Christmas arrives. The tragic events have changed the lives of the two remaining friends and everybody in the small village for the worse. It takes quite some time before a certain kind of routine is established again. 

    Then, their friend suddenly comes back home for Christmas. He secretly watches the people in the village and how his disappearance has changed a lot of things. He decides to not reveal that he is back until he decides to meet his girlfriend again. He reveals to her that he doesn't believe that he caused her pregnancy and is the father of her unborn child and both of them get into quite a big argument. 

    The viewers don't get to know what happens next until the two remaining friends get a message from their friend to meet in a cabin in the woods. Soon, all three shout at each other and their friendship is about to break completely apart. I don't want to reveal you the movie's twist but you probably won't see it coming and the film ends on a quite dark and intriguing note that leaves the viewers with a lot of food for thought. 

    The strongest point of the movie is its development from a comedy film over a thriller to an intense drama. Each part convinces due to a solid acting and captivating story line with a few surprises towards the end. This movie is almost to experimental to hit the cinemas but I'm glad it was released in the movie theatres of the province of Quebec. 

    The weaker parts are the stereotypical image of Amsterdam, a few lengths in the middle part of the film and a few little plot holes or unexplained events concerning credit cards, lazy police investigation and the disappearance of another person towards the end. 

     

    The positive aspects outnumber this movie's flaws and if the story is intriguing enough to you, there is no reason for you to not try your best to get your hands on a copy of this unusual and mostly intelligent movie. 

     

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