• BlacKkKlansman (2018)

    Based upon true events, BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Colorado Springs' first African American police officer who spontaneously calls the local Ku Klux Klan branch and pretends to be interested in joining the group. The white supremacist group falls for his trick and members of the local branch propose to meet him in person. The African American police officer teams up with a Jewish coworker who inflitrates the group in his own stead. As civil rights activists become unsettled in the city and clash with the local Ku Klux Klan branch that prepares for their Grand Wizard's visit, the two police officers must keep the population save and prevent a dangerous bomb plot.

    The movie convinces for numerous reasons. First of all, it's based upon true events yet tells a very improbable story. Secondly, the characters are authentic, diversified and intriguing. Thirdly, the actresses and actors did expert jobs and play their roles with conviction, energy and wit. Fourthly, the films truly reincarnates the spirit of the early seventies in the way people were dressed and talked but it also respects cultural and political circumstances that give the film the vibe of a documentary at times. Fifthly, the film doesn't only include documentary segments but is also an adventurous mixture of a tense crime film and an emotive drama. Sixthly, even though the movie has a clear message, it isn't too judgemental and shows that some civil rights activists are as radical as their opponents. Seventhly, the film has a strong message: racism isn't acceptable under any circumstances. Eighthly, the film has a connection to the present, showing how civil rights activists still get attacked by white supremacists in present-day United States of America while the President of the United States of America fails to address the issue properly and attempt to solve it. Ninethly, the movie is filmed with care in form of calm and precise camera work and a lack of special effects to give it a more authentic vibe.

    You can watch BlackKklansman for many reasons. It certainly portrays an intriguing if horrifying part of the history of the United States of America. It's a gripping drama with credible characters. It's a thriller that becomes more and more intense and literally ends with a bang. Most importantly however, this movie makes you think about civil rights and racism in the United States of America. Even though the overall situation has improved since the early seventies when the movie takes place, some issues have always remained present and have even become more critical over the past few years. BlacKkKlansman shows what the United States of America really are: a divided country torn between progression and regression. With its intense epilogue that offers a clear statement after the main part of the movie was mostly neutral, BlacKkKlansman invites to speak and stand up for civil rights. If you're a true American, this is what you ought to do. If you're not, take the film as a dynamic mixture between entertainment and lesson that offers some food for thought.

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  • Alpha (2018)

    Going into this movie, I didn't expect much since I have had my share of bad experiences with prehistoric epics like the awful 10,000 BC. Alpha turned out to be a relatively authentic documentary, moving drama and energetic survival adventure movie with many emotional highlights and a creative twist to finish on a high note.

    While other prehistoric epics rely on senseless dialogues and complicated plots, this film goes off the beaten path and is quite charming in its simplicity. A teenager is left for dead after his first hunting trip with his tribe and his father who is their leader. He survives however and gets attacked by a pack of wolves. Injuring one of them, he nurses the wolf back to health, developing what would later on become the friendship between dogs and humans. However, both the injured teenager and the injured wolf must make it back to their respective families in order to survive the harsh winter conditions. They rely on each other and will live many adventurous anecdotes until the dramatic ending.

    Aside the simple plot, I liked the scarcity of dialogues to focus on emotions, gestures and landscapes rather than unnecessary words. The acting performances are authentic and grounded and one can see the protagonist come to age throughout the film. The precise camera work, the epic soundtrack and the stunning settings enhance the movie's epic premise. It's also a film that will please both younger and older audiences because it teaches us about human values such as family, friendship, hope, loss and trust. Another positive point is the lack of overtly flashy special effects, unnecessary side stories and needless flashbacks that makes the film more authentic, credible and intense.

    What I expected to be a mildly entertaining adventure movie turned out being one of the greatest films of the year. No matter of you prefer actions films, documentaries or dramas, Alpha offers something for every taste and is particularly balanced and focused in its genre mixture. Alpha is much deeper than you might expect and is a film you can watch with your parents, friends and even children.

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  • White Boy Rick (2018)

    White Boy Rick might be based upon a true story but it should be mentioned that it is largely based upon subjective claims that cannot be fully verified. The movie tells a story that might or might not be fully or partially true about a teenage boy from a broken neighbourhood in the decrepit city of Detroit, symbol for the downfall of the American Dream, who gets involved in criminal gangs at the tender age of fourteen. He becomes an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation which almost costs him his life. Even after being dropped by the intelligence and security service, the tough protagonist with a soft core remains involved in criminal activities and exposes himself and those around him to great danger.

    On the positive side, the movie oozes with atmosphere and has a quite realistic touch. White Boy Rick efficiently works with contrasts. The decrepit settings of Detroit as opposed to the world of steel and glass in Las Vegas, the poor neighbourhoods as opposed to shiny clubs, the innocent children getting in touch with pitiless gangster bosses and their ruthless associates evoke strong emotions, ideas and images. The film obviously offers some social criticism related to drugs, family and even governmental institutions. The acting performances are brilliant and the story is at times heart-breaking, especially Bel Powley playing the protagonist's drug-addicted runaway sister is very convincing.

    On the negative side, the film's pace is quite plodding. It doesn't help that the story is somewhat unfocused. It starts at a certain point in the protagonist's life, accompanies him for a few years and ends with a boring text about his future fate. With a few more scenes, such as his birth into a broken family and the departure of his mother at the beginning or his release from jail and reunion with his family at the end would have made for a more complete movie.

    If you like dramatic gangster movies that offer some social criticism instead of action sequences, you should give White Boy Rick a try. It has enough redeeming qualities to be one of the better gangster movies in recent memory. However, it could have been even better with a better pace and more precise script.

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  • Papillon (2017)

    There is no question that the original Papillon movie released almost forty-five years ago and starring star actors Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman is an amazing historical period drama and survival adventure movie. Based upon true events, it tells the story of a wrongfully convincted prisoner who tries to escape a French penal colony in French Guiana on three occasions. One has to question why such a movie would be remade in the first place. Even by today's standard, the original film's acting performances are very skilled, the exotic locations are breathtaking and the story about freedom and friendship is profound and timeless. Even though the remake isn't a terrible film, it's completely unnecessary. If you're not familiar with the topic, I would suggest watching the original film. I would even suggest reading Henri Charrière's Papillon and Banco novels which inspired both films. I would even recommend watching a documentary about French penal colonies before watching this remake. Watching this film should be your last option. However, it still remains an option, simply because the story is so good that it deserves to be watched or read or heard.

    A remake should have the ambition to offer a different take on the events of the original movie and to improve it. There are very few of these elements to be found in this film. If compared to the original film, this remake shows us roughly fifteen minutes of the lead character's life before his wrongful conviction. We can see him cracking a safe, attending a party with members of an organized crime gang and spending time with his girlfriend. This exposition also shows a reason why Papillon would be framed for a murder he didn't commit. He kept some of the diamonds he stole for the gang to offer them to his girlfriend and was seen in the process of doing just that.

    One element where the remake nearly matches the original film's quality is the acting. If compared to the unique Steve McQueen and the diversified Dustin Hoffman, Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek are obviously less experienced but they might deliver the best performances of their careers. Their friendship feels stronger and makes even more sense than in the original film. Charlie Hunnam convinces as resilient man who never gives up on his dream of freedom and comes surprisingly close to Steve McQueen's charismatic performance. Rami Malked does a solid job as scared intellectual and has great chemistry with Charlie Hunnam but can't match Dustin Hoffman's natural talent.

    On all other levels, the remake is quite a letdown. The new version is about twenty minutes shorter than the original film but ironically feels much longer than the film released forty-five years ago that already had a few lengths. The events leading to the first escape attempt are stretched and the scenes in solitary confinement are played brilliantly but end up being quite repetitive. On the other side, important scenes have been cut or excluded in the remake. The men's haunting passage at a leper colony was completely cut from the remake. Papillon's life with a native tribe lasts for about five minutes in the remake even though he lived there for a long period of time, got married to two sisters and even impregnated them. The ending is quite abrupt in the remake as the director shows a brief scene of Papillon's return to France decades after his final escape without telling what happened in nearly three decades between both events, making the remake feel less concise and focused than the original film that ended with Papillon's succesful escape.

    One element I would have liked to be mentioned is the fact that Henri Charrière's story was at least partially made up. He clearly wasn't as innocent and sympathetic as portrayed in the movie. Making his character a little bit more sinister would have been an intriguing addition if compared to the rather neutral original film. However, Papillon instead seems to be an even friendlier lead character than in the original film which is somewhat misplaced but goes along with typical Hollywood productions that fabricate heroic protagonists the audience wants to cheer for. In this case, this approach is too simplistic.

    In the end, there are very few reasons to watch this remake. The exposition adds some depth to the lead character and the acting performances exceeded my expectations. However, the movie has more lengths than the original film, important scenes have been cut and the resolution feels misplaced. At the end of the day, this remake was quite unnecessary.

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  • Indian Horse (2017)

    Based upon Richard Wagamese's novel of the same name, Indian Horse tells an authentic, hopeful yet tear-jerking story that too many First Nations people have gone through in Canada over the course of the past two centuries and beyond. 

    The movie tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy from Northwestern Ontario, whose family runs away from white men who are forcing children to go to residential schools where they must assimilate to European culture by any means necessary. Isolated in the wilderness, Saul's brother dies of a disease he caught at school and his parents, who already got assimilated to Christianity, decide to move south to bury their child. Saul stays behind with his old grandmother who gets increasingly sick but his parents never return. His grandmother and Saul decide to join some family members before the harsh winter starts but the weak grandmother dies on the journey. Saul gets discovered by two white men who bring him to a residential school. He witnesses severe mental and physical abuse as First Nations children aren't allowed to speak their mother tongues or live their traditional lifestyles. The only thing that makes Saul's desolate life more joyful is when he discovers ice hockey. He watches games on television with a young priest who also builds a hockey rink and organizes competitive tournaments. Saul's skills get discovered as a teenager and he moves south to the mining town Manitouwadge where he lives in a caring foster family and plays in a local hockey team. He soon becomes a respected star player but also starts facing racism from fans and opponents. A scout then convinces the young adult to move to Toronto where Saul plays for the farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs and has a promising career ahead of him. Saul however cracks under the increasing pressure of being targeted by racist fans and opponents on an almost daily base and quits hockey to live the life of a nomad, accepting odd jobs between Thunder Bay and Sudbury. He develops a serious addiction to alcohol and is told by a doctor that his next binge drinking could lead to his death. Saul realizes he must face and overcome his demons of the past and find a place called home to save his life.

    There are numerous elements that make this film one of the best dramas in recent memory. First of all, the story that is told here is relevant as it exemplifies the cruel fate of many First Nations members. Secondly, the movie is very emotional, meandering constantly between sadness and hope in all stages of the main character's life. Thirdly, the acting performances are absolutely great as the main character doesn't speak much but tells us so much more about his inner demons through facial expressions. Fourthly, the settings are intriguing and shift from beautiful isolated landscapes over isolated schools to mining towns and big cities. Fifthly, camera, lighting and sound techniques are calm, decent and precise which suits the slightly gloomy mood and slow pace of the movie very well. Sixthly, it's interesting that the movie introduces us to distinct characters and not just racist antagonists but also encouraging coaches, welcoming foster parents and driven team mates. Seventhly, I liked that the movie ended with a minor twist that makes us re-evaluate the scenes we have seen prior to that moment. Indian Horse certainly offers a lot of food for thought.

    Indian Horse is a movie that should be watched in history classes at Canadian high schools as it exemplifies the fate of many First Nations members in that country over the past two centuries and beyond. Indian Horse is authentic, emotional and intellectual all at once which makes it one of the best dramas in recent memory. Anyone who is interested in the history of the New World should watch this film. Those who like ice hockey should also give it a try. Anyone intrigued by Canadian culture should also give it a shot. To keep it short, there isn't any reason to not watch this brilliant movie.

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