• 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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  • The Mountain Between Us (2017)

    Have you ever heard about Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571? This plane crashed in the remote Andes. Out of forty-five people on board, only sixteen survived the ordeal that lasted for seventy-two days. Numerous survivors had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. Others decided to commit suicide because they couldn't deal with those difficult circumstances.

    It's almost insulting to the victims and survivors of this disaster and similar events to write a novel like The Mountain Between Us. It tells the story of a neurosurgeon and photojournalist who crash on a mountaintop in the High Uintas Wilderness. They aren't appropriately dressed to survive. They have no equipment whatsoever to climb or descend a mountain. They are lacking food that could give them enough energy to survive.

    And yet, the two individuals descend the mountain as if it were a walk in the park. They are cold and one of the characters even falls into an icy lake but instead of having a severe pneumonia or worse which would be a realistic consequence, the character simply takes a long nap and wakes up feeling good. The characters don't have snowshoes, ropes or any other equipment and one of them even has a serious leg injury. And yet, they manage to descend that mountain without any noteworthy accidents which is unbelievable. Walking through snow and surviving freezing storms takes a lot of energy as you need to hydrate yourself and eat a lot of proteins. These characters roast a cougar and eat some cookies which seems to be sufficient to walk through the wilderness for weeks. Anyone in such a situation would have killed and eaten the dog that was with them. You might now think that this is cruel and that the dog is so cute. When it's a matter of life and death, you won't think that way and the only thing that matters is to eat.

    The movie is filled with such inaccuracies and the character development also has its flaws. Both characters walk and talk extremely slowly and not just due to the cold. A teacher has seventy-five minutes to give a class. If a teacher spoke and acted as quickly as the two main characters, he or she would need twice the time and never get anything done, hence lose his or her job. Acting in slow-motion doesn't make a movie more profound. It's actually quite the opposite. It's obvious that the movie includes a love story which is credible to a certain degree because if a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman end up isolated on a mountain and rely on each other to survive, such a thing is bound to happen. You can tell me otherwise, but you would be lying to yourself. The way the two characters deal with the situation makes me think of two inexperienced teenagers rather than two adults however. She is extremely nosey and he never opens up about anything. She has a serious leg injury and has fallen into an icy lake but somehow finds the energy to seduce her partner and have sexual intercourse with him. That isn't realistic at all. The final thirty minutes of the movie are overlong and show us how the two characters continue their lives after the tragic events and even though they are obviously in love with each other, they are unable to tell each other the truth, wasting months being unhappy before finally making a move. They would have needed some serious relationship counseling.

    At least, the movie has enough redeeming qualities to make it an average experience. The movie has a fresh start and doesn't waste too much time before getting to the point. Despite having to deal with a weak script, Idris Elba's and Kate Winslet's performances are emotional without getting exaggerated. The camera work is always calm and precise. The locations obviously look great if you like winter landscapes. The mixture of a love story and a survival drama is something that hasn't been overdone in cinema yet.

    If you are ready to ignore numerous discrepancies in the script and sit through an overlong epilogue, you will be ready to enjoy a survival drama intertwined with a love story which makes for a fresh mixture. The movie could have been better with the actors involved but the original novel simply didn't offer enough for a fully convincing experience. This is a movie for Valentine's Day. Switch your brain off and watch it with your heart. But make sure to switch your brain on again once the film has ended or your own relationship might find a rude awakening. If you are looking for a more realistic survival drama with superb acting, watch Jungle based upon Yossi Ghinsberg's incredible survival story who is portrayed by an excellent Daniel Radcliffe.

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  • 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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