• The Foreigner (2017)

    Jackie Chan is an incredibly skilled actor but he has often chosen rather uninteresting roles that limit him to slapstick comedy and a few fight scenes in exchangeable family movies like Kung Fu Yoga and Chinese Zodiac. His last entirely interesting movie was the historical drama 1911 six years ago but even that movie was flawed due to its propagandistic vibe. 

    And suddenly, Jackie Chan is back with a bang in The Foreigner. Almost nobody saw that coming. And instead of focusing on gags and choreography, this film respects Jackie Chan as a serious actor. He plays a former special forces operator, refugee and family father who loses his single daughter in a terrorist attack and wants to track down the criminals behind this unspeakable act by any means necessary. Jackie Chan manages to find a perfect balance between playing a broken old man, a clever and strategic fighter with an intact moral compass and a pitiless avenger. As a viewer, you sympathize with this authentic and diversified character with authentic flaws and strengths. The Foreigner might actually be the best acting performance in Jackie Chan's incredibly long career.

    In addition to an outstanding Jackie Chan, this movie features other great actors such as the charismatic Pierce Brosnan. His performance as Jackie Chan's determined, influential and manipulative antagonist might be his best since his departure from the James Bond franchise one and a half decades ago. The different supporting characters of mostly Chinese or Irish origin are also quite convincing.

    As if that weren't enough, the story of the movie is so addicting because it's quite authentic. The topic of the Irish Republican Army has been used many times before but only very few films show the corruption, ideology and struggle behind it like this film does. The movie is based upon Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman and the detailed movie shows that it's quite faithful to the source material.

    The film convinces with a balanced mixture of action, crime and drama elements and equally focuses on developing the main characters, offering diversified action sequences from exploding buildings over hand-to-hand combats to home invasions and perpetually raising the tension of the film until a stunning showdown. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution are all cleverly developed.

    The skilled directing by an experienced Martin Campbell who had already collaborated with Pierce Brosnan in the past is the cherry on the cake of a flawless film. The locations are simple but efficient, the lighting techniques add to the respective moods of the scenes and the well-integrated soundtrack always blends in.

    In the end, The Foreigner deserves the attention and praise it already gets and would even deserve more. It's one of the very best movies of the year and a stunning return for Pierce Brosnan, Martin Campbell and especially Jackie Chan.

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  • 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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  • First snow in Gatineau

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  • Ottawa's brand-new Stanley Cup MonumentI'm a massive hockey fan and was excited when I heard about the inauguration of a Stanley Cup Monument in downtown Ottawa. However, the monument doesn't really look spectacular and feels lost in the small alley. It would have made more sense to build a bigger monument or even a small museum close to Canadian Tire Centre, home arena of the Ottawa Senators.

    Ottawa's brand-new Stanley Cup Monument

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  • In Flames - Down, Wicked & No Good (2017)

    Down, Wicked & No Good is a surprise release by In Flames that features four cover songs inspired by original material from Alice in Chains, Chris Isaac, Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. The band collaborated with Depeche Mode and even took over the band's Facebook page in order to promote In Flames' cover of ''It's No Good''. Aside of a few minor hints and snippets, this digital release wasn't however much promoted and seems to be a project the band did for fun and not for commercial purposes. Those who are accusing the band to sell out haven't understood that the group simply wants to experiment stylistically at all costs.

    In Flames has become one of the world's most controversial metal bands over the past years because the group shifted its style from melodic death metal towards alternative rock with electronic elements. However, In Flames has been an experimental outfit throughout its entire career and had already covered Depeche Mode twenty years earlier on the critically acclaimed Whoracle record. The difference between ''Everything Counts'' two decades ago and ''It's No Good'' now is that the former song gave a Depeche Mode track a classic In Flames vibe while the latter is much closer to the original song and experiments with clean vocals and electronic elements. Still, the new song doesn't blandly copy Depeche Mode but explores a more contemporary synthpop soundscape. If Depeche Mode had written the song this year and not twenty years ago, I could actually sound like In Flames' version. This reinvention of the track is more surprising than what In Flames accomplished twenty years ago but it will also rather please synthpop fans than melodic death metal supporters.

    This is also the case for the other three cover songs. In order to fully appreciate them, you need quite broad preferences and should appreciate the original artists rather than what In Flames might have stood for in its early career. Even by In Flames' contemporary standards, Down, Wicked & No Good is one of the band's most radical releases. It doesn't have anything to do with any metal or even rock subgenres and can be categorized a synthpop. If the name In Flames weren't associated with this release, it would actually be hard to believe that the Swedish group is actually behind this. In Flames' version of Alice in Chains' ''Down in a Hole'' is even more melodic, mellow and introspective than the original track. Instead of making the original material heavier as it would have been the case twenty years ago, In Flames now explores genres which are similar to the original tracks and focuses on a danceable, dreamy and electronic twist to the four songs chosen for this release.

    If I were only a metal connoisseur, I would despise and reject this release and I can easily understand anyone criticizing this unusual output. However, thanks to my father, I have also grown up with music of the gothic scene and attended festivals where I could witness a vast spectrum of bands including synthpop artists. Even though the latter genre isn't my favorite, I can occasionally appreciate it and am able to judge what good or band synthpop is. What In Flames offers here is quite thoughtful, melodic and atmospheric synthpop that sounds unique, modern and fresh. I wouldn't listen to Down, Wicked & No Good on a regular base, but if I felt like listening to some unique and calm synthpop to relax, I would definitely go for this release. Surprisingly, despite being a first effort in its genre, this release is already a genre highlight and proves how talented and versatile the band is. I wouldn't be surprised if the band's next release were a new age or trip hop record and if it actually sounded really great. In Flames seems to be an amorphous band that could play pretty much anything it aspires stylistically as we speak, except maybe for classical music. No matter what you think about the final result, this disposition is absolutely astonishing.

    The bottom line is that this surprising release is very good for what it is but that I can only digest it in small doses because it isn't exactly my favorite type of music.

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