• North by Northwest (1959)

    North by Northwest, which has horrible translations to French with La mort aux trousses and German with Der unsichtbare Dritte, is one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest movies. This vivid action-thriller and spy epic has influenced franchises like James Bond and many others. Despite a certain nostalgic charm regarding clothes, lifestyles and settings, the movie has aged quite well and is still very entertaining sixty years after its initial release and beyond.

    The story revolves around a charming advertising executive who is mistaken for a secret agent, kidnapped, poisoned and left for dead. He survives by chance but nobody seems to believe his story and he is instead charged with driving under the influence. The ambitious young man desires to clear his name and starts investigating. Soon enough, he is in the middle of a dangerous conflict between a shady businessman and his associates and the real government agents he has been mistaken for. Along with a mysterious woman who befriends and helps him on a train ride, he travels northwest through the United States of America to figure out what he has been involved with.

    North by Northwest convinces on numerous levels. The story is twisted, mysterious and dynamic as it will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. The iconic action sequences have stood the test of time and are still breathtaking to watch. The unforgettable locations are chosen with care, intellect and precision. The camera work is very precise and still an example to follow by contemporary standards. The acting performances are charismatic and especially the lead character is truly unique.

    There are only two minor elements that need to be criticized. The female lead character feels somewhat superficial as she almost instantly falls in love with a perfect stranger despite her pivotal role in the story. Another thing that bothered me was the abrupt ending which could have been a little bit more fluid without overstaying its welcome.

    Still, North by Northwest is a movie you should watch at least once in your lifetime if you like crime films in general and spy movies in particular.

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  • Der Staatsanwalt: Tödlich Wohnen (2019)

    Tödlich Wohnen, the first episode of the fourteenth season of German television series Der Staatsanwalt is one of the best crime flicks in recent memory. If compared to similar series, this episode of ninety minutes convinces with an elevated body count, vivid pace and genuine tension that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

    The story revolves around a shady real estate project involving a greedy businesswoman, a shady Russian diplomat, deadly efficient hitmen, a courageous but naive journalist, a guilt-ridden notary and an arrogant real estate shark. The lead prosecutor and a team of young investigators try to figure out how to solve a killing spree that connects all these characters and the ambitious real estate project.

    If you like sympathetic characters with depth, tense crime flicks with clever story lines and thrillers that are a little bit more deadly, intellectual and sinister than the average, you should give this television series a chance in general and try out this convincing episode in particular.

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  • Ein starkes Team: Treibjagd (2017)

    Ein starkes Team is a German television series that has been around for two and a half decades already. It convinces with its authentic characters and settings in and around Berlin that show the capital's advantages and flaws authentically. Like so many other German crime series these days, this one also suffers from weak plots, slow pace and endless repetition.

    Treibjagd is one of the better episodes however. It shows how a Russian crime syndicate tracks down the key witness of a double murder who is about to give his testimony. The movie convinces with a steadier pace than usual. The story has a few twists and turns that aren't particularly surprising but always entertaining. The body count in this episode is particularly high, including one suicide and the murder of a minor which are very rarely seen on German television. The main actors and actresses are solid as usual and even add a few humorous scenes to make the grim story easier to digest here and there.

    This episode though suffers from a terrible plot. Without revealing too much, there are three characters working in important positions who are all suffering from a serious addiction to medication which feels more like a running joke than a serious issue at that point. Several characters act quite stupidly like the police officers who constantly put themselves in overtly dangerous situations and let the key witness escape in unintentionally amusing slapstick moments. The worst performance in this episode comes from Elisabeth Baulitz who plays the protagonist's wife who always reacts unexplainably slowly and stupidly. To only give one specific example, she asks her courageous son to hand a gun back to a criminal instead of attempting to flee or call the police.

    In the end, Treibjagd is one of the better episodes of contemporary German crime series thanks to an entertaining story, steady pace and high body count. The plot still has mediocre elements and some characters act particularly strangely. Treibjagd offers ninety minutes of solid entertainment but fails to leave a deeper impression.

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  • Tatort: Friss oder stirb (2018)

    The Germanophone Tatort television series has been around for five decades and far over one thousand episodes have been produced. Despite weird recent experiments including topics like vampirism and psychedelic drug-infused dream sequences, the television series has been repeating itself for years and it might be time to finally pull the plug with its fiftieth anniversary. Many people keep watching the series because there is a serious lack of alternatives but that doesn't justify its dreadful longevity. Such a popular television series also represents a country and its people to a certain degree and what we can see are depressed characters in grey settings uttering repetitive powerless social criticism. It's hard to empathise with anything here and the time for a positive change might be overdue now.

    Let's start on a positive note regarding this particular German-Swiss episode. Some of the landscapes around Lucerne look gorgeous. There are a few brief action sequences that interrupt the vapid sequences of shallow dialogues. The ending is ambiguous as it leaves some questions unanswered which surprisingly challenges the viewer but probably frustrates most of them that are used to digest cold hard facts.

    Everything else is as stereotypical as in most episodes of this tired old television series. The settings are cold, grey and monotonous from start to finish. The characters look stiff and often speak, think and walk in slow motion. The camera work is equally conservative and frozen.

    The plot is stunningly shallow and includes random scenes like a houseowner sharing a beer with a perpetrator whom he has just tried to kill, a stiff housewife suddenly killing her husband right after he got randomly accused of having impregnated another woman and a teenage girl needlessly confessing to a crime in front of a random police officer and an angry perpetrator with an entire special task force listening via modern technology.

    Some scenes from the episode could unintentionally be taken from old-fahsioned slapstick comedy movies, such as the fighting perpetrator and police officer accidentally opening a door that gives the female police officer a welcome chance to escape and get help, the perpetrator preparing a pizza in front of his victims just to forget it burning in the oven or the houseowner angrily shooting at the prepetrator just to conveniently run out of bullets when they finally stand face to face.

    The episode also has the usual moralizing tone which can already be found in the title that tells us that rich people believe they can do whatever they like. Needless to say that thousand of movies have had the same moralizing topic. It's particulalry sarcastic coming from a team of wealthy producers financed by taxpayers who are in return fed with shallow stereotypes over and over again.

    It's ironic that the interesting landscapes, brief action sequences and partially open ending still make these ninety minutes of boredom one of the better Tatort episodes in recent memory. If you ever wondered why German movies were revolutionary in the twenties and thirties of the last century and at least still influential in the sixties and seventies but have fallen behind in past years, watching this vapid episode will give you some honest answers because everything here is stiff, cold and artificial. If this is the best German television or cinema can do, then it reveals a lot about an overtly serious society that wishes to inspire change but is still stuck in tired old repetitive stereotypes. This might sound like a contradiction and it is which tells us a lot about the current state of affairs in and around Germany. If you were a foreigner and interested in discovering the essence of contemporary German culture, this episode would at least be an unintentionally revealing social science study of a struggling society in a country torn between its conservative past and confused by a rapidly changing world around it. 

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  • The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018)

    This franchise was all the rage about ten years ago when the novels became popular and were made into three movies. I watched all three films back then and found them quite hard to sit through. They had a gripping bleak atmosphere but everything else was rather uninteresting. The acting performances didn't impress me much. The films were slow, plodding and overlong. The plots were predictable and tedious. You might wonder why I even watched The Girl in the Spider's Web. As a matter of fact, I wanted to watch a completely different film at my small local cinema but the film got cancelled and I was given the chance to watch a film for free. Since this one was just about to start, I gave it a chance. The film turned out being much better than expected. Needless to say that this is the best film of the franchise in my opinion.

    The film has the same bleak atmosphere as the original movies. However, the acting performances are much better than anticipated and especially Claire Foy convinces as creative, emotional and intelligent young woman with a sinister past and she shows many more facets of her character than any other actress did before her. The story has a steadier pace than earlier entries in the franchise and is interesting from start to finish as all the side stories and supporting characters are cleverly linked and end up being at the same place for the film's intense conclusion. The story is diversified, emotional and entertaining as it turns out being gripping from start to finish despite not being the most creative plot I have come across. The film reminds me of the critically underrated The Snowman which was released about one year earlier.

    Fans of the franchise should like this film but even those who didn't care about the franchise should give this intense psychological thriller a try. This film is atmospheric, emotional and intense as it mostly avoids pretentious social criticism that slowed the previous entries in the franchise down. One even gets to witness some dynamic action sequences and especially the final thirty minutes will keep you on the edge of your seat. The Girl in the Spider's Web is one of the best thrillers released this year and a very welcome positive surprise. If you like this movie, make sure to give The Snowman a chance as well.

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