• Im Wald / In the Forest (2018)

    After having watched numerous depressive, predictable and static German crime movies over the past few years, this film adaptation of Nele Neuhaus' novel Im Wald was a very pleasant surprise. The novel was transformed into a very short television series, consisting of two episodes of ninety minutes. They were shown on German television in early 2018 and could already be described as a first serious highlight of the year.

    There are several elements that distinguish this project from the usual suspects. First of all, the plot is truly intriguing with numerous twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the final thirty minutes and its emotional showdown. Secondly, the body count is unusually elevated here. In most German crime flicks, there is only one major crime. In this case, it's completely unpredictable who is going to die next and under what gloomy circumstances. Thirdly, the movie intertwines the mysterious case of an immigrant boy gone missing thirty-five years ago and a series of gruesome murders in the present. The flashbacks are very efficient and reveal more and more sinister details. Fourthly, the acting performances are above average. You won't get Hollywood performances here but the cast of German actresses and actors delivered a very authentic, diversified and emotional job. The different characters complemented one another accurately. Fifthly, this television series doesn't have any important lengths despite its extended running time of three hours. Especially the first ninety minutes are very dynamic and make you want to watch the second part immediately. This grounded first part is brutal, sinister and tense. The second part is slightly slower without becoming redundant. This more profound second part focuses on developing a gloomy atmosphere and elaborating upon psychological elements. Both parts complement one another perfectly.

    Let's hope that German television will continue to produce great projects like this one with dynamic characters, fast pace and gloomy violence. Im Wald is easily the best thing I have seen on German television in years.

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  • Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

    The new adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express impresses with lush settings, a gloomy atmosphere and great acting performances, particularly by Kenneth Branagh as clever detective, Johnny Depp as arrogant gangster and Judi Dench as arrogant aristocrat. 

    On the negative side, the investigation on the train is a little bit rushed. The movie exposes plenty of theories for a potential murderer but doesn't go into detail. It's at times difficult to follow the numerous characters and their motives to commit a murder in the second third of the movie until the final third wraps it up coherently. Another negative element is that the introduction to the film is a little bit long and also unnecessary as it doesn't really add anything to the character development.

    Those who have never read Murder on the Orient Express or watched one of the numerous movie adaptations will obviously be surprised by the clever story. On the other side, if you are already familiar with the story, there aren't many new elements to discover that would justify to watch this film.

    Overall, Murder on the Orient Express is an entertaining, profound yet stylish adaptation of one of the greatest crime novels ever written. It's important to continue to honour this novel that has changed the world of literature. On the other side, this version is neither as detailed as the novel nor as charming as Sidney Lumet's version of the seventies. Fans of the novel and those who aren't familiar with the plot should watch this movie but everyone else can skip this version.

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  • Wind River (2017)

    Wind River is the blockbuster you didn't know you had to watch this summer or autumn. The movie is a gloomy mixture of a sinister drama with a set of authentic, flawed and haunted characters and a quite gruesome, mysterious and tense thriller. The fact that the movie was inspired by true events makes it even more haunting.

    Even if you're watching this movie in the summertime, it will definitely send cold shivers down your spine. The film takes place during a heavy snow storm in the isolated Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The story follows a quiet outcast and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent who is divorced and has lost his daughter under mysterious circumstances and a female rookie F.B.I. special agent who must be resilient in unfamiliar territory to earn some respect from hostile Native Americans and closed-minded white drill workers alike. This unlikely duo, supported by local Native American police officers, must find out the truth about the mysterious death of a young woman.

    The movie's only weak spot might be the slightly predictable plot but the authentic, brutal and emotional ending still suits the movie perfectly. Among the most convincing elements, the superb acting performance by Jeremy Renner must be pointed out. I have always appreciated him as entertaining sidekick in several action thrillers but in this dramatic thriller, he shows his entire potential and really convinces as haunted outsider. Another strong element of the film is the fact that it authentically shows the problematic relationships between disillusioned Native Americans and arrogant White Americans and points out the difficult coexistence between traditional reservations and greedy companies. Finally, the bare but beautiful snow landscapes fit perfectly to a story between bitterness and hope. They aren't only stunning to watch but play an important role in the opening sequence as well as in the final scenes.

    If you like authentic dramas and thrillers with credible stories and outstanding acting performances, there is no way you can get around Wind River. I would suggest watching this film in the wintertime as you will find it even more immersive. Still, Wind River is easily the best movie I have watched last summer and I would recommend it to any family member or friend and surely buy a copy on DVD or BluRay to support the makers of this film.

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  • A Cure for Wellness (2016)

    A Cure of Wellness is one of the best Western movies in recent memory and it's a mystery to me why this film didn't get the attention it deserved. Many people claim that it bombed at the box office. That's not surprising because I was actively trying to watch the movie but it wasn't shown in any of the numerous movie theaters around me, including multiplexes with up to sixteen screens. If the movie isn't even shown at the cinema, it's obvious that nobody can watch it. I even had some trouble getting my hands on the movie once it was released on DVD and BluRay. Most video rental stores had very few copies and local electronics store chains didn't promote the release either. I'm not certain who is responsible for this horrible release strategy but this may have contributed to the fact that this film unjustifiably passed under the radar.

    It certainly can't be so unpopular because of the lack of quality. A Cure for Wellness has numerous things going for it. First of all, the gloomy story is entertaining from start to finish. The few predictable elements are outweighed by a stunning finale that one might not see coming and that you will remember for a very long time. I would even say that the movie's conclusion is nearly on the same surprising level as Oldboy, Shutter Island or The Sixth Sense.

    Secondly, the film has a mysterious atmosphere and is told in a smooth but haunting way. The film is carefully arranged which justifies its epic length of nearly two and a half hours. 

    Thirdly, the locations of the film are absolutely stunning. The movie briefly takes place in the soulless skyscrapers of glass and steel and New York City while the rest of the movie is set in an expensive wellness center in the Swiss Alps. Even though most of the movie was filmed in Germany, the settings look authentic, elegant and haunting as most beautiful spots presented here have something abominable lurking beneath the surface. 

    Fourthly, the movie mixes diverse genres in a creative, diversified and fluid manner. The movie seems to be a psychological thriller but it also includes dramatic and fantastic elements and even adds some minor philosophical elements in the right spots without ever being moralizing. 

    Fifthly, the acting performances are absolutely convincing. Dane DeHaan convinces as ambitious businessman looking for his superior who has gone to a mysterious wellness center. His character looks determined on the outside but feels weakened inside as he slowly realizes that greed and money have replaced his family and friends. The main protagonists and antagonists and even the side characters are so interesting that one is always longing for more details and information about them.

    This movie is often compared to the brilliant Shutter Island and this is especially true for the mysterious atmosphere, isolated landscapes and sinister plot elements. However, A Cure for Wellness is unique enough to convince due to the smartly employed dramatic elements that portray a set of flawed, haunted and mysterious characters and the shift towards fantastic genre elements in the last quarter of the movie. Shutter Island might have a cleverer twist than A Cure for Wellness but from every other point of view, these two movies are equally strong. That's why I can't understand why Shutter Island rightfully received all the praise it deserved while A Cure for Wellness is overall under-appreciated. If you would like to discover a psychological thriller with dramatic and fantastic elements, gloomy story, mysterious atmosphere, stunning settings and strong acting performances, then this film is worthy of your money, support and time.

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  • The Snowman (2017)

    The Snowman is a psychological thriller based upon Jo Nesbo's critically acclaimed novel of the same name. This film received mixed to negative critics but I have to disagree. Despite a few flaws, this film is overall above average in my book. Let's take a look at what several critics had to say and compare their points to my personal experience.

    Many people complained that the movie didn't do the novel any justice and was missing several elements. I have to disagree because a movie can never be fully faithful to the original novel. That would also be quite unimaginative as you could simply stick to reading the novel if the movie had the very same characters, contents and dialogues. Overall, I think the movie portrayed the most important characters, events and locations and had a very appropriate length around two hours. If the movie had been longer, it would have overstayed its welcome and lost the audience's attention.

    Several critics say that the movie has a confusing timeline and feels incoherent. This isn't the case at all. The movie starts with an obvious and important flashback that introduces us to the serial killer and why he has become such a monster. The only other flashback shows us a police officer and later on detective in Bergen who was investigating a case related to what would turn out to be the serial killer's crimes. The content of the flashback as well as the portrayed investigator are very important for the film and add some crucial depth to it. Aside of these two flashbacks, the film has a perfectly coherent chronological order with a strong exposition, an elaborate rising action, an intense climax, a gloomy falling action and a very short resolution that doesn't overstay its welcome.

    I have read in many reviews that the potential of the actresses and actors isn't fully exploited. I have to disagree once more. Michael Fassbender was convincing as desperate police officer who was struggling with his alcohol addiction, his complicated family situation and the complex case. He performed this character with its credible flaws and strengths in a very authentic way. Rebecca Ferguson was just as convincing as young, energetic and dynamic officer with a mysterious hidden agenda. This actress also portrayed a credible character with amazing strengths and complex weaknesses. The supporting actresses and actors also did an excellent job from the pervert businessman to the disillusioned teenager. I would even go as far to say that this psychological thriller had some of the greatest acting performance and most interesting characters in recent memory.

    Add a constantly gloomy atmosphere, stunning landscapes in and around Bergen and Oslo and twisted finale and you have a very well- made genre movie.

    The only reasons why this movie didn't get an even better rating are the fact that the first third of the movie overstays its welcome and takes too much time to introduce characters and get the actual story started and that the story itself isn't the most original one and at times quite predictable if you are familiar with other genre movies and novels. Obviously, the source material has to be blamed for the latter downside and not the script.

    That being said, The Snowman is an overall enjoyable thriller with a gloomy atmosphere, stunning landscapes and great acting performances. While it might not be among this year's greatest film, one should ignore overtly harsh and biased critics and give this movie a fair chance. Genre fans should at least appreciate it.

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