• Red Sparrow (2018)

    The idea behind Red Sparrow is everything but new. The idea of an innocent girl from a poor background who gets transformed into a machine using its body, intellect and strength as weapons has already been portrayed in the heavily underrated and quite emotional Naked Weapon or more recently in the quite brutal and sinister The Villainess. The movie also offers the usual stereotypes that are sadly still persistent in the twenty-first century. The evil Russian are still stuck in the Cold War while the good Americans try to help everyone and promote positive values. Women are treated like pieces of meat in the film and constantly seen as sexual objects by men. Even the American protagonist who is supposedly not like the other men ends up sleeping with the film's heroine on their second encounter at his apartment. If it were that easy to pick up girls in the real world, my friends certainly wouldn't be singles. Remember the final two movies of the Hunger Games franchise when Jennifer Lawrence was either being hysterical or crying throughout half of those films? That's pretty much also the case here. Half of the movie either shows her naked, how she gets beaten up by men or how she cries. Sometimes she does all these things at the same time which is quite tiring.

    Despite the weak story, those annoying stereotypes and predictable character traits, Red Sparrow is still an overall enjoyable film. First of all, one must admit that Jennifer Lawrence makes the best out of the plot and is actually quite credible as tough young woman with a fragile side. The film has a quite gloomy atmosphere that brings the spirit of the Cold War back to life with lots of shady conspiracies. The story is tense and offers some rewarding minor twists towards the end. The action scenes are brief but intense and quite realistic as they even silenced the teenagers stuck on their cell phones at the cinema. The locations in Vienna, Moscow, London and Budapest are also nicely chosen. Instead of showing us beautiful monuments like so many other movies do, the film shows us glamorous hotel rooms as opposed to cold bunkers, rich banks as opposed to poorly equipped apartments and isolated mansions in snowy landscapes as opposed to crowded airports.

    To keep it simple, if you like tense spy movies, you are going to be entertained by Red Sparrow. It might not reinvent the genre but it's well-executed, has an intriguing story and the acting performances are above average. If you like this film, you should also check out Naked Weapon and The Villainess. In this movie, Russia is behind but in cinema, America is behind these days. Red Sparrow isn't a movie that will be featured in many top lists by the end of the year but it is good for what it is. I will give it a very generous seven points.

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  • M (1931)

    M is a quite overrated and underwhelming movie if one takes into consideration masterpieces such as the epic Die Nibelungen and the visionary Metropolis that Fritz Lang has directed before. It tells the story of a crime murderer who is tracked down by desperate police officers who want to stop him and underground gangster who want to dissociate themselves from the murderer and clear their names.

    What really drags this film down is the confusing use of sound in this film. Some scenes feature no sounds at all as if this were a silent movie. Other scenes then suddenly have sound such as loud sirens and lengthy dialogues. The director tried to make these contrasts on purpose but whatever the intention was, it didn't work out very well because the movie is lacking fluidity. Another problem this movie has are its lengthy and at times pseudo-philosophical dialogues. The director wanted to craft a realistic movie and tries to show us the work of the local police force and the work ethics of the underground mob but instead of making the film more authentic, one gets the impression that the gloomy thriller is at times interrupted by lengthy documentary segments. Once again, this weird mixture of genres slows the film down. The movie tried to have a deeper meaning which is that one has to watch one's children carefully but this grounded lesson feels somewhat forced after the surreal trial when the underground mob attempts to sentence a mentally disturbed child murderer. This film received critical acclaim for its main antagonist, played by Peter Lorre. In my opinion, the actor overacts his character which makes him look ridiculous instead of dangerous. The character also speaks too much about his feelings and intentions which isn't realistic for a child murderer that tries to leave no trace behind.

    On the other side, one has to take into consideration the time when this movie was made. Making a film about a child murderer was a quite courageous attempt and revolutionary idea at its time. The movie convinces with a gloomy atmosphere. The opening sequences are quite bleak, the manhunt in the building is filled with tension and the surreal trial at the end is also quite memorable. The movie's opening ten minutes and closing forty minutes are thoroughly entertaining but everything in between drags on for far too long.

    In the end, M can't compete with Fritz Lang's other classics like the epic Die Nibelungen or the science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis. M was a revolutionary movie at its time with a shocking topic and a horrifying atmosphere but the film tries to accomplish too many things all at once such as portraying the work of police forces versus gangsters from the underground. Technically speaking, the movie hasn't aged very well and Peter Lorre's acting also feels exaggerated nowadays. This film is an intriguing product of its time and interesting for those studying the history of cinema but if you are looking for a great crime flick, you can find much better movies made around the same time.

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  • 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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