• 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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  • 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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