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The 39 Steps (1935)
A major influence which still holds up today.
The 39 Steps is one of Alfred Hitchcock's first films which ended up being remembered as a major classic. Watching it for the first time, I can finally confirm that this is, among the films I have seen so far, the best from Hitchcock's British era. At a feature length of just 85 minutes, The 39 Steps is restricted to an extremely tight screenplay during which a lot of events took place. Its pacing was actually the most surprising aspect about it for me: there was so much happening that I was constantly wondering how Hitchcock managed to fit this many elements into his film. It's a showcase of the talent Hitchcock possessed, and provides some major hints at what Hitchcock would be capable of during the upcoming decades of his career.
There are so many original and inventive things about this that you can easily realize from watching subsequent films, probably too many to list them properly - and there have already been written more than enough things about the innovative elements of The 39 Steps. Hitchcock basically invents an entire genre with this film, and it doesn't just pave the way for Hitchcock's future films; it provides an influence to an entire genre.
The entertainment value also really surprised me. I didn't expect to be watching a fast-paced thriller which would put most of the thrillers which are released these days to shame, but that's exactly what this is. It might seem a little predictable due to the fact that The 39 Steps has inspired so many other films which took a look at its structural narrative choices, but it's the ability to still put you on the edge of your seat anyway that allows The 39 Steps to hold up to this day.
Act of Violence (1949)
An intelligent and underated film of the film-noir canon.
Until yesterday, I had never even heard of this film. Thankfully, I finally discovered Act of Violence, one of the hidden treasures in the film-noir canon of the late 1940s. Fred Zinnemann's film stars Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh and Mary Astor in an all-around wonderful cast ensemble, with a marvelously entertaining and engaging story and a wonderful L.A. noir atmosphere.
Zinnemann's film was one of the first examples of cinema dealing with the problems and mindsets of returning World War II veterans, but also addresses morality, marriage and the ethics of humanity in circumstances of war. There is a lot of depth to this story, and Zinnemann not only embeds it within a wonderful L.A. noir setting, but also decorates it around a thrilling pursuit. This film is not just a great thriller; it also delivers substance within its emerging terror. Such an underrated film; why isn't this film more popular nowadays?
It Happened One Night (1934)
The greatest romantic comedy of all time?
It is beyond me how anyone could call this beloved little classic dated. Even today, eighty-five years after its initial release and after it so successfully sweeped the Oscars and forever changed the landscape of romantic comedies, "It Happened One Night" feels fresh and rejuvenating, while still keeping the nostalgia alive. Not only was this film partly responsible for influencing entire decades of romantic comedies, it also somehow managed to remain relevant to this date. Apart from "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz", can you name any other movie of the 1930s which has managed to do so?
Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable are perfect for this movie. Their looks are perfect for a black-and-white film, and they have the perfect chemistry for a romantic comedy. The script is delightful and witty, the acting remarkable and one scene more memorable than the other. I fell in love with this movie, and I genuinely cannot think of too many reasons for not liking this film other than people not being able to appreciate older films.
There are many other romantic comedies I adore, but "It Happened One Night" deserves a spot on the top of each list about this genre. For anyone interested in the origins of Hollywood's romantic comedies, this film should be required watching.
Monsters and Men (2018)
A good film, but lacking in certain regards and ultimately a little too weak for such an important subject matter.
Killings of black men by the police have been a major theme for American cinema in 2018 - for obvious and very timely reasons. I had already seen "Blindspotting", "BlacKkKlansman" and "The Hate U Give" prior to watching this movie, three films which had a much larger budget to work with respectively, but were also a lot more creativity-driven and appreciated film as an art. That wasn't the case with "Monsters and Men", a film which largely flew under the radar despite its controversial subject.
There are three different stories told in this film, and they never really come together in any remarkable way. That's not a major problem itself, but it does make it feel like you're watching three different films at once, and it creates a convoluted and messy atmosphere even when the scenes itself are character-oriented and slow-moving.
I didn't dislike the film; in fact, I am very glad it was made. Maybe my vision was too clouded by having seen so many films with similar subjects, so I wouldn't necessarily call my arguments a valid criticism, but it seems a common point among reviewers that the three different POVs were not used efficiently enough to bind the story together in the end. There are committed performances from John David Washington and Kelvin Harrison Jr. in particular, but I can't help feeling that something was amiss to make this film a little more powerful, a little more impactful.
Scorsese's underrated masterpiece.
Martin Scorsese's "Silence" is one of the most impressive and rewarding films from the last few years, and it should definitely receive more recognition.
The performances are brave and nuanced, with especially Andrew Garfield being the standout as he delivers what can only be called one of the best performances of 2016. Liam Neeson and Adam Driver also prove to be perfect additions to an already perfect cast.
The atmosphere is so rich. The elements of discussion are interesting and provide a lot of opportunities for further exploration into the subjects investigated. Scorcese's direction, Prieto's cinematography ... I could probably go on and on, but everything about this film is perfect. It has taken me a second viewing to really get invested into this and appreciate it, but now I can't keep myself from thinking about this film over and over again.
It's an absolute masterpiece and a rarity in modern cinema; a testament to what film can be capable of.
Very intriguing opening to what promises to be another great season of "Big Little Lies".
As you might imagine, just like many other viewers, I absolutely loved the first season of "Big Little Lies". I read the novel, watched the show and honestly couldn't imagine how they were going to continue the story without a drop of quality to the writing. The source material was covered in its entirety with the first season, and the open ending worked so perfectly that it didn't quite seem necessary to introduce a second season. However, since its announcement and with the casting of Meryl Streep, my anticipation has only increased steadily, and this premiere episode certainly did not disappoint.
The acting is beyond wonderful. We have some of the best modern actresses assembled in this cast: Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern ... do I even need to continue? Everyone of them brings so much multi-faceted complexity to their respective characters. The interactions between Streep and Witherspoon were a delight to watch, and it's always great to see Kidman and Streep outacting each other. I'd assume that there were some hints at the fragility of Madeline and Ed's marriage in this episode, so it will be interesting to see their relationship unravel in future episodes.
The show has to balance several storylines in parallel, as each character has their own life to worry about as well as their shared problem(s), but it manages this complexity surprisingly well. Whereas the first season started with all the characters in completely different places and ended with them unified in their misery, it will be interesting to see where all these characters will end up at the end of season two. As of now, I have no idea how the season is going to continue, but that's a testament to its unpredictability, and it shows that "Big Little Lies" has not lost its bite yet. I'm very much looking forward to the other six episodes.
Gloria Bell (2018)
Julianne Moore is absolutely perfect in this underrated little movie.
Five years after the Chilean original, Sebastián Lelio decided to remake his own movie and direct an American version starring Julianne Moore as the main character. I have to admit to having liked this more than the version with Paulina García - both performances are equally formidable, but perhaps it's my personal admiration for the legendary Julianne Moore which caused me to feel more attached to Gloria's character in this film.
This is a film for a very special audience, and many viewers outside of that audience will probably find it difficult to relate to the everyday life troubles of a middle-aged woman struggling with sexuality, motherhood, health issues and work life (just look at the audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes or the negative comments on IMDb). I mainly watched this because of Julianne Moore and since I have really liked Sebastián Lelio's work so far, and I didn't regret it for a single second. Moore is perfect and gives one of the best performances of her career, which says a lot since she was so fantastic already in films such as "Still Alice", "Far from Heaven", "The Hours", "Magnolia" or "Boogie Nights".
"Gloria Bell" feels like it's about celebration of life. It's full of positivity; it is uplifting even in its sadder moments thanks to its poignant use of music, and a refreshing breath of vibrancy drifts through every single scene. An intimate and all around glorious character study from one of the best rising directors of the last decade, with one hell of a courageous and captivating final act.
Excellent performances and an interesting directorial debut lead to one of the hidden gems of 2018.
"Wildlife" is Paul Dano's sensitive and pensive directorial debut. Its slow-moving and reflective nature may be too much for some viewers, and it should be quite obvious that a mainstream audience is not what this film was trying to speak to, but it's good enough to stand on its own feet and maintain the interested viewers' attention over the course of 100 minutes.
Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are absolutely impressive. Most are talking about Mulligan's performance in particular, and deservedly so, since she is such a gifted actress and shares more screen time than her on-screen husband, but Gyllenhaal's subtlety is a marvel to watch. Also, Ed Oxenbould is splendid.
I hope we'll get to see more works such as this from Paul Dano in future. Ultimately, "Wildlife" falls a little flat; there is a lot of potential hidden inside to tackle quintessentially American themes and to delve deeper into the complex subject of marriage, but Dano already managed to get a lot of things done right. I was in awe of the final shot - that was perfection.
Pet Sematary (2019)
A surprisingly good remake; surpasses the original and creates its own unique voice.
Let me begin my review by clarifying that I can absolutely understand the polarizing opinions on this remake of "Pet Sematary" and even support most of the arguments mentioned about why this is supposedly a bad horror film, but I couldn't stop loving this experience anyway. As a huge fan and frequent defender of Stephen King's original novel, I have been looking forward to Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch's take on this classic horror story for quite some time, especially since I can't pretend being a huge fan of the first cinematic adaptation of "Pet Sematary" from 1989.
First, let's begin with the casting. Nobody could possibly replace Fred Gwynne, who was quite frankly the best part about the first film. But if someone else has to portray Jud - and since Gwynne sadly passed away, there was no other way around it - then John Lithgow has to be the perfect choice for this character. And Lithgow did a marvelous job, there can't be any doubt about that. Meanwhile, Jason Clarke was chosen for the protagonist, and just like with Lithgow, I couldn't possibly think of a better choice. Clarke was exactly the actor I always imagined would be perfect for playing Louis in a movie adaptation, and here he is allowed to present each side of his versatile acting. Amy Seimetz and child actress Jeté Laurence also do a good job with their respective characters. Next, the eerie atmosphere does feel a little off from time to time, but I could forgive this film for that. There was a little unnecessary jump scare now and then, but it was certainly bearable and didn't ruin the entire experience.
What probably made so many people angry was the excessive number of changes from the original novel, and they sure were difficult to swallow if you loved the novel. But I've been thinking a lot about those changes since I watched the film, and the more time has passed, the more did I actually appreciate the creativity and originality which went into the changes made for this reimagination of the story. For many people, a remake seems to have no chance of being anything but a failure - either it isn't a close adaptation to the book or the original film, in which case it is called disrespectful, or it IS a close adaptation, in which case it is often called unnecessary and redundant. I find it important that some signals of creativity flow into the process of remaking a film or adapting a book, as long as it still makes sense and doesn't completely avoid the characteristics previously set by the author. And that's exactly how I feel about this remake of "Pet Sematary": it updates everything to a modern scenario and still maintains the most important aspects and elements of the original, while simultaneously setting itself apart and creating its own voice. That process is always going to be polarizing and rather unpopular, and I can definitely understand everyone who thinks this way and doesn't appreciate this adaptation of "Pet Sematary" in some kind of way, but I definitely loved it way more than I initially thought I would. The rather low average rating on IMDb (currently sitting at 6.2 and probably only going to sink even further in future) doesn't reflect the actual quality of this film.
A dazzling and unique vision for a very specific type of audience.
Before watching "Climax", I would never have called Gaspar Noé one of my favorite filmmakers. I have seen "Irresistible" at the beginning of the last year and found it a great and unsettling film told with such an energetic force and cinematic style that it was absolutely unforgettable. I also watched "Enter the Void" and couldn't get into it at all, and wasn't really able to find anything meaningful in my viewing experience. I haven't seen his 2015 feature ("Love") yet, but maybe I should check it out soon after the incredible experience "Climax" has just given me. This film was completely and utterly original, not necessarily in terms of its storytelling, but definitely in terms of its technical efforts. The film beams with energy, it's powerful and disturbing and dazzling and unforgettable all at the same time. If you have seen the trailer, you will already have seen what the entire film will be about; the important thing about this is Gaspar Noé's filming technique, the absolutely extraordinary cinematography, the superb choreographies, the absolutely FANTASTIC soundtrack - I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, and I was fascinated and disturbed and intrigued all at the same time. I loved the long overhead take in particular, which is a scene you would basically immediately recognize Gaspar Noé for.
I wouldn't count "Climax" as a film, but rather as an experience. Obviously, people will have extremely mixed opinions about it. Some won't grasp why this film was even necessary in the first place, some won't get warm with Gaspar Noé's unmistakable style, some simply won't enjoy the experience. I myself wouldn't have thought that spending ninety hallucinatory minutes at a dancing rehearsal would turn into one of my favorite movie experiences of 2018 - but somehow it did, and somehow I found a lot of respect for the art of Gaspar Noé. Definitely worth checking out; such a unique film.
The Collector (1965)
A haunting and thrilling film with remarkable performances.
Not only is William Wyler's "The Collector" a criminally underseen movie, but also does it come to even more of a surprise as it paved the way for so many similarly constructed thrillers of its kind. It's one of the defining classics of the kidnapping genre, with Terence Stamp and the underrated Samantha Eggar giving defined and intriguing performances. For a runtime of 120 minutes, "The Collector" never seizes to hold the viewer's attention, especially considering that for most of its duration, the movie plays out in a single setting with only two characters and the development of their relationship over the course of several weeks. Several scenes left me shocked, quite frankly, and it's only a testament to Wyler's skilled and experienced direction that the film never dwindled into obscurity, considering its difficult and possibly controversial subject of a man kidnapping a woman with the intention to gain her love and compassion. Terence Stamp is frightening and infuriating in his portrayal, which is perfectly juxtaposed by a sympathetic and relatable performance from Samantha Eggar. I won't get these haunting performances out of my memory for a very long time. Not many people have actually heard of this movie, as it appears, and even fewer have actually seen it, but it certainly would deserve a lot more attention, for it's one of the very best thrillers of the 1960s.
Queen of Earth (2015)
A memorable and enthralling psychological drama: quite polarizing, but absolutely worth watching.
Alex Ross Perry's "Queen of Earth" is a very demanding psychological drama. It has indie feature written all over it, and looking at the reviews and ratings, it comes as no surprise to see that so many people were turned off by its slow-moving nature and the almost tedious length of its dialogues. On the surface, it could easily look like "Queen of Earth" consists of talking, long gazing and nothing else. But underneath its exterior, the film offers a thoughtful and deep exploration of the motivations and thoughts behind its main character, played superbly and memorably by Elisabeth Moss, and utilizes its obvious Bergman-esque influences to create a unique, mystifying and entrancing atmosphere. By the half point, I was entranced, at the end, I was almost sad to leave these characters behind. "Queen of Earth" is a highly unusual film in that there isn't much of a plot, but it still has a lot to say. It's definitely worth watching, but only for those who enter the experience with an open mind and are not easily turned off by the arguments I described above. Also, if you're a fan of Elisabeth Moss's work, then just watch it for her incredible performance which I personally cannot believe got completely left out of any awards conversations whatsoever.
An exciting adventure for anyone who considers themselves a fan of Barbara Stanwyck's impressive body of work.
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan and Ralph Meeker in leading roles, "Jeopardy" is exactly the kind of second-rate thriller which usually gets dumped on television and is already forgotten by audiences just a few years after its initial release. John Sturges' film follows all the rules a noir-ish thriller of its kind usually has to obey, including a few instances of overacting and a number of illogical plot elements which are incoherently woven together in order to make the story more exciting and appealing. In the case of "Jeopardy", it's the amount of plot holes and inconsequential character actions which test the audience's patience, but thanks mainly to Barbara Stanwyck's incredible starpower as well as John Sturges' convincing direction, even this mediocre script can actually exceed its uninspiredness. In the end, what started as a calm roadtrip turns into a complete manifesto of madness. Even if this thriller won't feed the viewer's intellect and doesn't provide anything it could be particularly recommended for, it's basically a gift for everyone who always loves to see Barbara Stanwyck in an exciting adventure. They are who this film was probably meant to be seen by, and they are who are probably going to walk away from watching this satisfied enough.
The Old Man and the Sea (1958)
A somehow troubling presentation of Hemingway's classic story, but still worth a closer look.
Being such a close adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's famous novel proves to be both its strength and its weakness in John Sturges' faithful vision on Hemingway's masterpiece. Spencer Tracy is wonderful as the old man, and the scenery is splendid as well, but in the end, the film only reveals that "The Old Man and the Sea" works so much better as a novel than it works as a film. Especially with the restrictions faced by the production with respect to technical effects, "The Old Man and the Sea" looks really dated sixty years later, and the cinematography is rather bleak at certain times, probably due to budgetary limitations. That's not to be understood as criticism, but in the end, it only underlines the disappointment related to how Hemingway's story simply doesn't translate all that well to the big screen. Spencer Tracy gives his best in a demanding role, and if you never read the novel before, then the film will be quite suspenseful and action-packed. It's a good film in its own right, and I still think that "The Old Man and the Sea" deserves at least a rating of 7.0 stars, but as an adaptation of a beloved classic, it somehow feels like it didn't achieve the desired effect. Still, considering what a challenge a presentation of Hemingway's story must have been to any filmmaker, it's worthy of admiration to consider how close this film comes to its source material, mainly thanks to a fantastic performance by Spencer Tracy.
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
A masterpiece; one of the most important movies ever made.
From a modern perspective, Stanley Kramer's "Judgment at Nuremberg" may appear rather dated, and especially considering its long runtime, its black-and-white cinematography and the difficult subject, it can easily appear daunting to submit oneself to the experience of watching the entire film. Let me tell you something: if you're still hesitating about the question of whether or not to watch "Judgment at Nuremberg", then you should just stop doing so and get three hours of free time during which you can focus and concentrate on an important subject which may be hard to indulge, but is absolutely worth the time spent. Stanley Kramer creates a huge courtroom epic with ambivalent, vibrant personalities and complex plotlines. In spite of its immense runtime, the film never fails to be captivating, partly thanks to the sharp, focused script, but mainly also thanks to the outstanding performances.
It's rare to watch a film with so much star-power, and so many powerhouse performances, but "Judgment at Nuremberg" actually assembled a cast consisting of Spencer Tracy, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and Richard Widmark among others and didn't waste any of their talents: all of them gave some of the best performances of their respective careers. Montgomery Clift's performance is a pure scene-stealer even though it only takes a few minutes before he leaves the stage again, but it's one of the most impressive acting accomplishments of the entire film. Spencer Tracy gives a restrained, thoughtful and enrapturing performance and slips into the role of the leading character seemingly effortlessly, while Maximilian Schell, who deservedly won the Oscar for Best Acting, delivers quite a number of fascinating monologues which never seize to captivate your attention.
Even if the subject wasn't as important today as it was in 1961, the film would still be worth watching for the acting alone. However, since the Holocaust is something which should never, absolutely never be forgotten by anyone, that makes "Judgment at Nuremberg" all the more important to watch.
Ambitious and a little incoherent, but still one of the best heist films of recent years.
"Widows" is an ambitious film. Love it or hate it (and people seem to fall quite firmly in one of those two camps on this film), there is no denying that statement. I know that there are not that many people who share my opinion - after all, the movie was a major box office disappointment and the average rating on IMDb is dropping a point every two days or so -, but even though I can see that there are several aspects which could have been improved in order to work better in the film's favor, and even though I can see that the script could have been required to be a little sharper, a little more polished, I still highly respect the outcome of Steve McQueen's heist epic. Perhaps the movie could even have been a little longer; with such a stacked cast and so many complex characters, there still has been a lot of story left to unravel. What works best in "Widows", however, is the vibrant cast. Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Daniel Kaluuya are the stand-outs in a cast that also includes the likes of Robert Duvall, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Carrie Coon and Brian Tyree Henry, and let's not forget that Steve McQueen actually managed to get a good performance out of Michelle Rodriguez, which is something I didn't think I'd ever see again.
The movie is suspenseful, walks alongside a memorable soundtrack and should definitely have been rewarded with more awards recognition, at least in the technical and the acting categories. Additionally, I thought it was very refreshing to see an original heist film led pre-dominantly by female characters, which has (except perhaps for last year's rather weak "Ocean's Eight") been something you couldn't see all that frequently in cinema in recent years. As mentioned before, the film is a little too incoherent at times and should either have scrapped one or two subplots or extended its runtime in order to provide a more satisfying exploration of its underlying conflicts. Either you forgive those flaws (like I did), or you don't, which is okay as well. Ultimately, what's left to say for me is that even if you may not end up liking it, this ambitious movie deserves to be given a chance, and if you're prepared for a complex plot with interesting characters portrayed by some of the best actors working today, then "Widows" will be an incredibly rewarding film for you - even if many people probably won't agree with such an unpopular opinion.
Cicely Tyson is stunning in this underappreciated classic which deserves better than just being considered schoolbook material.
"Sounder" is one of the essential American dramas set in the deep South during the Depression era of the early 1930s, and while it has been released more than 45 years ago, it's one of those rare films which absolutely feel like they haven't aged a single bit ever since their release. It has been way ahead of its time, considering that movies with pre-dominantly African-American cast members were reserved for action and blaxpoitation films back in the days, and it also broke ground for the fact that it was the first film to feature two Oscar-nominated performances from African-American actors (namely Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield). Both of them absolutely deserved their nominations, though in the case of Cicely Tyson, her breathtaking, vibrant and emotionally devastating performance leaves no room for arguing that anyone else should have won the Oscar for Best Actress that year. Another standout is Kevin Hooks, who gave one of the best child performances I have seen in any film from the 1970s. "Sounder" has become famous for one incredibly emotional scene, a scene everyone knows which one is meant when seeing it, and it's a scene which absolutely turns this into something beautiful. The film relies mainly on character development and thus may be considered too slow by some audiences, which may also be the reason why it's so rarely mentioned anymore nowadays, but in my opinion, it's one of the best films dealing with racial tensions, and one of the best films from the early 1970s.
Mainstream films for German audiences hardly ever get better than this.
Based on Hape Kerkeling's autobiographical novel, "Der Junge muss an die frische Luft" is one of the most extraordinary German mainstream-fitted films to be released in recent years. People who have never lived in Germany probably won't be particularly familiar with Hape Kerkeling's comedy, but as someone who has continuously watched his presence in German television while growing up, I was probably the perfect target for the film's intention to hit all the nostalgia nerves. It paints a beautiful picture of small-town Germany during the early 1970s, not to mention a stellar performance by young Julius Weckauf, who may just have given one of the best child performances I have seen in a long time. He took over Hape Kerkeling's person and completely vanished into the character, allowing for a very compelling viewing experience.
The movie capably handles tragedy and humor, keeping both of these aspects in perfect balance and allowing the audience some room to laugh one minute and cry the next (I won't lie, I did both of those things). Caroline Link's film probably can't be called critic-proof; someone who wants to find flaws probably will, but as for me, I absolutely loved the experience of just letting this portrait of a boy's upbringing in Germany during the early 70s sink in. Ursula Werner's performance as Oma Bertha is especially note-worthy; she's a scene-stealer whenever Julius Weckauf isn't (which is a rare incident). I fear people outside of Germany probably won't ever get to see this film unless they embark on an extended search for it, though I also think people outside of Germany probably won't care, as long as they aren't familiar with Hape Kerkeling himself. But honestly, even if you don't know anything about him, this is just a fantastic film which is a more than worthy way to spend 100 minutes of your time with.
Under the Silver Lake (2018)
Solid technical work can't replace a messy screenplay.
If anyone had asked me exactly one year ago about my most anticipated movie of 2018, I probably would have answered David Robert Mitchell's "Under the Silver Lake". He directed one of my favorite horror films of this decade so far ("It Follows"), and this film stars Andrew Garfield, one of my favorite actors of his generation. What could possibly have gone wrong?
Well, just like it's the case with many other directors who came up with an immense hit for their first major film, Mitchell also struggled to come up with an equivalent amount of quality for his next feature film. It's not like his talent has vanished altogether; his style was even more prevalent in "Under the Silver Lake" and I absolutely fell in love with the directing, the atmosphere and his unmissable attention to details. However - and I don't like to write "however" in a review of a film I was so ready to love - all this doesn't help if the film a) has no plot whatsoever or b) has nothing to say whatsoever. And in this film, a) and b) were actually combined. It was really hard to follow the movie through its random segments, its messy, scrambled fragments and all the meaningless sex scenes. I am no prude at all, but throughout the first half of the film, to roughly 50% I was basically watching porn. There was so much room for scenes to be left on the cutting floor: there really wasn't any reason for "Under the Silver Lake" to be 140 minutes long.
The basic plot revolves around a vanished girl and a young, aimless man's quest to solve the mystery of her disappearance. (Some spoilers ahead.) I wouldn't have minded the lack of a resolution if the ending had been left somewhat ambiguous. But it wasn't, it was all explained, and absolutely none of it made ANY sense at all. I'm pretty sure the writers must have been on drugs, because there was no other way to come up with something so weird, senseless and dull. (End of possible spoilers.)
Frankly, the movie never became boring; there was always something to catch your interest. But the restless hope that all the scattered scenes would ultimately be woven together and suddenly all make sense again wasn't fulfilled. We were just left hanging in the air in the end, which is exactly what disappointed me so much. That doesn't mean, however, that I didn't also enjoy this film for what it was worth. The directing was exceptional and perhaps even better than in "It Follows". The cinematography by Mike Gioulakis is one of the best I have seen throughout the entire year. I loved the neo-noir atmosphere and the attention to all the classics of film history, from "How to Marry a Millionaire" over "A Farewell to Arms" to Hitchcock's classics (when in fact, the entire film could also work as a single homage to Hitchcock's works, especially the car chase scene which was obviously inspired by "Psycho", and the setting which was obviously inspired by "Rear Window"). The score was amazing and another great aspect about the film. The acting was also pretty solid, with Andrew Garfield being the obvious stand-out.
Overall, I can't say I didn't enjoy "Under the Silver Lake"; I had been anticipating to watch it for a long time and was more than excited when it was finally released to German cinemas. Watching it in a cinema only enhanced the experience from a technical view-point, as the visual as well as the sound-technical work were some of the best I have seen this entire year, but the lack of a better screenplay cannot be replaced by the benefits of great technical work alone, and so I can't help but feel like this was a disappointment. My only hope is that David Robert Mitchell's next work will be more coherent and a return to form again, because he certainly has the potential and the talent for more.
Keeping Mum (2005)
Delightful and entertaining from the beginning up to the very end.
When it comes to brilliantly executed black comedy, British filmmakers are usually the most talented ones to tackle such an extremely difficult genre, and Niall Johnson's "Keeping Mum" is yet another proof of this with his endlessly funny and engaging crime comedy. Featuring an astounding cast, Johnson manages to infuse a mildly interesting story with so many funny, dark and surprising twists and angles that it becomes almost impossible to resist the film's charming framework. Maggie Smith is excellent and surprises viewers with her performance of a character I can't remember her playing before, adding further proof that she is one of the most accomplished British actresses. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a strong leading woman and Rowan Atkinson, while not at the best of his game as you'd know him from playing Mr. Bean, charms viewers as well. Another supporting player is Patrick Swayze, whose acting I personally still cannot say anything positive about, but in the case of "Keeping Mum", Swayze's performance actually worked in favor of the film. All around, "Keeping Mum" is an excellent execution of black humor, and while it's not outstanding in any aspects, it's still endlessly enjoyable and absolutely worth the watch.
A very intense horror film - and a potential cult classic.
Gareth Evans, most famously known for his films in "The Raid" franchise, has crafted an enchanting and thrilling potential cult classic surrounding a mysterious religious cult within a period horror story. With an atmosphere reminiscent of the famous Scottish film "The Wicker Man" (1973), perhaps even similar to 2015's "The Witch" to a certain extent, what Evans came up with is a tale of violence, revenge and hatefulnes, a tale in which love is punished and has no future. It's incredibly violent and nothing for those who can't bear the sight of blood and pain, but beneath the violence which is so indispensably linked to the core of the story, there is also a well-constructed plot filled with memorable characters. In so many horror films, you will have a memorable story, but weak characters you can't connect with, whereas with "Apostle", it's impossible not to get attached to most of these characters, or at the very least to feel interested in their ultimate fate.
Evans delves deep into personalities of his characters and confronts them with morally significant questions, in the process also benefiting from the strong cast he was able to assemble. Dan Stevens is a good actor, albeit with a limited acting range, but in "Apostle", he manages to get back to the roots of what made the 2014 film "The Guest" so great. In terms of going absolutely crazy, Dan Stevens' performance could even be compared to Nicolas Cage' acting in "Mandy", another potential cult thriller released just a few weeks ago. He was the perfect choice for the character of Thomas Richardson, and so was Michael Sheen for the prophet's role. Bill Milner, a rising British star who I think has a very interesting future in the business ahead of him, Mark Lewis Jones and Kristine Froseth add to a number of haunting supporting performances. In the end, "Apostle" is probably about twenty minutes too long; its material is not deep enough to justify a runtime of 130 minutes, and on the other hand, there are a few scenes which could have been cut for the purpose of making the film more fast-paced. However, that's something I didn't have much of an issue with, as I personally enjoyed the film tremendously from beginning to end. Not everyone is going to like it, perhaps due to the runtime, perhaps due to the violence, but even aside from my personal opinion, this film is well-directed and well-acted, the cinematography is superb and the plot just keeps getting more intense, more engaging, more and more thrilling after a slow, yet harrowing beginning. Reactions to this film are probably going to be divided, but I hope "Apostle" will nevertheless get the audience it deserves, as it is, in my humble opinion, on par with the best horror films of 2018.
The Miracle Worker (1962)
A great film with even greater leading performances
Arthur Penn's "The Miracle Worker" is a miracle, a relevation, a wonderful portrait of a remarkable woman's upbringing. It's seriously mind-baffling that "The Miracle Worker" is not more well-known nowadays, for in my opinion Arthur Penn has created one of the best movies of the 1960s with this film. Anne Bancroft's Oscar win has been the subject of many discussions, considering that in the very same year, Bette Davis gave what may well be called one of many best performances of her life. Did Anne Bancroft deserve winning the Oscar over Bette Davis? It's a question which can only be answered with great difficulty, as both actresses would easily have won over their competition in any other year, but in 1962, I'd actually give Anne Bancroft the favor, even though Davis is probably my favorite actress of all time. Bancroft's achievement is nothing short of remarkable and eye-opening, a fascinating performance in which she vanishes completely and utterly into her character. Penn's directing is masterful as well, particularly during the breathtaking table fight scene. And let's not forget it, Patty Duke is masterful as Helen Keller. I have not seen such a great child performance in a long time. Ultimately, "The Miracle Worker" is stunning and immensely memorable, and it's a movie which deserves to be seen and remembered by many generations to come.
Strange and peculiar, but interesting enough to keep you watching.
Robert Pattinson has established himself as one of the most interesting actors of the indie business these years, and even though previous efforts such as "Good Time" or "The Rover" have been significantly stronger than his newest performance in the comedic western "Damsel", that's mostly due only to the weaknesses of the script and not Pattinson's acting in particular. In fact, "Damsel" is a very peculiar movie; the viewer never knows what to expect from it, which is its strength and its weakness in the same instance, for as much as the viewer doesn't quite seem to know exactly which kind of story the movie tries to tell, the movie doesn't seem to know it either. It is, however, a very stylistic exercise in connecting two genres, comedy and western, and since I cannot remember any film since "Blazing Saddles" and Richard Donner's "Maverick" which managed such a combination in a good way, it's definitely remarkable that the Zellner brothers keep this from being an absolute disaster. It's worth watching during every single second, and even when it's rather slow and boring at times, the comedic undertone still allows it to become surprisingly entertaining. "Damsel" will not find a huge audience, but I don't think anyone of the crew expected such a strange, peculiar film to turn into a hit. Its current IMDb rating (5.6), however, doesn't do the film justice, but then, it's pretty easy to see why people would dislike it. I personally liked it in spite of its mistakes, so I would recommend to anyone stumbling upon this review to give this little indie western a try and enjoy it.
Bates Motel: The Cord (2017)
Very satisfying conclusion, at least for me personally.
I have been a fan of "Bates Motel" ever since I watched the first episode of the first season, and it has not ceased to be a fantastic ride from the very beginning towards the final one of the fifty episodes this series consists of. Even though not everything may always have worked perfectly in "Bates Motel"; even though there are some inconsistencies now and then and even though not all plot lines are resolved perfectly throughout the show, the character work is as perfect as you can imagine, and the final season has been the closest "Bates Motel" ever was to perfection. We have a superb cast leading this show; Vera Farmiga may be good in everything she stars in, but she is absolutely perfect as Norma Bates, and Freddie Highmore actually gives the best performance of an antihero since Bryan Cranston as Walter White, at least in my opinion. We always know that we should be hating Highmore's version of Norman Bates, yet we still find ourselves rooting for him; that's how much empathy Highmore manages to evoke for the character of Norman Bates. Olivia Cooke constantly shines with an underrated performance as Emma Decody, while even Max Thieriot, who may be the weakest of the four leading actors, grows into his role as time passes by and manages to convince with his performance in the fifth season.
As a huge fan of the original "Psycho", I am absolutely in love with this series and couldn't enjoy the exploration of Norman Bates' family story more. This show is what I'd call perfection. If you look at "Bates Motel" objectively, then it will be easy to criticize it for many aspect, but what works so fantastically in this show is the way the characters are developed. Perhaps Emma's character arc may be the most fascinating one, but pretty much every character is drawn out in such an interesting way that there is almost nobody you won't find yourself rooting for. "Bates Motel" is in the Top Five of my favorite TV shows, and I couldn't recommend watching it more. With an amazing final season, "Bates Motel" does not disappoint either. In the end, the show did stray away from Hitchcock's original to some extent, which lead to many people complaining, yet had it not done that, most people probably would have started complaining about the series not being original enough. As a result, it's all a matter of the viewer's preparation to accept the changes made by the writers, and for some it probably works, for some it doesn't. Which is okay. For me, it all worked out as good as I could have hoped it to, leading to an emotional thriller ride with an amazing conclusion. Simply brilliant.
Master of None: Indians on TV (2015)
Brilliant TV with great writing
Just a few months ago, I watched the first few episodes of "Master of None" on Netflix, but didn't immediately get hooked and somehow lost interest, even though I liked the premise and considered Aziz Ansari's comedic timing as terrific. Now I decided to give this show another chance and was immediately invested into the comedic and socially critical elements of the writing; but that's not the show's only strength: the acting is great, the production is good for a comedy show of its kind and the humor is fantastic: not quite as obvious as it would have to be for regular viewers, but rather a little more subtle, enough so that it's probably not really suited for a mainstream audience who would rather enjoy something like "The Big Bang Theory" or "Two and a Half Man".
"Indians on TV" was the best episode of the series so far. I laughed out loud more than just a number of times, but that's not even close to the best thing about it, no: the writing was excellent. While tackling a number of controversial subjects in relation to casting procedures in the business as well as the way ethnic minorities are dealt with on the casting bench, this episode never lost its touch with reality and remembered to reveal both sides of the story: not just the ones suffering from discrimination or racism, but also those responsible for it, consciously or not. One main problem dealt with in this episode is the fact that show producers often shy away from giving more than one Asian/African/etc. actor a prominent role on a show with a limited amount of main cast members - and I love the way "Master of None" not only criticizes this fact, but also shows exactly how to include more than one main actor who isn't white. This is how it's done, and this is how you implement good writing on your show. Well done.