Samstag, 17. Februar 2018

PHANTOM THREAD - Movie Review

Title: Phantom Thread
Running Time: 131 min
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Brian Gleeson

Review:
Paul Thomas Anderson has been an acclaimed director for over twenty years now. Daniel Day Lewis can call three Academy Awards, three SAG Awards, two Golden Globes and a knighthood his own. After these two artists had already collaborated on "There Will Be Blood", they now teamed up for a second time. And if that wasn't intriguing enough, Daniel Day Lewis announced that he would end his acting career after this final film.
I wish he had chosen another project, because to me, "Phantom Thread" is a very frustrating movie. Let's get the positives out of the way first: The cinematography is gorgeous. This movie's shots look like part of photo exhibition at an art gallery. Then there is the sound mixing and the editing that really make sure this quiet films comes alive. Daniel Day Lewis' and Vicky Krieps' acting is on point as well, and it seems that making these characters feel real is a task they master effortlessly. Also, since this is a film about a fashion designer, the costumes are also beautiful to look at.
But then there is the plot of the movie. This story is one of a self-entitled rich old white man whose talents let him to believe his needs are more important than everyone else's. I guess he is supposed to be interesting and suave, but I found his arrogance and lack of empathy less charming than infuriating. Throw in the uncomfortably apparent Oedipus complex and you've got yourself an incredibly unrelatable character. Even the hints of post-war trauma can't help to redeem this entirely unsympathetic man.
The other half of the couple is a woman that doesn't stop admiring him despite his constant disrespect for her. The fact that she talks back to him a couple of times doesn't make up for her constant need of his approval. Their conversations are so very often immature and the more the movie progresses the more toxic their communication becomes. In addition, the film leaves out some important information about them and so it is hard to understand where exactly their affection comes from.
How this movie holds 91% at Rotten Tomatoes and an Oscar nomination for Best Picture is beyond me. This is not a complex love story, this is the romanticization of highly dysfunctional behavior - the relationship dynamics of "50 Shades of Grey" repackaged for a pseudo-sophisticated upper middle class. If you look up "pretentious" in a dictionary, you might just find the plot summary of this movie in there.

For Fans Of:
Elle (2016)
mother! (2017) - if you sympathized with Javier Bardem in that film
The Tree of Life (2011)
Carol (2015)

Freitag, 16. Februar 2018

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI - Movie Review

Title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Running Time: 115 min
Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage

Review:
Martin McDonagh is a genius. Like man film makers he started his career with a short film. But unlike most of his colleagues he immediately got critical recognition for it and won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. He followed this with the now cult classic "In Bruges" as well as the movie everyone tells me they still really want to see, "Seven Psychopaths". All of these works were able to gain critical success despite being full of cussing and violence. Does the next entry in his filmography follow that trend?
Most certainly. "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" is a darkly comedic yet thought-provoking movie full of intriguing characters, witty dialogue and fantastic performances. In that way, it is very much a McDonagh film. It might however be his most accessible work, because the message and themes of this movie are much more straightforward than usual.
In "Seven Psychopaths" Christopher Walken's character quoted Gandhi by saying "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." and it seems as if McDonagh set out to construct his latest film in honor of that statement. This movie is about seething anger, the urge for revenge and about how hatred only generates more hatred. The small-town setting is perfect for this story, as it naturally connects the characters and gives each of them an individual history with someone else. The driving force in this film is the character of Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother haunted by the unsolved murder of her teenage daughter. When she puts up the titular billboards in hopes of provoking the police in such a way that they re-open the cold case of her daughter, she sets the ball rolling. From that point on, McDonagh lets the events escalate continuously. His characters don't care for etiquette and when they clash you can be sure to hear some abusive language and aggressive behavior. And the film feels more real because of it. Somehow, people that curse just seem a little more honest. Additionally, the film gains genuinenes by taking its time to insert a few more quiet and sincere moments in between all the turmoil to give the characters as well as the audience room to breath and absorb everything that's been going on.
This great writing becomes even better through the actors. This is a fantastic cast and everyone is on the top of their game. Fraces McDormand gives such a furious and yet vulnerable performance that you are invested in her fate for every second of this film. Also Sam Rockwell manages to bring out the humanity in a seemingly unredeemable character and Woody Harrelson shines as the unlikely moral anchor of the film.
"Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" is a cleverly written, perfectly acted movie that with all its obscenities, has a kindhearted message at ist core - an absolutely fantastic time. Catch it in theaters as long as you still can!

For Fans Of:
In Bruges (2008)
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Fargo (1996)
Adam's Apples [orig.: Adams Æbler] (2005)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Pulp Fiction (1994)

Freitag, 9. Februar 2018

2nd CINEMARTIAN MOVIE AWARDS

 Hello there puny humans,
and welcome to the second annual "Cinemartian Movie Awards". Since readers seemed to enjoy last year's awards, I thought that I would keep the tradition. Additionally, it gives me the chance to honor movies that didn't quite make it onto my top ten list. And this year those were quite a few! Because 2017 was a fantastic year for cinema. After having some fun with categories last time, I tried to run equally wild this time around. So now, I present to you the winners of my prestigious awards:

BIGGEST POSITIVE SURPRISE:
Winner: My Life as a Courgette
I've talked about this movie multiple times, when I reviewed last year's Academy Awards and when I put up my Top 10 Films of the year. So maybe I should start to shut up about this Swiss-French stop motion animated kids movie. But seriously, this was the most unexpected gem of 2017. It was the weekend of the Oscars and me and my two best movie buddies set out to see as many nominated films as we could. Jokingly I said: "Well on Sunday they play 'My Life as a Courgette', we could catch that one as well. Haha." Surprisingly, I got an uber-enthusiastic 'Yes' from my companions. When we stood in line to buy the tickets my motivation was incredibly low. "Thank God I only have to sit through this thing for 70 minutes." Then the film started and I was completely captivated after only five minutes!

BEST USE OF MUSIC:
Winner: Baby Driver
I mean, there really is no competition. The way that music was used in this film was out of this world. Multiple different elements of the soundtrack were utilized to perfectly suck us into the main characters mood and perspective. The action lined up with the rhythm of the songs. The lyrics described the situation our character was in ("Nowhere to run to, Baby, nowhere to hide!"). The music stopped coming out of the left speaker, when Baby wasn't wearing his left earphone. The flow of the music represented how smooth things go (remember when the heist goes wrong and Baby has to restart a song?). And above all, it was just god damn cool music. In an interview director Edgar Wright said that he had a playlist called "Baby Maybes" with over a thousand potential songs for the film. I really want that playlist.

BEST SOUNDTRACK TO WORK OUT TO:
Winner: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
When I saw the trailer for this movie for the first time, I could see Guy Ritchie's fingerprints all over it. Personally, I really enjoy the director's style. I think his movies have a vigorous energy to them that just gets you excited. The same goes for his soundtracks. The score of "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" gets you pumped. Whenever I need a motivational push, I just blast "Run Londinium", "Seasoned Oak" or "Jackseye's Tale" through my headphones. As a Hip-Hop fan I can especially appreciate the head-nodding qualities of the latter. These tracks get your heart pounding and your muscles moving. Furthermore, I also just wanted to give this movie an award because I do not think it deserved the negative backlash it got. Yes, there are a few structural problems, but there is certainly fun to be had with this film.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Winner: War for the Planet of the Apes
Technology has come incredibly far in the last few decades and often we only notice how good special effects are today, when we see cringy CGI in older films. But this Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy has put me in absolute awe every time watched one of its films for the first time. I am still not 100% convinced that 20th Century Fox didn't train actual apes for this. This is pure movie magic. And the best thing about these films is that they have even more to offer than just outstanding VFX. Andy Serkis is fantastic as Caeser, the cinematography is beautiful and the movie perfectly manages to be a captivating action film and a humanistic drama at the same time.

THE "WHY DOES THIS EXIST?"-AWARD:
Winner: Transformers: The Last Knight
Every time I see a new Transformers movie I ask myself this question. Why? Why? Whyyyy? The first film was an okay Popcorn flick that had more than a few flaws, but was enjoyable for what it was. The more movies came however, the worse it got. This series is one of the laziest, inconsistent and dumbest franchises ever created. There is just so little effort put in these movies that it is an insult for every serious film maker. And yet, the Transformers franchise keeps making money. It's frustrating to see so many people buying movie tickets for crap like that while absolutely amazing films like "Blade Runner 2049" struggle at the box office. For a long time, another one of the worst parts about this for me was that people started throwing these films in the same pot with "Pacific Rim", a movie I love very dearly. But since I have written an article about this I can just refer people to it.

THE "I DON'T CARE THAT THIS EXISTS"-AWARD:
Winner: Beauty and the Beast
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that this movie sucks. But... well... it is the same movie as the 1991 classic. Almost exactly the same. Why do we need this? I mean the film sure has the Disney magic and all, but I could just watch the original for that. The few changes that they made had no additional value for me and in some ways made the movie even worse. So the Beast can now teleport? Why is he moping around in his castle then, when he could be sipping Piña Coladas on the beaches of southern France? And the partially autotuned voices of Emma Watson and Dan Stevens didn't really elevate the material either. The only new thing I actually found cool was introducing LeFou as a homosexual. But that is not what I need these live-action remakes for.

THE "I DIDN'T KNOW I CARED THAT THIS EXISTS"-AWARD:
Winner: Fate of the Furious
I have sneered at this franchise for the longest part of my life. It wasn't until last spring, when I marathoned the entire series in one day (the full experience documented here), that the Fast & Furious movies found their way to my heart. Yes, these films are ridiculous and totally bonkers, but that doesn't stop them from being inventive, caring about their character's history and actually leaving their continuity in tact. They do not take themselves seriously, but they do take their audience seriously. This is also the way in which their are different to the Transformers franchise despite falling in the same broader category of mindless blockbusters. When I finally sat down to watch "Fate of the Furious" I had a blast. I was happy to see outrageous action, cheesy one-liners and a ton of references to past films. If you'd asked me a few years back, I probably wouldn't have believed it. And if you still don't believe it, I recommend Patrick H. Willems' video on why these movies are great.

BEST T-SHIRTS:
Winner: Anything worn by Ben from IT (portrayed by Jeremy Ray Taylor)
"IT" had a lot to offer. The eighties setting gave it nostalgia points, the child actors had really good chemistry, the camera work was great and it was a classic horror story. The one thing that amazed me the most, however, was how cool Ben's t-shirts were. I love tees with creative, colorful and ironically cheesy designs. Almost every time Jeremy Ray Taylor walked on screen with a new outfit I thought to myself: "Man, I want a shirt with that motif!". An Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design would have been nice, but I guess the Academy values elaborate dressmaking over a good eye during shirt shopping.... pff...

BEST "GHOST IN THE SHELL"-REMAKE:
Winner: Blade Runner 2049
The 1995 original "Ghost in the Shell" is not only an amazing anime, but also a great cerebral science fiction film. Through its futuristic setting it explored philosophical themes like the connection between body and soul, the definition of identity, and whether there is such a thing as an objective reality. The 2017 remake starring Scarlett Johansson was an enjoyable film, but failed to be as thought-provoking as its source material - or as visually stunning for that matter. The channel Nerdwriter1 actually mad a great video on how the remake lost the meaningful color pallets and didn't take enough time to let its moments and images sink in. "Blade Runner 2049" on the other hand had all that. It played with colors, touched on the themes of the original "Ghost in the Shell" and had almost meditative sequences that let the audience reflect on what they were witnessing. It was a masterclass sci-fi film cast in the same mold of the beloved Japanese classic.
Of course I also have to address the white-washing concerning the casting of the new "Ghost in the Shell" film, which didn't help the movie either. Their solution to the problem of having cast a white actress for an Asian role actually turned out to be counterproductive as it left room for some bad interpretations. If you get a superior body, they make you white? Urgh, let's not go down that road...

LEAST SEXUALIZED FEMALE MAIN CHARACTER:
Winner: Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman
The most wonderful thing about "Wonder Woman" was that it gave us an amazing portrayal of a female heroine. No compromises were made when creating this amazing amazon. Diana Prince was as bad-ass as she was beautiful, as warm-hearted as she was brave and as much of a team-player as she was independent. She simply was the whole package. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot depicted the character with respect and grace. Her strength came from within and not from other people around her being incompetent. The film might have had a few flaws, but the portrayal of Wonder Woman was inspiring to men and women alike. 

MOST SEXUALIZED FEMALE MAIN CHARACTER:
Winner: Wonder Woman in Justice League
Only five month after we got a progressive portrayal of a female super-hero, a stick-in-the-mud called "Justice League" came along. Suddenly, Gal Gadot was filmed from suspiciously low angles with her butt right in the foreground of the shot. While the humor between her and Chris Pine had been clever and cute in her solo film, her big comedic moment here was when flash accidentally fell face first into her cleavage. And I could swear that the skirt of her costume has gotten shorter. Yes, she still kicked ass most of the time, but seeing her so obviously sexualized was just a crying shame...

MOST VISIBLE MUSTACHE:
Winner: Hercule Poirot (as performed by Kenneth Branagh in Murder on the Orient Express)
"Murder on the Orient Express" was not a perfect film, but it did have a whole lot of style. In his performance you could see that Kenneth Branagh had a lot of fun with his character, but it also showed in the look he chose for him. While Poirot has always been described as flamboyant, concerned with his looks and proud of his beard, no visual incarnation of the character took it as far as Branagh’s. This mustache is of such magnificent size and style that hardly any movie character can compete. And even though I was watching an intriguing and skillfully acted murder mystery on screen, my mind couldn’t help but wander off and speculate about what effort it would take to grow and groom such (literally) outstanding facial hair. I was impressed and envious at the same time.

LEAST VISIBLE MUSTACHE:
Winner: Superman (as performed by Henry Cavill in Justice League)
This is one of the funniest stories in Hollywood history. Shortly after "Justice League" had stopped filming, Henry Cavill started shooting "Mission: Impossible - Fallout". But then, Warner Brothers Studios needed to do some extensive reshoots for "Justice League". The problem was that Henry Cavill had already grown a full mustache for his role in "M:I 6" and was contractually prohibited from shaving it off. WB Studios begged Paramount Pictures to let Cavill shave anyways, but Paramount refused, because they didn't want to go through the trouble of digitally adding the mustache in post-production (even though WB offered to cover for the expenses). As a result, Warner Brothers had to do it the other way round. They shot the additional Superman footage with a bearded Cavill and had to later remove his stache through the power of visual effects. It was actually rumored that this cost the studio as much as 25 million dollars! Which is insane! This makes Henry Cavill's whiskers the most expensive facial hair of all time, and if you look close enough you can actually notice his fake CGI lip in "Justice League".

MOVIE WHOSE ARC OF SUSPENSE MOST RESEMBLED A FULLY INFLATED BALLOON THAT SOMEONE SUDDENLY WHIZZED OFF:
Winner: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
I know that this award sounds a little contrived, but you'd be surprised how many movies this applies to. In 2017 "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" fit that bill the most. It had a lot going for it in the beginning. First of all, Luc Besson had reached out to design schools world-wide to get diverse creative input for the look of his different alien races. The result was a world filled with a huge variety of interesting and exciting creatures. Secondly, the cold open on the unidentified planet made for an intriguing mystery. And lastly, the market place scene in the first act was an incredibly cool way to use sci-fi concepts for an exciting action sequence. So for the first half an hour or so I was totally on board. But then the film quickly lost me. The character of Laureline (whose name was already cut from the title compared to the comic) could have been a strong female character, but was degraded to an only slightly empowered damsel in distress after the first act. Then Valerian goes on a weird side quest to save her, which only makes the movie lose its momentum and could have easily been cut. Additionally, the secret villain of the story was revealed to the audience very early on, but not to our main characters. When Valerian and Laureline see through his game in the very end and confront him, the viewer already has been knowing almost everything they unveil for about an hour. It simply makes the finale much less meaningful. Seeing "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" start so well but then decrease in quality so quickly was kind of frustrating.

CHAMELEON ACTOR AWARD:
Winner: Domhnall Gleeson
Whenever I get to talk about Domhnall Gleeson I praise him to the skies. Finally, I can make it "official" by awarding him this prize. Consider this an early Lifetime Achievement Award, because Gleeson has already played vastly different characters in films like "The Revenant", "Ex Machina", "Harry Potter" and "Brooklyn". In 2017 he proved his versatility once more by playing an ultimate dork in "Crash Pad", reprising his role as a sleazy fascist in "Star Wars",  chilling me to the bone with his brief appearance in "mother!", giving us a gentle portrayal of a writer suffering from PTSD in the biopic "Goodbye Christopher Robin", and almost overshadowing Tom Cruise with his charismatic performance in "American Made". This guy can do anything! If I were to wake up in a parallel universe where he was cast in every single male role of every film ever made, I probably wouldn't mind.

BEST MOVIE DAD:
Winner: Frank Adler (as performed by Chris Evans in Gifted)
Next to having portrayed seven different characters in over 10 comic-book based movies, Chris Evans has also always had a sweet spot for smaller indie films. In his latest outing, "Gifted", he plays Frank, the legal guardian of a young girl that turns out to be... well... gifted. And even though Frank is technically her uncle, he is the perfect dad. Through the entire film you really believe that he has her best interest at heart and that he puts her needs before his every time. He is kind, intelligent and, you know, played by Chris Evans, so also incredibly handsome and charming. This is one of these main characters you constantly root for, because he is such a good dude.

WORST MOVIE DAD:
Winner: Him (as performed by Javier Bardem in mother!)
I don't think I have to explain my reasoning for this award to anyone who has actually seen "mother!". For those who haven't, I don't really want to spoil the movie. Let's just say Javier Bardem's nameless poet is like a reverse Liam Neeson in the sense that if his child were to be kidnapped, he wouldn't go "I will find you, and I will kill you!", but rather "I will forgive you, and I will love you!"

BEST FIGHT SCENE:
Winner: The "Stairway Fight" in Atomic Blonde
This movie has often been referred to as "Female John Wick". While I see the parallels, it is much more of a spy movie, whereas "John Wick" is a straight up action flick. This is also why I think it is inferior to both "John Wick" movies, because "Atomic Blonde" loses a lot of momentum through a convoluted plot and many dialogue scenes during which the audience isn't really invested in what happens. However, when the action did kick in, it was a roundhouse-kick straight to the face. Damn, these fights were amazing - merciless, brutal and unpolished. Especially, the 7-minute long-take in which Charlize Theron fights herself through a building was absolutely insane! Nobody is pulling their punches, and in the end the characters are so beaten down that they actually need a couple of seconds to pick themselves up again. It's wild! Read my full review of the film here.

BIGGEST REASON TO QUESTION MY SEXUALITY:
Winner: Dev Patel & His unexpected Sexiness in Lion
Unsuspectingly, I walked into "Lion" ready to simply check one more Oscar nominated movie of my list. What I got was not only one of my favorite films of last year but also a surprising feeling of physical attraction to the films lead actor. I couldn't explain it. Dev Patel used to look like one of the dorkiest Indian kids with his lanky physique and jug ears. But when he stepped on screen during the second half of the film, with his hunky beard, his broad smile and perfect hair I was like "Damn! Dev got hot!". In one scene, I even found myself leaning over to my female friend whispering: "Man, check out that nice butt!" If I ever were to enter a homosexual relationship, Dev Patel would be the one to make me do it.

BEST FILM TO BE PART OF A MARATHON:
Winner: Sharknado 5: Global Swarming
It thought about going serious with this one and actually go with "War for the Planet of the Apes". Even when I decided not to, "Fate of the Furious" was a hot contender. But man, I just had to give this one to "Sharknado 5: Global Swarming". This franchise is so ingeniously dumb and trashy. In a marathon, you can witness the already outlandish premise escalate from film to film. And just when you think this series became too self-aware and contrived with its fourth movie, "Global Swarming" comes along, rights the wrongs from its predecessor and actually has some genuinely surprising moments to offer. This movie takes the franchise in a whole new and even crazier direction and the cliffhanger at the end makes you actually excited for the next installment.

BEST CLIFFHANGER:
Winner: John Wick: Chapter 2
Despite the twist ending of "Sharknado 5", the award for Best Cliffhanger has to go to "John Wick: Chapter 2". Firstly, the film makers managed to resolve their main plot before putting in that cliffhanger, and so managed to make this a self-contained story despite the open ending. This is incredibly cool, because it gives this franchise an overarching through-line, while simultaneously telling separate stories in each film. Secondly, the implications of said open ending guarantee an even bigger, even more intense third film. The first movie was a surprise hit that left me wanting to know more about the stylistic and intriguing world it built. The second chapter broadened this world and showed us that the system in which our main-character was operating is bigger than we might have expected. And the way it looks now, the next film will be letting that system collapse over his head and turn into chaos. Personally, I can't wait! I mean, an epic finale to a graphic-novel-esque movie series revolving around Keanu Reeves in gun-fu-mode... what's not to love?

BEST MOVIE I DIDN'T SEE:
Winner: Get Out
Per Definition, I can't really say a lot about this. But of all the films I missed, this movie was the one that popped up in most conversations about 2017's best releases. "Get Out" took the world by storm. Not only did people think that this was a very skillfully crafted horror film, but the social commentary of its story seemed to have transcended that genre. Suddenly writer-director Jordan Peele's name was everywhere. The former sketch comedian got suggested for multiple potential directing gigs by film buffs and movie magazines. Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was listening and nominated "Get Out" for four of the Big Five Oscars. Needless to say, I really really need to catch up on this film. Everything I heard about it so far sounds like I would have a lot of fun with it.

BEST MOVIE YOU DIDN'T SEE:
Winner: Jungle
Nobody talked about this film. And I think the reason is that nobody saw it. I, however, was lucky enough to catch this Australian survival drama at the Nürnberg Fantasy Film Festival. While it might not be an entirely perfect film, I believe it deserved more recognition than it got. The soundtrack is vibrant, the characters are well-written and the story is captivating. Also Daniel Radcliffe (who has continued to impress me with his bold and diverse choice of projects) gives one of his best performances. This is a film for fans of backpacking and survival movies, but it is also an interesting study of our main characters mind. On top of that the setting of the Bolivian Jungle makes for some absolutely gorgeous shots. If you go into the movie knowing nothing about its story it will take you on a great ride of wonder, suspicion and tragedy. Check it out when you have the chance!

And now we are done! All the Awards are handed out, and all I have to do is to thank you all for reading this long and silly article. I hope you had fun with my made up categories. I certainly had fun writing them. What other Awards would you have given out? Which ones did you think I gave to the wrong person or movie? Feel free to comment below and be sure to check out  "TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017"-List where I honored my personal best of the best.

Sincerely,
Your Cinemartian

Sonntag, 28. Januar 2018

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017

 Hello there puny humans,
once again it is time to sit down and recap the year of 2017. It was really tough. There have been a lot of great movies this year and I had a hard time deciding which movies I wanted to keep in the list and which I could let go. Because I am basing this on German release dates, Oscar-winning movies like La La Land were still in the run but films like The Shape of Water weren't yet. Also I unfortunately missed the critically acclaimed Get Out. I thought about catching it on DVD before starting this article, but since creating this list was already hard enough, I decided not to.
My rating system is composed of cinematic craftsmanship, fulfillment of potential, rewatchability factor, entertainment value and how the film touched me emotionally aka. personal preference. Even though it's kind of a cop-out considering the title, I will also briefly touch on my honorable mentions (in no particular order) just because I believe that these film definitely need recognition:

MOONLIGHT: This was not only an incredibly important, but also an incredibly well made film. It is a tender exploration of race and sexual identity with outstanding performances by every one involved.

SPLIT: This claustrophobic thriller was a brilliant comeback for M. Night Shyamalan. With fantastic visual story-telling and a masterclass performance by McAvoy, this film could have easily made my top ten. It loses a few points however for associating Dissociative Identity Disorder with criminal behaviour.

STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII - THE LAST JEDI: My most anticipated film of the year doesn't quite make the cut. Why? Well, I certainly thought the highs in The Last Jedi were incredibly high, but as of now, I'm still torn about some other elements. I think I need some time to completely make up my mind about this film.

WONDER WOMAN: Who doesn't love Gal Gadot? Men want to marry her and women want to be her. Heck, I also want to be her! This film was near to a perfect superhero origin story, with a sincerity and seriousness that I have been missing in some of the latest comic-book outing. It was only the CGI-heavy third act that kind of took it down a few spots.

MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI: One of the best kids movies I've ever seen. This film (of that I thought it was going to be a childish borefest) literally brought tears to my eyes. It tells tales of terrible fates in such an innocent way that it breaks your heart over and over again. Children won't get the darkness of this film, even though it is hidden in plain sight and so adults will have a very different viewing experience. Certainly worth your time.

And now, without further ado, let's dive into the Top 10:

10. "THE BIG SICK"
My number ten spot goes to the movie that was a breath of fresh air in the genre of romantic comedies. It is based on the actual life of main actor and screenwriter Kumail Nanjiani, and it really shows: The Big Sick is multilayered and absolutely genuine. The film is more than a love story as it also heavily features topics like the cultural barriers (including racism in both directions), recovering from setbacks and what it's like to try to build a career in show business. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan have great chemistry and are two endlessly charming main characters. But also the supporting cast is on the top of their game with Ray Romano and Holly Hunter leading the way. This film is funny, sad, heart-warming and even gets you thinking a couple of times. Because when characters argue, you can usually understand where both sides are coming from and that they actually have a point. It just shows how great the writing is! The Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay is well-deserved.

9. "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING"
I have expressed my love for the webslinger multiple times in my articles. Naturally I was curious to see what this third cinematic incarnation of the character had to offer. I was not disappointed. It was a blast! I've always loved the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films from the early 2000s, because they tell such a classic and inspiring super-hero story. Spider-Man: Homecoming however, captures the feeling you get from reading a Spidey comic like no other film has. Tom Holland is perfectly cast and is able to play both, Peter Parker an Spider-Man, flawlessly. This film had everything you need in a film about the wallcrawler: action, humor and, most importantly, a lot of heart. Even though they took the character to high school for the third time, the movie managed to stay fresh. Director Jon Watts recreated the magic of a John Hughes film and the fantastic Michael Keaton gave us one of Marvel Studios' best villains. That subtle but creepy scene in the car was amazing. I didn't think a Spider-Man movie could still have that much juice in it. This was popcorn entertainment at its best.

8. "LION"
This February release tells the awe-inspiring true story is about a little boy, Saroo, who gets separated from his family in India as child. Shortly after, he is adopted and moves to Australia. But losing his family haunts him for all the years to come and so after 20 years he decides to find them despite having as little information as you possibly can. The first half of the film is set in India and features an incredibly heart-wrenching performance by the eight-year old Sunny Pawar. Having lived in India for four month, I have witnessed the cruel reality of street children with my own eyes and so I found this part of the film extremely engulfing. The second half of the film shows Saroo as a grown man. Among other things this part explores his struggle with cultural identity and what it feels like to look Indian, but not know a whole lot about that country. As someone who has a similar relationship with his heritage, I could completely empathize with the character. Needless to say, this film really resonated with me on a deeply personal level.

7. "DUNKIRK"
Unlike most other war movies, Christopher Nolan tells this story in an unconventionally impersonal way. This took a little bit of getting used to in the beginning, but once I accepted that, I was in for a unique cinematic ride. Nolan proved to me once again that he is one of the greatest directors working at the moment. Like a conductor of an orchestra he has an incredible oversight over every element of his project, manages to use each of those elements to its fullest potential and combine all of them in a way that creates a perfect harmony. Dunkirk was an amazing demonstration of his cinematic craftsmanship. The cinematography, the score, the sound-design, everything was working in unison to fully captivate the viewer. Additionally, the way the different stories were intertwined made sure that I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. My heart would bleed if I ever saw someone watch this movie on an airplane or on their phone. This film was made for the big screen!

6. "MOTHER!"
I'll be honest with you, watching mother! made me feel really uncomfortable. When the end credits of this film started rolling my initial thought was: "What the f**k did I just watch?". Back then I would have never thought about watching it again, let alone putting it in my Top 10. But the more I thought about this film the more I started loving it. In a way, this film represents the very essence of cinema itself. The images stick with you, its themes make you think and it starts a vivid conversation. And these things apply even if you didn't like the film. This really seems like it was a personal passion project for Aronofsky. I was put in awe by the unbridled and raw creative vision I was witnessing and it felt like had just stepped into Aronofsky's mind just when he was starting to have a wild feverish dream. But this movie is not great because of sheer shock value, it actually makes a hard-hitting commentary on humanity. Furthermore, this movie impresses with strong leading performances and a masterful direction. Disturbing? Yes! But also a fantastic piece of motion picture art.

5. "BABY DRIVER"
I praised the previous two films for their artistic value and highly competent direction. My number five spot - Baby Driver - can most definitely join the ranks of them, although tonally this is vastly different film. Once again Edgar Wright proves that just because a movie is full of fun and action, that doesn't mean it can't be an impressive display of creativity. The way that he utilizes the soundtrack is ingenious. Not only do the songs match the action, they are also an extension of our main character's emotions. Their tempo, their mood and their lyrics all serve as a door to Baby's inner life. And if that wasn't enough for you, Wright also plays with the color schemes, adds clever foreshadowing and pays homage to old-school Hollywood crime stories. In my initial review I called this film a meticulously crafted, brilliantly edited and perfectly cast music-video-motion-picture-hybrid. And half a year later I still agree 100%. But before I run out of positive words to use, I'll just say: Damn, what a ride!

4. "LA LA LAND"
This film was released over a year ago in mid-January and yet, I still find myself randomly going "Ba-ba-da-ba da-ba-da-ba-ba..." to the tune of Another Day of Sun in my head. Coming to Germany with a lot of momentum after breaking Golden Globes records, La la Land soon experienced some backlash, because audience thought to themselves: "Wait, this is what all the fuss is about? A romantic musical?" But to me, this movie was much more than that. Yes it's true that on the surface this looks like a typical boy-meets-girl story and it's not like Gosling and Stone's dancing and singing was unparalleled or something. But if you just dive a little bit deeper into this film you'll find something truly special. A love letter to the golden age of cinema, a perfect blend of escapism and realism, a deconstruction of postmodernism and over all, just fantastic film making. I had loads of fun with the charming performances, the catchy songs, the playful set-design, the elaborate lighting and the beautiful shots. After this and the fantastic movie Whiplash, I will watch anything that Damien Chazelle puts out next!

3. "IN THE FADE" / "AUS DEM NICHTS"
I am not too fond of German cinema. Not because of a lack of quality, but because of a lack of variety. There are very few real genre films in Germany (like fantasy epics, horror movies or science fiction films) and directors don't seem eager to use a distinct visual style in their film. Fatih Akin is different however. As a film maker he doesn't hide in the shadow of a good story. He elevates his stories through his directorial voice. In The Fade (original title: Aus dem Nichts) is his best work so far. This film captivated me from start to finish. I was amazed how many emotions Akin could solely through images and it reminded of Martin Scorsese's early work. But not only Akin was on the top of his game. Leading lady Diane Kruger was astonishing and I am still scratching my head over the fact that she didn't get an acting nomination at the Oscars. This whole film was an incredibly real portrayal of loss, grief, hopelessness and anger. Deeply personal and endlessly thrilling - I had my heart in my mouth for the entire last 20 minutes of the film.

2. "LOGAN"
After X-Men: Apocalypse came out in theaters, I was convinced that the X-Men franchise was dead. And now, here I am with its latest entry in my number two spot. No doubt, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine has always been the best part of these films, but even his first solo movie was terrible. But Logan blew me away. It was such a mature way to tell a superhero story, with a patient narrative style, well-rounded meaningful themes and more than a few moments of sincere vulnerability. And yet, there was still plenty of room for breathtaking and brutal action. In a time where I was sick of almost every blockbuster stuffing itself with self-aware comedy, this comic-book movie dared too take itself seriously. Extracting the characters from a generic superhero story-line and inserting them into a neo-western road movie was another great choice that made Logan so unique. This film looked and felt different, and I thought that was absolutely fantastic. On top of that, the film features Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart's best performance in the franchise, as well as newcomer Dafne Keen, a thirteen year-old actress that was able to match Jackman in emotional power and sheer badassery. Finally, Wolverine's last line in the film was one of the best character moments in comic-book movie history. And Logan is one of the best superhero films of all time!
...

1. "BLADE RUNNER 2049"
Dennis Villeneuve is an exceptional talent! After impressing audiences and critics with Arrival, Sicario and Prisoners, he has now created his personal masterpiece. First of all, Blade Runner 2049 is simply a f**king gorgeous film! I want it in a picture frame on my living room wall. These beautiful wide shots combined with flawless visual effects, superb lighting and artistic coloring gave me (and excuse my language here) multiple eye-gasms. But wait, there’s more! Not only is Blade Runner 2049 visually stunning, but it is a perfect cerebral science-fiction thriller as well. Villeneuve respectfully built on the world that the first Blade Runner created. And by broadening its world he was also able to broaden the themes and so he poses multiple questions at the same time. As a sci-fi fan you can find shades of many different films of the genre here, such as Ghost In The Shell, Her, Inception and Ex Machina.
All of this contributed to the film completely sucking me in. Instead of a screening room, I had stepped into a time machine and was transported to the year 2049 in an alternate dimension. It was a completely immersive experience. No virtual reality needed! This is one of these extremely rare arthouse-blockbuster hybrids that has as much of an entertainment factor as it has artistic value. I would even dare to say that it is better than the original.

So that’s my „Top 10“ list for 2017. There were a ton of amazing films and it was hard to chose, but the longer I look at this list, the more happy I am with it. But what did you think? Do you agree or disagree? Are you one of the many people who skipped my number one choice when it was theaters? Did you wonder why Thor: Ragnarok didn’t make the cut? Feel free to comment below! And if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the full reviews for my top 10 choices that you can find on this blog.

Sincerely,
Your Cinemartian

Dienstag, 23. Januar 2018

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI - Spoiler Review

 Hello there puny humans,
it has been four weeks since I released my spoiler free review for Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. But since you guys demanded my spoiler filled opinion on this divisive film in an online pole, I sat down once more to gather my thoughts. I actually took the time to rewatch every single Star Wars movie including this one. Then, after overthinking how to structure this post, I decided to just write things down as they popped into my head. And so, here we go:

1. WASTING INTRIGUING SIDE CHARACTERS
I love Domhnall Gleeson. In my opinion, he is one of the finest and most diverse actors working to date. Even though he played kind of a stereotypical faschist in The Force Awakens, it seemed to me like there were more layers to him. Especially his relationship with Kylo Ren felt like the relationship of two rivaling brothers desperately fighting for the approval of their father figure (in this case Supreme Leader Snoke). As a result, I was a little disappointed to see him be ridiculed in a few scenes. This role (especially played by this actor) had much more potential than to simply become a punchline. We see shades of this when he briefly thinks about murdering Kylo or when he demonstrates a great strategic intelligence. But after seeing him made fun of by Poe and thrown through the room by Kylo, it's hard to take him seriously.
Then there is Captain Phasma. She was already criminally underused in The Force Awakens and even though The Last Jedi brought her back, her appearance was once again extremely brief. I mean, you've got Brienne of Tarth in bad-ass chrome armour. There's got to be a better use of her!

2. THE DISNEY STAMP
There have been some complaints that Star Wars changed after Disney took over. The Porgs for example were accused of only being in the movie to sell toys and some people said that they were totally overused. Though it's probably true that their creation was part of a marketing idea, they had only like three or four moments in a two-and-a-half hour film. So this didn't bother me, because in such a small dose they worked for me. I mean, they were cute after all.
Another problem people had was that there were too many jokes. I agree that Disney has a particular kind of humor that they also use heavily in their Marvel movies. In The Force Awakens it worked well, but in The Last Jedi I also felt like a few of the jokes didn't land. But to me, the emotional moments in this movie were strong enough to completely compensate the few misplaced gags.

3. LEIA, POE & THE RESISTANCE
I liked a lot of the stuff here. From scene to scene the Resistance got smaller and smaller, and so for me this story-line was able to continuously keep up the stakes of the film. A lot of people have criticized the "Leia-floating-in-space"-scene. Admittedly, I was also startled for a second, but then the scene totally worked for me. Leia has always been described as being strong with the Force and I actually thought it was cool that she got a chance to show it off.
Poe's personal journey from talented hothead to capable leader also made a lot of sense to me. The only problem I had here is that I felt that Admiral Holdo could indeed have given more details about her actual plan to Poe and therefore prevented a whole lot of complications. Maybe a little change in the wirting could have made her secrecy a little more understandable. Her kamikaze attack still looked freaking cool though.
Another thing I enjoyed was that the character of Rose introduced us to another side of the Resistance. Her first encounter with Finn didn't only show us that therer are more people working on this rebellion than heroic fighter pilots, but it also mentioned deserters for the first time (but more on that later).

4. THE CANTO BIGHT CASINO STORY-LINE
Speaking of Rose, she and Finn go on a journey to find a codecracker that helps them infiltrate Snoke's ship. And it leads them to a Casino on the planet Canto Bight. That sequence didn't quite work for me. I already said in my spoiler free review that this place didn't feel like it belonged in that galaxy far far away. It simply looked like a futuristic casino on earth. But Star Wars takes place a long time ago and (in my mind at least) when people dress up, they do it in weird fancy ropes. These guys were wearing black and white tuxedos. Furthermore, they were playing games that were almost indistinguishable to the ones played in casinos today. Sure, there probably were some alterations, but you never got a good enough look to really notice it.
The second problem I had with this sequence was that I felt the social commentary was a little too on the nose here. This was also where the character of Rose became a little too contrived for me. Furthermore, if I remember correctly, Finn and Rose only got arrested for a parking violation, not for entering the casino. So could the failure of their mission have been avoided simply by parking properly?
I respect the film makers for trying out something new, but it didn't speak to me as it felt more like Episodes I-III. Even the action, especially the Fathier horse chase, looked kind of prequel-esque.

5. THE YODA CAMEO
There is actually not a lot to say here. I loved it! Especially the fact that they made him look and act like the Puppet-Yoda from the original trilogy. It was a fantastic cameo that wasn't only there for fan service, but actually made sense in the context of the film and created a great cinematic moment. "Read them you have? Page-turners they are not." is one of my new favorite Yoda lines.

6. MARK HAMILL AS AN OLD LUKE
In contrast to Canto Bight, almost everything that happened on Ahch-To, was a blast to watch. First and foremost the Jedi-Master that went into exile on this sacred planet, Luke Skywalker. This was Mark Hamill at his best. While I wasn't 100% on board with him throwing the lightsaber over his shoulder (and thereby retroactively demystifying one of the best moments of The Force Awakens) I do not agree with the #notmyluke criticism. First of all I absolutely loved that Luke started of as kind of an oddball in his interaction with Rey. It paralleled the relationship between Yoda and Luke in Episode V, where Yoda also started of as this tiny green weirdo. Whether exile makes Jedi quirky or  is just a technique to test the patience of potential students is unclear. But nonetheless I felt it fit perfectly. And when he finally opened up and became her trainer, I loved to see this broken down and ambivalent version of our hero. He explained the Force beautifully to Rey and at the same time he criticized the Jedi Order as we saw it in the prequels (rightfully so). And his past with Kylo? I thought it was brilliant! Seeing the breach of their relationship in three different perspectives was reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", and I for my part found Luke's reaction very much in line with his character. When Vader teased him by talking about how he would hurt Leia, Luke went apeshit and swung his lightsaber at his father like a berserker. Here, he only ignited it once out of shock (who knows, maybe he had a vision of Han dying) and then immediately regretted his moment of doubt. He never really wanted to kill Ben, but it becomes clear how it would look like that from Ben's perspective. So my idea of the character of Luke is still intact. And then the movie even gave him an epic heroic moment during the final fight. Mark Hamill was such a strong presence in this sequence that I didn't at all get that he was in fact a...

7. EXPANDING THE WAYS OF THE FORCE
... Force-Projection! Damn, what a cool moment. The visual Force connection was also an exciting concept to play around with. To me, these powers both felt like an extension of things we've already seen before. Acoustic Force connections have already been established 40 years ago in the very first film, so why shouldn't it be possible to "upgrade" to visual connections. The same goes for the Force Projection, which probably works like a pre-death Force ghost. And here, it was made very clear that using this power seems to be so difficult and draining that it may kill you. I hope they dive deeper into these new elements in the future.
Star Wars has always been expanding the lore concerning the Force. The Phantom Menace introduced Force Speed as well as Midi-Chlorians and if I am correct, the Clone Wars series had an episode where a physical incarnation of the Force appeared. Compared to the that, The Last Jedi's new inventions were almost conservative.

8. REY & KYLO
The two individuals connected through the Force as mentioned above were of course Rey and Kylo Ren (aka. Ben Solo). Their relationship is arguably one of the most interesting parts of the movie. There are a lot of parallels and contrast between them. Kylo had a heroic mentor that he felt betrayed by. Rey had ruthless parents that she kept believing in. He stands on the dark side, but doesn't fully buy into it. She stands on the light side, but is not afraid to explore what the darkness wants to show her. Both are incredibly strong with the force. And while Ben wants to kill the old ways and start off new, Rey wants to turn the legends of the past into truths. These characters are not black and white. When Ben reached out to Rey in order to sway her, I almost wanted her to accept the offer. With these two main characters the Star Wars saga has gained new unpredictability. I have no idea how the story will continue. Is Kylo Ren redeemable? Or will he have to die through Reys hand? Is there a possibility that they will rule the galaxy together after all? They seemed pretty in sync when fighting Snoke's Royal Guards....

9. BATTLE SCENES & VISUALS 
While we are on the topic, may mention how absolutely insane that lightsaber battle in the throne room was? Truly awesome. The way that Rey dropped the lightsaber, the way she later threw it to Ben. Genius! Choreography-wise, this was maybe the best fight scenes in the entire saga. But also the opening bombardment of the First Order capital ship is a pretty epic space battle. Even though you didn't know most of the characters, their desperation and the destructive power of the First Order made you really feel for them!
In general, this film is just incredibly good looking. The finale on the salt planet is so gorgeous, I want these wide shots on canvas! The color scheme is brilliant, the cave vision looked cool, Reys training sequence on the island was beautifully shot and the throne room fight I mentioned before is also visually stunning. The way the vibrant red curtains caught fire and burned away during the fight - amazing!

10. SNOKE, REY'S PARENTS & AN UNCLEAR VISION OF THE TRILOGY(?)
Of course the throne room fight I am praising so much was bookended by two moments that were controversially discussed by fans. Snoke got killed off and Rey's parents were revealed to be no one. Now, I am a little torn on these two things. From a mere story-telling perspective, those moments make perfect sense. It doesn't really matter who Snoke is. At least not to our main characters. If he had turned out to be Darth Plagueis it wouldn't have changed anything for Rey or Ben. When the original trilogy came out, nobody knew who the Emperor was either. He was just some evil dude. Giving him a backstory would not have enriched the films at all.
Rey's parentage on the other hand would probably have made a bigger impact. Director Rian Johnson stated that he thought about it for a long time and had cards with character names on the floor, shuffling them around to see what would work best. He decided that Rey's parents being no one would be the most interesting, and quite frankly I agree. Her heritage being irrelevant really spices things up. First of all it moves the saga away from the old-fashion idea of blood-line being important. Second of all it has a big impact on Rey as she has to give up the idea that her parents are coming back and that she is somehow destined to be a hero. So story-wise I am totally on board. However:
While I don't think film makers should be bound to fan's expectations or fan theories, it is not like all this talk about Rey's parents and Snoke came out of nowhere. In The Force Awakens J. J. Abrahams deliberately set up mysteries. The ominous huge hologram with which Snoke was introduced, Obi-Wan's voice calling Rey's name in her vision, lines like "A good question, for another time." and many other similar things were specifically designed to keep us guessing. So when someone gives you a puzzle and after you have put a lot of effort in trying to solve it, you're told that the answer to that puzzle doesn't matter, it is understandable that someone gets pissed.
Furthermore this implicates that there is no pre-planned vision for this new trilogy. The afore mentioned statement of Johnson proves that he didn't have the answers to the questions Abrahams put out there in Episode VII. This I find too bad, because sequels that are constructed together can make for pretty cool overarching themes and stories (think Back to the Future Part II & III). Then again, the original movies hadn't mapped out everything from the get-go either.


11. THE THEMATIC THROUGHLINE & DECONSTRUCTION OF STAR WARS
Even though these three new movies might not have a completely shared golden thread, there is no denying that thematically The Last Jedi is incredibly well-rounded. Firstly, there is the theme of having to give up certain things in your life to achieve greater things. Finn finally gives up his urge to run when things get hopeless, Poe gives up being an action hero to become a true leader and Rey gives up believing in her parents. Even Luke has to give up his self-imposed exile/punishment to become the hero the galaxy needs. And how does every character learn this? Well, Yoda actually explains it: "The greatest teacher, failure is." Luke and Rey both failed to win Ben over. Poe, Finn and Rose failed to save the Resistance. But in the end, every one of them gains strength from their failures.
A second theme that was very apparent in this movie was the grey area between the dark side and the light. In the movies at least, Star Wars has always been about duality. The bad guys were all really bad and the good guys were all really good. And if someone switched sides, they didn't stay in the middle for too long. Even Anakin goes from arresting Palpatine to killing younglings in less than half an hour. This time we were shown that there is more to this series than binaries. On the side of the First Order, we had Kylo who killed Snoke and the General Hux who wanted to kill Kylo. On the side of the Resistance we heard about deserters for the first time and even witnessed attempted mutiny. We heard about the arms dealers on Canto Bight (appropriately dressed in black and white) that sold weapons to the Resistance and the First Order alike. And then of course there was DJ, a character that didn't care for good or evil and just did what was best for him. In that sense, the film deconstructed what we thought we knew about Star Wars. It turned this space opera into a more grounded science-fiction fantasy epic.
The refusal to make Rey's heritage meaningful combined with the "broom kid" using the force in the very end just stress that point even more. The Force is not exclusive to chosen ones. It belongs to everybody.

And maybe that is exactly what Rian Johnson did with the Star Wars series as a whole. He took it away from the fanboys and gave it to everybody. Basically he has asked us to do the same thing that Yoda asked of Luke in Episode V: "You must unlearn what you have learned."
I understand that this is a lot to ask from fans of a saga that has been running for 40 years now, and this is most likely the reason for all the controversy. If you really take a close look at The Last Jedi you'd think there is something for every type of Star Wars fan in there: The opening battle had a war movie touch similar to Rogue One; The Canto Bight sequence reminded a lot of people of the prequels; Lukes relationship with Rey as well as Yoda's cameo were reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back and then there was enough new stuff for people who only started to get into Star Wars after The Force Awakens. But I guess this also meant that every type of Star Wars fan could also find stuff to hate....

Anyways, these are my spoilerific thoughts on Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. Apart from a few gripes, I actually really enjoyed this film. If you want to see how it ranks in the overall saga for me, check out this list I've made on Letterboxd. But what did you think about Episode VIII? Do you agree or disagree with my observations? Feel free to comment below!

Sincerely,
Your Cinemartian

Dienstag, 19. Dezember 2017

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI - Movie Review

Title: Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
Running Time: 153 min
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher (†), Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Andy Serkis

Review:
'Tis that time of the year again. No, not Christmas. Star Wars! There is no need to explain this movie franchise's significance in pop culture. In the night from Wednesday to Thurday many Star Wars fans (myself included) waited in line for the midnight premiere. Gatherings like this have a magical atmosphere, and yet there is this saying "Nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans" and it is somewhat true. The people who debate the quality of these movies most passionately and fiercely with each other are people whose common ground is their love for the original trilogy. "The Force Awakens" was a critical an financial success, but that didn't keep it from starting brisk discussions. The same applies to "Rogue One". So is the eighth episode of this saga the movie to unite the fans?
Probably not. "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi" is a cinematic event that in order to take this franchise in a few completely new directions, takes a few risks. Some might not be pleased by this, others might love it, and some others might be torn. The film can basically be divided into three story-lines that of course cross paths and come together in the end, but stay separate for most of the movie. One revolves around Poe Dameron, Leia and the other members of the resistance fighting (or rather running from) Generl Hux and his ruthless First Order fleet. One sends Finn and a new character, Rose, on a mission to a different part of the galaxy. And the final one follows Rey and Luke on the very same Island on which we last saw them.
The latter story-line could be seen as the main plot, and it is here that the movie works best. Mark Hamill is joyfully excellent as this older version of Luke and his performance was definitely worth the wait. In it, you can see the young Jedi we saw in the original trilogy, but also how he has grown and his worldview has changed. At points it even felt like Hamill was channeling Yoda, another Jedi master whom we met long after he went into exile. Everything concerning him, Rey and also Kylo Ren is absolutely absorbing. It is here where Rian Johnson takes most liberties with the source material, deepens the lore and pushes the boundaries of what is possible in this universe. On the other side is the resistance's story (benefiting from a charismatic performance by Oscar Isaac, as well as Carrie Fisher and Lara Dern as graceful leaders) that cranks up the tension through the entire film. Doom is imminent and Johnson really manages to make you feel like the stakes are high.You also certainly can find shades of  "Rogue One" in this.
The Finn and Rose story-line is the one where the movie stumbles. The place they travel to is something audiences haven't seen before in a Star Wars film. While I respect the film makers for trying something new and expanding the universe, this particular sequence was too close to our own world to me. Instead of being transformed to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, it felt like I was watching my own planet a hundred years from now, which didn't work for me. In general, that plot thread felt a little disjointed from the film, like it was just tagged on to give characters something to do. As an in-universe short film it would have probably worked much better.
Thematically however, all these three stories fit perfectly together as they all explore the grey areas in this tale about the Dark Side and the Light. In that sense, Rian Johnson deconstructs the Star Wars saga, in which the bad guys have always been all very bad and the good guys all exemplary human beings. Yes, there have always transitions from one side to another, but no one ever stayed in between for long. It's an immensely interesting field to explore and the film dives into it head first. If after "The Force Awakens" you thought this story was going to go in a certain direction, Johnson will surprise you with more then one unexpected turn. On the one hand it makes this movie feel absolutely fresh and it fills it with multiple awesome "Holy Shit!"-character-moments. On the other hand it becomes clear that Rian Johnson wasn't interested in every mystery J.J. Abrahams put out there and cherry picked the parts he thought to be relevant. As a result, some big questions from the previous film stay unanswered and some eager theorists will be left frustrated.
Another thing that might put some people off is the humor. It is the first time that you can feel Disney's influence a little bit, as they have created a formula in which they put in unexpected jokes to break the tension. It doesn't work every time and even feels misplaced at points. But since this film builds up so many strong and emotionally charged moments, these missteps are not nearly big enough to tear them down.
The one big thing that is probably indisputable however is that this is one of the most beautiful Star Wars films ever made. The images are gorgeous. Rian Johnson treats Jedi in this film like the Japanese cinema treated Samurai. Staging them in a heroic and dignified way. The colors, the contrasts - everything works. He opens with one of the best space battles seen on film and then graduates to giving us maybe the best and most creative lightsaber fight in Star Wars history. In the end he tops it of with an action sequence that, thanks to its setting, is worthy of being put on a canvas. He definitely knows what he is doing.
In the end, "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi" might not be without its lows, but its highs are so high that that doesn't really matter. It is a nonconformist blockbuster that subverts expectations and puts twists and turns on a lot of things you thought you knew about this franchise. Controversy between fans is inevitable, but even if you don't agree with Johnson's ideas, this film is worth watching just to explore them and be part of the vivid discussion. And of course for the ass-kicking visuals!

Since I had a hard time writing this review while pussyfooting around potential spoilers, you will find a Spoiler-Review on this blog soon.

For Fans Of:
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Looper (2013)
Hero (2002)
Films by Akira Kurosawa

Samstag, 16. Dezember 2017

IN THE FADE (AUS DEM NICHTS) - Movie Review

Title: In the Fade (orig.: Aus dem Nichts)
Running Time: 106 min
Director: Fatih Akin
Writer: Fatih Akin, Hark Bohm
Starring: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar, Samia Muriel Chancrin, Johannes Krisch, Hanna Hilsdorf, Ulrich Brandhoff

Review:
Fatih Akin is one of the most renowned directors in Germany. The award-winning film maker of Turkish parentage is known for being the cinematic voice of people with a migration background as he has often put their reality of life on screen. Thus, it comes to no surprise that a series of murders of nine immigrants committed by the far-right German terrorist group NSU (National Socialist Underground) inspired the story of his latest project. Especially when you take into consideration that the investigation and trial let to the conclusion that the NSU's network spans into government authorities.
"In the Fade" is a fantastic blend of personal drama, trial film and revenge thriller. It tells the story of Katja Sekerci whose Kurdish husband and son are killed in a racially motivated bombing. Akin starts his story with Katja and Nuri marrying... in prison. It's somewhat cute, but first and foremost a clear statement by the director. You should empathize with these victims, even if you don't sympathize with them. Nobody deserves this. The protagonist is imperfect and Akin refuses to manipulate the audiences through dramatic music cues or other similar cinematic tricks. As a result the movie has a coldness to it at points. This, as well as the fact that this is a rather quietly told film, add to its somber atmosphere.
But Akin's directorial voice is loud and clear. Because he has perfectly internalized the famous rule "Show, don't tell".  His images hold more explanatory power than any piece of dialogue could. Katja crying her lungs out in the brightly colored bed in her deceased son's bedroom, says everything about the deepness of her mourning in a single frame. Her getting a tattoo in an incredibly painful spot without even flinching, expresses her emotional numbness better than any variation of the phrase "I feel so empty." would. A courtroom with Katja sitting in the background, fighting the urge to burst into tears while a medical specialist quotes the autopsy report with brittle professional detachment, chokes you up. And then there is a particular tracking shot through a bathroom that will chill you to the bone. It is excellent craftsmanship.
Of course, leading lady Diane Kruger is the pivotal element in all of these shots. While I have found her acting a little superficial in the past, she is a revelation in this movie. Displaying unbridled raw emotions and embracing her characters flaws, she gives one of the strongest and authentic performances of this year, as well as the best of her career. She and Akin are a fantastic pairing.
However, the film is not exempt from possible criticism. If you were looking for a nuanced exploration of the NSU's structure and a differentiated look at their place within the system of government, you'll come away empty-handed. Akin has no interest in making this a film with documentary qualities. Nor does he want to provide moral guidance. It seems that primarily he wanted to vent his anger and express how infuriating such a mindless and hateful act of violence is. In that sense, it is not a rationally designed movie, but one driven by emotion. As a result, one could argue that in the third act, the film undercuts its own message. But it is likely that Akin wants to present chaos rather than order, and thus, doesn't care for making sense of it all. To show the senselessness of such an atrocity is the message itself.
So even though "In the Fade" is not the investigative movie some had hoped for, it is not one bit less powerful. On the contrary, it is one of the most thrilling films of the year that will captivate you from its first minute to the last. This ingeniously constructed piece of cinema surely leaves an impression and will stick with you long after you've left the theater. A movie that is most definitely worth your time and money.

For Fans Of:
Taxi Driver (1976)
Prisoners (2013)
Léon: The Professional (1994)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Head On (2004) [orig.: Gegen die Wand]