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7/10
An emotionally driven second half pardons for a plodding beginning
15 January 2018
New Tale of Zatoichi is the third entry in the franchise centered around the skilled blind swordsman with the strong moral compass. It's also the first movie of the franchise to be shot in color. However, it's also the weakest part of the franchise thus far but still an above average experience. Zatoichi is hunted down by the family of a yakuza he killed in the previous film when he is unexpectedly saved from trouble by his former master. He agrees to stay with his former master and his younger sister and also visits his solitary grandmother. What seems to be a joyous reunion soon turns sour when Zatoichi realizes how his master has changed for the worst. His former master tries to marry his sister to a man whom she doesn't love, kills unarmed people for unjustified reasons and cooperates with a ruthless gang of criminals by taking advantage of his pupils' rich parents. Zatoichi can't ignore the truth and ends up challenging his former master to a decisive duel.

The third installment of the Zatoichi franchise must be separated into two parts. The first half of the movie is quite pointless and could also be told in five minutes or less. We follow Zatoichi traveling across rural Japan and meeting former friends and foes. The movie plods along and is only average at best because of an imprecisely meandering plot. Up to that point, the film could be considered an at best average slice of life or road movie. Things however improve by a few notches when his former master's sister proposes to Zatoichi. From then on, the characters are developed in depth, philosophical topics such as dishonor and honor are discussed and the movie skillfully mixes beautiful fight choreography with a tragic love story. The second half of the film is the most emotional passage of the franchise as we witness Zatoichi's desperate quest for love, peace of mind and renaissance which he simply cannot find as he is constantly challenged, judged and haunted by the demons of his past.

In the end, despite being the least interesting part of the franchise thus far, New Tale of Zatoichi is still worth your attention because of an emotional second half that pardons for a plodding first half. The movie stands out with a sad, melancholy and gloomy touch and makes the viewer empathize with the haunted swordsman more than ever before. Fans of the franchise should definitely watch this film while occasional martial arts fans should rather try out the first installment, The Tale of Zatoichi.
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7/10
Fast pace and deadly blades
15 January 2018
Even though it was only released a few months after the first movie, The Tale of Zatoichi, the second and last movie of the Zatoichi franchise shot in black and white, takes places exactly one year after the events of the first film and is directly related to it. It's nearly impossible to watch this movie independently as it complements the brilliant first strike accurately. Despite an overall faster pace, it has a more melancholy atmosphere due to the main character's goal to pay respects to his fallen friend and opponent and a moody soundtrack.

Zatoichi is on his way to pay respects at the grave of his friend Hirate whom he was forced to kill one year earlier. The movie has three different plots leading into one. First of all, Zatoichi is hired to massage a powerful lord but when he realizes that the nobleman is insane, he is tracked down by the lord's retainers and hired samurai who want to prevent Zatoichi from telling other people the truth about the lord's mental condition. Secondly, the movie follows a one-armed swordsman and his associate who claim to be samurai but are actually criminals on the run. Thirdly, the movie gives us some more details about the yakuza Zatoichi teamed up with in the first film who felt insulted by him and decide to track him down when they hear he is coming back to town. The movie has a twist that links the three story lines together and ends in a rather abrupt way but still manages to answer all essential questions in just seventy-two minutes.

If compared to the first film, this one has a much faster pace and features more spectacular sword fights. Zatoichi regularly faces big crowds on beaches and in gardens and shows off his precise skills in breathtaking manner. From that point of view, the vivid sequel is more spectacular than the first film. The characters have as much depth as in the first film as Zatoichi still proves he has a strong moral compass while he meets ruthless criminals, charming prostitutes and people somewhere in between on his way to his friend's and opponent's grave. The element that is less convincing than in the first film is the more fast-paced and at times slightly confusing story that feels rushed in just seventy-two minutes and doesn't develop as much depth as it could have requested.

If you are looking for breathtaking martial arts choreography, you might prefer this movie over the first film. If you are looking for a skilled plot with atmosphere and depth, the first movie is clearly superior. I personally prefer the more intellectual first film but must admit that the second one is definitely energizing and entertaining. It's positive that the sequel didn't just try to copy the style of the first film and tried out something different. Overall, it's a quite good movie that justifies the numerous sequels based upon the first Zatoichi film and that should please to any fan of Japanese culture and martial arts cinema.
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8/10
A swordsman whose words speak louder than his weapons
15 January 2018
The Tale of Zatoichi is the first in a long series of samurai movies centered around the blind gambler and masseur turned lowly yakuza who has a strong moral compass and makes us feel empathic not because he is blind and underestimated but because he is brave and honest as he always tries to do the right thing. This first movie is one out of two shot in black and white and has a unique atmosphere that makes life in rural Japan come to life in an authentic manner. This film shows how Zatoichi gets caught up in a war between two rival gangs. Even though he isn't respected by the gang he is supposed to represent and uncovers unfair gambling methods, misogyny and murder, he has accepted the fate that he has to live the life of a lowly criminal that he never really wanted. He develops a profound friendship with the rival's ronin who suffers from tuberculosis as they have similar values and share a passion for fishing and sake. However, one day, the two friends know they must face each other in a decisive battle.

There are several elements that make this movie so outstanding. First of all, the film's authentic settings bring the culture and history of rural Japan to life in a very authentic way. Secondly, the protagonist convinces as a man who relies on his moral compass and cleverness first and foremost and only draws a sword if he doesn't have any other choice. Thirdly, the numerous side characters are quite interesting as well, especially Zatoichi's wise opponent Hirate, the ruthless criminal Tate and his proud but desperate sister Otane who ends up falling in love with Zatoichi. Fourthly, the dialogues are really to the point and add something to characters and plot unlike many contemporary martial arts flicks. Fifthly, the few fight sequences in the movie are carefully choreographed and would go on to inspire any other genre film that would follow this movie.

By today's standards, The Tale of Zatoichi might not be the most vivid genre film but it's crafted in an artistic, detailed and intellectual manner that still stands out far over five decades after its initial release. Any martial arts fan should give this movie a chance. I would highly recommend the stunning Criterion Collection of the Zatoichi movies that truly offers value for money. Movies of this quality are rarely made nowadays and should be hold in high regard.
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8/10
A sequel with historic, political and social components
14 January 2018
Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance is the very good and often underestimated sequel to the first Lady Snowblood movie released one year prior to this feature. Lady Snowblood turns out to have survived the events of the first film but is hunted down by police forces for her numerous murders. She gets tired of living on the run, stops fighting, gets arrested, tried and sentenced to death. On the day of her execution, the secret police force frees her and offers her to work as spy and assassin for them. Lady Snowblood is supposed to work as maid for an anarchist who has a document that could lead to a turmoil in the fragile country. She is supposed to steal the document, kill the anarchist and prevent a revolution. However, the more time she spends at his house, the more she questions whether she should complete her mission or switch sides. Lady Snowblood soon becomes a key character in the clash between ruthless government officials and desperate anarchists in the beginning of the twentieth century.

Just as the first movie, this sequel convinces with a solid dose of realism and social criticism as it shows the rift between rich and poor during Meiji period. Due to its plot, historic setting and characters, this sequel isn't a tale of revenge but rather a political drama with martial arts elements. On one side, this change is quite interesting as this film offers something different from the first film but it also takes away from the first movie's gloomy atmosphere and more personal connection to the main character. The rest is business as usual on a very high level. The film-making is detailed, precise and visually stunning, the fight sequences once again find the right balance between elegance and violence and the acting performances are all excellent. If you liked the first film, it's very likely that you will also appreciate the sequel because it kept most elements that made the first film particularly outstanding and added more historic, political and social components to it.

I can highly recommend the recently updated Criterion Collection including both the original Lady Snowblood and this surprisingly solid sequel as well as additional interviews and trailers. It's a shame that there weren't more Lady Snowblood movies because the feminist character is particularly unique and perfectly portrayed by a stunning Kaji Meiko. Martial arts fans and those interested in Japanese culture should be familiar with Lady Snowblood.
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10/10
One of the greatest period martial arts movies with an extraordinary feminist and sociocritical touch
14 January 2018
Based upon the manga of the same name, Lady Snowblood is a dramatic action-thriller set in late nineteenth century Japan during Meiji period. It tells the fateful story of a quiet female assassin who was born in prison and who must carry out the task to avenge her murdered brother and father as well as her abused mother as she grows up under rough circumstances. Supported by a friend of her mother, her severe teacher, an ambitious author and outcast villagers, she tracks down the three surviving persons responsible for her family's gruesome fate one by one.

Aside of having inspired Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill franchise, Lady Snowblood is a movie that manages to stand out among numerous other martial arts films of its time. First of all, the tale of vengeance has a few clever twists and turns and convinces with a non-linear storytelling which adds depth to the characters and evokes empathy for the silent assassin.

Secondly, it's the first movie of its kind to focus on a female lead character who isn't portrayed as weak woman but as pitiless assassin who is cleverer, faster and more determined than her numerous male counterparts which makes this feminist film almost revolutionary for its era.

Thirdly, the precise fight sequences are as elegant as painted pictures and their exaggerated elements only add to the movie's vivid flow. The film finds the perfect balance between artistic elements and quite explicit scenes which were shocking for its time.

Fourthly, the acting performances are stellar as Kaji Meiko convinces as beautiful yet deadly assassin with a haunted past. Even the supporting characters are nicely developed and very interesting to follow. The three villains are quite diversified and complement one another perfectly.

Fifthly and most importantly, the movie develops a gripping and gloomy atmosphere when the silent assassin is walking through snow-covered landscapes, abandoned cemeteries, muddy villages, poor suburbs and decadent mansions. The rift between rich and poor during Meiji period comes alive authentically as the movie criticizes abuse of power which was quite unusual for Japanese movies back then. The film is captivating from start to finish, gets constantly more intriguing and ends on a particularly high note that leaves no questions unanswered. The movie is executed so perfectly that I could easily watch it once a month without getting bored.

Lady Snowblood keeps the greatest elements of classic period martial arts movies and adds gloomy atmosphere, fascinating characters and excellent film-making to make this movie one of the greatest of its kind. Even nearly five decades later, this film's excellent execution in unparalleled and still highly diverting. The sequel isn't as great because of a slightly less intense plot but still convinces in all other departments. It's a shame that only two movies revolving around this fascinating character were made. Make sure to purchase the recently updated Criterion Collection including the two movies as well as additional interviews. Anyone who likes martial arts cinema should own these films.
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8/10
A positive surprise after a disappointing first part
8 January 2018
The second part of Attack on Titan, subtitled The End of the World, is much better than the entertaining but formulaic first part.

This second part quickens up the pace and leads to quite a few twists and turns in a dynamic plot. Some of them might be quite predictable which speaks for the questionable quality of the source material but they are executed with vivid special effects, directional precision and overall improved acting skills. Another positive element is that the second part provides some essential background information on the dystopian universe of the franchise in form of introspective dialogues and precise flashbacks. The movie also becomes more dynamic and tense as the confrontations between the Titans and the decimated human fighters become more brutal, spectacular and unpredictable. Even some of the more shallow characters become somewhat dynamic as the numerous challenges change them in negative or positive ways. The dramatic conclusion of the epic film is satisfactory and leaves no questions unanswered. While the first part had an addicting first half hour but lost steam until the final minutes, this second part has no lengths whatsoever and entertains from start to finish.

Obviously, some of the flaws present in the first part also remain in the second and last instalment. The plot is too predictable at times and seems to borrow heavily from franchises such as Divergent and The Maze Runner. The dystopian universe remains quite faceless as well and the locations are particularly uninteresting. The characters become a little bit more dynamic but are still far from being unique and it remains difficult to root for any of them.

Still, if compared to the at times lackluster first part, the second part can be seen as a very positive surprise and the negative elements are rather related to the average source material than the film itself. If the first film disappointed you, you should still stick around for the much more satisfactory second part that ends the live action adaptation of the popular anime series on a very high note. Fans of dystopian science-fiction stories focused on juvenile characters will definitely enjoy this flick.
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6/10
Formulaic dystopian science-fiction franchise
8 January 2018
Attack on Titan is a live action adaptation of the popular anime series of the same name that was split into two movies of about ninety minutes. I haven't watched the anime series, so I have watched this film from a quite neutral point of view without any expectations. First and foremost, I simply don't understand why this franchise seems to be so popular. I'm familiar with several creative anime or manga series and their adaptations but Attack on Titan seems like an uninspired mash-up of the Divergent and The Maze Runner franchises with stereotypical characters, a predictable plot and a faceless dystopian setting. Despite being rather uninteresting at the core, this film is at least entertaining. I wouldn't call it a good movie but it wasn't as bad as many reviewers seem to claim. It's alright, no more, no less.

What I disliked about the film aside of the elements already mentioned is the fact that the Titans look so silly that they make me laugh even though they are supposed to be scary and even doing quite gruesome things. They seem to be taken right out of an Ed Wood movie of the fifties. I wouldn't be surprised if this film became a cult trash flick within the next few years because of that flaw. Another element that bothered me regarding the first movie is that background information is missing and despite a short introduction, the viewer doesn't get to know much about the dystopian future portrayed in this franchise which leads to the fact that the audience won't care much about the fate of that world. The second film does a much better job at that and also quickens up the pace. A last element that should be mentioned is that most characters seem rather hollow such as the girl who is always hungry or the girl who always gets overtly excited about ancient technology. Those weird characters are rather annoying and the average acting performances don't really help to make those characters any more interesting.

Among the positive elements is the fact that the film has a solid pace and never drags on too long. The suitable introduction is done in an original way. The first attack by the Titans is quite intense and gets you right into this film. The first thirty minutes of this film are definitely the best. The different characters are introduced quickly but efficiently without too many unnecessary dialogues. The direction of this film seems to be quite precise.

In the end, the first part of Attack on Titan is an average dystopian science-fiction movie that convinces with a straight pace but suffers from an uninteresting universe. Obviously, you will have to watch both movies to get the bigger picture and the second film really is much better than the first part. That's why I would still recommend watching this film if you like movies such as Divergent, The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. I guess that this movie might be more interesting for teenagers and those who are unfamiliar with the genre as more experienced audiences won't find this franchise very original.
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Park Yeol (2017)
6/10
Dramatic biopic with a few lengths
8 January 2018
Anarchist from Colony is a drama and biopic about Korean anarchist Park Yeol , carefully directed by Lee Joon-ik who is known for his numerous intellectual historical period drama movies.

There are several positive elements about this film. First of all, the acting is flawless. Lee Je-hoon convinces as wild idealist who meanders between determination, emotivity and madness. Choi Hee-seo convinces as his seemingly joyful girlfriend and soulmate who only masks her hideous past. The portrayal of the characters seems to be quite authentic as the viewers might feel both disgust and sympathy for certain actions of the two anarchists. The story is based upon true events as the two main characters got arrested for planning to kill the Japanese heir apparent in the late twenties when Koreans living in Japan had to face racism, persecution and even genocide. Secondly, the settings of the movie bring the early twenties in Japan back to life without too many visual special effects. The locations are simple but efficient, the costumes are varied and authentic and even cultural, political and social aspects back in those days are carefully interwoven. Even though this movie obviously shows us the Korean side of those historical events and shows numerous Japanese characters portrayed as closed-minded, megalomaniac and racist, the film also shows Japanese people showing respect to the two anarchists and insists multiple times that the Japanese government and monarchy was at fault and not the people themselves. From that point of view, the movie doesn't feel overtly patriotic and rather balanced which is a third positive element.

On the other side, Anarchist from Colony is also far from being a masterpiece. With a running time above two hours, the movie feels plodding and stretched at times, especially in the middle section. A more vivid pace with some additional scenes related to the gruesome massacre of Koreans and other historic events would have made this film even more immersive. On the other side, cutting between twenty and thirty minutes of the lengthy scenes in prison would have improved this film's flow.

In the end, Anarchist from Colony might interest you if you are genuinely interested in Korean history and if you have a weakness for dramatic biopics. At times, the film felt closer to a documentary than a regular feature. The acting performances, the detailed settings and the fact that the film avoided being too propagandist are this movie's highlights while the film is overall too long and quite plodding at times.
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Im Wald (2018)
8/10
The best thing I have seen on German television in years
5 January 2018
After having watched numerous depressive, predictable and static German crime movies over the past few years, this film adaptation of Nele Neuhaus' novel Im Wald was a very pleasant surprise. The novel was transformed into a very short television series, consisting of two episodes of ninety minutes. They were shown on German television in early 2018 and could already be described as a first serious highlight of the year.

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

Let's hope that German television will continue to produce great projects like this one with dynamic characters, fast pace and gloomy violence. Im Wald is easily the best thing I have seen on German television in years.
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7/10
Clever thieves in exotic locations
23 December 2017
The Adventurers is a Hong Kong action-thriller by experienced director Stephen Fung who had been responsible for movies such as Tai Chi Zero in the past. Starring Hong Kong star veteran Andy Lau as lead actor, Taiwan's Qi Shu as lead actress and French star Jean Reno as leading supporting character, the film tells the story of a thief who got betrayed by an unknown opponent while trying to steal one out of three valuable pieces of jewelry that form an incredibly valuable necklace. After spending five years in prison, the thief wants to complete his mission by stealing the three pieces of jewelry and uncovering those who betrayed him five years earlier. The skilled thief teams up with two youngsters and his former boss but can't be sure whom to trust, must face a determined French cop and has to deal with his former girlfriend who wants him to settle down.

The Adventurers convinces with an intriguing story with a few twists and turns in the last third that keep you hooked until the very end.

The numerous star actors deliver the goods. Andy Lau convinces as skilled thief who looks balanced on the outside but feels tormented inside. Qi Shu impresses as expressive and quirky thief who easily seduces men to take advantage of them. Jean Reno is great as haunted police officer who has his very own reasons to try to bring the thief down.

The film also intrigues with numerous charming locations around Cannes in France and Prague in Czech Republic. The thieves have to rob out a French auction house, a Chinese star actress and a Czech castle in the forest.

The movie convinces with tense situations where the thieves have to deal with unexpected opponents and difficult security systems leading to intense car chases and dramatic standoffs. They have to use technology, talent and intellect to solve numerous challenging problems.

The camera work is enjoyably calm for a contemporary action-thriller. Instead of focusing on shaky cameras for a more immersve experience, the director opted for precise shots that point out the thieves' cleverness which was the right decision.

There are only a few minor elements that kept this film away from being more than a good movie. First of all, the story of the film is partially inspired by John Woo's Killer Target. Some sources call this film a remake but I wouldn't go that far. Still, the resemblances are at times obvious. I always prefer original movies with new scripts over films copying or honoring classics.

Secondly, as so many Hong Kong action flicks, this movie also tries to include a few slapstick elements. However, these elements are quite wooden here and only distract from the interesting characters, locations and plot. It also takes away from the thieves' credibility when they are joking around on their extremely dangerous missions.

Thirdly, this film really didn't need any stereotypical love stories but includes two rather shallow examples of it. First of all, the relation between the veteran thief and his former girlfriend is predictable and shallow and doesn't add much to the movie. The script could have cut out and re-written these passages for a more vivid pace without too many unnecessary flashbacks. However, the second love story is even less intriguing and also adds some unwelcome slapstick elements to the film. The younger male thief constantly tries to impress the younger female thief and behaves like an inexperienced teenager while his arrogant love interest rejects his attempts in an overtly cool and dramatic way. Their relationship doesn't add anything to the story and even makes the characters less credible because personal and professional interests shoulnd't interfere when you're trying to raid a higly secured castle in the middle of nowhere.

Still, The Adventurers is an entertaining action-thriller with an intelligent plot, very solid acting performances, beautiful locations and costumes, interesting and challenging situations and smooth camera work. Despite a few flaws such as references to another movie, slapstick elements and shallow love stories, The Adventurers will entertain you from start to finish.
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7/10
Intense exposure of greedy politicians in a twisted drama
22 December 2017
The Mayor, also known as Special Citizen, is an excellent political drama that tells the fictional story of the charismatic, greedy and influential mayor of Seoul who seeks election for a third term which will set him up for a run at the presidency. The film follows his career and life from the start of his campaign until the immediate aftermath of election day. The movie revolves around conflicts, conspiracies and corruption among the mayor's team involving betrayal, blackmail, drugs, murder, prostitution, suicide and theft. Without pointing fingers,Park In-je's movie shows how disconnected politicians are from other citizens, hence the title of the film.

The movie convinces with a twisted story exposing the abyss of the human psyche with a particularly intense middle section. The characters have depth beneath their obvious greed which makes them round but static characters. The acting performances are excellent as Korea's best actor Choi Min-sik delivers yet another career highlight portraying the twisted mayor. Female lead actress Shim Eun-kyung stands out as determined, honest and smart rookie advertisement specialist who is constantly trying to not get corrupted by her more experienced colleagues and superiors. Camera work is enjoyably calm and precise. Settings, effects and costumes are so realistic that the movie almost feels like a documentary at times or at least like a film based upon a real story.

There are only a few minor negative elements to mention. First of all, several twists of the story are predictable since movies about shameless politicians are nothing new or shocking anymore. Secondly, the movie could have had a more concise introduction, portraying the greatest moments in the mayor's career instead of throwing us into a campaign for a third term right away. Thirdly, the same thing could be said about the ending as one would have liked to know what happens next after election day. On the other side, those minor negative points also show that the great script of this movie would have made for an excellent extended televions series in the key of ''House of Cards''.

If you like realistic, intense and honest political dramas, this film will fully satisfy you. The acting skills are outstanding, the movie offers some food for thought without being overtly moralizing and the detailed script is filled with numerous twists and turns. While the movie certainly doesn't reinvent its genre, it certainly is among the better of its kind in recent memory.
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8/10
Unfairly underrated Chinese western epic with explosive ingredients
19 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I'm glad I didn't trust the numerous negative reviews of Railroad Tigers and decided to purchase the film. This epic war movie convinces with a set of sympathetic characters, a vivid pace and flow, stunning settings, spectacular sound and visual effects and an intriguing story partially inspired by historic events.

The film includes an atmosphere reminding me of old American westerns with train robberies in isolated places, incorporates a few martial arts sequences that contrast the shooting duels and instills a few humorous elements that are though never getting annoying as they focus on situation comedy rather than misplaced slapstick moments. Railroad Tigers is entertaining from start to finish and makes you want to experience the whole film again once the vivid roller coaster ride is over. Despite its length above two hours, not one single minute is wasted here.

As a matter of fact, there were so many characters with intriguing background stories such as the charismatic leader of the Railroad Tigers or the resilient noodle shop owner, that the film could have easily been even half an hour longer without getting boring. Even though a few characters weren't perfectly fleshed out, antagonists and protagonists were intriguing enough to stimulate potential spin-offs. The closing scene of the film hints at a potential sequel which would be very welcome in my book.

Railroad Tigers got some unfair criticism for promoting communist propaganda which is completely exaggerated. The film features a communist soldier fleeing from Japanese troops who has about ten minutes of screen time and doesn't look too heroic and the final battle concludes with an ambush of arriving communist troops that might get five minutes of screen time but that's all. The film truly focuses on a group of railroad workers who are attempting to destroy a strategically important bridge to stop Japanese supplies to conquer the northern parts of China. The film doesn't include any obvious political propaganda and rather underlines values like courage and friendship. Other critics claimed that the Japanese weren't portrayed accurately in this film and even suggested that the movie might be slightly disrespectful or racist. Once again, this is nonsense since the film shows two quite dangerous Japanese antagonists, a brutal male military and a determined female investigator who aren't easily fooled but rather never give up and fight back until the very end. Other people criticized the film for being one of Jackie Chan's most disappointing films but along with the sinister The Foreigner, this film is the best he has made since 2011 and easily beats more shallow family entertainment in the key of Chinese Zodiac and Kung Fu Yoga. I would even consider this movie a late career highlight by Asia's most famous actor of all times.

In the end, the epic Railroad Tigers is an unfairly underrated war movie that will entertain you from start to finish with its explosive mixture of intense action sequences, character development, historic inspiration, humorous elements and western atmosphere. Some of the fight scenes are slightly grisly as some blood is shown and as the body count is quite elevated, so I would rather recommend this film to older teenagers and adults since this isn't your typical Jackie Chan movie for the whole family.
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10/10
Elegant and epic fantasy and quirky characters meet stunning directing and pitiless fight sequences
11 December 2017
Takashi Miike did it again! His one hundredth work as a director is at least one of his very best, if not his greatest film and a serious candidate for movie of the year.

Everything about Blade of the Immortal just seems perfect to me. First of all, there's the gorgeous cinematography. The first twenty minutes of the film are shot in elegant black and white sequences and tell the background story of a samurai who becomes immortal. The two hours consist of colourful shots with calm and professional camera work. Instead of overusing special effects, the film convinces with a gripping sense for realistic sounds and visuals. It also honours the stylistics of the classic Japanese samurai movies of the sixties and seventies like Zatoichi and Lady Snowblood. The film uses a great mixture of epic long shots and intense close-ups inspired by the world's greatest directors like Sergio Leone. This intensifies the film's atmosphere and gives it an epic dimension. Just as in Sergio Leone's film, moments of silence and narrative elements are followed by shocking outbursts of violence. This makes for a diversified narrative that carries the movie despite its epic length. There wasn't one single unnecessary minute among the one hundred forty ones this film consists of.

Secondly, the movie has a story that manages to remain relatively simple to follow but still turns out to be profound because of a strong character development. Once again, the movie finds just the right balance between two extremes and the storytelling progresses in chronological and logical manner. Our lonesome samurai Manji gains his immortality from a mysterious eight hundred year-old nun after he had turned against his corrupt lord and lost his sister in an unfair fight against a horde of bandits. Fifty-two years later, Manji lives a secluded life and still has to cope with the poisoned gift of his immortality. When a girl approaches him to help her avenge her family after her father got brutally murdered and her mother raped and kidnapped, Manji sees his dead sister in the innocent Rin. After initially refusing to help, the bitter samurai ends up saving Rin's life and challenging a powerful group of warriors who desire to control the country. Manji doesn't only need to fight those ferocious warriors but has to face numerous competitors and must take care of the desperate Rin.

Thirdly, the characters have depth and are performed brilliantly by the actors and actresses involved in this film. Kimura Takuya convinces as bitter yet passionate samurai, Sugisaki Hana impresses as innocent yet traumatized young woman and Fukushi Sota delivers the goods as ambitious antagonist who soon becomes hunted himself and has to deal with a conspiracy. The numerous quirky side characters such as the mysterious eight hundred year-old nun, a female contract killer with internal conflicts and a sadist swordsman without any moral compass make the movie even more valuable.

Obviously, the fight sequences are another essential element of the film. Instead of focusing on elegance, this film concentrates on passion as the combats are quite brutal, fast and pitiless. They give the fantastic movie a gloomy and grounded note that contrasts its epic atmosphere very well. Obviously, most of these fight scenes are exaggerated when a lonesome samurai slays through a group of fifty bandits and kills all of them in roughly five minutes. This intensity is however typical for many Japanese samurai movies and is also related to the eponymous manga series. Overall, the fight sequences are brutal enough to be gripping but also exaggerated enough to fit the movie's fantastic side.

An honourable mention needs to go out to the soundtrack of the film. It always suits the respective moods of the different scenes and intensifies feelings of anger, despair, fear, introspectivity and sadness among many other elements.

In the end, Blade of the Immortal is probably my favourite movie of the year because of its clever directing, its intriguing story, its diversified characters, its intense fight sequences and fitting soundtrack. Even with his one hundredth movie, workaholic Takashi Miike proves that he cares as much about quality as he cares about quantity and that he still has a lot to show. Blade of the Immortal definitely elevates him among the greatest filmmakers of all times such as Sergio Leone and Kim Jee-woon.
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8/10
A highly emotive movie that restores some faith in Hollywood
11 December 2017
The unusually titled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a big cinematic surprise towards the end of the year, receives massive critical acclaim and is even considered a favourite for the upcoming Academy Awards. All these positive reactions are well-deserved.

The only reason why I don't consider this film excellent is because of the rushed exposition and the aborted resolution. It would have been interesting to get a more detailed introduction instead of being thrown right into events based upon something that happened seven months earlier and which the viewers will have to figure out step by step. The open ending certainly has an intriguing artistic approach but my curiosity was certainly longing for a few more answers.

Everything that is actually shown on screen is though excellent. The story revolving around a bitter mother coping with the brutal death of her daughter is desperate, infuriating and touching.

The characters is in this movie are dynamic and round as they have a lot of depth and smoothly change throughout the movie. Even the side characters such as an abusive ex-husband, a determined black sheriff and a provocative war veteran with a filthy secret are very interesting.

The acting performances by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are incredibly authentic and powerful.

The movie manages to combine tense moments related to classic thrillers, tragic moments inspired by heartfelt dramas and a solid dose of absurd and black humour in a balanced way. Especially the humorous parts make the tragic story more bearable and the characters more human. As a spectator, you are constantly torn between wanting to cry, laugh and yell at the screen. The emotional power of this movie is of the grandest kind.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the movie you didn't know you have to watch this winter. It's a detailed, emotional and intelligent film with an immersive flow that requests multiple views. This film restores some faith in Hollywood cinema which had been rather unconvincing this year. I certainly hope the movie gets even more recognition and that cinemas around the world keep screening movies like these that take their audience seriously instead of only focusing on shallow sequels and superhero flicks.
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6/10
Formulaic yet essential
4 December 2017
A Bag of Marbles is yet another novel and movie about the fate of a Jewish family during the Second World War. Don't get me wrong, it's an important topic, a dark part of history that shall never be forgotten and a thematic that is sadly still relevant nowadays. However, so many novels and movies have already explored the exact same approach presented in this film: Au revoir les enfants, Life is Beautiful, The Book Thief, The Diary of Anne Frank and Schindler's List are only some movies that immediately come to my mind. Instead of getting another similar scenario, it would have been interesting to follow the torn family of collaborators in this film for example. Another fresh change could have been to finally offer the perspective of young German soldiers manipulated by propaganda and disillusioned by war. Since this is a French movie, it's also a little bit too convenient to simply blame the foreign enemy and would have been much more interesting to investigate the crimes of Marshal Pétain in depth. Why not make a movie about revolting French antisemitism in the Dreyfus Affair? Or a movie about France's own racist attitude in their colonies? Instead of trying out anything new, A Bag of Marbles plays it safe and the fact that the novel and movie are based upon true events doesn't help much.

On the positive side, the acting performances by the teenagers incarnating the two brothers are stellar. The changes of locations keep the movie entertaining and give it an epic touch. The addition of numerous quirky side characters who are trying to find ways to hide their fears adds diversity to the film. There are a few memorable scenes such as the father beating up his own son to teach him how to deny his identity, the younger brother stepping up to save a family of collaborators in an act of civic courage and the same character desperately running after his desperate sweetheart whose family just got attacked by an angry mob.

On the other side, the story doesn't offer anything new, is slightly dull and slow-paced in the middle section and only touches the surface of several interesting characters such as the Jewish doctor or the family of collaborators. Several chapters from the novel aren't included in the cinematic adaptation and a few details are also changed. Instead of showing the brothers endlessly wandering across mountains, the film should have spent more time developing the numerous interesting side characters and giving some additional information about the historic background.

In the end, A Bag of Marbles is ultimately a good film but suffers from being just another movie about the fate of a Jewish family during the Second World War. The movie itself has its reasons to be, has a quirky and epic approach going for it and convinces with two really good lead actors. However, European cinema has been saturated with movies of this kind over the past three decades and this film fails both to offer anything new and to compete with its numerous competitors. The most authentic, gripping and sinister movie of this kind is the outstanding The Pianist. But if you really want to get an idea of the horrors of the Second World War, you have to visit a former concentration camp which is an absolutely life-changing experience.
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The Room (2003)
4/10
A movie that will tear you apart
3 December 2017
I've finally discovered this movie because of the release of The Disaster Artist which is about the making of this film and the fact that one of my local cinemas has screened this film for one hundred months in a row.

There are movies that are so bad that they are genuinely entertaining like the vivid and weird Samurai Cop. Other films are so bad that they are genuinely horrible and don't have anything going for them like the vapid Hobgoblins. The Room is actually a mixture of both types of bad movies. The first thirty minutes of the film were extremely hard to sit through and basically just consisted of poorly shot soft porn scenes. However, the final hour or so was so absurd with numerous strange subplots and a certain raise in tension that it kept my attention until the end.

There are a few elements that I genuinely like. First of all, the camera work isn't too bad if compared to numerous contemporary low budget flicks with shaky camera perspectives. Secondly, Juliette Danielle isn't only nice to look at but has a certain appeal as confused sociopath and careless femme fatale. Thirdly, Tommy Wiseau's acting skills, even though they are wooden, definitely have a memorable and unique touch and aren't like anything I have ever seen in my life. Fourthly, the movie's soundtrack blends in very well. I wouldn't call it great but it serves its purpose in the different scenes.

The other elements are so bad that they keep my attention. The acting skills vary from below average to bad. The dialogues are so thin, repetitive and wooden that an average elementary school student could have come up with something more intriguing. The main story could be described in three sentences but takes more than one hour and a half hours to unfold in a painfully slow development. The numerous unnecessary subplots going nowhere are cringe-worthy oddities that turn out being unintentionally memorable. The decorations and settings look cheap, fake and misplaced. The overlong sex scenes look so unreal that they are actually everything but exciting.

Among the biggest oddities are the random spoon pictures, the main character's friends making love in his living room for no apparent reason, the emotionless dialogue about breast cancer, the numerous random football scenes and the two fake scenes involving characters tripping and getting injured. My favorite part is however the scene in the flower shop with the overtly quick exchange of senseless dialogue lines. This scene alone shows everything this film is about: a random scene with an unimportant side character, weak acting skills, bland dialogues, ordinary settings and unintentionally funny improvisation.

The Room might have several purposes. It shows us how not to make a movie. It's a great party flick to watch with your friends to switch your brains off. It's a welcome distraction from your everyday lives. It's bizarre, goofy and almost surreal in its very unique style. It's a movie you won't ever forget. These are perhaps unintentional accomplishments that most serious films however fail to achieve which is why Tommy Wiseau still deserves some serious respect for his project.

Despite its numerous obvious flaws, it's a weird experience you won't forget anytime soon which is exactly why this disaster of a movie became a cult classic. The sad thing is that Tommy Wiseau put so much passion into this project that I would honestly recommend watching this movie over any exchangeable contemporary superhero sequel flooding the world's cinemas. The Room is one of those movies you should have watched once in your lifetime for all the reasons stated above. I'm sure I will watch it again with a bunch of friends after having just discovered this film on my own this week.
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Yin bao zhe (2017)
8/10
Sinister realism meets a balanced genre mixture
2 December 2017
Explosion is a sinister mixture of a desperate action film, an emotional drama and a conspiracy thriller. The movie tells the story of a blast technician who has once been to prison for having developed and sold explosives. As he now tries to live a normal life using his talents in mines and supporting his pregnant wife who owns a tiny restaurant, he gets involved in a conflict between two pitiless businessmen. He nearly gets killed in an explosion that brutally kills four coworkers and wants to find out how this disaster could happen. As he investigates, he becomes both the prime suspect of having caused the explosion on purpose and is seen as a menace by the two businessmen who want to hide what really happened in the mine. The blast technician soon has to clear his name, face powerful enemies and must protect his wife.

Explosion convinces on many levels. First of all, the movie has a truly sinister atmosphere. This is especially due to the settings. It's often raining or snowing, many scenes take place at night, the viewers get to explore abandoned or destroyed factory halls and mines and several places show dirt and pollution. The movie shows the dark side of China's industrial boom which gives the film a realistic touch which is far away from many idealized films of that country with strong propaganda elements. The film recalls Black Coal, Thin Ice but the locations are less static and more diversified which makes Explosion easily the superior movie.

The mixture of genres is another strength of this film. Observing the main character trying to clear his name, reorganizing his life with his pregnant wife and facing his childhood friend and police officer who is torn between helping and arresting him give the movie a humanistic touch despite all the grey settings. These dramatic sequences meet a conspiracy thriller involving two businessmen fighting each other by any means necessary. The film shows corruption, greed and vengeance as powerful motives leading to a few twists and turns. The film's solid atmosphere is often interrupted by realistic pursuits, gun battles and of course numerous explosions.

The film also has an interesting plot. The movie has a very short exposition and literally starts with a bang. From then on, the main character's personal investigation is a tense rising action. This leads to a first climax where several character get assassinated and the main character has to go into hiding. The resolution shows how the blast technician tries to find a way to clear his name and start a new life which turns out to be impossible. This leads to a final showdown and resolution in an abandoned factory hall where all three genres meet in equally balanced and strong proportions. The finale is filled with action, emotion and tension.

The characters are also quite convincing. The unpretentious main character is a desperate and quiet man who simply desires to live in peace and dreams of a better future. His desperate wife's struggles are authentic enough to make the audience really care for her. The police officer being torn between arresting and helping the accused might be the movie's most vivid character which gives the film a solid dose of energy. Even the clever villain has his very personal motives to go on a killing spree and one almost empathizes with him. Even the side characters including resilient contract killers, hectic chiefs of security and a brutal businessman are quite interesting.

There aren't many negative aspects concerning this movie. Parts of the plot were somewhat predictable and reduced the tension at times. The unusual ending felt somewhat underdeveloped in my book but was at least somewhat original.

In the end, if you like movies with a gripping, realistic and sinister atmosphere, you will most definitely enjoy this profound action, crime and drama movie. Explosion has intellectual depth without being static. This movie represents what the critically acclaimed Black Coal, Thin Ice should have been like if the director had been less pretentious. Explosion certainly deserves more attention and praise than it currently gets. Give this great film a chance at your local cinema or purchase it once it's going to be released on BluRay and DVD.
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7/10
Vividly stereotypical fun ride with obvious filmmaking and plot mistakes
30 November 2017
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an energetic roller coaster ride similar to the first instalment three years earlier. It's basically a reinvention of the James Bond franchise for younger generations, especially teenagers and young adults. The mixture of relentless action, British humor, a tiny shot of eroticism, exotic locations, twisted scenarios and spectacular special effects still works very well. What makes the Kingsman franchise special are the young and geeky main character, the connection to contemporary phenomenons such as social media activities and robotics as well as a more extreme mixture between situation comedy to lighten things up and visually explicit images to impress younger generations.

There are only a few minor elements that are wrong with this sequel which is on the same level as the predecessor. First of all, the movie includes a few continuity mistakes such as car doors getting torn off just to look perfectly intact one shot later. This shows that the filmmaking process was slightly rushed and sloppy. Secondly, the movie overuses the use of stereotypes about the differences between American and British cultures. Especially the song Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver is overused in this film, especially since the movie takes mostly place in Kentucky and not in West Virginia. Thirdly and most importantly, the plot is also somewhat incoherent. It never becomes obvious why Harry suspects Whiskey to be a traitor. The idea that the villain placed antidotes in secret locations all around the world without even one of them being discovered is quite ridiculous as well. The way the Kingsmen finally discover Poppy's hideout in Cambodia doesn't make much sense either.

In the end, Kingsma: The Golden Circle is an energizing, entertaining and fast-paced spy flick for teenagers and young adults. If you are open to pardon some obvious filmmaking and plot mistakes and just want to switch your brain off, you will certainly enjoy this slightly shallow film for what it is. I really liked the vivid ride but I wouldn't consider this film or the franchise a contemporary classic as many other people seem to do. It's fun but lacking substance to be more than just that.
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Geostorm (2017)
8/10
Standing your ground and protecting your integrity
29 November 2017
Going into this movie, I didn't expect anything. I went to a movie night at my local cinema on a Tuesday night and simply needed to find a second film to complete my double feature. It turns out that I got much more than I would have expected from this film.

The story is quite diversified and family drama, conspiracy thriller and science-fiction blockbuster all at once. The difficult relationship between the main character and his brother as well as his daughter was touching and realistic. The conspiracy included two major twists that I didn't see coming. The movie makes you believe that certain characters could be behind the conspiracy before the story takes a few clever turns. The movie obviously features a lot of vivid special effects. Usually I'm not a fan of artificially flavored CGI stylistics but they actually looked impressive on screen at my movie theatre and they were also quite diversified. Exploding gas lines, gigantic hail and tidal waves are only some of the impressive meteorological elements you will see.

The film wasn't boring at any point and doesn't deserve the harsh critics it gets. It's one of the best catastrophe movies in recent memory, probably the greatest of its kind since the South Korean blockbuster Tidal Wave a whopping eight years ago.

An honorable mention goes out to the opening sequence where the rough but sympathetic main character played by Gerard Butler delivers a passionate speech pointing out his team's accomplishments in front of an arrogant judge and an assimilated group of followers in form of a jury. They try to bring him down but the main character stands his ground despite risking his career. Standing up for your ideals no matter what isn't always easy and could put you into a lot of trouble but you won't wake up in the morning and feel like vomiting when you see your own face in the mirror. Integrity is worth more than any money in the world. This opening sequence perfectly represents what the rest of the movie is all about. This excellent opening sequence really struck a chord with me.

In the end, ignore the negative comments and get entertained by a vivid movie mixing family drama, conspiracy thriller and science- fiction blockbuster with charismatic characters in a visually stunning way. Make sure to watch this film at a movie theater to appreciate its bombastic sound and visual effects. Geostorm truly is a pleasant surprise.
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Ak-Nyeo (2017)
6/10
Wasted potential in a bloody mess
26 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The Villainess could have been one of this year's greatest movies. The first-person action choreography is absolutely stunning, the characters are interesting to profound and the story is filled with numerous twists and turns.

However, the movie loses its potential due to a messy script. Instead of telling us the story of the main character in chronological order, the movie starts in the middle of nowhere, shows us numerous flashbacks in random order and meanders in such a vivid manner that more than one viewer will get lost trying to keep track of characters and events. The storytelling tries to be as much over the top as the action sequences when it should be the exact opposite for a balanced experience.

The weird script has a negative impact on everything else that is going on in the film. The action sequences seem randomly inserted in the plodding middle part that feels overlong if compared to the exaggerated sequences in the opening and concluding ten minutes that feel like an overblown video game with plenty of gratuitous violence. The interesting relationships of the main character with her daughter, her father and her neighbour are losing depth because they are constantly interrupted by shifts in place and time. The main character herself also starts to act strangely, behaving like a cold-blooded killing machine in one scene and like a confused, crying and hesitating emotional wreck just one minute later.

Another thing that bothered me were the numerous killing sequences. I'm familiar with quite bloody and gory films and I do appreciate some of them but certain sequences in this film feel just gratuitous. About fifty people get killed by the main character in the first ten minutes and they all look like dummies without any skills. The thing that makes other vivid action movies such as The Raid so interesting is that there were some serious opponents that could cause the main character some serious trouble. In this movie, our villainess acts like a unstoppable schizophrenic superhero gone crazy. Another element I disliked is that the young child dies a quite brutal death after having already witnessed a series of cruel actions and that the director shows us her bruised face like a broken porcelain doll. I'm a tough guy but that's definitely going too far. Killing the husband would have been sufficient to trigger the main character's final rampage. Showing the bloodied body of a murdered child that can barely talk and walk is disgusting.

In the end, I must say that The Villainess is a disappointing film. It's not outrageously bad but I have rarely watched a movie that sounded so promising on paper but ended up being so messy on screen. I still have to give a generous rating because the film has so many glorious ideas and could have been a masterpiece with a better script. However, I can't recommend this movie to anyone. Those who are looking for pitiless action sequences have to sit through one hour and a half of romantic slices of life interwoven with random flashbacks. Those who are interested in an actual story will get gratuitous violence and a puzzle that is too hard to solve. Those who just want to switch their brains off and have some fun will get shaken up by the unnecessary death of the child.

I've never ever been a fan of remakes but this movie should get one with a better director and script to achieve this film's full potential.
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7/10
No gold beyond the glitter
26 November 2017
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based upon a French science-fiction comics series and convinces with what might be this year's most stunning visuals in cinema along with Ghost in the Shell earlier this year. Directed by visionary Luc Besson, this highly entertaining film is a breathtaking cinematic experience for the five senses.

However, once you look beyond the incredible special effects, this film suffers from the same flaws as Ghost in the Shell. The story is average at best since it meanders a lot and turns out to be quite predictable.

Since the comics series consist of numerous parts adding depth to the universe, the cinematic adaptation only shows us a few glimpses of a giant universe. Instead of adding depth to a few select characters or tribes, the movie tries to introduce us to an entire universe in just above two hours which is just too short. The script should have been more concise and focused.

The acting performances are also average at best. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne look young, stylish and cool but they are lacking acting skills. Their characters behave like two silly teenagers gone wild which doesn't fit to the more serious and tense story line. The acting performances such as the body language and delivery of dialogues could have been more authentic, emotional and profound. Obviously, it's hard to say whether the slightly superficial and almost exchangeable performances are due to bad acting, average directing or a weak script. Maybe it's a combination of all three elements. Overall, the acting just isn't all that memorable.

The movie focuses mostly on its stunning sound and visual effects and is an engaging roller coaster ride. While the film is great for what it is, I wouldn't recommend watching this more than once or even purchasing it. Once you go beyond the special effects, you will uncover an unconvincing plot, lack of depth and average acting performances. The film overall rather feels like a video game than a movie. To be honest, I've come across video games with more depth than this film. In the end, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an entertaining experience but nothing more.
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10/10
One of the most entertaining horror movies ever made
24 November 2017
Happy Death Day tells the story of the condescending, dismissive and self-centred student Theresa who gets killed by a masked assailant on her birthday. However, she doesn't die and wakes up in the morning of the same day. Theresa quickly realizes that she must uncover her assailant's identity to survive her birthday and therefore break the curse of experiencing her own death over and over again. Along with a male acquaintance she spent the night with, she starts investigating her potential enemies, their motives and alibis. While doing so, Theresa realizes how her own flaws have let to this tragic situation and she attempts to become a better person.

Happy Death Day is one of best horror movies in recent memory. Instead of focusing on gore and special effects, the film works with a desperate, gloomy and mysterious atmosphere and a few efficient jump scares.

However, the film has much more going for it. It focuses on a stunning character development as a superficial, rude and egocentric teenage girl slowly becomes a profound, joyful and empathetic young woman. This film can be considered a coming-of-age drama and it's one of the best of its kind.

As if those elements weren't enough, Happy Death Day also tells us an interesting love story that becomes more and more profound as the film progresses.

It also deals with family and friendship issues in a dramatic way.

To lighten things up, the movie also includes humorous parts which mostly consist of absurd situation comedy and a few quirky dialogues.

However, this movie succeeds where films and franchises like Evil Dead and Scream have failed before: the humorous elements never take away from the sinister moments as Happy Death Day feels perfectly balanced.

The movie is genuinely entertaining from start to finish and once it's over, you simply feel like watching this roller coaster ride again and embrace this movie's unique atmosphere.

Some critics and viewers have slammed the movie for having a plot that borrows heavily from the concept of Groundhog Day. This is true but Happy Death Day is executed with so much energy and originality that it simply doesn't matter. Even if you are familiar with the concept, this film will still keep you guessing from start to finish. You probably won't see this movie's outcome coming either.

In the end, Happy Death Day is among the very best movies of the year and massively exceeded my expectations. If you like clever horror and coming-of-age movies, you can't get around this film. Happy Death Day is best enjoyed around Halloween with your friends.
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7/10
Atmospheric and stylish adaptation of a crime novel that has changed literature
24 November 2017
The new adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express impresses with lush settings, a gloomy atmosphere and great acting performances, particularly by Kenneth Branagh as clever detective, Johnny Depp as arrogant gangster and Judi Dench as arrogant aristocrat.

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

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

Overall, Murder on the Orient Express is an entertaining, profound yet stylish adaptation of one of the greatest crime novels ever written. It's important to continue to honour this novel that has changed the world of literature. On the other side, this version is neither as detailed as the novel nor as charming as Sidney Lumet's version of the seventies. Fans of the novel and those who aren't familiar with the plot should watch this movie but everyone else can skip this version.
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The Foreigner (2017)
10/10
Pierce Brosnan, Martin Campbell and Jackie Chan are back in the game
20 November 2017
Jackie Chan is an incredibly skilled actor but he has often chosen rather uninteresting roles that limit him to slapstick comedy and a few fight scenes in exchangeable family movies like Kung Fu Yoga and Chinese Zodiac. His last entirely interesting movie was the historical drama 1911 six years ago but even that movie was flawed due to its propagandistic vibe.

And suddenly, Jackie Chan is back with a bang in The Foreigner. Almost nobody saw that coming. And instead of focusing on gags and choreography, this film respects Jackie Chan as a serious actor. He plays a former special forces operator, refugee and family father who loses his single daughter in a terrorist attack and wants to track down the criminals behind this unspeakable act by any means necessary. Jackie Chan manages to find a perfect balance between playing a broken old man, a clever and strategic fighter with an intact moral compass and a pitiless avenger. As a viewer, you sympathize with this authentic and diversified character with authentic flaws and strengths. The Foreigner might actually be the best acting performance in Jackie Chan's incredibly long career.

In addition to an outstanding Jackie Chan, this movie features other great actors such as the charismatic Pierce Brosnan. His performance as Jackie Chan's determined, influential and manipulative antagonist might be his best since his departure from the James Bond franchise one and a half decades ago. The different supporting characters of mostly Chinese or Irish origin are also quite convincing.

As if that weren't enough, the story of the movie is so addicting because it's quite authentic. The topic of the Irish Republican Army has been used many times before but only very few films show the corruption, ideology and struggle behind it like this film does. The movie is based upon Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman and the detailed movie shows that it's quite faithful to the source material.

The film convinces with a balanced mixture of action, crime and drama elements and equally focuses on developing the main characters, offering diversified action sequences from exploding buildings over hand-to-hand combats to home invasions and perpetually raising the tension of the film until a stunning showdown. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution are all cleverly developed.

The skilled directing by an experienced Martin Campbell who had already collaborated with Pierce Brosnan in the past is the cherry on the cake of a flawless film. The locations are simple but efficient, the lighting techniques add to the respective moods of the scenes and the well-integrated soundtrack always blends in.

In the end, The Foreigner deserves the attention and praise it already gets and would even deserve more. It's one of the very best movies of the year and a stunning return for Pierce Brosnan, Martin Campbell and especially Jackie Chan.
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Silence (I) (2016)
8/10
Unorthodoxically artistic
20 November 2017
Silence is a quite ambitious project by star director Martin Scorsese and it isn't a surprise that this film has failed at the box office. It is particularly long with a running time of one hundred sixty-one minutes. The topic of Jesuits resisting persecution in feudal Japan is quite unusual. Aside of Liam Neeson, who only has about ten minutes of screen time, the movie focuses on rather unknown actors. Still, Silence is one of Martin Scorsese's best movies. It's obvious that he cared about this film and wanted to make it something special, regardless of grossing numbers.

On the positive side, Silence grabs your attention with a topic that hasn't been treated much and might even be unknown to most audiences. Following the struggles of two Jesuits in feudal Japan who try to spread hope to the few isolated Christian communities while trying to find their mentor who hasn't come home from a mission almost feels like watching an elaborate documentary. The movie is historically authentic, includes fitting costumes and landscapes and exposes us to Japanese and Portuguese customs.

Secondly, the acting performances in this movie are absolutely stellar. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver have good chemistry and convince as initially motivated Jesuits whose faith is severely tested in their quest for survival. The supporting actors are also quite convincing from a resilient, old and clever inquisitor to a disillusioned, insisting and rational convert.

Thirdly, the movie has a quite sinister atmosphere that fits the serious topics. This is supported by the rural landscapes since most of this movie either takes place on the raw coasts of Southern Japan, the wild forests of several Japanese islands and the muddy city of Nagasaki where it always seems to rain. The dark lighting techniques, the gloomy soundtrack and the use of moments of tense silence also contribute to a very artistic, detailed and epic movie.

On the negative side, the film is obviously quite long. I didn't get bored at any time because I found the topic so fascinating but I have to admit that some scenes are somewhat redundant or repetitive. If you are looking for a movie with vivid action sequences, numerous different locations and long-winded dialogues, you won't get any of it. This movie is slow-paced, precise and atmospheric and tries to transmit a desperate vibe instead of quirky entertainment.

The ending of the movie blends in very well with the rest of the film and I liked it but it's quite unorthodox and maybe even unexpected by Hollywood standards.

To keep it short, it's great to see that renowned directors like Martin Scorsese still aspire to experiment in the autumn years of their careers. Silence is refreshingly different and unique from any other Hollywood production of recent memory. It has a unique topic, great acting performances and an intense atmosphere. If you are a viewer with an interest in historical topics who likes to think outside the box, you're probably going to appreciate Silence as much as I did.
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