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Ett enklare liv (2008 TV Movie)
A well-paced, quiet relationship and life-style film
1 June 2011
Expecting a relatively quiet film with typical Swedish landscape backgrounds, I was definitely not disappointed. It was not a brilliant plot, in fact I thought the main plot was rather lacking in fantasy and was filmed in such a way that anyone could follow. However, this was more than made up for by the developments away from the central story. In particular, the young residents' night time party added some pace, a welcome relief from the steadiness of most of the film, and toned down the hanseatic reservation of the Hamburg family. One cannot expect top-class acting from such a production, but all the actors, both young and old, made their characters as credible as the script would allow. At times I could feel the discomfort of various characters as they were less talkative than they perhaps wanted to be.

The backdrop of the film was really good to look at. In Sweden there were plenty of trees and a wonderful lake, and in Hamburg there were some modern office and rapid transit developments near the port and the central station.

Whereas I do not think that anyone will regard this as their favourite film, it was entertaining enough to be very enjoyable.
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Rosannas Tochter (2010 TV Movie)
Non-stop tension
24 November 2010
The film deals with the interactions between all the main characters, and the tension arises from the interplay of their wants and needs rather than from any action packed development of the story, although even this is not entirely lacking. I decided to watch it because I had been impressed by Veronica Ferres's performances in other films and thought her reputation well merited. This film reinforced and even strengthened my opinion. The story, although suggesting that the film might deal with the social problems arising from the loss of her mother by a young teenaged girl and the necessity of finding new parents or guardians, actually developed to retain a tension between the various characters involved which stayed intense whilst varying in detail. Fritz Karl, the leading actor, and Mathilde Bundschuh, playing Aimée, the title role, also contributed well to the constant friction between the characters, as did the supporting cast, particularly Monika Baumgartner who played Aimée's grandmother.

The interest was heightened by interesting details linking parts of the plot which were otherwise less related to each other, although such details were somewhat too blatant at times. Similarly, the music used to underline the plot was pleasurable but at times too intrusive.

Having stated some of the better features, I felt that the ending was rather weak and unimaginative, although this may well be a matter of taste.

Taken as a whole, the film was well acted, full of tension in a somewhat unusual way, and entertaining.
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Kongo (2010 TV Movie)
A quest for the truth
19 October 2010
A story about post-World-War-II German soldiers who are not all morally and ethically perfect is unusual, although I expect this will change in the coming years.

The story of the investigation by Lieutenant Nicole Ziegler, played by Maria Simon, into the death of a soldier told by this film is dramatic and very suitable for filming. Although the film itself fell short of brilliance, it stayed true to the essence of the story, built up to a credible and fitting end, and found time to make a visual impact with both the natural beauty of Africa and the terrible effects of war.

The characters and their interactions with one another were all very credible, which is extremely important in the telling of a tale in an environment of which most people seeing the film, including myself, have no first hand experience. The quest for truth with some soldiers preferring the maintenance of morale to truthfulness is no longer a novelty for films in general, but it is good to see that a German team can also handle a film with this underlying theme.

The acting was of sufficiently high standard to convey the fear and mistrust prevalent in most of the film, and to provide those changes in mood so necessary in such an environment. The sequences portraying the beauty of nature and the poverty of village life in Africa, although short compared to many other films with an African setting, were sufficient as a setting for the plot, and may well have caused the film to be too long had they been extended.

However, on a couple of occasions I felt that the screenplay, whilst generally of a high standard, was somewhat contrived.

As a non-native speaker of German, I had difficulties understanding the dialogue at the beginning in the original German language version, but this improved as the film continued, perhaps because I was getting used to the accents.

The film is certainly well worth watching, and I look forward to further offerings from the director, Peter Keglevic, the leading actress, Maria Simon, and supporting actress Florence Kasumba.
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Beyond the Wall (2009 TV Movie)
Life in East Germany
3 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The film covers the lives of some people in East Germany and the difficulties that people could have with the authorities there. It covers some of the undemocratic ways and transgressions of human rights committed by the German Democratic Republic, its official name, and the effects this had on some of its citizens. In particular, it covers the forced splitting up of a family with young children. The early part of the film was a fascinating and informative portrayal of the difficulties of living in a country split into a less-than-perfect but democratic state and a state that rides roughshod over the rights of its citizens supposedly in order to maintain an ideology, but which was actually maintaining its own people in power and riches.

The main character was played by Henriette Confurius, at least after the character had grown up, and she played this difficult and emotional role very well.


The film ran into difficulties as it started to cover the fall of The Wall. From this point on, every character was a winner, and there were no negative aspects at all of the reunification. Of course, it was very positive that the unjust government of East Germany fell and that East Germany was absorbed into the democratic West, and were even able to take over a complete constitution and law book which had all been set up in a democratic country. To cover such historical events without even suggesting that there were also some negative aspects makes for boring films and reminiscence of propaganda films. It makes one think where the funding for such a film might have come from, although I hasten to add that I know next to nothing about film funding in general and absolutely nothing about the funding of this film.

The whole ending seemed unrealistic and written simply to further the image of the newly united Germany.
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Rumpelstilzchen (2009 TV Movie)
Fairy tale told with historical costume and modern language
3 October 2010
The fairy tale is well told, naturally with embellishments to expand the story into a full length film, but with no changes to the story which would disturb any but the most conservative traditionalists. The choice of historical clothing and modern language is clearly laid down right at the beginning, and is adhered to throughout the film. The best-known actor is Gottfried John, who plays the king, the most nuanced character in this film, well, as one would expect. The central character was played by Julie Engelbrecht, daughter of actress Constanze Engelbrecht, who displayed the varying emotions convincingly enough for this fairy tale, but, because the drama was limited, this being a traditional tale told in a traditional way, was not called upon to display the extent of her acting talent. Having said that, she was also a good choice of actress, and added to the enjoyment of the story. Although historical costume with modern terminology and phrasing is by no means the only possible way of retelling fairy stories, it harmonises, possibly because one is used to such clothing in such films, but one does not have to change one's way of thinking in order to follow the dialogues. It was also very good that, whilst using many phrases that are very modern, the film was not tempted in any way to use any terminology that one might find offensive. The appearances of the title character, played by Robert Stadlober in a fitting, nuanced fashion, used modern film techniques in a way that underlined the unfolding of the plot, and at no time pressed the story into the background. The appearances of animals in the woods, and the views of the castle were the photographic highlights, but throughout the film, the colouring and scenery remained fitting for the story. All in all, this was a very enjoyable remake of the well-known Grimms' fairy tale.
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Another brilliant performance from Marianne Sägebrecht
8 May 2007
Once again, a subtle but moving portrayal by Marianne Sägebrecht, this time playing Antonia Wiedemann, turns an otherwise rather dull story at least into a film worth watching. Antonia Wiedemann is just the sort of character that Marianne Sägebrecht is particularly good at bringing to life. She is disappointed in love, divorced, but sufficiently open to be seen as the warm person inside. When her sister dies, and she becomes the guardian of her 13-year-old niece, Lisa, of whom she had no knowledge, her world changes dramatically. Unfortunately, and in contrast to Marianne Sägebrecht, the actors playing the other main characters portray each one in a too stereotyped fashion. Antonia's arrogant former husband, Ludwig Meyer, played by Walter Kreye, displays too few redeeming features of his character, so that his appearance becomes somewhat too comical for the story. Her suitor, Rafael Hansen, played by Siegfried Rauch, is somewhat too passive, and Lisa Wiedemann, played by Isolda Dychauk, displays little interest for events around her, which is typical for her age group, but this is rather overdone. These three seemed to need a more talented director.

For animal lovers, many interactions between humans and quadrupeds are integrated into the unfolding of the tale.

There are some nice ideas which help the story of human interaction along and contribute to this film being better than many tired offerings of its genre. The subplot of determining the identity of Lisa's father is developed in a particularly fascinating way. The interesting twists continued right to the end, and fitted the tale perfectly.

The scenery and camera-work, on the other hand, did not even manage to convey the contrast between Hamburg and the rural setting where most of the story takes place. Hamburg is a very green and spread out city, but the drama would surely have been heightened by rather more bustle.

It is certainly worth watching, but could have been even better.
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Tempo (2003)
Crime and romance in Paris
13 April 2007
Although the title of the film is somewhat reminiscent of the crime and romance film 'Speed', and the film starts with a car chase, and the viewer is constantly being reminded of the fast pace of life in the French capital, the unfolding of the story is much more reminiscent of 'À bout de souffle', especially as it is set in the same city. 'Tempo' does not achieve the brilliance of that French film, but it does not attempt to copy it. It sets a love triangle as the focal point of the story, and adds in some more criminal characters to enhance the difficulties that they main characters find themselves in.

After a cursory introduction to the three main characters in the car chase scene, the storytelling returns to eight days previously in order to relate the tale in its proper chronological sequence. The viewer is then introduced properly to Sarah, an insecure woman who is to a surprising degree likable despite her flaws, and Jack, who seems far too young for the relationship, but we learn more about the complexities as the film progresses. Melanie Griffith's portrayal of Sarah with her vulnerability and her positive attitude is the highlight of the film, but Hugh Dancy manages to make Jack's character very believable even with his increasing indecisiveness.

When Jack meets Jenny, they seem to fit together better, but Jack's love for Sarah lingers on. Jenny, played by Rachael Leigh Cook, is an intelligent young woman on her own in a far-off land, and falls in love as many young women in such a situation are wont to do. This mixture of intelligence and naivety is very similar to Jean Seberg's character in 'À bout de souffle', but Jenny is a far more down-to-earth person. Furthermore, Jack is an unassuming character, quite unlike Jean-Paul Belmondo's character in that film. The result is a sweet romance with the background of crime and another woman.

The fast traffic graphics which appeared now and then during the film were an unnecessary distraction. The photography was not the best feature, either.

The ending was surprising, dramatic and logical – everything that you could wish, in fact.

The film combines a love story and a crime story much better than many more highly rated films.
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Vom Ende der Eiszeit (2006 TV Movie)
A depressing story of crime and love
30 March 2007
'Vom Ende der Eiszeit' is a film which combines the solving of a murder with the story of a policewoman's personal relationships. The latter are quite intense, because the story is set in a hamlet on Germany's cold and windy North Sea coast. After they have been living together for twelve years, Bruno Massmann, played by August Schmölzer, proposes marriage to Lena Jörning, the policewoman played by Veronica Ferres. Then a body is found in the icy sea, and it turns out to be Lena's sister, Evelyn, played in numerous flashbacks by Janna Striebeck, sister of Catrin Striebeck and daughter of Peter Striebeck.

After that, it is, of course, no wonder that Lena no longer shows any signs of happiness or satisfaction. Not only has she lost a close relative, but because there are so few people living nearby, almost everyone who is male is a suspect. This is the background to a pervasively sad atmosphere to the film, and further surprises in the storyline heap on the misery.

The two criminal investigators who are sent to solve the murder, played by Detlev Buck and Konstanze Breitebner, turn out to be so arrogant that they are somewhat beyond credibility.

Evelyn's husband, Claas Simon, played by Martin Feifel, ably adds to the gloom.

Although the film is blessed with very good acting, it was let down both by a lack of variety in the mood, and by supporting characters, particularly the investigators, who were too stereotyped. Although the story easily contains sufficient justification for the depressed mood, it is disconcerting that not even the flashbacks provide for any escape from the sombre scenes.

Although the final scenes have some features which seem to join the threads of the story together, I do not even find that particularly satisfying. A more rounded ending would improve the whole film.

It is a depressing waste of some moving acting performances.
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The Swap (2002 TV Movie)
Portrait of a dysfunctional marriage with a crime story background
30 March 2007
If it were not for the brilliant portrayal of a family in which the married couple are no longer in love with each other, this would be only slightly better than a normal crime story. The relationship has reached a stage in which even banal conversations between the parents of two boys and a young adult daughter are likely to end in ugly arguments. Tom Forrester, played by Michael Maloney, is too busy running his business to have enough time for his family. His wife, Jen, played by Jemma Redgrave, is a busy mother who is dissatisfied with her role, and regrets not having continued with her work. This relationship is the main story, and the two characters keep up a tension throughout the film between their dissatisfaction with their partner and their remaining hopes for happy family life.

Jen organises a house swap with the family of an Australian professor for the Christmas holidays. While they are staying in Australia, the professor, Charles Anderson, played by Jonathan Cake, steals various belongings from the house in England.

There are various twists in the tale, which keep up the interest in the criminal part of the story, and also increase the likelihood of the family pulling together through adversity.

The supporting cast were very good. Rose Trenchard, played by Phyllida Law, was a very credible typical older lady neighbour, and Lissa, the nineteen-year-old daughter of the family, played by Lara Belmont, was very convincing as a young adult slightly disturbed by the constant arguing of her parents.

Following the various twist and turns in the story, the film reaches a dramatic final scene in which the married couple play out a thoroughly logical and satisfying ending, and even this may not be what one is expecting.
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A pleasant children's film about justice
12 February 2007
Rübezahl is a likable, red-bearded giant who wanders in the region of the Sudeten Mountains and, using his magical powers, rewards people he meets who are honest and hard-working, and punishes those who mistreat animals, are greedy or gluttonous, or are bad in any other way. The film is a series of such encounters, and has appropriately a number of simple story-lines. The stories are interlaced with beautiful panoramas of the mountainous area, and equally captivating sequences of the local fauna.

The slow pace of the film fits well with the stories of the various encounters and with the rural setting. Indeed, I think it could possibly have been made even slower without becoming boring, particularly since the mood-setting sequences were so well done.

There is no great characterisation. This would hardly be possible within the framework chosen. Indeed, apart from the glass-maker Steffen, each person that Rübezahl met demonstrates one particular facet of his character, and is either rewarded or punished, and always in a surprising and entertaining manner. It is particularly satisfying that the method chosen is always just.

In addition to the stories themselves, and the landscapes and wildlife, the dance sequences are also well worth watching.

Because of the age of the film, many of the special effects seem rather clumsy, but one has to make such allowances when watching films of this era.
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An unsuccessful filming of a coupling scenario
6 January 2007
In the first scenes, the viewer is introduced to the three main characters, Julius, a young boy played by Sven Lubeck, his girlfriend Elsa, played by Marie-Luise Stahl, and his father, Professor Hansen played by Heinrich Schafmeister. Julius has to help out so much with the housekeeping that Elsa complains that he does not have enough time for her. His father is so deep in thought when he is working on his computer, apparently on planetary orbits, that he forgets such mundane things as soup on the stove or taps running.

I am much older than the target age group for this film, and was irritated by the exaggerated portrayal of the professor and his otherwise realistic difficulties in keeping the apartment clean and tidy and in preparing meals. However, many members of the target age group, which I estimate as being eight to eleven, would surely be amused by this feature of the film.

What I enjoyed most were the colour effects when love was being portrayed, a lovely idea which worked well in the context of this story. The professor's confession to his son that he needed help in running the apartment was easily the most realistic and touching scene. Another enjoyable feature were the animal noises from the apartment above the one which Julius and the professor live in, and the explanation thereof, which comes near the end.

The worst feature was the characters of the two leading child characters, annoyingly brash, which was typical for many East German children's films before the unification of Germany. I also thought that Julius's attempts, as stated in the original German title of the film notwithstanding the fact that the English language title is somewhat different, to get his father to fall in love were somewhat long-winded and lacking variety and imagination, though, once again, many viewers of the target age group may well disagree.

Taken as a whole, I was disappointed with this presentation of a theme which has been filmed so many times that I feel there is no room for such a dull offering.
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Casper Meets Wendy (1998 Video)
Old-fashioned slapstick comedy for young children
1 November 2006
The main reason I decided to see 'Casper meets Wendy' was the fact that it was the first one that Hilary Duff acted in apart from being an uncredited extra in 'True Women'.

The leading male character is Casper, an animated child ghost, and the leading female character is Wendy, a girl witch, played by the then inexperienced Hilary Duff. Although the plot, which is kept simple so that the target viewers, young children, have no difficulties in following it, is about the forbidden friendship between Casper and Wendy, in a way a prepubertal 'Romeo and Juliet', the main vehicles for humour are the adult witches and ghosts, the latter contributing many of the slapstick elements.

Adults watching this film, who may well be the parents of the members of the target group, may well find some amusement in the deadpan reactions of most of the adults who take no part in the storyline, but witness some of the extraordinary behaviour of the witches and ghosts. Many adults even enjoy some slapstick humour, and may well find it rewarding to see the more riotous scenes, particularly in the company of some members of the target group. The sartorially-minded will quite probably enjoy the frequent and extreme changes of clothing by the one child and three adult witches. Finally, it is quite interesting to see the main message of 'Romeo and Juliet', 'West Side Story', 'The Color of Friendship' and many other works of art, that it is wrong to stand in the way of friendships simply because two people have different backgrounds, conveyed by a film made for such young viewers.

The casting was brilliant. All of the characters seemed perfectly suited to their role in the proceedings. As the star of the non-animated cast, Hilary Duff displayed a sufficient variety of emotions to keep the viewer involved in the uncomplicated story, while avoiding extremities which could have extended the film into something too dramatic for very young children. It would be unfair, however, to compare her performance with that of the then inexperienced Reese Witherspoon in 'The Man in the Moon', which is of necessity a far more mature and rounded portrayal of the leading character, since it is a very moving and dramatic story. Apart from that, Reese Witherspoon was a few years older when she played the role of Dani Trant.

Personally, I got rather bored by so many slapstick scenes in 'Casper meets Wendy', but I have seen many films that are a lot worse.
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Das Feuerzeug (1959)
Not one of the best East German children's films
15 October 2006
I assume that films of well-known fairy tales cannot have spoilers, because almost anyone seeing the film will know the original story. Nevertheless, I have not described any of the story once the soldier reaches the town.

The scene is set by the soldier, who is the hero of Hans Christian Andersen's tale, and is ably played by Rolf Ludwig, singing his woes to a melody which is typically for the 1950's rather happy-go-lucky. To the modern ear this introduction is quite likely to seem very tedious, and, indeed, the pace of the film is more attuned to a younger audience than those who would otherwise enjoy the narrative. After the song, the soldier is confronted by the old woman, adequately played by Maria Wendt. Unfortunately, the make-up artists overdid their job completely on this character, and, although the result may have been entertaining for young viewers at the time the film was made, the effect on today's young people is more likely to be off-putting, and to distract from the story more than to emphasise it. On the whole, this confrontation scene does a good job in arriving at the outcome without implying any blame on the soldier, which is an aspect I often thought about when I heard the story as a child. However, the dogs were not only lacking in ferocity, which at least has the advantage that younger children are able to appreciate the film, but they were not sufficiently differentiated in size. Indeed, all of the special effects in this film seem to be badly done, but some allowance must be made for the year, 1958, and the country, East Germany.

When the film moves on into the town, the background becomes even less realistic, but to some extent this lends a fairy tale atmosphere to the various scenes. Unfortunately, the standard of acting also drops a notch or two. The town characters are all one dimensional caricatures, and this approach to fairy tale films is underlined by the choice of costumes. In addition, Barbara Mehlan makes an awful princess, and this fact destroys much of the enjoyment of the latter part of the film. It is not that her acting is any worse than that of the other characters in the part of the film which takes part in the town, but that she simply does not fit the role.

'Das Feuerzeug', which, by the way, I saw in the original German, does a fair job of telling Hans Christian Andersen's story as a film, but it is let down badly in the details, which is a pity, because, although the East Germans never seemed to reach the heights of Polish, Soviet Union and above all Czechoslovakian children's films, there were many from this now defunct country which were much better than this one.
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A Step beyond the series – an enjoyable youth film
12 October 2006
Those who have seen the twelve part television series will know that Eva, played by Ellen Fjæstad, and Adam, played by Carl-Robert Holmer-Kårell, are rather an introverted young pair, very much in the Scandinavian tradition of film making. 'Eva & Adam - fyra födelsedagar och ett fiasco' goes beyond this entertaining interaction between the two, between Eva and Annika, who is played by Ulrika Bergman and has a very similar character to Eva, and between Eva and her brother Tobbe, who is played by Erik Johansson and covers many aspects of the harmonious and quarrelling sides of sibling relationships. The key to this further development is Petra, played by Rosanna Munter. She is hyperactive, one of those schoolchildren who simply cannot stay still, relax, and enjoy life in a passive manner. The role is played perfectly, and adds a new dimension to Eva's pensiveness. None of the characters is one-sided. They all react to different situations in ways the viewer might not have expected.

Although the main story is a romantic one, the film keeps the viewer interested with many subplots, even if these are quiet, subdued ones in the best Swedish traditions. The fiasco scene is, of course, nothing of the sort. It is tumultuous as one would expect, and helps the variations of mood and pace which are so central to this film.

Another highlight is the rendering of the song 'Mercedes Benz' by Eva and Petra. It is not only enjoyable. It also underlines the contrast in their characters through both pronounced and subtle body language and facial expression.

Although I am older than the target age group of both the series and this film, I thoroughly enjoyed the former, and consider the latter to be even better.
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The Princess Stallion (1997 TV Movie)
An enjoyable tale of a horse and a teenage girl
11 October 2006
Although this is not a brilliant film, it was enjoyable enough to make me want to see it a second time. Most of the characters are credible, but, unfortunately, the villains of the piece exaggerate their mannerisms somewhat. More could possibly have been made of the cultural differences between California and the sparsely populated part of rural Scotland, which is beautifully portrayed in many of the quieter scenes. The features of Scotland which are non-existent or rare in England helped to underline the difficulties of migration and gave the film another aspect in the unspoilt nature to be found in the Highlands.

Sarah Stewart, played by Ariana Richards, is the heroine of the story, and changes moods as one would expect from a fifteen-year-old. Although the tale is not totally rounded, and one does not really have the feeling that everything is brought to a satisfactory conclusion, the character of Sarah stays interesting throughout the hour and a half, particularly when she is interacting with Fergus, played by Andrew Keir.

I do not have any interest in equestrianism, but I found the part played by the title horse more interesting than in many other films involving the relationship between a girl and a horse. As far as I could judge, the interactions between Sarah and the stallion were credible enough given the special, and not necessarily realistic, aura of the zoological star.

A further important feature of the film is the development of the relationship between Sarah and her father. Although this is less prominent than that of Sarah and Fergus, it surfaces often enough to provide another subplot, and to generate more interest in everything that happens.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this film is by no means a masterpiece, but it is good solid entertainment, well acted and well directed.
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Yet another entertaining body swap film
6 August 2006
This film is obviously aimed at a very young age group of, I would estimate, nine to twelve year olds. Nevertheless, it contains enough charm to fascinate, though not enthral, older viewers too. By no means for the first time in the history of cinema, two people swap their bodies by magic. As usual, they are very different personalities, and in this case they have the advantage of being in their formative years. Emma, who is good at school and such a good swimmer that she is being considered for training for the Olympic Games, and Mickey, both played by Sarah Hannemann and Nick Seidensticker, are helped in their plight by their classmate Four Eyes, played by Philipp Blank, who has a very different, more practical character from the leading pair. Before he loses the book of magic which enabled Emma and Mickey to swap bodies, Four Eyes deciphers the fact that they only have fifty-four hours to reverse the magic. Then the magician disappears, making the race against time even more difficult.

The three children playing the leading roles are sufficiently good to give credibility to the three characters, and how they cope with the situations they land up in.

The film is set in Hamburg, and does not fail to show a backdrop of various typical buildings in fairly ordinary parts of the city, the highlight of which is a short visit to Hamburg Dungeon.

Albert Tartov, the magician played by Pinkas Braun, displays even more than the magicians in other films that his magic cannot do everything imaginable. For instance, instead of the usual animals, he has a tortoise, which, of course, does not have quite the mobility of many other creatures.

The other characters do not get much time to develop within the plot, and tend too much towards displaying stereotypes.

Conforming to the main purpose of the body swap genre, Emma and Mickey are helped by the insights their consciousness in someone else's body presents them with, as the plot unfolds. The ending is not entirely predictable, although the direction of the film is relatively obvious.
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Durch dick und dünn (2001 TV Movie)
Fat and Lean Times
21 May 2006
The hero of this story is Marissa, a 15-year-old girl with disadvantages that many girls of her age have to face – overweight and parents with a less than loving relationship with each other and with herself. Kea Könneker portrays Marissa rather convincingly as a teenager who is neither bright nor dull witted, and neither happy nor depressed. She is a very ordinary girl.

On a school trip, she meets Daniel, played by René Michaelsen, who takes her seriously enough that they spend a night together. Daniel's character leaves one almost wishing for more, but he is rather obviously not part of the main plot.

Back at school, Fiona joins the class, making a big impact with her appearance and her abundance of self-confidence. Given the choice by the teacher, she decides to sit with Marissa rather than one of those fashion conscious pupils that one finds in every class in this age-group. This then turns out to be the start of a friendship of dissimilar personalities.

Andrea Dewell, as Fiona, puts in a performance reminiscent of Keira Knightley's in 'Bend it Like Beckham'. She really holds one's attention, whatever her mood, and helps allow the leading actress to show other sides of her personality than are possible when she is at home with her other fellow pupils.

As in 'Bend it Like Beckham', not all the parents appear sufficiently realistic. In this case, Georg Krause, played by Burghart Klaussner, makes a promising start, but overreacts in some difficult scenes later on.

Most of the other characters, for instance fellow pupils, a homosexual couple and various other couples, are overdone, perhaps to remind the viewer that it is a comedy and not a real true story.

From an artistic point of view, the swimming pool scenes are outstanding, and there are other good ideas too. The video camera scenes are, however rather irritating, and not such a clever method of telling the viewer some background information about the two young ladies.

The main weakness of the comedy is, however, that, having brought up some very tricky situations and questions for people of that age-group, instead of using the darker sides of the situations as a foil to the humorous scenes, the film treats them light-heartedly. This is a great pity, because it is at times on the verge of being a good film. In this vein, the ending is an atrocious let-down.

It is a fairly entertaining film, and worth seeing.
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Western (1997)
Surrealistic portrayal of loneliness
4 May 2006
A surrealistic story of two credible typical men with a tendency to loneliness, which is made even more intensive through chance events, to meet, and then, despite their dissimilar characters, proceed to get to know and like each other even though the circumstances of their first encounter are extremely inauspicious. Sergi López, playing the Catalonian Paco Cazale, and Sacha Bourdo, playing the Russian Nino, do not put in brilliant acting performances, but they are sufficiently good to convey the pathos in their roles, which becomes more apparent as the film progresses.

The women they meet all behave credibly, but the sum of all the encounters is so unrealistic as to appear nonsensical, even with the anchor of a picturesque background of rural western France and many of its aspects. This surrealism, or irreality, is mercifully not nearly as pronounced as in 'Buffet froid', and is even somewhat entertaining, but it detracts from the otherwise fascinating character studies of both the two travelling companions and the various people they meet.

The double date and the game of 'Bonjour, la France' are highlights in this film, but many other scenes are also of good quality and entertainment value. These two scenes and the survey scenes are particularly well acted.

The dialogue reminds the viewer of the announced purpose of the journey and the event which one can expect when the two men return. When this stage is reached, a characteristically unexpected turn leads to a refreshingly unexpected but unfortunately unrealistic conclusion.

Good ideas and good dialogue are woven rather weakly into a rather good story.
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Trying out relationships
4 May 2006
'Liegen lernen', which could be translated as learning to lie down, is the story of Helmut, played rather dryly by Fabian Busch, during that period of life when one tries out relationships until one decides what one wants from life. Although the political developments leading up to and after the unification of Germany are kept audibly and visibly as a recurring feature, they are only a backdrop to the tale, and do not form or even affect the plot.

Because of the dryness of Helmut's character, the voice-overs throughout the film are necessary for the viewer to get an insight into his personality and development. Whilst there have been many more interesting lead characters, the realistic handling of the feelings and conflicts of this crucial phase of personality building makes the unfolding of the plot somewhat fascinating.

The same story with identical characters of both sexes could have been told in any city or larger town in any modern country, but at least the changes in East Berlin add an extra deepness to the drama of economic progress, which in the context of this film are kept even more moderate as I personally have experienced in West Germany.

The film is directed by Hendrik Handloegten, but, as in many Rainer Werner Fassbinder films, especially 'Berlin Alexanderplatz', whilst the male roles are convincing, the female roles do not quite seem to fit into the background in which the events take place. They are fun to watch, but simply not realistic enough to be convincing. Britta, played by Susanne Bormann, lights up the screen and enhances the entertainment value even more than Gisela, played by Fritzi Haberlandt, and the others.

The pace is sometimes too slow, and, although the female characters are in some ways too extreme, in other aspects they fail to generate as much contrast as those in 'L'Homme qui aimait les femmes' or even 'Dr T and the Women'. However, this is understandable because this film is not attempting to portray the infinite variety of the female character in modern society, merely following a particular man's life in an important period of his life.

The film is entertaining, but fails to make the most of the dramatic possibilities.
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Heiraten macht mich nervös (2005 TV Movie)
A film for romantic, horse-loving optimists
20 March 2006
The film begins promisingly with Susan Anbeh as Nina Becker and Gregor Törzs, son of the popular television announcer Denes Törzs, as Niklas Tremsaal portraying a happy, dynamic, young couple in love. The viewer is soon introduced to Sahra Thonig as Nina's young niece, India, who portrays a girl excited by the prospect of a wedding in the family admirably. Indeed, the key role she plays in the film was, together with the aforementioned introduction to the couple, a highlight of the romantic story. As in many an amorous tale, such as 'Sweet Home, Alabama' and 'Grün ist die Heide' to mention but two, the heroine is attracted to two men, one of whom is a city slicker whereas the other one revels in the simple, but not too simple, and romantic country life.

Unfortunately, after the amusing announcement by Nina's mother, Alexandra, played by Gaby Dohm, and Nina's reaction to it, the film is too unrealistic to make the gags humorous, and the characters are too sanguine to retain the modicum of credibility required to evoke romantic emotions. In particular, Susan Anbeh's performance would have been uplifting in a film in which she was faced with more minor problems than those in this tale of organising her wedding, qualifying for the Olympic Games, and deciding which man she loves simultaneously.

The character of the dim-witted priest, played by Alexander Duda, was exceptionally awful, being neither realistic nor humorous, although the latter was predominantly caused by such figures appearing too often in various films around the globe.

I expect that equine sport enthusiasts may well enjoy the various scenes with horses. Nina Becker, the heroine, is attempting to qualify for the Olympic Games for most of the duration of the film. Personally, I was confused by scenes of show-jumping, dressage and cross-country, but these are all elements of eventing or military, as sports lovers would know.

The ending, whilst unusual, was particularly lacking in credibility; no one seemed to react in character.

I love a good romance, whether dramatic or comic, but this one was disappointingly flat.
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A beautifully filmed fairytale
20 March 2006
In a struggle between good, represented by the wood elves, and evil, represented by the trolls, the conflict is reduced to a level that, whilst far from banal, is perfect for family entertainment. Unlike, for example, the Lord of the Ring trilogy, the evil creatures, while scary and aggressive, are also cute and amusing. The elves, on the other hand, capture the fascinating beauty portrayed in that famous trilogy without the overtones of aggression. Every scene involving the elves conveys a harmony of which this beauty is a principal feature. They wish to live their lives without having to battle for their freedom to do so. In the context of a fairytale, this seems to me to be perfectly legitimate. Olli Saarela, the director, displays a feeling for the beauty of natural colours almost as good as Franco Zefferelli in the countryside scenes of La Traviata, and contrasts them well with the darkness of evil.

The film is splendidly supported by the leading actor, Allu Tuppurainen, and actress, Maria Järvenhelmi, who nicely capture the nuances of emotion as both the thematic struggle and their personal relationship follow their twisting course.

There are a few musical interludes, well woven into the storyline, but these do not reach the heights of the visual and narrative aspects of the film.

The whole film exudes a fairytale atmosphere, and evokes an urge to learn how the story unfolds, right up to the very end. It is very good family entertainment.
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Königskinder (2003 TV Movie)
A pregnancy
6 March 2006
The title, Königskinder, translated into English is King's (or Kings') Children.

A young couple are expecting a baby without being ready for such an event in their lives. Because a pregnancy alters one's situation so dramatically, there have been many films dealing with this scenario, but this one stands out from many of them by staying realistic, at least until the story is being wrapped up, by the setting in rural Germany and in Hamburg, and by the brilliant pacing of many scenes. Among the scenes which are outstanding is the introduction to Hamburg, which accurately captures the impression that visitors arriving in the city from the South by train, particularly for the first time, are presented with.

Notwithstanding the impressive scenic camera-work, including some beautiful images of the River Elbe, Königskinder concentrates on the effect of the pregnancy on the relationships of everyone – not just the young couple – involved. That is, of course, how it should be, and makes even the slowest and stillest of scenes into riveting viewing. Indeed, the dramatic effect of a number of such slowly paced scenes, much like the tradition in Russian film-making, evident, among many other titles, in Solyaris, is one of the absolute highlights of the film.

The award-winning acting of Luise Helm and Adrian Topol as the young couple is completely convincing, portraying various emotions, especially listlessness, as the plot develops, and it is backed up well by the supporting cast. Although the characters get very close to stereotypical behaviour patterns at times, this tendency is not sufficiently pronounced to weaken their credibility.

German directors often seem to manage to turn interesting ideas into bad films with wooden dialogue and acting. Isabel Kleefeld has succeeded in making a good film, which is unfortunately let down by a weak, unrealistic ending, despite even this phase including some good ideas transposed into credible and impressive scenes.

On the whole, this is a good film with many good features, which loses its way somewhat towards the end.
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The Birds II: Land's End (1994 TV Movie)
A passable filming of the gripping short story
24 January 2006
Daphne Du Maurier's short story has inspired another attempt to tell the tale using the medium of film, with its advantages of visual images of the unusual behaviour of birds. Personally, I prefer the book, with its advantages of subtlety, but film has the important characteristic of attracting more viewers than books do readers. On the other hand, this particular film has the special disadvantage of telling the same story, transposed to another coastal village, as a deservedly famous film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Needless to say, The Birds II: Land's End does not manage to recreate the atmosphere of The Birds, but the acting of the family, Brad Johnson and Chelsea Field as Ted and May and two less well-known actresses as their daughters, at least compensated to some extent for a surprisingly weak unfolding of the tale of the aggression of birds, and the mostly irrational reactions of people to the unexpected. However, the dialogue with people in the village could have been much wittier.

The one feature which was better than the much more famous film of this short story was the landscapes. Alfred Hitchcock concentrated on suspense, whilst this film has time to dwell more on aesthetics. Admittedly, this still does not bring it anywhere near to the class of The Birds, but it is still quite enjoyable.

Why, one might ask, should a short story that has already been filmed so well be filmed again. The answer, in my opinion, lies in not being tied down to one set of images, so that the short story regains the elements of conjuring up a reader's images from his own imagination. The Birds II: Land's End offers the reader an alternative set of images to the ones which have been so ingrained into people's minds. It is also interesting to note that Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Don't Look Now have all been filmed more than once.

Although the film is weaker than The Birds, it is a passable filming of Daphne Du Maurier's short story.
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Der Schuß (2001 TV Movie)
More than a crime film
24 January 2006
The first few scenes show the two main characters of the film very much in love, and their job as police officers is in this phase simply secondary. The viewer is introduced to their surroundings and the people they know, before the crime element even gets a look in. Despite the violent crime scene being a key to the whole story, this is not an ordinary crime film. Just as 'West Side Story' does, this film uses the crime to comment on the hopelessness of the underprivileged. Unlike in the tale of gang rivalry, the heroes are not members of the underclass itself, but privileged police officers. Despite the better position in life, the two heroes do not have everything their own way, and are even presented with problems of their own. These turns of events allow an interesting story entangled with subplots involving less better off characters to captivate the viewer. The moral dilemmas confronting the two leading characters are presented in such a way that the viewer is easily able to understand the difficulties of the situations. The conclusion of the film is satisfying and unexpected, fitting in with the development of the main characters without being the only possible way it could have finished.

The performances of the leading pair, Lisa Martinek as Rita Bluhm and Felix Eitner as Martin Sabarski, underline the changing moods and the drama of the story. They are both very good performances without achieving brilliance. The film concentrates much more on Rita, who is depicted as being almost too good to be true, as on Martin, a more complex character with a dark side as well as his obvious good characteristics. Nikolaus Leytner, who wrote and directed it achieves an end result distinctly better than average, but he could have made it far more tense at times in addition to adding more complexity to Rita's character. The supporting actors played their roles ably without anyone being particularly inspired.

This was not only entertaining, but also a thought provoking insight into the lives of the less well off.
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At last - a realistic party
23 January 2006
Perhaps parties are different in the USA, but this is the first film I have seen which shows a party the way I remember them from my youth. The participants have moments of fun, and moments of restrained enjoyment, but the main feature of the party is the seriousness of the revellers. Sometimes they are somewhat depressed, sometimes rather despairing, often simply sad or even indifferent to the drama all around. Whilst this party is very realistic, I have to admit that it is more violent and more dramatic than most of the ones I attended. I am also pleased to be able to say that the level of smoking was also higher than in most of them. Both the interaction of the party guests and hosts and the way they sometimes searched for a place for privacy or at least introverted behaviour without leaving the gathering were just as in every party I attended in my younger days. Even the language hit exactly the right note, vulgar but not as overdone as in most films in the more emotional scenes, and restrained casual in the more blasé ones. In a way, the main theme of the story is love, but not romantic love as in 'Pretty Woman', and not the intellectual battles of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe', but simply love as it is in many partnerships in which the first flare of romance has subsided to a certain extent.

Nils Nelleßen as Alex and Maria Simon as Dorit play very difficult roles extremely well, so that the interest and the credibility of the events is sustained throughout, despite the realistic lethargy of many of the guests. Isabelle Stever managed to write and depict the party with such accuracy and attention to details that one almost has the feeling of being there. If she can continue with this quality, there will soon be many more enjoyable films arriving from Germany.

This is a well-paced, dramatic and realistic film.
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