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Till Helge Helwig
Software Developer, Passionate Cook, Nerd
Software Developer, Passionate Cook, Nerd

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Here is another PSA for you: Don't watch Bad Santa 2.

This week's Sneak Preview brought us this questionable sequel. Similar to the original one it's full of foul language, stupid characters and a pretty boring story. And that's all I feel necessary to say about it.

It amazes me that this kind of movie apparently works or they wouldn't have made another one. I guess it's just not my humor, but I can't imagine that anybody really likes this kind of stuff. Oh each their own.

In my opinion, you should watch something else instead. I can highly recommend "Inside Out". ;)
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Jackpot. That is the most adequate summary I can give for last night. In our local Sneak Preview we got to see Arrival, the new movie from Denis Villeneuve. He is well known for Prisoners or Sicario, but I'm sure this will change now.

In terms of Sneak Preview movies, this is pretty much as good as it gets, but also in the normal cinema world this one will make a huge impact. With an 8.5/10 score on IMDb and a whooping 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is definitely the best received movie I have seen in a long time.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a renowned professor for linguistics and in this film she tells the story of her sick daughter and the incredible things that happened before her birth. It begins with a normal day that is turned upside-down as twelve alien ships appear all over the world. While the usual end-of-the-world-chaos starts spreading, Dr. Banks is contacted by the US military to lead a group of language experts to establish communication with the extra-terrestrials. A second team, lead by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), is tasked to find out as much as possible about their arrival.

After the first days of careful, tentative contact and very slow progress more and more complications are revealed: The political tension between the involved nations, the reactions of the public and the physical strain the scientists are not used to. Also, as Dr. Banks understands more about the aliens, she also starts flashing back to memories of her daughter. At this point the story becomes somewhat distorted, because the order of events is intentionally shifted around.

The story is quite clearly a science-fiction plot, but the movie itself does not really fit into the category, because its style is completely unique within this genre. It is dominated by slow-paced scenes, a lot of close-up shots of the main characters and an overall focus on letting situations really sink in. There are no quick cuts from one event to the next. Everything plays out in full length and the camera just stays pointed at it. This creates a fascinating tension and a very close connection between viewer and main character.

Aside from the very artful way of how the movie is made, I also really enjoyed how they spun the story around linguistics. Everything is related to language and communication. They created a really alien, but fascinating way for the humans and extra-terrestrials to interact. Dr. Banks' joy and excitement at the first discovery of this possibility and its complexity was clearly palpable for audience.

Reading some reviews, I saw a lot of comparisons with Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", probably because of the slow pace, the quiet moments and the eerie moments in between. Personally, I would compare it more to "Interstellar", because both have a somewhat comparable approach to messing with time and they both left me in a similar state of bafflement afterwards. But this movie doesn't have to be similar to or better than any other movie. It is just great and I can just urge you to go and watch it, preferable on a big screen.
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One of the reasons for going to the Sneak Preview on a regular basis is the chance to see a precious little gem that you would never have found by yourself. Lately, we rarely had this situation over here, but last night it worked out that way once more.

Our cinema staff had picked the latest movie of independent filmmaker Mike van Diem, called The Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay (an adaption of a Dutch short story), directed and also acted as producer. It premiered in the Netherlands and a lot of other countries last year and now got a second wave of premieres in a couple more.

The movie is a dark comedy about Jacob (Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) and Anna (Georgina Verbaan), who meet at a special agency that offers a full-service "final journey". They both book a "suprise package", which does not give them a clear indication of when and how it will happen. And of course they did not just meet by chance and never see each other again. At this point you might think: Wait...I heard that one before. And you're right. An "assisted suicide" via a hired hitman has been the main plot for a couple of movies already.

But let me explain why I liked this movie and will probably remember its title, while I forgot those of the others. Firstly, it is an independently produced European movie and therefore has a completely different feel to it than any of those super-expensive Hollywood blockbusters. Secondly, it contains some very dark humor, which I want to compare to what I so far knew mostly from Scandinavian filmmakers. And finally, it touches on some fairly profound topics, most prominently death, without becoming depressive or uncomfortable.

All this makes for a very entertaining and pleasant experience. I can highly recommend it, if you like (or would like to try) watching something that is more soft-spoken than the big cinema and limits itself to a very small world rather than trying to be as global as possible. Try it and you might get a surprise out of it. (Sorry...but I had to. :D)
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This one is a litte different than my usual movie posts: We actually chose the film we saw ourselves! Fancy that. ;)

After it had captured my interest months ago when the trailer played and simply because it is a Tim Burton movie there was no doubt that I had to go and see Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

There are, I believe, two different ways to think about this movie. First, let's talk about it as a standalone movie. It is simply gorgeous. The most striking feature for me was it's very unusual pace. Burton hit a sweet spot between too fast action and overly slow drama, which was just perfect in my opinion and really does the story justice. He also picked beautiful locations/sets to shoot on. It all creates this comfortable feeling of being in a fairy tale, but without lulling you in.

Eva Green is also quite the asset. Her character is quirky and she did a wonderful job of bringing her to life in a way that worked perfectly in harmony with the group of children. Samuel L. Jackson as evil counterpart was also a good choice, because any role that combines bad intentions, a flippant tongue and an eerie presence is a perfect fit. Honorable mentions: Chris O'Dowd as hopelessly incompetent father provides a form of sad hilarity that helps to ease the viewer into the story.

Ransom Rigg's novel, which the film is based upon, provides a fantastic playground for a crazy genius like Burton. Supernatural abilities and monsters lead to a spectacular showcase of special effects. We also watched it in 3D and I have to say: So far this was the first movie that actually made me forget the whole 3D aspect at some point, because it is really well done and doesn't come with any blurriness or lack of details that I noticed in other 3D movies. But to be fair, one could also say that maybe it did not really need 3D to be a good movie.

As I mentioned, there is another way to look at it. That would be in the context of Tim Burton's overall work. And in the company of all the other incredibly good movies he has directed, this one is definitely not the most outstanding one. It definitely feels like a Tim Burton film, but it is not as surprising as Big Fish, artful as Sweeney Todd or weird as Corpse Bride. I also kind of missed the customary casting of Helena Bonham-Carter in there, who might even have been a better fit for the second Ymbryne instead of Judy Dench.

Disregarding the minor criticism, I can wholeheartedly recommend this movie. It is entertaining, engaging, visually compelling and delightfully peculiar. If you have the chance, watch it on a big screen, because this way it really pulls you into another world for a while.
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