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Reviews

Der Usedom-Krimi: Vom Geben und Nehmen
(2020)
Episode 13, Season 1

Does justice favor the powerful and well-connected?
Are the disadvantaged used, exploited, and easily scapegoated whenever the long arm of the law catches up with criminals? - This episode in the Usedom Crime Drama series focuses on such questions. Bribery, conspiracies and deception are the tools by which the "haves" assure their own financial prosperity, while the "have nots" continue in endless toil without much chance of advancing their lot in life.

A suspected homicide brings to light the character of several players. A seemingly shifty prosecutor soon redeems himself, and the female lead (a middle aged former detective with a troubled past as a convicted murderer with lengthy prison sentence) suffers yet another harsh disappointment. Although the ongoing drama within the main cast is compelling, the overall quality of this story is mediocre. As a fan of the series, I watched to the end, but was left disappointed. This team has had better shows!

Tatort: Limbus
(2020)
Episode 1,143, Season 1

Here Comes Mr. Boerne!
This episode in the Muenster Tatort series is reminiscent of Hollywood Classics dealing with near-death experiences, where the protagonist apparently died, yet isn't quite ready to "cross over". The team is perplexed by their excentric Dr. Boerne's suspicious automobile accident.

A series of inexplicable events lead to many beautiful scenes where Boerne's colleges express not only their appreciation of, but also their affection for the seriously injured Boerne. Not until it appears he may indeed die, do they all feel that Boerne "wasn't such a bad guy after all". In the meantime a sociopath serial killer merrily goes about his business of covering the tracks of his murder spree.

A scene near the end is truly enchanting and will surely bring a tear to most viewers' eye. -- The Muenster Team is my personal favorite of all the Tatort teams, and "Limbus" is among their very best efforts!

Tatort: Im Namen des Vaters
(2012)
Episode 855, Season 1

New Year's Resolutions are hardly ever kept
Everybody at the police precinct is in New Year's Eve party mood, until a middle aged woman is found murdered. The woman was well known for her alcoholism and promiscuity, narrowing the suspects to a number of men with whom she had been acquainted. The victim's teenage son and violent alcoholic boyfriend are obsessed with finding whoever committed this murder.

This is a worthwhile episode in the legendary Tatort Series, dealing closely with the subject of alcoholism and the effect on people's lives. Kommissar Steyer is clearly struggling with this addiction; his partner noticing that he needlessly repeats thoughts and often comes to long established conclusions, a clear sing of cognitive decline due to alcoholism. Steyer's personal struggles are a continued theme throughout the episodes with him as the head of the homicide team. This is a socially relevant topic.

My only disappointment with this episode is the needlessly dramatic and extremely far-fetched "epilog" finale. The final 2 minutes of story line did not help, but hurt the story because it suddenly becomes ridiculous. They should have ended the story without that "finishing touch". Otherwise, this is above average crime drama!

Wilsberg: Kein Weg zurück
(2015)
Episode 45, Season 1

Police Work and Psychology Join Forces
After a man innocently spent 5 years in prison, he refuses to keep on "paying" for a crime he never committed. His rehabilitation into productive society is hindered by the lingering restrictions placed on him; there must be a stop to this harassment! Can a man who has already paid his debt to society find happiness again, or will there be "no way back"? - This multi-layered psycho drama makes for a clever episode of "Wilsberg".

De Twaalf
(2019)

12 angry people = 1 multi-layered courtroom drama
Anyone who ever served on a jury can relate to the situation. The life of the accused is resting on your decision to weigh the evidence and then decide beyond a reasonable doubt if that person is innocent or guilty.

In addition to a gripping court room drama, "The Twelve" gives the viewer simultaneous insight into the troubled lives of each of the jurors. Each one of them has problems of their own, sometimes possibly conflicting with their assignment as jurors in a double-murder trial. Can each of the objectively decide the fate of the defendant?

Each of the 10 episodes focuses closely on one of the juror's personal life, and frequently individual jurors interact with one another, even forming friendships. The final episode delivers many shockers, and in the end all conflicts find a satisfactory resolution. Nonetheless, the very best surprise is saved for last! - I watched this series in the English dub version, which was quite well done. I can highly recommend this drama series!

Manifesto
(2015)

The many faces of philosophical musings about whatever - Lost me early on!
I really tried to "get this", but in the end I think I failed. How many different ways are there to explain the purpose of life? To get answers to the unanswerable, one must ask many different people, and then expect more answers than the total number of people asked. - I have great respect for Kate Blanchet's body of work. This is not her finest hour. So profoundly confusing and ultimately forgettable. Even if you're a fan of the star, skip this jumbled mess of a disappointing film.

Drive
(2019)

Is it a bird? No. Is it a plane? No. it's a BIG TURKEY!
Baby faced small-time stunt-actor desperate to make it big? What exactly is the protagonist searching for? Fame? Fortune? Love with he girl next door? There's just no "there" there. Gratuitous violence at every turn, an occasional kiss. Mobsters, prostitutes, some appearing on the screen just for decoration? What did all of the famous TV stars ("Good Girls", "Breaking Bad") in bit parts show up for anyhow? Is there a point? This is no thriller, no heist movie, no love story. Its just too little of anything to add up to a satisfying movie experience. This one's about as low as they can go. They should not have bothered...and neither should any prospective audience! SKIP THIS TURKEY!

Polizeiruf 110: Nachtdienst
(2017)
Episode 3, Season 46

Eventful night in poorly maintained home for the aged
When a confused elderly woman arrives by taxi at a police station, her claim that she had just witnessed a murder sets into motion a serious investigation at the care home from which she had wandered off. When evidence of a violent death emerges, the off-duty Kommissar refuses to accept the sketchy "official report" about a resident's accidental fatal fall and pursues the incident throughout the night.

This episode in the legendary "Polizeiruf 110" series is shining a spotlight on the poor conditions under which many elderly people are cared for in understaffed and underfunded facilities. Whether terminally ill or suffering from dementia, the few nurses and care givers on staff are overwhelmed with the resident work load; even if most staff show true compassion, there is never enough time to adequately care for all residents. People who have spent their lives working and caring for others suddenly find themselves discarded as useless and unimportant.

The scene near the end, where the Kommissar speaks what sounds like a brief eulogy will bring a tear to the viewer's eye, it is extremely moving, and sums up the problematic theme. Although at times difficult to watch, this a far above average production.

Schwartz & Schwartz: Bestie von Malchow
(2020)

When fear of the "different" turns deadly
The perpetually cash-strapped former police officers turned private detectives have yet another unusual assignment: A young woman is certain that her mentally disturbed elderly father has been wrongfully accused of murder. Schwarz & Schwarz take on an upward battle against a career driven police chief, who is also a regional Internet sensation with a questionable podcast for "like-minded citizens", united in their fight against "the other" aka anyone who isn't pure, white and German.

The story is told in several layers, with brief flashbacks giving the audience some very interesting context about not only the story, but also the main cast. Many delicious moments show some "on the spot" reactions to sudden sticky situation. Andy Schwarz is particularly gifted when it comes to "improvising". The scenes involving a formidable dog named "Rudeman" are priceless!

The topic of political (right wing) fringes is covered quite capably, always insisting that any of such tendencies are in contrast to Democracy and the rule of law, and therefore unacceptable. It also suggests that the "bad apples" in positions of power must be removed to avoid infecting and damaging entire institutions.

The brothers Schwarz & Schwarz are a refreshing departure from formula crime drama series. Although similar to the legendary "Tatort" series, the emphasis on the humanity and the very relatable struggles with which the cast members have to contend, sets this series apart from its competition. I look forward to more movie-length episodes from this most congenial team of crime fighters.

Into the Night
(2020)

Edge of your seat suspense - Binge-worthy entertainment!
Here are 6 episodes of a sci-fi series that will have audiences hooked from the word "go!". The premise is about as far fetched as a Twilight Zone episode, but the mile-a-minute action makes the big picture work! I was particularly impressed with the way each episode begins with a "back story" of one of the main characters, giving the audience a reason to make an emotional investment in each character. Good, bad or ugly, every one of the players adds to the fabric of the group.

Watching "Into The Night" requires considerable suspense of disbelief, because something like this would never happen in the most vivid of imaginations. Compared to equally bizarre science fiction i.e. any stories involving "super heroes", the entertainment value is far above average. The intermingling of several foreign languages adds to the clear sense of diversity among European nations. Alone they may be weak, but united they can solve any problem humanity may be facing. That uplifting idea alone makes this series well worth watching! - The climactic closing scene of episode 6 clearly suggests there will be more of a story to be told! Bring it on, please!

Mein Freund das Ekel
(2019)

Notorious old grouch gets unexpected chance at redemption
A sweet little story about life's obstacles and challenges, and how it's never too late to improve one's situation.

Veteran comic actor Dieter Hallervorden, Germany's National Treasure with decades as TV's favorite funny man on his resume, has found yet another gem of a film project as notoriously disagreeable old grouch. With a young single mom and her 3 children as live-in caregivers, the wheelchair bound old man is in for much excitement, but in the end regains his own joy of life.

Having spent much of my young years living in Berlin, I can relate to the realism about life in this city as shown in this film. Seeing people struggle for survival, working multiple "jobs", trying and failing, yet never giving up. Having a support network of neighbors and friends, and in the end enjoying life with no regrets. That's Berlin! There are many beautiful little "moments", rendering this low budget production a very enjoyable, sometimes even sentimental gem.

Unorthodox
(2020)

Escape from a pre-dictated life as an Orthodox Jewish woman
The deeply moving true story of Esty, a young woman who never felt like she fit in with her extremely structured Jewish Orthodox community in New York City. Viewed as an "orphan" by her immediate family, Esty is very close with her maternal Grandmother, who seems to be her only true friend after being abandoned by her birth mother, who "shamed" the family by marrying outside of her faith.

The story begins at different points, swinging back and forth from the recent past, where a "Matchmaker" arranged for Esty's marriage to the similarly awkward son of a jeweler, to the present, where Esty flees to Berlin, Germany with virtually only the clothes on her body. For the first time, Esty experiences a world of progress', progressive ideas, and progressive ways of life. A group of young musicians enter Esty's life and change everything. - Will an abandoned husband and the angry extended family accept Esty's "unorthodox" life choices? Not without a fight!

As a native to Berlin, this story is deeply touching my heart. I see in Esty's story elements of my own family history, and the history of this world. It gives me hope that we will do more than "never forget", but continue to grow as decent human beings, to get ever closer to the potentials of humanity, living peacefully to enjoy the one life we have, and to contribute to the joy of others. There is so much more that unites us than sets us apart. As a television drama series, "Unorthodox" is among the finest I've been privileged to see.

Tatort: Das perfekte Verbrechen
(2020)
Episode 1,124, Season 1

Elitist Boys' Club initiation rituals turn very dark
The Berlin Tatort team Rubin/Karow are investigating a senseless murder of a young University student. The trail of clues appears to be left deliberately by the master-mind perpetrator of "the perfect crime". - This episode reminds of the Hitchcock Classic "Rope", which in turn was based on the sensational Leopold & Loeb murder trial of the 1920's, where privileged young graduate students murdered one of their peers simply for the thrill of getting away with it (which , of course, they didn't).

Many macabre situations in this story give the viewer pause. Is this what it takes to "belong" to an elite club, and should anyone strive for such membership? Hauptkommissar Karow surprises once more with revelations of hidden talents, while his ranking partner Rubin gets the best dialog lines as a police woman who will not be intimidated by arrogant persons of interest. The pair of crime fighters are always worth watching, even if a particular story isn't quite top grade. This one is something for nightmares.

Tatort: Ich hab im Traum geweinet
(2020)
Episode 1,121, Season 1

Midlife Crisis turning everyone into sex crazed idiots
More than half of this labored mess of a story was spent in describing the sexual obsessions of multiple characters. During German Carnival Season "anything goes", which apparently meant that the Tatort team had to join in the frivolities. Strangers and old acquaintances taking liberties with anyone out to celebrate on the streets, in bars, and in hotel rooms.

I don't recall another Tatort episode where the actual murder happened so late in the story. It's a wonder I was still watching, since this was such a low quality production. The casual sex theme was really taken to new heights, almost to the level of soft porn. A low caliber psycho drama perhaps, a good crime drama, hardly. This one was a real dud!

Tatort: Wer bin ich?
(2015)
Episode 968, Season 1

Multiple familiar Tatort Characters deliver twisted Psycho Drama
This "Frankfurt" Tatort cranks up the weird-o-meter dial to 11. Hauptkommissar Murot is known for rather bizarre psychological fantasy stories, but this one tries a bit too hard with the "am I dreaming or is this really happening?" genre. Although produced in 2015, this was my first chance to see "Wer bin ich?". A more recent episode "Murot und das Murmeltier" had lots of magical elements of the legendary "Groundhog Day". The episode here seems to desperately follow "The Purple Rose Of Cairo", but left me somewhat dissatisfied with it's unbelievable conclusion.

The best feature of this utterly bizarre episode are the many cameos by well established stars of various Tatort teams, all playing the actors, not the characters. Fans of the series will enjoy that, especially the amusing dialogues. Besides that, I feel this is not one of the better outings of one of my favorites (Murot). The psycho drama was a bit much this time.

Tatort: Dunkelfeld
(2016)
Episode 1,003, Season 1

A winning team is...when you can trust your partner with your life
This Berlin Tatort episode is more than just another Karow/Rubin team effort investigating a murder case. This episode is about being a partner to count on when the going get's tough. It's about choosing between self and others. It's about what really matters in life. Who would sacrifice their own happiness and safety for that of another?

It is the morning of her son's big day. Today he becomes a man. The Bar Mitvah ceremony had been long planned, and Hauptkommissar Rubin, already separated from her deeply religious husband, had promised to be in attendance. As the ceremonies begin, Rubin is called to work on her well deserved day off. Rubin is torn between disappointing her family and responding to the emergency to help out her colleague. Once again, it seems that she's married to her work, leaving the ceremony amid deep disappointment in her already estranged husband's expressions.

Sometimes life gives us difficult choices. Karow and Rubin both learn some of life's most bitter lessons. The viewer will not be disappointed, because this is a superior suspense thriller with deep psychological themes cleverly woven into the story. My favorite Karow/Rubin teaming to date. Highly recommended!

Magische Momente: Pauls Weihnachtswunsch
(2018)

Christmas Magic for a dysfunctional patch-work family
The 9 year old Paul is devastated to see his parents separate. Dad is a work-o-holic doctor, Mom high pregnant by a new partner. Paul now has to leave his familiar home, to live with the "new Dad" and his teenage daughter. Christmas time is coming, and the new patch-work family could not be more dysfunctional.

Enter the magical "Christmas Angel", a life-size wooden sculpture created by Mom. Somehow the Angel gave Paul the super-power to penetrate walls. Does the kid not know that magic is only to be used for good, or else it will turn on you? - The predictable story, though far fetched, is entertaining and certainly has what it takes to bring the joy of the Season to TV screens everywhere. It's no Hollywood blockbuster, but for German standards a very palatable light Holiday treat.

The Jackie Thomas Show
(1992)

A short-lived, yet hilarious sit-com gem!
Tom Arnold's finest hour. This series was tailor made by the producers of "Roseanne" to fit the special kind of comedian who already delivered tabloid gold as one half of the Barr/Arnold crazy train. The Jackie Thomas Show had potential to grow into a TV staple, but sadly the plug was pulled once Roseanne divorced the star and apparently assured none of the 18 hilarious episodes would ever air again. At the time, I thought there was nothing funnier on TV than the wacky adventures of that wild and crazy Jackie Thomas and his long suffering team of writers. Reminiscent of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which had a similar premise. A real shame that we never saw more of this.

Das kalte Herz
(1950)

Enchanting Vintage DEFA Fairy Tale
Brilliant color cinematography and a bitter sweet love story set in timeless German Black Forest Folklore. A film buff will recognize several elements of story telling used in Hollywood Classics. Compare to "It's A Wonderful Life", "The Red Shoes" or "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", where star crossed lovers eventually see a very happy end.

Produced by the legendary East German DEFA Studios, this gem clearly had a big budget, offering opulent sets and even special effects. The only way to add more sparkle may have been for Walt Disney to turn it into an animated feature that could have stood with such Classics as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.

Films such as this one remind me of my childhood in the Germany of the 1970s, where it would have been served up as Holiday programming at Easter or Christmas. It is pure magic, and the very best of family entertainment.

Tatort: Angriff auf Wache 08
(2019)
Episode 1,105, Season 1

Total Eclipse plays supporting role in War against Underworld
The Frankfurt Team in the legendary Tatort Series, headed by Kommissar Murot and his dedicated assistant Wachter have another very unique "case" on their plate: An old police station turned museum is under attack by a heavily armed group of terrorists. Senseless killings in the area culminate in a literal "us against them" war.reminiscent of the 19th Century Wild West. Caught off-guard, various police officers are involved, including a prisoner transport, Murot and Wachter, as well as the bare-bones team of Police Museum attendants.

Although the story is similar to other Murot Tatort episodes, where reality, dreams (i.e. nightmares) are mixed and matched to make for bizarre story telling, this one is particularly violent and disturbing. There is no clear resolution, nor an explanation for any of the plot. The final scene implies that the nightmare isn't over just yet! Murot is drifting from action into horror with this one!

The redeeming value is in the personal stories told alongside the action. Sentimental moments include Murot and an old friend reminiscing about their early days of police service together. The theme of showing civil courage when witnessing innocent people being attacked vs. cowardice even among police. To do the right thing is often replaced by saving one's own hide. The scene where a police officer suggests they "give up" a teenage girl in order to appease a bunch of terrorists is horrifying. How can one take an oath to serve and protect, then be such a pathetic coward? The same self preserving instinct is on display when two male police officers abandon a female peer out of fear. Sad and disgusting, yet human and real.

All of the above and more awaits those who will spend an hour and a half of their life watching this Tatort episode. As a lifelong fan of this series, I was not disappointed, but must admit that certain elements in this story add up to only an average sum. There have been better ones.

Charité
(2017)

Another world-class caliber German language Mini Series
As a native Berliner who still recalls the last remaining ruins of WWII, I found this Historical Drama series to be not only authentic in all aspects, but also very moving in its portrayal of individual characters. Most of the story takes place at a time where most people were certain the War was nearing its end. Despite dutifully exchanging the obligatory Hitler greeting in formal settings, many no longer shared the vision of Germany dominating the World, but instead secretly wishing for "the enemy" (namely the Americans) to finish it all, so everyone could somehow rise from the rubble.

The legendary Charite Hospital is caught in the middle of the political turmoil, constantly deluged with ever changing "orders" from the Fuehrer. The most outstanding characters are the Hospital administrator/world-renowned surgeon Prof. Dr. Sauerbruch and his equally talented wife, who quietly aid the resistance, all the while honoring their hippocratic oath. When in one scene, directives from the highest office dictated that all doctors and nurses should receive fire arms to face the approaching allied forces, the messenger had to endure a very verbal and unmistakable refusal of such orders. "Am I to operate with a gun in my hand?"

Quite disturbing was the fact, that some of the very young people, even school children, appeared to be so entranced by the Nazi vision, that in the face of certain death, they would nonetheless march through the streets to shoot on sight anyone who capitulates or shares any other political view. High officers knew better, and for the most part chose suicide over capture.

A variety of character studies enhance the story. To me, the best lines of dialog came from Head Nurse Kate. With her endearing, thick Berlin dialect she would deliver the most profound and witty observations. Here are some samplings: "Child, be glad we're at war, because after it's all over, it sure will get less comfortable!' - "Whoever isn't dead yet, has only himself to blame, because there sure have been enough bombs dropped." - "Don't you act so innocent, you knew exactly what was going on!" - "Keep your head up high, even if the neck is dirty!"

Most eye witnesses to one of the darkest hours in Germany's History are no longer with us. Through documents and the arts, we are privileged to learn and never forget this part of history. Even then, our better angels prevailed and lifted humanity up from such a deep fall. We shall live, and learn, and appreciate the suffering and the hard work of those who came before us, that our children and grandchildren may live a more fulfilled life in love and in peace.

Television Drama just doesn't get any better than this!

Meine Nachbarn mit dem dicken Hund
(2019)

Are you lonely? Open up your heart and let the sunshine in!
Recently separated from her husband of nearly 30 years, Frau Brendl pretends to her friends at work that she is still blissfully married, a lie that eventually catches up with her. A young single mom with a 7 year old daughter and a "big dog" (with the funny name Frau Hirschberger) just moved into the apartment building, causing immediate gossip about the noise and disorder caused by these "degenerates".

Elderly and lonely Frau Brendel befriends the little girl who gets in various troubles while unattended by the mother, who already fears losing custody if she fails to appease Children's Services. - This quiet little TV movie has many endearing "moments", and despite all of the drama, delivers a satisfying happy ending. Many familiar character actors are featured. A pleasantly entertaining production.

Visit to a Small Planet
(1960)

60s Sit-Com caliber Sci-Fi Comedy
Jerry Lewis is joined by a cast of Classic Hollywood Comedy character actors, but together they can't lift this UFO story above mediocre "Dennis The Menace" style sit-com level. Jerry Lewis' slap-stick talents are wasted on this low budged nonsense. - Lewis plays a goofy guy from the other side of the universe who can't help but keep visiting "that crazy small planet" aka Earth. He wanted to "drop in" on 1861 Civil War, but accidentally landed in 1960 white-picket fence suberbia. Everyone is preparing for a costume party. Guess what everyone is dressed up as? The cast of Gone With the Wind! - If you're still interested, then spend an hour and a half with this far fetched yarn. As a fan of Jerry Lewis films, I'm deeply disappointed by this one.

Pinky
(1949)

Down Home...where everybody knew "their place"
Jean Crain shines as the young newly graduated nurse, returning to the small Southern town where she had been raised by a devoted illiterate wash-woman grandmother, played by the legendary Ethel Waters. During studies "up North", the young woman had "passed" for white, and for the first time experienced a very different life , one of dignity and respect. This was in sharp contrast to the years of her upbringing in a segregated town where she would constantly be reminded of her second class station in life.

Ethel Barrymore is wonderful as the dying family friend, who is comforted in her last, bedridden days, by the homecoming nurse. This brief experience softens the bitter Crain, who saw the assignment as a mere fulfillment of a promise made to her grandmother. There is a predictability to the story from this point on, but the final part is simply wonderful, complete with a good old-fashioned Southern court room drama and a 3-hankie finale.

This is a true Classic, one of Hollywood's Golden Age gems! Not to be missed!

Oscar
(1991)

Frank Capra meets Neil Simon - Delicious mistaken identity free-for-all!.
Sylvester Stallone heads a grand cast of clowns in this laugh-a-minute mistaken identity blast. It's "Lady For A Day" without the tears, or "Plaza Suite" without the gangster theme. Though often mentioned, the title character is never seen. "Oscar" is a wonderfully entertaining comedy, complete with a big pay off conclusion. Not since "Bugsy Malone" have enjoyed a 1930s themed comedy. Highly recommended!

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