Best Books & Fabulous Films

Reviews and More

The Last Tycoon: The Golden Age of Hitler’s Hollywood

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Hollywood, 1936: Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer), co-founder of the Brady American film studio, has just begun shooting a film about – and dedicated to – his deceased wife and well-known actress, Minna Davis (Jessica DeGouw). Suffering from a terminal heart condition, the young production chief has set his mind on finishing the project – the ‘baby’ as he calls it – as quickly as possible. However, Stahr’s ‘baby’ seems doomed to become a stillbirth: “This one won’t do at all,” says German consul Georg Gyssling (Michael Siberry) in a meeting with Stahr and studio boss Pat Bradey (Kelsey Grammer). Stahr is Jewish. A movie about a celebrity who was married to a Jew “offends the racial sensibilities of the German people,” as Gyssling puts it. The German Reich has just passed a law that forbids the import of any movie that contradicts Nazi ideology. Bradey – along with most other studio bosses of the time – considers it a financial risk to produce a movie that cannot be exported to the big German market. The production of the movie so near to Stahr’s heart comes to a harsh halt; the blank check Bradey offers his protégé as compensation seems like a cold comfort to Stahr.

But then Bradey’s daughter Cecilia (Lily Collins), who has set her sights on Stahr as well as the movie business, presents the disappointed filmmaker with an interesting and provocative movie idea. Using the blank check, Stahr intends to bring the idea to life with Cecilia as the producer –albeit against the will of his boss. Read more »

Grave New World: The Man in the High Castle

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Photo credit: Abhisek Dash
Photo credit: Abhisek Dash

It’s no surprise that the advertisement campaign done in late 2015 for a then upcoming Amazon Studios’ series was considered a provocation and had to be ended prematurely due to general outrage. Posters of the Statue of Liberty with its right arm changed to a Hitler salute were hung in New York subway trains above seats changed to spot Nazi-inspired insignia. One may or may not consider that tasteless, but it does the trick by pulling viewers into the uncanny world of The Man in the High CastleRead more »

Nothing New on the Western Frontier

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Credit: Wolf Gang
Credit: Wolf Gang

Even though in folklore the term revenant stands for a being that has returned from the dead, the recent award-winning movie The Revenant (2015), directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is not about a ghost – at least not in a literal sense. The Revenant’s screenplay is partly based on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name as well as several other books and films of the past that recount a true story from the early 1820s: Trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sets off on a fur-hunting expedition in an unnamed and undeveloped U.S. territory together with his half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and a group of men from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). After an attack from an Arikara war band brings the group close to annihilation, the survivors flee and Glass gets wounded – seemingly beyond recovery. What unfolds from there is a journey of adversity, betrayal, greed, loss, and a shimmer of hope. Read more »

Gone Girl

By Daria Radler

“What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

gone girl

Boy loses girl — what starts with a classic opening scene of a psychological thriller turns out to be much more than that. When his wife disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s small town life in Missouri is about to turn upside down. Not only do the police find a crime scene in the Dunne’s living room, they also have to deal with a husband who is neither surprised nor grieving. While the public’s interest in Amy grows by the day, Nick soon loses everyone’s sympathy. He smiles at all the wrong times; he lies and is far from being a good husband.

It seems like a classic case of convicting the husband: While he desperately tries to explain himself and fight the tightening noose around his neck, Amy’s diary only confirms the growing suspicion that Nick is a mean and misogynist bully: “I catch him looking at me with those watchful eyes, the eyes of an insect, pure calculation, and I think: This man might kill me.”

Could he have done it? Could he have killed Amy?

Read more »

Under Dark Skies: A Review Essay

By Michaela Keck

The End of the Night

On Friday, October 16, our group of five – two master students, three bachelor students, and I – set out from the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Oldenburg for a four-day excursion to the ecological field station of the University of Potsdam in Gülpe. This small village is located approximately 70 kilometers northwest of Potsdam, or circa 85 kilometers northwest of Berlin, along the eastern border of the Nature Park and Dark Sky Preserve Westhavelland. Here, we wanted to study, debate, and directly experience darkness in an area that still afforded a phenomenon that is increasingly lost to our brightly illuminated European continent: dark night skies. The plan for this long weekend was to have the afternoons set aside for text discussions and to venture out into the dark after the moon had set. The mornings were free to either recover from our nocturnal activities or to explore the wetlands of our immediate surroundings.

Included in our considerable amount of luggage – the ecological field station requires self-catering – were three seminal texts for our ecocritical studies of darkness: Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (2005); Paul Bogard’s The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light (2013); and the chapter entitled “Ridge” from Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places (2007). Although the titles of the first two books express a sense of loss and therefore suggest a yearning for an earlier, better, more “natural” life, Louv and Bogard both investigate the Anthropocene with an attitude that combines curiosity, fascination, and pragmatism rather than regression, nostalgia, and moralizing. Read more »

Midnight in Paris: Somewhen, Somewhere, Someway

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Midnight in Paris

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, lives in Beverly Hills, and has a beautiful fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams). And yet, life feels a little unsatisfying to him because he wants to be a novelist and feels deep down that “we both like pita-bread” may not be the best basis for a marriage. While vacationing in Paris with his wife-to-be and her posh, conservative, and business-oriented parents, Gil realizes that he longs for someplace else and very literally sometime else: Paris in the 1920s! Palpably at odds with his present time and company, Gil seeks solitude one night in the streets of his beloved city. When the bells of Notre Dame strike midnight, an old-fashioned limousine suddenly appears out of nowhere, and a bunch of good-humored people invite him on a trip beyond his wildest imagination.  Read more »