New Releases: 23rd February

FURY:

Brad Pitt, a tank, Shia LaBeouf, Nazis and a title that accurately suggests the gritty, mud-drenched male-bonding war drama to follow – these are the principal ingredients of David Ayer’s latest, the follow-up to his brilliant but underseen 2012 cop-drama End of Watch. Brad Pitt leads an excellent cast as the wonderfully named “Wardaddy”, once again proving the closest thing we have to the sort of classic Hollywood icons of yesteryear. The story sees Logan Lerman’s fresh-faced rookie thrust deep into battle at the back-end of WWII as this rugged group of manly so-and-so’s attempts to land a decisive blow at Nazi Germany. Fury is shot in gorgeous, washed-out 35mm and is ultimately a sensitive, muscular entry into the war film canon that is definitely recommended.

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SERENA:

Re-uniting the two stars of 2012’s Silver Lining PlaybookSerena chronicles the difficulties of timber magnate George Pemberton and his wife, Serena, who is unable to provide him with an heir. Jennifer Lawrence is as reliable as ever and puts in a strong, layered performance as the titular character. The problem with this fine performance is perhaps that it exposes the deficiencies in other areas here, including her outmatched co-star Cooper and the film’s occasionally messy direction. Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, In a Better World) directs, and does her best with a weak script in this Depression-era tale of domestic romance and woe that is perhaps worth a watch just for the lead performance and the chemistry of the two leads.

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FELONY:

Don’t let any generic descriptions of police intrigue and brooding male angst fool you – Felony is a surprisingly stylish, excellently acted (yes, even by Jai Courtney) Aussie thriller-drama. After a child is left in a coma following a tragic accident, three detectives will all find themselves caught up in the struggle for the truth. One of them is guilty of the crime, one will try to help cover it up and one can simply not let it go without finding out what really happened. While the film might prove to be a little too cynical for some, it does present an interesting set of characters and moral dilemmas for the audience to ponder as it sinks deeper into guilt, desperation and intensity. Yet another taut, tense entry in the recent wave of Aussie crime such as Animal Kingdom and Mystery Road.

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ANNABELLE:

It’s safe to say that the major target market for Annabelle would be those who really enjoyed 2013’s The Conjuring, of which it is a spin-off/prequel (it was only a matter of time). While The Conjuring was a pretty damn frightening movie that managed to linger in the mind for some time after, Annabelle concerns itself more with cheaper scares and, no doubt, the building of a franchise. Once again, the eponymous haunted doll causes some seriously scary things to happen in the house of an unlucky couple (who obviously had not seen any of the Chucky films). If you were a fan of the first film, then give this a go and you might find enough references to other great horror films and maybe even enough scares to get into this one.   

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LIFE ITSELF:

There’s something beautiful in the fact that Steve James, whose tremendous Hoop Dreams was one of the films most-championed by Roger Ebert, directs this incredibly moving portrait of the beloved critic. Spanning his life and career in film and featuring not only interviews with many of those filmmakers and colleagues whose paths crossed Ebert’s over the years but also stirring footage of the last months of his life, Life Itself is a rich, intimate and deeply poignant chronicle. Rather than simply a movie about movies, this is a movie about life and the things we come to love most about it. It does not paint Ebert as a saint, but rather a flawed, strong-willed man who never stopped learning, loving or growing and this is, in the end, what makes this so essential a watch for anyone who has ever truly loved a film or who has been affected, as so many were, by the writing of the man many called the last great film critic.

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TOMMY:

Dark, atmospheric, slow-building thriller in classic Scandi style. That’d be the quick description of Tommy, a tough depiction of a woman’s return to the city she had fled a year before with her husband and daughter following her husband’s role in a massive robbery. She returns without said husband, the titular Tommy, and proclaims that he is soon to arrive in Stockholm with a view to claiming his share of the take. This causes a stir in the city’s seedy underbelly that will, of course, have repercussions for all involved. The film’s focus on female characters is refreshing for those of us more used to the Hollywood formula and a nice surprise is the deft performance put in by Swedish indie-pop sensation Lykke Li.

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SCHOOL OF BABEL:

Touted as a documentary cousin to 2008’s outstanding and criminally underseen Palme D’Or winner The ClassSchool of Babel takes a look at a class of young French emigres and inspects how they might integrate with each other and into French society. The film is rigorous in its approach to documenting the classroom space and one is able to get to know a bit about these characters and the challenges they, and the school system, face. Although one can’t help but feel this story would be better served being told fictionally, where there might be more freedom to explore the issues at play and more scope to create drama, the reality of these children’s lives is what gives the film its power. School of Babel is absorbing throughout and brings up a conversation as relevant across Europe now as it has ever been.

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SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN:

This gem of Chinese cinema, now regarded as one of the greatest films ever produced in that country, is finally seeing a release thanks to its inclusion in the BFI’s recent season on Chinese cinema. Made in 1948, but rejected by the Communist government for its apolitical content, Spring in a Small Town is a powerful and emotional but also incredibly subtle drama about a love triangle that forms between a woman and two childhood friends. Set in a provincial Chinese town still devastated by wartime damage, the film unfolds with exquisite delicacy and control and builds into a weighty, haunting masterpiece characterized by an erotic tension and complex beauty that have perhaps never been matched in Chinese cinema.

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posted by David

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