New Releases: 23rd February


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.



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.



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.



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.   



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.



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.



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.



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.


posted by David

Roger Ebert’s Letter to Werner Herzog


Dear Werner,

You have done me the astonishing honor of dedicating your new film, “Encounters at the End of the World,” to me. Since I have admired your work beyond measure for the almost 40 years since we first met, I do not need to explain how much this kindness means to me. When I saw the film at the Toronto Film Festival and wrote to thank you, I said I wondered if it would be a conflict of interest for me to review the film, even though of course you have made a film I could not possibly dislike. I said I thought perhaps the solution was to simply write you a letter.

But I will review the film, my friend, when it arrives in theaters on its way to airing on the Discovery Channel. I will review it, and I will challenge anyone to describe my praise as inaccurate.

I will review it because I love great films and must share my enthusiasm.

This is not that review. It is the letter. It is a letter to a man whose life and career have embodied a vision of the cinema that challenges moviegoers to ask themselves questions not only about films but about lives. About their lives, and the lives of the people in your films, and your own life.


Without ever making a movie for solely commercial reasons, without ever having a dependable source of financing, without the attention of the studios and the oligarchies that decide what may be filmed and shown, you have directed at least 55 films or television productions, and we will not count the operas. You have worked all the time, because you have depended on your imagination instead of budgets, stars or publicity campaigns. You have had the visions and made the films and trusted people to find them, and they have. It is safe to say you are as admired and venerated as any filmmaker alive–among those who have heard of you, of course. Those who do not know your work, and the work of your comrades in the independent film world, are missing experiences that might shake and inspire them.

I have not seen all your films, and do not have a perfect memory, but I believe you have never made a film depending on sex, violence or chase scenes. Oh, there is violence in “Lessons of Darkness,” about the Kuwait oil fields aflame, or “Grizzly Man,” or “Rescue Dawn.” But not “entertaining violence.” There is sort of a chase scene in “Even Dwarfs Started Small.” But there aren’t any romances.


You have avoided this content, I suspect, because it lends itself so seductively to formulas, and you want every film to be absolutely original.

You have also avoided all “obligatory scenes,” including artificial happy endings. And special effects (everyone knows about the real boat in “Fitzcarraldo,” but even the swarms of rats in “Nosferatu” are real rats, and your strong man in “Invincible” actually lifted the weights). And you don’t use musical scores that tell us how to feel about the content. Instead, you prefer free-standing music that evokes a mood: You use classical music, opera, oratorios, requiems, aboriginal music, the sounds of the sea, bird cries, and of course Popol Vuh.

All of these decisions proceed from your belief that the audience must be able to believe what it sees. Not its “truth,” but its actuality, its ecstatic truth.

You often say this modern world is starving for images. That the media pound the same paltry ideas into our heads time and again, and that we need to see around the edges or over the top. When you open “Encounters at the End of the World” by following a marine biologist under the ice floes of the South Pole, and listening to the alien sounds of the creatures who thrive there, you show me a place on my planet I did not know about, and I am richer. You are the most curious of men. You are like the storytellers of old, returning from far lands with spellbinding tales.

I remember at the Telluride Film Festival, ten or 12 years ago, when you told me you had a video of your latest documentary. We found a TV set in a hotel room and I saw “Bells from the Deep,” a film in which you wandered through Russia observing strange beliefs.

There were the people who lived near a deep lake, and believed that on its bottom there was a city populated by angels. To see it, they had to wait until winter when the water was crystal clear, and then creep spread-eagled onto the ice. If the ice was too thick, they could not see well enough. Too thin, and they might drown. We heard the ice creaking beneath them as they peered for their vision.


Then we met a monk who looked like Rasputin. You found that there were hundreds of “Rasputins,” some claiming to be Jesus Christ, walking through Russia with their prophecies and warnings. These people, and their intense focus, and the music evoking another world (as your sound tracks always do) held me in their spell, and we talked for some time about the film, and then you said, “But you know, Roger, it is all made up.” I did not understand. “It is not real. I invented it.”

I didn’t know whether to believe you about your own film. But I know you speak of “ecstatic truth,” of a truth beyond the merely factual, a truth that records not the real world but the world as we dream it.

Your documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” begins with a real man, Dieter Dengler, who really was a prisoner of the Viet Cong, and who really did escape through the jungle and was the only American who freed himself from a Viet Cong prison camp. As the film opens, we see him entering his house, and compulsively opening and closing windows and doors, to be sure he is not locked in. “That was my idea,” you told me. “Dieter does not really do that. But it is how he feels.”

The line between truth and fiction is a mirage in your work.

Some of the documentaries contain fiction, and some of the fiction films contain fact. Yes, you really did haul a boat up a mountainside in “Fitzcarraldo,” even though any other director would have used a model, or special effects. You organized the ropes and pulleys and workers in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, and hauled the boat up into the jungle. And later, when the boat seemed to be caught in a rapids that threatened its destruction, it really was. This in a fiction film. The audience will know if the shots are real, you said, and that will affect how they see the film.

I understand this. What must be true, must be true. What must not be true, can be made more true by invention. Your films, frame by frame, contain a kind of rapturous truth that transcends the factually mundane. And yet when you find something real, you show it.


You based “Grizzly Man” on the videos that Timothy Treadwell took in Alaska during his summers with wild bears. In Antarctica, in “Encounters at the End of the World,” you talk with real people who have chosen to make their lives there in a research station. Some are “linguists on a continent with no language,” you note, others are “PhDs working as cooks.” When a marine biologist cuts a hole in the ice and dives beneath it, he does not use a rope to find his way back to the small escape circle in the limitless shelf above him, because it would restrict his research. When he comes up, he simply hopes he can find the hole. This is all true, but it is also ecstatic truth.

In the process of compiling your life’s work, you have never lost your sense of humor. Your narrations are central to the appeal of your documentaries, and your wonder at human nature is central to your fiction. In one scene you can foresee the end of life on earth, and in another show us country musicians picking their guitars and banjos on the roof of a hut at the South Pole. You did not go to Antarctica, you assure us at the outset, to film cute penguins. But you did film one cute penguin, a penguin that was disoriented, and was steadfastly walking in precisely the wrong direction–into an ice vastness the size of Texas. “And if you turn him around in the right direction,” you say, “he will turn himself around, and keep going in the wrong direction, until he starves and dies.” The sight of that penguin waddling optimistically toward his doom would be heartbreaking, except that he is so sure he is correct.

But I have started to wander off like the penguin, my friend.

I have started out to praise your work, and have ended by describing it. Maybe it is the same thing. You and your work are unique and invaluable, and you ennoble the cinema when so many debase it. You have the audacity to believe that if you make a film about anything that interests you, it will interest us as well. And you have proven it.

With admiration,



posted by Dixie Turner

Stanley Kubrick’s Top 10 Favourite Films…


In 1963, Stanley Kubrick submitted the below list of his Top 10 favourite films to American magazine, Cinema – this is the first, and apparently only, time he ever submitted such a list:


1. I Vitelloni (Fellini, 1953)

2. Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957) – what an inspired poster!

Viktor: When you were little you believed in Santa Claus. Now you believe in God.

Kubrick, in a letter to Ingmar Bergman: “I believe you are the greatest film-maker at work today. Beyond that, allow me to say you are unsurpassed by anyone in the creation of mood and atmosphere, the subtlety of performance, the avoidance of the obvious, the truthfulness and completeness of characterization.”

Poster - Citizen Kane_02
3. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)

4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948)

5. City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)

Kubrick on Chaplin:

“If something is really happening on the screen, it isn’t crucial how it’s shot. Chaplin had such a simple cinematic style that it was almost like I Love Lucy, but you were always hypnotised by what was going on, unaware of the essentially non-cinematic style. He frequently used cheap sets, routine lighting and so forth, but he made great films. His films will probably last longer than anyone else’s.”

6. Henry V (Olivier, 1944)


7. La notte (Antonioni, 1961)

8. The Bank Dick (Fields, 1940)

Roger Ebert on W.C. Fields:

“Assimilating the unique fact of W.C. Fields is a lifelong occupation for any filmgoer, conducted from time to time according to no particular plan. There is not a single Fields film that “must” be seen in order to qualify as a literate movie lover, and yet if you are not eventually familiar with Fields you are not a movie lover at all. What is amazing about him is that he exists at all. He is not lovely, and although he is graceful it is a lugubrious grace, a kind of balance in a high psychic wind. All of his scenes depend, in one way or another, on sharing his private state: He is unloved, he detests life, he is hung over, he wants a drink, he is startled by sudden movements and loud noises, he has no patience for fools, everyone is a fool, and middle-class morality is a conspiracy against the man who wants to find surcease in alcoholic bliss. These are not the feelings of his characters; they are his own feelings.”

9. Roxie Hart (Wellman, 1942)

10. Hell’s Angels (Hughes, 1930) – unbelievable trailer, by the way, that so callously boasts of the “ariel combat so real it took the lives of three pilots…”

posted by Dixie Turner

So sorry we don’t have Zardoz (1974) on DVD…

… because it looks amazing. A film Roger Ebert described as an “exercise in self-indulgence” on the part of director, John Boorman, who, following the success of the unforgettable Deliverance (1972) – one of the greatest films of the 70s, could basically do whatever he liked.  And this is what that ‘whatever’ looks like (and why not? we ask):

1524628_10153867148915487_480391146_nStraight away alarm bells are ringing and about a half-dozen reasons why perhaps not spring to mind. There’s so much going on here I don’t even know where to begin… A look only the bravest should cultivate. Bound to raise a few eyebrows down at your local Weatherspoons. And, was this the inspiration for Sacha Baron-Cohen’s eye-watering Borat outfit, I wonder?

SNN11BORAT-280_612344aBut let us press on…



Zardoz.avi_snapshot_00.50.49_%5B2011.06.20_21.13.57%5DCHARLOTTE RAMPLING




On a post-apocalyptic Earth, the population is divided between the ‘Eternals’ – an immortal elite who lounge about on their country estate called ‘The Vortex’ – and the mortal ‘Brutals’ who are basically a slave race, existing in a wasteland and supplying the Eternals with food (post-apocalyptic? Sounds like London now). Zardoz, a giant flying stone head rules over the ‘Brutal Exterminators’ whose job is to liaise between the two races and collect the food from the Brutals (in our London analogy, Zardoz would presumably be Boris Johnson – a giant floppy, blonde head flying about, barking – though the flying stone head of Zardoz seems somehow more serious and believable). Sean Connery, playing one such Exterminator gets himself in a bind (not surprising given his fancy suspenders) and finds himself captured by the Eternals, experimented upon (again, perhaps not surprising) before finally escaping and destroying The Vortex along with most of the Eternals (at this point, I shall discontinue the London analogy..)

Interestingly, Ebert compares the film to Alain Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad (1961), but only in as much as both films are likely to leave your brain in a fog of bemusement. It has been described as THE place where genius and madness actually meet and many have wondered how a film with this plot – not to mention these costume designs – actually made it from conception all the way to the big screens, but I have it on good authority from two of my Video City colleagues that Zardoz is indeed as AMAZING as it looks – especially as it looks as though it were made on a budget of about £15 – and so, I repeat, so sorry we don’t have it on DVD…


Ben Wheatly (director of Sightseers, Kill List, A Field in England) discusses Zardoz in the Telegraph, and The Den of Geek celebrates Zardoz’s strangest moments.

Posted by Dixie Turner