Friday's Film Reviews

This week, Brad Pitt plays a WWII tank sergeant in Fury, the comedy Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, raucous comedy This is Where I Leave You, computer-animated fantasy The Book of Life, romcom Love, Rosie, and Australian horror The Babadook.

Friday's Film Reviews


At a critical juncture in David Ayer’s wartime thriller, Brad Pitt’s grizzled tank commander turns to an inexperienced new recruit and sounds the death knell on morality and diplomacy in a time of conflict.

“Ideals are peaceful, history’s violent,” he growls with an icy glare.

Those words resonate throughout Fury, a brutal, mud-spattered tour of duty during the final weeks of the Second World War, as seen through the gun sights of an M4 Sherman tank crew on a collision course with Hitler’s troops.

The film opens with Pitt’s inspirational leader stabbing an unsuspecting German officer in the eye and Ayer repeatedly sates a thirst for close-up gore with expertly choreographed battle sequences and hand-to-hand combat between ground troops.

The bloodbath temporarily abates for brotherly banter inside the claustrophobic tank, but the air is always chokingly thick with impending doom.

Fury paints a familiar picture of the hell of war, directed with testosterone-fuelled swagger by Ayer, who previously helmed the bombastic police thrillers End Of Day and Sabotage.

His script is studded with polished dialogue that doesn’t quite ring true, like when Collier berates thuggish Grady, “You’re an animal. All you understand is fist and boot”.

Or when Collier encourages Norman to sow his seeds with a pretty young German (Alicia von Rittberg) by purring, “She’s a good clean girl. If you don’t take her into that bedroom, I will”.

Pitt leads the cast with a strong performance as a battle-weary commander, who holds back a tide of anguish and uncertainty until he is alone and can allow the sobs to shake his scarred body.

Logan Lerman is equally compelling as a naive whelp, who develops a taste for killing Nazis.

Ayer obliges him with an astronomical body count and foreign fields slathered as far as the eye can see in mud, freshly spilt blood and the bodies of the fallen.

Star Rating: Rating: 78%

This is Where I Leave You

Emotional entanglements of a dysfunctional family provide the humour and pathos in Shawn Levy’s touching comedy of shared history and heartache.

Screenwriter Jonathan Tropper adapts his own bestselling novel, stitching together an entire year’s worth of TV soap opera plot threads into a freewheeling narrative that spreads joy and misery evenly among the underwritten characters.

Revelations come ridiculously thick and fast, requiring ever greater suspensions of disbelief, to the point that we wouldn’t be surprised if one of the central clan was unmasked as an extra-terrestrial doppelganger.

Thankfully, Tropper peppers his script with sparkling one-liners and the ensemble cast flings these verbal grenades with devastating precision, cajoling us to laughter even when Shawn Levy’s film plumbs the murky depths of toilet humour.

This Is Where I Leave You fizzes pleasantly on the tongue despite screenwriter Tropper’s detours from plausibility, his occasional mawkishness and the broad strokes of his character development.

Jason Bateman mopes around like a rain-sodden puppy to curry our sympathy, while Tina Fey injects some of her usual spark and wit.

Jane Fonda has a ball as the potty-mouthed, imperious matriarch, who dispenses deep truths in one breath (“Secrets are a cancer to a family”) and toe-curling confidences about her sex life with her late husband in the next (“We made love on our first date. I don’t mind telling you, the man was hung!”)

Her comic whirlwind threatens to blow everyone else off screen and Fonda relishes the film’s only plot twist you don’t see coming. It’s a humdinger.

Home, bittersweet home.

Star Rating: 3/5 Rating: 44%

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Based on Judith Viorst’s 1972 children’s picture book, Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is an effervescent comedy about the trials and tribulations that unite a modern family.

Sweet and inoffensive to its candy-coloured core, Miguel Arteta’s film bursts with good intentions and wholesome ideals, teaching the titular tyke a valuable lesson about weathering an emotional storm in the company of people you love.

Even if they are the sample people who unwittingly set in motion the chain reaction of mishaps and misadventures.

Rob Lieber’s simplistic and episodic script ricochets between the different family members as their carefully ordered worlds implode: a mother races against time to prevent Dick Van Dyke (playing himself) from reading her children’s book replete with an embarrassing typo; a father inadvertently sets himself on fire while trying to impress potential employers at a job interview; a daughter guzzles cough syrup to overcome a stinking cold that jeopardises her starring role in a school production of Peter Pan.

Anything that can go wrong does and Arteta captures each cartoonish calamity with a light touch, playing for laughs rather than revelling in the pain behind the pratfalls.

Alexander And The Terrible... is an entertaining half-term treat for all ages that doesn’t drizzle on the sentimentality too thick.

Oxenbould is an appealingly awkward hero and Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner offer robust support, embracing the broad physical comedy that their roles demand including a frenzied bicycle ride and a bruising encounter with an ostrich.

“I think you’ve got to have the bad days so you can love the good days even more,” philosophises Alexander towards the end of this madcap journey of self-discovery.

All together now: awwwww.

Star Rating: 3/5 Rating: 64%

The Book of Life

In Mexican culture, Dia de los Muertos or Day Of The Dead is an important annual gathering for families and friends to honour the memory of loved ones who are no longer with them.

The three-day celebration, which begins on October 31, traditionally involves adorning graves and specially constructed altars with sugar skulls, flowers and other gifts with special significance to the departed.

This fiesta of remembrance provides a vibrant and poignant backdrop to Jorge R Gutierrez’s fantastical computer-animated fable about three friends, who discover there is love after death.

The Book Of Life razzle dazzles our eyes, especially in 3D, cramming as much retina-searing colour and detail as possible into each frame.

Co-writer Douglas Lansdale adds plentiful humour to offset the film’s air of tragedy including a chorus of singing nuns and a waspish grandmother, voiced by Grey DeLisle, who scene-steals with every purse-lipped outburst.

The Book Of Life inhabits a macabre universe that Tim Burton has made his own but director Gutierrez and his team of animators opt for a more jaunty, upbeat tone enhanced by a bouncy soundtrack replete with cover versions of Elvis Presley, Radiohead and Rod Stewart.

“What is it with Mexicans and death?” asks a goth kid on the museum tour, somewhat tongue in cheek.

Diego Luna and Channing Tatum deliver lively vocal performances and Zoe Saldana essays a spunky heroine, who epitomises girl power, flanked by a cute porcine sidekick.

Action sequences are orchestrated at a brisk pace, punctuated by soaring serenades.

Gutierrez’s film strikes a pleasing balance between giggles and soul-searching, tackling tricky themes of mortality, self-sacrifice and the afterlife without giving young audiences nightmares.

Star Rating: Rating: 81%

The Babadook

Children’s literature is littered with murder, suffering and diabolical villains.

Age-old fairytales feature a wolf devouring a helpless grandmother, ugly sisters hacking off toes and heels to squeeze their feet into a glass slipper, a mermaid enduring the pain of walking on knives and a witch fattening up siblings to roast in her oven.

The Babadook joins this illustrious list.

The titular boogeyman of Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent’s debut feature is a menacing figure in a top hat and black cloak, who stalks the pages of a children’s pop-up book and slowly manifests in the real world.

A nerve-frayed mother is driven to the brink of infanticide by this hideously gnarled spectre while her hyperactive son faces the insidious threat with a cleverly handmade dart gun and portable catapult.

Perfect bedtime reading for those of a nervous disposition.

The Babadook is an impressive debut from Kent, drawing emotional power from the strong performances of Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, who gel perfectly.

The writer-director conjures some genuinely unsettling scenes of domestic disturbance and sensibly keeps the clawed antagonist off screen for the best part of an hour, hinting at unspeakable horrors that lurk in shadowy corners and beneath beds.

Once The Babadook slinks into the light and announces it presence with a death rattle growl, the film loses its power to shock and any feelings of skin-crawling dread are reduced to an itch.

Hardcore horror fans will find it a tad lightweight but for scaredy cats like me, Kent’s descent into the darkness is definitely worth a scratch.

Star Rating: Rating: 95%


Good things come to those who wait. Unfortunately, so too does Serena.

Shot in the early summer of 2012, just as the first instalment of The Hunger Games was exploding on the big screen, Susanne Bier’s blood-smeared period drama has taken a long time to navigate the choppy waters of post-production.

In the interim, the Danish writer-director has made the frothy romantic comedy All You Need Is Love starring Pierce Brosnan and the thriller A Second Chance.

Meanwhile, luminous lead stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have become the toast of Hollywood with their on-screen pairings in the Oscar-winning romance Silver Linings Playbook and swinging crime caper American Hustle.

In Serena, they play love-struck newlyweds, who succumb to jealousy and poisonous desire in the North Carolina mountains at the end of the 1920s.

Romance is kindled at breakneck speed – within minutes of glimpsing his expertly coiffed co-star, Cooper is telling her dreamily, “I think we should be married” – and screenwriter Christopher Kyle adopts a similarly hurried approach to characterisation and narrative development in his haphazard adaptation of the book by Ron Rash.

These gaps in plot and logic become increasingly apparent in the film’s overwrought second act, relying heavily on Lawrence to hold the film together with her histrionics.

She’s a cracking actress, but no one could single-handedly keep this runaway train on the tracks.

Serena feels like it has been crudely bolted together in the editing room.

Bier and cinematographer Morten Soborg capture breathtakingly beautiful vistas of the Czech Republic, which stands in for North Carolina, but style repeatedly trumps substance.

There’s a palpable lack of fluidity to the narrative and the heroine’s descent into murderous mayhem happens in the blink of an eye.

In the absence of a well-structured script, Lawrence and Cooper barely flesh out their undernourished characters while Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones and European co-stars struggle to pin down wandering American accents.

Star Rating: 2/5 Rating: 29%

Love, Rosie

The course of true love never did run smooth and it follows an infuriatingly long-winded route in Love, Rosie.

Based on Cecelia Ahern’s 2004 novel Where Rainbows End, Christian Ditter’s exasperating comedy of errors concerns two attractive, intelligent and good-humoured best friends, who waste some of the best years of their lives ignoring how ideally suited they are.

Instead, the perfectly aligned protagonists pursue unfulfilling relationships with other people or embrace solitude rather than taking a tiny leap of faith from friendship to something deeper.

The film is built on traditional romcom foundations, flinging obstacles in the path of the best friends to explain why we have to sit through 12 years of their dithering before the inevitable moment of surrender.

Juliette Towhidi’s script surfs a wave of silliness and falls over in pivotal scenes including an argument, which culminates with the eponymous heroine caterwauling, “Can you stop the psychobabble and can we talk like English people?”

On this evidence, no they can’t.

Love, Rosie will test the patience of the most hopeless romantic.

Collins and Claflin age over the course of the film from nervous 18-years-olds to jaded thirty-somethings simply by changing their hairstyles.

Our incredulity reaches its peak when a resplendent 25-year-old Collins stands next to talented 13-year-old actress Lily Laight and we’re asked to believe they are single mother and daughter.

Of the supporting cast, only Winstone registers, having a ball as a straight-talking confidante, whose dyed hair is as colourful as her language.

If it was possible to develop a 5D cinema experience and allow audiences to physically reach into the screen and slap characters, I would have battered and bruised the two leads senseless within the opening 15 minutes.

Star Rating: 2/5 Rating: 36%

In Selected Cinemas…


Lukasz Palkowski directs this biopic of pioneering cardio surgeon Professor Zbigniew Religa (Tomasz Kot), who performed the first successful heart transplant in Poland in the 1980s at a time when removing a heart from a body was considered a grave offence against religion and morality.

Religa and a team of talented young doctors dare to defy the medical establishment and the prevailing mood of the era to give their patients a second chance at a rich, fulfilling life.

However, the professor faces staunch resistance and needs to fight tooth and nail for medical equipment and funding to carry out his controversial surgical procedures. Rating: N/A

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