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Review: This week's new films

PUBLISHED: 17:50 10 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:11 01 July 2010

Noah Baumbach has done it again - side-stepping Hollywood clichés in every meticulously realised scene of Greenberg, his Californian odyssey of a lost 40-something. Plus: Black Death, Brooklyn's Finest.

GREENBERG (15)

****

Noah Baumbach has done it again - side-stepping Hollywood clichés in every meticulously realised scene of his Californian odyssey of a lost 40-something.

On being discharged from a mental hospital in New York, Greenberg (Ben Stiller) finds himself in LA, housesitting for his wealthy brother. He begins a fling with the much younger Florence, his brother's assistant (Greta Gerwig), while attempting to rekindle his relationship with his ex, Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and his friendship with former bandmate, Ivan (Rhys Ifans).

But Greenberg is about character rather than plot and provides a new take on that old chestnut, the mid-life crisis.

Although an annoying character, insistent on writing letters of complaint and churlishly petty anywhere with more than three people, Baumbach handles the material so expertly that Greenberg's neuroses fail to irritate.

Harris Savide's cinematography is outstanding, depicting an overcast Los Angeles rarely seen on film - as if he deliberately took the sun away. While you might miss the fizzy dialogue of The Squid and The Whale, as far as portraying men on the edge of a nervous breakdown, Greenberg is as good as it gets.

BLACK DEATH (15)

***

Lord of the Rings star Sean Bean jumps back into the armour for this top notch British romp.

Set in medieval England, Bean plays god-fearing knight Ulric, who is charged with hunting down a witch (Carice van Houten) operating out of a village, which is unaffected by the pestilence.

Along for the ride is the usual band of soldier types and novice monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), who is already struggling with his faith thanks to a secret relationship with a beautiful young villager.

Starting off as Lord of the Rings-lite and ended as a period version of The Wicker Man, director Christopher Smith's gripping flick is dark, gruesome and disturbing in all the right places. It plays with the notions of fanaticism and superstition and builds in intensity to a squirm-inducing finale that, pleasingly, refuses to play out quite as you'd expect.

After the pretentious cruise ship horror puzzle of Triangle earlier this year, Smith has upped his game here with a satisfyingly sinister film and even manages to coax a commanding performance from Bean as the warrior who's "more dangerous than the plague".

BROOKLYN'S FINEST (18)

***

Brutal and gritty enough to keep the roads clear during the next cold snap this isn't a perfect police thriller but it sure is damn entertaining.

It puffs out its chest a bit too much and the plot pounds the same beat as far too many other police flicks but director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) tells his tale with breathtaking intensity, backed up by powerful performances from the cast.

Here he juggles the interweaving plots of three Brooklyn coppers. Old timer Eddie (Richard Gere) is one week away from retirement and couldn't care less about the job; drugs officer Sal (Ethan Hawke) steals money from dealers to provide for his growing family while undercover cop Clarence (Don Cheadle) is beginning to side with the bad guys.

But as things rocket to a showdown on a drugs-ridden estate, the thin blue line between good and bad gets harder to spot.

In that sense, Fuqua's film harks back to the bleak cop films of the 1970s (no bad thing) with Fuqua filling the screen with enough brutal violence and well orchestrated tension to make it feel, well, fresh-ish.

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