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Film round-up: August 30

ALAN FRANK and MARIA DUARTE review Cold War, The Happytime Murders, Searching, C'est La Vie/Le Sens de la Fete and Upgrade

Cold War (15)
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski


“WE HAVE a great tradition of films but no Oscars, so this feels really great,” said Polish-born film-maker Pawel Pawlikowski on winning the 2015 Academy Award for best foreign film with Ida.


“I hope it encourages the world to look at Polish cinema again,” he adds.


Pawlikowski proves his point unforgettably with this deeply affecting story about the profound love affair between two ostensibly mismatched Polish musicians in a relationship that develops over 15 years from peasant life in cold-war Poland in the 1940s to jazz clubs in 1950s Paris and then back to Poland.


Their on-off romance is sparked when musical director Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) chooses Zula (Joanna Kulig) to join a performing arts school charged with promoting a positive image of post-war Poland.


Before long the couple embark on a 15-year-long on-off and emotion-driven affair in a film, inspired by Pawlikowki’s parents' relationship, that brilliantly and uniquely combines an all too credible account of their liaison with a sharp and unforgettable portrait of the period.


Spot-on-performances and sharp storytelling, impeccably complemented by Lukasz Zal’s moody monochrome cinematography, create a superb and deeply affecting drama that rightly won Pawlikowski the best director award at Cannes.


One of those rare films that deserves a second viewing.


Alan Frank


The Happytime Murders (15)
Directed by Brian Henson


OUTRAGEOUS, sleazy and downright dirty, with Muppet-style puppets as you have never seen them before, The Happytime Murders is a combination of noir murder mystery and comedy thriller aimed squarely at adults.


Directed by Brian Henson, son of Muppet creator Jim Henson, it centres on disgraced former detective-turned-private eye puppet Phil Philips (a sublime Bill Barretta), who's forced to team up with his human ex-partner, detective Connie Edwards (an on-form Melissa McCarthy), to solve the murders of the cast of much-loved puppet TV show The Happytime Gang.


Think Who Killed Roger Rabbit meets Fatal Attraction but with potty-mouthed Muppet “miscreants,” as Henson describes them, indulging in puppet porn — the scene involving a screaming cow can never be unseen — drugs and sex, one of the highlights of the film.


In a world where humans and puppets cohabit and the latter are treated as second-class citizens, the film explores themes of racism, sexual discrimination and misogyny — a fascinating premise — and the cast (McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale and Leslie David Baker) were clearly having a blast.


My only beef is that it should have been more subversive, filthier and funnier.


Maria Duarte


Searching (12A)
Directed by Aneesh Chaganty


IF YOU saw the ultimately overdone thriller Unfriended: Dark Web and don’t fancy another computer-driven suspenser, think again. Director Aneesh Chaganty, who co-wrote the script with Sev Ohanian, has created a suspenser set on laptops and mobiles screens which grabs you fast and keeps you gripped.


The masterful storytelling has Californian David Kim (a perfectly cast John Cho) discovering that his 18-year-old daughter is missing.


Local police detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is assigned to the case but, with the hours passing and no leads found, Kim resorts to hacking into his daughter’s laptop in search of clues to her disappearance.


The compelling narrative, taking place almost entirely on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, is aided by Will Merric and Nick Johnson’s shrewd editing and this fascinating directorial debut had me riveted from start to finish.




C'est La Vie/Le Sens de la Fete (15)
Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano


THIS charming French farce about a disgruntled wedding caterer and his team's last event is a comedy-of-errors gem.


Jean Pierre Bacri is magnificent as the long-suffering and acerbic Max Angely, who caters for the wedding from hell at a 17th century French palace in which everything that could go wrong goes wrong — incompetent and volatile staff, food poisoning, an obnoxious groom flying off into the night following a pretentious performance art skit, Max's marriage crumbling away and his mistress flirting with one of the waiters.


Co-writers and directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano deliver a complex but delightful comedy which unfolds at breakneck speed over the course of a day and effortlessly and ingeniously whips up many laugh-out-loud moments along the way.


French comedy gold.




Upgrade (15)
Directed by Leigh Whannell


PROBABLY the biggest surprise in yet another horror show is that Jason Blum — the man behind B-feature shockers like Creep, The Lazarus Effect and Happy Death Day — also produced Spike Lee’s lauded Black KkKlansman.


But this tall tale, populated with familiar stereotypes, is no putative Spike Lee classic.


Instead, writer-director Leigh Whannell delivers a violent tsunami which sees Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) — left paralysed after a mugging whose villainous perpetrators murdered his wife — accepting a revolutionary “cure” offered him by a billionaire inventor.


His new implant gives Trace mobility and extraordinary physical powers that he uses to wreak vengeance against his attackers.


Whannell, who made such cutting-edge shockers as the sadistic Saw movies, unsurprisingly delivers action and fight sequences rather than credible characterisation.


Genre fans seeking visceral blood-and-guts thrills rather than credible characters or plausible plotting are patently the target of the Australian film-maker. On that box-office focused level, Upgrade delivers.





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