Film reviews: Polisse | Sing Your Song | The Five-Year Engagement | Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Alistair Harkness gives his verdict on the rest of this week’s latest cinema releases

Alistair Harkness gives his verdict on the rest of this week’s latest cinema releases

Polisse (15)

Directed by: Maïwenn

Starring: Marina Foïs, Karin Viard, Maïwenn, FrÉdÉric Pierrot

Rating: ***

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NOT as grimly unpleasant to watch as one might expect a film revolving around the Paris police department’s Child Protection Unit would be, Polisse uses the dynamic between the characters’ chaotic private lives and the bleakness of their jobs as fuel for a fairly lively character drama that provides a snapshot into a unique world. It’s almost too bad then that actress-turned-director Maïwenn chooses to make this idea so clunkingly literal by casting herself as a photographer assigned to document the unit.

Snapping away at the various officers as they grapple with the personal and bureaucratic issues they refuse to let interfere with their professional duties, she never gives us much sense of what her character’s assignment actually is.

On the plus side, a definite vitality comes from the observational approach Maïwenn deploys as the film’s director. Though the film eventually homes in on several major plot strands, it’s the film’s rich texture that proves so involving. All of human life is here and while a lot of it is ugly, the film does a good job of dramatising the fact that there are also forces of good working tirelessly to give the most vulnerable a fighting chance.

Sing Your Song (12A)

Directed by: Susan Rostock

Rating: ***

THIS documentary about pioneering singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte offers a celebratory, if rather pedestrian look at an extraordinary life. Consisting largely of well-researched archival footage and new talking-head interviews with Belafonte and his contemporaries, it quickly skips over his rise from the poverty of Depression-era Harlem and his father’s native Jamaica, to home in on his status as both a singing sensation in the 1950s (where he became the first artist to sell a million records) and an actor intent on challenging the system when it came to portrayals of race.

Indeed, it’s his political awakening (rather than his artistic one) that provides the film with its real substance. Devoted to advancing the Civil Rights cause, it’s fascinating to watch him rubbing shoulders with the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, especially as he worked with the latter to open the eyes of the former to the plight of African Americans in the United States.

There are some despicable stories of discrimination here, but also inspiring ones of how something as simple as taking a dip in a segregated hotel pool helped break down barriers. But while such things help bring his story alive, the film could have benefitted from some personal insights into the toll this took on him and his family.

The Five-Year Engagement (15)

Directed by: Nicholas Stoller

Starring: Jason Segal, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Prat

Rating: ***

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TRUE to its title, this latest Judd Apatow-produced rom-com is in no hurry to settle into predictable genre routine. As directed by Nicholas Stoller (who made the similarly baggy Forgetting Sarah Marshall) that’s both good and bad. On the one hand, the characters have a more naturalistic, organic feel as opposed to sounding like mouthpieces for misfiring jokes. On the other it can sometimes feel self-indulgent, even with actors as adorable as Emily Blunt and Jason Segal hogging the screen.

They play Violet and Tom, a newly engaged couple who are finding it impossible to nail down a wedding date. It’s not entirely their fault; life has a habit of getting in the way, most notably in the form of their respective professional lives. Unwilling to give up the chance to pursue the academic career she’s worked so hard to achieve, Violet takes a research position at a university in Michigan just as Tom is about to be made head chef in an upscale San Francisco restaurant. What follows is an occasionally insightful relationship comedy that’s works best when focusing on the effect their compromised choices have on their relationship. It’s way too long, but it’s the good stuff that ultimately lingers.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (15)

Directed by: Timur Bekmabemtov

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Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell

Rating: *

BREATHTAKINGLY silly yet thoroughly humourless, this adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s follow-up to his genre-mashing novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the sort of movie that gives fanboy cinema a bad name. Re-imaging America’s 16th president as an axe-wielding slayer of blood-suckers might sound like the stuff of giddy high-concept entertainment, but Wanted director Timur Bekmabemtov turns the premise into a pretty standard horror movie, replete with a barrage of eye-assualting 3D effects and should-know-better actors chewing scenery for a paycheque. Benjamin Walker stars as the young Honest Abe, a law-student determined to avenge his mother after a vampire took her life when he was a boy.

Tutored in the art of eliminating the undead by Dominic Cooper’s dandyish vampire expert (who has secrets of his own), he finds himself facing ever more dangerous foes as Rufus Sewell’s head-vamp starts taking an interest in him and his burgeoning relationship with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s 19th century hottie. Incredibly, Bekmabentov seems to be labouring under the impression that we should be taking this seriously and proceeds to squander countless opportunities to put a self-aware, Buffy-esque spin on the story. That said, it’s probably the only depiction of Lincoln that has you praying for the arrival of John Wilkes Booth.