PICK OF THIS WEEK’S FILMS
Adapted from Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment by director Debra Granik and screenwriting partner Anne Rosellini, Leave No Trace is a restrained yet profoundly moving portrait of the indomitable spirit that binds backwoods communities in the face of poverty and bureaucratic meddling. The film is shot through the inquisitive eyes of a teenage girl (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), who has been home-schooled since birth by her fiercely protective father (Ben Foster) and has never been allowed to socially integrate with other children. This emotionally bruised family chooses to live beneath the swaying canopy of a sprawling forest in Portland, Oregon. Leave No Trace explores bonds between troubled parents and resourceful children living on the fringes of society, and the harsh sacrifices that are sometimes made in the name of love.
Californian actress Shailene Woodley anchors an extraordinary true story of survival against the odds in the aftermath of a category four storm, which tore across the Pacific in the autumn of 1983. Baltasar Kormakur’s picture sails into similarly choppy waters as the 2013 one-hander All is Lost, which pitted Robert Redford against the raging elements of the Indian Ocean in a stricken boat. The Icelandic filmmaker shows an equally sure footing at sea, nimbly choreographing action sequences that quicken the pulse. He reserves the pivotal setpiece for the second half, marshalling digital effects and directorial brio to propel ill-fated lovebirds into the eye of a storm and a towering wall of water that will surely smash their yacht to smithereens. We are left in no doubt about the devastation wrought by Mother Nature on a couple who never thought they would be stranded for 41 days and 1,500 miles from salvation.
SICARIO 2: SOLDADO (15)
Expectations were high following the popular reception of 2015’s Sicario film, so Italian director Stefano Sollima arguably had big boots to fill when he took over from Denis Villeneuve for the sequel. Josh Brolin returns as CIA agent Matt Graver alongside Benicio del Toro, who reprises his role as lawyer-turned-hitman Alejandro, and the pair are a formidable on-screen force. Tasked by the American government to find out if Mexican drug gangs are trafficking terrorists across the border, they concoct a plan to provoke cartel bloodshed by kidnapping Isabela Reyes, the young daughter of one of the big bosses. Transformers actress Isabela Moner, 16, is impressive as the gutsy, headstrong character and she more than holds her own against her seasoned co-stars. There’s a complexity to writer Taylor Sheridan’s characters that keeps you guessing and you’re never quite sure what their next move will be. As a viewer, though, you are left hoping Sheridan’s next move will be to write a third film.
The Bible suggests that when we cross the threshold to adulthood, we should put away childish things. The quintet of fortysomething men, who reunite every year in Jeff Tomsic’s potty-mouthed buddy comedy, blow a raspberry at the idea of responsible behaviour. This merry band of suited professionals, wastrels and dreamers stave off the spectre of middle age by devoting one month every year to the playground game of tag, travelling between states and donning disguises if necessary to touch an unsuspecting victim. The last person to be tagged as the bell tolls midnight on May 31 is deemed the loser until the following year when the high jinks begin again.
THE BOOKSHOP (PG)
In an early scene from Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet’s adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel, one kindly resident of the Suffolk coastal town of Hardborough complains that reading is a physical ordeal for a working man. “Books leave me exhausted,” despairs the seafarer. “Real life’s enough for me.” Alas, the big screen version of The Bookshop also inspires an unshakable weariness despite committed performances from Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy as the only residents of the close-knit town willing to surrender themselves to the intoxicating power of the written word. Shot on location in Northern Ireland and Spain, Coixet’s well-crafted portrait of narrow-mindedness and petty rivalry is crammed with a bewildering array of accents far from the maddening, parochial crowd that emerges vividly on the page.
OCEAN’S 8 (12A)
Crime pays handsomely in a convoluted and effervescent caper, which continues the misadventures of the larcenous Ocean family from Steven Soderbergh’s trilogy. Director Gary Ross’s stylish picture features an all-female lead cast spearheaded by Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. They plot an ambitious jewel robbery in plain sight which subtly acknowledges seismic shifts in gender politics by refusing to hire a male accomplice and strain the bonds of sisterly solidarity. The loosely coiled plot requires similar suspensions of disbelief to previous chapters but there’s a loopy logic to each narrative twist and our enjoyment stems from watching the pieces of an elaborate puzzle fall into place.
Modern horror films seldom prioritise nerve-shredding suspense – the kind of creeping dread that sends beads of sweat trickling down your spine and haunts your waking dreams. Writer-director Ari Aster’s twisted family portrait comes close to repeating the feat, only to descend into madness with a loopy final act that will sharply divide and perplex audiences who have been biting their nails down to the cuticle for the previous 90 minutes. Hereditary performs a cinematic striptease, holding our gaze (even when we want to look away) by peeling away the layers of darkness and deceit that condemn one grief-stricken family led by miniaturist artist Annie Graham (Toni Collette) to a grim fate.
THE HAPPY PRINCE (15)
Taking its title from a short story for children by Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince is an elegiac account of the final years of the Irish playwright and poet following his incarceration for gross indecency. The film is a passion project for director, writer and lead actor Rupert Everett. His deep emotional connection to his subject is evident in a compelling, nuanced performance which doesn’t shy away from the self-destructive impulses that led Wilde to his grave during a tumultuous exile in France at the turn of the 20th century. His fall from grace is agonisingly slow and painful, and the script takes its time to explore the various personal relationships that sustained Wilde in his twilight years and also tore him apart.
SUPER TROOPERS 2 (15)
If there is a germ of truth in the promise of good things coming to those who wait then Super Troopers 2, the belated sequel to Jay Chandrasekhar’s goofy 2001 comedy, should deliver 95 minutes of hilarity.
The film’s production budget – more than US$4.6 million – was raised through a crowd-funding website by devoted fans, who were desperate to see more high jinks channelling the anarchic spirit of the Police Academy series. They should demand their money back because Super Troopers 2 is a miserable excuse for entertainment, which repeatedly pokes fun at the cultural divide between America and Canada without any obvious purpose or punchlines to hit a target.
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (12A)
Now five films in, the old formula of dinosaurs, dastardly hunters and the human heroes who save the day should be running out of puff. But Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard coming on board in 2015 gave it fresh legs and with director JA Bayona they manage to squeeze a few more thrills out of it here. This time, the dinos are in peril from a volcano. Former park manager Claire (Dallas Howard) is offered a sanctuary for them, and with her old flame Owen (Pratt) in tow, all that remains is getting the beasts from A to B.
Born and raised in London to a Scottish father, Lee Alexander McQueen was a tortured genius of working-class origins who challenged the fashion establishment with his catwalk shows influenced by death, depravity and violence. Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui’s lavishly designed documentary charts the rise of the openly gay trailblazer from his awkward teenage years through an enduring friendship with mentor Isabella Blow (she persuaded him to trade under his middle name) and a controversial appointment as lead designer of Parisian fashion house Givenchy. Archive footage and recollections from mentors – McQueen listened obsessively to Sinead O’Connor, confides Red Or Dead’s John McKitterick – are intermingled with the designer’s personal testimony about his craft and a penchant for shocking his audience.
THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS (12A)
Sophie Brooks’ slight but appealing comedy drama is set in the kind of New York where no one seems to have a well paid job yet they live in lovely apartments while figuring out what to do with their lives. Zosia Mamet plays Diana, a budding writer who moves back to the US after a stint in London, only to find the flat she has found is upstairs from her ex-boyfriend. Mamet is very watchable, but mention of the Lady Bird writer-director is a reminder of how difficult it can be to do this sort of light-as-a-feather, comedy drama well.
Benicio del Toro as Alejandro Gillick and Josh Brolin as Matt Graver in Sicario 2: Soldado