Friday, July 13, 2018

'Trace' has humanity; 'Bother' some real soul; and Rock's in a high place

An abundance of calm images and tones speak volumes in "Leave No Trace," the occasionally stunning mix of silence and possible rage in the ever-searching mind of a troubled war vet trying to protect his teen daughter from all things real and imagined.

McKenzie and Foster attempt to "Leave No Trace."
Something dark obviously has occurred in the life of a guy named Will (the ever-intensely qualified Ben Foster), but don't even try to piece it together, even with a little mention of his daughter's mom, his visit to a VA hospital, and that constant desire to hide from the rest of the world.

His is the latest down-on-their-luck story from writer/director Debra Granik, whose Appalachia-based "Winter's Bone" earned four Oscar nominations, including one for then-unknown Jennifer Lawrence. Now a young New Zealander, Thomasin McKenzie, starts to blaze her own career/coming-of-age trail in the Oregon wilderness that has become the purposeful home for her and Dad.

Will shows the 13-year-old all things necessary to fend for herself and mostly hide from authorities apparently attempting to keep the national park lands free of homeless types. The girl, simply called "Tom," listens and watches intently, and the best part is that so do we.

The reason? Because Granik, whose film is based on a book called "My Abandonment," fills the screen with humanity in an assortment of characters (especially ones so nicely played by Dana Millican, Jeff Kober and Dale Dickey) doing their jobs and at least offering the rare opportunity to connect with others

Rated "PG": thematic material throughout; 1:49; $ $ $ $ out of $5 

In "Sorry to Bother You," the first directorial effort from rapper/activist Boots Riley, the catchphrase in a featured warehouse full of Oakland telemarketers becomes "Stick to the Script." But, who knows if Riley actually really followed that same directive in making his own weird tale of corporate shenanigans, which genuinely do focus enough on outrageous workplace humor in the first hour or so to carry much of his movie's comic payoff.

Meet Stanfield and Thompson, the odd couple in "Sorry to Bother You."
Thankfully, Riley depends on a broke but mostly balanced job-seeker named Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield from "Get Out" and TV's "Atlanta") to hep carry the load. I mean, you know you're not simply watching the same ol' same old when this new telemarketer's phone fortunes seriously skyrocket after a wise co-worker (Danny Glover) shows him how to improve his pitch by using a "white voice."

The sales technique, on display in a variety of very funny imagined bits with the people on the other end of the line, quickly wins Cassius a promotion, some newfound devotion from his performance-artist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and, eventually, a few very bizarre introductions to the wild, wacky and white clients he's actually phoning for.

That last important item includes a fateful one-on-one with a corporate bigwig (Armie Hammer) who takes Riley's already offbeat tale into an entirely different realm, perhaps as inspired by the huge success of last year's genre-bending "Get Out." Or not.

Certainly "Bother" presents enough pointed satire to get around famously on its own. Maybe Riley can turn all his visionary potential into something just a bit more accessible next time.

Rated "R": pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use; 1:45; $ $ $ out of $5

That brings us to today's most mainstream movie opener, "Skyscraper," a perfect vehicle for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to strut his muscular, heroic stuff (with obvious bows to "Die Hard," "The Towering Inferno" and even Orson Welles' "The Lady From Shanghai").

Rock and Campbell roll through "Skyscraper."
The latter title deserves big time credit for influencing an impressive ending that continues to show off this film's major asset, the special effects that dazzle in, outside and around the Hong Kong "Pearl." The spectacular building is billed as the newest, tallest and safest in the world, and why shouldn't it be with our man Rock as its security adviser? Huh?

How he earned that job is told quickly and easily and not without some exciting flashbacks, but the here and now involves why the skyscraper is burning, running filthy with bad guys, and has our hero desperately needing to save the day -- and more!

Although none of it seems remotely plausible, Neve Campbell's own surprising talents as Rock's smart, strong-willed wife and loving mother of their two kids almost rescues the film from ho-hum expectations. You continue to go, girl!

Rated "PG-13": sequences of gun violence and action, and brief strong language; 1:43; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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