Paul Whitington reviews this week's other movie releases.
A dense and worthy drama adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, The Children Act stars Emma Thompson as a high court judge with rather a lot on her plate. The Honorable Mrs Justice Fiona Maye goes about her work with a weary but authoritative air, and faces a case that would test Solomon himself when the quandary of a seriously ill teenager lands on her desk.
Seventeen-year-old Adam (Fionn Whitehead) has been diagnosed with leukaemia, and will die if he's not given a blood transfusion. But he's a Jehovah's Witness, and his parents are against the procedure, as their faith decrees that human blood is the sacred repository of the individual's spirit. Eventually, she comes down in favour of medical intervention, but meanwhile the boy has become besotted with her. And to make matters worse, Fiona's husband Jack (Stanley Tucci), weary of a lack of marital intimacy, has announced that he intends to have an affair.
Emma Thompson is excellent as the embattled judge, who goes about her work decisively and sensitively but responds with furious silence to problems of her own. Ian McEwan's screenplay explores the emotional toll of making decisions about other people's lives, but Richard Eyre's film is staid, structurally unsound and has an unfinished feel.
In most spy films women are objects, damsels in distress, but in the comic spoof The Spy Who Dumped Me, they become protagonists. LA shop worker Audrey (Mila Kunis) is furious when her dashing but secretive boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) dumps her by text. But when her flat is besieged by armed assassins, she finds out Drew's a CIA agent, and Audrey and her excitable best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) race off across Europe in possession of a flash drive that everyone seems to want.
Susanna Fogel's film is surprisingly violent, though you could just about argue that most of it is cartoonish. While no masterpiece, its gender politics are robust, and it's very funny in parts thanks to the wonderful Kate McKinnon, who has a rare gift for mimicry and accents, though her cockney one could do with some work.
Ever wonder why a hairy little animal patrols the hedges in your back garden, growling at imaginary foes in the bushes and marking out its territory with pee? At some point in humanity's distant past, a Stone Age visionary figured out a way of befriending a wild wolf and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. Alpha imagines how it might have happened.
Kodi Smit-McPhee is Keda, the gentle son of a Stone Age tribal chief who leads a hunting expedition across the treacherous plains of Paleolithic Europe. After the hunters corner a herd of giant bison at the head of a steep cliff, Keda falls hundreds of feet onto a ledge, where he lies lifeless and is presumed dead. When he comes to, the tribe is gone and the wounded young man must somehow make his home before winter comes. In his way stand lions, bears and packs of wolves, but when he injures one of those wolves and tends to it, a tentative bond is formed. Alpha is splendidly photographed, nicely paced, and allows us to imagine what it must have been like to live short, brutal, vivid lives surrounded by natural predators.
And finally, a word about Luis and the Aliens, a slight and inoffensive cartoon from German animators Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein. Shy, awkward 11-year-old Luis lives a lonely existence and is neglected by his dad, a quasi-scientist who's obsessed with impending alien invasions. Everyone in the neighbourhood thinks he's a crackpot, and so does Luis until three blobby, fun-loving, shape-shifting extraterrestrials turn up to change his life forever. It's passably animated but clumsily written, and not especially original: it did amuse the junior reviewer who accompanied me, though.