Out on Friday September 15
A maternal horror from Darren Aronofsky. A South Korean riff on Nikita from Byung-gil Jung. A return for Judi Dench as Queen Victoria. A rerelease of a Spielbergian classic.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of mother!, The Villainess, Victoria and Abdul, Kills on Wheels, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Director’s Cut, The Case for Christ, Centre of My World, My Journey through French Cinema, American Assassin, The Jungle Bunch, and My Pure Land.
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“I want to make a paradise,” says Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Darren Aronofsky’s incendiary psychological horror. The chances are slim, alas, especially with Aronofsky at the helm. After tormenting Jennifer Connelly in and Natalie Portman in , it’s now J-Law’s turn in this brooding home-invasion tale with an apocalyptic edge.
Unnamed in the film, Lawrence and Javier Bardem – called ‘Mother’ and ‘Him’, rather ominously, in the credits – play a couple living in a beautiful isolated house in the middle of an idyllic rural setting. He’s a writer and poet; she spends her days gently wishing she were pregnant while single-handedly decorating a home that, we later learn, belongs to Him and was previously gutted by a fire.
One day, a doctor (Ed Harris) comes to the door, looking for a room for the night. Invited to stay by Bardem’s blocked author, his presence leaves Lawrence’s character unsettled. The next morning, the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up, and before long, these two are making themselves very comfortable. Aronofsky controls these early scenes masterfully, drip-feeding sounds and images that tantalise and unsettle in equal measure.
Pfeiffer is particularly brilliant, a mischief-maker who arrives as the most unwelcome house guest ever, probing the proud and prudish Lawrence with questions about her fertility and sex life. Then come further uninvited arrivals (Domhnall Gleeson and his brother Brian Gleeson) in a scene that ramps the chaos up to a bloody crescendo.
Who are these people? What do they want? Why do they have an old photo of Bardem in their luggage? What’s the Zippo lighter got to do with it all? Questions, questions. Aronofsky doesn’t provide any literal answers here, rather turning mother! into an elaborate allegory about everything from fan worship to the birth of Christ to the horrors of eternal damnation.
Lawrence is ideal as the innocent lady who sees her perfect (or maybe not so perfect?) life quite literally ripped apart. Bardem likewise is excellent, hovering on the edge of maniacal glee without ever letting it overtake his performance. Such OTT acting would be entirely unnecessary, of course, given how the final act is one twisted fruit-loop of absolute insanity.
Some will undoubtedly find this repellent; others will marvel at Aronofsky’s audacious attempts to deliver a thriller every bit as disturbing as Roman Polanski’s obviously influential . After Aronofsky’s last film, the religious blockbuster , this feels decidedly Satanic.
Full of horror and hysteria, mother! never quite sustains the brilliance of its first half. But whatever your feelings, you won’t be able to stop watching for fear you might miss a second of its nuttiness.
THE VERDICT: Aronofsky’s maternal horror is the most out-there studio movie of the year. You won’t believe your eyes.
Director: Darren Aronofsky; Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
Beginning and ending with crazy-assed set-pieces to rival Woo, The Raid or Hardcore Henry, this South Korean riff on Nikita sees Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin) trained as a sleeper-cell assassin only for her first mission to be scoping ghosts from her past.
The plotting is tangled, the emotional undertow slight, but the action keeps on coming, including a blistering multi-player sword fight on speeding bikes.
Director: Byung-gil Jung; Starring: Ok-bin Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, Jun Sung; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
Victoria and Abdul
Or Mrs Brown 2, as a never- better Judi Dench reprises her Oscar-nommed role of Queen Victoria, this time striking up a controversial friendship with Indian clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal).
But this funny, touching adap of Shrabani Basu’s 2010 biography has its own chemistry, withering wit and unsentimental message of acceptance. A royal treat.
Director: Stephen Frears; Starring: Michael Gambon, Judi Dench, Olivia Williams; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
Kills on Wheels
Paraplegic hitmen in wheelchairs – that’s the offbeat concept behind Hungarian writer/director Attila Till’s movie. One’s an ex-fireman and jailbird (Szabolcs Thuróczy); his assistants (Zoltán Fenyvesi, Ádám Fekete) are young guys with a passion for comic books.
There’s a neat final twist up his sleeve – and by casting paraplegics, he avoids the easy sentimentality that subjects such as this often invite.
Director: Attila Till; Starring: Szabolcs Thuróczy, Zoltán Fenyvesi, Ádám Fekete; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Director’s Cut
This story of everyman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) making contact with ETs was a troubled shoot for Steven Spielberg. But the tension only serves a tale of obsession and sacrifice – qualities easily lost against the wondrous effects and heart-swelling hope.
This is the Director’s Cut, remastered in 4K to re-establish the mother(ship) of all finales.
Director: Steven Spielberg; Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
The Case for Christ
Dismayed when his wife suddenly finds God, an atheist reporter (Mike Vogel) sets out to debunk the Resurrection with the help of theologians, physicians and a shrink (Faye Dunaway).
Believers will be more interested in what he uncovers than the layman, who will soon identify this ’80s-set adap of Lee Strobel’s book as a tedious sermon that’s preaching to the converted.
Director: Jon Gunn; Starring: Mike Vogel, L. Scott Caldwell, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
Centre of My World
Austrian filmmaker Jakob M. Erwa adds charm and quirk to this German same-sex romance, which is part coming-of-age tale and part cryptic fantasy, focusing on teenager Phil (Louis Hofmann) falling for an enigmatic Adonis.
Sadly, angsty sub-plots ultimately threaten to derail a central narrative that otherwise perfectly captures the joy and anxiety of adolescence.
Director: Jakob M. Erwa; Starring: Bendix Hansen, Sarah Fuhrer, Louis Hofmann; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
My Journey through French Cinema
Inspired by Martin Scorsese’s journeys through US and Italian cinema, French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier investigates his own country’s cinematic history.
Including clips from nearly 100 films made between the ’30s and ’70s, he pays heartfelt tribute to the directors, stars and composers who ignited his passion.
Director: Bertrand Tavernier; Starring: Bertrand Tavernier, Thierry Frémaux, Jacques Becker; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
Dylan O’Brien is the vigilante tracking Muslim extremists after his fiancée was gunned down. Michael Keaton is the hard-assed veteran who trains him for the CIA in the war on terror.
From the generic title to the formulaic plot (stolen plutonium, highest bidder etc.), you can imagine the rest. But director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) injects vitality where it’s needed.
Director: Michael Cuesta; Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan; Theatrical release: September 14, 2017
The Jungle Bunch
This colourful but disjointed tale of two rival bands of jungle heroes – penguin Maurice versus his tiger mother – has glossy, high-class animation that belies its French TV series roots. But its attempt to cram in both origin story and follow-up adventure makes it a long haul for the target tinies.
Still, evil koala Kevin, threatening the animal kingdom with crisp put-downs and exploding mushrooms, is a blast.
Director: David Alaux; Starring: Paul Borne, Philippe Bozo, Pascal Casanova; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017
My Pure Land
Launching into a tense confrontation from the first scene, this powerful thriller highlights the injustice of Pakistan’s patriarchal society.
With her father in prison, 18-year-old Nazo (Suhaee Abro) leads her family in defending their home against an uncle trying to take the land as his own. Despite pacing issues, this is a captivating true story with important implications.
Director: Sarmad Masud; Starring: Suhaee Abro, Salman Ahmed Khan, Tayyab Ifzal; Theatrical release: September 15, 2017