Out on Friday June 9
Rachel Weisz crackles as a wily-or-winsome widow. Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern bring Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel to life. Teresa Palmer finds herself kidnapped in Berlin. Marion Cotillard stars in a treacly ’50s melodrama.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Mummy, My Cousin Rachel, Wilson, From the Land of the Moon, Berlin Syndrome, and The Shack.
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Question: when is a Universal monster movie set almost entirely at night and featuring not just spiders, coffins and mist (lots of mist) but infanticide, patricide and necrophilia not a horror movie? Answer: when it’s a Tom Cruise summer blockbuster. But while there’s little here to jangle the nerves, The Mummy does wrap up enough adventure, action and quips to make it, if not a scream, a worthwhile Friday night out.
It opens with a flashback showing how Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) came to be mummified alive and entombed 1,000 miles from Egypt. We then smash cut to modern-day northern Iraq, where long-range reconnaissance soldiers Nick (Cruise) and Chris (Jake Johnson) gallop into a settlement crawling with insurgents. These bantering buddies are looters or, as Nick puts it, “liberators of precious antiquities”, and they seemingly hit the jackpot when an air strike unearths a subterranean chasm.
Descending into the pit with an archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis) who has history with Nick, our intrepid tomb raiders have no sooner exhumed Ahmanet’s remains than they find themselves cursed to spend the remainder of the movie running and screaming from what appears to be a prototype Terminatrix. Only by assembling various long-lost artefacts can they hope to banish this badass mutha – which means The Mummy at time looks like The Crystal Maze on a monster budget.
Much has been made of this reboot featuring the first female mummy, and Boutella displays all the right moves with her gymnastic grace and empowered strut, while also working wonders with her hypnotic amber irises – all four of them, in some scenes.
Shame, then, that she spends much of the film lusting after Cruise, unable to fully reanimate without his help. “You complete me,” she might as well say, and Cruise duly sets about showing us the money shots: running from a sandstorm through London’s streets as windows explode; scrapping with Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll as groundwork is laid to extend Universal’s Monster Cinematic Universe; and escaping a gang of swimming corpses in the most crazed underwater set-piece since a zombie fought off a great white shark in Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979).
It’s unlikely that Cruise intended such a comparison. But he does like horror movies – he made Interview with the Vampire long before Twilight made neck-biters sexy to mainstream viewers – and there’s funny business here with Chris that surely riffs intentionally on An American Werewolf in London, a movie he adores.
Elsewhere the humour doesn’t land quite so well, with some of the under-fire buddy-banter only making you want to dust down your trusty copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, The Mummy’s internal journey feels a little too solemn and glibly instructive as it seeks to map the desert of Nick’s heart. If we’re not vigilant, it warns, it is man who is the monster.
Directed by uber-writer and producer Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, Transformers), there’s enough here to suggest that he should indeed continue with his plans to oversee the resurrection of Universal’s classic monsters (The Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and Van Helsing are already in pre-production). Because while The Mummy has little of the deep heartache, sly wit or visual poetry that so distinguished the studio’s ’30s classics, it does deliver enough popcorn thrills to sate viewers who want their entertainment speedy and slick, without a cobweb in sight. To borrow from Frankenstein: it’s alive.
THE VERDICT: That’s a wrap: Universal’s monsters are back from the grave and up and running (what do you expect – it’s a Tom Cruise movie). Uneven, but plenty of fun.
Director: Alex Kurtzman; Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe; Theatrical release: June 9, 2017
My Cousin Rachel
Looking very Sphinx-like behind her widow’s veil, Rachel Weisz gives her screen namesake a delicious ambivalence in this darkly handsome adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s period mystery.
Suspected by gauche squire Philip (Sam Claflin) of having murdered her husband (and his guardian) Ambrose, her sweetness soon infatuates him. He can’t be sure if she’s after his heart or his estate, as the story swings between Rachel’s good deeds and uncovering her dodgy reputation.
Writer/director Roger Michell (Notting Hill (opens in new tab)) keeps their affair on a slow burn, sometimes sputtering rather than simmering as Philip investigates (helped by Iain Glen’s lawyer) if Rachel’s motives – and her noxious herbal teas – are pure or perilous.
A psychological drama rather than a gothic chiller, it often sacrifices scares for subtlety. One of du Maurier’s do-less pieces, it’s got little Rebecca-style tension, and few of Don’t Look Now (opens in new tab)’s creeping possibilities of evil.
Garnished with Cornish landscapes and candlelit love scenes, it’s a good-looking film (even if there is a pinch of Poldark in its yokels and period prettiness) but, despite Claflin’s volatile performance and Weisz’s intensity, MCR can’t muster real romantic heat or suspense.
THE VERDICT: Rachel Weisz’s wily-or-winsome widow crackles with dangerous allure, but can’t gee up this sedate mystery.
Director: Roger Michell; Starring: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Holliday Grainger; Theatrical release: June 9, 2017
Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel about a middle-aged curmudgeon was long considered unfilmable, so props to Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins (opens in new tab)) for almost nailing it.
With Woody Harrelson on form as the titular grouch – who learns he has a daughter (Isabella Amara) with his ex (Laura Dern) – Wilson is fitfully funny, but the episodic format prevents it from matching the droll delights of Ghost World (opens in new tab).
Director: Craig Johnson; Starring: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern; Theatrical release: June 9, 2017
From the Land of the Moon
Marion Cotillard stars in Nicole Garcia’s treacly ’50s melodrama about a romantic with a fragile temperament.
Enduring a loveless marriage to Alex Brendemühl’s kindly builder, Cotillard’s quixotic Gabrielle finds a possible escape when she meets a soldier (Louis Garrel) at a spa. Handsomely shot and well acted, but final-act revelations are head-scratching and silly.
Director: Nicole Garcia; Starring: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemühl; Theatrical release: June 9, 2017
The ambiguous bond between an Aussie backpacker (Teresa Palmer) in Berlin and her kidnapper (Max Riemelt) drives this bold but loose detour into psycho-thriller turf from Cate Shortland (Somersault).
Palmer impresses, and there’s suspense, but the meandering plotting betrays uncertain intent: Shortland has things to say about toxic relationships, but the ties to bind her themes need tightening.
Director: Cate Shortland; Starring: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron; Theatrical release: June 9, 2017
Not one for non-believers, this evangelical flick starring Sam Worthington as a dad suffering a crisis of faith after his daughter is murdered is as cringey as it is preachy.
Christian audiences, meanwhile, will feel patronised by its theology-for-beginners discussions, while what should be weighty emotions are rendered false by the rampant clichés. Not even Octavia Spencer can redeem this one.
Director: Stuart Hazeldine; Starring: Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw; Theatrical release: June 9, 2017