Movie Reviews: Dark Phoenix, The Secret Life of Pets 2, All Is True | Buzz Blog
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Movie Reviews: Dark Phoenix, The Secret Life of Pets 2, All Is True

Fast Color, The Tomorrow Man, The Souvenir


Sophie Turner in Dark Phoenix - 20TH CENTURY FOX
  • 20th Century Fox
  • Sophie Turner in Dark Phoenix
All Is True **
See feature review. Opens June 7 at Broadway Centre Cinemas and Megaplex Legacy Crossing . (R)

Dark Phoenix **
Simon Kinberg attempts to make up for the disastrous version of this same story for which he was partially responsible once before, but improving upon X-Men: The Last Stand isn’t exactly a high bar. Set in the early 1990s, it continues the story of the mutant heroes led by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), as a rescue mission in space results in telepath/telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbing a powerful energy force that begins to overwhelm her. Kinberg dabbles in the oppressed-minority subtext that has always driven this franchise, but focuses much more on Jean’s dangerous power as a manifestation of repressed trauma. Turner, however, isn’t quite deft enough to give Jean’s story actual emotional punch, and none of the characters here—save for Michael Fassbender’s Magneto—feel fully realized enough to give the story depth to match its grim tone. That leaves little more than comic-book spectacle, and the two biggest action set pieces are both solidly choreographed. It’s just clear that Kinberg is striving for something more profound than a fun summer blockbuster—and once again, he can’t quite pull it off. Opens June 7 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)—Scott Renshaw

Fast Color ***
“We’re not superheroes, Lila,” says Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to her young daughter (Saniyya Sidney); “we’re just trying to get by.” That makes for the great hook in this stylish adventure from director/co-writer Julia Hart, about a family of African-American women—including Ruth’s mother (Lorraine Toussaint)—all with superhuman powers, trying to stay under the radar of government operatives during a time of apocalyptic drought. Ruth’s own abilities involve uncontrollable seizures that cause earthquakes, and Hart (writing with her husband Jordan Horowitz) crafts a solid narrative out of prodigal daughter Ruth’s return to her family after numbing her uniqueness with substance abuse. There’s more than enough metaphorical significance going on in this fantastical story—particularly with “othered” Americans treated as particularly threatening during a time of fear, but also about the tensions dividing families—and a keen sense by Hart both for arresting images and solid characterization. If the low-budget visual approach to superhumans at times feels limiting, this story makes up for it by recognizing that myths are most powerful when they tell us something about the real world. Opens June 7 at Tower Theatre. (PG-13)—SR

The Secret Life of Pets 2 **
Way less charming and inventive than its progenitor, this feels like a lazy straight-to-DVD sequel rather than a theatrical film. Mutt Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis CK, because fuck that guy, and also Oswalt is just better in the role) and his doggie brother Duke (Eric Stonestreet) deal with accepting a new human baby into the household. Meanwhile, purse pooch Gidget (Jenny Slate) infiltrates the feline-full flat of a crazy cat lady—a rather ungenerous depiction, considering the first movie’s sweetness about the relationship between humans and companion animals—and “Captain” Snowball (Kevin Hart), a bunny with delusions of caped-crusader-dom, attempts to rescue a tiger cub from a terrible circus (a really dated concept; this would not be tolerated in the New York City setting). Best bit: Harrison Ford as the voice of gruff, no-nonsense farm dog that Max encounters on a family trip. The rest of it is inoffensive fluff, fine for the kids, but sorely lacking that certain oomph adult animation fans look for. Opens June 7 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—MaryAnn Johanson

The Souvenir ***1/2
It’s testament to Joanna Hogg’s skills as a director that she takes a mundane set-up—inexperienced young artist gets first lessons in life and love—and make it top-to-bottom fascinating. The 1980s-set story follows 20-something British film school student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, daughter of Tilda) as she begins an affair with Anthony (Tom Burke), who turns out to have some secrets. We see Julie struggling to find her creative voice distinct from her upper-class upbringing, which would have made it easy for the narrative to fall back on “now I’ve had the experiences that make for a real artist” clichés. But Byrne brings an open, vulnerable screen presence utterly distinct from that of her mother, which combine with Burke’s portrayal of practiced deception to complicate the intimacy in scenes like two almost-lovers playfully arguing over who’s taking up more of the bed. Mostly, there’s Hogg’s sense for using everything from period songs to slow-motion at just the right time, leading to a pair of breathtakingly confident final shots. If there’s an autobiographical component to Hogg’s story, it’s clear that whatever Julie needed to learn to give her artistry depth, she found it. Opens June 7 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—SR

The Tomorrow Man *1/2
There’s such a perfectly realized character at the center of writer/director Noble Jones’s drama that’s it heartbreaking to see that character subjected to so many breathtakingly bad narrative choices. John Lithgow plays Ed, an upstate New York “prepper” whose obsession with doomsday scenarios has isolated him from his son (Derek Cecil) and pretty much everyone else—until he meets Ronnie (Blythe Danner), a widow in whom he senses a kindred spirit. Lithgow absolutely nails Ed’s utter certainty in the legitimacy of his paranoia, fueled by online chat-room conversations and a curdled brand of patriotism. Danner’s work by comparison feels much twitchier, and the relationship between them develops at an improbable pace. But worse than that is the suggestion that people who are basically mentally ill can fix themselves simply by realizing that they need to change, which feels borderline irresponsible. As for the last 60 seconds—which pivot the moral of the story in a radically different direction—let’s just say we don’t need any advertisements for the notion that the crazy-ass ideas dividing people from one another might not be so crazy-ass after all. Opens June 7 at Megaplex Jordan Commons. (PG-13)—SR