Richard sits in on the CTV NewsChannel with news anchor Marcia MacMillan have a look at the weekend’s big releases including “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” the indie drama “Mouthpiece” and the rockumentary “Echo in the Canyon.”
A weekly feature from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” and the indie drama “Mouthpiece.”
Richard has a look at the new movies coming to theatres, including the housebroken sequel “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” the cosmic bonfire of CGI flames “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” and the nostalgic 60s doc “Echoes in the Canyon” with CFRA Morning Rush host Bill Carroll.
The X-Men have a rich and textured history but almost none is more complicated than Jean Grey, the mutant played by “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner in this weekend’s “Dark Phoenix.”
A human with the superpower of telepathy, she’s an empath and, for good and for evil, is also the physical manifestation of the cosmic Phoenix Force, “the spark that gave life to the Universe, the flame that will ultimately consume it.” Over the years she has been included on Top 100 Comic Book Heroes and Comic Book Villains lists and been killed off several times.
The action in “Dark Phoenix” begins with the X-Men team heralded as heroes by the public who once feared them. Professor X (James McAvoy) is a celebrity, featured on magazines, getting medals from the president. He sees their do-good work as a way to keep them safe. “It’s a means to an,” he says, “We are just one bad day away from them starting to see us as the enemy again.”
When a group of astronauts find themselves in trouble Prof X sends Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Grey and others to space on a daring rescue mission. During the operation Grey is hit by “pure and unimaginably powerful cosmic waves” that will eventually transmute her into the Dark Phoenix, a malevolent force with the potential to tear the world apart. The core of good inside Grey battles for supremacy until repressed pain and anger push her to the dark side. “You’re special, Jean,” says shapeshifting energy sponge Smith (Jessica Chastain), “and if you stop fighting that force inside you, if you embrace it, you will possess the very power of a god.”
The X-Men crew have been always been concerned with the greater good, doing what is best for the masses, but what happens when one of their own turns bad and needs to be stopped? That’s the question at the heart of “Dark Phoenix.” “When I lose control,” Grey says, “bad things happen to the people I love.”
At their best the “X-Men” movies are an ode to outsiders. Ripe with metaphor and nuance, they look at how society treats marginalized people. They also find the humanity in their outsider characters. Whether they have blue fur or can bend metal with their mind, their greatest superpowers are always qualities like forgiveness and loyalty.
Progressive ideas about acceptance are still at the heart of “Dark Phoenix” but all the nuance is consumed in a cosmic bonfire of CGI flames and the messaging is delivered with a mallet. “They can never understand you! What they can’t understand they fear and what they fear they seek to destroy!”
The film’s biggest (and only intentional laugh) comes with a good and timely line courtesy of Jennifer Lawrence. “The women are always saving the men around here,” says a huffy Mystique to Professor X. “You might want to think about changing the name to X-Women.”
Despite the pyro on display “Dark Phoenix” doesn’t catch fire. The tone is flat, passionless even as a hectic CGI-A-Thon of eye blistering action eats up much of the last reel. (MILD SPOILER AHEAD) Long-time fans may get a lump in their throats as one classic character makes their farewell but as Grey says, “emotions don’t make you weak, they make you strong.” Whether you’ll feel stronger or not after the end credits roll will depend on how much attached you are to the X-Men characters. If you’re not already a fan this lackluster movie is unlikely to convert you.
Richard sits in on the CJAD Montreal morning show with guest host Ken Connors to talk the new movies coming to theatres including the housebroken sequel “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” the cosmic bonfire of CGI flames “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” and the nostalgic 60s doc “Echoes in the Canyon.”
In today’s world it’s not enough to simply be a hero. Now you must be a superhero. Unlike the old days when square-jawed movie stars rescued damsels in distress or battled cold-hearted landlords, today’s champions won’t get out of bed for anything less than the threat of complete world annihilation. Liberating a cat from a tree or performing the Heimlich Maneuver is considered HeroLite™, the work of lesser lifesavers.
Today it’s all about averting the apocalypse. In Captain America: Civil War the idea of how to police and ultimately save the world is at the heart of the action and X-Men: Apocalypse’s bad guy has grandiose plans to “cleanse mankind and create a new world order.”
This weekend the heroes of Independence Day: Resurgence join Mystique, Quicksilver, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, Captain America and legendary do-gooders Batman and Superman in some good, old fashioned world saving.
The twenty-years-in-the-making sequel to Will Smith’s mega-hit sees aliens from outside the Solar System attack our planet. It’s life and death on a planetary scale, a premise that has become increasingly popular in recent years.
It’s not a surprise the stories are getting larger and louder. Audiences want a big bang for their buck and Hollywood is pleased to oblige with high stakes situations that provide frenetic action and happy endings (unless, of course you’re rooting for the bad guy). These days Hollywood also looks to overseas markets for mega-revenue and presenting globe-spanning stories helps to attract crowds in other countries.
Business aside, why have audiences embraced world-on-the-brink movies?
Films, says Dr. Norman Holland, Marston-Milbauer Eminent Scholar Emeritus at the University of Florida, work on different parts of your brain.
“The parts that turn off are the parts that plan action because you’re not going to act on what you see on the screen in front of you,” he says. “You turn off the systems that plan, that look ahead that evaluate futures. That explains the phenomenon of the willing suspension of disbelief. You accept the most improbable things, like Stars Wars or Spider-Man or whatever. At the same time the lower centres of your brain are generating emotions like mad in response to what you’re seeing. This is the peculiar phenomenon that you can feel and care about these people on the screen while at the same time knowing they are nothing but a fiction.”
In other words, it’s what legendary purveyor of thrills Alfred Hitchcock said. “People like to be scared when they feel safe.”
We live in unsettling and troubled times and going to the movies can provide an escape. In these heroic tales good almost always wins out, a comforting antidote to the nightly news where stories often don’t have happy endings. It makes us feel good, but, as Dr. Holland notes, it’s also restful.
“As you know they are redesigning movie theatres with recliner chairs so you can sleep through the movie,” he says. “Yes, it is relaxing. This is the part of your brain that worries, that plans for the future, that is concerned about the state of your body. All that shuts down. It’s restful, no question.”
Going to the movies is restful? Good for us? Seems like in our busy, stressful world it’s the films that are the heroes, not the characters.
Richard and CP24 anchor Nneka Elliot talk about the weekend’s big releases, “X-Men Apocalypse,” starring Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence, Johnny Depp in “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Mr. Right,” starring Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell.
“Hope for the best,” says Hank McCoy a.k.a. Beast (Nicholas Hoult) midway through “X-Men: Apocalypse,“ “but prepare for the worst.”
That’s the way I approach the X-Men movies. When a movie series spans a universe of stories—in addition to five X-Men flicks, this is the third “First Class” movie—caution is advised. The general rule of thumb is one of diminishing returns: the further away from the source, the weaker the story.
“Apocalypse” isn’t exactly the best of the X-Men movies, but it’s hardly the worst either. What it lacks in surprises, it makes up for in bombast.
“A gift can often be a curse,” we’re told in the opening narration. “Give them the greatest gift of all, power beyond imagination and they think they should rule the world.” Such is the case with En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) an immortal Egyptian pharaoh betrayed a millennium or two ago, left in a fitful slumber under the rubble of a collapsed pyramid.
Cut to the early 1980s. Series regulars Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) are going about life as usual… or as usual as they can while shape shifting and instantly transporting from place to place.
Their lives intersect again when En Sabah Nur, now nicknamed Apocalypse (no foreshadowing there) emerges from his sleep, eager to take his place as king of the world. The mutant god absorbs television news to learn about the modern world before assembling his disciples—his four horsemen—and unlocking the one last power he needs to control the planet. With the world’s fate resting in his hands Professor X (James McAvoy) brings a team of X-Men to do battle.
The first X-Men movies were allegories for all manner of twentieth century intolerance but gradually over time the civil rights elements of the story have become more lip service than social comment. “Apocalypse” distances itself even further from the core of what made the originals interesting, leaving behind a serviceable action movie that plays more like a Successories unleash-your-power platitude than a cry for universal liberties.
Instead we are given a villain who melodramatically says things like, “Come! Rescue your weakling!” and a CGI climax that feels lifted from “Batman v. Superman” or “Age of Ultron.” The dumbed down story of friendship and teamwork may not engage the brain but it does, however, have outlandish visuals to dazzle the eye. A show stopping Quicksilver (Evan Peters) scene has the faster-than-light mutant rescue a dozen people from a bombed out building, frozen in time by his supersonic speed. It’s cool and like the movie’s best images has the verve and invention the script lacks.
When the film’s biggest reveal is James McAvoy’s bald Professor X head you know the movie is light on new ideas but “X-Men: Apocalypse“ transcends the law of diminishing rewards by upping the action.