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‘Dark Phoenix’ fails to rise (but TV comes to the rescue) |

Sunday Lifestyle

‘Dark Phoenix’ fails to rise (but TV comes to the rescue)

THE X-PAT FILES - Scott R. Garceau - The Philippine Star
âDark Phoenixâ fails to rise (but TV comes to the rescue)
A Fresh Off the Boat reunion of sorts, as creative director/writer Ali Wong and actor Randall Park team up for a rom-com movie that manages to work in many Asia-specific references that Filipinos will lerve.

Endings. They’re tough to land sometimes. Just ask the folks behind Game of Thrones. But as with most experiences — from election results to NBA finals to movie franchises like The Avengers — everything eventually must come to an end.

So it is with the latest X-Men chapter, Dark Phoenix, tying up the final threads in the reboot involving younger versions of the popular mutants, from early school days to lots of apocalyptic, time-bending adventures in between. This one focuses on Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner (aka Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones), who accidentally imbibes (there’s no other word for it) a solar flare while on a rescue mission in not-so-deep space with the other X-Men.

This makes her suddenly very wired and extra powerful, and this leads to some concern from other inhabitants of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, including headmaster Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who has become a bit of a media whore — gala cocktail events in his wheelchair and the like — which rubs blue-skinned mutant Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and others the wrong way.

Jean finally realizes that the stuff she imbibed is being sought by Vuk (Jessica Chastain), a member of the shape-shifting D’Bari race who control the Phoenix Force, and are trying to… well, actually, you know what? It’s not really worth getting into.

Turner is clearly looking for an empowered role after the traumas of GoT, and she’s impressively furious here. But also, it seems, not such a nice person — making Charles Xavier hobble up a staircase like a spastic marionette at one point, for example. 

While we are actually glad to see another Marvel movie in town (because, as I said, so many endings these days), this one feels like a real afterthought: not much of a proper villain (Chastain supposedly channeled Tilda Swinton as inspiration), and little for the mutants to do but squabble until the big final power surge. (Though we did enjoy Michael Fassbender/Magneto's mutant commune haven away from all the ruckus.) What could have been a sympathetic storyline is hampered by a weak script and perfunctory direction by Simon Kinberg that’s equal parts violent, stupid and boring (the boring parts I fell asleep during). On the plus side: it makes the previous chapter, X-Men: Apocalypse, seem like a minor classic.

(And for the record? Logan was the best X-Men movie. Ask anybody.)

Always be my maybe

A Fresh Off the Boat reunion of sorts, as creative director/writer Ali Wong and actor Randall Park team up for a rom-com movie that manages to work in many Asia-specific references that Filipinos will lerve. Hey, just for starters there’s:

• A scene involving a kid warming up a plate of Spam and rice in a microwave.

• Vienna sausage and spaghetti (with macha powder).

• Asians asking family members rudely direct questions like “How old are you?” and “How much money do you make?”

• Couples “researching” one another on social media/Google.

• Private messaging during social obligations as a cocooning, “closeness” break.

• “Perfectly able-bodied” Asians using handicap car passes. (Hey, the Korean dad said it, not me.)

• That weird Keanu Reeves/Asian fixation.

Yes, the arrival of a frighteningly in-character Keanu Reeves is one of the more hilarious sidebars to this story, but generally, it’s the likability of Wong and Park that makes this a fun date watch. Check out Park’s geek-rap band, Hello Peril, at your peril.

Shown on Netflix.


Having been a tortured English ad exec on Mad Men, and a clear-thinking but tortured British captain in AMC’s The Terror, Jarred Harris (son of MacArthur Park warbler/thespian Richard Harris) excels at playing sympathetic souls. As the conflicted Soviet nuclear scientist who tries to convince party apparatchiks that a plant explosion in 1986 is much worse than they think in HBO’s gripping five-part mini-series Chernobyl, he brings a kind of devastated humanity to the landscape, which is already quite devastated. As party loyalist Stella Skarsgard initially seeks to cover up as much as possible, Harris hides behind thick glasses, sucks down nicotine and refuses to allow fake news to spread. Emily Watson plays another fatally honest nuclear physicist convinced the plant core will melt down and poison 50 million people unless Steps Are Taken. Jessie Buckley is very good as a fireman’s widow, and Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan stands out as an animal control marksman, and there’s an overdramatized courtroom finale — but it’s the sight of dead wildlife as well as birds — and helicopters — dropping out of the sky that will haunt you, sticking in your memory longer than the average TV series.

Currently on HBO.

What we do in the shadows

When Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement decided to pass the baton to FX to develop a series based on their vampire horror comedy, What We Do in the Shadows, it might have been cheesy. But transplanting the concept from Auckland, New Zealand to Staten Island turned out to be a masterstroke: now the fresh cast of fish-out-of-water century-old vampires can work in as many America-friendly references as possible. (Our favorite: “energy vampire” Mark Proksch who’s simply an office dweeb feeding off people’s intense boredom in his presence.) Waititi and Clement write and direct some, and the tone is the same Big Brother-ish flatmates scenario, with equal parts anachronistic laughs, bloody vampiric feeding and thick Slavic/European accents.

Shown on FOX+.

Black mirror

Back for more macabre future gazing, Charlie Brooker’s three-episode Season 5 shoots us through a prism in which social media, VR gaming and digital music are the darkest mirrors. “Striking Vipers” involves two African-American dudes (Avengers’ Anthony Mackie and Aquaman’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen) who take on avatar roles in a video game that reveals, even as it disguises, their illicit attraction (just don’t call it “Brokeblack Mountain”); “Smithereen” stars Andrew Scott (Sherlock’s Moriarty) as an Uber-like driver trying to rid himself of guilt after his phone addiction causes a major accident; and, receiving the most hype, Miley Cyrus plays a pop star who spawns an A.I. doll version of herself and wins countless young fans through female empowerment messages in three-minute songs. But things go wrong when a greedy manager seeks to extract more songs from Miley’s skull — and the A.I. version decides it wants to cut loose. Despite the comic overtones of seeing Cyrus with her restraining bolt removed, cursing a blue streak, this feels like the most compromised and predictable of the three outings.

Shown on Netflix.

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