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Film reviews: X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Gloria Bell and Late Night

Fired up:
Sophie Turner is
Jean Grey, who
becomes ‘the
greatest force
in the galaxy’

THE BIG RELEASE

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

(12A) ★★✩✩✩

AS THE final instalment of the mutant superhero franchise ahead of its Disney/Marvel reboot, this X-Men outing feels more like an afterthought than a climax. In fact, looking at the posters you could easily mistake it for Captain Marvel 2.

But it’s not Brie Larson aglow on those bus-stop billboards, hair flowing like she’s just flown out of a galactic salon, it’s Game Of Thrones star Sophie ‘Sansa’ Turner. Her character, Jean Grey (later — or, rather, previously — played by Famke Janssen) is the focal point here, which is a shame as she seldom seems like the most interesting person on screen. As far as the plot goes, X-Men goodies led by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) zoom into space to investigate a mysterious pink fiery thing that invades the body of Jean, causing her to become mega powerful and potentially ‘the greatest force in the galaxy’, according to Jessica Chastain’s sleek blonde, stiletto-clad supervillain (you never get supervillains wearing nice comfy Birkenstocks, do you?)

As Jean grapples to master the dark forces within her like some flame-grilled Elsa from Frozen, the X-Men are riven by internal rifts. And humans still don’t trust mutants, obvs. ‘The women are always saving the men around here — you might want to change the name to X-Women,’ suggests J-Law to Professor X (James McAvoy, below, brilliant as ever) — which gets one of the movie’s few laughs. But if Dark Phoenix was intended as a feminist statement, it plays out more like a male fear at women seizing power and wreaking havoc.

Speaking of which, the well-choreographed action sequences are almost too diverting, as if writer/producer turned director Simon Kinberg is frantically channel-hopping between the over-assortment of characters.

Shot in 2017, with a delayed release due to bad test screenings and reshoots, Dark Phoenix is on course to be the lowest US box-office opening of the series to date. It’s not as much of a disaster zone as that sounds. Solid enough superhero filler, as X-Men movies go, this is not First Class but it’s no Apocalypse either.

The verdict

A missable culmination to the 20-year X-Men franchise thus far.

Gloria Bell

(15) ★★★★✩

Having finally won an Oscar for 2015’s Still Alice, Julianne Moore delivers another career-topping turn in this beautifully modulated drama.

Gloria is an attractive but ordinary Los Angeles divorcee whose children (including Michael Cera) pay her little attention. By day she’s an insurance saleswoman but by night she boogies on down at an over-50s disco — and it’s here she meets Arnold (John Turturro). They start a hesitant romance, yet the real budding love story here is not between Arnold and Gloria but that of Gloria with herself.

That this is the US remake of Gloria, an acclaimed 2013 Chilean drama also directed by Sebástian Lelio (Disobedience and A Fantastic Woman), will make it less essential viewing for some but Gloria Bell is a shimmering gem in its own right.

Stunningly acted and sensitively detailed, it’s a modest story of a normal, middle-aged life told with compelling honesty.

Late Night

(15) ★★★✩✩

Emma Thompson smashes it as Katherine Newbury, the highbrow host of a US TV chat show whose frosty people skills make Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada look like a cuddly ol’ teddy bear.

Newbury is TV’s first female talk show anchor and has ruled the late-night schedules since 1991 but she’s lost touch with the times and her ratings are on the slide.

Enter lovable Molly Patel (screenwriter Mindy Kaling), Newbury’s first female and first non-white writer, to teach Katherine some warm life lessons and instruct the audience on workplace gender and ethnic biases. ‘I wish I was a woman of colour so I could get any job I want with zero qualifications,’ grumbles her co-worker.

Kaling is a big name in the US, where she has her own TV show, but British audiences will mainly know her as Kelly from the American version of The Office, which she co-wrote. Late Night is partly based on her experiences in television, so the gags are powered by genuine insight. Even so, they don’t always land and the direction tends to drag frustratingly.

Funny, yet unlike Thompson’s awesome hair, not quite sharp enough.