Film Review: The New Mutants (2020)

Also known as: Growing Pains (working titles), X-Men: The New Mutants (alternative title)
Release Date: August 26th, 2020 (Belgium, Spain, France, Poland, Portugal)
Directed by: Josh Boone
Written by: Josh Boone, Knate Lee
Based on: New Mutants by Chris Claremont, Bob McLeod
Music by: Mark Snow
Cast: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga, Alice Braga, Adam Beach, Happy Anderson, Marilyn Manson (voice)

Marvel Entertainment, Sunswept Entertainment, Genre Films, Twentieth Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Demon Bear! Let’s play a game!” – Illyana Rasputin

With two-to-three years worth of delays, Fox selling to Disney and everything else crazy that has been going on in the world, The New Mutants finally got released. I’m just glad it came out, after all this time, and that I got to see it in the theaters. Thankfully, it wasn’t simply dumped onto a streaming service, where it would’ve been treated as a complete afterthought.

Still, it’s hard to tell which version of the film we got. There were supposed to be re-shoots but they never happened, due to the Fox-Disney deal. Also, this was rumored to be pushing for an R-rating but it came out as PG-13. That probably has more to do with Disney now owning it, as opposed to representing the ideal vision of the director and the original studio.

With everything working against it, the finished product isn’t as big of a mess as I thought it would be. The editor definitely got a coherent film out of the material but it does feel light and a bit skeletal.

From what I understand, the re-shoots were intended to flesh out the story a bit more and to add more emphasis on the horror elements, as the success of the Deadpool movies led Fox to believe that R-rated comic book films could work.

As a massive fan of Illyana Rasputin a.k.a. Magik, it was incredible seeing her come to life in a live-action picture. It was even cooler seeing her face-off with the Demon Bear. It took something from my eleven year-old mind and brought it to life. And frankly, that moment alone made this film feel special to an old school New Mutants fan like myself. Plus, Anya Taylor-Joy was perfect as Illyana. I really hope this isn’t the only time she plays the character but I don’t have my hopes up.

It was also great seeing these other characters come to life in the flesh. I thought that Cannonball was a little weak but the other four characters came across pretty well. I wish that they actually expanded on their origins a bit more but we did get enough to start to understand them. Unfortunately, a sequel is doubtful even though two more films were planned before Fox was sold.

Overall, though, the movie is just okay. It feels more like a two-part pilot episode for a show that could be solid. It doesn’t feel like a film able to stand on its own though and the quality of it feels more like high budget television than something that is a part of the X-Men film universe. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the movie just looks noticeably cheaper and visually smaller than the series of films it is supposed to connect to.

However, this is all presented in a way where it could redirect itself and connect to the already well established Marvel Cinematic Universe. I highly doubt that will happen, though, as it wasn’t made by Disney and it has a much darker tone than their MCU films.

While it sucks that this didn’t come out in the final form it was intended to with the long-term plans kept intact, it’s still an interesting movie for the superhero genre. It’s vastly different than other films in the genre and it proves that you can dabble with other genres like horror and make it work.

I was really looking forward to the followups, as the plot outlines for the second and third chapters seemed really interesting and made way for much larger stories in scope. Plus, this film hints at the eventual appearance of Mister Sinister, who is long overdue in the X-Men film universe. However, that universe now belongs to another studio and will probably be completely rebooted to fit within their own plans going forward.

The New Mutants should have been an R-rated picture that upped the ante more than the finished product did but I guess we’ll never know what that was or could have been. Still, it’s worth a watch for those who liked the comic book series in the pre-Rob Liefeld era.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox era X-Men films, as well as dark, coming of age superhero films like Brightburn and Chronicle.

Film Review: Smoke Signals (1998)

Release Date: June 26th, 1998
Directed by: Chris Eyre
Written by: Sherman Alexie
Based on: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Music by: B. C. Smith
Cast: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal, Perrey Reeves, Tom Skerritt

Miramax, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes it’s a good day to die, and sometimes it’s a good day to have breakfast.” – Thomas Builds-the-Fire

For a film that’s title is written across the screen in Papyrus, this isn’t a bad little picture despite its poor choice in typeface.

This is a coming of age story but it is also about shifting into manhood. The interesting twist, is this is told from a Native American perspective. In fact, the entire film, top to bottom, is a Native American production. Sherman Alexie, the writer, did this to properly convey Native American culture, as Hollywood has typically misinterpreted Native life in the United States.

The core of the story is about two young men going on a road trip together, as one of their fathers, who left years ago, passed away in his trailer outside of Phoenix. The two young men travel on a bus from their reservation in Idaho down to Arizona. The young men have never really been off the reservation or experienced life in the world outside of their tiny bubble.

What really holds this film together is the performances of Adam Beach and Evan Adams. The two actors were very much different characters but they had a good chemistry that propelled the picture forward. I have really come to like Beach over the years and this may be the earliest example of his work that I’ve seen.

Gary Farmer plays Beach’s father and he does so with such grace. He’s shown being abusive to his son and his wife, as he is an angry alcoholic. But as the story unfolds and we see his regrets and understand the weight on his shoulders, which ultimately pushed him towards the bottle, we see a different man, a soft, caring, guilt ridden human being that can’t face the wreckage he caused. And like his son, we have to find a way to accept the man for who he is and make peace with him.

Smoke Signals isn’t a great film but it is unique and even though it is heavy in the emotion department, it is sweet and relatable to any man that has grown up having issues with their father, Native American or not.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Powwow Highway.

Film Review: Hostiles (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Music by: Max Richter
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Paul Anderson, Stephen Lang, Scott Wilson

Waypoint Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Bloom Media, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve killed everything that’s walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.” – Captain Joseph J. Blocker

Hostiles came into the theater with a lot of praise from top critics. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “…the best western since Unforgiven.” That’s a pretty bold statement but when looking at traditional westerns from 1992 up until now, it’s a statement that’s not too far off. It’s a superb picture, through and through.

I haven’t been a huge fan of director Scott Cooper’s work. I didn’t care too much for Black Mass and I thought Out of the Furnace was pretty mediocre; I’ve yet to see Crazy Heart, even though I’ve been meaning to. I think Cooper certainly has a good eye and he’s great at building suspense but I thought Black Mass suffered from a narrative standpoint, as it seemed to rely on people already knowing its story, while Out of the Furnace was initially engaging put tapered off pretty quickly. With Hostiles, I was pulled in from the opening scene, fully engaged throughout and thought the narrative was really strong, well paced and subliminally sweet underneath all the violence and racial tensions. I feel like Hostiles was a body of work that benefited from the director learning from his past hiccups and thus, really coming into his own in a new way.

The film was so amazing and visually enchanting that it’s the first film I’ve been to in years, where the theater was full and everyone actually stayed off of their phones and shut the hell up for the duration of the picture, which must have been hard for them, as this was over two and a half hours with all those friggin’ trailers.

The story sees a war hero have to transport an old Indian chief from New Mexico to Montana, where he is to be buried on his sacred land. The hero, played by Christian Bale, wants nothing to do with the mission and even tries to bait the Indian once they get far enough away from his fort in New Mexico.

As the story progresses, we meet a woman whose entire family was slaughtered by Indians. The journey is long and arduous and the party encounters many enemies, some Indians and some white men. By the end, we see personal biases fade and a family dynamic develop between this small group of people who started the journey with hatred for one another.

The film had a perfect cast. I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi and Adam Beach for a long time. I’ve actually loved Beach as far back as 1998’s Smoke Signals, a fantastic Native American coming of age picture that everyone should experience at some point.

Additionally, Bale was stellar, as was Rosamund Pike. I liked seeing Jesse Plemons play a nice character and it was cool seeing Timothée Chalamet in this, as he’s a young actor who is quickly becoming one of the best talents working today. Rory Cochrane was a pleasant surprise in this, as I’ve followed him since his teen pictures Dazed and Confused and Empire Records in the ’90s. There are also small but pivotal roles played by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang and Scott Wilson, who was pretty much the antithesis of his most famous character, Hershel from The Walking Dead.

The cinematography was handled by Masanobu Takayanagi, who also did The Grey, which I loved but most people didn’t. He has a real talent for capturing incredibly majestic landscapes. Here, he had some vast and beautiful country at his disposal and made the most of it.

Max Richter provided the score and did a fine job with the film’s music. He most recently worked on Miss Sloane and Arrival before this.

I would say that Hostiles is as good as the critical hype. I love westerns and it’s rare that I get to see a really great one come down the pipeline.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.