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: Glass (2019)

Also known as: Mister Glass (Israel), Cristal (Spain)
Release Date: January 7th, 2019 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: West Dylan Thordson, scores from Unbreakable by James Newton Howard
Cast: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Tom Bower, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Buena Vista International, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney, 129 Minutes

Review:

“This was an origin story the whole time.” – Elijah Price

This is the third and final film in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy, assuming that’s what we can call the three pictures that started with Unbreakable, continued with Split and ended with this.

My anticipation for this movie was pretty high, as I love the two films before this one. That being said, this is my least favorite of the three movies but this is still really damn good and someone had to be the odd man out. But still, this non-traditional superhero film series is actually a lot better than most of the more traditional superhero film franchises that oversaturate the market today.

This film series feels plausible and grounded in reality, as it isn’t overly fantastical and littered with special effects and epic battles featuring the mass destruction of just about everything on screen. These three films feel much more like a great indie superhero comic come to life, as opposed to something that adapted Marvel or DC stories. It’s smaller, more personal and well, more human.

And I’m not saying all this to knock big budget, over the top, superhero movies. I love a lot of those films. But this trilogy by Shyamalan is very different and very refreshing.

Additionally, all the performances in this movie are spectacular. James McAvoy switches from personality to personality in rapid succession even more than he did in Split. Samuel Jackson just kills it as Mr. Glass and he feels so comfortable and at home with the role. Bruce Willis is pretty much just stoic and intense but it works. Sarah Paulson does a convincing job as the psychiatrist that’s trying to analyze the three men. But the real scene stealer for me is Anya Taylor-Joy, who I always seem to talk highly of in every film I’ve reviewed that features her. She has immense talent and it is on full display here.

In typical Shyamalan fashion, this film has a twist. In fact, it has a layered twist that comes with its own surprise even after it’s revealed. But I won’t give anything away.

The film also looks beautiful. It’s amazingly shot with enchanting cinematography, lighting and shot framing.

There isn’t anything bad to say about the movie. It’s not perfect but for fans of this series, this is a very satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the films that precede it: Unbreakable and Split.

Film Review: Thoroughbreds (2017)

Also known as: Thoroughbred (festival title)
Release Date: January 21st, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Cory Finley
Written by: Cory Finley
Music by: Erik Friedlander
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

June Pictures, B Story, Big Indie Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot hesitate. The only thing worse than being incompetent, or being unkind, or being evil, is being indecisive.” – Amanda

I’ve been wanting to see this for about two years, after reading about it following its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It was said to be “smart”, “quirky”, “unpredictable” and a mashup between American Psycho and Heathers.

It really isn’t any of those things, unfortunately. Okay, maybe it has a small dose of Heathers mixed in but it certainly doesn’t come close to the darkness one experiences in watching American Psycho.

I also didn’t find it to be “smart”, “quirky” or “unpredictable”.

I don’t want to take a big shit on this film, as I did moderately enjoy it and bits were amusing. Plus, I thought Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin’s performances were terrific.

I just couldn’t buy into Olivia Cooke’s Amanda with her emotionless, dead pan delivery. I get that this is what her character is supposed to be but she doesn’t truly commit to the bit. You see, even though she isn’t supposed to care about anything, she is still conveniently driven by things in a way that seems to betray her own character.

Cooke’s Amanda was the apathetic angsty teen that acts overly depressed and always talks about it, probably for attention at first but somewhere along the line has bought into her own bullshit. I’ve dealt with major depression my entire life and people who act like her are typically attention seekers, even if they are legitimately broken. But I don’t think she was intended to be portrayed that way, I feel as if the director/writer actually bought into her bullshit too. But I guess that really just makes it his own bullshit.

Amanda is not quirky. She also isn’t smart. And as far as the plot goes, it isn’t unpredictable, it is actually very predictable. From the get-go, you know there is going to be a dark twist of some sort by the end and you also know that the stepfather will die somehow. But when that twist comes, it’s not all that shocking or surprising, it just limps its way into the narrative and all the ultraviolence that should come with something that’s compared to American Psycho, happens off screen.

I’m not saying that gore was necessary for this film to work but this was tame when compared to the things that modern critics have associated it with.

The big scene where the shit hits the fan is comprised of a still longshot that lasts a few minutes, as Amanda is passed out on the couch and you hear a loud, violent commotion upstairs. It’s a trope that’s been overused by indie filmmaking darlings for decades and its mostly lost its effectiveness. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many movies over the years.

But the point is that there is nothing new here and the promised shocks and surprises limp into the plot like a rat stuck to a glue trap.

Thoroughbreds isn’t a terrible motion picture but it is an underwhelming and disappointing one. It’s only real saving grace was the performances by two of its top three stars.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Heathers and Jawbreaker.

Film Review: The Witch (2015)

Also known as: La Bruja (Spanish language title)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Music by: Mark Korven
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Parts and Labor, RT Features, Rooks Nest Entertainment, Maiden Voyage Pictures, Mott Street Pictures, Code Red Productions, Scythia Films, Pulse Films, Special Projects, A24, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.” – William

I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it. All I knew is it was about a witch and it starred Anya Taylor-Joy, who I first discovered in Split, but who I’ve grown to like a lot with each film I see her in. And part of me is really excited to see her play Magik in The New Mutants movie, whenever the hell that actually comes out. Magik is one of my favorite X-Men related characters of all-time and Taylor-Joy seems like really good casting.

Anyway, this film is dark and brooding on a level that most films just can’t get to. This is real horror and was able to capture true despair on celluloid.

The Witch is a fairly short film at just 93 minutes but it feels longer. It moves slow but it builds tension and dread exceptionally well. A lot of emotion fits snugly within this film’s 93 minutes. The time is managed adequately and I’d say that all the scenes matter, flow perfectly and this picture doesn’t end feeling like anything else needed to be added. It’s well written and executed with the skill of a master filmmaker, which is damn impressive as the writer/director Robert Eggers isn’t a well-known or seasoned veteran, this is actually his first feature length motion picture. He does have a film coming out next year called The Lighthouse, which I am now pretty excited to see.

Anya Taylor-Joy also didn’t have much experience before this and this was her first starring role. In fact, she guest starred on a television show and had an uncredited bit part in one other film. Needless to say, she makes a massive impact in this. She proved from the get go that she had the ability to draw people in and to command attention through her performance. While the actor who played the father in this, carried some scenes, it was Taylor-Joy that carried this movie and made it something better than what it could have been in the hands of a less capable actress. Being this good, right out the gate, is pretty unheard of but from everything I’ve seen her do, I’m convinced that she is a rare talent than can probably handle the demands of any role.

This film is also enhanced by it’s enchanting and haunting cinematography. The lack of color and the dry coldness of the environment makes it feel like these characters are already lying in their graves.

It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t just horror, it is a mystery as things happen throughout the film that keep you guessing at what is actually unfolding. It isn’t as simple as there being a witch that’s messing with this family.

The ending is intense, surprising and having no expectations for this made it have a greater impact. I wasn’t expecting this to get as disturbing as it did but it was a breath or fresh air in a genre that’s been suffering for awhile.

I really liked The Witch. It looks great, is written great and stars someone who I could see becoming one of the best actresses of her generation.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: some of the better modern horror films: The BabdookItIt Follows, etc.

Film Review: Split (2016)

Release Date: September 26th, 2016 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: West Dylan Thordson
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo), Bruce Willis (uncredited)

Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

It has been a really long time since I have wanted to see an M. Night Shyamalan movie. When I first caught the trailer for Split, I was very intrigued. Then I saw Shyamalan’s name attached and thought, “Well, this might bring you back to greatness, buddy. Don’t screw it up.” After having seen this, I can say that he certainly didn’t screw it up.

James McAvoy has never put in anything other than great performances. In this film, we get to see McAvoy at his greatest, up to this point in his career. He’s still young and has a lot of years left but McAvoy gave us an Oscar caliber performance. Why he wasn’t nominated for anything is kind of baffling. Maybe it’s because this got a wide release in January of 2017 and he’ll be considered next year. But by that point, he won’t be fresh in the Academy’s minds and they snub lots of great performers every year.

Alongside McAvoy, is Anya Taylor-Joy, a young woman who is becoming quite a good actress. This is the best that I have seen her but now that she is joining the X-Men franchise in next year’s New Mutants, I think she has definitely made her mark and will have a busy career going forward. She certainly deserves it after her performance in Split.

Betty Buckley was superb as the therapist while Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula did a good job as the other girls held captive by McAvoy’s multiple personalities.

Brad William Henke stood out as the creeper uncle. I always love Henke’s work but he always gets the hulking creeper roles. I’d like to see him get bigger roles, the guy deserves it.

The film also gives us the obligatory M. Night Shyamalan cameo, as well as a Bruce Willis cameo. The Willis part ties into another great Shyamalan picture and ties these two movies together, as Shyamalan has plans to make a film that is a sequel to Split and that other movie.

Now I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, this isn’t a film that should be spoiled in any way. But I do want to explain why this works so well, as Shyamalan has struggled with narrative in the last decade and a half.

So, the only real spoiler is that Split has no big twist ending. Well, not really. I’ll explain.

It is a good solid story, it has a lot of revelations but none of those typical Shyamalan attempts at dumping the film on its head while screaming, “A-ha! I shocked you! It’s a twist!”

You see, I feel like Shyamalan painted himself into a corner with his famous twist endings. It got to the point where a twist was expected and people spent the whole movie bracing themselves and also, trying to figure it out. Eventually, the twists became really mundane and weren’t all that shocking.

In some films, like The Village, it felt like Shyamalan couldn’t decide what to do. Should the beasts be real or imaginary? What he gave us was a bizarre and awful twist in that regard and then another twist that completely destroyed the film. The twists became messes that ruined otherwise effective pictures.

In Split, the big twist is that there is no twist. And maybe that is Shyamalan’s greatest use of the twist, whether that was his intention or not.

After a slew of films that just didn’t cut the mustard, Shyamalan proved to me and the rest of the film-going masses, that he’s still got it. He may have been lost for too long but he found himself once again. I hope he’s learned from those many mistakes because I want Shyamalan on his A-game. He’s extremely talented on his best days and he’s a director that has shown that he is much better than some of the schlock he’s put out. Split is proof enough that The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable weren’t flukes.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the films that sandwich it: Unbreakable and Glass.