The New Mutants: The Fault was Not in the Stars – Amazon Review

A solid cast and a good premise couldn’t stop this film from failing hard.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) is orphaned when her Cheyenne reservation is seemingly destroyed by a tornado. She wakes up in a hospital under the care of Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga), who informs Dani that she is a mutant and that she is to remain in the hospital until she learns to control her abilities, whatever they are. The facility has four other teenagers who also have superpowers: Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), who can turn himself into a human cannonball; Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), who has powers that mimic magic; Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams), who is functionally a werewolf; and Bobby da Costa (Henry Zaga), a mutant who can manipulate solar power. All of them are orphans and all have tragic backstories related to their powers. However, soon things begin to happen around the facility that are weird even for mutants. It turns out that the facility may not be the hospital it seems, nor are all of the people in it.

They’re all young enough that they could have stayed with the franchise for a while.

END SUMMARY

I find it almost impressive that this movie failed this badly, because it seems like it has everything going for it. The premise of “what if we had a horror movie that involved superheroes” has been tried before, with Split being an example of superpowers making a horror trope better, but this one was basically pitched as “haunted school, but the haunting is a reality warper out of control.” That’s such a fun way to revitalize an old trope, particularly by adding in that the teen victims all have their own superpowers, so you could put them in even greater mortal danger and it would be survivable. The idea of a superteam forming in that situation for future films seems easily workable. All of this shows signs of almost inevitable success. Instead, we get a movie that clearly never knew what it wanted to be made by people who didn’t know what they were supposed to be in.

There are actually some decent horror images, too.

Looking into it, this film’s faults don’t seem to be entirely on director Josh Boone. Apparently he and writer Knate Lee had envisioned this as being a full-on horror film, but were told by the studio to tone it down into more of a young adult film. Then, after the success of IT, they were told to go and reshoot it into MORE of a horror film, but still not the hard R or very borderline PG-13 film that Boone had originally wanted. If I hadn’t found out this was the case, I would have assumed something like this had happened. The film seems like it constantly is fighting against itself. 

Also, they needed a little more Breakfast Club.

It doesn’t help that the film starts with a voiceover narration of the “two wolves” story that everyone knows already, but with bears instead of wolves. They don’t finish the parable until the very end of the movie, but since you already know what it ends with, there’s not much of a surprise or a win in the reveal. Similarly, there’s not much of a big win when we see the New Mutants finally start to fight because we always knew that’s what would happen and nothing about the sequence sets it apart. Also, we weirdly have almost no investment in the characters, despite the fact that they’re all mutant kids with tragic backstories and mental issues that should make them perfect for this kind of movie, but we never really get the connection.

If you can’t give Anya Taylor-Joy enough time to make me invested, you have failed.

It’s also incredible that one of my notes is “most of them seem uninterested” about the actors, because these are all very good performers with decent material to work with. Maisie Williams plays a girl whose powers and sexual orientation conflict with her religious upbringing. Anya Taylor-Joy plays a victim of child trafficking whose only friend is a purple dragon. These are two great performers who could absolutely bring these characters to life, but it feels like they never knew what they were supposed to be going for in any scene. Maybe that’s because the director didn’t know either.

And their powers are pretty cool, so it’s not that.

Overall, this movie should have been a hit, but it just fell flat.

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The Queen’s Gambit: Sex, Drugs, and Chess – Netflix Review

A young woman takes the chess world by storm. Yes, that’s a thing.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Beth Harmon (Anya-Taylor Joy/Annabeth Kelly/Isla Johnston) is orphaned when her mother dies in a car crash. At the orphanage, Beth stays isolated aside from her friend Jolene (Moses Ingram) until she sees the Janitor, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), playing chess by himself. He eventually agrees to teach her and, by the age of 9, she has become a prodigious player. As she gets older, she begins to demonstrate incredible skill and starts to win tournaments with her adopted mother, Mrs. Wheatley (Marielle Heller), as her manager. She eventually goes up against American champion Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Soviet champion Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński), and a ton of sexism.

Once she’s got her eyes on you, it’s check and mate… if you’re lucky.

END SUMMARY

It’s tough to make chess interesting in film, which is probably why the movies Searching for Bobby Fischer and Queen of Katwe are the only ones I can name off the top of my head. Both of those are biopics, albeit dramatized, about real young people becoming chess prodigies, whereas this series is entirely fictional. However, since apparently there’s only one chess story to tell, it is still about a young person becoming a chess prodigy. 

There’s a lot of white guys standing around watching.

The reason this series works is because, like the above movies, it’s more about the person than the game. Beth is a broken person and, for much of the series, it’s not even her fault. Her mother died, she was put into an orphanage, and the orphanage drugged her regularly. She’s an addict by the middle of the first episode. The rest of the series pretty much just goes naturally from there, with her spiraling from vice to vice, sometimes under the watch of her adopted mother and sometimes not. At the same time, we see that Beth is not just a chess prodigy, but a brilliant thinker in math and science as well, just not to the same level. I like the depiction of a chess player as not JUST a chess player, but a person who has considerable talents and just dedicates them to chess primarily. Not that this wasn’t true of both Josh Waitzkin and Phiona Mutesi, I’m sure, but their biopics didn’t have the time to expand on it sufficiently. Also, both of those were limited by reality: Waitzkin quit chess in his early 20s and Mutesi, while she does appear to still be active, only has a rating of 1600, whereas chess champions are all usually above 2500. As Beth is fictional, she’s allowed to actually go out and win against the best of the best.

She takes enough drugs that it’s surprising she makes it to the end of the show.

Anya-Taylor Joy’s strength in the portrayal is her eyes. Beth is often depicted as playing games out in her head and visualizing the chessboard, and Joy conveys that perfectly. We see her moving between fierce concentration, anxious fear, and ruthless enjoyment of her victories. She’s got a mostly laconic wit, which Joy lays out well. The supporting cast are also great, although many of them move in and out of the series almost at random. The recurring character of Watts, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, is particularly interesting because his relationship to Beth changes so drastically during the series, going from being an idol to a rival to a friend. 

Yes, he is a chess champion who dresses like a vampire hunter.

Overall, great series whether you like chess or have no use for the game.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.