Tag: josh boone

The New Mutants

The New Mutants (2020)
★ / ★★★★

In the lounge of the secret facility where young adult mutants are confined so they can learn how to control their powers, Season 4 of Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is constantly playing on television, arguably the show’s worst season. There is a reason for this. The film and the cult TV show’s fourth year tackle a similar theme: identity. Despite this, I found myself wishing I were sitting through Buffy and the rest of the Scooby Gang’s first year in college than having to endure another interminable minute of “The New Mutants,” written by Josh Boone (who directs) and Knate Lee, an insipid, boring, spiritless, and highly expository dirge set somewhere in the “X-Men” universe. I dub it “X-Men on Quaaludes.”

For a movie revolving around teenagers with budding superpowers, not much of interest happens. The problem isn’t the fact that the patients are stuck in one location. An imaginative and well-written screenplay finds freedom within physical confines. Creating compelling characters outside of their superpowers—abilities that we’ve all seen before within and outside of the “X-Men” franchise—is the biggest hurdle the work is unable to overcome. Through flashbacks, nightmares, and imaginings we manage to take a peek into our heroes’ tragic pasts. However, once we have the necessary information, awful memories remain just that: they haunt, they force their possessor to assume the fetal position. Their bearers never undergo convincing arcs and so when the movie is finally over, we wonder what point the story is trying to make, if any.

The enigmatic facility is run by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga), a mutant capable of generating powerful force fields. Although there are no walls or fences around the hospital, there is no escape. The newest arrival is a Native American named Dani (Blu Hunt), the sole survivor of a mysterious attack against her tribe. No one knows her power, not even herself. There are four other patients: spitfire Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy, a scene-stealer) who possesses the power of teleportation (and her arm can change into a sword), the welcoming Rahne (Maisie Williams) who can transform into a wolf, the guilt-ridden Sam (Charlie Heaton) who can move faster than a rocket, and playboy Bobby (Henry Zaga) who can envelop his entire body into flames. These comic book characters are not translated in a way that works in a cinematic medium. As they clash and prance around nondescript hallways, I felt as though all of them are mere cardboard cutouts.

How can this be when the movie is so dialogue-heavy? There are at least three group therapy sessions with Dr. Reyes. A handful of moments where the teenagers hang out and measure each other up, particularly Dani and Illyana. And there is a budding romance between Dani and Rahne. It goes to show that just because characters are speaking to one another does not necessarily mean they are saying much. I felt awful for the performers because I felt their enthusiasm behind each portrayal. But they never stood a chance because the screenplay is dead in the water.

Of course the film must wrap up by employing visual effects extravaganza. I felt numb by all of it. It’s like walking into a room where a friend is attempting to defeat the final boss of a Japanese role-playing video game. It looks epic—Lights! Magic! Pulse-pounding score!—but it’s difficult to care because you don’t have the necessary context as to why that final battle is important for the avatars fighting. But watching the closing chapters of “The New Mutants” is actually worse because the visual effects are muddled at times and we did sit through the context yet it still fails to make an impact.

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Hazel (Shailene Woodley) has a pair of lungs that is not very good at being lungs. Her thyroid cancer, diagnosed when she was thirteen, has spread downward over time so liquid tends to accumulate in her breathing organ. Thus, she is required to haul around an oxygen tank that will enable her to inhale and exhale with ease.

Attending a support group for cancer patients, one she insists on not attending but does so anyway in order to make her parents feel better, Hazel meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), an osteosarcoma survivor. The cancer was once in his right leg so the doctors decided it had to go in order to save his life. The two have no idea of the love—one that goes beyond cute and romance—that they are about to share.

Based on the acclaimed novel by John Green, “The Fault in Our Stars” is, for the most part, an effective drama about teenagers who have or have had cancer. There is an honesty to the picture that is absent in many other movies that feature characters afflicted by the devastating disease which makes it head and shoulders above films of its type. Pair the quality screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber with a relevant topic—a young person dealing with one’s mortality—and what results is a work with a high level of pathos while elegantly balancing romance, tragedy, and comedy.

The lead performance is outstanding. When I heard news that Woodley would be playing Hazel, I knew she would be perfect for the role because in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” and James Ponsoldt’s “The Spectacular Now,” she has shown that she is not a one-dimensional performer. I feel she has very sad eyes. The longer the camera stares at them, sadder moments are amplified while lighter moments create a fascinating, magnetic contradiction. We always wonder what Hazel is thinking which is exactly the point because even though she may not admit to it verbally, she is afraid to die. In one important scene, she describes herself as a grenade. In some ways, she is.

I wish I can say the same about Elgort. Gifted with angelic good looks, the actor tries to embody the very charismatic Gus and match Woodley’s natural intensity, but he consistently comes up short by comparison. Notice that in some scenes, his character has a limp; in others, it is absent completely.

Some missteps are less elementary. When certain lines are better delivered by relishing every moment, he tends to rush which gives the impression that he is nervous. Perhaps he was intimidated by his more experienced co-star, I do not know for sure, but there are times when he took me out of the moment instead of further getting me into it. Still, Woodley and Elgort do share believable chemistry.

It shows a taste of how scary and ugly cancer can be while still being mindful of its target audience. Keep in mind that the picture is not a documentary about how it is really like for a person to have cancer, but there are enough details to keep one engaged. For instance, it gives us an idea of a routine a cancer patient might have—constant doctor visits, the amount of pills to be consumed three times a day, attending support group, always being watched closely—and how the disease can dig its claws suddenly and let go, for the time being, just as abruptly.

For the most part, its approach is to focus on the emotional struggles of its characters. Best exemplified is the relationship between Hazel and her mother (Laura Dern). Although Elgort is not able to match Woodley’s subtleties, Dern hits the right spot every single time. There are moments when I wished that the story would focus more on the fears shared between a mother and her child.

Dern proves to be a great conduit. She allows those who have never been a parent to feel some of her character’s struggle of being a mother who wants to cherish every moment with her daughter just in case the good days are numbered while at the same time allowing Hazel to live her life the way she wants it. And that means giving her daughter some space, some freedom.

Directed by Josh Boone, “The Fault in Our Stars” is appropriately titled because less discerning eyes can go into it and be convinced that its flaws are negligible, that it is so-called perfect just the way it is—and that is all right. But in my eyes, even though I enjoyed the picture as a whole, there are enough miscalculations to draw a difference between a truly engrossing experience every step of the way and that of a work which requires a bit more fire and polishing in order to set a standard.

Stuck in Love

Stuck in Love (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Since the divorce of Bill (Greg Kinnear) and Erica (Jennifer Connelly) two years ago, the Borgens household has become an abode for serious writers. Over Thanksgiving break, college student Sam (Lily Collins) reveals that a book she had written over the summer is getting published. Bill is extremely proud but Rusty (Nat Wolff), Sam’s only sibling, sneers across the table. He has yet to publish any of his material. His muse is right around the corner, however, when he is forced to read one of his work in class—a poem about a girl (Liana Liberato) who sits several feet away but happens to be seeing another guy.

Written and directed by Josh Boone, “Stuck in Love” is full of whiny, irritating, arrogant people with bland personalities. It takes a solid premise—a family of writers who have a certain competitiveness in their blood—and minces it into a standard three-piece love story where the outcomes are easily predicted by anyone who is half-asleep.

It makes the mistake of allowing the supporting characters to overshadow those who we are supposed to care about most. A character worthy of an entire film is Louis (Logan Lerman), Sam’s classmate and a potential love interest. Like Sam, he is a writer but one that specializes in mysteries and detective stories. Unlike Sam, his life is interesting and his personality has genuine substance. He deals with illness but he is pleasant to be around. Lerman is smart to reel in some of the awkwardness and turn some of that into charm.

Equally lovely to see on screen is Kristen Bell who plays jogging-obsessed Tricia. She and Bill have sex from time to time and they have a common understanding that what they share is purely physical. Unlike Sam, Tricia is no love interest. I enjoyed her relationship with Bill because they seem to fit well as friends. One of the highlights of the picture involves Tricia helping Bill with his wardrobe prior to going on a date. It is unfortunate that the screenplay does not make full use of the friendship, to delve into it more, and build emotional resonance out of it. She appears and disappears for comedic effect.

Louis and Sam’s banters are tolerable and amusing at times, but I found Rusty and his class crush quite unbearable to watch. Perhaps part of the problem is that Wolff and Liberato share little to no chemistry. During the more intimate scenes, it feels like watching two inexperienced actors rehearsing. There is not enough rhythm or flirtation to make the scene magnetic. Rusty is supposed to be a hopeless romantic. It is feels off that the relationship bears little romance.

The Borgens’ problems are not at all deep despite the drama happening all around. Right about the halfway point, I caught myself wondering if I was supposed to care and whether the screenplay would even bother to throw a curveball that is designed to break the ennui. The point is, the Borgens’ problems can easily be solved if they just acted like real people for a change. Hold a family meeting. Person A does not want to see Person B? Tough luck. In reality, people are required to do things they might not particularly like or agree with.

The central problem is foreshadowed in the title. The screenplay is essentially stuck with a familiar formula, only occasionally colored by slight brushes of independent filmmaking. There is nothing wrong with attempting to appeal to a wide audience while saying something intelligent or insightful. The key is an elegant script that this film lacks.