Archive for 2022


Posted in Biography, Documentary with tags on March 15, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

My Octopus Teacher, Summer of Soul, and now Navalny. On March 12, the submission officially joined fellow recent Oscar winners when it received the award for Best Documentary. The win wasn’t a huge surprise. It was slightly favored to win over the other nominees. The feature had already won the top award at the Producers Guild and the BAFTAs. The picture is a political portrait centered around Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his crusade against an authoritarian regime. Given the current affairs surrounding Ukraine, its relevance as an exposé of Russian politics makes it a particularly timely selection.

The film recounts the events related to Navalny’s poisoning and the subsequent investigation. On August 20, 2020, he got sick during a flight to Moscow. The activist was hospitalized in serious condition. He was taken to a hospital in Russia after an emergency landing and put in a coma. Two days later, under accusations he wasn’t receiving treatment with his best interest in mind, he was evacuated to the Charité hospital in Berlin, Germany. It was later confirmed he had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent. Navalny blamed president Vladimir Putin for his poisoning, while the Kremlin repeatedly denied involvement.

The high point is a jaw-dropping “gotcha” moment. Navalny, along with investigative journalist Christo Grozev and Maria Pevchikh, the head investigator for the Anti-Corruption Foundation, are all on the phone. They’ve identified a list of potential Kremlin agents likely responsible for his sickness. Adopting the persona of one of Putin’s accomplices, Navalny demands to know why the assassination failed. To everyone’s shock, the voice on the line attempts to provide an answer. While the rest of the documentary is adequate, nothing else comes close to this development.

Navalny ultimately got better in Germany. He flew back to Russia, where government officials greeted him at the airport and detained him for violating parole conditions. In February 2022, Navalny was charged with fraud and sentenced to a nine-year term at a maximum-security penal colony. Amnesty International has described the trials as a politically motivated sham. His fate remains uncertain. Meanwhile, this account remains a testament to his life and work.


Argentina, 1985

Posted in Biography, Crime, Drama with tags on March 8, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Do you love politics, history, and courtroom dramas? Argentina, 1985 is a perfect blending of the three.

The title is an accurate description of the time and place. The country has recovered its democracy after seven years of a military dictatorship called the National Reorganization Process. The current President has ordered the former commanders to be put on trial for their crimes of torture and abuse against the people. However, the accused want to be tried by a military court, but they fail to press charges. So the lawsuit moves to the civilian judiciary, where they can be tried. The responsibility for building the case against them falls on its only federal prosecutor, Julio Strassera (Ricardo Darín).

Argentina 1985 is a David and Goliath story The Trial of the Juntas concerns holding those accountable for the bloodiest dictatorship in the history of Argentina. This details the Argentine justice system. It would be a challenging endeavor. The military has all the advantages of a team of experienced lawyers. Julio Strassera is at a distinct disadvantage with limited resources and a group of lawyers that are young and inexperienced.

The first half is about assembling the team and the death threats they receive for trying this case. He’s assigned a deputy prosecutor named Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani ), a professor whose family has ties to the military. Strassera is skeptical but ultimately accepts Ocampo’s help. The second part is the judicial hearing, where we learn about the atrocities the de facto government committed while in control. The proceedings are broadcast, so the citizens are watching this too, and it’s turning the tide of public opinion.

The saga is a chronicle of a historical event where people were brought to justice, regardless of how powerful and protected. The legal developments of one country may seem narrow in scope. Still, we can take what happened in Argentina and apply those lessons to any regime that might overstep its authority. I appreciated the presentation of an atrocity of which I knew very little. It’s a compelling portrait, and it even manages to respectfully inject humor here and there despite the serious subject matter. Argentina, 1985 is nominated for Best International Feature at the upcoming Oscars this Sunday, March 12. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.



Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on February 13, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Belgium’s submission for Best International Film at the 95th Academy Awards garnered enough votes to be one of the five nominees. This is only the 8th time the country has made it into the category. The last instance was when The Broken Circle Breakdown had a spot at the 2014 awards. Belgium has yet to win, but I’d be delighted if that changed this year. The nine-time Oscar nominee All Quiet on the Western Front from Germany is the most significant competition and the odds-on favorite. However, this award has produced surprises before, so you never know.

Close is the story of a friendship between two boys in their early teens. The narrative boasts a refreshingly simple plot but offers a profoundly deep concept. Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) are boon companions on the precipice of adulthood. They’re still figuring out who they are and what they will be. The 13-year-old boys live in a rural area in Belgium and have grown up together. They share a relaxed familiarity characterized by casual affection, not unlike brothers. The naive innocence in their demeanor immediately moved me.

Young actors Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele are incredible. The duo has a carefree ease with one another, not as actors but as real children. Their actions are natural, free from the auspices of making a movie. The pair run through the fields, ride bikes, laugh and play. Léo’s parents run a flower farm, so they’re outdoors often. Their life is a veritable Garden of Eden. Many scenes favor the language of visuals over mere words. Frank van den Eeden’s cinematography highlights this. After this idyllic summer, the boys start high school. It’s clear to everyone they are extremely chummy. Inseparable is more like it. A trio of girls notices this and are curious. One of them dares to ask, “Are you two together?” “We’re close because we’re best friends,” Léo says defensively. “Are you sure?” she presses. The question is the beginning of an estrangement.

Close sneaks up on you. Deeper themes percolate beneath the surface. Director Lukas Dhont has attested in interviews that this is a profoundly personal work. He incorporates ideas of intimacy, masculinity, adaptability, and fear with such subtlety. Suspicions are neither confirmed nor denied. Nothing beyond a chaste camaraderie is ever depicted. It simply details how an assumption can change behavior. A portrait of anxiety, marked by depression, matures into a tremendously sad chronicle. The account rarely feels manipulative, save for one critical event. Afterward, the handling of the subject is less graceful. I would have preferred this material be explored without the tragedy. Nevertheless, it is a powerful depiction of how people conform to fit in. Many things are left unspoken, but one thing remains true. Close is a poignant tale about friendship and its disintegration. The subtleties of the saga take hold and gradually overwhelm the emotions.



Posted in Drama with tags on February 7, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What would you do if you had six months to live? That is the question faced by Mr. Rodney Williams. The repressed civil servant ekes out a passive existence in the county planning department in 1950s London. When Williams is diagnosed with a fatal illness, he initially feels his life is over. Rather than tell his son (Barry Fishwick) and daughter-in-law (Patsy Ferran), the widower takes a break from his responsibilities and travels to a seaside resort town. There he strikes up a conversation with a stranger to whom he unexpectedly reveals his diagnosis. Mr. Sutherland (Tom Burke) is moved by his story and takes him for a night on the town. Williams decides he’s going to forget about dying and concentrate on living.

What follows is a delicate character study composed of precious developments. When Williams replaces his traditional uniform of a bowler hat with a trilby, the minor change in his wardrobe is pointedly noticed by a former co-worker. The friendship of youthful Miss Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) occupies his leisure. When they’re spied having lunch together by a nosy neighbor, his son fears it could lead to a potential scandal. Williams is more concerned with rallying his underlings in the office around constructing a children’s playground. Its development has been bogged down by paperwork. Given his dwindling time, he’s inspired to speed up the process. The Oscar-nominated screenplay has been adapted by Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go) from Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 drama Ikiru and is directed by Oliver Hermanus (Moffie).

Living is an exquisitely crafted period piece in service of a narrative that’s barely there. It opens with an elegant opening-titles sequence that perfectly embodies the cinema of the past. Full of archival footage, the intro sets the tone for a mood of an earlier era. Along with production design, costumes, and score, the elements combine to pull the viewer deeper into this world. Even vintage typeface announces the picture. An expectation that the words “The End” will appear as a coda will not go unfulfilled. The account is so sweet and modest I might have called it inconspicuous. However, the independent release from Sony Pictures Classics has attracted some notable accolades.

The chronicle is anchored by a restrained performance. Star Bill Nighy hasn’t always been so understated. He began his acting career in the late 1970s on the London stage. He also earned acclaim for his parts in British television, particularly the drama series State of Play (2003) and the political thriller Page Eight (2012). He was nominated for BAFTAs for both and won for the former. However, it was his amusing appearance in Love Actually that I became aware of his work. Indeed it was a breakout portrayal. Many more roles followed, including an ongoing presence in the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Underworld movie franchises. More recently, he was quietly affecting in the 2020 Jane Austen adaptation Emma. He’s sensitively subdued in Living too. So much so it garnered his first Academy Award nomination. I guess you could say it was his time.

Living debuted in theaters on Dec 23, 2022, and is still in limited release (410 U.S. cinemas at the moment)


Fire of Love

Posted in Biography, Documentary with tags on February 1, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Katia and Maurice are a married couple who share a passion. They’re volcanologists from France. As you probably can deduce, that’s a scientist that studies volcanoes. The Kraffts are geologists that focus on their incendiary formation and explosive activity. They travel the world looking for the next eruption. The beauty of this documentary is twofold. (1) It profiles two idiosyncratic individuals who together risk their lives doing something they love. (2) It highlights some of the most awe-inspiring footage of active volcanoes I have ever seen. This is where the program excels.

Images and music artfully combine in this hypnotic record. Assembling the Kraffts’ archival material, director Sara Dosa (The Last Season) presents breathtaking closeups of fiery mountains and rivers of fire. This is a loving tribute to the pair who truly cherish each other and I’d speculate volcanoes even more. Given its somewhat cheesy title, you fully expect to hear Jody Reynolds’ 1958 rockabilly hit (later covered by The Gun Club) pop up somewhere. That tune never appears, but the soundtrack does include an original score by Nicolas Godin, half of the French duo Air. The group’s songs “Clouds Up” and “Casanova 70” also appear.

“Curiosity is stronger than fear.” Filmmaker / performance artist Miranda July provides the narration. Her words prepare us for the inevitable. The work of Katia and Maurice started in the late 1960s and abruptly ended in 1991. A pyroclastic flow on Japan’s Mount Unzen wiped them out, along with 41 others. Yet it’s apparent in every frame that they were fully aware of the danger in which they willingly placed themselves. Maurice mentions a desire to row a titanium canoe down a river of lava. He wasn’t kidding. Maurice never did that, but he and Katia do things that defy death many times over. At one point, they enter an active volcano site and walk on black lava. The magma oozes from the underground depths of the earth and hardens, but it still emits fire from the cracks. Anyone witnessing their startingly closeup video of blazing eruptions as their backdrop will be amazed. “How in the world did they shoot this?” is a question I asked myself repeatedly throughout the 94-minute runtime. I could’ve watched a feature twice in length. As such, the rewatchability quotient is exceptionally high.

Fire of Love is currently streaming on Disney+ and Hulu. The movie received a limited release (191 U.S. theaters) by National Geographic Films in July 2022. It will compete for Best Documentary Feature at the 95th Academy Awards on March 12.


To Leslie

Posted in Drama with tags on January 30, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There’s an appealing lo-fi aesthetic to this immersive character-driven drama. Screenwriter Ryan Binaco (3022) was allegedly motivated to pen a tribute to his mother’s life. He reportedly drew inspiration from the 1970 movie Wanda by Barbara Loden as well. However, this portrait of a troubled American mother experiencing questionable mental health also suggests other films of that decade: A Woman Under the Influence and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Accomplished TV director Michael Morris (Bloodline, Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why) directs.

Leslie Rowland is a single mother from West Texas. Right at the beginning, we see TV news footage of her winning $190,000 in a local lottery. Leslie’s numbers were her son’s birth date. She happens to be an alcoholic and squanders the winnings on liquor and drugs. Six years later, Leslie is penniless and living a nomadic lifestyle without a permanent home. After being kicked out of a derelict motel, she returns to her hometown, ostensibly intending to rebuild her life. Leslie reunites with her estranged 20-year-old son James (Owen Teague). He’s currently in construction. The tall, slender Teague recalls a working-class John Travolta circa the Saturday Night Fever era. James agrees to take her in temporarily, provided she doesn’t drink. Unfortunately, she has difficulty making good on that promise.

Redemptive dramas about alcoholism can feel a bit manipulative. Yet To Leslie supersedes its histrionic subject with authenticity. Leslie soon alienates her son and is forced to move back in with bitter ex-friends (Allison Janney and Stephen Root). That soon falls apart. A chance meeting with Sweeney (Marc Maron), the manager of a rundown motel, might prove to be a blessing. Sweeney’s co-worker is an idiosyncratic man named Royal (Andre Royo), who owns the property. These thoroughly realized characters confirm that a complicated plot is unnecessary when you sincerely detail human emotion. This is a compelling study of addiction in blue-collar Middle America. The emotional saga captivates at every turn.

When we talk about the depth of an actor’s work, it’s hard not to consider the disparity between an actor’s background and the personality of their role. Andrea Riseborough is a British actress born in Wallsend, near Newcastle. She attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2005. Riseborogh completely embodies this hard-drinking West Texas woman. You’d swear the producers simply picked up a local barfly from “The Lone Star State” and cast them in a movie. Riseborough is that convincing. Playing a drunk can feel like a “rite of passage” for an actor. However, her depiction here is elevated beyond common portrayals.

Andrea Riseborough has always been a chameleon. It’s easy to forget she’s been acting for two decades. She made her feature debut in 2006 with a small part in Venus starring Peter O’Toole. She has had prominent roles in many films, including Oblivion, Birdman, Nocturnal Animals, Battle of the Sexes, The Death of Stalin, Mandy, Possessor, Amsterdam, and Matilda The Musical. She often looks and acts like an utterly different individual. She gives a transformative performance here. A grassroots campaign amongst Riseborough’s fellow actors heralded her work in this picture few had seen before January 24. When the Oscar nominations were announced that morning, she earned a nod for Best Actress. Her nomination may have been a surprise, but her achievement is most assuredly deserving of acclaim.

To Leslie is available to rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.



Posted in Drama with tags on January 26, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Aftersun is a moisturizing lotion applied to the skin to soothe sunburn and avoid peeling. The symbolic title announces a deceptively simple movie with significant depth. It opens with rewinding home video footage of a vacation at a modest resort in Turkey during the summer of 1999. The videotape reignites the memories of that trip for an adult woman (Celia Rowlson Hall). 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) is a precocious and perceptive youth on the cusp of adolescence. She’s on holiday with her dad. Calum Paterson is about to turn 31, so there is an age difference of less than 20 years between them.

Calum is a loving and supportive presence in his daughter’s life. The saga presents a series of seemingly random and inconsequential events. The account is a study in simplicity. They swim in the Mediterranean, play a game of pool, shop for a rug, and eat ice cream. In these warm interactions, we gradually explore the dynamics of this father-daughter duo. However, something is amiss. It’s subtle. At one point, Sophie tries to get Calum to join her on stage for a karaoke version of “Losing My Religion,” but he isn’t feeling it. It is implied they used to sing this together on holidays in the past. You’ll have to look closely to identify clues suggesting melancholia.

Aftersun is a gentle wisp of a recollection. A fond reminiscence of happier times. This was one of the most acclaimed releases of 2022 and appeared on over a hundred critics’ top 10 lists. It even garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination for star Paul Mescal. He gives a nuanced performance, as does actress Frankie Corio, who plays his daughter. I was impressed by their relaxed chemistry in this thoughtful pastiche of flashbacks. Two things of note: (1) Calum was young when he became a father. (2) He’s now separated from Sophie’s mother. This portrait will affect you more if you identify with Sophie’s situation.

Aftersun is a profoundly personal picture. Charlotte Wells is a talented filmmaker who clearly understands the power of restraint and patience. That this is her first feature makes it one of the most self-assured directorial debuts of 2022. The chronicle perfectly illustrates “show, don’t tell.” As such, the delicacy of the screenplay is the more profound meaning between the lines. This is a profoundly personal picture. The evocation of a mood is compelling. But be forewarned. The nostalgia of this trip is an intimate reflection that builds to an ambiguous conclusion. It may hit you like an emotional ton of bricks or leave you asking a question that does not have a definitive answer.


All Quiet on the Western Front

Posted in Action, Drama, War with tags on January 22, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Author Erich Maria Remarque’s realistic depiction of combat from the perspective of young soldiers in the trenches was a best-selling 1929 novel. As a German veteran of World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front connected with soldiers and civilians across the globe. It sold 2.5 million copies in 22 languages in its first 18 months in print. In 1930, the publication became a landmark work of American cinema. Lewis Milestone won the Oscar for Best Director, and the production won Best Picture. It was even reworked again as a TV movie in 1979 starring Richard Thomas.

I didn’t feel like the book needed another adaptation. So this version directed by Edward Berger wasn’t high on my “to see” list. It debuted on Netflix on October 28th and briefly occupied the Top 10 for a couple of weeks. It was overshadowed in popularity at the time by The Good Nurse, a drama starring Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne. Then on Tuesday, January 19th, the BAFTA awards were announced, and this feature got a staggering 14 nominations, more than any other. My curiosity was piqued.

The story follows a teenager named Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) and his friends Albert Kropp (Aaron Hilmer) and Franz Müller (Moritz Klaus), who voluntarily enlist in the German army. There they make friends with a more experienced solider named Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch). They’re full of patriotism to represent their country, but that excitement soon dissipates as they face the brutalities of war. Witness their youthful, almost angelic faces caked in soot, with only the whites of their eyes shining through. This portrait emphasizes the humanity that shines through the dirt and grime.

All Quiet on the Western Front is a faithful adaptation of a German novel with German actors speaking their native language. It took nearly a century for a German rendition of Remarque’s seminal tome to come to fruition. The fact that the book was banned in Nazi Germany for its anti-war position didn’t make that journey any easier. The production looks good. Cinematographer James Friend offers up breathtaking imagery. It’s a beautifully photographed, handsomely mounted period piece that effectively illustrates the notion that…are you ready? War is Hell.

That sentiment is a timeworn cliche at this point. The production doesn’t have any novel ideas to add. However, it does at least provide an experience. Feel the visceral thrill of combat immersed in the muddy trenches. It has a palpable “you are there” aesthetic. As such, the account repeatedly reminded me of the Sam Mendes picture 1917 in both style and subject matter. Even star Felix Kammerer is a dead ringer for 1917‘s George MacKay. I loved that film, and I likewise appreciate this one too. However, there are long stretches over the course of this 148-minute movie where nothing happens. This narrative is significantly slower and less cinematic than 1917. In the shadow of that epic, this chronicle feels more than a little “been there done that.”

Nevertheless, the upcoming Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 24th, and this is becoming a real contender. It’s a German movie, so at the very least, it’s a guaranteed lock for a place in Best International Film, but it’s likely to get cited in other categories. We shall see.


Women Talking

Posted in Drama with tags on January 19, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

From its title, you expect an inspirational tribute to female empowerment. Sadly Women Talking is more frustrating than satisfying. Here’s why.

This chronicle is based on a scandal that occurred among the Mennonites of Manitoba Colony. Mennonites are Christians formed during the Protestant Reformation. Neither Catholic nor Protestant, they are often closely associated with the Amish but an entirely separate entity. This particular religious community of European descent resides in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia. Inspired by actual events, the incident was recounted in the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews. Between 2005 and 2009, over a hundred girls and women woke up to discover that they had been raped in their sleep. At first, the men told them it was the work of ghosts or demons. Ultimately the perpetrators were caught in the act. The victims discovered that men in the settlement had sedated them with cow tranquilizer. The felons were eventually arrested by local police and taken to jail.

Women Talking is simply that, a discussion amongst mothers, daughters, wives, grandmothers, and children. Understandably, they were outraged. The unspeakable crimes have mainly occurred before the film’s outset, although we see some individuals waking up with bruises and no recollection of what happened. The remaining men have now gone to town to bail the criminals out. They have instructed that the women must forgive their abusers before they return. If they do not, they will be forced to leave the colony and “denied entry to the Kingdom of Heaven.” Oh boy. Are you frustrated yet? It gets even more maddening. The female survivors have assembled in a barn. They have three choices, of which they will pick one (1) Do nothing, (2) stay and fight, or (3) leave.

A celebrated cast breathes life into a dreary debate set on a theatrical stage. Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Judith Ivey present a variety of personalities. They imbue director Sarah Polley’s screenplay with confidence. Producer Frances McDormand also appears as a woman less aligned with the other protestors. She’s onscreen for perhaps 5 minutes. Meanwhile, Ben Whishaw portrays a quiet schoolteacher smitten with Mara’s character. He’s also on hand as a sympathetic representative of the patriarchy who can read and write, unlike the women. He’s ostensibly here to take down the notes and indirectly remind us that “not all men.”

The artificial construct of Women Talking is not without precedent. 12 Angry Men famously threw a group in a room and had them argue. That outstanding drama focused on the questionable guilt of an accused. In this account, there is no doubt. The men are clearly guilty, and the dialogue examines what to do. That changes things considerably. The eight endlessly pontificate on their various options. One’s enjoyment will be how much you appreciate listening to indecisive people speak in circles about an issue for 104 minutes but not do anything. I had hoped that “stay and fight” might include securing machine guns and mowing down their violent attackers. I wondered what an actress like Sigourney Weaver or Linda Hamilton might have done in a movie 35 years ago.

The persecuted gather for a well-meaning drama of morally unimpeachable politics. The ladies finally make a decision, but it’s too little too late. It fails to provide the necessary catharsis, a moment where horrific crimes are thoroughly addressed. Dear ladies, actions speak a lot louder than words. Or, to put it another way, “women doing” is more inspiring than “women talking.”



Posted in Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on January 9, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The killer doll story has been a subset of horror for decades. Early instances of the well-worn trope can be found in Dead of Night (1945) and TV’s The Twilight Zone (1959). The 1970s reintroduced the concept with Trilogy of Terror (1975), Magic (1978), and Tourist Trap (1979), but it popped up the most during the 1980s in films like The Pit (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Ghoulies (1985), Dolls (1986), Child’s Play (1988) and Puppet Master (1989). Recent additions include Annabelle (2014), The Boy (2016), and Sabrina (2018). It’s time to add yet another entry to the fold. Meet M3GAN (pronounced MEGAN), an innovative life-sized action figure who can walk and talk…and dance, but I wouldn’t expect a meaningful discourse. Her existence adds nothing to the conversation.

M3GAN is a downright lazy interpretation of a basic idea. Gemma (Allison Williams) is a roboticist at Funki, a technological toy company. M3GAN (played by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis) is short for Model 3 Generative Android. Wide-eyed and girly, the doll is suitably creepy and the production design’s best asset. Gemma is working on this artificial intelligence (AI) robot for children at home. The toy is still in the prototype stage. Gemma’s 8-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw), is currently staying with her. Cady is struggling to come to terms with the death of her parents. M3GAN appears to be a good surrogate for her grief. Gemma is pleased by this as she can spend less time being a parent. Kudos to Allison Williams for portraying a cold personality that is, unfortunately, more realistic than people would care to admit. Gemma’s co-worker (Jen Van Epps) and Cady’s therapist (Amy Usherwood) are concerned with M3GAN’s growing presence in Cady’s life. We, the audience, were worried the second we saw the strangely lifelike doll because (ahem) we have seen movies before.

Horror films work when they can shock or scare us. M3GAN fails in this regard. We’ve had at least 80 years of the cinematic trope, so it’s astonishing to see a picture in 2023 do so little with the formula. M3GAN has been programmed to protect Cady emotionally and physically. Her AI grows more advanced as she bonds with Cady until — surprise! — the doll becomes sentient. The toy exhibits hostility whenever she spies a danger to her human companion. Naturally, this progresses into her killing the people and animals she deems a threat. The plot shuffles down a predictable path. As a result, there’s no tension or suspense other than waiting for the current scene to end so we can see the next obvious development.

M3GAN is spooky but lacks scares. However, that isn’t the raison d’être of this PG-13-rated fluff. It’s trying to be funny, but having a robot use words like “bitch” when she gets angry is just scraping the bottom of the barrel for wit. M3GAN inexplicably swaying to a pop song in the trailer inspired a TikTok trend. The marketing team wisely capitalized on this situation and hired a troupe of eight dancers dressed like M3GAN to move in a choreographed routine at the premiere and other random events. This makes the much shorter 10-second blink-and-you-miss-it dance in the actual film seem even more like a missed opportunity.

M3GAN isn’t campy enough. This is surprising because screenwriter Akela Cooper wrote Malignant, which had a zany sensibility you couldn’t predict. See the infinitely superior Bride of Chucky for an example of true outrageousness. The fourth installment in the Child’s Play franchise took doll-on-doll relations to the next level. Now that’s camp! And while we’re at it, the concept of an electronic device designed to entertain and mentor children isn’t even outlandish anymore. Count how many tots at the mall have their eyes glued to an iPad and not their parents. I know, 20 years ago, it would’ve been a TV at home. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Speaking of the status quo, the first month of the year has traditionally been the dumping ground for Hollywood studios. M3GAN is indeed a movie released by Universal Pictures on January 6th.