"A Man Called Otto" stars Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Rachel Keller, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cameron Britton, and Mike Birbiglia. Released in limited theaters on December 30, 2022, followed by a wide release on January 13, 2023, the film has a grumpy man forming an unlikely friendship with his new neighbors.
The film was directed by Marc Forster, who also directed films such as "Monster's Ball", "Stranger than Fiction", "World War Z", and "Christopher Robin". It is based on the 2012 novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. We all have moments where we feel cranky, either out of depression or people being buttheads to us. It's moments like these that make us want to end our suffering as soon as possible. But if we hold on to our lives just a bit longer, we may regain something worth living for. Last weekend brought us a couple of remakes that lured in different audiences, one of which is an American remake of a 2015 Swedish adaptation of Backman's novel. Given how beloved the 2015 adaptation was regarding its reception and Oscar nominations, it's unsurprising that Hollywood wants to retell it again for American audiences. Besides, Hollywood has done it plenty of times with middling results. Will this film suffer the same fate, or does it have enough surprises in its sentimental plot to keep us from feeling grumpy? Let's find out.
The story centers on a 60-year-old widower named Otto Anderson (Hanks), who recently retired from a steel company. After losing his wife, Sonya (Keller), six months previously, Otto considers killing himself. However, during one of his suicide attempts, Otto is interrupted by his new neighbors: Marisol (Treviño), Tommy (Garcia-Rulfo), and their two daughters, Abbie (Alessandra Perez) and Luna (Christiana Montoya). While getting acquainted with his neighbors, Otto experiences flashbacks to his past, forcing him to rediscover his once-lost happiness.
The movie marks the second time I was introduced to the source material. The first time was in 2015 when I recognized "A Man Called Ove" while watching the 89th Academy Awards. Yes, I still watch the Oscars annually. What else would I be doing during my spare time? I haven't actually watched the 2015 movie from Sweden, but considering it got nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, it must've been good enough for me to reconsider in the future. Until then, I might as well use the English adaptation as a starting point.
"A Man Called Otto" may seem like a harmless comedy about Tom Hanks being a grouch for two hours straight on paper. However, it's actually more of a light-hearted drama that covers some serious topics, mainly depression and suicide. While there are moments when the movie does provide some chuckles, it also makes you understand that these issues are no laughing matter. Plus, it isn't afraid to make people cry, especially those who have dealt with or are still dealing with depression today. So make sure you bring tissues for this one because it will be a doozy. Also, if you're planning on taking your kids to this film, be sure to talk to them about its themes before and after exposing them to Tom Hanks committing suicide for two hours.
The story itself is a tried-and-true tale about grief and loss, with Otto reeling from the loss of his wife and hopes to join her in death. However, he gets a wake-up call from life after befriending his new neighbors and recollecting his past. The movie depicts the man's journey to rediscover what it means to live and make peace with the life he's living, even though he's surrounded by idiots. Films like these have come around often to generate tears from audiences without relying on artsy filmmaking. Most of them have succeeded in being feel-good and well-executed heartstring tuggers, while some relied too heavily on their sentimentality that it made specific viewers cringe or barf with their cheesiness. "A Man Called Otto" is a decent example of the former, as it delivered a heartwarming and charismatic portrait of its themes and scenarios.
I wouldn't be quick to call it a perfect adaptation of the Swedish novel, though. Despite having the heart in the right place, the movie has some issues regarding the narrative that kept it from being an authentic tear-jerking experience. It does feel a bit bare-bones when it comes to representing its mature topics and characters. That's not to say it has to be R-rated to make it great, as the teen-rated version of its themes is admirable for the most part. It's that it doesn't have a lot of moments that stick with me after the credits roll, aside from the humor. There's also the pacing and editing, both of which were a tad awkward and rushed in specific sequences, including the finale. Aside from those flaws, director Marc Forster managed to add plenty of heart and charm to its familiar plot while providing happy tears to a respectable degree.
Forster has proven himself to be a confident filmmaker in the drama department, especially when he attempts to add charisma and emotion into the mix, with "A Man Called Otto" being an example of that. But, of course, he's not the only person who knows how to inject those elements into their craft. Yes, even the great Tom Hanks knows how to impress audiences with his talent. This is another film that sees Hanks playing a different character outside of his usual likable personas in years past. The result is what you'd expect from the actor, with Hanks delivering a captivating performance as the imitating yet caring Otto. It shows that Hanks is still as charismatic as ever, even as the grumpiest man in the suburbs. Then, you have the supporting cast, which made a solid effort to keep up with Hanks. Mariana Treviño did a good job with her performance as Marisol regarding her humor and emotion. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo also followed suit with his role as Tommy, and the kid actors as Abby and Luna were unsurprisingly adorable.
Overall, "A Man Called Otto" is a charming and unapologetically sentimental comedy-drama that'll likely warm many people's hearts, even the grumpy ones. It doesn't break any new ground with its themes and presentation, but in a case like this, it doesn't have to. Its goal was to provide a simple and inspiring experience that makes audiences feel grateful about life and the people they spend it with. Regarding its direction, Marc Forster and the crew were barely able to accomplish that objective. Tom Hanks was as lovable as he's always been, and the heartfelt moments were admirable despite some minor issues with the pacing and editing. Because of my experience, I would gladly look at the 2015 adaptation sometime and see how the two compare. If you're a fan of Tom Hanks and feel-good movies, this one's definitely worth checking out, but leave your crabbiness behind while doing so.
"Missing" stars Storm Reid, Joaquim de Almeida, Ken Leung, Amy Landecker, Daniel Henney, and Nia Long. Released on January 20, 2023, the film has a teenager using various technologies to find her missing mother.
The film features the directorial debuts of Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, the editors of "Searching" and "Run". It is the standalone sequel to the 2018 film "Searching". It's been said that technology is used to seek online popularity and explore different types of social media. However, there are also times when technology is relied upon to save people's lives, whether they're kidnapped or missing. One of those cases, in particular, is a small techno-thriller about a father using various computers and smartphones to find his daughter. That film is "Searching", which put Aneesh Chaganty on the Hollywood map due to his unique direction and use of clever twists. The movie's positive reception and box office success resulted in it spawning a sequel that puts a new set of characters in that familiar and frightening scenario. Since I loved "Searching", it's evident that I wouldn't want to pass this up despite Chaganty not returning to direct it. So was this standalone sequel able to match the tension and enjoyability of its predecessor's timely elements? Let's find out.
The story follows June Allen (Reid), a rebellious teenager who's left alone in Los Angeles while her mother, Grace (Long), goes on vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend, Kevin Lin (Leung). After a night of partying, June goes to the airport to wait for Grace's return. The problem is Grace hasn't gotten off the plane, let alone arrived in Los Angeles. June later discovers that Grace has mysteriously disappeared in Colombia, resulting in her hiring the FBI and a Colombian man named Javier Ramos (de Almeida) for help. June also relies on various devices and online information to find out what happened to Grace. But as the search progresses, June's sleuthing leads her to discover shocking secrets about Grace, making her question her relationship with her mother.
Before watching "Searching", I figured it would be another disposable found-footage movie with the events being told from a computer screen's perspective. But, to my surprise, it managed to prove me otherwise. It had the same presentation as the other movies with a similar format, like "Unfriended", but it was used effectively to portray a thrilling and well-written depiction of a father solving his daughter's disappearance. What made it stand out from the others was the surprising amount of emotion in the relationship between a father and his daughter and the twists that'll quickly fool its first-timers. These elements, along with its underlying themes and a compelling cast led by John Cho, made "Searching" one of the most surprisingly great thrillers of 2018 and one of the best movies from the "screenlife" genre. So there's no doubt that there's pressure surrounding its standalone sequel looking to recapture the horrifying experience and expectations set by its predecessor.
The main thing to know about "Missing" is that it follows the same plot as "Searching", which is someone using clues and information from computers and phones to find their loved one. It's undoubtedly one of the rules of "sequel-making 101". However, it made a few changes to stand out from "Searching". The most notable difference is the role reversal. Instead of a parent searching for their missing daughter, it's the daughter that has to solve the mystery of her parent's sudden disappearance. You better watch out because this sequel's got guts. Maybe in the third film, they'll have someone attempt to find their missing sibling. The possibilities are endless. But, of course, the movie has to have a worthy storyline to warrant these changes and its existence, which it did. Although it's a far cry from what "Searching" accomplished, the sequel is just as entertaining and thrilling as you'd expect from the modern twisty techno-thriller.
"Searching" works for me because it represents the fear of a loved one disappearing for no reason. It's a horrible feeling that leaves one anxious about what's happening to that person, especially when they're not with them. The choice of having the visual storytelling set on any screen offered a unique and profound perspective on the scenario and the character's inner thoughts and feelings. It also reflects on how social media reacts to that situation through theories, rumors, or anything else. More importantly, that film effectively displays grief and loss and how they affect the relationship between a parent and their child. "Missing" quickly takes those elements from the 2018 film and applies them to its own unnerving plot. The result is a familiar yet highly watchable sequel that'll have you put in happy and shock emojis on your phone for days.
Regarding the relationship between June and Grace, "Missing" does struggle to match the level of emotion that "Searching" delivered for John Cho's David Kim and Michelle La's Margot. However, that doesn't mean the effort wasn't there. There were enough heartfelt moments between June and Grace to make me smile amid its well-executed tension. Part of that is due to the direction of Nick Johnson and Will Merrick. Since the two have worked with Chaganty for "Searching" as editors, they should clearly know that storytelling is as important as the thrills. Fortunately, Johnson and Merrick found that balance easily, with a good amount of intensity, intrigue, and heart to keep my attention. However, it does feel a bit too long compared to "Searching", which ran at a respectable 102 minutes long, with "Missing" being ten minutes longer. Luckily, the pacing kept things smooth without losing its wi-fi connection halfway through.
Next, I would credit the film for its editing, mainly for its "screenlife" presentation. From what I remember, some movies I watched from that genre, including "Unfriended", only show the entire computer screen throughout the whole runtime. "Searching" took a different approach in having several close-up shots at specific parts of a screen, including the messages, FaceTime, and even the toolbar. That approach thankfully exists in "Missing", especially when it switches to different screens for a couple of sequences. While it isn't anything too special, the editing does make the visual narrative look more lively. The sound editing also works by providing the authenticity of using specific devices, including a cell phone.
The movie also continues to display the diversity of its cast, with Storm Reid and Nia Long leading the group instead of John Cho in "Searching". More importantly, it makes solid use of the actors' talent, delivering a couple of standouts from the cast. One of them is Storm Reid, who provided a compelling performance from start to finish as June. Like how John Cho envisioned David in "Searching", Reid suitably captures the fear and worrisome that June developed as she searches for answers about her mother's whereabouts. Another standout was Joaquim de Almeida, who offered a very charming performance as Javier. Nia Long and Ken Leung were also decent in their roles as Grace and Kevin Lin, respectively.
Finally, I want to briefly mention the film's twists, which played a crucial part in the predecessor's success. What made the surprises work in "Searching" is how they constantly manipulate the audience into believing they have already figured out the mystery before the film does. But then the movie slaps you with another clue that leads to something more shocking than before. Everyone likes a good mystery, but they also love a mystery that stays in their minds after the credits roll. Johnson and Merrick, who also wrote the screenplay, managed to take that to heart when making "Missing", resulting in another series of twisty and surprising events that'll leave you in awe. Unfortunately, they didn't come close to being as everlasting as the ones in "Searching" regarding how well they connect to its commentaries. However, the surprises in "Missing" are still effective in delivering the necessary tension and shock value, even if they are a tad complex sometimes.
Overall, "Missing" relies on its predecessor's clever elements to create another entertaining and consistently tense addition to the "screenlife" movie playlist. Unfortunately, the sequel's approach to its plot and characters doesn't quite match what "Searching" delivered regarding its flawed screenplay. However, it's still admirable in maintaining the relatability and fears of the scenario, which adds to the engaging thrills and decent twists. From its talented cast onscreen to Johnson and Merrick's handling of its visual storytelling, the standalone follow-up makes a solid connection to those wanting another heart-pounding experience this winter. It's also another film that managed to avoid getting the "January Movie Curse" this year, which is good because I already got that from the "House Party" reboot last weekend. We don't need another lousy film to ruin that good streak. So if you enjoyed "Searching" or any other movie that takes place on a computer screen, I recommend you log into this one.
"Plane" stars Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Yoson An, and Tony Goldwyn. Released on January 13, 2023, the film has a commercial pilot teaming up with a convicted fugitive to rescue his passengers from local militants.
The film was directed by Jean-François Richet, who also directed films such as "Inner City", "All About Love", "Assault on Precinct 13", and "The Emperor of Paris". We always have a scary feeling of being in danger while on a plane. While most of us have no problem flying in the sky with strangers, it's easy to admit that some of us have a deep fear of our plane crashing down in some capacity. If that's not enough, then try being held captive by a militant group after surviving the crash landing. That would definitely be enough to give up going anywhere on the plane for at least an eternity. That's how I would describe the concept of this latest action thriller starring everyone's favorite butt-kicking star, Gerard Butler. It's still evident that Butler is in the same league as Liam Neeson regarding their recent B-movie-level thrillers. Although unlike the latter, Butler has starred in several movies that were at least tolerable despite their flaws. This film looks to be no exception, with Butler teaming up with Mike Colter to save the day. So does it offer enough action and high stakes to satisfy the actor's fans? Let's board this plane and find out.
The story follows Brodie Torrance (Butler), a commercial pilot working on a regularly scheduled flight during New Year's Eve. During the flight, a storm causes critical damage to the plane, forcing Brodie to make an emergency landing on an island. Unfortunately, the island turns out to be Jolo, a remote area of the Philippines ruled by anti-government militias. The militias eventually find the passengers and hold them hostage, intending to secure large ransoms from their families. As a result, a rescue team formed by former Special Forces officer Scarsdale (Goldwyn) is sent to find and rescue the passengers. Meanwhile, Brodie joins forces with Louis Gaspare (Colter), an accused murderer Brodie was tasked with transporting, to save his passengers and escape the island.
If you've been following my blog for a while, you might notice that I have a complex relationship with Gerard Butler and his recent movies. I enjoyed watching some movies featuring him, like "Olympus Has Fallen" and "Copshop", but I struggled with the other ones that failed to reach past their average quality. Each has plenty of moments filled with entertaining thrills and a compelling sense of tension. However, when it comes to their narratives, they're no Oscar contenders, but they often succeed in giving the audience what they want: a piece of adrenaline-fueled escapism featuring Gerard Butler kicking ass.
Based on the marketing, "Plane" appears to be another addition to that category, which shouldn't come as a surprise. I mean, it's an action movie about Gerard Butler killing militias and flying a plane through a dangerous storm. What you see is what you'll get, and the film delivers on that without breaking a sweat. Like the other B-movie action thrillers, "Plane" knows what it needs to be to get audiences in their seats. It's a low-budget, old-fashioned thrill ride that cruises smoothly into "popcorn entertainment" territory. However, what makes this more tolerable than the other mediocre low-budget thrillers is the effort put into its standard concept regarding the action and direction. While it doesn't elevate its familiarity, it's more than enough for me to consider it another enjoyable experience that's worth a trip to the cineplex.
If you go into this movie expecting to have an award-worthy story amid its R-rated violence, I can easily say you'll be leaving the flight in a foul mood. As mentioned earlier, this is another film designed for audiences who want old-fashioned fun and thrills instead of the artsy ones with Oscar potential. If you're not part of that audience, you might want to check out "The Fabelmans" next door. I'm okay with movies like this as long as the execution of its plot is bearable enough for me to forgive its flaws and, more importantly, it offers a healthy amount of entertainment. Fortunately for me, "Plane" did just that, even though its story soars into similar territory more often than it should.
The same should go for the characters, including the main leads. Brodie Torrance is a pilot sworn to protect his passengers by whatever means necessary, making him a perfect candidate to fly a plane during New's Year Eve. He would later test his duty when the militias captured the passengers and his crew, including his co-pilot Samuel Dele (Yoson An). Then, you have Louis Gaspare, a prisoner accused of a crime he committed years ago. He then finds redemption in helping Brodie save the passengers. These characters offer plenty of insight about themselves to make me care for their survival, including Brodie's attempt to protect the guests and reunite with his daughter Daniela (Haleigh Hekking). Unfortunately, that only lasted for about halfway through. Regarding its screenplay by Charles Cumming (who came up with the idea) and J. P. Davis, the film struggles to provide the necessary depth to the characters beyond their traditional personalities to inject emotion into their stakes. However, the characters quickly compensate for this flaw with their attractive charisma and the cast involved.
Unsurprisingly, Gerard Butler is one of the most likable stars working in movies, especially in the action genre. Whether a film is good or bad, Butler always carries it forward with his charming appearance. His performance in "Plane" is no exception. Butler's magnetic turn as the commercial pilot makes a lot of things easy to sit through, even when the film hits turbulence from time to time. Mike Colter, best known for playing Luke Cage in the Marvel series and David Acosta in "Evil", also did a decent job with his role as Louis, and Yoson An as Samuel makes for a delightful side character for Butler to work with. Daniella Pineda was also respectable regarding her performance as Bonnie, the head flight attendant who's also the survivor of the plane crash.
Before watching "Plane", I had not watched any film helmed by Jean-François Richet. So it was interesting for me to see his direction for a thriller like this for the first time. Richet is no stranger to directing action thrillers, as he has done "Assault on Precinct 13" and "Blood Father" with Mel Gibson, so I had no doubt that his take on the concept would be quite a treat. After watching the film, I can say that it met my expectation. Richet has done solid work delivering the necessary tension during a life-threatening scenario that may hit closer to home for people with a phobia of flying in an airplane. The scene involving Brodie flying his plane through a storm was a pure adrenaline rush. He also handled the action sequences well without relying too much on choppy editing. More importantly, he maintains a realistic approach to these sequences instead of going overboard with far-fetched scenarios and bloody violence. It shows that you don't need an overblown budget and massive amounts of blood or gore to get the intensity out of its action.
Overall, "Plane" is another standard action thriller that cruises steadily into entertainment territory, even though its narrative doesn't make this wild trip an extraordinary experience. It has the usual ingredients needed to provide a heart-pounding and unapologetically tense ride for people wanting escapism for two hours. If fun and thrills are your things and you don't care much about the story, then you'll have no problem attending this flight with Gerard Butler. Unfortunately, there might not be much else for anyone else wanting something more out of its bare-bones plot. Its engaging cast, Richet's direction, and thrilling action are enough to avoid the dreaded "January Movie Curse". However, its formulaic storytelling and middling characters kept it from soaring above the clouds of averageness. It's a fun flight to attend, but it isn't an experience that'll remain in my brain for the rest of the year.
"House Party" stars Tosin Cole, Jacob Latimore, Karen Obilom, D.C. Young Fly, and Scott Mescudi. Released on January 13, 2023, the film has two best friends hosting a party at LeBron James' mansion.
The film features the directorial debut of Calmatic, who's known for directing music videos and commercials. It is a reboot of the 1990 film of the same name written and directed by Reginald Hudlin. There's nothing wrong with hosting a party and hanging out with your friends. But when you throw the craziest party of the century at a celebrity's residence, you better hope your insurance can cover the damage. This weekend kicks off another year's list of remakes and reboots with a modern reimagining of a cult comedy classic. That classic is known as "House Party", an infectious teen comedy that reminds us why the 90s was a tubular decade. Packed with energetic flair, entertaining humor, and a strong cast lead by hip-hop duo Kid' n Play, "House Party" blew the roof off for critics and audiences in a good way. Its success resulted in the movie spawning a franchise consisting of four sequels, two of which were direct-to-DVD releases, and a LeBron James-produced reboot I'll be talking about today. Yes, you read that right. The famous basketball player is back to revive another piece of 1990s nostalgia that'll likely anger plenty of fans of the original. As if the "Space Jam" sequel wasn't enough to drive 90s fans insane. So was this party a blast to attend, or was it overly disruptive enough for us to have the police crash it? Let's find out.
The story follows Damon (Cole) and Kevin (Latimore), two college buddies who are aspiring club promoters. Out of money and down on their luck, the pals are recently fired from their low-pay jobs as house cleaners. However, their last cleaning job happens to be an exclusive mansion owned by basketball player LeBron James, who's away on vacation. Seeing this as an opportunity to make money, Damon and Kevin decide to host the biggest party of the century in the mansion. What follows is an off-the-wall gathering that slowly goes awry.
If you've watched the original "House Party" and its sequels, you'll have a clear idea of what you're getting into with the reboot. You have the characters getting into crazy scenarios during a teen party and a bunch of celebrity cameos attending the gathering, mainly ones from the music industry. So it's evident that you will be in for a wild ride. But, of course, the biggest question regarding the concept is whether it's enough to lure in newcomers and win over the original's fans who're hesitant about the reboot.
I recently watched the original "House Party" for the first time to prepare for the reboot, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It delivers on the goofy charm and likable characters, but it also represents the experience of teenage life in the African American community in an amusing and energetic manner. Interestingly, it has that timely feel to its commentary since it reflects the culture in the 90s and even today. In other words, I can understand why it gained cult classic status. Plus, it's the first time I realized that Kid 'n Play exists. However, it also means that the reboot has much to accomplish to honor the 1990 film and bring something new to the current generation. The obvious choice would be to not worry about living up to the original's expectations and try to make a fun movie. However, the problem with that is that it looked like they didn't even try at all. It promised me a laugh riot amid its wild and sexy party. Instead, I got a soulless funeral for the movie's unfortunate death.
While the story doesn't retread the narrative from the 1990 movie, it does feel a tad similar to one of its sequels, "House Party 4: Down to the Last Minute". That direct-to-video sequel also has the main character throwing a party in an expensive mansion owned by a wealthy person. Although, it does have a couple of references from the original that'll likely fuel your nostalgic desires. Having a plot that takes ideas from a low-quality direct-to-video follow-up usually spells doom for the project unless the execution winds up being more tolerable here than the one that inspired it. Unfortunately for me, the film managed to prove that point. From its bare-bones plot to the uninspired screenplay, the "House Party" reboot did the impossible in being more of a party killer than the sequels, and I haven't even watched the sequels yet.
The movie is basically about two guys hosting a party at LeBron James's mansion, plenty of crazy stuff happens, and that's it. That's all you need to make a fun and wild experience worth seeing in the theater. Reginald Hudlin, the director of 1990's "House Party", was able to turn a simple concept like that into a charming and hilarious treat with a dash of social commentary sprinkled upon it. The reboot, on the other hand, takes those elements from the original and sucks them up dry with a straw. The energetic charm was nonexistent, the chemistry between the characters was unenthusiastic, and the humor was underwhelming and forgettable. Although, there were a couple of moments that attempted to spice the party up, including a koala on drugs. Sadly, they're not enough to give me a good laugh. Calmatic seemed like an interesting choice to direct "House Party" since he's mainly known for directing the music video for "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus. However, based on how he handled the concept, he should stick to directing music videos for a while.
Going back to the characters, it's obvious they couldn't match what Hudlin's cast delivered in the original. But man, could they look any more bored. There were a few instances that could've made them more interesting, mainly Kevin, who's trying to make enough money to provide for his family. Then there's Damon, a party enthusiast who eventually learns to take responsibility for his actions. Regarding the script by Jamal Olori and Stephen Glover (who also wrote "Atlanta"), the main characters sadly wound up being run-of-the-mill and uncharismatic tools used to drive the plot forward.
The actors who portrayed the characters didn't help much, either. It's not that they're bad regarding their performances. They just didn't have the right "oomph" to provide the charm and humor needed to make the party more fun. Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole were quite talented in their other roles, especially the latter who starred in "Till" last year. Sadly, their talent felt wasted in "House Party", as their performances as Kevin and Damon were as flat as a fizz-less soda on a hot summer day. Not even a slew of cameos can save this train wreck, including the basketball legend himself, LeBron James, and the original's leading stars, Kid' n Play. These two agreed to make a cameo in this movie, probably to let people know they're still around.
Overall, "House Party" hopes to reintroduce the party to the current generation, but it falls extremely short in making it a crazy one to remember. As a film that's part of the franchise, the 2023 reboot butchers the energy, charm, and heart that made the original a classic at levels beyond disappointing. As its own movie, it's an overly tedious and lackluster gathering that's as enthusiastic as attending a work meeting. From its weak cast to the dull and uninspired humor, the film is another unnecessary remake that proves that some of the best parties should remain untouched. It's also an immediate top contender for "worst movie of 2023" unless the other upcoming films can prove me otherwise. On the bright side, the other people in my theater had a good time watching it, so I should give more power to them for handling it better than I did. If you're curious about watching this movie, I recommend waiting until it's on HBO Max for free since it was originally planned as an HBO Max original. Otherwise, you're better off watching the 1990 film instead.
“M3GAN” stars Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Ronny Chieng, and Brian Jordan Alvarez. Released on January 6, 2023, the film has a roboticist protecting her recently orphaned niece from her creation.
The film is directed by Gerard Johnstone, who also directed “Housebound” and a couple of television shows like “Terry Teo” and “The New Legends of Monkey”. If you want to give your child a doll to play with, make sure that it doesn’t have AI programming inserted. We all know what happens when we try to use artificial intelligence to solve our problems. It always comes to bite us in the butt…or kill us. Unsurprisingly, we’re starting the new year with another horror film that’ll either scare us with delight or bore us with its genericness. Regarding the genre’s track record in January, I wouldn’t be shocked if it was the latter. On the other hand, it does involve James Wan serving as the producer and screenwriter Akela Cooper, who previously worked with Wan in “Malignant”. So there might be a chance that this could be another surprise hit for the horror genre, considering how much I enjoyed “Malignant”. With that in mind, let’s see if the film has the proper functions to provide entertaining thrills and frights and kickstart 2023.
The story follows Gemma (Williams), a roboticist at a famous toy company, Funki. Gemma is in the process of making a lifelike doll, codenamed M3GAN (Donald/Davis). Also known as Model 3 Generative Android, M3GAN is programmed to be every child’s best friend and every parent’s most reliable ally. One day, Gemma unexpectedly gains custody of her recently orphaned niece, Cady (McGraw), when the child’s parents die in a car accident. Gemma then enlists the help of her M3GAN prototype, which is infused with artificial intelligence, to cheer Cady up. Eventually, M3GAN becomes self-aware and goes full-on Terminator on anyone who tries to harm her and Cady. As a result, Gemma attempts to shut M3GAN down for good.
When I first saw the poster and the trailer for “M3GAN”, I was immediately reminded of another killer doll movie, “Child’s Play”, mainly the 2019 remake, which I surprisingly enjoyed. Both films involve dolls with artificial intelligence becoming self-aware and going on a killing spree against humankind. So, in other words, ladies and gentlemen, what you’re looking at here is a gender-swapped remake of the 2019 reimagining of the 1988 slasher cult classic. That’s another way to throw originality into the trash can. But, of course, I’m willing to forgive its derivative nature if it provides something worth remembering regarding its presentation and story.
The difference between “M3GAN” and 2019’s “Child’s Play” is that the former got slapped with a PG-13 rating, which is surprising considering its marketing and concept. Additionally, the movie appears to be leaning towards a comically dark approach to its scares and themes. Horror comedies can be fun to watch with the proper balance of humor and terror, but they can also pose a risk of alienating audiences put off by their campiness, especially in this day and age. All that matters to me is whether I have fun being scared and laughing at the absurdity, regardless of the rating. Surprisingly, that’s what I did. Would I be quick to call it a horror classic? No, but I will say that it’s more tolerable than the other generic horror movies that came out in January.
Part of that is due to its reliance on the story and characters over pointless depictions of violence and gross imagery. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be any violent acts or fatalities to provide shock value in horror movies. You can have those intact as long as they don’t overshadow the story it wants to tell. “M3GAN” is another modern horror film that reminds us there’s always room for good storytelling amid its frights and horror violence. In this case, the film depicts the dangers of underestimating artificial intelligence and the overreliance on technology to entertain kids. In today’s society, we’ve grown so attached to our technological toys that it makes it difficult for us to connect to other people and the real world. This fits effectively with the relationship between Gemma and Cady, with the latter growing more attached to M3GAN after the death of her parents.
As far as screenplays go for Akela Cooper, I thought she did a solid job with the script for “M3GAN”. Sure, I did enjoy the last movie she wrote, “Malignant”, but I thought her writing in “M3GAN” was a tad better due to how relatable it is. Of course, it’s far from perfect, but it’s respectable for providing tolerable characters and dialogue. The only issue I had with the script is that it does take noticeable cues from other films involving artificial intelligence and killer dolls, including “Annabelle” and “Child’s Play”. But again, that hardly matters as long as the execution is good, which it is.
As for the direction, I was impressed with how Gerard Johnstone handled its campy tone. The movie offers a vibe similar to other horror films, but it also provides several instances of humor consisting of absurd moments like M3GAN stretching out a boy’s ear to an impossible length. That’s something you would see out of a Looney Tunes cartoon, but I can’t help but chuckle at how dumb it looked in a good way. It’s silly, but it’s never afraid to express that silliness while maintaining its creepy tone. That’s how other movies like “Scream” succeed in providing fun, crowd-pleasing experiences made for theaters that are also tolerable for their stories.
Unfortunately, the movie does sometimes refrain from going all-out with its silliness and violence, primarily due to its PG-13 rating. As a result, some of the kills performed by M3GAN aren’t as shocking or scary as I hoped they would. However, it didn’t deteriorate the fun I had watching the doll get vengeance on those who deserve punishment. It shows that you don’t need an R rating to make a violent horror film diverting. You can have a teen-rated cake and eat it too if it delivers the same amount of violent fun as the ones made for adults, which “M3GAN” did.
Another reason is the film’s cast, which delivered enough moments in their performances to make the film entertaining. Allison Williams was decent in her performance as Gemma, while Violet McGraw made a solid effort in her role as Cady. However, the real stars worthy of my praise are the ones behind the titular robot doll. Amie Donald provides the physical performance of M3GAN, while Jenna Davis provides her voice. Donald’s movements effectively portray how an AI doll functions, especially when the character goes into beast mode. I would also give credit to Jenna Davis, who delivered a satisfying mixture of humor and terror regarding her vocal effects. Ronny Chieng and Brian Jordan Alvarez were also good as David and Cole, respectively.
The visual effects were also surprisingly good for a film with a small budget, mainly for M3GAN. Amie Donald’s physical performance was enhanced digitally with artificially oversized eyes and smooth, doll-like skin. The fact that it looks like it was made through practical effects showcases how much care was put into the visuals without unnecessarily increasing the budget. Also, the visuals for M3GAN’s frantic movements in the finale are enough to freak me out a bit.
Overall, “M3GAN” is functional enough to satisfy its customers with its irresistible sense of campiness, frights, and commentary. We recently had a few films that looked average or even mediocre at best based on the marketing but were surprisingly better in the final cuts. I’m glad to say that this sci-fi horror film from producers Jason Blum and James Wan is another addition to that well-deserved category. Like many others, I expected it to be an effortless rehash of “Child’s Play” based on the trailers, but I was shocked to see that it was more entertaining than I thought it would be. Yes, it borrows elements from the other AI horror movies and the ones involving murderous dolls, but it uses them to effectively portray a campy and chilling perspective on our reliance on technology. As a result, the movie is my biggest surprise of 2023 so far, thanks to its cast, Johnstone’s direction, Akela Cooper’s tolerable screenplay, and visual effects. Considering how many horror movies have started the new year on the wrong foot, this is another rewarding change of pace for the genre.