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M3GAN Review | Chucky and Annabelle Meet the 21st Century

2023’s year of doll movies is off to a bad start.

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Could I have skipped this one? Why am I so tired? Should I go to the bathroom? 

These are the questions I find myself asking when attending press screenings. These usually begin at 7 pm and after a long day preceding it, so it’s natural that I ask myself these questions as I stare blankly at what’s in front of me. Facing opposite me is a large screen filled with images from the film all of us in the auditorium are about to see and the social handles/hashtags associated with the film. 

That’s how 99% of screenings go. M3GAN, however, turned that on its head because about 20 minutes before the film was about to start, the entire auditorium was collectively jump-scared by a pre-screening screen that moved. Our titular robot spoke to us! She thanked us all for watching her “documentary” on a 65-ft tall screen and gave a fair warning to all of those in attendance of the potential repercussions should anyone take their phone out during the screening.

I’m sad to report that this was the highlight of M3GAN — the latest misfire from Blumhouse; whose 2022 was a mixed bag ranging from good ideas (The Black Phone) to horrible franchise enders (Halloween Ends) and plenty of indie hits (Nanny). What happens when Chucky and Annabelle meet the 21st century? You get a film with one-note jokes and no thrills to speak of. It’s a case of one step forward in the doll horror subgenre and two steps back. 

A still from M3GAN. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures/Blumhouse.

M3GAN begins with an ad for a children’s toy that looks eerily similar to SNL’s takes on various companies such as Target and Starbucks. This toy — the name of which is slipping my mind — is basically a Furby that poops when necessary. Cut to a family that is attempting to drive through a snowstorm. Cady (Violet McGraw — sister of The Black Phone’s standout Madeline McGraw) is sitting in the backseat and attached to her Furby-adjacent toy — feeding it endlessly from her tablet. Her parents both dislike the toy for different reasons, but that becomes the least of their problems after they get into a fatal car crash that leaves Cady alone.

Cady is then placed into the custody of her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) — an engineer at a toy company who’s really attached to her life-like doll idea and sick of designing the same old schlock (in this particular case it would be Furbys). But as every industry goes, if the cost of making the product and the price for families to buy it is too expensive (the doll will run you $10,000), is it worth the investment? That’s the question that Gemma’s boss David (Ronny Chieng clearly understood the assignment and tone of this film) poses throughout M3GAN

David is a skeptic of this radical idea until the moment he watches M3GAN in action. The presentation that Gemma gives may not go completely as planned, but the doll puts on enough of a show for David to give the green light to this product.

But when Gemma is having a hard time connecting with her niece and sees the job come across her face at the sight of a robot she built in college, she decides to spend 100 bands on building the prototype and finishing M3GAN (played by Amie Donald and Jenna Davis provides the voice). But as the bevy of sci-fi films about A.I. and robots have taught us, you cannot trust them and M3GAN is no exception.

You see, when Gemma first builds M3GAN for her niece, it was meant as a temporary distraction/placeholder as she felt the squeeze from work. After all, Cady has been a shell of herself since the passing of her parents, and M3GAN nicely slotted into the type of warm figure Cady needed at the time. But there is such thing as getting too close to something, especially as M3GAN technically is an inanimate object (though programmed to be insentient), and the doll begins causing the typical mayhem that you come to expect in this genre all culminating in a ridiculously dumb final battle.

A still from M3GAN. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures/Blumhouse.

Therein lies the problem with M3GAN. We’ve already seen the story that plays out in Gerard Johnstone’s latest film. We all have come to expect the doll to hurt people and make the owners look bad unbeknownst to them, and the sassy one-liners delivered by Davis can only do so much in the film’s effort to make the titular doll more than one note. I’ll give M3GAN scribe Akela Cooper (who was also assisted by James Wan) some credit for updating this type of story to the 21st century with technology that doesn’t feel that far off, but the film rushes through its 100-minute runtime once M3GAN is introduced into the story (thanks to the guy sitting in front of me and his bright Apple Watch, I can tell you that this occurs about 23 minutes into the film) to get to the film’s third act which sees the toy company setting up a live-stream to reveal M3GAN to the world. Again, one step forward, two steps back. 

And look, I know that I’m a stickler when it comes to PG-13 horror films, and M3GAN is a unique case. It’s much more in the vein of the Child’s Play films (especially the sequels) with its dosage of camp — M3GAN pays homage to Sam Raimi by suddenly shoehorning the “Raimi Zoom” into a few shots in one sequence—  so perhaps expecting anything up to the level of another PG-13 horror flick that was actually scary, 2016’s Lights Out, was asking for disappointment, but even when it tries, M3GAN lacks any sort of tension whatsoever. 

Much of this issue stems from the fact that anytime our titular doll is in action, you know that she’s simply going to kick butt and the scene will end. It’s almost like the Jason Voorhees situation in the Friday the 13th video game in that the counselors have no shot against this otherwordly being. It makes the game no fun to play when the odds are stacked so heavily against you, and the scares in M3GAN are about on par with anything you’d see in that video game.

A still from M3GAN. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures/Blumhouse.

And yes, there are jump scares in M3GAN. How else would a film rated PG-13 have any chance of keeping an audience awake? My biggest complaint with these types of scares that have become a mainstay in contemporary horror films is that they’ve become too predictable. Trust me, you won’t be surprised in the slightest when something pops out of a corner as a character opens a door slowly or walks down an empty hallway. Whether it was a theater issue or not, it certainly didn’t help that the jumpscares weren’t loud. The usage of loud sounds to enhance the jump scares is truly an eye-rolling tactic, but the ones in M3GAN had no second hit in what’s usually a 1-2 punch. 

The PG-13 rating serves the film fine whenever M3GAN is slaughtering somebody — I don’t really need to see the doll stabbing someone or Quentin Tarantino-levels of gore — but you’re going to leave disappointed if you’re expecting any gnarly kills. I’ve read the interview where Johnstone talks about the PG-13 rating and how they “embraced” it, but I struggle to imagine what an R-rated version of this film looks like if this iteration is somehow scarier because the end result screams that this was a way to make the film more accessible to a wider demographic and more money at the box office. 

It doesn’t feel great being a Grinch after the holiday season, but M3GAN just didn’t do it for me. I suppose I can see how the camp appealed to some, but most of the jokes missed — which especially hurts a film attempting to be a horror-comedy — and the lack of scares/tension severely hurt the fun of the film. And this film is far more concerned with having fun than actually tackling its themes of A.I. and the repercussions of allowing it to replace the roles of humans (for better or worse). In the battle of horror films with viral marketing horror movie campaigns, Smile wins by a landslide (though the DMs were a great idea). Can M3GAN win the battle of 2023 doll movies? Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is coming for that crown and does not have a high bar to clear. 


Universal Pictures will release M3GAN in theaters on January 6.

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Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

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Adventure

Arthur the King is an Epic Masterpiece

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Arthur the King movie poster (Lionsgate Films)

Here follows the review of Arthur the King, a story of deep connection between people and dogs. Not all heroes wear capes, some have wagging tails and would cross a river (and jungle) for you.

Plot

Desperate for one last chance to win, Michael Light convinces a sponsor to back him and a team of athletes for the Adventure Racing World Championship in the Dominican Republic. As the team gets pushed to the outer limits of endurance, a dog named Arthur comes along for the ride, redefining what victory, loyalty and friendship truly means.

Arthur Foundation

Mikael Lindnord raced through a jungle in Ecuador and after feeding a few meatballs to a stray dog made a friend for life. The dog followed Mikael and his team through the rough terrain. Mikael named the dog Arthur and took him back home with him.

Arthur and Mikael Lindnord (Photo taken by Krister Goransson)

The Arthur Foundation collaborates with various organizations in different countries that work towards animal welfare.

Click on the following links to reach out to Mikael Lindnord.

Movie Review (no spoilers)

The movie is based on the memoir, Arthur – The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home by Mikael Lindnord, who was the athlete who participated in the Adventure Racing World Championship in Ecuador. It is important to note in the movie they refer to him as Michael Light. Even though the original race took place in Ecuador, the movie changed the location to the Dominican Republic. The original race took place in 2014, while in the movie the race takes place in 2018.

Mark Wahlberg portrays the part of the Mikael and delivers an excellent performance alongside Simu Liu, Nathalie Emmanuel and Ali Suliman. Ukai, a stray dog, was a real champion portraying the role of Arthur. The film takes us through picturesque locations in the Dominican Republic. The suspense was felt at every turn and corner and you are kept glued to the screen with a gripping storyline. The story balances the journey of Mikael and Arthur and eventually joins their path like a jigsaw puzzle.

Mark Wahlberg as Mikael Light (Lionsgate Films)

A fictional backstory is provided of Mikael’s competitive journey as well as the journey that Arthur took to get to Mikael. The movie successfully tells a deep story of connection between dogs and people. If you want to know more about the real story, you can check your local bookstore or Amazon for a copy of Arthur – The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home

This movie is a 5 out of 5 for me. The connection between Mikael and Arthur is brought to life in this epic masterpiece. Arthur found a home in the heart of Mikael and thanks to Mark Wahlberg and Ukai, this film adaptation of ‘Arthur – The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home’ became a memorable movie.

The trailer doesn’t spoil any of the important scenes of the movie. Arthur the King has a runtime of 1 hour and 30 minutes. There is no post-credits scene so no need to wait till the end.

Arthur the King Official Trailer (Lionsgate Films)

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Entertainment

A Must-See Satanic Panic Horror – Late Night With the Devil

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Written and directed by Cameron Cairnes & Colin Cairnes, Late Night With the Devil follows a late night TV host Jack Delroy, fighting the plummeting viewership of his show by welcoming in people from the occult in order to change that, but of course, everything doesn’t go as smooth as planned.

David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy Late Night With the Devil (2023)

David Dastmalchian has appeared in a lot of films however always in smaller roles including The Dark Knight, Prisoners and more recently The Suicide Squad. This film allows Dastmalchian to take on the lead role of Jack Delroy, the host of the late night show at the centre of this film, and he genuinely does a great job. There’s a real range of emotions which his character goes through during the course of this film and he depicts them so well.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you’re going to really appreciate the use of practical effects in this. There’s plenty of stretchy and gooey gore for all of the horror fanatics that will have you shouting at the screen. 

From left to right: Laura Gordon, Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian, Ian Bliss

If you want to hear my full thoughts, check out my review over on YouTube and let me know your opinions in the comments.

Late Night With the Devil will be released in cinemas from 22nd March and on Shudder on 19th April.

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Reviews

‘I Love You, Guys’ Review | A Poignant Exploration of Celebrity Vulnerability and Human Resilience

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We are living in an era where celebrities are worshipped like deities and sometimes, people forget that he or she is also a normal human being. If we feel happy or sad at certain moments, they do as well and even though a lot of people always surround them, they get vulnerable too. Although a lot of filmmakers forget to show that aspect of their lives, Billie Melissa Rogan takes the bold approach of showing the truth. Her directorial debut, ‘I Love You, Guys,’ is a poignant story about a celebrity fighting her inner self to maintain her celebrity image. The result is a stunning piece of art that resonates long after the end credits roll in.

The short film opens with a profound close-up of the young singing sensation named Sky (Becky Bush). She has made a name for herself by making and singing really exceptional songs. As a result, she is adored by her fans. Even though it feels like Sky has everything she wants, viewers see her submerged in a bathtub as she tries to battle her anxiety. Just then, Sky gets a phone that she’d be performing state-side. Now, that’s where we get to know about her vulnerable state for the first time. Although she says that she is really happy with the above-mentioned news, her face tells a different story. Despite her impending stardom, Sky has not started to feel the massive weight of mounting pressure, a sentiment audiences get to see in her conversations with bandmate Ryan (Pedro Leandro) and girlfriend Taylor (Celi Crossland).

Becky Bush in a still from ‘I Love You, Guys’ (Jumpcut Studios)

As the story moves forward, we get to know that ‘I Love You, Guys’ is about the fragile nature of the human spirit as much as it is about celebrity culture. It not only navigates themes of depression, it also highlights the turbulent emotional journey of Sky. One of the best aspects of the film is how Rogan masterfully brings Cory Varney’s screenplay to life. She managed to capture every minor detail of Sky’s emotions with utmost precision. Despite the fact that it is her first-ever film as a director, we get a sense that we are watching a flick helmed by a seasoned filmmaker.

Another aspect that makes this film such a compelling watch is its cinematography. Jenni Suitiala has done a phenomenal in showing expressions through vibrant colors and Rogan has made full use of the settings to give viewers a visually striking film. Whether it is heated arguments or silent moments of despair, each frame feels authentic and draws audiences into Sky’s personal life.

Apart from Rogan’s direction, Varney’s script is this film’s biggest strength. The writer has undoubtedly done a stunning job of showing the humanity of these characters. There’s a reason why Sky’s struggles feel very personal and it is because we have endured such moments in life. Moments where we doubt ourselves even when we know we are more than capable of doing a particular thing. Not every smiling person is happy. Sometimes he or she is smiling just so that no one finds out about the tough times they are going through.

A still from ‘I Love You, Guys’ (Jumpcut Studios)

Acting-wise, Becky Bush has given a performance that is surely going to open several doors for her. She delivers a magnificent performance by infusing Sky with a beautiful balance of vulnerability and strength. The way she manages to convey an innumerable amount of emotions is spectacular. I believe this is one of the most apt depictions of mental turmoil. Meanwhile, Pedro Leandro and Celi Crossland are just as spectacular. Every interaction between the characters feels genuine and nuanced.

All in all, ‘I Love You, Guys’ is a testament to how resilient a human spirit can be. In just 15 minutes, Rogan, Varney, and Bush take viewers on a journey that’s thought-provoking and talks about a subject that no one talks about. The writing, direction, and performances achieve a lot more than just viewers’ attention. The film offers a compelling examination of the human cost of pursuing fame and success. A poignant story that touches on themes of ambition, relationships, and self-discovery.

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