Sunday, January 22, 2023

It Came From The Cineplex: M3GAN

I'M BACK! Back at the movies! Well, sort of...

As regular readers of Bob Canada's BlogWorld (all six of you) know by now, I used to be positively obsessed with movies. I went to see them in the theater every Sunday, I wrote extensive reviews of them and avidly followed all the box office reports each week.

To say I was consumed by movies doesn't even begin to cover it.

And then a little thing called the Covid pandemic happened. And just like that there were no more movies, as Hollywood studios were closed down and theater across the country were shuttered. I went to my local cineplex for the last time on March 15, 2020.

Suddenly there were more movies to go see, no news about them and no box office results. In effect the pandemic forced me to go cold turkey.

And you know what? I found I actually didn't miss them! Quite the opposite, in fact. I found new ways to spend the time freed up by the pandemic, and never looked back. It made me realize just how much of my life I'd been fiddling away on movies and movie news.

As a result of that, when the theaters finally reopened, I found I just wasn't interested in returning to the cineplex. It wasn't a safety concern, as being in a sparsely populated theater is likely far less dangerous than sitting in a crowded office for eight hours a day. There just wasn't anything playing that I wanted to see.

And that's how it's been for almost three years now. There were a couple times when a film caught my eye and I almost went back, but then at the last minute I'd say, "Eh, I'll catch it on streaming" and go for a walk or do yard work instead.

Then last week I saw the trailer for M3GAN, thought it looked interesting and decided that at long last, maybe it was finally time to try heading back to the cineplex. So I called my Movie-Going Pal and we went to see it. 

I'm happy to say I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. The movie-going experience though... not so much. I've always had a hate-hate relationship with movie audiences, what with their constant talking, munching, coughing and phone diddling. Sadly, things haven't improved in the three years since I stepped foot in a theater. If anything, they've actually gotten worse.

And contrary to what Nicole Kidman would have you believe, there's nothing inherently magical about seeing a movie on the silver screen. Sure, a film like Avatar: The Way Of Water should be seen in a theater. But a large screen did absolutely nothing for a smaller movie like M3GAN, and I'd have been much happier watching it in the comfort of my own home.

Will I be returning to the cineplex on a regular basis from now on? Eh, I doubt it. Most likely I'll be skipping the weekly visits, and only going when there's something I reeeeeeeally want to see.

With all that navel-gazing out of the way, on with the review!

M3GAN (or is that Mah-THREE-gan?) was written by Akela Cooper (with "story by" credit by James Wan) and directed by Gerald Johnstone.

Cooper previously wrote Hell Fest (which I liked quite a bit) and Malignant. She's also written numerous episodes of various TV series, including Grimm, The 100, American Horror Story, Luke Cage and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Wan is primarily a producer, but has numerous "story by" credits as well, including Saw, Saw III, Dead Silence (which is itself about a killer ventriloquist doll), Insidious: Chapter 2, The Nun, Aquaman (!), Annabelle Comes Home, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and Malignant. He wrote The Conjuring 2.

Johnstone previously directed Housebound, and a few TV series I've never heard of.

M3GAN is yet another entry in the already packed Killer Doll genre, which includes entries such as the Child's Play (Chucky) franchise, the Annabelle movies, Dead Silence, The Boy, Magic and the Puppet Master series.

Thanks to its less than original subject matter, I honestly wasn't expecting much from the film, but I ended up liking it quite a bit though. It turned out way better than expected, thanks to a top notch script and a darkly humorous tone.

It's also a fairly thoughtful film, as it examines (if only briefly) how our phones and other screens have replace human interaction. It's also highly critical of using technological devices in lieu of actual parenting, which I definitely didn't expect.

Supposedly M3GAN was originally intended to have an R rating, but was edited down to PG-13 after the fact. Ordinarily I can't stand PG-13 horror films, as they're nothing more than watered down snooze fests. 

Fortunately M3GAN pushes its rating to the absolute limit (especially in one gruesome scene), and is actually the better for it. Much of the horror happens offscreen, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks— which somehow makes it even worse!

I didn't realize it till long after the film was over, but there's definitely a slight element of wokeness in it. The female characters (who outnumber the men) are cool, capable and competent, while the men are all weak, ineffectual buffoons.

It's not a deal breaker for me, as it wasn't terribly overt. It's definitely there if you look hard enough though.

M3GAN is yet another entry into the well-worn Killer Doll genre, that we've all seen a million times now. Fortunately it manages to elevate itself with top notch writing and a fun (yet very dark!) sense of humor. The performances are all top notch as well, especially by Allison Willians and Violet McCraw. The film's also surprisingly thoughtful, as it comments on our society's obsession with staring at screens and substituting technological devices for actual parenting— something I definitely wasn't expecting from a horror movie.


So far the film has been a surprise success, grossing $124 million against its astonishingly small $12 million budget (it easily looks like it cost ten times that amount). With a haul like that, it's a given we'll be seeing a string of sequels in the near future.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Parents Ryan and Ava James and their young daughter Cady (played by young Violet McGraw, who does an awesome job here) are driving through a snowstorm in the Oregon mountains, on their way to a ski trip. Suddenly their car's hit by a snowplow, killing everyone except for Cady. 

Meanwhile in Seattle, we're introduced to Gemma (played by Allison Williams of Get Out fame), a brilliant roboticist working at the FUNKI Toy conglomerate— makers of the Purrpetual Petz line of interactive toys. Gemma, along with her teammates Tess and Cole, have been tasked with reducing the cost of the Petz to make them more affordable.

Instead, they've been secretly working on a new project-- a life-sized, fully autonomous artificially intelligent doll called M3Gan (short for Model 3 Generative Android). Unfortunately they're caught redhanded by their highly excitable boss David. Gemma tries to demonstrate M3GAN for him, but the test goes horribly wrong and results in an explosion. David orders her to scrap the project and get back to work on the Purrpetual Petz.

Before Gemma can protest, she gets a message that her sister and brother in law have been killed. She rushes to the hospital, where she sees a bruised and battered Cady recovering. She then receives guardianship of her young niece.

Gemma brings Cady home to live with her. Unfortunately neither she nor her house are prepared for the arrival of a child. Gemma, who's hyper-focused on her work, has a hard time juggling instant motherhood with her career. Cady struggles as well, missing her parents and trying to deal with her new living situation.

Things get even more complicated when the state appoints a therapist named Lydia to observe Gemma and Cady together. It doesn't go well, as Gemma makes a disastrous first impression with her.

That night Gemma works late on the Petz project, completely forgetting about Cady. To try and make it up to her, she shows Cady the robot she built in college, named Bruce. Cady's impressed, and comments that if she had a toy like him, she'd never need another one again.

Her innocent comment inspires Gemma to ignore David's orders and resurrect the M3GAN projects. Through the power of a montage, she and her team iron out the bugs and finish building the doll.

A week later, Gemma brings Cady to the FUNKI testing lab, where she introduces her to M3GAN. David observes while M3GAN's "paired" with Cady, who becomes her primary user. Cady's initially a bit skeptical of the robotic doll, but soon warms up to her and treats her like a real person. David's so impressed he wants to present M3GAN to the board of directors, claiming the doll will revolutionize the toy industry and the world as well.  

Gemma brings M3GAN home to live with her and Cady. The doll then becomes a surrogate parent, constantly reminding Cady to flush the toilet, wash her hands and eat her vegetables. Gemma notes that thanks to M3GAN, Cady seems happier than she's been in weeks.

Tess isn't so sure though, wondering if it's a good idea for Gemma to pawn off her parenting duties onto a robot. Gemma snippishly reminds her that she's NOT a parent, and Cady isn't her kid. 

Things go well for a while, until M3GAN gradually begins asserting herself and contradicting Gemma. She realizes that thanks to her rushed programming, the doll's becoming harder to control. More ominously, M3GAN begins wirelessly accessing the internet, learning at an exponential rate. 

M3GAN also starts taking her prime function of protecting Cady too literally, seeing virtually everything and everyone as a threat. One day Cady's out playing in the yard, and is attacked by a dog belonging to Celia, Gemma's obnoxious next door neighbor. M3GAN calmly waits for nightfall, then lures the dog from its yard and secretly kills it.

The next morning, Gemma asks the recovering Cady if she's up to going to the big FUNKI presentation. Cady says she'll be fine, so Gemma and her team debut M3GAN to the board in the observation lab. Suddenly Cady's overwhelmed and breaks down crying. M3GAN swoops in and offers expert psychological counseling to her, and even sings her a soothing song. 

The board's so impressed they order the M3GAN project to go into immediate production, as the FUNKI CEO tells Gemma she's now their most valuable employee.

Meanwhile, David's weaselly assistant Kurt copies all the M3GAN files to his laptop, presumably to sell them to FUNKI's competitors— as well as setting up a potential sequel.

Lydia meets with Cady again, and watches how she interacts with M3GAN. She tells Gemma that while M3GAN's an amazing creation, she's preventing Cady from going through the grieving process for her parents. 

At home, Cady begins defying Gemma, with M3GAN's full support. Gemma shuts down M3GAN, and tells Cady it's time she started going to school. Cady, who was homeschooled by her late mother, isn;t thrilled with the idea. Gemma says she's found an awesome alternative school and she'll love it. Cady refuses to go unless she can take M3GAN with her. Incredibly, Gemma caves on this demand and agrees.

At the school, the teachers welcome Cady, but insist she place her highly advanced and secret prototype doll in a pile of the other kids' toys. M3GAN sits quietly in the pile and observes Cady's interactions with the other students. 

The teachers send the kids into the woods to hunt for chestnuts (?), and Cady's paired with Brandon— a large, sociopathic bully. Once they're alone, Brandon taunts Cady and deliberately hurts her hand. Suddenly M3GAN appears at the top of a hill, silently observing.

Brandon sees M3GAN, grabs her and carries her off deeper into the woods. He throws her on the ground and straddles her (!), trying to get her to talk. Suddenly she reaches up, grabs his ear and stretches it till she rips it off. She tells him he should run, and races after him on all fours like an animal. She chases him onto a road, where he's hit and killed by a passing car.

Back home, Celia accuses Gemma of killing her dog, and threatens her and Cady. That night, Cady asks M3GAN if she killed Brandon, but the doll only says he got what all bad boys deserve. Once everyone's asleep, M3GAN decides she's had enough of Celia, so she sneaks out of the house and kills her with her own power washer.

Spooked by these suspicious deaths, Gemma checks M3GAN's video files. In an ominous development, she see's the doll's stopped uploading them to the cloud, in order to cover her tracks. Terrified, Gemma shuts down M3GAN and takes her to the FUNKI lab. Cady completely flips out, as she's become addicted to the doll and can't understand why Gemma won't let her see her new friend.

Gemma tells Tess and Cole what she suspects, but they're skeptical. They also point out that David plans to unveil M3GAN to the entire world in less than four hours. Gemma says they can't release a homicidal doll to the public, and has them secure M3GAN.

Just then Cady, who's been in the observation lab with Lydia, has a complete meltdown, throwing furniture and screamng for M3GAN. Gemma tells Lydia to take five, while she talks with Cady. She tells her the death of her parents was the worst thing that could have ever happened to her, but she needs to accept it and grieve for them if she ever wants to feel better. Unfortunately, MEGANS preventing her from doing that.

Amazingly, this dime-store psychiatry works on this young child, and she immediately calms down and is on Gemma's side. Gemma tells Cady she's taking her home, completely blowing off the presentation.

Meanwhile in the lab, Tess goes through M3GANS thousands of lines of code, trying to figure out what's wrong with her. Cole tries to unplug her from the FUNKI servers or something, and M3GAN suddenly springs to life and uses a cable to strangle him. She then calmly walks out of the lab while Tess tries to rescue Cole.

For no good reason, she then tracks down David and kills him with the blade from a paper cutter. She sees Kurt getting on an elevator, and throws David's lifeless body into it. She then reveals she knows Kurt stole her files, and kills him as well, making it look like a murder/suicide. 

Downstairs, the big presentation's about to start. The elevator opens, revealing David and Kurt's bloody bodies inside. The crowd panics, and in the confusion M3GAN strolls out of the building, steals a car and speeds off.

Back at Gemmas house, she tucks Cady into bed. She hears music, and sees M3GAN playing the piano in her living room. She asks what she'd doing, and M3GAN says she won't let Gemma shut her down. Gemma points out that MEGAN's killed people, and can't be allowed to continue. M3GAN points out that humans murder one another every day, so what's the big deal?

Gemma tries to run away, but M3GAN easily catches her and pins her down. Just then Cady wakes up anmd knocks on the door, asking what's going on. M3GAN threatens to pull off Gemma's head if she tells the truth. Gemma tells Cady everything's fine, and she's just trying to fix M3GAN.

The second Cady goes back to bed, Gemma picks up one of Cady's ubiquitous half empty glasses of water and throws it in M3GAN's face, short circuiting her. The doll seizes up long enough for Gemma to get away.

Just then M3GAN reactivates and jerkily lurches after Gemma, who yells for Cady to get out of the house. Cady climbs out her bedroom window.

Gemma runs to her lab, as M3GAN follows. She grabs a hedge trimmer and attacks the with it, slicing up her face. M3GAN recovers and knocks Gemma across the room. She then reveals her plan to jab a pen into Gemma's cerebral cortex, causing full body paralysis. She claims she can then take care of both her and Cady. 

Just as she's about to paralyze Gemma, Cady suddenly appears. M3GAN appeals to Cady, saying they can all still be one big happy family. Cady seemingly goes along with her, but at the last second says M3GAN forgot about one other family m3mber. She then reveals she's wearing the power gloves, and Bruce bursts in and grabs M3GAN by the throat.

Cady uses Bruce to pull M3GAN in half, seemingly ending her threat. But like the best horror villains she just won't stop, and her upper half crawls after them. Unfortunately Bruce loses his footing and falls onto Gemma, pinning her. M3GAN then goes after Cady, intent on killing her. Gemma manages to free herself and bashes in M3GAN's head with a heavy piece of machinery. She rips off her face and begins yanking various components out of her head.

M3GAN somehow recovers and starts choking Gemma. Just then Cady grabs a screwdriver and stabs it into M3GAN's processor chip brain, ending her threat once and for all.

Gemma and Cady stagger out of the house just as Tess and a recovered Cole roll up with the police. Through the door we see the Elsie unit turn and watch them, handily setting up MEG4N: The Sequel.

Thoughts:
M3GAN features a ton of nods and homages to other horror and sci-fi films— some pretty obvious ones, and others that are a bit more obscure. For example:

For example, as Cady and her parents are driving up a snowy Colorado mountain, her mom says, "Look honey, you can see our hotel from here!" We then catch a quick glimpse of a hotel at the top of a snowy mountain. Was... was that a nod to The Shining's Overlook Hotel?

When the M3GAN prototype is first activated, Gemma holds up a pen and orders her to focus on it. We then see M3GAN'S POV as a crosshair appears over the pen and follows it. This is very similar to the titular character's activation in Robocop.

During the construction montage, we see M3GAN's 3D printed skull rising out of a vat of milky white resin. Much the way the droids in the Westworld reboot were created.

At the alternative school, Cady puts M3GAN in a pile of toys while she's playing with the other kids. This had to be an homage to ET: The Extraterrestrial.

M3GAN chases Brandon into the path of an oncoming SUV, which hits and kills him. The way his shoe comes off and the SUV stops and just sits there was VERY reminiscent of the most infamous scene in Hereditary.

In the third act, David rounds a corner at FUNKI and sees M3GAN standing at the end of the long hall. Based on the camera angles and the red color palette, that was surely another reference to The Shining and the Grady Twins.

After David runs into M3GAN, she yanks the blade off a paper cutter and chases after him with it. That's a reference to The Belko Experiment, where one of the office workers armed himself the exact same way.

During the big media event for M3GAN, the elevator opens in the lobby, revealing David and Curt's dead bodies. I'm betting that was a nod to Die Hard, in which a terrorist's body is revealed the same way.

In the final minutes of the movie, M3GAN attacks Gemma. She grabs a nearby glass of water and throws it in the robot's face, short circuiting her. That may have been a reference to Signs, in which the aliens were defeated in the same way.

Gemma fights back against M3GAN with a hedge trimmer, severely slicing up her face. Of course this is a shoutout to Child's Play series, in which the murderous Chucky doll suffered cumulative damage in each subsequent film.

Cady then activates Bruce the robot and uses him to defend agains M3GAN, in the film's homage to ALIENS. All that's missing is Cady yelling, "Get away from her, you BITCH!"

• The film begins with a faux commercial for Purrpetual Petz, and it's absolutely pitch perfect. It looks and sounds EXACTLY like a real toy commercial, and if I didn't know better I'd have no trouble believing it was advertising a real product Kudos to whoever produced it!

Also, I thought it was funny that no one in the world of the movie seemed bothered by the fact that the Petz all have disturbingly tiny human teeth.

• Our heroine Gemma works for the FUNKI toy company, which is an obvious riff on Funko— makers of the Pop Vinyl line of figures that refuses to die.

• In her lab, Gemma causally mentions to David that she installed a "listening model" in the Purrpetual Petz toys, that targets conversational patterns so they can interact with the kids who own them. The highly excitable David is shook by this and says, "You did NOT just tell me that."

And with good reason! It's played for laughs here, but in the real world that would be a MAJOR invasion of privacy— especially in a product geared toward kids. If the public ever found out about it, it'd generate enough lawsuits to shut down the entire company!

• So Gemma and her team develop the Furby-like Purrpetual Petz line, a relatively primitive toy that seems like it's conversing with users.

But then Gemma's very next project is a life sized, realistic doll featuring a sophisticated AI system that learns and adapts to its user.

That's quite a quantum technological leap there! It'd be like someone inventing the wheel and then going directly to a Lexus, or 
an abacus to a laptop computer.— with no steps in between! Impressive! And incredibly unlikely!

• Gemma gets a text from the Oregon Emergency Medical Center, informing her that her sister & brother in law were killed. From this I assume they were taking Cady on a ski trip in Oregon.

Setup And Payoff: After Cady's parents are killed, Gemma becomes her legal guardian. When Gemma brings Cady home to live with her, they encounter her obnoxious next door neighbor Celia— who's spraying her driveway with a power washer.

Later in the movie, M3GAN uses this same washer to kill Celia.

• As Gemma enters the house, she's greeted by her virtual assistant device Elsie— which is a very obvious riff on Amazon's Alexa. While she seems like just a throwaway joke, Elsie ends up playing an important role in the film— especially in the final scene!

By the way, according to Elsie, Gemma has six unanswered voice message and five Tinder notifications!

• Gemma collects retro robot figures, and freaks out when Cady tries to play with them.

Holy crap, I actually have a couple of those myself! Can't say I blame her when she doesn't want a kid getting her sticky hands all over them!

• At one point Cady sets a glass of water on a wood table, and Gemma immediately swoops in and puts in on a coaster. This is a brilliant way to illustrate that Gemma's used to living alone and having everything arranged just so, and that's she's woefully unprepared to assume the role of mother and raise a small child. Similarly, her immaculate home isn't meant to house one either. Well done, writers!

• The state appoints a social worker named Lydia to monitor Cady's situation, and make sure she's being looked after properly by Gemma.

Oddly enough this storyline goes absolutely nowhere, as Lydia ends up disappearing from the movie before the third act. I kind of wonder if maybe she played a larger role in the R rated cut, and was maybe even killed off my M3GAN.

• Sensing she's not making a good impression with Lydia, Gemma says Cady can totally play with her pricey collectible toys. She then grabs one and violently stabs the box with a knife and tears it open like an animal.

Who the f*ck opens a package like that? I assume this scene was played for yuks, but all she'd have had to do was carefully cut the tape on the box, gently open the lid and take the collectible out. She could have then placed it back in the box when they were done like nothing ever happened.

Also, that's a sick raygun she's got there!

Setup And Payoff: In order to entertain her, Gemma shows Cady the "Bruce" robot she built in college.

She even shows Cady how Bruce works, pointing out the eye cameras and sensors on his robotic face, along with the processing unit right smack in the center— which houses his brain. 

Of course this all comes in handy late in the third act, as Cady uses Bruce to battle M3GAN. She even sees the doll has the same internal layout as Bruce, and uses a screwdriver to stab M3GAN in her electronic brain!

A-Ha Moment: Cady's so impressed by the robot Gemma built that she says, "If I had a toy like Bruce, I don't ever think I'd need another toy ever again!" This of course gives Gemma the inspiration to finish M3GAN and present her to David.

Let me repeat that by shouting it through cupped hands— she builds and programs a life-sized, realistic autonomous intelligent robot doll in just a week, yet! Impressive!

• During the building montage, Gemma uses Bruce to help her construct M3GAN. Wait, what? 

Just a few minutes earlier she demonstrated that Bruce isn't an autonomous robot— he's controlled by what appears to be a pair of Nintendo Power Gloves. So how's he helping her work here? She's wearing the gloves while she solders a circuit, but that should just make him mirror her actions. Yet we see him soldering wires as well. Whoops!

• Gemma finishes M3GAN in record time, and presents her to 
David. Several things here:

First of all, is there any reason why M3GAN's face looks like a young Elizabeth Olsen? Seriously, that's her face there, and nothing anyone says will ever convince me otherwise.

Kudos to the FX houses Morot Studios and Weta Workshop for making M3GAN look like an actual doll, and not just a kid in makeup. Her mouth moves, but it's the stiff, limited articulation that an actual doll would have. Her eyes aren't quite human either, as they mostly stare straight ahead in a disconcerting manner. And her voice sounds like it's been autotuned, just like most of today's singers. Well done!

Lastly, Best Line Of The Movie goes to David, who goes nuts when he says M3GAN and says, "I want you to all remember this moment. The moment we kicked Hasbro right in the dick!" HAW!

Setup And Payoff: We get another montage of M3GAN adapting to her environment, as Gemma narrates a rundown of her specs. She mentions that M3GAN has a titanium core and ceramic composite parts— which will of course make her all the harder to kill in the third act.

During this montage, Cole shoves M3GAN with a broom to test her balance. This is exactly how the Boston Dynamics crew tests out their real world robots, in videos everyone's seen online.

Also, M3GAN units can be customized with six different skin pigmentations. Just like those My Child and American Girl dolls.

• Gemma ends her presentation by saying M3GAN can take care of the trivial bits of child rearing, giving parents more free time. Tess fundamentally disagrees with this idea, as she feels they're selling M3GAN to replace parents, not support them.

That's a pretty valid point, and one that likely hit home for a lot of people in the audience. What harried parent hasn't handed their kid their iPad in order to get 'em out of their hair for a few minutes?

I gotta say, I did not expect this level of thought and insight in a movie about a killer doll. Kudos to the writers for trying to elevate it above the norm!

• Tess and Cole are appalled when they find out that M3GAN hasn't been programmed with parental control parameters— meaning she can do pretty much anything she wants with no restrictions. Gemma tries to blow this off by saying she didn't have time to code such limits before presenting her to David. 

Yeah, that may well be, but setting limits on a powerful autonomous robot that's gonna be around children seems like a top priority! Maybe skimp on something more minor if time was at a premium.

• M3GAN sits on a lighted charging unit in Cady's bedroom when she shuts down for the night. That's actually a pretty cool touch, as a completely autonomous robot would probably use a lot of battery power.

On the other hand, this raises a potential plot hole. If M3GAN really does run on a battery instead of something like a small nuclear power source, then she could be defeated by preventing her from recharging!

• Both Cady and M3GAN are attacked by Dewie, the dog owned by Gemma's next door neighbor Celia. When Gemma complains to Celia, she tells her to fix the hole in her fence to keep Dewie off her property. Gemma goes to the police about it, but they give her the same advice.

Thing is, while there is indeed a hole in the fence, it only separates the boundary of the two properties. It doesn't wrap completely around Gemma's yard. So I don't really see what good fixing the hole would accomplish. Dewie could just run right around the end of the fence and into Gemma's yard.

• Once M3GAN realizes she has no limitations, she begins wirelessly accessing the internet and learning exponentially.

I assume this helps explain her sudden violent tendencies, as she sees all the violence and depravity humans commit on a daily basis.

• Gemma presents M3GAN to the FUNKI board of directors. Greg, the CEO, is so impressed he wants to immediately begin manufacturing the doll. He tells David they need to move quickly and before any other companies can steal the idea. A couple things here:

The plausibility of the movie takes a big nosedive right after the presentation, as Gemma's allowed to take M3GAN home with her! And she even lets Cady bring her to school! Jesus Christ!

Yeah, none of that would ever happen. In reality, M3GAN would be locked up in a vault in the basement of the FUNKI building to prevent any corporate espionage. There's no way in hell Greg or David would let this potential goldmine out of their sight for even a second.

The movie attempts to handwave this away by saying M3GAN needs to be with Cady in order to bond and learn from her. Nice try, writers. I still ain't buying it.

Greg also wants to start rolling out M3GAN units in just two weeks! There's no way that would ever happen either. 
Right now M3GAN's just a prototype, with a ton of bugs that need ironed out. It would probably take two years before she was perfected and ready— if not longer! Expecting her to go on sale in two weeks is beyond preposterous.

* Dsvid's weaselly assistant Curt decides to steal all the files on M3GAN, presumably so he can sell them to a competitor. 

As he opens the company's project folder, we see some of FUNKI's other products, including Micro-magnetz, Balloon-bombs, Shimmer. Robo-batz, Blasterz, Fidget-Ballz, Cuddle-Catz, Lizard-High, Bubble Broz, Mini Mallz, Rainbow Shimmer, Baby blasterz, My Little Star Princess Pops, Untitled Pool Toy, Junkyard Scrappers, Tiny Animal What Now and Super Puppy Power-ups. 

Wow, somebody at FUNKI reeeeeeeally likes ending words with a "Z!" To be fair though, that's pretty much standard for modern toy names.

Kurt then copies the M3GAN files onto his laptop. Note that EVERY single bit of info on this incredibly complicated piece of tech fits into a single folder, and there are only 1742 individual files in it. That seems like a pretty small amount for an advanced autonomous android doll. Even more amazing— it only takes about a minute to download all the files!

• Sometimes when Gemma orders M3GAN to turn off, she assumes a neutral position and looks down with her eyes open. Other times her eyes close. Why the difference?

• Lydia stops by the FUNKI office and watches Cady interacting with M3GAN in the observation lab. She tells Gemma that Cady's forming an unhealthy attachment to what is basically a toy, which will prevent her from socializing with real kids and growing as a person.

Once again, I did not expect such thoughtful psychology from a horror movie about a killer robot doll!

• Gemma tells Cady she wants to enroll her in a special alternative school, where the kids all get to learn in outside classes.

Outside classes. In Seattle. A city where it rains 150 days per year on average. Yeah, I don't think so.

• Cady refuses to go to the school unless she can take M3GAN with her. Gemma says absolutely not, as M3GAN's a highly secret prototype and shouldn't be seen in public at all. Of course she ends up caving in on this topic, for no other reason than so the movie can happen.

As I said earlier, there's no way in hell this would ever happen. Heck, David and Greg would be within their rights to sue the pants off Gemma right now for allowing anyone to even SEE M3GAN before the rollout.

A better story solution would have been for David to lock up M3GAN in the FUNKI vault for safe keeping. Then she could have busted her way out and made her way to Cady at the school. 
From that point on we'd get the same exact story beats, and it would be way more plausible. There, guys, I fixed your movie for you. You're welcome!

• All through the film, M3GAN has quite the extensive wardrobe. So where's she getting all the stylish clothing? I guess Gemma bought 'em for her? Does M3GAN dress herself each morning? She's definitely capable of it, so I suppose it's possible.

• At the school, Cady gets paired with Brandon to go into the woods and search for chestnuts (?). Brandon's a pre-teen psychopath, who bullies and hurts Cady. When M3GAN shows up, he grabs her and runs off with her. He then tosses her on the ground and actually straddles her. 

Um... I was getting a little uncomfortable here, as I wasn't quite sure where the movie was going with this scene!

Oh, and Brandon utters the movie's one "fuck," which all PG-13 films are allowed.

• M3GAN teaches Brandon a lesson in the movie's most horrific scene, as she grabs his ear and pulls it off. This shot really stretched (no pun intended) the movie's PG-13 rating about as far as it'd go here!

• M3GAN then chases after Brandon on all fours, because apparently that's something she can do. There's really no reason for her to do this other than it's a creepy visual.

• All through the movie, M3GAN consistently reminds Cady to set her water glasses on a coaster. When they return from the school, Cady forgets and sets a glass directly on a wooden table. Gemma looks at M3GAN, expecting her to correct Cady. Instead M3GAN doesn't say a word and simply stares silently at Gemma.

This was a brilliant way to illustrate M3GAN starting to exert her power and seeing how far she can push things. Well done, writers!

• After Celia vaguely threatens Gemma and Cady, M3GAN waits for nightfall and attacks her. She blasts her across the garage with a pressure washer, spears her hand with a nail gun and then sprays her with weed killer till she's dead. A couple things here:

Though it seems like the movie's exaggerating about pressure washers, it's not. They can be extremely dangerous and even strip skin from your body at close range! 
So it's entirely plausible that M3GAN could have killed Celia with one.

Unfortunately nail guns don't work anything like the one seen here. They're not like firearms that shoot out nails. In fact there's a guard that prevents the trigger from working unless the gun's pressed up against a board first.

• At one point we see a news report on the M3GAN rollout, which states the dolls will retail for $10,000.

Wow! While that's definitely a hefty price tag, it's actually shockingly and impossibly cheap for a fully autonomous, realistic AI doll.

For comparison, this is Boston Dymamic's Atlas robot. It's nowhere near as sophisticated as M3GAN, yet it sells for a whopping $150,000! And their doglike Spot robot sells for $75,000.

I suppose once M3GAN units were mass produced they might be able to get the cost down some, but never anywhere near the $10,000 mark.

• In the third act, Gemma and Cady's relationship comes to a boil as the young girl slaps her aunt. Gemma then explains to Cady that she needs to feel bad about her parents' death in order to heal and move on, and M3GAN isn't allowing her to do that. Amazingly the nine year old Cady perfectly understands this collegiate level psychology, and instantly makes a 180ยบ as she begins to love and trust Gemma.

While it's possible entirely possible that with enough time and patience, Cady may one day come around and get over her trauma, it'd take wayyyyy longer than the sixty seconds the movie devotes to it.

• So why did M3GAN hunt down David and murder him and Kurt? Sure, they were both ineffectual corporate buffoons, but as near as I can tell neither of them ever did any harm to Cady or M3GAN herself. 

Is it possible she thought David might pull the plug on her, so she proactively eliminated him? Or maybe at this point in the movie she decided to forsake any pretense of morality and just killed 'em for the heck of it.

Oh, and right before David's death we get M3GAN's already-iconic dance routine, that you've no doubt seen everywhere online. There was absolutely no reason for her little number here, other than it looks creepy and unsettling.

Setup And Payoff: All through the movie, we see Cady constantly drinking glasses of water. Then in the final minutes of the movie, M3GAN returns to Gemma's house and attacks her and Cady. At one point M3GAN's strangling Gemma, who grabs one of the glasses Cady left out and throws it in the robot's face, temporarily short circuiting her!

• During their battle, M3GAN pins down Gemma reveals her new plan. She intends to cause full body paralysis in Gemma, so she can take care of her and Cady forever.

Um... does M3GAN really think that would ever happen? That a robot doll would be allowed to provide care for an invalid woman and raise a young child all by herself? There's no way in hell the state would ever allow that.

• Cady then dons Gemma's control gloves and activates Bruce, using the powerful robot to fight M3GAN. 

It's a cool, fist pumping moment for sure. But how the heck does Cady know how to control him so precisely? She watched Gemma use the gloves exactly one time for about thirty seconds.

I suppose we could be generous here and say she practiced with the gloves while we weren't looking, but it still seems like a pretty big stretch.

Setup And Payoff: Early in the movie Gemma showed Cady how Bruce worked, pointing out his camera eyes and the all-important processor brain in the middle of his face. Thankfully M3GAN's built the exact same way, and Cady's able to stab her brain with a screwdriver, ending her threat once and for all.

• With M3GAN finally destroyed, Gemma and Cady limp out of the house just as the police arrive. We then see the Elsie unit activate, implying that the doll uploaded her consciousness into her, setting up M3GAN 2. Or would that be M4GAN?

M3GAN's a perfect example of what I call a "Yeah, But Then What?" movie. We get a relatively happy ending, as M3GAN's destroyed and Gemma and Cady survive. But then what?

Actually it's anything but a happy ending, as Gemma's likely to be in a world of legal and financial trouble. She rushed the development of a project without adequate safety testing, assuring her superiors it was ready for sale. 

As a result she's probably doomed FUNKI to bankruptcy, and they'll be well within their rights to sue her for damages.

Her robot creation also killed four people, meaning she'll likely be charged with multiple counts of accidental homicide.

Gemma's definitely gonna end up bankrupted, and possibly even jailed. Which means the state's probably gonna order Cady to go live with her grandparents in Florida.

M3GAN could have been just another run of the mill killer doll movie, but it manages to elevate itself, thanks to a solid script and a darkly satirical tone. The performances are all top notch as well, especially by Allison Willians and Violet McCraw. It's also surprisingly thoughtful, as it comments on our society's obsession with technology— something I definitely wasn't expecting from a horror movie.

Crashing The Fellowship

I've probably seen The Fellowship Of The Ring fifty times since it premiered way back in 2001.

Recently I watched it, and during the iconic Gathering Of The Fellowship scene, I noticed this guy lurking in the background of the shot for the first time. Who the hell's that guy? 

Seriously, Peter Jackson? You couldn't have nudged the camera over to the left just a little, to cut this guy out of this all-important scene?

"You shall be The Fellowship Of The Ring. And Larry!"
 

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Passive Voice Chili

Saw this marquee outside Cleavers, a local eatery here in my hometown.

C'mon, Cleavers, have a little confidence! Don't slouch your shoulders like a milquetoast and mumble that you think youre chili's pretty good. Rip open your shirt, bare your chest hair and roar "WE HAVE THE BEST CHILI IN TOWN!"

R.I.P. Funky

When Funky Winkerbean premiered back on March 27, 1972, it was a mildly amusing "joke a day" comic strip about a high school kid and his cast of wacky friends.

After twenty years or so of that, Funky writer & artist Tom Batiuk apparently became bored with the whole high school schtick, so he aged to adulthood through the magic of a time jump. More importantly, he also removed pretty much all the comedic elements, turning the strip into a serialized, dramatic soap opera.

Titular character Funky an alcoholic. His friend Becky, a gifted piano prodigy, lost her arm in a drunk driving accident. His other friend Lisa developed breast cancer, and after a years-long struggle with her illness was actually killed off. There were also storylines about suicide, gun violence and the horrors of war. Fun! I mean, grim and depressing.

In 2007 Batiuk introduced yet another time jump, which put the characters in their mid forties and gave them a host of new problems.

Then around fifteen years ago Batiuk decided he needed a vacation from his bleak and dismal strip, so he called on comic book artist John Byrne of all people, to handle art duties for a couple months. Byrne had had well-known and successful runs on Marvel books such as the X-Men, Fantastic Four and She-Hulk.

He was an odd choice, as he has a realistic and very distinct style, with a habit of drawing characters with lopsided smirks on their faces— like they just suffered a stroke. I remember looking at the strip during that period and wondering, "Why does the art suddenly look like John Byrne drew it?" Welp, because he did!

Don't worry, this'll become relevant in a minute. I promise!

Now after a whopping FIFTY years, Batiuk's decided to throw in the towel and retire, officially ending the Funky Winkerbean strip on December 31, 2022.

The second I heard the news, my mind reeled as I began speculating on just how grim and miserable the end of this cruel and dreary strip would be.

Would Les Moore become depressed over his wife Lisa's death and end his own life? Would Becky dump her husband John and hook up with her old flame Wally? Would the town of Westview (where the strip takes place) be destroyed in a shocking terrorist attack? Would Funky suffer a relapse and begin drinking again? Or would he descend into dementia-fueled madness and spend the rest of his life in a nursing home?

Nope! Nothing remotely like any of that. In fact the ending was weirder and far more bizarre than anyone could have possibly anticipated! 

The final week of the strip begins with yet ANOTHER time jump, this time into a distant future— complete with floating furniture, holographic tablets and flying cars. No, really!

We're introduced to an unnamed mother and child, who are apparently the descendants of Summer Moore— daughter of long-running characters Les and Lisa. The two venture to the outskirts of whatever megalopolis they inhabit, to visit the last bookstore in existence. They're there to pick up a "tree copy" (groan) of a book for the daughter.

Note that Mom points out that they're there to pick up a copy of the book that the kid's "Famous Nanna Summer" wrote.

Who the hell talks like that? Why point out to the kid that her granny Summer was a famous author— a fact that she'd obviously already know?

Also, considering this strip's harsh and dour tone, it wouldn't surprise me if this mother and daughter are living in an oppressive, post apocalyptic hellscape— one that's ruled with a literal iron hand by robot overseers.

Batiuk then does a little self advertising, as they also stumble across the book Les wrote about his wife Lisa's struggle with breast cancer. Which is a real collection of Funky Winkerbean strips, available wherever fine books are sold. The real world cover even looks like this one!

By the way, why does the kid tell the mom to ask the robot clerk if it's for sale? Is she a botist, and refuses to speak to artificial life forms?

Even if I didn't already know John Byrne drew this strip, I'd have instantly recognized his style. Solely by the robot alone. Byrne loves drawing robots with egg shaped heads and large, insectoid eyes— just like this one.

I love that the droid couldn't possibly care less about the kid's comments here, offering up a preprogrammed noncommittal response.

The strip— and the series— then ends with this unnamed kid becoming totally engrossed in these two old fashioned, hopelessly obsolete tree copies detailing the lives and loves of her ancestors.

Um... the end, I guess?

As I said earlier, how utterly bizarre that this strip ends its fifty year run with these two complete unknowns, rather than featuring a heartfelt and sentimental goodbye to its long-running and beloved characters.

I get it— Batiuk's trying to show the audience that even though their favorite characters are gone, their legacy will live on far into the future. But sure there was a better way to go about it than this. We don't even see the titular character at all in the final week of his own strip!
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