January 2023 Roundup
Universal Pictures // Directed by Gerard Johnstone // Starring Alison Williams, Jenna Davis, Violet McGraw, Jen Van Epps, Ronny Chieng
Move over Wednesday, there’s only room for one dancing sensation here. M3GAN (full moniker Model 3 Generative Android) blew up the internet when the first trailer for the movie dropped complete with her snakey arm dancing and it seemed we’d be in for a fun horror romp to kick off 2023. Intuition proved correct, M3GAN is indeed a fun horror romp - especially if you expect more of the fun aspect rather than the horror. M3GAN is a lifelike AI doll created to conquer the toy market and provide kids with a humanlike companion, which sounds an awful lot like Chucky but M3GAN has far more style than that raggedy old doll. M3GAN is programmed to bond with a child and, through conversation, adapt herself to them to provide the maximum possible experience. Violet McGraw’s Cady is the recipient of the first ever M3GAN model, the doll given to her by her tech wiz aunt Gemma (Williams) to fill the void left by her recently-deceased parents. Gemma is given legal custody of Cady, but she’s a career woman, she doesn’t feel equipped to deal with this responsibility - enter M3GAN…however, over time that sassy doll begins to become a bit too protective of her new BFF. The movie is as campy as early reactions suggest, director Gerard Johnstone and screenwriter Akela Cooper are fully aware of the premise and tone throughout and the movie overall benefits from its ‘less-than-serious’ tone. There are themes and messages splayed throughout, the dangers of technology and overreliance we as a society place upon it, alongside attachment and family threads, and these are a welcome addition to a movie that spends more time than initially expected with its set up and development before diving into its killer doll narrative. But we’ve all come for M3GAN and she doesn’t disappoint. Whilst the movie is light on horror violence, the doll steals all of the scenes she is in and provides laughs, attitude, and more than a few creepy moments (thanks to some excellent framing from DoP Peter McCaffrey) with her fractious relationship with Gemma providing the majority of the highlights. At varying points, we are smartly forced to align our sympathies and loyalties with both characters separately until the third act where the lines are drawn and the bombast is unleashed. The movie still never crosses any bold lines in terms of overt violence or gore, which on one hand is refreshing but on the other does feel slightly restrictive given the potential of this character. That potential will surely be utilised and monetised in further sequels and it remains to be seen whether Jason Blum et al will lean further into the fun or deviate into more bloody territory, but, for now, we have a deliciously fun and entertaining joyride and a new contemporary horror icon. Just don’t answer her back.
Paramount Pictures // Directed by Damien Chazelle // Starring Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Lu Jun Lu, Tobey Maguire
Whiplash. La La Land. First Man. Damien Chazelle has made a real name for himself with his first three major movies, combining drama, music, humour, and authenticity to his stories, and he’s a director whose releases I highly anticipate. With Babylon, Chazelle has widened his scope and delivered a movie that is grand in nature, dizzying in execution, but not altogether solid in structure. Unlike those previously mentioned movies, I felt like Babylon held me at arms length throughout for the most part, there was a feeling of disconnect - though it had more in common thematically with Whiplash and La La Land. Now, granted, it took me two or three runs on First Man to genuinely appreciate it, but Babylon is another beast entirely. A story about the excesses and debauchery of 1920s Hollywood as the industry shifts from silent films to ‘talkies’, Babylon gets off to a flying start with probably one of the more raucous pre-credits sequences you’ll see on the big screen - golden showers, excessive drug use, elephant crap, death, sex, and nudity everywhere you look. It’s certainly impactful. The party also plays host to the movies major players, Brad Pitt’s Jack Conrad, a fading A lister, Margot Robbie’s defiant and opportunistic Nellie, and Diego Calva’s Manny, who was in the right place at the right (or wrong) time to ascend into the studio game from nowhere and who also acts as our lead. All three provide blockbuster performances in their own way, with Calva acting as the heart of the movie as he transitions from animal wrangler to family man via a highly tumultuous journey. Babylon boasts strong performances across the board, committed performances at that, with Maguire and Li Jun Li all chipping in with solid performances amongst the visual chaos. It’s hard to deny Babylon is a delicious looking movie, Linus Sandgren returning to provide another example of his fine cinematography, and Justin Hurwitz continues with another relentlessly strong score, but it’s the writing that really hampers the movie alongside its egregious runtime. Despite its strong start, the second half becomes less focused and biting, and simply more of a mess. Whilst the characters always felt like caricatures and parodies, a greater focus on pathos would have really benefited this story - there are short bursts here and there but nothing that feels particularly compelling. Intertwined with Chazelle’s story is a running homage to Singin’ in the Rain, one that is clear for all to see (and clearly intentional), but one that serves to hamper the overall delivery of Babylon. Additionally, the movie includes a stirring montage of classic cinema highlighting the changing of the guard from silent to talkies - this is where the celebration of cinema is at its strongest in Babylon, a celebration of the artform and what it can be and mean at its strongest. Babylon itself is pure cinema, it’s an explosion of filmmaking by a director cutting loose and going hell for leather but it is also disjointed, uncurbed and not always enjoyable - the excess became excessive and the delirium made me delirious.