film review

“M3GAN” Review: A truly bonkers, titanium rollercoaster

My passion for horror is well known but I was once utterly terrified of the girl from The Ring, Ghostface, and even Chucky. The latter in particular is a source of terror for many children, as well as older audiences. While nothing can really take the place of the redhead in overalls, the legendary doll may gain a worthy opponent in the titular character of Gerard Johnstone’s newest horror, M3GAN. Mixed in a rollercoaster of blood, camp, and a lullaby version of Sia and David Guetta’s “Titanium,” is a story that emphasizes the importance of human connection versus technology through themes of grief and family.

When Cady (Violet McGraw) loses her parents in a tragic car accident, her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) – a genius engineer working at a toy company – takes on the role of guardian for the little girl. The duo has never been close, and Gemma struggles to connect with her niece. Due to the nature of her work, the robotics engineer thinks about it as a problem to solve. What if she builds Cady something that will be programmed to nurture? Enter M3GAN (played by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis). Short for Model 3 Generative Android, this miracle doll made of metal, wires, and a hefty amount of silicone, can continuously learn about the child paired with her. This lifelike robot and a wonder of artificial intelligence becomes Cady’s best friend and makes an impression on Gemma’s boss David (Ronny Chieng), earning the possibility of mass production for anyone who can afford the ten-thousand-dollar toy.

(from left) M3GAN , Gemma (Allison Willias) and Cady (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone.

Many filmmakers have demonstrated that nothing can truly replace human connection. Johnstone, however, takes it up a notch. Cady’s behavior changes for the worse under the influence of M3GAN’s out-of-control behavior, as she learns too much too fast. When Gemma realizes the consequences of her technology, it may be too late to stop the robot doll from singing and dancing her way through a pile of bodies. M3GAN will undeniably remain the campiest character of the new year. She manages to be both frightening and witty; absurd and impressive; friend and foe. M3GAN effortlessly becomes the one true and worthy adversary of the red-haired, cursing doll we all know.

As the doll goes rogue, carnage commences. You don’t know what to expect. Will she start walking on walls? Or maybe pull weapons out from her wired body? No matter what, the doll will undeniably captivate you with her outlandish singing and dancing or take you aback by going on all four limbs like a dog. M3GAN is quick to sow fear wherever she can, startling even Gemma with her swift adaptation. The scientist wants to keep her niece and career out of harm’s way, but M3GANS’s learning ability advances quickly, signifying the perilous reality of AI technology. There are plenty more of gasp-inducing scenes during the entirety of M3GAN, and the audience isn’t ready for it.

Reminding us of the dangers of abusing technology and replacing people with it, the director, along with writers James Wan and Akela Cooper, demonstrate the impressive and spine-tingling power of M3GAN through the equally impressive performance of Violet McGraw. The young actress, known for The Haunting of Hill House and Dr. Sleep, is a perfect element of this extraordinary duo. McGraw brings so much emotion to the narrative, especially in the finale where Cady has to take matters into her own hands and protect herself and her aunt.

(from left) M3GAN and Cady (Violet McGraw) in M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone.

M3GAN gives us everything we want in a camp horror, but the film also contains surprising depth. In one scene, a psychologist asks Gemma about her doll and wonders how it will affect a child’s relationship with their parents, whose role as nurturers can now be so easily replaced. Johnstone’s latest takes this matter on and ponders the role of technology in young kids’ lives and how it influences them. At the same time, it’s a cautionary tale that warns us about the misuse of robotics and reminds us of the irreplaceable bond between human beings – no matter how advanced or layered technology is.

M3GAN is sure to get a similar audience reaction as Malignant or Barbarian. The film’s bizarre choices and M3GAN’s entire AI persona paradoxically make so much sense as the titular character delivers camp, humor, and chills – all at the same time. McGraw as Cady beguiles and moves you, while Williams’ Gemma continually impresses you in performing her character’s genius. M3GAN is an instant horror classic that blends conventional horror elements with themes of loss, loneliness, and family in a bulletproof, titanium package.

Grade: A

M3GAN is now playing in theaters. 

film review

‘Glass Onion’ Review: A masterclass of a layered whodunnit storytelling

Rian Johnson has done it again, bestowing us with a carefully constructed puzzle that’s nothing short of a masterpiece. After dismantling the dirty secrets of the Thrombey family in Knives Out, the writer-director takes us on a cruise weekend getaway to witness the greatest murder mystery of the year in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.

The opening sequence of Glass Onion almost feels like the beginning of The White Lotus, as the film’s diverse group of passengers arrive at the port. They are invited by the tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton) to a murder mystery party on his remote island. Among the invited friends are politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn), model/influencer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), a gun-loving streamer Duke (Dave Bautista), Mile’s employee Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odon, Jr.), and Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe), the co-creator of Miles’s tech company. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Knives Out mystery without a surprise invitation for the one and only Southern detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).

The tension builds and continuously rises as the guests reach Miles’s so-called Glass Onion compound – a place built almost entirely of glass, packed with splendor and notes of condensation. Moreover, Miles’s place pays homage to the bar of the same name where the group used to hang out years ago and where the mogul’s empire initially started. Everything comes back to that bar and how Miles’s Elon Musk-level success affected everyone around him. So, it’s no surprise that shortly after this murder mystery party commences, a real murder transpires and everyone is a suspect, including the host. One can say that the film’s title is the leitmotif of this dark comedy as we peel layer after layer, revealing another element of the puzzle or intriguing character development. As the layers slowly but surely come off, the gratifying climax commences as the film’s denouement leads us perfectly to the end.

While this sequel’s predecessor, Knives Out, focuses on one rich family, Glass Onion centers on an extremely wealthy group of friends to further illustrate how dependency on one’s wealth only grows more toxic when more money is involved. That reflects perfectly in Hudson’s character. Birdie – virtually broke, the opponent of anything “woke”, and a fierce disputant – is a woman at Miles’s mercy. Hudson portrays a spoiled, washed-up star outstandingly with a brilliantly hilarious performance. Moreover, Miles, a character ingeniously portrayed by Norton, is the perfect epitome of wealth and satirically represents how far one goes to get even richer. (Sound familiar? If not, look at Twitter.)

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022) Kate Hudson as Birdie and Edward Norton as Miles. Cr: John Wilson/NETFLIX

The entire cast ups the ante as each character is meticulously written and becomes an integral element that fits into the film’s puzzle. But the true heroine of the film, and a big contributor to its undeniable success, is Janelle Monáe. The actress, known for her work in Moonlight and Hidden Figures, goes above and beyond, especially in pair with Craig’s detective Blanc. The duo is practically unstoppable when attempting to solve this installment’s mystery. There’s no other actor that could bring Benoit Blanc to life as Craig takes the character up a notch to display the detective’s genius with marvelous flair. In addition, the actor’s performance in the second part further explores Blanc’s incredibly gifted mind.

Just like in the case of Knives Out, the script for Glass Onion is ambitious, stimulating, and a perfect satire of the one-percenters. The director again laughs at rich, out-of-touch people and gives his characters very hard lessons and a head-on encounter with a bleak reality by the end. Plus, Johnson presents some fantastic cameos and simultaneously creates a film that’s highly “meme-able”. In one scene, for example, the director utilizes rack focusing, as we see Duke catching his girlfriend cheating. At the same time, Blanc creeps up a few feet away and stalks Duke. The scene is sidesplitting, especially as it’s later referenced again. This moment, as well as other similarly hilarious ones, are already being used in meme form to keep the film’s comedic genius alive.

All in all, Glass Onion is a clever sequel worthy of its predecessor. A solid, hilarious script paired with interesting, colorful characters creates an ambitious flick – one that you’ll want to watch again and again. Everyone will find something to enjoy and come out of it excited for more of Benoit Blanc’s sharp retort and quick-witted sleuthing.

Grade: A

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is now streaming on Netflix.

film review

“Halloween Ends” Review: One of the Best, Bone-Grinding Horror Finales

I watched John Carpenter’s Halloween only a few years ago. Nonetheless, I fell in love with this film and the slashers overall. The film started my horror journey, which doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Michael Myers, the bloodthirsty masked killer first played by Nick Castle and now by James Jude Courtney in David Gordon Green’s Haloween Ends, has been preying on people for years. But his ultimate adversary, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), is always ready for him. In Halloween Ends, the survivor confronts Michael for the final bloody time as the audience ponders the subject of evil and its presence in real life.

The residents of Haddonfield, Illinois, are in for another Halloween season. Laurie, now a homeowner, is working on a book about heinous past events. With Alyson (Andi Matichak) living with her, they continue to mourn Karen (Judy Greer) and Ray (Toby Huss), despite their desperate attempts to move on and put Michael Myers in the past where he belongs. But that isn’t as simple as it appears, especially when the past comes knocking again.

One can agree that the Halloween series, particularly its most recent installments, divided viewers. Some people wanted more and complained about the lack of logic as Michael miraculously resurrected himself over and over. Others kept track of the days until each film’s premiere. Slashers, however, should be taken with a grain of salt because their main purpose is to entertain and shock with blood-spattering and creative death scenes that outdo the previous ones. As a result, some may be disappointed to learn that Halloween Ends has fewer bodies than its extremely bloody predecessor. But don’t worry because the finale we’ve been waiting for is one of the most daring in the slasher subgenre. The first scene leaves the viewer’s jaw on the floor and demonstrates that quality, not quantity, is the most important factor.

(from left) Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers (aka The Shape) in Halloween Ends, co-written, produced and directed by David Gordon Green/ Universal Pictures

In the new and last chapter, Laurie wants to help her granddaughter deal with the past. Alyson is now a nurse at Haddonfield Hospital (yes, the hospital where evil was supposed to die that night). As is widely known, grandmothers frequently believe that having a sweetheart will make things easier. Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell) appears in their lives soon after, having survived a tragedy that caused most of the townspeople to turn their backs on him. Both Alyson and Corey are broken people who want to rebuild themselves together. But the boogeyman is back for more blood.

In a nutshell, Halloween Ends is one of the boldest and most inventive finales. The film is chock-full of unpredictable choices and jumps scares. Gordon Green constantly plays with the audience during this undeniably delicious ride. Just as you’re about to be outraged by a controversial, possibly disastrous decision, the creators dismantle our thinking and slam another shocking twist in our faces. The director is well-versed in the audience’s desires. In a way, he mocks the obvious decisions that are made in horror films. As a result, the unconventional choices provide us with the final fight we’ve been waiting for. Halloween Ends creates a different atmosphere and provides us with much entertainment all the way through.

In a way, the film is more real than others. Curtis’ Laurie, for example, discusses the phenomenon of evil in society in one of the scenes: there are external factors that cause evil and fear in people. The most dangerous one, however, is the inherent evil in each of us. It’s up to us whether we want to let evil take over our lives or fight it. The scene made me think of my high school essay on the presence of evil and whether it’s passed down from generation to generation or taught as one progresses in life. The installment bestows upon us something different, something that will undoubtedly stick with us for a while.

One can agree that Curtis’ Laurie Strode is one of the most important characters in horror. With this role, the actress created history. As befits the final girl, Laurie brilliantly concludes the eternal war in Halloween Ends. But there is another actor, Rohan Campbell, who breathes new life into the Halloween franchise. Campbell gives a spine-chilling performance as Corey, a shy outsider with a traumatic past.

Whatever you expect to happen and are outwardly certain of, the horror transforms into something entirely different. As a result, there is no reason to try to predict what will happen in the story. Perhaps that’s why it’s better to just sit back and watch Michael Myers cut open another victim with his trusty, now-rusted knife.

Halloween Ends is an undeniably satisfying, bloody spectacle, the perfect conclusion to Laurie Strode’s eternal battle with the Boogeyman. As we bid farewell to the cult characters, the slasher provides us with food for thought, particularly on the subject of evil and how difficult it is to eradicate it due to its extraordinary ability to change Shape.

Halloween Ends premieres TONIGHT, October 13th on Peacock and in theaters.

review television

“What We Do in the Shadows” Season 4 Review: Night Clubs, and Baby Colin in Another Hysterical Chapter

For many years, vampires were regarded as one of the most enigmatic monsters in pop culture, frequently appearing in film and television. Just like zombies, they’re fictitious creatures that have been reimagined by many in various ways. At the height of the Twilight craze, and the sexualization of blood-loving creatures, a more comedic take on vampires emerged with the film-turned-series, What We Do in the Shadows by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Both the series and the film reveal vampires who are not too different from the average, normal-food-eating human, with similar hopes and dreams. Now in its fourth season, the series continues to be one of the most successful and downright hilarious shows, engaging the audience from the first episode. Get ready for more drama, an avalanche of raunchy jokes, the creation of a nightclub, and a baby (!) Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch).

Our favorite group of vampires, which includes Laszlo (Matt Berry), his wife Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Nandor (Kayan Novak), and Colin (now rebirthed and growing faster than the average human), found themselves separated for the first time at the end of season three. In season four’s first episode, directed by Yana Gorskaya and fittingly titled “Reunited,” the group is shown coming back together after a year apart. Nandor returns from traveling alone and Nadja and Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) come back from Europe, where the vampire joined the highest Vampiric Council. The blood-thirsty voyagers (and human companion Guillermo) arrive in Staten Island to find their beloved estate on the verge of destruction and with a new resident: The remains of the good ol’ Colin Robinson, now in baby form.

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” / Pictured: Kayvan Novak as Nandor. CR: Russ Martin: FX

It’s difficult to fully summarize season four’s genius, as there are so many great, chaotic, outright weird situations. Yet, each scenario is so intelligently written and executed that they make you laugh every time. In reality, not much has changed in terms of the story, but this isn’t a bad thing. It feels like it stays the same yet it gets better each season, with each of the characters developing in ways they previously haven’t, taking charge and trying to do things on their own. Laszlo and Nadja, after being separated, are beyond ecstatic to be together as they plan an unusual remodel of the Vampiric Council Headquarters. Demetriou’s character absolutely rocks the boss lady style. Simultaneously, Nandor embarks on a journey to find himself a wife, while Guillermo demands the respect he is due after years of service by Nandor’s side. 

The writing of the main characters is the best part of the series, and no doubt a big part of its success. There is no individual lead — each character, whether it’s Nadja, Guillermo, or Colin, is an integral part of the narrative and an element that brings plenty of laughter and memorable one-liners (those from Laszlo are something, let’s be honest). Despite each of them receiving their “five minutes of fame” and centering an episode or a portion of the season on one character, the creators balance it and focus on the other portrayal next. In effect, each character, including The Guide (played by Kristen Schaal), becomes more multidimensional and complex, providing the audience with added levels of familiarization.

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” / Pictured: Natasia Demetriou as Nadja, Matt Berry as Laszlo. CR: Russ Martin: FX

Berry’s Laszlo keeps cursing twice as much (and if you don’t like it, he’ll tell you to get fuc*ed). As he becomes a father figure to Baby Colin, the two form an out-of-this-world duo. Nadja’s doll that contains part of the human Nadja’s soul appears in the plot more frequently, adding entertaining banters between the doll and its owner. These are just a few of the most entertaining aspects of What We Do in the Shadow’s fourth season. Its genius lies in every comedic element added to the narrative; part of the fun is discovering them all one by one while participating in vampire adventures.

The clever, highly entertaining scripts are also one of the season’s highlights. All four episodes available for review have a strong backbone, and the scriptwriters: Stefani Robinson, Paul Simms, Wally Baram, and Aasia LaShay, among others, give each actor room to shine. It’s admirable that the show’s rock-solid story keeps getting stronger from season to season, reaching the same heights as its ever-growing popularity. The writing is still as good as it was in the first season, but it feels even more seasoned now than at the beginning of the group’s journey. However, as we return to Staten Island, to a barely standing mansion (thank you, Laszlo), one pressing question remains: When will Guillermo become a vampire? While seeing him chase after his master, and then attempt to gain his independence and become an individual rather than just half of a pair, is a lot of fun, it would be awesome to eventually see him evolve into a vampire — fangs and all.

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” / Pictured: Matt Berry as Laszlo, Kristen Schaal as The Guide. CR: Russ Martin: FX

What We Do in the Shadows remains a constant source of talent, skill, elaborate stories, and never failing jokes. The show’s executive producers, including Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Stefani Robinson, and Paul Simms, are successfully riding the high, proving that the series’ success isn’t without hard work and an eternal passion for the vampire’s sharp bite. Season four has everything its fans could want, becoming yet another lavish entry into this vampire world. So, if you wish to experience more absurd adventures and outlandish situations, strap yourself in for the ride when What We Do in the Shadows returns on July 12th on FX and Hulu the next day.

Grade: A

film review

,,Practical Magic” retrospective review: A timeless film with empowering components and charming premise

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

This retrospective review contains spoilers for Practical Magic.

Practical Magic premiered in 1998 when I was only three years old. Thankfully for my future critic self, my parents made sure to take care of my film and television education. In effect, I knew the film by Griffin Dunne, based on Alice Hofman’s book, early on. As the title indicates, Practical Magic is packed with titular magic but not only — it contains an empowering narrative, highlights the importance of sisterhood, and discusses how difficult it is to walk away from domestic abuse. All of those aspects make the film still very relevant for the new generation and first-time viewers.

The film focuses on the Owens family, highlighting the relationship between two sister witches, Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman). The family also includes women’s aunts who practically raised them — Jett (Diane Wiest) and Frances (Stockard Channing). After Sally’s husband suddenly passes away due to the awful curse that lies upon the Owens women; a curse that prevents them from safely falling in love and living happily, the widow and her daughters, Antonia (Alexandra Artrip) and Kylie (Evan Rachel Wood) move back into Sally’s family manor.

But the story is more complex than that, with many elements that are less magical and more realistic, especially as one grows older and revisits the film. As the plot progresses and Gillian returns to the family home, her abusive boyfriend, Jimmy Angelov (Goran Visnjic), follows, resulting in fatal consequences — death from the poison that Sally mixes in his drink. The situation shown in the film perfectly illustrates women’s fear of not being believed, even in light of self-defense. The third act of Practical Magic then shifts from its magical (sic!) undertones to a thriller, as the criminal investigation in Jimmy Angelov’s missing case commences under the watchful (two-colored) eyes of Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn).

There’s a lot to admire about the third act, particularly when all the women in the village band together to help Gillian, who gets possessed by Jimmy’s tortured soul. Even after so many years, the sight of all the participants joining hands evokes strong emotions. Practical Magic’s premise about female strength, the damaging effect of abuse on one’s psyche, and the fight for body autonomy is still very relatable, making the film a timeless story.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

There is one another aspect of Practical Magic that makes it memorable, and it’s the issue of bullying in the film. For the sisters as well as Sally’s daughters, being raised by witches has its consequences. In effect, many times throughout the film, we observe kids yelling, “Witch, witch, you’re a bi*tch!” as well as perceive fellow parents gaslighting Sally and begrudging Gillian in their prejudice. Said aspect may be helpful for younger audience where, perhaps, some struggle with the presence of bullying at school. Thanks to its versatility, the film is perfect for everybody.

There are many memorable moments in Practical Magic — one of them illustrates young Sally (Camilla Bell) casting a spell to find a perfect love — but with a twist. She conjures virtually impossible future partner to ensure that the person doesn’t exist. But, as the film proves further through Quinn’s character, it’s quite difficult to beat the fate at its own game. Artrip and Wood are also utterly charming in the roles of Sally’s daughters.

Next to the aforementioned components, Dunne’s picture possesses a suitable and catchy soundtrack that adds to the overall atmosphere of the film, with songs from Stevie Nicks, among others. When looking further into Practical Magic’s legacy and its Rotten Tomatoes score, which still stands at 21 percent, it becomes even more unbelievable, especially given the film’s aforementioned timelessness. The audience score, on the other hand, more accurately reflects the film’s reception.

Regardless of the score, and not without the flaws, Practical Magic will still have the ability to enchant viewers that are passionate about empowerment and representation of female characters on film and tv. It may not be a film for all, but the ambiguity of opinions demonstrates the beauty of art and how different people perceive it based on their own experiences and feelings. I’ll stand by my opinion that Dunne’s adaptation is a classic position for the Halloween season and an empowering film, ideal for a group hangout and a post-film discussion on themes contained in it.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

At the very least, it’s so worth seeing Kidman, Bullock, Wiest, and Channing’s characters dancing around the kitchen and drinking “midnight margaritas” while humming Harry Nilson’s Coconut. Who knows, maybe after viewing, you’d like to apply Sally’s kind advise — Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for luck, and fall in love whenever you can.

Practical Magic is currently available to stream on Hulu.