Review of “M3GAN”

Like most of us, I am mildly addicted to my smartphone. I make sure it is with me all the time and, if there’s a moment where I feel boredom creeping in, I’ll grab it to check social media and other apps. I have an iPhone, but I rarely use the voice assistant Siri. If I’m driving and need to send or respond to a text message, I may use it. However, there are times when, without prompting, Siri will say something about what I’ve been talking out loud about. I push the button and say to no one in particular, “I’m not talking to you, Siri.” I have heard the rumors that our Facebook and other social media are listening to us speak via our phones and targeting us with ads related to our discussions. Smarter people than I have debunked this rumor as saying it would require massive amounts of storage to save our conversations and a type of advanced AI that (some say) doesn’t exist yet. I’m not so paranoid as to believe my phone is constantly listening to me and my ego is certainly not big enough for me to think I’m important enough for that kind of attention. That doesn’t mean, in some distant future, there won’t be a storage format that could compress data down to a point where all conversations could be saved and an AI smart enough to parse out what we say AND our intent. For a glimpse into a “Twilight Zone” like future with our artificial intelligence overlords, I present to you the new movie “M3GAN.”

Gemma (Allison Williams) works for a robotic toy company called Funki. She’s been working on a secret project with her fellow lab mates Tess and Cole (Jen Van Epps and Brian Jordan Alvarez) called M3GAN, short for Model 3 Generative Android. M3GAN is equipped with an artificial intelligence allowing her to learn and expand on her programming. The android is designed to be a child’s companion and take over some of the day-to-day functions of parenting. Gemma gets a chance at a real-world tryout of M3GAN’s abilities when her sister and brother-in-law die in a car crash, leaving her to care for her niece Cady (Violet McGraw). Totally unprepared for parenting, Gemma puts a rush on finalizing M3GAN’s programming and introduces her to Cady. The pair bonds immediately and Gemma can focus more on her career. Her boss David Lin (Ronny Chieng) wants to begin production immediately and introduce M3GAN to the world via a live stream in front of an audience. But M3GAN is showing some troubling signs of being too independent. And when people near Cady begin to turn up dead under mysterious circumstances, Gemma wants to take her offline and run diagnostics to see if there’s a problem. M3GAN has other ideas.

The premise of “M3GAN” has been done in other films to varying degrees of success. The most notable is the “Child’s Play” series of films starring a killer doll named Chucky. In that instance, the doll is possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. A quick search on Wikipedia shows a list of 104 killer toy/doll movies going back as far at 1936. There are also numerous television shows that feature episodes of toys and dolls that either turn on their owners or are possessed and begin killing those around them. But M3GAN is a little different from Chucky, Annabelle or any evil doll from a “Twilight Zone” episode in that she isn’t possessed. M3GAN learns to be evil based on her programming. There’s a suggestion early in the film that the android is damaged in a dog attack and that leads to her violent turn, but that’s never followed up on. M3GAN’s AI appears to be learning not only from her experiences with Cady, but from the internet. She is constantly updating and learning more every second. Any look at social media would provide a blueprint on becoming evil. It has happened before when a chatbot was allowed unfettered access to Twitter and within 24 hours was posting racist and other hate-filled tweets. While “M3GAN” is about a robot that goes bad, it’s really about how easily the internet can corrupt people with hate and violence.

While this is a heavy handed view of the film, “M3GAN” delivers its message with a healthy dose of humor. The film knows just how outrageous this set up is and plays into the silliness on several occasions without losing the horror/thriller elements. Seeing M3GAN giving side eye Gemma as she contradicts her or questions her advice to Cady is both funny and unsettling as we know this android is going to remember every slight and probably take her revenge later. Anyone that has been surprised by their Alexa or other automated home assistant piping up when it isn’t expected will understand how disconcerting it can be.

The film also takes a shot at those allowing tablets and phones to do most of the babysitting and, in some cases, parenting in their home. M3GAN is shown reminding Cady to flush the toilet, wash her hands and use a coaster under her glass. She reads her bedtime stories and sings her songs. M3GAN is presented as a possible surrogate parent for anyone that buys her. It’s an exaggerated look at what may come, but one that is plausible and more than a little frightening.

“M3GAN” is rated PG-13 for violent content and terror, some strong language and a suggestive reference. A character has his ear ripped off. Another is assaulted with a power washer and a nail gun. There is a suggestion of a dog being killed. A character jams a spiked chestnut into another’s hand. A character is choked with a cable and nearly blown up in a gas explosion. Two characters are stabbed to death. Two characters die in a car crash. I don’t remember the suggestive reference. Foul language is scattered and mostly mild, but there is one F-bomb.

M3GAN is created with a combination of trained dancer Amie Donald delivering her physical performance and the voice work of Jenna Davis. Along with some CGI to add the artificial texture of a synthetic face, M3GAN is a unique looking creation with very large eyes and plastic looking skin. She is both realistic and artificial and doesn’t become creepy until later. I embrace new technologies and look forward to a future when we have unlimited fusion energy, flying cars and highspeed rail service from coast to coast. I’ll probably be dead before any of that happens, but I’m a bit concerned about what artificial intelligence has in store for us as it is progressing faster and faster to becoming reality. There likely will never be a M3GAN-type android in my future, but AI doesn’t need a body to cause humanity problems should it decide to. As it is, we can rest easy in knowing M3GAN is just a Hollywood creation…for now.

“M3GAN” gets five stars.

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Review of “Get Out”

Chris Washington and Rose Armitage (Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams) are a young couple in love.  They are headed to a weekend away with her parents Dr. Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener), psychiatrist, at their secluded home deep in the countryside.  Before leaving, Chris was concerned about how Rose’s parents would react to him being black; but the couple greets him with open arms while Mr. Armitage is trying too hard to make Chris feel welcome.  Chris meets Georgina and Walter (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson), the housekeeper and groundskeeper respectively, and notices the pair act a bit odd in a way that could be considered hostile.  Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) arrives home from medical school, gets drunk, and behaves somewhat aggressively towards Chris.  Missy does hypnotherapy and offers to place Chris under hypnosis to help him quit smoking.  Chris declines but Missy does it anyway, making Chris relive the night his mother died in a hit and run accident when he was 11.  This is the weekend of the annual family garden party with numerous guests expected to arrive.  One of those guests is Andrew Logan King (LaKeith Stanfield) who is also black.  When Chris approaches him, King also behaves oddly.  Chris attempts to secretly take a cell phone picture but the flash goes off.  King attacks Chris and has to be restrained by several guests.  Chris sends the photo to his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent, and he recognizes the man as someone that has been reported missing for six months.  Chris tells Rose they have to leave but the Armitage family has other plans.


“Get Out” is the first feature directed by Jordan Peele, best known as half the comedy team of Key and Peele.  Should the film be successful (and early indications are it will be), comedy’s loss will be moviegoer’s gain as this first outing is about as good a thriller and social commentary you can get and Jordan Peele will likely be directing many more movies.


Part of what makes “Get Out” extra creepy is the normalcy of most of what happens.  A young couple of mixed race, the man meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time, the clash of cultures that is desperately being played down as much as possible, the awkward efforts to make the outsider feel comfortable, all of it is given this added veneer of effort and “everything is going to be alright” that screams to the audience that it won’t be close to alright.  These small touches I believe are what built up the dread in me as the events unfolded.


The film is filled with great performances from the entire cast.  Daniel Kaluuya shines as Chris.  You can see his desire to run away during every second of his time at the Armitage house.  He sticks out like a sore thumb during the garden party and feels like an animal in a zoo being looked over and appraised.  He can feel it but he brushes it off as his just feeling uncomfortable around a bunch of white people.  Kaluuya is a very talented young actor with an impressive list of credits on British TV as well as films and theatre.  If you have Netflix, check out his lead role in the episode of “Black Mirror” called “Fifteen Million Merits.”  His portrayal of Chris will likely have him doing even more work in movies in the US.


While the role of Chris’ friend Rod is small, Lil Rel Howery makes the most of his screen time.  Howery provides most of the comic relief in the film and it is all perfectly timed to relieve tension and prepare us for the next horror that is to come.  Howery is a stand-up comic with a special on Netflix and now perhaps a new career playing the funny best friend in movies.  Director Jordan Peele allows Howery to take over a scene and flex his comedy muscles while also making his character a TSA agent, something that already is the subject of more than a few jokes.  Howery is a joy to watch and he makes his brief appearances memorable.


While I don’t want to give too much information about what’s really happening in the story that makes it a thriller/horror film, I do want to complement the way the scarier aspects of the story are structured and introduced.  Not until late in the film do we gain a full understanding of what’s happening and when we do it hits with enormous emotional force.  Throughout the film we see the seeds of the plot being sown but don’t understand what’s going on right before our eyes.  When we finally have all the pieces of the puzzle, the reveal is especially satisfying in its twisted nature.  Most horror/suspense films show you the boogeyman, or reveal its existence, early on.  “Get Out” keeps its cards very close to its chest and only shows them when the time is perfect.  It’s a terrifically structured story and mystery written by Peele.


“Get Out” is rated R for language, bloody images, sexual references and violence.  The bloody images and violence is largely saved for the last 30 minutes or so of the movie.  During that time there are some fights, weapons used, parts of a surgical procedure are shown, there’s a bloody stabbing, a person hit by a car and some shootings.  The sexual references are very mild.  Foul language is common but not overwhelming.


“Get Out” is not just about thrills as it also makes a commentary about race and class in America.  When confronted with the fact their daughter is dating a black man, the parents try extra hard to show they have no problem with him.  Dad even takes Chris aside for a tour of the house and says he’d have voted for Obama a third time; but we all know this merely a smoke screen for his true feelings just as many whites profess their lack of racism despite incidents of racial hate being on the rise.  Some put on a happy and non-judgmental face to those of a different race then continue to judge and stereotype them behind their backs.  The movie puts a twist on that two-faced behavior that is more immediately dangerous but no less deadly.  It also does so without diminishing how tense and entertaining the film is.


“Get Out” gets five stars.


There are three new films coming out this week.  I’ll see and review at least one of the following:


Before I Fall—




The Shack—


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