2023 TV & Movie Reviews: M3GAN / Women Talking / RRR / Mythic Quest / Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio / Corsage

A.I. girls, wooden boys, Indian revolutionaries, Austrian royalty, talking women and Silicon Valley dirt bags.

M3GAN

Not nearly as fun or funny as most critics and moviegoers are making it out to be – comparisons to Barbarian and Malignant (same writer tho) are wholly unmerited – but as far as January garbage dump cinema goes, M3GAN is way better than it has any right to be. This is the season where stuff like The Boondock Saints, Escape Room and A Guy Thing is typically dumped, perhaps unintentionally serving as a hilarious contrast to obscure Oscar bait that’s also in theaters at this time. Most of all, it’s a season for movies so bad they’re not good, so bad they’re not even enjoyable, and so lazy they’re just plain stinking bad. Luckily, M3GAN doesn’t fall into that category, it’s good, fun and funny to a certain extent, but one can’t help but thinking it could have been so much better if – 1) they went for a hard R rating and had M3GAN killing people in elaborately (and hilariously) gory ways, or 2) they had more faith in the audience to grasp the concept and get to the murder sooner. The main issue with Gerard Johnstone‘s M3GAN is that it takes far too long to get going, because the movie thinks it has lay more expository groundwork than it actually does. Look, we all came to see a ridiculous killer doll movie, we’ll forgive some holes in the plot/logic if it means more of M3GAN capping motherfuckers or twerking on an office copier. Violet McGraw from Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House plays a young girl who processes the vehicular death of her parents faster than any child ever would. Orphaned and nearly killed herself, she goes to live with her workaholic, borderline sociopathic aunt played by Girls and Get Out‘s Allison Williams, a toy developer working on a A.I. prototype, M3GAN, who will one day destroy the modern world as we know it. Recognizing a robot doll as the perfect object to skirt her familial and basic human obligation of taking care of her niece, the aunt quickly realizes the error of her ways when neighbors, friends and co-workers start dying in mysterious and violent ways. There are a handful truly enjoyable moments in M3GAN, mostly in the final third of the movie, but it’s so top heavy with exposition that the movie has already started to become a bit of a chore. Based on the impressive box office receipts this past weekend, it’s looking like we have a franchise on our hand. Good, I think the best of M3GAN is yet to come. She’s a great character stuck in a movie that’s far too conventional for her funky chutzpah. Grade: B (In Theaters)

Women Talking

Speaking of chores, the exceptionally talented Sarah Polley‘s return to filmmaking after an entire decade is more than a chore to get through. It’s flat-out boring. Based on a novel but feeling much more like a middle school play in how physically constricted the actors are, Women Talking delivers everything the title promises. Twelve or so one dimensional archetypes having an extremely straight forward yet pedantically parabolic (those stupid twin horses…) conversation on whether or not to leave their Mennonite compound to escape the constant abuse of their husbands. Their disgusting betrothed have convinced them they are actually being raped in their sleep by demons because they aren’t praying hard enough, but after talking amongst each other they realize that’s BS.

Women Talking actually has a very compelling set-up and if properly written to include more dynamic characters and increased conflict between different POVs and opinions regarding how they should proceed, it could have been great. However, it plays everything too safe and straightforward, which ends up creating something that feels inauthentic. Maybe it’s just the way the character roles are written but a lot of the casting seems incorrect. Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley in particular stand-out as wholly unconvincing as women who have been in a brainwash cult their entire lives and only days ago realized how fucked up everything was. Both are incredible actors and have believable, even compelling, little moments here and there, but overall they come off as Hollywood actors playing dress up. Maybe it is mostly due to the writing though, for brainwashed Mennonite cult victims who have been denied education their entire lives they speak an awful lot like women’s studies grad students. Rooney Mara is more convincing in her role, while seasoned veterans like the great Judith Ivey and Canadian actress Sheila McCarthy create the more nuanced and interesting characters.

The best performance of the movie might belong to Frances McDormand as “Scarface” Janz, a Mennonite sporting a face scar most likely punishment for some perceived slight or act of disobedience from her monster husband. She’s the only character who believes the women should stay and forgive their men, which could have created more of the conflict this movie so badly needs, if she was given more than two minutes of screen time. The worst performance most shockingly comes from brilliant British character actor Ben Whishaw as August, a bizarre mixture of Ben Stiller‘s Simple Jack character from Tropic Thunder and the “Leave Britney Alone” girl. August is an outrageously sensitive school teacher who left the compound when his mom disobeyed or something but returned to teach the children, cause someone needs to look out for the children. He cries a bunch, like the whole time, and delivers a constantly creepy vibe. Maybe that’s how this dude would be but it feels unnecessary for the story Polley is attempting to tell.

There’s also a handful of other characters in this that make absolutely zero sense and the old western Instagram-filter color grading the whole film is presented in just baffles the shit out of me. The one great thing about this besides solid work from Mara, Ivey, McCarthy and McDormand, is Hildur Guðnadóttir‘s emotionally brutal score, so good in fact that it keeps tricking you into thinking Women Talking a good movie. It’s not, a rare misfire for writer/director Sarah Polley. Grade: C (In Theaters)

RRR

I can’t help but think there’s a 150 minute masterpiece somewhere deep in S.S. Rajamouli‘s RRR, but as it stands there’s a really fucking good 187 minute cut. RRR is a consistently entertaining Indian Telugu-language action adventure epic that takes real life Indian revolutionaries and gives them a completely fictional story to play around in. A friend of mine described it as Revolutionary Fan Fiction on Letterboxd, and that’s the best description I’ve ever read of it. It’s totally bonkers 3+ hours of historical Indian fan fiction with goofy ass CGI tigers and elaborate, balls-to-the-walls dance song and dance numbers. It takes a while to get acclimated to the unnatural dubbing and cheesier aspects of the movie, there’s a dumb romance subplot that doesn’t need to be there and some cringe-y slapstick, but by the 45 minute-mark, you’re completely invested and entertained by the picture all the way until the end. Part of this is due to two incredibly likeable and compelling performances by N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, who succeed in making you totally believe this unlikely pair’s friendship but most of it seems to be writer/director S.S. Rajamouli, whose intense lack of restraint makes for some of boldest cinema of the year. Grade: B+ (Netflix)

Mythic Quest (Season 3)

A bit of a letdown after the series’ near perfect second season, Season 3 of the show sees everyone broken apart into their own little corners. Ian (Rob McElhenney) and Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) have gone off to work for themselves, taking Dana (Imani Hakim) along for the ride, David (David Hornsby) is quietly breaking down running Mythic Quest alone, Brad (Danny Pudi) is fresh out of prison and using his custodial job at Mythic Quest to play Cassius to Rachel (Ashly Burch) ‘s Brutus, Jo is trying to finally have friends and C.W. (F. Murray Abraham) is dead. Abraham left the show for more critically acclaimed pastures as Old Horny Grandpa on The White Lotus, and you really feel his absence, especially in the few moments this season that brings the cast together. I suppose a necessary part of any multiple season comedy is switching characters up and separating them, in order to keep things fresh, but you really miss having all these characters play off each other in a confined environment. Is not having a steady stream of laughter worth the compelling character revelations we get from Ian and Poppy’s ever evolving toxic relationship. Maybe? McElhenney (Ian) and Nicdao (Poppy) are pretty fantastic this season, with a stunning flashback episode that explores both of their sad childhoods. On the other hand, I really miss how quippy this show used to be closer in its infancy. There’s enough soul-shattering dramas on TV to explore sad childhoods and arrested development, I just wish this was funnier. On the plus side, the best comedic moments this season belong to Pudi and Ennis, the clear MVP now that Salieri is gone. Grade: B (AppleTV+)

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio

The better of the two Pinocchio adaptations this year, and I didn’t even have to see the critically-annihilated live-action Robert Zemeckis/Disney+ version. This one is much less geared towards kids as it is for adults. Poignant and dark, but never cheap or profane, it’s the single best Pinocchio film adaptation I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen more than I’d like to admit (Roberto Benigni, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, somebody kill me). It’s also the best thing Guillermo Del Toro has made since his Best Picture-winning The Shape of the Water. Featuring an incredible score by Alexandre Desplat and some really good songs, this version takes places in Italy during WWII where Geppetto (voiced by Argus Filch himself, David Bradley) has lost his son to an accidental church bombing. Absolutely destroyed by grief and aided by a really dapper cricket (Ewan McGregor), he builds himself a fake boy, Pinocchio (Gregory Mann), who a blue witch (Tilda Swinton), makes into a real life boy. Pinocchio is the odd duck of the town, offending his fascist neighbors by actually enjoying life while not being white, and eventually catches the eye of a government official (Ron Perelman) who wants to turn him into a Nazi super soldier. He also catches the eye of a showbiz creeper (Christoph Waltz) and his pet monkey (Cate Blanchett) who want to enslave the boy in a life of vaudeville servitude. Can Pinocchio find his way in this topsy turvy, Nazi-infested world? There are a few funny moments here and there but the moments that really stick out are the dramatic ones, concentrating of course on defining what exactly makes any of us human. You know, the entire point of Pinocchio? The ending in particular does this well, just about perfectly actually, in that it’s equal parts life-affirming and devastatingly sad. This one really snuck up on me, it’s well worth checking out. Grade: B+ (Netflix)

Corsage

Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer‘s Corsage is a gorgeous looking but rather lethargic piece of revisionist history built around a tremendous performance by Vicky Krieps as Empress Elisabeth of Austria, depressed after turning 40 and still having to deal with everyone’s crap. Her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I doesn’t want anything to do with her, sexually or socially, and her kids constantly criticize her for having male friends or smoking cigarettes. There are some awkward laughs scattered throughout, but for the most part the movie limps along till it reaches its inevitable conclusion. The cast is really solid, without a single weak performance, but its really only Krieps that continually give us great little moments with her character that make the movie seem more interesting than it actually is. There have been better movies about the corset-crushing weight of living a public life as royalty, but there have been much worse ones. Its usage of modern music in particular feels more organic and inspired than the way it was deployed in Sofia Coppola‘s insufferable Marie Antoinette, but besides Krieps‘ performance, there’s really nothing that noteworthy in Corsage. Grade: B- (In Theaters)

ALSO STREAMING AND IN THEATERS

FILM

Avatar: The Way of Water In Theaters

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Netflix

BabylonIn Theaters

The Whale In Theaters

Mindcage$6.99 VOD rental

TÁR$5.99 VOD rental

Aftersun $19.99 VOD purchase

Decision to Leave MUBI & $6.99 VOD rental

Everything Everywhere All at OnceShowtime

The Banshees of InisherinHBOMax

Violent Night In Theaters & $19.99 VOD rental

Emily the CriminalNetflix

Black Panther: Wakanda ForeverIn Theaters

The Fabelmans In Theaters & $19.99 VOD rental

Bones and All In Theaters & $19.99 VOD rental

TV

The White Lotus (Season 2)HBOMax

Industry (Season 2)HBOMax

This Is Going to HurtAMC+

Interview with the Vampire (Season 1)AMC+

Chucky (Season 2)Syfy

Atlanta (Season 4)Hulu

Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities Netflix

Reservation Dogs (Season 2)Hulu

The Resort Peacock

Harley Quinn (Season 3)HBOMax

The Rehearsal (Season 1)HBOMax

Only Murders in the Building (Season 2)Hulu

Better Call Saul (Season 6, Part 2)AMC+

Black BirdAppleTV+

Yellowjackets (Season 1)Showtime

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