Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Needle in a Timestack (2021)

Streaming Service: Amazon Prime
Movie Name/Year: Needle in a Timestack (2021)
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Romance
Length: 1h 51min
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, Ember20, Montana North Media, Lionsgate
Director: John Ridley
Writer: John Ridley, Robert Silverberg
Actors: Leslie Odom Jr., Freida Pinto, Cynthia Erivo, Orlando Bloom, Jadyn Wong, Ulka Simone Mohanty, Elizabeth Weinstein, Gourav Shah, Laysla De Oliveira
Blurb from IMDb: Nick and Janine live in marital bliss until Janine's ex-husband warps time to try to tear them apart. As Nick's memories disappear, he must decide what he's willing to sacrifice in order to hold onto - or let go of - everything he loves.

Selina’s Point of View:
There was a lot to like about Needle in a Timestack, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
At the very start of the flick, I got a distinct ‘commercial’ feel from it. The way the cameras zoomed in on the various pieces of technology felt more like they were trying to sell something than tell a story. That’s something Black Mirror (2011-2019) also does a lot of to showcase whatever tech they’re using in the plot. I understand why it’s done, but there’s got to be a better way. It takes me out of the story, at least a little, every time.
The feeling didn’t last throughout the whole movie. When the first time event hit, it caught me off guard. I loved what they did with it. Not only did it look cool, but they managed to explain the entire situation without making me feel like I was sitting through a ton of exposition. That’s impressive for a science fiction.

You also can’t fault any of the acting, either. Leslie Odom Jr. (Central Park, Glass Onion, Harriet), Cynthia Erivo (Harriet, Luther: The Fallen Sun, Roar), Jadyn Wong (Debug, Scorpion, Cosmopolis), Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Mr. Malcolm’s List, Hillbilly Elegy) and Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Outpost, Unlocked) played their parts perfectly. I didn’t see any of their past performances while I was watching, they became their characters completely. That’s saying a lot because I’m a huge fan of Hamilton (2020). To not see Odom as Burr is usually an issue for me.
That’s where the good news ends. The story behind Needle in a Timestack was just kind of mid. It wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t grip me like a good story should. It was a lot of romance tropes, and a very familiar plot, with some interesting sci-fi aspects tossed in. They could have done so much more with the concept.
As a romance, Needle in a Timestack is watchable, but it doesn’t really stand out as much as one would hope.

Cat’s Point of View:
Needle in a Timestack had an interesting concept. I haven’t read the Robert Silverberg (The Twilight Zone: To See the Invisible Man, Amanda & the Alien, Bicentennial Man) short story it was adapted from, but it intrigued me. I adore sci-fi and playing with time and technology are some of the cornerstones of the genre. I mean, I am also a die-hard Whovian so the concept of time travel and its inherent quirks is something that feels very familiar.
Alas, while the sci-fi element was certainly not amiss from the story, it was more heavily leaning on the dramatic side of romance and relationships. Time travel was more like a set piece as a fixture already well-established in the film’s world. There were some thought-provoking moments, however, and the characters were portrayed well. It was just hard to keep my attention because the drama pulled out the time to where I felt like I spent well over 2 hours watching Needle in a Timestack.

I did love how much care went into the characters. You got a good window into how each of them worked so that each shift in the story hit just right. Time shenanigans were subtly worked into the environment through the character connections as well as the surroundings. Needle in a Timestack also handled doling out a serious case of Deja vu to its audience, as well.
I just wish that it had more to offer in the excitement department to help me not play “The Room Where it Happens” in my head over and over when I saw Leslie Odom, Jr. on screen.
While this production doesn’t have me jumping at the chance to watch it again, I did like it. Fans of single-genre romantic dramas might get significantly more out of this story than I did.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 37%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 54%
Metascore – 42%
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score –5.2/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 3/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating 3.5/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, March 6, 2023

M3GAN (2023)


Streaming Service: Peacock
Movie Name/Year: M3GAN (2023)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller, Horror
Length: 1h 42min
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Atomic Monster, Blumhouse Productions, Divide/Conquer, Universal Pictures, New Zealand Film Commission, Peacock, Studio Distribution Services (SDS), Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE), Universal Pictures International (UPI)
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Writers: Akela Cooper, James Wan
Actors: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Amy Usherwood, Arlo Green, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jack Cassidy, Jen Van Epps, Jenna Davis, Kira Josephson, Lori Dungey, Michael Saccente, Millen Baird, Natasha Kojic, Ronny Chieng, Stephane Garneau
IMDb Blurb: A robotics engineer at a toy company builds a life-like doll that begins to take on a life of its own.

Selina’s Point of View:
I figured M3GAN would be a bit on the corny side, but still a fun watch. I was dead-on with my expectations.

M3GAN followed just about every killer-AI trope there is out there. I’d be hard-pressed to call much of it original, but it did feel like the tropes were well used. It would have been very easy for M3GAN to just start cramming as much as it could into the story without rhyme or reason. Instead, it worked. Mostly.
It may seem a little strange to say, but I didn’t get as much of that uncanny valley feel from the robot as I thought I would. In fact, I got more from Paul Dano’s (Knight and Day, Swiss Army Man, The Fabelmans) Riddler in The Batman. Without that feeling, there were parts of the flick that didn’t hit as hard as they could have. It made things feel more silly than serious.

I did appreciate a bit of the psychological aspect that was thrown in. It was an interesting perspective, especially in the context of grief.

I enjoyed M3GAN, but I was hoping for something a little more serious than I got. It’s still something fun to watch with friends and a six-pack, though.
Cat’s Point of View:
The prospect of watching M3GAN made my inner sci-fi geeky heart happy. I’m generally down to watch any production that explores AI and robotics and their future interactions with humankind. For now they may be fiction, but I don’t anticipate that lasting much longer. Lets get those cautionary tales out there and prevent Skynet, right? 

All in all, I generally enjoyed my experience with M3GAN

The doll was seriously creepy and gave me futuristic, if only slightly less homicidal, Chucky vibes. I really appreciated how they kept the face of the android companion just somewhere uncomfortably between a real human’s and that of your typical porcelain doll. It made the moments interacting with people who didn’t know what M3GAN was more believable. 

I enjoyed the cast’s performances and how M3GAN embraced its own camp and meta nature. Everything was a bit predictable - but really, for this sort of movie there’s not a lot that it could have done that wouldn’t have been so. Still, there was something missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. As a horror movie that blended comedy along with the psychology of grief into a story about a murderous toy, it delivered where it counted. 

I do have to give the production team credit for the avenues they took with the story to leave it open for sequel potential. In fact, Blumhouse announced in January, shortly after this film’s release, that there will be a M3GAN 2.0 - which is, at this time, the current working title of the next movie. 

I actually ended up watching M3GAN twice. I hadn’t realized initially that it released as an unrated version when it hit streaming in addition to the PG-13 film that was in theaters. My 19-year-old daughter and I viewed it as soon as it became available on Xfinity On-Demand, and it turned out to be the PG-13 version. I watched the unrated one in preparation for this review today. I was rather surprised that there wasn’t a lot of difference between them. I actually preferred the PG-13 cut better. 

For those wondering why, the PG-13 cut was more refined and the horror was more effective with slightly less gore, or some actions happening off-camera. The body count, all general plot points, and set pieces all remained the same. If there had been a more expansive difference between the versions, I would understand the unrated release better. As it stands, I’m just scratching my head in confusion - because the “extras” the lack of rating allowed didn’t make that cut any better. I digress.

My daughter and I did enjoy our trippy romp through the cut-throat toy industry. My advice would be to just not expect or assume too much from the outset. The toy developers here were obviously not following Isaac Asimov’s (1920-1992) laws of robotics. 
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 93%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score –78%
Metascore – 72%
Metacritic User Score – 6.8/10
IMDB Score – 6.4/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 3.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 3.5/5
Trust the Dice: Parental Guidance Rating: There are 2 versions of this movie. The Unrated version is closer to R and there is also an MPAA rated PG-13 version.
Movie Trailer: