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Reviews for January 6th, 2023

Documentary Round-Up

      The Invisible Extinction, is a captivating, eye-opening and insightful documentary about the importance of good microbes for our body's immune system and how antibiotics kill both the bad and the good, essential microbes. Co-directors Sarah Schenck and Steve Lawrence do a wonderful job of presenting the information about microbes for audiences in a way that's clear and easy-to-follow, even for audiences who don't know what microbes are. They follow two microbiologists, Gloria Dominguez-Bello and her husband, Martin Blaser, who travel around the world to help improve the microbiome and to restore the good microbes. Without those good microbes, the immune system is weakened and there's an increased chance for diabetes, obesity, asthma and food allergies. T Probiotics available on the shelf aren't enough because they should be targeted differently for each individual. In one of the most illuminating parts of the film, Gloria Dominguez-Bello travels to the jungles of the Amazon to collect the poop of local villagers. That poop is then used through fecal transplant to inject good bacteria into other people with less healthy microbiomes. One woman who undergoes fecal transplants sees significant improvement to her health. This isn't the kind of documentary like SickoThe Invisible Extinction finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. It opens at IFC Center in New York, Laemmle Monica in LA, and on VOD.

      The Subtle Art of Not Giving a #@%!, based on the self-help book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Mason, is a provocative and well-edited, but heavy-handed and incomplete documentary about finding true happiness while embracing one's own flaws and limitations. Mark Mason's perspectives on life, happiness and relationships are raw, honest and refreshing. He makes other self-help gurus who promote nothing but positivity seem like cheesy charlatans who don't know what they're talking about. That kind of approach is a bit condescending to opposing viewpoints. That would've been fine if director Nathan Price were to have included some other perspectives on happiness to counterbalance Mark's views and spark some debate. There are more than 2 sides to every coin: there are the sides, the ridges and so forth.

      Perhaps what Mark Mason is trying to say, but doesn't actually say it, is that we should all be seeing and treating ourselves as human beings without any sugar-coating. What about people who lack introspection, though? How could they know their true selves and find true happiness? Another important topic that's the elephant in the room in this doc is the issue of narcissism---people who have a huge ego and try to feel better about themselves by attaining more wealth and materialistic goods than others tend to be narcissistic. Self worth has far more intrinsic value than ego does, but neither this doc nor Mark Mason manage to go beyond scratching the surface of self-worth. That said, Mark Mason and director Nathan Price do a fine job of balancing the film's wisdom with comic relief so that it's not one of those dry, academic docs with lots of talking heads that make you go "When is the exam??" at the end. It's accessible, lively and entertaining while providing some food for thought, but it ultimately bites off more than it could chew. At a running time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a #@%! opens at Village East by Angelika via Universal Pictures and Abramorama.


Directed by Gerard Johnstone

      Gemma (Allison Williams) works as a roboticist at a toy company where she's in the process of creating a life-like doll, Model 3 Generative Android (M3GAN). When she becomes the caretaker of her 8-year-old orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), she decides to test the prototype of M3GAN (voice of Jenna Davis) while providing her with a new best friend, but it doesn't quite go as planned.

      M3GAN is a dumb and silly sci-fi horror comedy, but a lot of fun nonetheless with its tongue firmly in its cheek. The screenplay Akela Cooper doesn't take itself too seriously as it opens with an awkwardly funny commercial for toys which sets the film's offbeat tone. The first 30 minutes or so are spent on exposition as Cady loses her parents during a car crash before you're introduced to Gemma at her lab. Gemma's boss, David (Ronny Chieng), isn't too happy that she's secretly working on a M3GAN. It's a huge financial risk for the company, so a lot is at stake for her to succeed. Soon enough, M3GAN and Cady bond and become friends, but as a psychologist warns Gemma, Cady's emotional attachment to M3GAN is unhealthy because Cady now M3GAN her to be her new caretaker instead of Gemma. The dark side of M3GAN begins to show when she meets Gemma's unfriendly neighbor, Celia (Lori Dungey), whose dog bites Cady. M3GAN seems essentially like a narcissist with a Jekyll and Hyde personality: she seems sweet and charming one moment, but she's sadistic and evil the next. Oh, and she can also sing and dance. M3GAN is at its most entertaining when it isn't afraid to go bonkers. Fortunately, that happens more often than not. There's some tongue-in-cheek humor, but the humor remains very dark and off-kilter for the most part. If you're willing to throw logic and conventionality out of the window while checking your brain at the door, you'll get a kick out of M3GAN. If you're willing to throw logic and conventionality out of the window while checking your brain at the door, you'll get a kick out of M3GAN.

      A huge part of what helps to make M3GAN a diverting experience is its fast pace without any scenes that last too long. It's also a lean B-movie that doesn't meander plot-wise nor does it feel tonally uneven. The nifty CGI effects make M3GAN (with Amie Donald as her body) look creepy and sweet at just the right moments. Given the PG-13 rating, there's some blood, but not much gore or anything that pushes the envelope it terms of violence---except for one scene with M3GAN hurting pulling a kid's ear off, but it would've been a lot more gorier and icky with an R-rating. This isn't the kind of movie that's meant to accomplish that; if you want to be grossed out, see Terrifier 2. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, M3GAN is a wildly entertaining, outrageously funny and campy horror comedy in the vein of Lake Placid and Child's Play. Watch it high as a kite with a large crowd, if possible.


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Universal Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

The Old Way

Directed by Brett Donowho

      Colton Briggs (Nicolas Cage), a former gunslinger, runs a gunshop and lives with his wife, Ruth (Kerry Knuppe) and 12-year-old daughter, Brooke (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), in a small town in the American West.  One day, James McCallister (Noah Le Gros) , an outlaw, arrives with his gang, Big Mike (Abraham Benrubi), Eustice (Clint Howard), and Boots (Shiloh Fernandez), to seek revenge decades after Colton murdered his father. He kills Colton's wife before Colton and Brooke hunt him down while on the run from the law, Marshal Jarret (Nick Searcy).

      The Old Way is yet another B-movie Western that doesn't even remotely hold a candle to the suspenseful and thrilling Western classics like The Unforgiven and High Noon. The bland screenplay by Carl W. Lucas takes little to no risks while offering very little in terms of suspense, thrills, wit or surprises. Colton is a boring character as are everyone else, including his daughter and the villain. They're essentially caricatures which is acceptable within a B-movie as long as there's exciting action or something else to entertain the audience on a palpable level. Unfortunately, that can't be said about The Old Way. The dialogue ranges from stilted to clunky, and the relationships fall flat, i.e. between Colton and his daughter. This is the kind of movie where you can get up to go to the bathroom without pausing it and not miss anything that can't be easily predicted. There's nothing wrong with predictability, clichés or formulas for that matter if it's done well which isn't the case here from start to finish. Also, the lack of comic relief makes the film too dry, tedious, monotonous and dull.

       Even the presence of Nicolas Cage isn't enough to save The Old Way. He's very much restrained here acting-wise without his trademark schtick where he suddenly starts yelling, going berserk or being outrageous in any way. From a scale of 0 to 10 Cage-ness, this receives a 0. He's much better in more recent films that took more risks like Pig. The role of Colton could've been played by anyone and it wouldn't have come to life because of the weak screenplay that doesn't provide enough substance or range.  No one truly stands out when it comes to their performance, unfortunately. Beyond that, the cinematography, set designs, action choreography and editing aren't exceptional nor does the landscape add much style either. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, The Old Way is a pedestrian and lethargic bore that's low on thrills, suspense, and, above all, Cage-ness. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Saban Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.