Almost human. Films reviewed: Shin Ultraman, M3GAN plus the best movies of 2022!

Posted in AI, Fantasy, Horror, Japan, Monsters, Robots, Science, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on January 7, 2023

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Happy New Year, everybody!

As we move closer to an uncertain future, we’re finding it harder to tell the difference between a human and a robot, or human thoughts vs artificial intelligence. This week, I’m looking at two new movies about almost humans. There’s a semi-human superhero who comes from outer space, and a cute little robot doll with a very dark side.

But before that, I’m going to run through what I think were some of the best movies of 2022.

Best movies of 2022

Every year, I see hundreds of movies so it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few, for that reason only I don’t include documentaries, like Laura Poitras’s fantastic All the Beauty and the Bloodshed; nor cartoons, like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinnochio, only movies that I saw on a movie screen and reviewed last year. There are many  other good, or even great movies I saw, but here are what I think are the best movies of 2022, in alphabetical order:

All Quiet on the Western Front, Dir: Edward Berger

Armageddon Time, Dir: James Gray

Broker, Dir: Kore-eda Hirokazu

EO, Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski

The Innocents, Dir: Eskil Vogt

Memoria, Dir: Apichatpong Weerasathakul

Nope Dir: Jordan Peele

The Northman, Dir: Robert Eggers

Tár, Dir: Todd Field

Triangle of Sadness, Dir: Ruben Östlund

The Whale, Dir: Darren Aronofsky

 

 

Shin Ultraman

Dir: Shinji Higuchi

It’s present-day Tokyo, and things are not going well. Previously unknown monsters  — or “S-Class Species” — keep appearing from nowhere and wreaking havoc across Japan. They’re drilling holes, smashing dams and sucking up electrical power like slurpees. Luckily, there’s a government body that handles cases like this. They’re the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol, or SSSP. The head guy, Tamura, gives the orders, while the scientists investigate. Strategist Kaminaga (Saitoh Takumi) is a nerdy, introvert who speaks with no inflections or emotions. He works with newcomer analyst Asami (Nagasawa Masami) his exact opposite, an assertive woman who wants Kaminaga to be her buddy. And two more members round up their team.

Fortunately, whenever the Kaiju monsters appear, a strange giant man, dressed in a silver and red suit, arrives to save the day. He is dubbed Ultraman, protecting Japan from these strange invaders. But why does Kaminaga always disappear when Ultraman arrives? And is he human, alien, or somewhere in between?

The Japanese government — and the rest of the world — takes notice. They want to find out where Ultraman comes from and what his secret powers are. Things get more complicated when a benevolent-seeming alien arrives on earth, saying he will handle international relations from now on. But no one realizes his real aim — to take over and kill all the homo sapiens on the planet… unless Ultraman and the SSSP stop him first.

Shin Ultraman is a purist reboot of the classic Japanese 1960s TV show. I remember seeing reruns as a kid, and really liking it. This new version is a re-creation set in present-day Japan, but with nothing particularly contemporary or different from the original. It does include some political content — government politicians and bureaucrats who repeatedly make the wrong decisions — and the other characters are modernized.  Watching this movie — which I enjoyed! — it seemed identical to what I remembered, until I re-watched bits of the original, and was shocked at how bad and campy the special effects had been. Here the CGI and costumes are much, much better. But it preserves the sombre and earnest tone that geeky, sci-fi devotees demand. If you’re a fan of Ultraman, or of Japanese kaiju movies in general, you won’t be disappointed — this is the real thing.

M3gan

Dir:  Gerard Johnstone

Gemma (Allison Williams) is an inventor who, as part of a team, develops toys at a conglomerate called “Funki”. Their last big success was a Furby knock-off, but it’s losing market share, so they need a new hit. All their hopes lie on a project she’s been secretly working on for a long time, but it’s not quite ready yet. It’s code-named M3gan — Model 3 Generative Android — and is a robot in the form of a smart and pretty little girl. With a titanium core and sophisticated AI memory, she can talk, walk and act like a real human. 

More than that, Megan’s artificial intelligence lets her learn and change as she grows up. By bonding with her primary owner, she’s not just a toy, she’s a friend for any little girl. But she wouldn’t come cheap — she’s priced more like a car than a toy. Gemma’s boss is pushing her to finish Megan’s prototype, ASAP, to attract new investors, when, suddenly, disaster strikes. In a freak accident, her sister and brother-in-law are killed by a snowplow on a ski trip, leaving their 10-year-old daughter — Gemma’s niece — an orphan.  Cady (Violet McGraw) needs someone to turn to in her hour of grief, and Gemma, as her closest living relative, is appointed her guardian. But she knows nothing about parenting;  she lives alone and devotes all her time to her career.

So, to kill two birds with one stone, she brings M3gan home to take care of Cady, even while she works on the toy’s programming in time for the big launch. She observes them interacting through a one-way mirror in a glassed-in playroom at the company. Megan has only one overriding rule: to protect Cady from any danger, both physical and emotional. Cady loves M3gan, who is very protective of her best friend. But when she allows them outside of the lab, things turn dark. And when the dead bodies start piling up, Gemma realizes something is terribly wrong with her design. Can she fix Gemma before she goes rogue? Or is it too late?

M3gan is a thriller-horror take on the classic story — dating back to Frankenstein — about the bad things that can come out of a benevolent scientist’s experiment. It’s also about bad grown-ups and evil kids — in addition to M3gan — facing their comeuppance. For a movie that doesn’t ever take itself top seriously,  it succeeds in being both kinda scary and funny. It has lots of kitschy, fake toy ads, and your usual stock characters, like grumpy boss, noisy neighbour, spoiled kids. Beware: there is a fair amount of violence, including a disturbing scene where a boy assaults M3gan thinking she’s a doll, so definitely not suitable for everyone, but I liked it. Allison Williams is excellent as Gemma, and Megan (composed of actor Amie Donald, the voice of Jenna Davis and lots of CGI) is a doll villain that’s weird enough that I think we’ll be seeing lots more of her.

M3gan opens this weekend; check your local listings. And you can see Shin Ultraman on January 11th and 12th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

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