Movie Review: The ‘Child’s Play’ Remake is Sharp with the Satire but Oversatured in Gore

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CREDIT: Eric Milner/Orion Pictures

Starring: Gabriel Bateman, Mark Hamill, Aubrey Plaza, Bryan Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, Marlon Kazadi, Beatrice Kitsos, Ty Consiglio, David Lewis, Carlease Burke

Director: Lars Klevberg

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Prime Bloody Cuts of Human Meat

Release Date: June 21, 2019

The original 1988 Child’s Play was a sneaky little B-horror pic that snuck in some pointed satire about the crass commercialism of marketing aimed at children by asking the question: if the soul of a serial killer were transferred to a toy doll, would all the adults be too distracted to notice? The remake takes its aim at the paranoia surrounding artificial intelligence. This is oft-explored territory, so the horrors of the next-gen Chucky doll (voiced with easy panache by Mark Hamill) are not particularly unique. But the satire is built around a salient, timely concern: what if all of our smart Internet-connected devices suddenly became weaponized against us? The new Chucky is part of the “Buddi” line assembled by Kaslin Industries, an Amazon-esque tech monolith that promises consumers a domestic utopia with its thorough suite of products, with Tim Matheson as the wise, old, just-creepy-enough face of the company.

While the ideas of nu-Child’s Play are impressively on target, its plot machinations are a bit too silly and Grand Guignol for their own good. Original flavor CP worked on a visceral level because while Chucky was nearly impossible to kill, he wasn’t impossible to subdue. But upgraded Chucky is far more omnipotent, as he can basically become telepathic and telekinetic with the right Bluetooth signal. Thus, it is never in doubt that he is going to kill someone, which leads to the hyper-violent stakes being raised in ways that call to mind Saw and Final Destination much more than I expected. Occasionally, there’s a really devastating sick visual joke to lighten up the gore, but most audiences can expect their bloodlust to be satisfied many times over. Ultimately, Chucky is defeated less because of any weakness and more just because the movie is about to end.

Also in the “been there, done that” category is Chucky’s motivation: the old “if I can’t be your friend, then nobody can.” Frankly, I think that Chucky has more on his mind than just what some random kid thinks of him. But that is what his programming demands once he meets young Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and automatically “imprints” on him. It suggests a worst-case scenario of how it would go if the most smartphone-obsessed among us had their feelings reciprocated. Smart A.I. can be dumb, but while this Child’s Play is satisfyingly diverting, it doesn’t convince me that our devices are that psychotic.

Child’s Play is Recommended If You Like: Smart device paranoia

Grade: 3 out of 5 Stabby Stabbies

This Is a Movie Review: Aubrey Plaza Stops You Cold in the Instagram Tragicomedy ‘Ingrid Goes West’

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff

Director: Matt Spicer

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: R for Cosplay Hanky-Panky, Surprise Cocaine, and an Amateur Kidnapping

Release Date: August 11, 2017 (Limited)

An early montage of Instagram posts in Ingrid Goes West features Elizabeth Olsen reading out loud the entirety of the captions. This is jarring for a couple of reasons, partly because captions are not designed to be spoken aloud and mainly because the emoji are given concrete descriptions. I would argue that such straightforwardness is antithetical to the spirit of emoji, whose meanings are often implicitly understood but generally maintain a level of fluidity. Similarly, social media posts purport to present a certain specific message, but there are layers of further meaning lurking underneath.

People like Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) interpret public personae with too much unwavering conviction, overly certain that an interaction with a virtual fan is an invitation to become a flesh-and-blood friend. But what Ingrid Goes West suggests is, maybe that is not exactly what she believes. Maybe that rigidity is just a coping mechanism because the alternative is too complicated to handle. Ingrid becomes obsessed with Taylor Sloane (Olsen) not just because her Instagrams of avocado toast represent the height of L.A. cool, but mainly because of the illusion that her life is perfectly put-together. To someone who is obviously mentally ill (and thus whose brain does not allow any stability), that is intoxicating.

Ingrid Goes West is not a condemnation of Instagram, not really. It is just the medium through which some unhealthy behavior that would still exist otherwise happens to be taking place. Still, if you are wrapped up in it, it is an overwhelming medium. What is fascinating about Plaza’s performance is that her excessive social media use does not drive her to make Ingrid excessively fake, but rather unnervingly real. True, she makes “friends” under false pretenses, but her capacity for genuine relationships and deep cavern of pain are what stick with you.

Ingrid Goes West is Recommended If You Like: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The King of Comedy

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Avocado Toasts

This Is a Movie Review: The Naughty Nuns of ‘The Little Hours’ are Raunchy and Sweet

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen

Director: Jeff Baena

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Naked Witchcraft Acid Trips

Release Date: June 30, 2017 (Limited)

Fred Armisen shows up as a visiting bishop about halfway through The Little Hours. It is a hilarious scene, but it encapsulates the trepidation I had upon viewing this flick. In writer/director Jeff Baena’s riff on one of the tales from 14th-century story collection The Decameron, things are getting wild and crazy at a convent, with a trio of central nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci) getting into sex, witchcraft, and other debauchery. While the premise alone is worth several chuckles, I had worried that it was better suited to a sketch rather than a full feature length, and Armisen’s routine demonstrates exactly what I was thinking of.

As Bishop Bartolomeo, Armisen takes stock of all the sinning that the residents have been getting up to, and it is a potent mix of petty, mundane, and outrageous. Running down kooky lists and taking a few breaks for exasperation is one of Armisen’s specialties. He revels in a litany that includes envy, “being a busy body,” “eating blood,” and “not being baptized.” This recaps everything important that has happened thus far and if this scene had been an SNL sketch (easily imaginable, considering the cast), our imaginations would just fill in the visuals for all that outrageousness. Instead, we get to see all the vulgarity play out, which could be a recipe for exhaustion after ninety minutes, but The Little Hours has some grounding elements to make the whole course palatable.

The focus is on three young brides of Christ – Alessandra (Brie), Fernanda (Plaza), and Genevra (Plaza) – who are either seeking to escape the convent or happy to stay there but not really interested in living the religious life properly. This would all be just a mélange of nuns behaving badly if not for the appearance of runaway servant Massetto (Dave Franco), who strikes up a romance with Alessandra and a deal with the head priest (John C. Reilly) to keep his true nature a secret. The love story is kinda sweet and Reilly is always so invested in the material no matter how ridiculous, elements that help offset all the debauchery, which is fitfully amusing but could have been exhausting if not for these counterpoints. Besides, this film cannot coast on shock value when its ladies do not bother one iota to resemble actual nuns.

The Little Hours is Recommended If You Like: History of the World: Part 1, The sexier scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The To Do List

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Rolls in the Hay