Movie Review: ‘M3GAN’

One thing you may not know about me: I’m a bit of a horror movie connoisseur. I’ve enjoyed them my entire adult life and have watched many a terrible, laughable one just to find one diamond in the rough.

So when M3GAN became available on Peacock, I had to give it a try.

M3GAN is about a girl whose parents are killed in a car accident, so she’s sent to live with her aunt, someone who is absolutely not ready to be a mother. She’s something of a genius inventor and has just created a life-sized, autonomous doll that is designed to be a child’s best friend. Before putting the doll, M3GAN, out to market, she decides to do a beta test on it with her niece.

You can probably guess how the movie progresses: M3GAN, given the ability to ‘learn’, learns too much and decides she’s in charge and kills quite a few people before the end.

I did wonder why the ‘genius inventor’ thought it necessary to give a child’s toy the strength of at least one power lifter, or why a simple ‘do no harm’ command wasn’t included in the doll’s code. Seems like a pretty glaring flaw in the design to me, but I guess they needed it to make the movie go.

At times, it felt like watching a 21st century Chucky movie, only it was slightly less campy and better acted. The acting in M3GAN is actually really well done and probably what made the film bearable. The was swearing, of course, and violence but none that was over the top. You see a guy get stabbed, a boy get his ear pulled off (with some pretty bad CGI), but nothing too awful.

I ended up enjoying it, but folks who don’t regularly endure some of the worst of its genre may not have the same appreciation. If you already have a Peacock streaming subscription, I’d say it’s worth a view!


New Job!

Some personal news today, but this week I started a new job at work! It’s a step forward in my career path and also something totally different from what I was doing before. For the next three weeks I’ll be in training, learning how to handle the position and its responsibilities. Which of course means I’m going to be feeling pretty dumb until I start to master the role.

I do apologize for the extended hiatus from blogging, it’s been a couple of weeks. There’s been quite a bit going on in the Martuneac household, from the new job to kids now playing in sports leagues. We’re also getting new flooring installed in half the house, so things have been a little hectic!

Gold of the Jaguar, the third Ethan Chase book, is still in edits. When it gets closer to completion I’ll be able to give y’all a tentative date on when you can expect to see it available. Just know that it is coming and I’m really excited for the completed version!

I also haven’t done any book reviews because I’m powering through the rest of Bernard Cornwall’s The Saxon Stories series. I have three or four more books to go and once I’m finished I’ll review the entire series as a whole. I’m aware that there’s also a feature film based on the books coming to Netflix soon, one that will tie up all the loose ends from the conclusion of the Last Kingdom series, and I’ll probably review that one as well.

Lastly, in an update on vanity, Mandate of Heaven is up to four reviews on Amazon, and all are for five stars! If you’ve read that one or Solomon’s Fortune, please consider giving it a rating on Amazon. My fellow authors and reviewers know this, but it truly is so helpful to get reviews and ratings there, even a negative one.

That’s about all I have for you today. Again, I apologize for not blogging much recently but I have tried to keep up with all of your blogs in the meantime! As always, a big ‘thank you’ to all of you reading this!

Book Review: “Six Frigates” by Ian W. Toll

Living in the year 2023 AD, it’s hard to believe that, once upon a time, the American military was the laughingstock of the world. There was a time when the United States couldn’t even defend their own coastline, let alone project military power to another region of the world.

It was the turn of the 19th century. The 1700’s were coming to a close and a new nation entered the 1800’s with nothing but hope for the future. The mighty Atlantic Ocean kept America safe from Napoleon’s bloodthirsty wars of expansion, wars that in turn put goods from the neutral Americans in high demand. Money from its lucrative trade deals flowed into the infant nation and the good times rolled.

But war with Europe was on the horizon, and Moroccan pirates patrolled the Mediterranean, plundering American ships without fear of reprisal. Though many Americans objected, a certain few statesmen realized a basic truth: to survive, the United States needed a Navy.

Six Frigates is a fantastic historic account of the beginnings of the United States Navy, a force that began with six unique frigates, one of which is still in service today. These frigates were bigger than their European equivalents, but faster and more maneuverable, too. They carried more cannons and were made with some of the strongest wood in the world. This wood came from the Southern Live Oak, a species of tree that grows only in the Deep South of America and contributed to one of the six frigates, the USS Constitution earning the nickname ‘Old Ironsides’.

As a matter of fact, the United States Navy to this day maintains its own forest of these trees so as to be able to continuously repair the USS Constitution with its original wood.

The other five of the original frigates were named the Chesapeake, President, United States, Congress, and Constellation. These names were chosen off a list of ten names presented to then-president George Washington. However, his interest in a Navy was minimal, so his method of selecting the names was picking the first six on the list.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and its historical account of the origins of the United States Navy. The author pumped it full of good information and also included some sardonic humor here and there, such as the below passage:

As Rodgers came up over the side to take possession of the captured ship, he was privately thrilled by the sight of the carnage the enemy had suffered. “Although I would not have you think me bloody minded,” the bloody-minded lieutenant wrote Stoddert, “yet I must confess the most gratifying sight my eyes ever held.”

I highly recommend this one to those of you with an interest in US history, and it’s available for free on the Internet Archive!

When Warfighters Come Home

13 years ago last week, I woke up about three seconds before five o’clock in the morning in complete confusion. Instead of seeing the four walls of my childhood bedroom, adorned with my Chicago Bulls pennant and Michael Jordan poster, I was lying in a bunk in a large, grey room. Where the hell am I? I got my answer moments later when an empty metal trashcan was tossed onto the floor and an irate Drill Instructor started yelling.

Then I remembered. I had just enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, and this was the first day of a 13-week long boot camp.

Looking back now, many of my memories of boot camp are funny. What a hilarious situation to look in on, a bunch of bald teenage boys in ill-fitted camouflage utilities running around while grown men in pressed and perfect uniforms and funny hats are screaming at them. I remember the honor of receiving my Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, the emblem of the Marine Corps and a physical acknowledgement of having earned the title Marine, and I recall the awkwardness of being thanked for my service by some civilians before I’d even left San Diego (I haven’t even done anything yet, was my first thought).

But for the most part, boot camp is a hilariously absurd affair.

My memories of that time stand in stark contrast to my experiences in war.

I won’t pretend to be some kind of war hero. I was shot at plenty but only once in my life did I find myself in sustained, prolonged combat with the enemy. A full hour of being pinned down in an open field, surrounded on three sides as bullets flew overhead and grenades rolled dangerously close to our positions. By the grace of God, we all survived the ordeal but with several close calls. Far from the glorious affair I imagined combat would be, the real deal was gritty, bloody, and damn terrifying.

I watched Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front last week, and I remember living a lot of the feelings that Paul, the protagonist, experiences. From the jubilant, naive patriotism as he enlists to the wide-eyed fear as bullets start coming his way. Unlike Paul, I was fortunate enough to return home one day and carry on with my life as a war veteran.

I learned that civilians tend to have a certain image of people like me, warfighters who no longer fight wars. Society has largely chosen to portray us as ticking time-bombs. Angry, unstable, alcoholic maniacs who are one bad day away from committing murder, suicide, or both. And sure, in some cases this is sadly accurate.

But there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people like me: we did our part, then reintegrated ourselves into society. We’re different, but you won’t know it unless we choose to let you into that part of our lives. Some of us are still proud of our time in the military, even if it leaves us conflicted about America’s vast umbrella of foreign policy. In that regard, you could say we’re walking contradictions.

Whatever the case, that’s the kind of veteran I want to see on TV more often. Enough of the violent drunk with the dog tags hanging out of his shirt, and enough of the ‘noble’ homeless veteran, downtrodden and broken. The vast majority of us become normal, productive citizens who just so happen to have a different resume than most.

I’m not sure if there’s an overarching theme or point to today’s post. Passing by the anniversary of my boot camp date and watching a powerful anti-war film at the same time left me in a bit of an emotional maelstrom and I wanted to put digital pen to digital paper. If you read this far and would like something to take away from this post, know that war veterans for the most part just want to blend in with you. We have families, we work steady, unglamorous jobs, and we only pour a drink on the rare occasion that we want one. Just treat us like you do anyone else.

But please, don’t thank a brand-new Marine for his service. It really is awkward.

All Quiet on the Western Front: Movie Review

Available on Netflix, this is a film I’ve been meaning to watch for a while now. I went into it expecting an experience based on the novel of the same name, but got something entirely different. That’s not a bad thing, but I wasn’t thrilled with the choices made by the directors and producers, either.

The film opens with complete silence, the camera facing upwards at snow-covered treetops. The serenity is soon shattered by the sounds and sights of war. You watch as soldiers die in a hopeless charge. I appreciate the affect here and it was well done, but none of the characters you see are the protagonists. It ends up feeling like wasted time. Again, I don’t think this was a bad choice per se, but the book opens with the main character, Paul, in his home village, and you get a glimpse of his idyllic life before he follows the drums of war.

There is a short scene after the opening scene of Paul and his friends as they happily enlist in the Army, but it doesn’t carry the theme quite as well as in the book.

Related to this, later in the book, Paul returns home on leave and finds that everything is the same, except him. He realizes that his war experience has changed him forever, and he eventually concludes that coming home had been a mistake. He is eager to return to the front because that is where he feels ‘normal’.

This is not shown in the movie at all, and that, I thought, was a big missed opportunity. The theme of the story is not just the horrors of war, but also how it changes the soldiers who return. It’s an important theme to explore because I don’t believe many civilians consider it.

We all understand the ‘ticking time bomb’ cliche, when the war veteran is constantly angry, drunk, and suicidal (this harmful stereotype is a whole other problem to be discussed another day, by the way), but in reality, so many more veterans internalize any grief or stress. They blend in because they know they have to. They’re home again, but they know they’re not really home. Home was before, when all was innocent, and they had all their childhood friends.

That’s gone forever. As the book shows, the hometown and the childhood friends are all the same, but the veteran is the one who changed, and he can’t be unchanged.

Failing to explore this theme left me feeling not so high on the movie as I might have been. I immediately contrasted it to the end of They Shall Not Grow Old by Peter Jackson, a film I consider required viewing. At the end of that film, you hear an old veteran of The Great War telling a story about returning home to his old town, returning to his old job, and reuniting with his old coworker. His coworker, who had remained at home, sees him come in after four years of being apart and says to the veteran, “Bob! Haven’t seen you in a while. You been working nights?”

And the movie ends there. I get chills just thinking about this powerful testimony. After four years of some of the most hellish warfare humanity has ever fought, the warfighter returns to an old friend asking if he picked up a different shift. The old friend is no longer a true friend because he can’t possibly relate to the warfighter. That old friendship is, in a word, gone, and the warfighter knows this. He knows that he will forever be an other.

Overall I enjoyed the film, and it did do a good job of faithfully representing the anti-war message of the book, but I thought there were too many missed opportunities. There’s another neglected section of the book that shows the boys struggling with a cruel, domineering corporal at the barracks before they ever even see war, but this review has gone on long enough.

I recommend this film (in the original German) to students of history, but I also feel compelled to warn you about some pretty severe violence. I’m sure you would expect that given the film’s subject, but be warned that it can get extremely graphic and includes gruesome hand-to-hand combat.