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UPGRADE (2018)

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Set in the near future, Upgrade tells the story of vintage car restorer Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), who on the way home from delivering a car to a client with his wife Asha, (Melanie Vallejo) is ambushed by a group of men. They kill Asha and turn Grey into a paraplegic. Paralyzed from the neck down, Grey’s client, billionaire genius Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers him a chance at being able to function again. A micro computer called STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) will be inserted in his spine to bridge the gap between his body and mind. STEM, however, is not just a computer but an A.I. that co-exists with Grey. Now with STEM operating in his head and enhancing his physical abilities, the A.I. begins to help Grey track down those who murdered his wife and make them pay.

Fun 80s style action flick is written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who wrote the first three Saw films, all the Insidious flicks and directed Insidious: Chapter 3. It tells of a future where humans can be enhanced by computers and internal parts, such as the thugs who killed Grey’s wife having their guns built inside their arms. Now enhanced with STEM, mild-mannered Grey can fight like a trained soldier and move like a martial artist. He can also kill with lethal efficiency. It’s an entertaining good time to watch him track down those responsible, all the while being pursued by a cop (Betty Gabriel) who is trying to figure out how a paraplegic is killing the thugs in question one by one. While the film can get silly at times, a bar scene stands out as an example, it’s mostly a fun time well directed and cleverly presented by Whannell, with some intense action and chase sequences and horror movie level gore. On a technical level Whannell accomplishes a lot on his modest budget. The film looks great and has an awesome 80s vibe with colorful cinematography by Stefan Duscio and Jed Palmer’s very 80s electronic score. A fun homage, yet also very contemporary with it’s portrayal of the gap between man and technology becoming smaller and smaller.

The cast are solid. Logan Marshall-Green is convincing as a guy-next-door who becomes a detective and a skilled killer basically overnight. He is fun to watch as he tries to deal with having another intelligence in his head and abilities he’s never had before, not to mention a peaceful man now killing for revenge. He’s very well cast. Simon Maiden is effective as the voice of STEM, who only Grey can hear. He gives the A.I. character. Harrison Gilbertson portrays well the recluse billionaire who is barely out of his teens. He captures the solitude and awkwardness of being a unique individual very effectively. Betty Gabriel is good as Cortez, a cop trying to figure out how these thugs are being murdered when her only suspect is in a wheelchair. Rounding out the leads is Benedict Hardie playing Fisk. He’s basically the lead thug, a former military man now with computer enhancements to make him even more lethal and an equal opponent to the upgraded Grey. It was refreshing that he wasn’t played as a paramilitary tough guy, but almost a nerd that was now equipt to kill and enjoying it. While her screen time is limited, Melanie Vallejo made an impression as Asha and she and Logan Marshall-Green had nice chemistry, so their relationship was believable and the effect of her demise strongly felt.

Overall, this was a fun and clever action movie with a delightfully 80s vibe. Whannell directs well from his own inventive script and accomplishes a lot without a big budget. He has a good cast and if the film has any flaws, it’s that occasionally it veers into silly territory and the end reveal wasn’t that hard to see coming. The action is well choreographed and there is some graphic violence which fits in with it’s 80s feel. A very entertaining and sometimes inventive little movie that works as both 80s homage and contemporary sci-fi thriller.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 computer chips.







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HAUNT (2013)

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Haunt is a very routine haunted house thriller but, it did hold my interest and was effective enough to be entertaining. The story has teen Evan Asher (Harrison Gilbertson) and his family moving into a house where there were four unfortunate deaths…which is NEVER a good idea. Soon after, Evan starts to see evidence of paranormal activity…SEE! When troubled teen neighbor Sam (Liana Liberato) convinces Evan to investigate, things at the Asher house take a turn for the supernatural worse as an angry spirit makes it’s presence known. Did this spirit cause the deaths of members of the former occupants, the Morello family years earlier?…or is there a far darker secret this specter wants to reveal?

On the positive side, Haunt is competently directed by Mac Carter from Andrew Barrer’s script. While Carter doesn’t really generate much in the way of true scares and tension, the film does have atmosphere and the numerous jump scares do work more often than not. The film looks good as shot by Adam Marsden and the young leads are likable and have a nice chemistry together so, it makes their relationship work. The film may be routine and predictable at times but, I will admit I was not expecting the climax to play out as it did and the big reveal was effective. On the downside, Barrer’s script is very familiar and the fact that the Ashers move in having full knowledge of the Morello deaths was a bit hard to swallow. Even though Evan’s parents (Ione Sky and Brian Wimmer) seem like non-believers when it comes to the paranormal, they seem to let a lot of weird stuff slide, too. The plot point that the littlest Asher, Anita (Ella Harris) appears to be communicating with the Morella’s youngest daughter (Maggie Scott) is just dropped and goes nowhere after a few instances. The subplot of Sam having a drunk and abusive father also never really has any real impact on the story as it never leads to anything or really has too much baring on things, other than to get Sam over at Evan’s for prolonged periods of time. The big reveal also poses as many questions as it answers but, I won’t ruin any surprises by discussing details.

Haunt is a mixed bag but, I was entertained and it did have some effective elements and a surprise or two. It may not be anything new or groundbreaking but, also wasn’t outright bad or badly made either. It’s a mildly entertaining chiller that will pass the time effectively enough but, will quickly be forgotten. Also stars Jacki Weaver as the last surviving member of the Morello family and a creepy one at that.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooks.

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