REVIEW: UPGRADE (2018)

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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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BARE BONES: NINA FOREVER and THE INVITATION

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NINA FOREVER (2015)

Bizarre story has Rob (Cian Barry) suffering the effects of the accidental death of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). He’s depressed and has actually and unsuccessfully, attempted suicide. He has trouble moving on and even still hangs out with Nina’s parents (Elizabeth Elvin and David Troughton). Along comes Holly (Abigail Hardingham) who works with Rob at a grocery store and finds his whole mournful state of mind appealing. Holly is training to become an EMT and has a dark side, which sees Rob’s lingering pain as a noble sign of loyalty. They start dating, but each time they attempt to have sex, Nina’s mangled corpse appears to stop them. Holly will do anything to keep Rob, including trying to make their relationship a threesome with the deceased Nina. But Nina wants Rob all to herself and Holly out of the picture. How do you compete with a corpse?

Credit where credit is due, this is an original and offbeat flick from the demented minds of Ben and Chris Blaine. It plays it’s twisted story straight and yet has a dry sense of humor about itself, but sort of overplayed it’s welcome after awhile. Perhaps the story would have served itself better as a short tale in an anthology, as some of it started to get tiresome, such as Rob’s continual inability to deal with what’s happening and the hints of some sort of romantic interest with Nina’s aged mother. Even in a film that is supposed to be a morbid fantasy, it is also hard to believe Holly would so quickly accept the appearance of Nina and put up with it for as long as she does. There are some truly disturbing moments, such as the before mentioned threesome attempt and that Nina’s appearance adds a lot of blood to the love making process and that shows the filmmakers aren’t afraid to push boundaries. Cian Barry is a bit bland, but O’Shaughnessy and Hardingham certainly do good work here. It might be a simple case of the film just not clicking for me, but while I found it interesting, it was never completely satisfying or overly entertaining. Glad I caught it, but in no hurry to watch it again.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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THE INVITATION (2015)

Story finds troubled Will (Logan Marshall-Green) being invited to an uncomfortable reunion party being thrown by ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) and in his former house. The two have been away for a few years and when the party commences it appears they were involved in some possible cult activity in Mexico and may have a suspicious agenda for their guests…or is it all in Will’s mind as the house holds many unpleasant memories for him, that Eden seems to oddly be getting over.

Flick is written by Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay and well directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body), but never grabbed me like it should. While the film tried to build paranoia as to whether Will was imagining a threat from Eden, David and their odd ‘friend’ Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), it always seemed obvious where this was going from very early on. There was some atmosphere…a purposely uncomfortable one…and the last act did have some impact, despite being exactly how you figured this was going to turn out. Still, it was also hard to get involved when the characters were all self-absorbed yuppies, who are very hard to like or become endeared to. It also was hard to swallow that when things become uncomfortable quite early, that they all didn’t just walk out. Eden and David are weird from moment one and Will shouldn’t have been the only one with alarms going off. Were they all that vapid and dumb? It’s also hard to believe Will would accept an invitation from his ex-wife, in his ex-house to party with she and her new husband in the first place. The movie is well-intentioned and tries hard, but simply doesn’t succeed in making you doubt that this is going to conclude exactly as you think it will and takes you on that journey with people that are hard to like or be concerned about.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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