Upgrade movie review

 
Upgrade poster - imdb

Upgrade poster - imdb

 
Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem.
— imdb

***Spoilers ahead***

The writer of 'Saw' Leigh Whannell slides into the director's chair after his debut movie 'Insidious: chapter 3' this time taking on a sci-fi revenge story called 'Upgrade'. Starring Logan Marshall-Green as 'Grey' a Tom Hardy look-a-like (certainly in this movie) who shuns technology and prefers the analogue more tangible world of cars and engine grease over anything 'advanced'.

When his life unexpectedly changes after he and his wife are viciously slain by 'Tech enhanced' humans Grey must turn to technology to reverse his spinal paralysis inserting an experimental chip call Stem' into his central nervous system. Together they form an unlikely allience to seek revenge against him and his wife's attackers.

Reportedly made for just over 5 Million dollars under the Blumhouse banner 'Upgrade' does make good use of its budget even though at times you can tell that the budget was a little tight for the type of story they were trying to tell. I often felt that it needed a bigger budget to fully realise the world and as a result it was lacking in some areas. That's not to say that the world isn't realised no, just not realised to its fullest potential. 

 
 

It felt like a smaller movie masquerading as something bigger and sometimes the production design suffers as a result. In the empire podcast(Embedded below) Leigh alludes to the fact that he had written a much bigger budgeted screenplay and slowly whittled it down to its current incarnation. With a budget so tight they do a great job of the physical special effects. They are at times violent and bloody and suitably macabre. The movie is well shot and the action scenes have a nice energy to them. What lets the movie down a little is the one dimensional characters - we've seen them before perhaps done better - Grey is the only character with some depth to him if only surface.

It is an action movie which tries to replicate the tech noir gritty stylings of 'Robocop' and 'The terminator'. In this regard it doesn't entirely succeed. Those movies still superior despite being made over twenty-five years ago. When the plot is so simple getting that aspect right perhaps should have been a priority. 

When Stem interacts with Grey their exchanges are fun and there is sense that not all is as it seems when 'Stem' requests that protection barriers be stripped away from its operating code. We are party to a twist that isn't quite a twist if you pay attention closely to the movie. Suffice to say that 'Stem' has other plans for Grey and they don't include being in a symbiotic relationship together.

When the finale rolls around, the tone of the movie shifts slightly to the familiar theme of being weary of technology. Perhaps we should be scared that the ghost in the machine may be looking back us waiting for a day when 'it' can take over. In a very real sense that day be sooner than we think with more advanced AI being produced daily. But that's another discussion entirely. Suffice to say that the ending of 'Upgrade' is appropriate but not entirely satisfying.

*** out of *****

Find below the Empire podcast featuring an interview with the director of 'Upgrade' Leigh Whannell.  Enjoy!

fractional tv spot 1

check out the link below for the first TV spot for Fractional. Enjoy!

'Phage' book review

Disclaimer:The auther sent me his book to read in exchange for a review* I have tried to review the book without giving away plot spoilers as best I could. However if you like to know very little of the plot of books then stop reading*

Phage is a techno-thriller by author and microbiologist Dr Mark Tamplin. Phage tells the story of Doctor Sam Townsend a microbiologist who is caught in the midst of a conspiracy to frame him for criminal acts against the state and the impending release of a biological weapon engineered by a sociopathic USDA microbiologist called Owen designed to strike at the heart of the food chain releasing a deadly mutant bacterium engineered to kill the unsuspecting American public. Set in modern day, it poses an intriguing question: what if someone where to target our food source for a weaponised biological attack?

Indeed this question is what I found the most intriguing in Tamplin's book. It is the heart of the story and what drives the narrative. In a world ravaged by war and uncertainty the one constant, to a certain degree, is the fact that we can put uncontaminated food on our plates. However, if this did happen what would we do to protect ourselves? Or could we even stop it if this actually happened?

In the setup we are given a brief introduction to the protagonist of the story Dr Sam Townsend, a man living with a past who is focused on a world of microbes when the outer world - the world of his own existence - is microscopic like the microbes he spends so much time investigating. One of the problems I have with the story is the fact that we never really get to know Sam and at times I felt his dialogue exchanges with certain Characters were a little contrived and unrealistic. As the hero of the piece I felt we really needed to know him in order to root for him, otherwise we are following a somewhat slender character that we cannot totally engage with. Perhaps that was the authors intention that he be as cold as the microbes he investigates and is holding back some more detail for what, I understand, is a planned trilogy of books involving the same character. To me its important that im along with the character for the ride and not a passive viewer. I want to know something of him and 'intuit' the rest as we go along. Character is king and informs the plot in my view.

Some Other small niggles were some subplot turns that took me out of the main storyline mostly involving the FBI and the search for Sam and his students that didn't play out realistically for me and took away from the main drive of the plot. The students dialogue exchanges, at times, felt unrealistic and didn't quite serve the plot for me. It seemed like one less character in these situations would make for a tighter, more streamlined plot and reading experience overall.

The Antagonist, professor Owen Potter was much more complex character, more deeply drawn and I could tell that Tamplin enjoyed writing his pieces. For me he was the most interesting character in the book. He was somewhat unpredictable with sociopathic tendencies and a bitter self aggrandizing attitude which combined spells disaster for anyone who crosses his path. His delusions about his mother where very reminiscent of Norman Bates, their relationship seemingly on a similar plane. His plot to contaminate food was frightening with potentially catastrophic effects on a world scale.

I Really enjoyed the opening of the book and found the build up, contamination and subsequent clean up explaining the technical scientific aspects of a 'phage' intriguing. It is very crichtonesque. I felt it got the balance right without overwhelming the reader. *On a personal note, I would probably have wanted more technical information as the subject matter itself fascinates me.

Overall, it is a fast paced thriller with a very interesting plot. If you enjoy science-based technical thrillers then I think you might enjoy reading 'Phage'. Putting aside certain plot and dialogue niggles overall it was an enjoyable read and I thank Mark Tamplin for reaching out and asking me to read his book.

Rating: ***1/2 out of 5

Below are a link to buy his book on Amazon.  

https://www.amazon.com/Phage-Mark-Tamplin-ebook/dp/B015AUR1YM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468344720&sr=1-1&keywords=phage

 

 

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