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!

Hereditery movie review

Hereditary movie poster - imdb

Hereditary movie poster - imdb

After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
— imdb

**Warning there will be spoilers**

From the very first opening minute there is a creepy atmosphere to the psychological horror 'Hereditary'. We are introduced to Annie played with great conviction by Toni Collette who is just about to bury her mother. We get the distinct feeling that Annie didn't particularly see eye to eye with her and is struggling to grieve for her loss.

Through the course of this we get introduced to her slightly strained family. With her put upon husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and her estranged son Peter (Alex Wolff) and Strange daughter Charlie (The underutilised Milly Shapiro). The creepy conotations build slowly - this movie is definitely a slow burn so if you like your horror fast paced it might not be for you - where we witness Annie creating life like miniature dioramas replete with tiny people and furniture. A production design that is used again and again in both setting and cinematography. At times it appears the characters are living in a real life doll house and we are viewing them first hand. Its a clever and weird device.

The movie is quite atmospheric and tension slowly builds. At first you aren't sure where the movie is going, building up the supernatural elements slowly. Only when Charlie is horrifically decapitated by her brother Peter by accident - a scene that's brilliantly handled - does the movie show any real momentum. From here there is some terrific scenes with Annie as her downward spiral where it is heavily implied that she had a breakdown of some sort and has never quite recovered all of her mental capacity. In one shocking revelation she admits to her son Peter that she never wanted him as a child in fact she tried to abort him on numerous occasions but failed primarily because her overbearing mother wanted him and not her herself.

As tensions rise and the family unit deteriorates old secrets rise to the surface and home truths that are pushed from the surface come back to haunt you and that trust that was once there suddenly evaporates and you can never really get it back. To say any more would spoil the movie.

I would say that Hereditory is two thirds of a great movie with the final third the least satisfying. When you learn the 'truth' of why the supernatural occurrences are happening it deteriorates ever so slightly into parody. Not to say that its bad, its not it just didn't have the same level of tension and the final reveal is a little bit on the silly side which might raise a few titters more than shock.

But still there is much to be enjoyed about Hereditary if, of course, you enjoy slow burning psychological horror. From a purely performance stand point Toni Collette is terrific and gives a powerful performance. All in all I quite enjoyed 'Hereditary' while not perfect it is worth watching.

**** out of *****  

Avengers: Infinity war movie review

 

Avengers infinity war poster

The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
— imdb synopsis

**SPOILER ALERT - THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

Lets get this out of the way first. I wouldn't really be a fan of the marvel universe as a whole. I know I said it but lets get past that. Even though the movies are well produced they all fall neatly into line with the tagline 'seen it all before'. As a company line I often wondered how many movies Marvel could produce with minimal jeopardy for any heroes before they felt the need to reset the franchise.

With their tenth year of producing movies - sometimes two in a year - there is definitely a case of 'can we get this over with please' syndrome. It seems every time you look at a trailer its for a new superhero movie. In fact most of the tent pole movies every year seem to be either 'Marvel' or 'Star wars'. Don't get me wrong I love a good fantasy and SCI-FI movie. I would just prefer a little variety every now and then. At this juncture I feel they have reached their saturation point. Eighteen movies in and jet-lag has definitely hit.

But I digress - is Avengers: Infinity war any good? well, yes and no. Let me explain. I'll start with the no part first. Characters. There's far too many at this point all clamouring to get their little piece of the pie that there is literally no room for anyone. Most are relegated to throwaway lines that are essentially a regurgitation of the plot or stating the obvious jeopardy that lays ahead. Its especially noticeable in Mark Ruffalo's performance whose acting is the worst I've ever seen from him. I often thought it would be a better movie if we actually got to know any of them beyond their superficial personas. But who has time when there is a special effect explosion to get to.

And that's one of the biggest problems I had: I didn't really care about any of them. With the stakes so high in this movie it should be at a point where you feel something. But perhaps Marvel has pressed that reset button too often now that cynicism has begun to set in. In truth when the finale rolls around and most hero's are fizzled to the ether it was met with a stunted 'Oh'. There's always a catch and a way out. I don't think its going to be any different with this one. But for a momentary instant it does work and at least, even temporarily, there could be an interesting ending. But therein lies the ever present potential reset

For the most part the special effects where good with the notable exception of the exposition scenes on 'Titan' which had some really quite badly handled green screen removal. The action scenes on wikanda where quite generic, however. A mishmash of chaotic CGI and quick cuts with very little in the way ingenuity or for that matter tension. You only have to look at the recent movie ' A quiet place' which oozed tension to realise how how far apart they both are in terms of this. Its chalk and cheese. But really are we going to a Marvel movie for that or just the spectacle of things being blown up? I think we should expect both. Tension and spectacle. Sadly we don't get both.

TITAN.jpg

Now to the good. Josh Brolin as Thanos is quite compelling. I felt he was a quietly threatening presence, obviously mad and intent on carrying out an Armageddon plan to wipe out half of the universe to solve the galaxies ills. While not perfect its still a good turn. The guardians of the galaxy give a much needed burst of laughter. Their scenes are easily some of the best in the movie. The movie spins at a great pace never staying still for very long, sliding across the cosmos fulfilling various sub-plots.

And finally we come to the ending. For the first time in a Marvel movie someone dies. And it appears that some may not come back again (Except perhaps in a reboot/reset) which is somewhat refreshing and at least a decade coming. While it is an interesting ending there is an inbuilt get out clause that undermines this heavily. If Marvel uses it, which they may well do, it will erode what has come before it.

With all of the hype surrounding the movie is it justified? Well yes and no. The movie is at the very least a distracting 2 hours+ but also at the same time too long. Some characters have very little to do and are only there to see a familiar face. It suffers from Harry potteritis where the ending is split into two for convenience and the money making potential that that implies.

So should you watch it? Well if you are a die hard Marvel fan then you have probably already seen it if not then don't go in expecting anything different. Some flaws have been lessened and others created. Not perfect but not bad either. You'll already know what to expect: Big explosions and lots of colourful effects with a smattering of funny lines thrown in. It definitely doesn't break the mold in fact it only very slightly modifies it. And that modification is probably only temporary.

*** out of *****

 

 

 

Annihilation

ANNIHILATION-POSTER-SMALL.jpg
A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.
— imdb

Warning possible spoilers ahead *

Having been a fan of Alex Garland I eagerly anticipated the release of 'Annihilation'. From the trailer I was expecting a slightly colorful and intriguing intellectual 'Aliens' mashup. Although taking trailers at face value will usually guarantee disappointment and with this trailer, to a certain degree, that rationale applies here.

This is not to say that the movie is bad per se just more intellectual and slow moving than anticipated which isn't necessarily a bad thing either. But having said that I can see that there's a lot of plot holes in the movie some involving setup and others motivation.

From the outset we witness a character in turmoil, Lena, played by Natalie Portman - a very talented actress - who is missing her husband after he sets off on a top secret mission into 'the shimmer'. 12 months later he reappears, walking back into Lena's life, who has misplaced her grief putting everything into her job with very little of herself remaining to 'live'.

Kane, Lena's husband is a ghost of his former self, apparently traumatized from his ordeal in 'the shimmer'. This is when he rapidly becomes sick, coughing up blood and is rushed to hospital. En-route the ambulance is intercepted and Lena et al are taken to a top secret facility across from the shimmer. So far so good.

From here the plot begins to get a little bit sketchy for me. Here she meets Dr. Ventress, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who interrogates her about her husband and what he has told her about his experiences in the shimmer. Dr. Ventress appears to be the controller of this operation, a psychologist by trade, who informs Lena that they are about to embark on another operation into the shimmer despite all other operations failing including sending in drones. In other words they have all previously failed and people have died along the way.

What follows next doesn't really make much sense to me. This 'death' mission is headed by a rag tag group of women with varying occupations: biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist (The last occupation I gleaned from Imdb as I never heard it in the movie itself). They enter the shimmer, armed with weapons (Even though most of them are academics with no military training) and seemingly very little else to investigate the shimmer.

From this point I wondered why they never wore any sort of 'hasmat' type suits. They are going into an unknown area possibly of alien origin without any idea of what the air quality would be like. We were already informed no drone made it back through the shimmer and all communication ceases once inside.

They appear, as a group, not to be too concerned even when strange happenings appear around them. They are attacked at one point by a rabid crocodile, the next scene they suggest someone should 'stand guard'. Strangely this means the guard is stationed over 2oo meters away on the ground when everyone else is high and dry up on a look out platform (?!). This set up just appears to be there to create a false sense of tension and a set up for another attack.

The hybrid animals are interesting but the cinematography lets this down for me. It appears muddy with blown out highlights that are very distracting at times. Aesthetically I found the production design good for the most part up until the ending which we will get to later. 

Very little actual scientific detecting is done with in the shimmer. It appears whomever packed their backpacks decided to leave major equipment behind like night vision goggles and rubber gloves. At no point is there a concern for 'cross contamination'. With the stakes so high for humanity you would think they would have all the equipment necessary at their disposal. Which brings up another question who exactly is running this operation? It appears that Dr. Ventress is in charge, a psychologist who wouldn't know a mutated cell if one punched her in the face. With a big military presence we assume this operation is run by them. So strangely they are not accompanied by any army. It seemed like a setup to have an all female cast at the center of the story without any regard for 'story'.

Not that an all female cast makes a difference. It doesn't. They could have easily included a few female military personelle  and dropped one or two of the existing characters as they added very little to the movie at all. They just appeared there to make up the numbers and scream occasionally or bicker amongst themselves. The biggest disappointment for me is the characters. They are incredibly one dimensional. At times it appeared that the actresses were struggling to add 'life' to them. As portrayed Dr. Ventress appeared to be depressed half the time. It didn't help that they seemed to be given the direction to be stilted with their responses to each other.

When we do get to the finale we witness an area very much like 'Alien' with its chitinous living interior. Having spent so much time giving us colourful highlights to be subjected to an Alien hive felt like a misstep. Not that it looked bad, it didn't. It just felt like very lazy production design.

Some will be very disappointed by the ending and what happens after. To me it was at least interesting. I can't say that it was entirely successful, however. There seems to be a jump in logic where the final image will have you wondering why this should end in a cosy embrace. 

Overall there are some interesting ideas if you can get past the obvious flaws there may be some enjoyment. However, if you don't enjoy slow moving sci-fi movies you wont enjoy this either.

** & a half out of *****

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Synopsis

A psychiatrist, John Hatchett, wakes up tied to a chair in an abandoned warehouse. Left with no food, water or chance of escape, John's only weapons are his mind and he must use them to full effect a man called David Crowe - a former patient who is not of a sound mental capacity... Not everything John Hatchett tells Crowe is as it seems. John has a past that he wishes to remain a secret... A secret David crowe is willing to do anything to reveal...

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