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 *****  

Annabelle creation: Director on making the movie

I've enjoyed watching David F Sandberg's movies since he posted his original short movie called 'Lights out' which got a lot of attention and notoriety. It was a clever short film with a nice jump scare ending to it*spoiler alert*. 

 
 

When Hollywood came knocking it was of course a natural decision to remake his short film as a feature length version upping the ante in terms of jump scares. For the most part it was an effective movie. Up next was the sequel to the annabelle movie series called Annabelle: creation.

 

Annabelle creation poster

Annabelle creation poster

Below are a series of short videos from the director of Annabelle creation which gives you an overview of what way he operates as a director etc. There five parts in all which you can access through each video.

Its taken from the perspective of a director who was used to being essentially a one man operation doing everything from camera operation to sound design - something I can most definitely relate to - and suddenly being thrown into making a movie with a big crew and what that entails. As a baptism of fire I would imagine, at first, it was quite difficult trying not to want to do everything yourself. So essentially you would have to 're-train' yourself to fall in line with the hollywood way of making movies. I'm sure there was a few teething problems in this he briefly touches on that in the interview with Film Riot which I will link to on the bottom.

Happy viewing!

 
 

If you enjoyed that you might like to watch an interview with the director that Film Riot did a while back talking about his experiences on the 'Lights out' feature film.

 
 

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 *****

Fractional lands on DVD & BLURAY!

Link to barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/fractional_blu-ray

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. David Crowe is a former patient and one who is not of sound mental capacity... not eveything John Hatchett says 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... 

Find our short bluray release trailer here:

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Alien: Covenant review

Synopsis

The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.
— imdb

As one of those people who grew up watching - and enjoying - the first two of the Alien movies (The third I really enjoyed visually with its grimy, grungy atmosphere but it lacked some aspects in story which where somewhat fixed by the release of the 'assembly cut' which made it a better iteration but still not perfect. The fourth movie lets just say it was very 'meh'.) I could appreciate the opening title sequence for what it was. A resetting of tone back to the traditional roots of the 'Alien' movies with its riff on Jerry Goldsmiths opening title score for 'Alien'.

However, after this brief interlude we appear back into 'Prometheus' territory with its sterile white backgrounds and talk of 'god' and 'creation' with a very appealing turn by Michael Fassbender as the android with aspirations of being a type of 'creationist' himself as he talks with his 'Father' played with intensity by Guy Pearce. It is the 'setting up' of David as a villain if we didn't already gleam that from the first movie 'Prometheus'.

I seem to be in a minority of those that quite enjoyed 'Prometheus' upon its release. While far from a perfect film it did, however, offer a visual feast for the eyes that carries on into 'Alien: Covenent'. Even though the story was lacking it did at least offer a somewhat different approach to the material.

We are firmly back in 'Alien' territory with bulkheads and long corridors, moody lighting and an ensemble cast of characters. It is these characters - mostly one dimensional - that join us on our journey to Origae-6 a habitable planet that has been ear marked for a settlement of colonists aboard the ship. A tragedy strikes aboard the ship and 'mother' is forced to wake the weary crew seven years before arriving to Origae-6. In a blink and you miss it cameo James Franco's character dies horribly in stasis setting forth the angst that Karen Waterston's character portrays for most of the running time.

The crew intercepts a transmission from another habitable planet which is closer to them so the newly appointed captain - played by Billy crudup, not relishing seven more years in stasis - sends a landing party to take surface samples and to survey it as an alternative colonising site for their mission.

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From here the atmosphere builds with a terrific looking setting as a back drop. The inevitable infection happens which sets in motion a tense sequence involving small alien hybrids that are menacing in their intensity and blood letting. The culmination of which sees the crew stranded from the mother ship with only the android 'David' for company who may have sinister intentions for them.

It is here that the movie will either lose momentum for you or have you intrigued. We spend a long time in cinematic terms visiting with 'David' as he proceeds to teach 'Walter' the new upgraded version of himself to play the flute - played admiringly with menace by Fassbender - who makes playing both roles seem effortless.

When the inevevitable set up happens and David's plan is revealed (Spoiled bizarrely by the teaser prologue released a week before the film opened) there is a race against time to abandon the planet and regroup with the mother ship.

The tension rises again when the full 'Alien' finally reveals itself and tries with all of its prowess and skill to thwart the escape. It is a skilled sequence that was somewhat sullied by showing a portion of it in the official trailer. I don't quite understand the necessity to do that. It seems to be a current trend in the marketing departments for big tent pole movies.

In essence Alien: Covenant is a hybrid movie not quite a full 'Alien' movie nor 'Prometheus'. It is a bastard child that tries to mesh the best of both movies and doesn't quite succeed. However, where it does succeed it does so quite well. In other areas you may feel slightly aggrieved as it plays as a 'best of' compilation from other 'Alien' movies without adding enough new things to the mix to make it truly great. For instants, I would say that the movie isn't scary. Gone are the long lingering build up of tension scenes. Instead there is fast cuts and quick kills purely for shock value. Ultimately, you need to build tension in order for these shock kills to really hit home. Without that its just some quick blood letting without context.

There seemed to be a few odd editing choices, ending scenes abruptly either for rating or time - the shower scene immediately springs to mind as one scene which does this - to the detriment of the movie for me. I will be interested to see if a directors cut of the movie improves on some of these scenes. 

There is hope for the franchise as the end coda does potentially set in motion an interesting story for the next installment. I am hopeful that Ridley Scott may build on this and hopefully try to create tension aswell as spectacle as I don't believe they are mutually exclusive.  

Ultimately like Prometheus before it Alien: Covenant is not perfect but it is very worthy of viewing on the big screen and does offer some interesting sequences. Good but had potential to be great.

Trailer below:

 

 

Official Trailer of Alien: Covenant

Synopsis

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world, whose sole inhabitant is the synthetic David, survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition

 

I have to say based upon this trailer I'm pretty excited to see Alien: Covenant. It seems like its going to be more like Aliens with a mixture of the original Alien thrown in for good measure. Which to me is a good thing. Not that I didn't enjoy Prometheus. I did. It was really nicely designed and had some interesting touches. I did however, think that it left a lot of unanswered questions. But maybe that is the point of it. Something I have to say I appreciate in a movie sometimes, one that doesn't spell everything out for you in a join the dots fashion.

So here's hoping Alien: Covenant is a Alien/Aliens Mashup. Who couldn't be excited about that? With Ridley Scott at the Helm the movie will at the very least be a visual feast for the eyes. So.. so far so good. I'm sold. No more trailer watching for me. So check out the trailer above if you haven't already seen it.

Are you excited to see Alien: Covenant?

fractional tv spot 1

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