“Upgrade”

If there’s one thing to admire about the sci-fi action body horror comedy, Upgrade, it’s watching action sequences that combine physical humor, slick choreography, and psychological horror. Upgrade is the biggest (technically smallest) surprise of the year.

Quadriplegic mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) gives up on life after his accident and wife’s murder. When an eccentric engineer named Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers to restore his mobility, Grey has a microchip implanted in his spine called STEM, which restores his mobility and guides him to avenge his wife’s murder. Grey gruesomely (and effortlessly) kills one killer when STEM takes over. That’s when Grey realizes he has an advantage on the gang with mechanically implanted weapons.

Upgrade sounds ridiculous on paper, but even the most absurd premise can be entertaining. Horror writer/director Leigh Whannell (Saw I-III, Insidious 1-3) shows versatility with this mid-budget genre feast. It starts as a hard sci-fi commentary on technophobia, transitions into a bloody revenge movie, and concludes as a psychological body horror movie. In the end, I wasn’t disappointed.

I haven’t been impressed with Marshall-Green’s previous performances, but he shows great physical and emotional range as Grey. Marshall-Green shows off some badass martial arts skills and expressions of horror during his action sequences; his priceless delivery results in some occasional laughs and convincing depiction of fear.

Marshall-Green also sells Grey’s technophobia and fleshes him out. Grey doesn’t want STEM controlling him, but his desire for revenge prompts him to keep STEM. His humanity mixed with technology reminded me of Peter Weller in the original RoboCop.

Whannell’s script and direction draw themes and tone from Verhoeven’s RoboCop, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Between the small budget, dirty urban settings, excessive gore, and cynical commentary on technology and our government, Upgrade should have these filmmakers cheering.

I was only drawn out of Upgrade when Betty Gabriel’s Detective Cortez appears. Every revenge movie has a police office who suspects the hero is a vigilante and tails them. Cortez is that character and offers no depth or originality.

Still, Upgrade was a total blast and given its final act, there’s franchise potential. And I’m okay with that!

Grade: B+

 

Advertisements

“Pacific Rim: Uprising”

Go, go Power Ra–… I mean Go, go Gypsy Avenger! That sounds right, yes?

Ten years after the Battle of the Breach, Jake Pantecost (John Boyega playing the son of Idris Elba’s character in Pacific Rim) re-enlists in the Jaeger program to train a new group of young pilots. He reconnects with his estranged best friend Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and the two find themselves thrown into a new war with a mysterious group of rogue Jaegers. But why?

Uprising follows its predecessor’s formula – an underdog pilot joins the Jaeger program and ends up in a rivalry, there’s a motivational speech before a big battle, underdog saves the day, and there’s a setup for another movie. Good news is Uprising has some new tricks up its sleeve, despite being formulaic. It’s also goofy fun.

Uprising expands its world building. We learn in the first act that people enjoy living in abandon mansions, there’s a trade system, and Jake trades for his preferred goods (he trades a Ferrari for a sriracha supply). We also learn the Kaiju have telepathic powers, making them even more formidable. In terms of character arcs and narrative, Uprising is almost the same movie as Independence Day: Resurgence. I forgave the similarities because Uprising tries new things.

The movie takes risky moves with notable characters Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day). I won’t get into details, but I applauded the writers for once again taking the franchise into a new direction. Director Steven S. DeKnight might not be on Del Toro’s level in terms of flare and action sequences, but he still does a competent job with the Jaeger and Kaiju sequences.

I loved Pacific Rim, but it took itself too seriously. Uprising improves by acknowledging its own silliness. Boyega and Eastwood’s buddy cop banter, along with Day’s over-the-top performance add to the movie’s charm. I was reluctant going into the sequel, but I would be okay with a third, fourth, and even a fifth Pacific Rim.

Grade: B

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

I saw a funny tweet earlier where mentions fans hated The Force Awakens for being “too safe.” The tweet also mentions how fans hate The Last Jedi for “taking too many risks.” Can we just all stop being angry fanboys and agree that The Last Jedi is fun?

Without spoiling anything, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to The Force Awakens takes place right after the first one ended. We focus on four storylines:

  1. Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains under the guidance of Luke Sywalker (Mark Hamill), but questions his guidance.
  2.  Finn (John Boyega) meets a Resistance member Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and they embark on an adventure to stop the First Order from defeating the Rebel Alliance.
  3. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) rebels against the Resistance leaders while trying to outrun the First Order in a never ending chase.
  4. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) questions his destiny and must choose his destiny.

The Last Jedi has a lot going on within 150 minutes. I admire that auteur Johnson expands on the Jedi and Force mythologies; The Last Jedi excels when it focuses on Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. Part from that, I found The Last Jedi fairly disappointing. I attribute the disappointments to the film’s running time, which should have been 120 minutes.

Starting with the pros, the opening act is a mini Poe Dameron adventure reminiscent of the prologue of The Force Awakens. Isaac once again delivers a charismatic performance and has much more to do in The Last Jedi. Laura Dern plays a seemingly antagonistic admiral to Poe. When they meet, it’s built as a predictable Top Gun narrative, but I was left surprised. Poe’s story brought a lot of humor and heart to The Last Jedi. We’re also treated to the late Carrie Fisher’s final outing as Leia, who now acts as a mentor to Poe.

Johnson also turns Kylo Ren into a more complex character filled with anger, contradictions, and guilt. We see him go from mercilessly attacking the Rebel Alliance to briefly regretting his actions. Kylo Ren’s arc is unpredictable throughout the film and easily the strongest character arc. Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren here is a huge improvement over The Force Awakens.

Rey and Luke’s segment together is the film’s highlight due to Johnson’s fresh take. Hamill delivers a multi-layered performance as Luke; Luke is no longer a whiny kid, but a burned out Jedi in his prime. Ridley is just as good in this segment as she goes from idealistic to disillusioned. Also, we get to see the cute little Porgs here.

Now for the cons, I hated Finn’s segment. There, I said it. I’m in the minority and liked Finn in The Force Awakens, but his adventure with Rose is pointless. It serves no purpose to the film and neither does Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric thief character they encounter. This segment is an excuse to see another part of the galaxy and serves no purpose to Finn’s arc. It also causes several pacing and tone issues when we transition from this segment to the others.

When the segments tie together in the final 45 minutes, The Last Jedi is sensational. Johnson choreographs some innovative and brutal lightsaber sequences, gives us some stunning visuals, and writes some emotionally satisfying moments that made the final scenes unforgettable. I’m already looking forward to the next film because of The Last Jedi’s ending alone.

The Last Jedi is arguably the most polarizing Star Wars film of the franchise, but I still admire it for its risks. It’s downfall are Johnson’s overlong script and lack of restraint on callbacks. Maybe he’ll learn from his mistakes when his trilogy is released.

Grade: B

 

 

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

I’m pretty sure after watching Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” that Dane DeHaan is the 2010’s Keanu Reeves. But no one can replace Keanu Reeves!

Set in the distant future, the International Space Station has evolved into an extraordinary intergalactic city called Alpha. It’s home to millions of species and called the city of a thousand planets. When secret agents Valerian (DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevinge) are called to Alpha, they uncover a secret that puts Alpha and a mysterious species in grave danger.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the closest we’ll get to a “Fifth Element” sequel since both are quirky sci-fi adventures. Besson is once again kinetic, imaginative, and ambitious; unfortunately, “Thousand Planets” is more on par with the Wachowskis’ 2015 failure, “Jupiter Ascending.”

For a film about space-and-time-traveling agents that encounter various alien species and criminals, Besson’s content focusing on Valerian and Laureline’s awkward romance. It’s not cute, charming, or funny; it’s plain irritating. We spend more time watching Valerian propose to Laureline than we do learning about their agency or their characters.

DeHaan and Delevinge are both miscast in their respective roles. DeHaan spends the movie practicing his best Keanu Reeves impression while Delevinge delivers every line with little-to-no enthusiasm. Their chemistry is nonexistent. Furthermore, the movie is based on a comic called “Valerian and Laureline.” Why is it Laureline is hardly involved in the action and is constantly a damsel-in-distress?

Besson has some innovative sequences, including one that blends “TRON”-style visuals into a 1st-person POV shootout. “Valerian” is a dumb practice of style-over-substance with meta references to Besson’s previous films (keep your ear open for a “Taken” reference). I admire Besson’s ambition, but he should focus on storytelling that isn’t overstuffed with sexism and exposition.

Grade: D+

The 2017 Half-Time Report

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hey, guys! First off, I want to say thank you for a great year and supporting Donttalkaboutmovies. This year has been an exciting year in film and you guys motivate me to keep watching movies! On that note, I want to give you guys the half-time report! This is a quick summary of my favorite (and least favorite) movies are so far this year.

In the Action/Adventure category, I was blown away by Edgar Wright’s jukebox musical heist thriller, Baby Driver. This is a candy-colored adrenaline rush that’s music to my ears and better on the second viewing. On the other hand, you can skip King Arthur: Legend of the Sword because it’s quite obvious Guy Ritchie has lost his way.

The Comedy genre has been lacking this year with lackluster films like Rough Night and Sandy Wexler; nonetheless, The Big Sick is a terrific comedy that hits all the right notes as a comedy, romance, drama, and social commentary film.

For the Horror genre, Get Out is king of 2017’s horror roster thus far. Writer/director Jordan Peele has crafted a funny, scary, and provocative horror film about racism. You can skip The Void, Unforgettable, The Belko Experiment, and The Mummy because those were all duds.

The Superhero genre has been booming lately and I can personally recommend Logan, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Each movie is great in their own way, but definitely keep Logan away from younger viewers.

The Science Fiction/Fantasy category has been a tad underwhelming, but the Anne Hathaway-helmed Colossal blew my expectations out of the water. If you want a quirky genre movie that explores characters and darker themes, this one’s for you!

I have been slacking in the Drama category this year, but I still found Danny Boyle’s long-waited T2: Trainspotting to be a fun and stylish sequel about nostalgia.

In terms of animation, I’m still telling people to watch the anime film Your Name. I saw this on a whim and don’t regret it, thanks to its beautiful animation and mind-bending narrative.

Thanks for reading! What are your favorite films you’ve seen so far this year?

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

I am Groot… I am Groot…  I am impressed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It’s the first MCU sequel done right since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

After completing another successful mission, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) meet the enigmatic Ego (Kurt Russell). He helps the group and reveals himself to be Peter’s dad, shocking the group.

Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) return to settle their scores, Peter and Gamora must deal with their feelings, Rocket Raccoon comes to terms with who he is, and Baby Groot dances adorably.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” maintains its predecessor’s energy, colorful effects, kinetic action sequences, and killer soundtrack. It takes the humor and character moments up a few notches, resulting in a surprisingly hilarious and emotional sequel. If “Vol. 1” is “A New Hope,” then “Vol. 2” is “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Without getting too much into the plot, the Guardians split into two groups where alliances form, betrayals occur, and revelations are revealed. Quill spends a portion of the movie torn between family and his destiny; it’s bittersweet and sometimes heartbreaking.

“Vol. 2” is fun, though! Don’t let my description fool you. The standout sequences are a delightful opening credits sequence, a space ship battle that’s an obvious nod to the arcade gaming era, and any scene involving Yondu (Rooker kills it).

The cast is once again great with their chemistry and comedic timing; they’re even better in their dramatic moments. Kurt Russell’s performance is a little too exposition-heavy, but his charm and charisma make it acceptable.

I could have done without Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord. He literally has two minutes of screen time, angrily delivers exposition about Yondu, and leaves until the end. For a hyped character, I expected more for Sly to do.

The MCU has a bad history with sequels, but “Vol. 2” proves you don’t have to one-up all elements for a sequel; it’s okay to slow down and expand on the characters’ back story. You don’t see that in a superhero film often, which is admirable.

Grade: A-

“The Space Between Us”

Gary Oldman utters the phrase, “You had one job,” halfway into “The Space Between us.” Correction, the screenwriters had one job.

Nathaniel Shepard (Oldman) launches a space expedition to colonize Mars. When the lead astronaut discovers she’s pregnant and dies in childbirth, the orphaned Gardner (Asa Butterfield) grows up on Mars. He eventually returns to Earth, only for Nathaniel to realize that Gardner can’t physically handle the planet’s gravity. And a chase begins.

“The Space Between Us” is “The Martian” meets a young adult novel, minus the scientific accuracy. I wish I had a glass of wine watching this movie because it’s cheesy as hell. How is it a human can’t physically handle one planet versus another?

The writers rely too heavily on conveniences and exposition and there isn’t any real suspense or drama. It’s amazing how many times Gardner and his love interest Tulsa (Britt Robertson) successfully steal a car with the keys left inside.

Butterfield and Robertson both have good chemistry and their back stories make them fitting star-crossed lovers. Carla Gugino plays Gardner’s mother-like guardian and her performance is fine, but the script weighs her down. Oldman is quite frenetic, as he rotates from supportive to antagonistic. Once we get to the ending, we understand why Nathaniel is this way.

I feel like the writers had a strong character-driven script, but were forced to make heavy rewrites in favor of the romance. The romantic scenes are occasionally witty and sweet, but mostly awkward. Maybe the producers shouldn’t have forced that?

“The Space Between Us” isn’t bad as Rotten Tomatoes says (it has an 11% approval), but that doesn’t mean it’s a good movie either. We have a strong roster of sci-fi movies this year, so I’m sure “The Space Between Us” will soon be forgotten.

Grade: C