Had me a busy weekend.
Upgrade is a great movie trapped in an ok movie's body. Logan Marshall Green is just ok at the dramatic stuff (and maybe worse at the bits of sarcasm that the character has to perform) and the bad guy(s) are kind of forgettable. But damn, there's a ton of fun to be had with an interesting premise.
LMG plays the terribly named Grey Trace, whose wife is killed by some bad dudes who also paralyze him from the neck down. But wait, there's Stem, a chip containing an artificial intelligence that might be able to restore movement for Trace's body so he can find his wife's killers. Stem is the movie's best asset, as it both provides some dry comic relief and makes for some excellent action scenes when Trace confronts the men responsible for his grief. Because Stem doesn't have human failings and it brings Trace along for the ride, there's some delightful juxtaposition of the violence his body is performing and his face's reactions to that violence. The movie also give you some intellectual meat to chew on during the parts when people aren't getting torn apart. A better movie would be even more complex, but the cheap thrills this movie provides plot-wise are fun enough.
This movie goes bonkers later on and I loved that. I also loved the more staid introspective drama that takes up the majority of the movie. Ethan Hawke's performance is so strong that some of the slower scenes are still fascinating just for watching him. His voiceover is good, too, which is important in this movie for helping us understand what he is thinking (and not thinking, and avoiding thinking). The Academy ratio makes for gorgeous closeups, uncomfortable two-shots, and wide shots that envelop the characters in their surroundings. A perfect match for this film. Amanda Seyfried is brilliant, and Cedric Kyles (aka The Entertainer) shows off some surprising dramatic chops.
I've seen people call this a dark comedy and I guess I could see that, but it's not how the movie struck me upon my first viewing. Time and another go of it will tell if it really pans out for me.
The Hurricane Heist
This movie couldn't be any dumber and yet I had a pretty good time with it. It's absurd on almost every level, but it's the fun kind of absurd. It doesn't waste too much time on stuff that we don't care about, which is crucial in a movie like this. And there are a few decent action scenes, too. It's the best two-star movie you're likely to see this year. If you like movies where hurricane clouds form into skulls and then roar at the characters, this is one you need to see.
This was almost brilliant. It's so close. The opening third is pitch perfect and the ending is quite good, too, but in the middle things get a little bogged down. There's so much incident in this, and yes, horror is a plot-heavy genre, but there came a point when I craved the baser thrills that the genre usually provides. None of the scenes in the relatively fallow middle section are bad on their own, I just don't think they add up to what they should. All the actors are great, unsurprisingly, and there's a streak of very bleak humor that runs through this based on wry observations of the absurdities of family life and the act of grieving. It's a gorgeous movie, too, expertly composed and beautifully designed. You know that shot in The Shining where Jack is leaning over the model of the maze and the camera zooms in to see Wendy and Danny running through it in an invisible transition? The whole movie feels like that. The world is just a bit off and I love it when a movie can make me feel so uncomfortable for such a long period of time. I just think a little nip and tuck here and there would have made this an all-timer.
Look for an article from me later in the week about Upgrade, First Reformed, and Hereditary and one surprising element they have in common.