Tag Archives: leigh whannell

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW – a tremendous B-movie-sci-fi-cult-classic!

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson

Music by: Jed Palmer

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

Edited by: Andy Canny

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For me Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell is one of the best screenwriters out there. He has been involved in the writing of TWO fantastic horror originals: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). Furthermore, he has written and directed a brilliant sci-fi-horror-B-Movie in Upgrade. He is a great writer because he brings conceptual invention with strong style and tight economy. What he shows is that you don’t need billions of dollars to make an entertaining film but rather a decent script with focussed ideas and great twists at the end.

I watched his latest film Upgrade (2018) at a Fright Fest 2018 preview and its blend of science fiction, body horror and bloody gore was lapped up by the packed crowd. The director, Leigh Whannell, did a Q & A afterwards and spoke of his desire evoke the spirit of the 1980s low budget films like The Terminator (1984) and he certainly achieved that in my view. His budget of $5 million dollars was stretched by incentives from the Australian government and what it lacks in scale, the movie more than makes up in a look and style which echoes that of those 1980s sci-fi classics.

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Upgrade’s story is very simple and similar in some ways to Death Wish (1974) and also the recent assassin shoot-em-up-actioner John Wick (2014). But the joy is not so much in the plot but in the exceptionally well devised character arc our hero, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), goes through. Left a depressed, suicidal and a quadriplegic by a vicious robbery he is given the opportunity to revitalise his body by a computer genius, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Hell-bent on finding the killers of his wife he agrees to surgery which will implant an artificially intelligent programme into his body and enable him to walk again. After which the story moves at some pace as he first comes to terms with the new technology, before his descent into the criminal underworld really gathers speed.

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STEM itself is a fine supporting character too. There is much humour in Logan Marshall-Green’s performance and his interaction with the “HAL9000-like” computer in his head. Marshall-Green also excels physically during the brutal and fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Indeed, the bloody violence is a joy and I actually wanted more gore as less definitely WAS NOT more. But, overall, this is a fantastically enjoyable B-movie mash-up with an incredible look for such a low budget film. Shadow, fluorescent light, darkness, blood, metal and strobes all co-mingle to startling effect. The score by Jed Palmer is a brooding classic and some of the technological concepts relating to bionic and Nano-technology were very inventive. Above all else, it’s Whannell’s lean and mean machine of a script that wins the day; he certainly deserves to work on a bigger scale no doubt!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

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SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – JUNE 2015 by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – JUNE 2015 by PAUL LAIGHT

Watched quite a lot of TV stuff in June including a binge on Hannibal Seasons 1 & 2 plus I have started watching the old school Star Trek series with Shatner and crew so not that many films watched in June. Anyway, here’s my humble little reviews with marks out of ELEVEN! Peace!

**YES – THERE’S SPOILERS!**

THE BABADOOK (2014) – BLU-RAY 

Eerie low-budget Aussie chiller which involves a blow-the-spectrum kid and his mother who mentally unravels following the death of her husband. Together they become isolated as outsiders and are left to the mercy of The Babadook; a dark creature from a weird indestructible book. It’s filmed with consummate skill and has a creeping style which gets under the skin. For an hour I was gripped but in the end felt it was somewhat one-paced and lacking a satisfactory gore-frenzied ending I like from my horror.  However, the dark symbolism in the piece was highly compelling and the director is one to watch.  (7 out of 11)

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005) – BLU RAY

This one’s a rewatch and on second viewing it remains a complex and humanely ambiguous French drama from one of my favourite directors Jacques Audiard. It’s a loose remake of James Toback’s Fingers (1978) and concerns Thomas (Romain Duris) as an unsympathetic slum landlord who tries to use a mild talent for the piano to try and escape his nefarious job. However, he is delusional and ultimately finds little peace from this pursuit as he is constantly dragged back to violence.  It’s an involving character study of a man with family and anger issues and is typical Audiard; holding a mirror up to complex humans and their relationships. (8 out of 11)

CHEAP THRILLS (2013) – NOW TV

This cracking micro-budgeted horror-thriller may be shot on a shoe-string but it’s sharp and nasty as piano wire.  The basic premise is a drunken game of “Would You” which escalates way out of hand as two friends meets a decadent drunken couple including Anchorman’s Champ Kind – David Koechner.  Mild dares such as: fighting a club bouncer and crapping in the neighbour’s house are just for starters as this darkly comedic gore-fest illustrates the lengths some people will go to for fun or money.  This film killed:  in a good way and the final image is still burned on my retina.
(9 out of 11)

COLD IN JULY (2014) – NOW TV

I love my Southern neo-noir movies. John Dahl and the Coen Brothers made some cracking films a few years ago like Blood Simple (1984) and The Last Seduction (1994) and Cold in July is in that territory as it tells a dark, twisted story as slippery as an eel smeared in grease.  Michael C. Hall of Dexter infamy plays an ordinary Joe whose house is invaded by a burglar and having killed said intruder he is then hunted down by the dead man’s career criminal father. This is just the taster as tables are turned and chairs are burnt in a first act full of suspense.  The story then diverts into murkier waters as Don Johnson pops up as a charismatic Farmer/Private Investigator!! Jim Mickle is an unsung director of very good lower budget films like vampire-western Stakeland (2010) but this was an even better thriller with a keen sense of mood, doom and unsettling fear.  (8 out of 11)

THE CONNECTION (2014) – CINEMA

This solid French police drama starring the handsome Jean Dujardin takes a looks at the team who brought down the biggest heroin dealers in 70s France.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it brilliantly filmed with a brutal, masculine cast crossing and double-crossing each other all for a bit of money and power.  I have to admit I was VERY tired watching this so dozed off at one point as the cinema was bloody hot!  However, my cinema fail aside it’s certainly one to catch online or DVD rental. Performances from Dujardin as heroic prosecutor Pierre Michel and Gilles Lellouche as his gangster counterpart are worth the admission alone.  (7 out of 11).

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) – NOW TV

I positively reviewed this one last year and on second watch it holds up well but certainly loses power on the smaller screen.  Still a very entertaining superhero-time-travel film with the X-Men battling the past to resolve future extinction. Still loving the Quicksilver v Fort Knox slow-mo fight scene. Gets me every time.  Good solid home-screen entertainment. (7.5 out of 11)

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THE EQUALIZER (2014) – NOW TV

I also reviewed this one last year and it actually works so much better as a put-your-feet-up-in-front-of-the-telly-after-work-actioner.  Here the always-reliable movie star Denzel’s portrays a seemingly meek Homebase worker when in fact he is a deadly former CIA shadow able to take bad guys down  in a heartbeat.  Like a modern-day Robin Hood he kills the bad and rewards the good all in a calm, professional and explosive fashion.  Great, if brutal, fun. (7.5 out of 11)

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INSIDIOUS (2010) – DVD/INSIDIOUS 3 (2015) – CINEMA

I rewatched the petrifying original before watching the prequel Chapter 3 at the cinema and while not as good as the first the latter had some cracking scares which had my heart in my mouth throughout. I love a decent horror and also enjoy the more fantastical elements present in the Insidious franchise. I know it’s about Astral Travelling and some such nonsense but Leigh Whannell and James Wan crafted a terrifying original complete with horrific demons and ghosts from the other side.  The plots basically involve a family being terrorized by ghosties and troubled medium Elise Ranier and her team go into ‘The Further’ to slam the door shut!

Wan is a wonderful genre director who during Insidious uses a box of cinematic tricks to convey terror including: light and shadows; kinetic camera movement; smash cuts; sudden music cues including screeching violins; characters appearing out of nowhere; ghosts hiding in the corners; and many more. It’s not always subtle but damn it works well to get the heart pumping. Writer Whannell directs Insidious: Chapter 3 and makes a good fist of it as old favourites come back from the beyond along with some newer nasties to give you nightmares.  (7.5 out of 11)

JURASSIC WORLD (2015) – CINEMA

Jurassic World is loads of fun. The formula that Michael Crichton began in Westworld and continued with the original Jurassic Park is ratcheted up to eleven! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching Dinosaurs wreak havoc on the screen; and the Dinosaurs in this are impressive with the vicious Indominus Rex stealing the thunder. Chris Pratt coasts through all muscles and winks; while Bryce Dallas Howard’s character arc is defined by the reduction of clothing throughout. The joy of cinema is to divert the brain from the real world outside by creating an exciting one on screen. Jurassic World succeeds — despite the paper-thin characters — with impressive chases, scares and one-liners . (7.5 out of 11)

KAJAKI (2014) – BLU RAY

I’m anti-war.  But I enjoy war films.  For me “blood will have blood” and historically one can blame Kings, Governments and greedy humans for wars.  When watching a war film I will look at the humanity on show; the story that is told rather than solely the politics.

Kajaki is a brilliant lower-budget British war film set in the Helmond Province, Afghanistan in 2006 and focuses on the true events which befell a group of soldiers trapped in a historical Russian minefield.   The screenplay is impressive as it establishes the characters and longueurs of war before exploding into furious action when the men become locked in a small patch of hellish land.  It’s both illuminating and suspenseful as soldiers become prisoners to the past conflict of a land persistently ravaged by conflict.

Indeed, Afghanistan has been invaded more times than a Wild West Saloon whore and STILL there’s no resolution to the fight.  Amidst the bloody suspense of Kajaki, however, the bravery, humour and camaraderie on display is something to be in awe of. (9 out of 11)

TWO FACES OF JANUARY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

With Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and rising star Oscar Isaac in the cast I had very high hopes for this Hitchcockian thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s book.  But it kind of petered out as a story really after a very gripping start.  Still, the cast are good and the sunny setting of 1960s Greece and Turkey is beautiful to look but the main issue was I never felt any empathy for the unlikeable characters and rarely felt like there was much at stake. A mirage of a film: promises much but then you realise there is nothing there. (5 out of 11)