Here’s another short film review, courtesy of Timothy J. Cox. I’ve linked to the IMDB page, where the short can also be found, at the end of this review. I’d advise you to check it out.
There’s a subsection of independent shorts that exist in a category of their own at many film festivals I’ve been to – “Short shorts”, which normally fall into the five minute range of length. Who is Elmore Dean? Falls into that category at just barely over five minutes. And for a short short, it’s pretty good. That’s because the trick of these ultra-shorts is to give you a topic, give you a setting, and let you draw your own conclusions. And Dean does that.
Elmore Dean (the aforementioned Cox) is a songwriter that burst onto the scene. His apartment indicates he’s been mildly successful, but is also at a bit of a stressful moment – the covered over desk indicates he’s been attempting to write something over and over. But it gets stranger than that – his apartment seems to have a mind of its own. Cox is good here, even if he’s given less to do here than usual. He doesn’t have to carry the movie because there’s another star present.
What carries the movie is the score, which is lilting and yet frantic, with a touch of that beauty that most of the best music has. This surrounds the apartment, and the cameras movement and spin accents that, never allowing us to rest our eye in one place. This is probably helpful on the effects, which are good for such a small budget (per IMDB $15,000). This focus also puts us firmly in a place and so the ending is that much more jarring.
I liked the short – and I’m giving it a “B” to go with it.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Knight Rider and KITT have nothing on STEM and Grey.
I left Upgrade positively elated, because it means the state of my two favorite movie genres are absolutely taking off. Horror has been on fire lately, what with A Quiet Place taking a bunch of money this year. Annihilation started off the science fiction year strongly as far as inventive and bold sci-fi, and now we have Upgrade from the mind of Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious franchise). His second directorial film is bold, brash, and beautiful, showing that this man who has long stayed in James Wan’s shadow is ready to take the reins on his own career.
To give a short summary – the film follows Gray after a haunting event turns him into a quadriplegic. His interaction with a mysterious young man in charge of a massive computer company leads him to be implanted with STEM, a new computer chip. This allows him to walk, and well, just watch the film for more.
Humanity has always been fascinated by robots and computers and what the future looks like with them. In the news lately we’ve had Amazon peddling face recognition software (which plays a part here), and robot voices that will call and set up your appointments, while sounding as human as you can please. One of my favorite movies out there is Her in which a man falls in love with his OS. But what we see here is a science fiction movie filled with all the best parts of different science fiction tropes without being derivative. There’s the humor of a human conversing with an ultra-logical robot from Knight Rider, the joy of a human learning new tasks from The Matrix, and the mixing of the abilities of man and bot like Robocop. There’s also the immersive landscape here and we’re immediately dropped in, and what is occurring in the film is not that far off from reality. That allows Whannell to drop in some more hints of the future with its grimy, off-the-grid bars, and architecture indicative of a desire for minimalism. In other words, Whannell succeeds just as much as Blade Runner 2049 in dropping us into the future and us not realizing we were dropped.
Speaking of dropped, the action scenes here are awesome. The combination of Gray and STEM is shot in an extremely fun way – Gray’s point of view tends to be more chaotic, with the camera straying out of focus in a desire to keep up with the whole action. When STEM is in charge, the camera is razor sharp, and everything is crystal clear. This is an awesome detail that adds a lot as the film builds towards its climaxes (yes, plural), but keeps the onus on its star, Logan Marshall-Green.
Logan Marshall-Green, based solely on this performance, needs to be in more movies that I see. When we open the movie, his character Grey Trace is reflective of some many of us… on vacation. We want to be away from our computers, off the grid, and able to do things on our own without the assistance of a computer. In his accident, he’s convincing as a quadriplegic, and he carries some weight in some incredibly emotional scenes. But his acting talent truly shows when STEM is implanted, giving him the ability to talk to himself and react to what STEM is doing. This innocent bystander gag has got to be tougher than it looks, but Marshall-Green handles it masterfully. His physical acting is just as talented, with a completely different body language depending on who is in control. It’s a performance that didn’t go unnoticed, and hopefully won’t in Hollywood either.
By the way, that innocent bystander gag is just some of the humor that abounds throughout. I did not expect this movie to be nearly as funny it was, but not much time goes without a full-bellied laugh. And they are completely organic laughs that are derived from the material and the interaction of the characters – and one shot at the Cloud interface so popular today. Simon Maiden, who voices STEM, should get a lot of credit for the humor. It’s like JARVIS on steroids, inside your body, and it is well worth a watch.
This review is getting long, but make no mistake, this movie isn’t just a laugh fest. There are some absolutely cheer worthy moments where the crowd went wild during the screening. With a background in horror, particularly something like Saw, it’s not surprising that Upgrade features gore – what is surprising is how effectively it is managed throughout the film. It’s always a surprise when it happens, and it’s always gruesomely effective.
P.S. the ending is a kick in the pants. I loved it.
I’d highly advise you all to check our Mr. Whannell’s film – it opens on June 1st. I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Dark and hilarious, this film put the Coen brothers firmly on the map for good reason.
Yeah? We’re definitely reviewing Fargo, the Coen brother’s classic film and let’s just say it’s going to be hard for me to review. I really love this movie – I think the humor is spot on, the acting is overly tremendous, and the plot is simple and familiar, but also fresh and exciting. So, without further ado, I’ll attempt to talk about the greatness that is Frances McDormand and the rest of Brainerd, Minnesota.
Let’s talk about the simplicity of the plot. We’ve all seen movies about guys that get put into a tough spot, and need to figure a way out. The idea of a slightly sleezy guy faking a crime isn’t that unheard of in films, it’s practically a trope. The writing is smooth and easy though, and lulls us into the world. The humor is sly and loving, especially in its embrace of small-town living in the northern U.S. But it also understands its actors best qualities, and paints the characters to be real people. And while the movie may be centered around Marge Gunderson, there’s another guy whose performance hinges the movie’s success.
When you hire William H. Macy to be that guy, you get something special. Macy was hot off of several theater performances here, and his stage prescence shows. His Jerry Lundegaard is full of frantic, manic energy – which worsens as he gets more and more nervous. You can tell the worst he’s probably ever done prior to this is gamble too much, and he’s not exactly a smooth criminal. Never once does he seem truly dangerous, besides that he’s obviously willing to go to huge lengths to accomplish his goals. That’s an extremely delicate line for an actor to walk, but there are no missteps here. He missed out on the Best Supporting Actor to Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire – I think both are deserving, so no hard feelings here.
But darn tootin’ – Marge Gunderson as created by Frances McDormand is a wonder. A pregnant sheriff in a small town could have been played completely for laughs, and at times it is – “Not sure if I’m gonna throw up” – but she’s such an extremely complex character. Given a small town life, with a small town husband, and enjoying her eggs that are made after a night of watching tv in her small town bed… this moment could have been way too big for her. But instead she uses that unassuming image to craft an intelligent woman who is surrounded by ineptitude, who manages to essentially solve a dangerous case all on her own. And she does all this while waddling around pregnant. Impressive does not even describe how great Ms. McDormand’s performance is here.
The supporting cast all hold their own, with Buscemi playing his typical loud mouthed criminal. One of the funny scenes I think I’ve seen ever is him attempting to not talk to his partner Gaear Grimsrud. I die every time in this scene. I think what’s wonderful about the supporting case (I’m not going to attempt to name them all for fear of length of the post) is how despite limited screen time, they all manage to create fully fleshed out characters.
So, I will say that this is a movie that is perfectly balanced between light and dark, between humor and between drama, and with more “yeahs?” than you can shake a stick at. I love it, and I think you will too, my wonderful readers. I’m giving Fargo an “A+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"