When EVIL Becomes Obsolete, Its Time for an…”Upgrade” reviewed!


In the near future where assistive technology serves as the cultural way of life, a very manual Grey Trace still clings to being self-independent while his loving wife, Asha, laps up and embraces new and innovative tech. When an fatal shooting strikes down Asha and cripples Grey to an automated wheelchair, Grey is forced into a depressive world he no longer recognizes. Desperate to find his wife’s killers, he accepts experimental computer chip implant known as STEM to send the signals from his brain to his extremities; however, that is not all STEM can do. The smart technology can also scan, record, and reactive to all of Grey’s experiences, be a voice of knowledge, and enact super human abilities that will aid in Grey’s vengeance, but without much control over his own body, how much will Grey continue to use the smart device that becomes smarter every minute.

In a cinematic age when remakes, re-imaginings, and sequels really do rule supreme, a breath of innovation and compelling storytelling in Leigh Whannell’s 2018 science fiction, action-noir “Upgrade” is a technological advance that’s feels lightyears ahead in comparison. The “Saw” and “Insidious” writer, who indulges in all of horror’s gracious qualities, tackles the future with a synergetic and brutal vengeance film on indie-budget proportions; however, “Upgrade” feels no where near being low budget in a futuristic world that includes monochromatic self-driving cars, bio-weaponized forearms and hands, and a robotic protein shake slingers for those meal replacement pick-me-ups. With the assistance from Blumhouse Tilt, a Blumhouse production sublabel that seeks to release projects onto multi-platforms, Whannell gained freedom to script, in every sense of the world, his own vision of cyborg horror and crime thriller.

Logan Marshall-Green stars as Grey Trace, an analog man living comfortably in a digital world. Trace is a dying bred as the technology ecosystem slowly creeps into all that earned by hard work, even in his small classic car restoration business. The “Prometheus” star tackles a unique physicality aspect of an action film that involves the robotic responses of hand-to-hand combat while also being the emotional punching bag of pelted heartache and turmoil. Portraying his character as a man’s man, Marshall-Green has to find humility in not only unable to self-serve himself as a cripple, but then also rely on the one thing he withdrew himself from for help….a machine. “Upgrade” primarily focuses on Trace to even having the camera affix to his character during fight sequences, but though most of the narrative is through Trace’s vindictive narrative, a cascading effect of his destruction brings one of his nemesis’s into reactive defense. Fisk, Benedict Hardie from the upcoming remake of “The Invisible Man” that’s also directed by Whannell, is a mysterious soldier of fortune whose backstory, that salivates at the tip of the tongue to be told, is only sampled at best with his cybernetic implants or why he was even chosen to be a deadly, robotic killing machine. Perhaps Fisk’s backstory, and those of his fellow veteran comrades, are another misrepresentation or the maltreatment of veterans by conglomerate, privately owned tech and weapon companies that lean more toward involuntary experimentation rather over anything else that’s an allegory of owning a person, a piece of property, as we also see with STEM attached to Grey Trace’s spinal cord. “Upgrade” rounds out with performances from Melanie Vallejo, Harrison Gilbertson (“Haunt”), Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”), Kai Bradley, and Simon Maiden as the voice of STEM.

Shot in urban Melbourne that’s quasi-reflective of the gritty streets of Chicago, Leigh Whannell aimed for a fatalistic mystery that breaks down relationship barriers and sustains a punitive jurisdiction of grime. Whannell surely achieves the desired affect that goes from a classy futuristic society to the bottom barrel of human existences that have been tainted by the dark side of tech including addiction and dangers of being fully aware as a sanctioned being. “Upgrade” capitalizes on every inch of its capital to enlarge the quality of a miniature budget and utilizes local talent, who, aside from Logan Marshall-Green, never wane from their unnatural American English accents, to offer heartfelt human performances despite their mechanical transitions. “Upgrade” isn’t “Robocop” or “Nemesis,” but rather more “Terminator” where organic and inorganic don’t exactly coincide to benefit as a single entity. Unlike the autonomous killing machine portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, “STEM” acts like a computer virus working off commands, coding, and complex algorithms to infiltrate and deploy executions to subverse the man over the machine and Whannell’s concept brilliantly contextualizes that dynamic without having too much exposition to divulge and is easily computed without having to be deciphered from binary code.

Coming November 18th is Second Sight Film’s limited edition Blu-ray release of “Upgrade” presented in full HD, 1080p, and clocks in at 100 minutes under a region B UK coding. Unfortunately, a screener disc was provided for review and so I will not be critiquing the video or audio quality at this time so this review is solely about the film only. A static menu including chapters were available on the disc as well as bonus features including a commentary by writer-director Leigh Whannell, a new Second Sights’ interview with the director about his envisioning and how it came to fruition, more new interviews with producer Kylie Du Fresne, cinematographer Stefan Duscio, editor Andy Canny, and fight choreographer Chris Weir. All the interviews showcase depth with the material to their respective roles and opinions about “Upgrade.” Don’t think it necessary to refer filmmaker Leigh Whannell as the “Saw” guy now that “Upgrade” has completely overshadowed the franchise in a single sitting entertained with action, gore, and a heart-rendering story. Surely to be Whannell’s break out film from the horror genre.

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One Tough Cop Taking on Evil Cyborgs! “Nemesis” review!


In the year 2027, enhanced humanistic cyborgs virtually run the planet with the renowned L.A.P.D. being no exception. Alex Rain, one of L.A.’s finest brute cops, is partially cyborg himself, but the essence of his soul remains human intact while his synthetic flesh cloaks the icy machine beneath. After tracking down suspected cyborg terrorists and almost losing his life in the struggle to stop them, Alex questions his dwindling humanity, leading him down a path of unfulfilling revenge and botched smuggling before his former employer, the L.A.P.D. commissioner named Farnsworth, tracks him down and uses deadly coercion to force Alex as a pawn in dangerous covert mission. The burnt out cop is thrusted back into the fray of his former life when Farnsworth orders him to retrieve data from the treacherous female cyborg, Jared, who was once Alex’s partner and lover, before she hands over the sensitive information to a group of cyborg terrorists who call themselves The Red Army Hammerheads. With a micro bomb implanted near his heart as insurance, Alex has no choice but to accept the assignment before detonation in 3 days and with his time running out, finding Jared isn’t the problem as Alex comes to realize that deception has convoluted the stakes and nothing is who or what they seem.

Albert Pyun’s 1992 cyberpunk action-thriller “Nemesis” is an explosive-heavy, science fiction existentialism film never before seen, or even aware of, by this reviewer, but the ground-worked narrative has remained a constant piece of foundation in being the byproduct of inspiration extracted from other cyberpunk films of its kind, such as “Robocop,” “Blade Runner,” and “The Terminator.” “Nemesis” has a presence much to the tune of another film, “Cyborg,” starring John-Claude Van Damme and that inclination would inevitably make a world of sense when the awe-striking epiphany lands that Pyun also directed that film, also utilizing some of the same actors for his early 90’s cybernetic dystopian feature. In reviewing Pyun’s credits, the assumption can be made that the filmmaker has a sturdy hard-on for the intertwining of mankind and machine as not only did the director write and direct “Cyborg” and helmed “Nemesis,” but went on to be a part of, whether director, writer, or producer, of four more “Nemesis” sequels with a fifth being produced and shot, but scrapped in post-production due to Pyun’s flailing mental health. Rebecca Charles fed the scribal beast as “Nemesis’” screenwriter, along with penning “Nemesis 2: Nebula” and “Nemesis 3: Time Lapse.”

Alex Rain is a cold cut character, sliced thick like a cool cucumber on top of a hard to wedge salad. Rain’s iciness symbolizes his downtrodden humanity status and with each part of his body shattered from destruction, he becomes one step closer to being an automaton with eye brows. B-movie action star Olivier Guner essentially make a big career breakthrough with “Nemesis” as his sophomore feature. Guner’s military background suitably solidifies his physique as a workaholic cyborg cop while also presenting a rough cut speech impediment that’s very straight forward and without emotion. Some would say that Gruner’s approach fits his half-human, half-toaster oven character and I would say that would be correct. The 80’s and 90’s saw a crowded entry list of action stars, including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many others in various degrees of success – and Olivier Gruner became one of those faces that had since then been lost over the years; Gruner’s performance in “Nemesis” lacked pizazz which could have been the contributing factor to his success, but the monotonic, unflattering one-liners and blank face stare didn’t spark any fires on top of his average muscular frame. His performance, to keep with the fire motif, didn’t provide the oxygen, a combustible, or a flammable source to quickly set ablaze a trail for semi-popularity amongst his peers and that’s where “Nemesis” falters in entertainment value. Comparatively, “Trancers” franchise actor, Tim Thomerson, is full of range and vigor as an concealing Commissioner Farnsworth. Thomerson, in his early 40’s at the time of filming, displayed an impressive physicality to his role, keeping up nicely with his onscreen rival. Farnsworth, from the get-go, reeks of desperation when pressuring Alex to do his bidding and Thomerson really nails the part and can switch on the proverbial dime as an egocentric field operative when chasing Alex through the jungles on the Hawaii set. The night and day performance is a stark contrast between the two actors. What’s mostly disappointing about “Nemesis’” cast that favorable characters come and go; some the characters a pinned with terrific actors such as Shang Tsung himself, “Mortal Kombat’s” Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, as the leader of The Red Army Hammerheads and the late, great Brion James (“Red Heat”) chirping a lousy German accent of the Commissioner’s right hand man. The cast has many other recognizable names that, again, come and go, including a strung out looking Merle Kennedy (“Night of the Demons 2”) as Max Impact, Marjorie Monaghan as the algorithmic beauty Jared, Vincent Klyn (“Cyborg”) as a disposable bodyguard, an extremely fit and nude Deborah Shelton (“Body Double”), voice actor Nicholas Guest (“Dollman”), brief cameo by Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”), a fresh faced version of “The Predator’s” Thomas Jane, and Thomas Jane’s bare ass.

The financial backing was obviously designated for a particular department in the “Nemesis” workshop and that department was special effects. Explosions, rotoscoping, stop-motion, sculpture, implosions, practical effects and makeup are just the tip of the iceberg. Frayed wires and eye ball cannons are the elegant touch that makes “Nemesis” a cult favorite and bring substance to a clunky storyline and divisively dynamic acting. However, not all the specials are pinpoint precision and grounded by reality. The one scene that stands above the rest when Farnsworth is hot in pursuit of Alex and Max and he’s shelling off rounds of a shotgun, standing relatively still, blasting away without moving the barrel around to compensate for his prey’s length of distance gained or even when they decided to make quick pivots in direction. Somehow, the rounds hit very close to Alex and Max and that’s not all, they even explode like a single stick of TNT. ACME must have had a hand in the special effects department because the scene sure was loony. Yet, the implosion of a monolithic silo was uber-impressive, well-executed, and really ritzy for the silver screen.

Imperial Entertainment’s “Nemesis” infiltrates onto another home video release, a region free, dual DVD and Hi-Def 1080p Blu-ray format release, from MVDVisual under their MVD Rewind Collection series. Sheathed by a slick, retro-grade slipcover with familiar art, reminiscent of the now decade old Sterling DVD release, the special collector’s edition provides two aspect ratios, an anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 and a widescreen 1.78:1. This MVDVisual Release has stellar detail in the texture and in framing that are exhibited in various tint shades, such as yellow and blue, and eventually cough up toward a more natural look into the second act when Alex reaches the rough neighborhood of Shang Loo, Java. Even though the visual compositions and mold work doesn’t pop with color and are a bit fuzzy, “Nemesis” is a product of it’s time, the early 1990’s and you can’t fault Pyun’s film for that. The English 5.1 surround sound is beautiful. So beautiful and potent, in fact, that you can actually understand Olivier Gruner’s mumbling, putting dialogue for all characters right into the front row while offering a stimulating range and depth of ambience sound, an unlimited variety of explosions, and plenty of miscellany cyborg hubbub. Other language are available, including French, German, as well as English in 2.0 stereo and there are English and German SDH subtitles available The Blu-ray bonus features include new interviews with producer Eric Karson and director Albert Pyun, “Nemesis 2.0” the director’s cut with Albert Pyun audio commentary, and original theatrical trailer. The DVD is the director’s cut and also includes the Japanese cut with Japanese subtitles burnt-in. Bonus features for the DVD include introductions by the director Albert Pyun and star Olivier Gruner, an afterword by Albert Pyun, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with star Olivier Gruner, the making of segment involving the hefty special effects, stunt work, and visual effects, a featurette entitled “Killcount,” a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, TV spots, Key Art Photo gallery, and, top it all off, a mini-poster inside the casing. Inside a killer definitive, two-format and disc set from MVDvisual, “Nemesis” hones in on the existentialism notion of what being human actually means to each and every one of us through the bombardment of gun fights and jumbo explosions on top of a conglomerate cyborg coup that peaks with hard bodies and even harder viewer contemplation.