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.
In the moments before attending a pool party, apparent strangers-to-acquaintances, a distinguished, if not quirky man and a promiscuous, self-involved German woman, withdraw to a secluded building in order for the brazen woman to shave the bikini line exposed excess hairs before strapping on a suit. Their intricately deep discussions about desires, sex, and kinky foreplay fair nothing more but course, blunt banter between two familiarities, but when the woman pretends she must be tied up and punished for playfully biting the man’s ear until bleeding, the next few moments after fall into a state of obscurity of a he said, she said rape accusation. As confounding declarations are made and fingers are being pointed to decimate lives, a sack of deceptions and an abundance of threats accrue through a blackmail scheme and an abduction based vendetta. Nothing can be certain and no one can be trusted between the two, but one thing is definite, a third man watching from afar has nefarious plans of his own.
Like sitting front row at a bastardized version of an off-broadway show, “Open Wound” is an immaculate stage performance of battered psychologies and visceral deceptions from writer-director Jürgen Weber. The thriller, also known as “Time Is Up” or “Open Wound: The Über-Movie,” measures extreme lengths of human bitterness while constantly shapeshifting into plot twist after plot twist aggregated with clusters of popup violence. The Chinese born Weng Menghan, under her moniker Tau Tau, is the financial backer of “Open Wound. The globetrotting author makes her breakthrough imprint into the feature film business that modestly begins with an opening scene about anal sex among other verbal sexual references before man versus woman fisticuffs and a pivoting third act that rapidly alters character compositions into, essentially, a free for all. So metaphorically speaking, a Chinese producer walks into a bar, sits onto a stool next to a German director, and orders one of the more absorbingly chic cocktail thrillers in English. “Open Wound” is a melting pot of cultural influences and a display damaged egos that’s simply brilliant.
“Open Wound” has a short character list comprised of three characters. The first is woman who is introduced first, or rather her lips do when she declares her love anal sex and the parallel criteria for types of cars in one man’s garage, as she’s using a straight razor to trim the dark haired pubes from her bikini line. She oozes eroticism like a bodily fluid that gravitationally seeps from between the legs, spilling innermost desires, whims, and historical sex-capades with in a philosophical prose. #Nippelstatthetze advocate, German podcast expert, and stunning model, Leila Lowfire engrosses herself into the role of fierce, proud, confident, and strong woman. With an established vigorous sexual prowess, Lowfire culminates the femme fatales and breakneck show-stoppers female roles, notably similar in Quentin Tarantino movies, with high-brow tastes and a debasing reprove. Lowfire’s accent is low and thick and can be considered her weakness here as getting your brain to interpret the fluidity of the words, structures, and compositions is undeniable challenging at times, but acts upon fervor while in her lingerie or even topless throughout the film. The contrast against man is stark. His introduction paints him as unequipped, socially inept, and hopeless desperate. Man longs for Woman, but knows he doesn’t have a chance with her until she offers up a random game of role-play that inevitably leads to disarray. Jerry Kwarteng’s man performance is systematically peerless and a complete joy. Even if the character lacks depth, Kwarteng’s range is devilishly good with the only comparison coming to mind would be James McAvoy and his multiple personality disorder in “Glass.” Once Man and Woman comes to terms after a back and forth bout with dominance, the Suicide King’s grand appearance bestows upon the plot an even bigger, clunkier monkey wrench. The Suicide King’s an ex-con, looking for revenge in a small vat of acid, and his mark and him have a long, complicated history which parts personally shock the other. Erik Hanson’s raspy voice, feeble appearing physique, and lofty age has a second row seat to his character’s unwillingness to die, in a slick performance that’s part nihilist and part psychotic to which Hansen pulls off.
Weber’s choice toward “Open Wound’s” narrative layout conflicts with how the DVD release is specifically marketed. “Open Wound” rides the dark comedy pine that is peppered with black tongue-and-cheek dialogue and violence and as will be noted later in the review, the advertising depicts something far more extreme and graphic. On the shock value scale of one to ten, “Open Wound” hovers around a solid five and maybe a seven or eight for the casual popcorn viewer and, personally, I don’t believe “Open Wound” was intended to be a source of utter distress and visual barbarity. There’s brisk lighthearted comedy that softens the blunt force. For example, in the room with the Man and Woman, a record player will every so often, to comically assist in explaining the actions, play the cheesy tune of lounge background music with a singer narrating the character’s every move and also be the voice of between chapter contention or bewilderment. The singing is privy to only the audience just as the twelve chapter titles that offer a mixed bag of sequences that interchange between English, German, and Chinese title introductions, a toilet paper title card in reverse action, and an artistic rendering of chapters titles and just like his title card introductions, Weber also utilizes an assortment of styles to tell his story, whether be a 5 minute sepia, nitrate film burn effect, or day dream sequence, that peers the sudden twists and eruptive chaos between the characters. While the effects work to sensationalize the context, they tend to be equally be nauseating and annoying as a disruptive structure that seemingly doesn’t make sense to the naked eye.
MVDVisual and Wild Eye Releasing distributes Jürgen Weber’s “Open Wound” onto DVD home video as the the 11th spine feature under the Wild Eye Raw & Extreme sub-label. The DVD is presented in a widescreen format and the image quality holds up well, withstanding Weber’s bombardment of stylistic techniques of distortion, over exposure, sepia, and contrast. There’s a little softness around the skin, more noticeably during facial close ups, with a slightly lower bit rate in the compression but still very agreeable detail. The stereo two channel audio channel does the job, but has flaws with Weber’s score have an equal playing field with the dialogue tracks. The audience already has to manage Leila Lowfire’s thick German accent and their ears will also need to try and filter out the soundtrack that’s invasive upon the colloquy. Not much range to warrant mentioning, but the depth was well tweaked amongst Weber’s visual compliments. There are unfortunately no bonus material with the feature, but the DVD reversible insert is graced with a semi-naked and bound Leila Lowfire. “Open Wound” is dangerous, sexy, thrilling, and complicated to say the least, but stamped as a Raw & Extreme film it should not; however, see this film! Director Jürgen Weber’s visionary molotov cocktail of a story is an underground must for arthouse lovers and noir enthusiasts.
Ruthless mobsters crack down hard on barkeeps, strong arming their way into seizing every bar in town. When they mess with Jo Lee-Haywood, the too cocky gangsters messed with the wrong Southern gal as Jo turns out to be Jo Pickings, one of three dames of the notorious Pickings gang. Jo tries to abide by a straighten arrow inspired by her deceased husband and four kids, but crime tugs at her violent past, scraping the good from her clean off. With the help of her brother, Boone, and her sisters, Doris and May, Jo and her family of heavily armed outlaws aim to fight back against thugs and thieves in this modern day western.
“Pickings” is the freshman film of first time feature film producer, writer, and director Usher Morgan. The contemporary gritty western is a maelstrom of goliath turf wars that’s stylized with rotoscoping and other comic book fatigues to dress Morgan’s film as an aesthetically popping story with illustrative visuals, anomalies, and raw tooth violence. The clear cut message, a fairly popular thematic motif among westerns, is don’t mess with family, even if family has been through an estranged time, and though Morgan’s theme runs a fairly conventional line, the “Sin City”-esque overlay gives “Pickings” a strong double take. What’s an especially fun and unique concept is having one of the characters, Sam “Hollywood” Barone, be exhibited in black and white while everyone else is in color as if the character was pulled straight from a Humphrey Bogart classic.
Elyse Price headlines as Jo-Lee Haywood, a wife-mother scorned by notorious gangsters, but the tough as nails mother of four runs a tight-ship when it comes to her bar and to her family. Price doesn’t hold back, taking the gut-checking hits and delivering a twice as big response with a performance of contempt and revenge. Price is joined by Joel Bernard, the sole brother of the Pickens gang whose as tough as they come, especially when you’re the only boy with three sisters. Bernard does the job matching Price’s hard nose character with his own more subtle version. The two other sisters, Doris and May played by Michelle Holland and Lynne Jordan, barely scratch the surface in an appearance that makes their characters difficult to absorb. Aside from Jo Lee-Haywood, the only other character with a significant character arc is her daughter Scarlet Lee-Haywood filled in by Katie Vincent. Vincent’s softens up against her mother’s violence despite being a passive witness to her cornered brutality, but can adhere to the akin familiarities of her family’s long and violent history. The cast rounds out with Yaron Urbas, who in my opinion is a decent mobster, Michael Gentile, and Emil Ferzola.
“Pickings” doesn’t come without problems and one of the problems is is the story concludes on a really too clean note. The inner monologuing exposition of Jo Lee-Haywood conveying her start-to-finish tale of her involvement with the three dames, Doris, May, and Jo, is a good visual like the rest of the Morgan’s film, but is just that, a good visual, and doesn’t carry the weight of suspense and becomes even more diluted when Doris and May have little interaction with Jo and barely any screen time at all to put the oomph into conveying their badassness. Aside from being obvious and telling, the gun blazing finale is also a bit underwhelming and disappointing, chocking everything to a one sided victory without any, or the hope of any, dire loss to compensate just feels empty and, again, too clean for comfort.
Courtesy of Dark Passage Films comes “Pickings” onto DVD and Blu-ray home video. The DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that capture the neo-noir facets of shadowing figures and haunting mysteries. Morgan’s film doesn’t necessary pop with color, but that’s particularly the nature of the genre. Aside from that, no real issue with the DVD transfer. The audio is a stereo option that has an ample dialogue track and a stocky ambient accompaniment. Katie Vincent’s bootlickin’ acoustical score never wavers, cracks, or looses range. Extras include deleted scenes, filmmakers’ commentary, “The Mop” a Pickings short, a behind the scenes featurette, and a spoof reel during the end credits. Loaded with female empowerment, “Pickings” is a violent crime drama with neo-noir battle garments of two warring clans ready to get along like the Hatfields and McCoys, but the undercutting finale puts a sharp spur in one’s couch melding backside, leaving much to be desired from a women scorned vendetta.
Dany Doremus, a lonely secretary roped in by her boss to work on a big project at his home, steals her boss’s car for a joyride to the sea as her boss and his family go away on holiday. When she makes numerous stops from town to town, the townsfolk approach her, claiming and swearing they know her even though she’s never been to this particular area before. If things couldn’t get weirder or even more suspenseful, a dead body is discovered in the car’s trunk. Dany wonders if she’s deranged and crazy or just a part of a some elaborate murder mystery conspired against her.
“The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” is a remake of the 1970 Anatole Litvak film of the same title. Though I’ve never seen the original Litvak film based off the award winning crime novel by Sebastien Japrisot, I’m sure director Joann Sfar’s film doesn’t stray much from the main artery that is the story, but Sfar spices up the tale through the addition of a young and feverishly heart-throbbing cast of actors and actresses. A murder mystery that sells sex more than thrills, Joann Sfar explicitly has Scottish born actress Freya Mavor and “Nymphomaniac’s” Stacy Martin do more than their fair share being sex symbol and straining the barrier of sexual tension, especially with a couple of highly eroticized topless scenes from both actresses. In a bombardment of thigh high mini skirts and tight at the waist dresses, the film setting is to reflect the 1960s to 1970s time period where if the story was in the technology age, “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” might have had a totally different outcome.
Like any good crime novels or films, noir plays a bit part and with the Sfar remake, noir is ever present from beginning to end. Dany’s noir scenario has her being plagued by a retraced trip she’s never initially taken, being roughed up by a glove-wearing mystery person in a duo of giallo familiar scenes, and discovering a dead body in the trunk of her boss’s Thunderbird. All the pieces come together to form one big elaborate undertaking with the big twist at the end and while I’m not sure if the novel and the Litvak film do marvelous work in the detail to wrap Dany’s adventure, I feel Sfar’s missed the mark by not filing in the holes that construct a twist ending. Maybe Japrisot’s novel a bit vague too, but there’s certainly multiple voids that needed to be filled to plausibly and logically explain the ending.
As I said before, Freya Mavor’s sexiness couldn’t be any more potent. The relatively young in the industry actress has tons of potential outside the European film market. Stacy Martin has been on that fringe of the industry since her controversial breakout role in Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.” Both Mavor and Martin work well together, creating the tension between their characters while pulling off a lustrous vision. The male lead playing Michael, Benjamin Biolay, reminds me of a young Benicio del Toro with a very reserved demeanor and calculating coldness about him.
Magnolia Pictures proudly releases the remake of “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” in limited theaters across the nation today, December 18th, and will also be available on demand. Another variation of an award winning story with modern actors set in a time period that has been long forgotten, “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” stimulates the whodunit objective that keeps you on the edge of your seat for every second.
“Red Nights” is not exactly a new film. Being released in 2010, the erotic, giallo-inspired, thriller has only been available for DVD purchase in the Belgium market while Germany has the sole blu-ray edition. With much anticipation, Philadelphia based company Breaking Glass Pictures will be bringing “Red Nights” to DVD in the States in all it’s suspenseful and bloody glory.
The ancient box of the Jade Executioner has become the fascination of everyone’s desires. From crooked politicians, to thieves, to sadomasochistic murderers, the box contains a poison that will increase your pleasure by ten fold while leaving you completely paralyzed and increase your pain by the same amount. This twisted tale with a sexual aura constructs a cat-and-mouse game between two femme fatales, Catherine – who just wants a giant pay day for the box and Carrie Chan – who wishes to use the poison for the ultimate pleasure from pain, while a Manau crime lord embarks on a mission to retrieve back his stolen antique box.
This is the first feature length film from French directors Laurent Courtiaud and Julien Carbon and while “Red Nights” looks beautiful on screen – the shot scenes remind me the Wachowski brother’s Noir film “Bound” – the story can be a bit loose and slow at first. The By the end of act one, “Red Nights” really pick up the pieces and the story of how Frédérique Bel’s character Catherine, a personal assistant to the crooked politician Savini, becomes snared in a web of deadly game with Carrie Chan – played by Hong Kong actress Carrie Ng – and in this game, minor players get a slow and painful death which translates very well to screen and relates very precisely to the character’s personas. Carrie is a sadist who can whip a dry martini while skinning you alive. Catherine is a bit more hesitant but her greed can force her hand to kill.
The gory effects are surprisingly realistic for a pair of visual effects crew members – Jam Abelanet and Bertrand Levallois – who don’t have much horror and thriller film credits behind their names. This goes hand and hand with how I described the first time directors and how the crew of “Red Nights” got it right the first time. Where the film lost me a many of times was the back and forth dialect of French, Chinese, and a little bit of English thrown in there for good measure. As much as I like a foreign film to use their native tongue, it’s hard to follow when a conversation between a Chinese actress who speaks in full Chinese and then the French actress retorts in full French. “Red Nights” would not make a good Rosetta Stone substitute.
Carrie Ng creates a fascinating character in Carrie Chan, a respectable, world renowned perfume designer and model. Chan’s dark side involves tight leather, bondage ropes, and razor sharp metallic finger talons that shred skin like shredding a block of cheese. Carrie Ng is lustfully sleek and sexy with her bad girl image that suites her well. Frédérique Bel couldn’t compare to Ng’s prowlness nor clean good looks, but I have to give Bel credit for making her character Catherine a sneaky and aggressive go getter. Maybe the issue was in the script’s writing, but Catherine seemed to lack a lot of intelligence for being in a game that could cost her her life. Catherine trusted everyone too easily and let people go too quickly without any kind of punishment or pain.
While “Red Nights” won’t break the DVD retail shelf bank, I’m still glad Breaking Glass Pictures and Vicious Circle Films are releasing this foreign gem to the masses of ‘Merica. And while I appreciate every aspect of this film from the director’s inspiration of Giallo genre to the histories of Chinese folklore, I can’t see my country men going crazy over a Chinese girl with finger blades. However, the story for Carrie Chan might speak more to horror enthusiast in that the Jade Executioner’s poison is similar to the box in Hellraiser. The box is described to show you the pleasures of pain much like the poison in “Red Nights.” Lets also not forget that Japanese porn actress Kotone Amamlya and French actress Carole Brana do a bit of nudity as well – click to see my skin page here. Come Tuesday October 21st, DVD will be readily available for purchase, but why wait? Pre-order your copy of a unique thriller with hints of gruesome horror torture!