Movie review by LL Soares

RESOLUTION was the feature film debut of directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who have since made the terrific movie SPRING (2014). In it, Michael Danube (Peter Ciella) receives a strange video of his old best friend, Chris Daniels (Vinny Curran). The video shows Chris, alone in the woods, talking to himself (and his dog) and shooting guns. Right off the bat, we have to wonder what is going on, because if Chris made this video and sent it to Mike, then who filmed it? There’s no clue in the correspondence, but clearly Chris seems rather lonely.

Mike heads out to a cabin in the woods using a map that was also provided in the email, and finds Chris on the front deck of his house, rambling incoherently and shooting at unseen “birds” that he says are bothering him. In fact, by going to the cabin, Mike is pretty much taking his life in his hands, since Chris’s behavior is so erratic. It doesn’t take long for Mike to figure out the cause of this strange behavior, since Chris is obsessed with his “pipe” and smoking meth.

Having just found out that his wife is pregnant, Mike takes it upon himself to do something good in the world – getting Chris cleaned up, and that is the central focus of RESOLUTION. Not long after he arrives, Mike handcuffs Chris to a pipe in the wall and makes it clear that he is not leaving for seven days, the time it will take to get Chris off drugs using the “cold turkey” method. Mike says that after this period of time, he will take Chris to rehab, if he wants to go. If not, he’ll leave, and never come back.

Chris is furious at first about being chained up, of course, but slowly goes through various phases, from trying to convince Mike that he’s okay, to threatening him, to agreeing with him. While this is going on, they get a few visitors. These include Micah and Ted (Skyler Meacham and Josh Higgins), two guys that Chris and Mike went to high school with, who are now hillbilly drug dealers. They come by looking for some drugs they left behind, and when Chris answers the door (with a baseball bat) to say Chris can’t see them, they get angry and threaten him. They soon leave, though, when another group shows up, led by Charles (Zahn McClarnon), men from the nearby Indian reservation. Charles says that owns the cabin they’re staying in, and that he wants them off his property – or else! It turns out that Chris has been squatting all along.

Mike makes a deal with Charles to pay him so they can stay until the cold turkey process is over, and they arrange to meet later outside a casino where Charles works. At that point, Charles agrees to let them stay in the house, but they have to be out by the end of the week.

During his stay, Mike leaves the cabin several times to go on walks, and he finds weird stuff along the way. These include some vinyl records at a weird stone fireplace in the middle of nowhere; film equipment in a shack out in back of the cabin; weird young men wearing business shirts and ties who claim to be taking “a break from praying” while they smoke cigarettes in the woods; and a weird cave with primitive drawings on the wall, and a surprise occupant inside.

Clues point to French students who had stayed at this location decades before (a Frenchman, claiming to have been their archeology professor, still lives in a trailer far from civilization). As the story goes on, Mike finds other weird objects, including what looks like an old videotape, that shows that someone has been filming Mike and Chris now — during their time together in the cabin. In fact, videos of them start showing up on Mike’s computer as well. Who the hell is filming/watching them? And where are all of these weird videos and recordings coming from?

RESOLUTION is a very interesting film, but not everything makes a lot of sense. For one thing, Mike seems to have a delayed reaction when it comes to weird happenings. At first, when he finds weird objects or meets oddball people, he has little or no reaction to what’s going on. When the drug dealers come to the house and threaten to kill him and Chris, he doesn’t seem very concerned, even going for a walk alone in the woods soon after they’ve left. It’s not until much later in the film that he actually seems disturbed by all these goings-on.

Meanwhile, Vinny Curran plays it way over the top at first as the drug-addled Chris at first, but as the story goes on, he becomes more lucid and sympathetic. There are moments when the banter between the two old friends seems real, and those are the best moments of the movie. These two guys play off each other very well.

Things get pretty screwy by the end, and the very last scene actually brings up more questions than answers, but I thought RESOLUTION was an impressive debut by Benson and Moorhead. It doesn’t really give you much of a clue about how great their next film, SPRING, will be (what a huge leap forward!). Also, some of the characters from this movie (including Chris and Mike) will pop again in Benson and Moorhead’s most recent film, THE ENDLESS (2017), which I plan to review later.

Benson and Moorhead are two directors who are headed for great things. And RESOLUTION just reveals that right off the bat, with their first feature, they showed us how much damn potential they had.

I look forward to everything they do in the future.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares



MOM AND DAD (2017)

Movie Review by LL Soares

It’s not always easy being a Nicolas Cage fan. The man has made a lot of movies, and while his early career showed so much promise, with memorable roles in such films as WILD AT HEART (1990), KISS OF DEATH (1995), LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1996), and the Coen Brothers’ RAISING ARIZONA (1987), his output since has been a mutli-colored quilt of varying quality. That said, I will watch this man in just about anything. Some of his worst films are actually some of his most entertaining, because, frankly, you don’t go to a Nic Cage movie to be dazzled by acting perfection. Whether at his most serious (and best) or most manic (and just plain bonkers) Cage just rivets your eyes to the screen, and keeps them there. There aren’t many actors like that. And don’t forget, since 2000 he’s still been in some good ones, including ADAPTATION (2002), BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009), KICK-ASS (2010), and DRIVE ANGRY (2011).

Lately, for some reason, the quality of the movies he’s been starring in has gone up. Sure, there was a decade or more where they all seemed to be dogs of different types, and he was clearly in it just for the money (the rumor being he had humungous debts to pay off). But now, he’s getting better scripts. It might have to do with the fact that, while he seems willing to be in just about anything, more talented people are gravitating toward him.

I am really looking forward to two recent films of his to get buzz at film festivals, MANDY and LOOKING GLASS (both 2018), but until they’re available to the rest of us, I thought I’d check out Brian Taylor’s horror/comedy MOM AND DAD (2017).

Taylor, by the way, wrote and directed the wackadoodle CRANK (2006) and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009), as well as writing and directing several episodes of the equally demented TV series HAPPY! (2017 – Present). So, right away, you know you’re in for a thrill-ride. This guy’s good.

In MOM AND DAD, Cage plays dad Brent Ryan, a dude going through a mid-life crisis. He’s married to stay-at-home wife, Kendall (Selma Blair), who spends her days going to yoga classes and gossiping with her friends. They have two kids, high schooler Carly (Anne Winters, also in the TV series 13 REASONS WHY, 2018, and ZAC AND MIA, 2017 -2018) and the younger Josh (Zackary Arthur).

The action starts early on, when a bunch of angry parents attack the school where their kids are learning. Turning on the news, you’ll see that there’s some kind of crazy behavior going viral, where parents have the uncontrollable urge to kill their children. We don’t fully know why this is happening, but it’s suspected that it’s some kind of chemical agent leaked into the air by evil-doers of some kind.

As the parents start to riot outside, rushing the gates intent on murder, the kids flee.

Carly flees with her BFF Riley (Olivia Crocicchia) until they eventually meet up with Riley’s mom, then Carly finds her boyfriend, Damon (Robert T. Cunningham). The two, figuring out what’s going on, decide to go back to Carly’s house and get Josh, before their parents come home. When they get there, they find out that the family’s maid has already done something awful to the daughter she often brought to work with her.

Of course, before the kids can get Josh out of the house, Mom and Dad come home early. Dad Brent already seems a little off before all this begins; he’s got major anger issues. In flashbacks, the kids (especially Josh) remember incidents where dear old dad would be smiling and friendly one minute, then a serious and angry the next. But there’s no hint of abuse. The abuse is reserved for inanimate objects, like a pool table that Brent gets for the cellar, puts together from a package, and then smashes to bits with a sledgehammer when Kendall starts berating him for spending the money. He’s also fixated on a vintage Thunderbird that he’s had since he was a kid. The car plays a more prominent role later.

Kendall is going through a rough patch herself, with a teenage daughter who mostly won’t talk to her, and an existence she finds unfulfilling, Mom is just as dissatisfied with her lot in life. So here we have two people who feel a bit lost, who suddenly have a shared, and focused sense of purpose. Even if that purpose is the slaughter of their children.

Carly, Josh and Damon (who Dad doesn’t approve of, it’s implied, because he’s black), try to stay alive as our titular psychotic parents try to do whatever it takes to kill their offspring, including running a hose into the cellar where they’re hiding and pumping gas down there (later of course, someone lights a match, and I thought the whole house would blow up, but just one spot does. I’m not sure how believable that is).

This is the kind of role Nic Cage could do in his sleep, and there’s enough very dark humor to make the characters a joy to watch. Selma Blair is very good, too, as Mom.

Later on, when Brent’s senior citizen parents show up (played by Lance Henriksen and Marilyn Dodds Frank), we find out that this virus has no age limit, and that old people running around trying to kill their grown son gives us more chances for gallows humor. You gotta love a movie where both Nicolas Cage and Lance Henriksen go on murderous rampages!

I enjoyed the hell out of this one. My only complaint is that is seemed too short. When the ending came it was unexpected (the movie’s over already!?!). But, while we’re on the ride, it’s a lot of fun in a violent, psychotic kind of way.

I give this one ~ three knives.


© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares



Movie Review by LLS

Everything about the new movie BEST F(R)IENDS is a little off. First, it doesn’t seem to be getting a regular theatrical release. Instead, I had to go to a special two-night-only showing at a local theater (it only played on Friday and Monday nights at 8pm). Second, for some bizarre reason, the movie has been split in half, a la KILL BILL, into two separate volumes. Volume 1 (which I am reviewing now) came out now in the very limited release I mentioned. Volume 2 is due out in June.

I don’t know if it will be going to a streaming service after the brief theatrical events. And if you don’t live near a theater that showed these movies at all, I’m not sure how you would see them. But I’m assuming they’ll be more accessible as time goes on.

If you’re like me, then you’ve been waiting for an awful long time for a new movie starring Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, the two stars of Wiseau’s “so awful it’s wonderful” classic 2003 film THE ROOM. Since Wiseau first released THE ROOM, it has gone on to become a midnight movie in many cities, and, of course, was the inspiration for the recent acclaimed James Franco film THE DISASTER ARTIST (based on the book by Sestero and Tom Bissell, about the actual filming of THE ROOM).  While it was hilarious to see James Franco made up to look (and act) like Tommy Wiseau, and THE DISASTER ARTIST made Wiseau more famous to mainstream America, the fact is, fans of THE ROOM have wanted to see another movie with Wiseau actually starring in it himself, for a very long time.

Since 2003, Wiseau has been involved in a lot of projects, including short films like THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD ON ALEX (2010), and HOMELESS IN AMERICA (2004, which he directed); low-budget fare like SAMURAI COP 2: DEADLY VENGEANCE (2015) and REVENGE OF SAMURAI COP (2017); and lots of TV shows (for streaming and the Internet) such as THE TOMMY WI-SHOW (2011), and his pet project THE NEIGHBORS (2014-2016). The fact is, Tommy has not directed another feature film since THE ROOM. Why? With his growing fame, you’d think he would cash in and try to put more movies out there.

BEST F(R)IENDS VOLUMES 1 AND 2 are not directed or written by Tommy Wiseau, however. I’m not really sure why. Maybe he shot his wad with THE ROOM and has no more big movie ideas? Maybe he ran out of money after spending the reputed $6 million to finance THE ROOM (which Wiseau claims now, with midnight showings, he has finally made a profit on)? No one knows. His motives are as mysterious as his background and financial status.

But BEST F(R)IENDS is still important for Wiseau fans, because it marks the first time Wiseau and Greg Sestero have been reunited in a movie since 2003, and while it’s directed by Justin MacGregor (who previously made mostly short films), the script is by Sestero himself.

Remember when I said that the movie is a little off? Well, aside from all this odd background stuff, the movie itself is also quite odd, and while this is certainly in the spirit of the Wiseau/Sestero history we know and love, I’d have to say that Sestero is a pretty bad screenwriter, but he’s not as godawful-bad-bordering-on-genius that Wiseau is. I wish Tommy would write another movie!

But BEST F(R)IENDS is what we have, and so let’s dive into it. Because, while not as off-the-wall batshit crazy as THE ROOM 2 might have been, it’s still pretty weird—and I mean that in a good way.

The movie begins with a homeless guy named Jon Kortina (Sestero) waking up in a park. He’s bruised and bloody and his T-shirt has huge bloodstains on it. It really looks like someone tried to kill this guy.  He then goes about washing himself off in a public park (it doesn’t help much) and making cardboard signs that say things like “My Family Was Kidnapped by Ninjas and I Need Money for Karate Lessons.” He panhandles on a bridge, flashing his sign at passing traffic. One of the commuters who notices him is Harvey Lewis (Wiseau), who drives a long white hearse, because he’s a mortician.

After seeing him wandering around his funeral parlor (which looks more like a small warehouse), Harvey takes pity of Jon and offers to pay him if he’ll clean up the place. At first, Jon says nothing and we (and Harvey) just assume he’s a mute. But then, after Harvey gives him a helping hand, Jon shaves off his beard and practices talking again (why does he need to practice?). He returns to Harvey’s mortuary the next day asking for a regular job. Harvey gives him a hard time, but relents.

I’m not really sure what Harvey’s game is. He claims to be a mortician, and certainly has the parlor and equipment, but does he have a license? He seems to be doing some shady work, and his specialty is creating rubber masks to put on the faces of bodies that have been disfigured in death, so that they look better. He says he can give them the faces of whoever they want, including movie stars. After the first night they meet, Harvey even makes a rubber mask of Jon’s face and walks around wearing it!

While cleaning up, Jon stumbles on a weird storage area, and bags of gold teeth! Harvey has been extracting the teeth from his “customers” since they don’t need them anyway, and he claims it’s something to remember them by. Jon sees a commercial (and an ad in a copy of the Wall Street Journal) about a company that will turn “gold into cash,” so he grabs a bag of teeth and sets up an appointment, which takes him to a dentist’s office. He leaves with a big wad of hundred-dollar bills.

But Jon feels weird about it, and guilty, since he stole Harvey’s tooth collection to get the cash. Eventually, he gets up the nerve to tell Harvey (actually he writes it down and gives Harvey the letter to read). Harvey is furious at first, but then Jon talks him into becoming partners, since Harvey still has trunks full of gold teeth in his office (!!). Jon sets up a meeting with a guy who buys gold “dental scraps.”

This guy—a shady character named Andrei (Vince Jolivette, whose career has mostly been as a producer – he was even one of the producers of THE DISASTER ARTIST – but he’s also done a lot of acting, including roles on GENERAL HOSPITAL and a bunch of low-budget James Franco-directed movies), shows up at the mortuary, with two sexy girls played by Lyssa Roberts and Angelina Guido (I have no clue why he brought the girls). Andrei looks around the funeral parlor and basically gives Harvey a hard time as Jon looks on, not saying anything (he does that a lot). At one point, Harvey and Andrei even get into a big argument and almost decide not to do business together, but they calm down. When Harvey shows Andrei his huge stash of gold teeth, Andrei does a double-take and says they can make “stacks of money” together.

This results in some kind of business where Andrei sets up meetings and Harvey and Jon meet more shady characters in dark alleys and random parking lots to sell them bags of gold teeth in exchange for bags of money. This whole operation made zero sense to me! The way they had to set up meets in secret places looked like they were selling drugs!

Even though Jon comes clean to Harvey about stealing the teeth the first time—and he sets Harvey up with the people who will give him cash—Harvey puts all of the money they make in a safe inside a “classic” old ATM machine in a shed in back of his house. For some reason, Harvey doesn’t think it is “safe” to spend the money right away.

Meanwhile, Jon has met a cute bartender named Traci (Kristen StephensonPino), and they have started dating. In fact, she has let him stay at her place, since he has nowhere to live. Jon would like to take some of the money they earned from selling teeth to get a nice new condo for him and Traci, but Harvey won’t give him a penny. Meanwhile, Harvey spends lots of money on a vintage automobile “I talked him down from $95,000 to $80,000,” Harvey brags. Harvey also has some suspicious dealings with someone named Malmo (Paul Scheer, also of THE LEAGUE, 2009 – 2015, and HBO’s VEEP), who he is giving large amounts of money to ($300,000 to be exact, but we don’t know what for).

When Jon finally tells Traci the truth about what’s going on, they hatch an idea to get the money away from Harvey, in a plot involving a fake Rolling Stones concert ticket. But, while trying to make the plot work, the movie ends, and we have to wait for Volume 2 to find out the rest.

If the movie’s plotline sounds kind of insane, that’s because it is. But it also creates a lot of opportunities for completely bizarre behavior, mostly from Wiseau, who uses every chance he can to overact, which is why he’s so damn entertaining. Sestero is more of a straight man, but he has some very odd scenes as well. Such as when he appears to be mute in the beginning and then starts to talk (which makes no sense), and scenes where Jon is constantly sneaking around, spying on Harvey.

In a weird way, Wiseau and Sestero are kind of like the perfect comedy team for the 20-teens, because they’re so bizarre. Wiseau starts pontificating or suddenly singing for no reason, and his explanations for his behavior are just as strange as the behavior itself. Sestero, despite his good looks and the fact that he “gets the girl,” is like a cypher, never really exuding any strong sense of personality, to the point where some of the scenes focusing on Sestero almost stall the film. But this is corrected every time Wiseau is onscreen. The guy is incredibly watchable.

I also really liked the interactions between Wiseau and Vince Jolivette. Unlike Sestero, Jolivette has a strong personality – he’s gruff and initimidating – and this plays well against Wiseau’s eccentric personality, where he always has a strange reason for saying or doing something that makes no sense. The scenes where Wiseau and Jolivette begin arguing are pretty hilarious.

Even though “outsider” (ROOM-wise) MacGregor directed the film, it seems to hit certain odd familiar notes, no doubt due to Sestero’s script, like a scene where Harvey and Jon pass a basketball back and forth as they talk. I didn’t laugh as much as I did when I first saw THE ROOM, but I did laugh a lot, and so did the audience I saw it with (it was a sold-out crowd). I can’t really give this movie a knife rating, because it’s not about quality; it’s about putting out a strange product that will please Wiseau fans, and on that count BEST F(R)IENDS succeeds. While it was frustrating that the movie ends in the middle of things, and that we have to wait for Volume 2, I enjoyed the hell out of this one. I’m sure if I saw it again, I’d like it even more. And I’m looking forward to the second half. Also included with the showing I saw were some outtakes and a music video for a song called SCARY LOVE that stars Tommy.

If you’re a fan of Wiseau and Sestero, you’ll love it all. And if you have a chance to see it, go.

© Copyright 2018 by L.L. Soares


Movie Review by LL Soares

I had a lot of questions going into this one. First off, why hasn’t Tommy Wiseau, the director and writer of the 2003 cult hit THE ROOM directed any films since? He’s done some internet TV stuff, but we haven’t gotten a bonafide movie in 15 years.

When we do finally get a new project starring Wiseau and his “sidekick” Greg Sestero, why is it  the work of director Justin MacGregor (with a script by Sestero)?

And, why has that film, BEST F(R)IENDS (2017), been split into two movies, with very limited screenings from Fantom Events?

I went to see VOLUME 2 on June 1st with a little bit of hope that it might actually be entertaining, and a whole lot of trepidation. VOLUME 1 had some good moments, but overall was a disappointment compared to the phenomenon of THE ROOM (and that movie’s “behind the scenes” story in James Franco’s THE DISASTER ARTIST, 2017, based on Sestero’s book). But, if nothing else, BEST F(R)IENDS VOLUME 1 had lots of Tommy Wiseau, and interplay between Tommy and Sestero. Which was something, at least.

Unfortunately, we’re not so lucky with VOLUME 2. Tommy isn’t seen for long stretches of the movie, and the focus is on Sestero, whose character is a bit of a bore.


Greg Sestero plays Jon Kortino, a homeless guy who takes a shower with a hose in the park. When we first see him, he’s wearing a bloody T-shirt. He wanders around the city and is noticed by mortician Harvey Lewis (Tommy Wiseau), who offers him a job cleaning up.

Jon finds a crate with bags full of gold teeth that Harvey has been pulling from corpses. Looking for a way to make quick cash, Jon goes to one of those “Cash for Gold” places and gets a wad of money for teeth. He feels guilty and goes to Harvey to admit he stole the teeth and sold them. At first, Harvey is mad. But then he says, “I have a lot more than that.”

Jon hooks Harvey up with some gangster guy who arranges for Harvey to sell gold teeth to his clients. They meet clients in alleyways like drug dealers.

Harvey makes a ton of money, and says they shouldn’t spend any of it, or it would draw suspicion to them. Then he turns around and buys an expensive vintage Chevy. Jon gets mad, but Harvey reveals he is in charge of the money, and will decide when Jon gets some, if any. Even though there’s all this money, Jon is still pretty much homeless, since Harvey won’t give him any more cash. Jon and his girlfriend Traci (Kristen StephensonPino) come up with a plan to get some money out of Harvey.

During an argument Harvey and Jon have on a seaside cliff, Harvey falls into the sea. Jon runs back to Traci, and they go back to the mortuary, where Harvey keeps his money is a safe that looks like an old ATM machine. Jon and Traci put the ATM in her car and try to figure out the best way to break it open.

And now, on to VOLUME 2.

On their way to Colorado, Jon and Traci are stopped by a suspicious cop who says there have been smugglers in the area. He asks to look inside the car, but Traci refuses without a warrant. Meanwhile, that ATM safe is still in the back seat, covered in a tarp. After they squeak out of this situation, they end up stopping at a weird bed & breakfast for the night, where the owner is hesitant to give them a place to stay in a strange, awkward exchange, then he finally relents.

Traci calls her “Uncle Rick” Stanton (Rick Edwards), for help. Rick shows up and takes them away, along with the ATM. Rick is a former football star who had an embarrassing failure that ruined his career. Now he lives on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, watching old footage of his glory days, and throwing footballs at a bull’s eye on a barn wall. Rick is a fun, eccentric character, but the script really has no idea what to do with him.

When Rick can’t get the safe open, they end up seeking help from some sketchy guy named Doc Seagar (George Killingsworth) and his violent henchman, Vincente (R.J. Canti), an insane biker, and then everything turns to shit.

This whole segment where Jon and Traci are staying with Rick, trying to get the safe open, takes up the majority of VOLUME 2, and I have to admit, it was pretty boring for most of its running time. A big part of that is due to the fact that Tommy Wiseau’s Harvey is hardly in it. The appeal of VOLUME 1—despite the fact that it’s a pretty lame movie—was the interaction between Tommy and Greg, but VOLUME 2 doesn’t even have that to save it. Sestero’s Jon is pretty much a blank slate most of the time, and not very compelling.  Kristen StephensonPino’s Traci is okay, but not given much to do. The only real standout in VOLUME 2 is Rick Edwards as Uncle Rick, who is actually a pretty decent actor, but even he can’t save the storyline.

By the time Wiseau returns to the story (with a crazy reason why he’s back), it’s too little too late, and we’ve just sat through almost two hours of procrastination.

I have to admit to having no better idea why BEST F(R)IENDS had to be cut into two films when I left the theater than when I entered it. Instead, Mr. MacGregor should have invested in a decent film editor to cut this all down into a manageable and better-paced movie (according to the credits, he edited it himself, and frankly, editing is not in his skill set). I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t a hardcore fan of THE ROOM sitting through both parts, especially the laborious VOLUME 2. So what about people who aren’t hardcore fans? Those must have been the people who walked out half-way through the showing I attended.

Aside from Rick Edwards, and any scene with Tommy Wiseau in it, there isn’t much to recommend here. I did like the score by musician Daniel Platzman of the band IMAGINE DRAGONS, although it’s mostly wasted.

I really doubt if BEST F(R)IENDS will get a real theatrical release (there’s no reason it should), or if it will now go directly to a streaming service (probably), but this one is for the morbidly curious and Tommy Wiseau completists only. I can’t imagine many people actually enjoying BEST F(R)IENDS VOLUME 2. Although we do finally find out who the mysterious Malmo (Paul Scheer) from the first volume is. And the ending is upbeat and kinda works – even though it takes so long to get there!

I give VOLUME 2 ~ one and a half knives, and that’s being generous.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

UPGRADE (2018)

Movie Review by LL Soares

The new movie UPGRADE is a pleasant surprise. I went into it with fairly low expectations, and had a helluva good time with it.

It’s written and directed by Leigh Whannell, whose original claim to fame was a writer of the first three SAW movies (2004 – 2006), as well as DEAD SILENCE (2007) and the INSIDIOUS series. His first directing credit was for INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015). Also an actor, Whannel might be familiar to you for playing Specs, a technician in the “ghost busting” team in the INSIDIOUS films. UPGRADE is his first non-sequel film, and his second film overall as a director.

The film’s plot is incredibly simple. It’s a crime-rampant near future, and a grease monkey who loves working on old cars named Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, also great in THE INVITIATION, 2015, and the sadly short-lived Cinemax series QUARRY, 2016) is in a driverless car with his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), when something goes wrong and they get in an accident (maybe he wasn’t so silly to love old cars after all!). Some criminals descend on the wreackage, killing Asha and leaving Grey a parapalegic.

Tech wunderkind Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), the rich computer genius who Grey was restoring a classic car for in the first scene, offers the wheelchair-bound Grey a choice. Either stay the way he is, or test out a computer chip called Stem that can possibly give him his movement back. At first, Grey just wants to die after what happened. But he eventually comes around, and we cut to some clandestine surgery in Eron’s home, where the chip is implanted in Grey’s spine.

The experiment is a success, and Grey can walk again. But there are some unexpected side effects, the biggest being a voice in Grey’s head that only he can hear, the AI version of STEM (Simon Maiden, whose voicework here is as much of a character as any of the physical people onscreen). It doesn’t take long for STEM (all-capped, all-conscious now, as far as I’m concerned) to offer Grey a chance to track down the low-life criminals who ruined his life and knock them off, one by one. Grey is more than happy to go along for the ride, especially when STEM reveals that when Grey turns over the “controls” to his new friend, he is capable of superhuman feats of strength and violence.

Meanwhile, the detective on the case of what happened to Grey and Asha, Det. Cortez (Berry Gabriel, who was also so memorable as the maid Georgina in GET OUT, 2017), slowly begins putting the pieces together after a series of violent murders in the bad part of town.

Also a treat is Benedict Hardie as a creepy bad guy named Fisk, who is in many ways Grey’s equal. A scene where Fisk kills a bartender with a sneeze is both ludicrious and kind of cool. Fisk is a vicious adversary, and the final showdown between him and Grey (and STEM) is worth the wait.

UPGRADE is yet another in a long line of high-tech revenge stories, and yet somehow it seems fresh and different. Part of it, no doubt, is due to Logan Marshall-Green, who has real screen presence here. The dude’s an underrated actor who deserves a bigger career, and his interactions with robot voice STEM (and once again, I have to give propos to Simon Maiden as that voice) are the highlights of the film, making this a dynamic duo I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. Whannell’s script and direction are also refreshing. While the storyline might sound a little like ROBOCOP (1987), let’s say, it’s still a hundred times more entertaining than 2014’s ROBOCOP reboot. 

My only disappointment is that this one didn’t do better at the box office. It’s a low-budget horror/scifi film that shines much brighter than it has a right to, but I wish more people would actually see it.

I give it three and a half knives.


© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares


Movie Review by LL Soares

I’m always thrilled to hear that a movie is going to be scary. As a long-time horror fan, I know that truly scary movies don’t come around very often. A movie hasn’t genuinely scared me since I was a kid, but I’d relish the chance to experience that feeling again. So when HEREDITARY came off a very buzz-worthy screening at the Sundance Film Festival, and went on to get headlines like: “Welcome to the Scariest Movie of 2018” (Rolling Stone), “HEREDITARY is the most traumatically terrifying movie in ages” (AV Club), “HEREDITARY’ hype is real: It’s insanely scary and tough to shake off) (USA Today), and “HEREDITARY is going to scare the bejesus out of everyone” (The Boston Globe), I was no doubt excited about seeing it. Finally, a movie that had genuine scares! And what a cast, featuring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne and Ann Dowd.

Which brings me to my issue with the movie. I sat there, waiting for the big visceral scare that everyone keeps alluding to. And waiting. And waiting. And it never came. There’s a scene where something heartbreaking happens to one of the main characters, but it’s not scary, just tragic. And I kept waiting for the big ending—thinking that was where the scares had to come—and found myself…underwhelmed.

So, let’s get something out of the way right away. HEREDITARY is not the scariest movie in years.

Which is not to say it isn’t a great movie. It’s just not as damn scary as everyone wants us to believe it is.

Aside from those headlines I quote above, I went into this one as blind as I could. I didn’t want to know much about the story. I definitely didn’t want to know what was so scary about it, or what to expect. I wanted to be surprised. Because nothing emphasizes the joy of a real scare as much as it being a surprise scare. And I’m glad I avoided any real details about the film. It made it that much enjoyable.

Annie (Toni Collette) and her family are getting ready for a funeral. Annie’s mother has died. It sounds like she had a long, drawn-out death and after years of not speaking to each other, Annie took her mother into her house for the last years. Despite this, Annie wasn’t very close to her mother, who was clearly a difficult person to live with, which complicates the grieving process. How do you process the grief you feel for someone you loved but didn’t necessarily like? When they get home, Annie even asks her psychologist husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) “Should I be sadder?” I thought this was an original and affecting way to start the movie off.

It’s also interesting what Annie does for a living, creating tiny dioramas—dollhouse-level furniture, people and scenes—that are incredibly detailed. This is a unique profession for someone in a horror film (or any kind of film), and provides a literal microcosm of the bigger world. Especially when traumatic incidents occur and Annie creates tiny versions of them in order to cope.

Like most families, the one at the heart of HEREDITARY is dysfunctional, with a lot of resentments and guilt simmering just below the surface. If the death of Annie’s mother doesn’t make it all bubble over—because she wasn’t a very nice person, presumably—a second death occurs that is much closer to home, and much more tragic. This second incident, in fact, threatens to destroy the family with grief. And the trauma it causes seems to multiply as the movie goes on.

It’s then that this atmospheric, emotionally-draining film gets to its more horrific elements. Unfortunately, we’ve seen most of these elements before, and a strange, unique film begins to seem more familiar.

I won’t go into too much detail, but there are some bits and pieces reminiscent of classic films like ROSEMARY’S BABY (1967) and THE OMEN (1976) here, as well more recent (and lesser) films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007), and OUIJA (2014), as denizens of the afterlife seem to invade the real world. The fact that these elements aren’t necessarily new (including the much-vaunted ending), means the movie utlimately feels an old car with a fresh coat of vivid paint.

But, despite some familiar tropes, there’s a lot to love about HEREDITARY. To begin with, the acting is superlative. Toni Collette—don’t forget, she was also the mom in the classic THE SIXTH SENSE, 1999, as well as being in television series UNITED STATES OF TARA, 2009 – 2011, and movies like FRIGHT NIGHT, 2011, HITCHCOCK, 2012, and KRAMPUS, 2015—a totally underrated actress, is terrific as Annie, the heart of this film. While not always about her point of view, HEREDITARY is mostly her story, as she comes to grips with grief in many forms, and possible mental illness. Which takes us through the well-trodden “is it real, or is it happening in an unbalanced mind” theme, and yet, the movie doesn’t belabor this. You eventually realize that yes, Annie is unstable, but she’s also dealing with very real dangers.

Gabriel Byrne is the “normal” one in the family, the rational, compassionate adult who tries to steer his family through these emotional storms, but because he’s so normal, he’s not very affective when things get really weird.

Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro are pretty damn great as their kids, Peter and Charlie. Charlie is a clearly odd 13-year-old who mostly keeps to herself and channels her alienation through creativity. She draws a lot and creates strange dolls out of unusual household items. When she snips the head off a dead bird for one of her dolls, it all seems especially creepy, and yet she’s a sympathetic character. Wolff’s Peter is a troubled adolescent who has clearly gone through a lot, and while he doesn’t stand out at first among the family members, he is the one who is fated to endure a lot of the most awful stuff the movie has to hurl at them. His performance is often understated, but powerful. After the harrowing incident that occurs half-way through, Peter goes into a pit of shock, becoming powerless in his fear and grief, that is both surprising and utterly believable.

Ann Dowd—so ubiquitous these days, appearing in everything from Hulu’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE to such other above-average TV shows as TNT’s GOOD BEHAVIOR and HBO’s THE LEFTOVERS—also shows up as Joan, who meets Annie at a grief-counseling support group, but slowly reveals she’s more intimately involved in all this than we thought.

Ari Aster, who wrote and directed the film, does an amazing job with his feature debut here, after making several short films, including THE STRANGE THING ABOUT THE JOHNSONS (2011), that got a big response online. HEREDITARY is a terrific start, and Aster is a filmmaker to watch.

I also enjoyed the cinematography by Pawel Pogotzelski. And the music by Colin Stetson at first felt a little overstated and intentionally sinister to me, to the point of being intrusive, but eventually it faded into the background and seemed quite effective.

My early statement that I didn’t find the movie scary is not in any way meant to diminish that it’s an exceptional film that’s worth your time. My point is simply that it is being hyped in a way that I found disingenuous. It’s not the scariest film in ages, but it does have unsettling moments, and a visceral tragedy inside it.

It’s still a great little film. Just don’t expect to lose much sleep over it.

I give HEREDITARY a rating of three and a half knives.


© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares