I wasn’t expecting much with Upgrade, thinking it would be just another bionic man / Limitless re-take. In a way, it is — but plenty of original material including a refreshing sci-fi vision and design sense combine with a brisk plot to move Upgrade beyond the ordinary. This is a fun movie.
Something else completely unique about Upgrade: the first ever SPOKEN entry titles (that I’ve ever seen/heard). At one point there was just a bit of lag, but I liked the end. Those involved with putting out Blade Runner could learn a thing or two from the Blum-House Boys. 8/10
American Animals mixes actors and the real-life characters they portray in a sometimes very effective and other times distracting suboptimal way. On top of that, the movie dragged out too much. There’s no reason for it not to have been 30 minutes more compact. But the performances were good and compelling, and the movie redeemed itself at the end. The climax and immediate aftermath swung American Animals back into positive territory. 6/10
First Reformed has been compared to Taxi Driver; I think Big Night is a much better way of thinking of it. A non-humorous, dark version of Big Night with no cooking, just a lot of drinking.
I’m on the fence a little with this one. The story was overly simple, and lacked the profound heft that I think was being attempted. No argument that it was compelling — not boring for a minute — and that the performances were good. The main problem with First Reformed was that it was too easy to see where the story was heading. Nonetheless, this is the second-best picture of the year so far, on the high end of 7/10.
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Note: First Reformed features a square frame, which I normally find a unnecessary distraction. I think A24 has got some vested interest in the square frame — something other studios just don’t use and for good reason. I must concede that it worked well with this movie. The only distraction on this one was Landmark’s super-bright EXIT sign right next to the screen.