Hyper Sci-Fi Action Flick “Upgrade” Will Make You Laugh, Cheer, and Think (kinda)

Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is a wonderful and devilish little concoction of a film. At its center is Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), an old-fashioned “works with his hands” kind of guy who restores old cars in a near-future where all of the cars drive themselves. After an accident leaves him a quadriplegic, one of his more wealthy and influential clients offers to help him by implanting an experimental chip in his brain called STEM that will allow him to walk again.

It works.  And then the chip starts talking to him.

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Was 1997 the Greatest Year for Science Fiction in Film?

Most years have a few high-quality genre pieces to offer, some years see the release of a genre-defining film and a solid collection of supporting movies, and every now and then there are collisions where two absolute classics are released side-by-side (see:  1968, 1977, and 1982).  But, there’s nothing quite like what happened 20 years ago.  Eleven science fiction films of note were released in 1997, spanning all subgenres.  This piece will discuss each of these films, heralding 1997 as a seminal year for cinematic science fiction.

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Why “The Terminator” (1984) is the Greatest Terminator Film

The Terminator (1984) is a better film than Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).  The three other movies in the franchise are utter garbage and will not be discussed further.  And, if you’ll lower your pitchforks for long enough, this piece will provide several arguments asserting the superiority of The Terminator.  I’ll compare three aspects of the films and explain how The Terminator bests Terminator 2 in each:  1.) The overall plot-theme of the story, 2.) The structure, pacing, and the effectiveness of the storytelling, and 3.) The characters and their respective arcs.  I will show that the first film showcases a stronger and more original plot, streamlined structure, and more interesting characters.  After remarking on the sequel’s deserved accolades, the stark verdict will follow:  Terminator 2 is exemplary, but The Terminator is the greater film.

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In “Arrival”, Denis Villeneuve Delivers a New Hard Science Fiction Touchstone

In Denis Villeneuve’s high-concept science fiction film Arrival, the expert director deftly explores a profoundly different view of reality – all in the guise of an alien invasion story.  Based on the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the story is hard science fiction at its greatest, and ponders the challenge and ramifications of communicating with an alien species during first contact.  In what has become a hallmark of Villeneuve’s style, the film boasts a fascinating non-linear storytelling technique that factors heavily into the plot.  Though there are really only four characters of note, each is ably performed by an outstanding actor, with Amy Adams’s performance shining through as something special.  This film takes advantage of its genre perfectly, altering a single idea about language and contemplating the potential ramifications.  It seems as though Denis Villeneuve has been working in science fiction for his entire career; his treatment of Arrival is a deft exploration of the nature of time, language, and communication – both between humans and aliens, and humans and each other.

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“Independence Day: Resurgence” is a Mess of Callbacks, Confusion, and Ret-Cons

Like a burp only vaguely reminds of the “flavor” of the Coors Light that you just shot-gunned, Independence Day:  Resurgence is a hollow echo of its overly-popular predecessor.   The plot of this sequel was seemingly generated by five screenwriters throwing darts at a board composed of better science fiction films and filling in the blanks with shoe-horned references to the original, at least when they aren’t ret-conning exposition into the original that was never there.  Though not quite as offensive as last summer’s moronic ‘90s nostalgia capitalization called Terminator: Genisys, Independence Day:  Resurgence is arguably more of a horrible mess and embarrassment.

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“X-Men: Apocalypse” Dooms Itself by Mismanaging Villain

For the third time this summer, it is time to watch a superhero flick where some characters fight other characters for poorly-developed reasons.  In this specific case, it’s the X-Men universe and the film is X-Men:  Apocalypse, named after the all-power and ancient villain of the film.  The eponymous character is central to not only the plot and theme of the film, but ultimately its problems as well.  On a fundamental level, this film fails because it could not appropriately handle the character of Apocalypse, and you can almost feel it buckling under the weight of this Frankenstein’s Monster.  There are lesser problems as well, including some poorly-used characters and a mismanaged tonal consistency, but you can trace nearly every negative back to the big-bad.  Thus, despite introducing intriguing new versions of beloved characters, this is a poor end to the new X-Men trilogy.

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