Movie Reviews: “Solo,” “The Titan,” “Hotel Artemis,” “Upgrade”

By | June 30, 2018

Sci-Fi fans have no shortage of options these days, so you might have to be pretty hard up to see these mostly so-so offerings. We’ll move from worst to first…

Hotel Artemis…A great example of a movie that shouldn’t exist. This movie isn’t clever, it isn’t original, it isn’t particularly well-constructed nor well-directed nor well-written, and–worst of all–it isn’t even entertaining. For much of the film we’re just hanging out in a poorly-lit, stagey setting waiting for something to happen. [It’s the “Waiting for Godot” of grindhouse movies.] How a film can have the most diverse cast I’ve ever seen (what movie would have Jodie Foster and Charlie Day and Sterling K. Brown and Dave Bautista share a scene? It’s like the set-up for a joke or a dream) and strand them so completely in a “John Wick”-by-way-of-SyFy-original movie knock-off I’ll never know. Towards the end, we have to believe that a sociopathic assassin would essentially commit a self-sacrificing suicide in order to save the lives of others–and this scene seemingly exists almost solely so Sofia Boutella can audition for an “Elektra” remake. Grade: D-

The Titan…A Netflix original that doesn’t really work but at least has real ideas behind it. It’s about Sam Worthington’s soldier agreeing to undergo a mysterious “forced evolution” procedure that will allow him to be able to survive on Saturn’s moon Titan. Most of the other soldiers–like the beautiful Nathalie Emmanuel–aren’t taking to the treatment as well as Worthington, but his wife (Taylor Schilling) is still very worried he’ll lose his humanity. The climax of the movie is ridiculous–and predictable, given Hollywood’s natural demonization of science projects or the Pentagon or…something–but it almost feels a little bit worth it when we get to the film’s killer closing shots. Grade: C+

Solo…The second Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton kissed, I literally said out loud “Welp, she’s a goner.” Not ten full minutes later, she was dead. The latest glaring example of the demonization of interracial couples in Hollywood movies (in “The Titan,” once Worthington and Emmanuel form a connection, you know it’ll be a matter of time too) took me a little while to get over, but that feels okay since so much of the movie unfolds in a shoulder-shrugging, slightly apathetic way. I’m not sure what film Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who got fired by controlling producer Kathleen Kennedy, who’s also fired Colin Trevorrow and Josh Trank from different “Star Wars” movies before they started filming) were making when Kennedy gave them the heave-ho, but I’m quite sure it would’ve been a little livelier than Ron Howard’s relatively downbeat, poorly-lit, 70’s-drenched “Star Wars” film. And even though I do like it vastly more than the new main series (“The Last Jedi” and especially the awful “The Force Awakens”), there’s no getting around the fact that Alden Ehrenreich is badly miscast as a young Han Solo (Miles Teller would’ve been perfect for this part), and that we’re essentially watching a character who will eventually get murdered by his own son in “Awakens.” Grade: B-

Upgrade…A nasty little surprise that skillfully combines just the right number of elements from other films (“Robocop” and “Death Wish” most notably) to make something that feels almost new. Lead actor Logan Marshall-Green (from the underrated, too-soon-cancelled “Quarry” series) is the only person on-screen I’ve ever seen before but that only adds to the thrill of discovery. I can easily see streaming audiences going nuts for this one, but it’s too bad that’s where this will be most-likely discovered since it feels cinematic. I went in not knowing much about it really, and I’m glad I did. Having said that, I’ll resist the temptation to give a synopsis since this is the kind-of film that benefits from that sense of “where is this going?” discovery. Every scene holds a tiny surprise, and that’s half the fun. Grade: B+

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