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A cheap (estimated budget $5,000,000) sci-fi movie that doesn’t look cheap. Its looks are a blessing and a curse: yes, the camera work is good and the actors are photogenic but what are supposed to be gritty run-down inner cities of the utopian/dystopian near-future look instead like HD-bloomed props of a glossy magazine photoshoot.

The story features drones, self-driving cars, moments of gender ambiguity, and — the title gives it away — upgraded humans. It is timely, but also kind of lazy; I would have preferred more time dedicated to the huge inequalities between the different flesh-and-blood humans rather than the more obvious AI versus humanity plot line.

But I like where the movies are going much better than TV: the barrier to entry for both the makers (again, $5 mil) and consumers (90 minutes on the couch) is low, potential payoffs high (Upgrade’s gross was double its budget, a pretty good return on investment), and with word-of-mouth traveling more quickly and easily than ever before the good ones are more likely if not guaranteed to get awareness. Upgrade is not as good as it gets, but it’s pretty good.

Directed by Leigh Whannell, 2018

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