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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Some well-choreographed action scenes can’t help low-budget sci-fi thriller Upgrade, well, make the grade.

Logan Marshall-Green stars as Grey, a muscle-car-loving geek who fixes classic autos for rich people in the future. After he and his girlfriend (Betty Gabriel) have an accident in her self-driving car (I don’t know how I will ever be able to get into one of those things), Grey is left paralyzed and hungry for revenge.

One of Grey’s clients, a tech giant named Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), has a solution: an implant called Stem that will bridge the gap between his brain and severed spinal cord. What he doesn’t tell Grey is that Stem will internally speak to him with a voice like that of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that when Stem takes over his body, he will have ninja skills.

This sounds fun, but many of the performers in this movie seem like they’ve never been in front of a camera before. While there’s plenty of action in the flick, and that action is often good, most of the movie consists of characters speaking terribly delivered dialogue. It’s also lacking a much-needed sense of humor.

If they made an Upgrade sizzle reel—a 15-minute summary of all the cool fight scenes and chases—that would be worth viewing. Unfortunately, this movie is a lot longer than that.

Upgrade is now showing at Mary Pickford Is D’Place Entertainment (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100;); Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Dinner parties tend to suck, don’t they? You bring a stupid bottle of wine that nobody will like. You have no small-talk topics for others other than the weather and your stinky-feet problem. And in the case of the dinner party in The Invitationa film which freaked out the Independent’s Brian Blueskye when it was part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival back in January—the hosts may or may not be trying to kill you.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is visiting his ex-wife, Gina (Michelle Krusiec), at a dinner party. Gina has been away for some time, and she’s gotten all smiley in the wake of a tragedy through which she and Will suffered. Her new boyfriend, David (Michiel Huisman), is a bit of a weirdo—happy and perhaps a bit too pleasant, especially since he shows the party a video of a woman, surrounded by members of some cult, dying by choice.

As one would expect, the video puts a damper on the party, but everyone eventually makes it to the dinner table—where things get even weirder.

Director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, Girlfight) does nice work within the scary cult genre, getting good performances from Marshall-Green and John Carroll Lynch as a friend with a sketchy past. There’s a good mystery at play here, with a final act that delivers on the buildup.

The Invitation’s good ensemble cast nicely serves the decent script and effective director. Marshall-Green, best known for a supporting role in Prometheus and a couple of TV shows, should find himself getting some decent future work. He’s got some major chops.

The Invitation is available on demand or via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The After Dark program of the Palm Springs International Film Festival features movies that have more of an edge than most of festival fare—a fact that was illustrated by Saturday night’s showing of The Invitation, which thus far has been one of the festival’s most buzzed-about entries.

The After Dark series also includes music performances by local bands in collaboration with the Coachella Valley Art Scene. On Friday night, before the screening of Shrew’s Nest, Giselle Woo performed a short set. On Saturday, The Flusters performed before The Invitation. On Friday, Jan. 8, Maddy Ebersole will be performing before the screening of February, and on Saturday, Jan. 9, EeVaan Tre will be performing before Men and Chicken. All After Dark screenings take place at the Palm Canyon Theatre at 11 p.m. For those early birds, never fear: All films in the After Dark series are also screened during more reasonable hours of the day.

The Invitation is a hard film to describe—especially without giving away significant spoilers. The film starts as a couple, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), are on their way to a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills—and they are not comfortable about where they are going. Suddenly, they hit a coyote in the road; Will puts the coyote out of its misery before the couple resumes driving.

The hosts of the party, David (Michiel Huisman) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard), are living in the home that Eden once shared with Will, before they divorced after a horrible tragedy. Shortly after arriving, Will and Eden have a strange interaction, away from the other guests, after Will goes through some sort of flashback. It isn’t the only episode Will has at the dinner party; is he suffering from some sort of psychosis … or are these interactions real?

Later, David and Eden welcome another guest, a towering man named Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) who doesn’t fit in. David and Eden then make the big reveal: During a recent trip to Mexico, they joined a religious group.

What happens after that is truly insane and unpredictable. The listing for The Invitation states that it will make you not want to ever again accept a dinner-party invite—and that may be an understatement. The film, written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, and directed by Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux, Jennifer’s Body), is one of the most bone-chilling and shocking films I’ve ever seen.

Get your tickets to next Saturday’s showing while you still can.

The Invitation will again be screened at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 9, at the UltraStar Mary Pickford Theater in Cathedral City. For more information, visit the PSIFF website

Published in Reviews