Welcome to Dan Glaser’s Movie Podcast: The ONLY Podcast You Have To Read. In each episode I go with a different comedian to see a movie and then we head to the closest coffee shop to chat about it over the internet. Yes it is a podcast, you just have to read it instead of listen to it. As always, you can catch up on all the other episodes here. Even better, consider supporting the podcast by subscribing!
I met Matt at the AMC Loews Village 7 on 3rd Ave and 11th St one fine spring morning. We rode the big boy escalators all the way up to the top floor where they hide all the best movies. After the show we rode the big boy escalators all the way back down to Earth and walked over to The Bean on 3rd Ave and 9th street for 2 black coffees and some bad, bad wifi.
Dan: Hi Matt! Thank you so much for joining me today on Dan Glaser's Movie Podcast: the ONLY podcast you have to read. It's a beautiful day and it is very hot outside. The good news is, while we are inside right now it is still very hot. Before we get started I guess I just have one simple question for you: would you Upgrade?
Matt: Hello, Daniel. I am very happy to be here sitting across from you and yet talking to you via technology that may or may not be interested in controlling us. To answer your question, if it had an Apple, Amazon, or Google logo on it, I would tend toward trusting it with my life. But if we're talking like a Verizon branded Upgrade or like an Upgrade that comes with your Comcast package, I would pass.
Dan: Keep in mind, everything that happens in this movie would happen to you. Does that change things one way or the other? Also keep in mind that the Comcast package comes with Turbo Boost, a 100mbps Upgrade to your at home internet.
Matt: Well for the main character of Upgrade ("Gray" I believe?) his Upgrade had a lot of power over him due to the whole "without me you can't move" scenario. So for me, I would hope that me and my inner Alexa could find a better working relationship.
Dan: I will be teaching a workshop at the learning annex entitled Finding Your Inner Alexa this Saturday and I hope you attend.
Matt: I have a thing but maybe I could move it.
Dan: So this movie, Upgrade, had what you referred to as, and I will paraphrase, "a combination of decent Rotten Tomato score and reasonable word of mouth buzz." Now that we've seen it, would you add to that buzz? What would you tell someone who asked you about Upgrade?
You only have 10 seconds to answer them because Cobalt Agents are coming. A peek behind the scenes: 12 minutes have gone by and Matt does not seem fazed by the Cobalt Agents haranguing him.
Matt: I definitely thought it was a good, mostly well done action movie. I have recently been fascinated by a particular uncanny valley of films that are very close to being excellent but instead end up being solid, and I think this would fall into that category, but better than others that do. Whenever he robo-hulked out it was pretty cool and I liked the way the cinematography was handled in those sequences. I also was relatively on board for the story and even for the "twist." So, I guess, all in all, I would tell someone it's a fun violent romp that does a pretty good job riffing on some near future tech for the sake of a pretty enjoyable run around shoot-em-up experience. Especially for people who love red and blue lights.
Dan: Wow that's actually beautiful. In honor of STEM, the robot voice from the movie, I'll keep it simple for our STEM academic minded listeners.
Upgrade is: ((John Wick + The "I Know Kung Fu" Scene From The Matrix) * H.A.L.) / Star Power.
Matt: Wow yes that's very true, it's basically "I Know Kung Fu" the movie.
Dan: STEM was a weird guy, in this movie. I feel that we need to just say SPOILER ALERT now, which is redundant for this podcast, but it needs to be addressed earlier than usual because the Twist you referred to provides context to a lot of things in this movie that didn't really make sense.
Lots of movies do this trick: add a twist that makes any earlier dissonance or confusing choice now a gray area that may or may not have been a misdirection. I do NOT love when movies do this, but here we are.
Matt: A "Gray" area.
Matt: Another title possibility. "Gray Area."
Dan: I was thinking maybe: "Amazing Gray-ce."
Matt: "Gray Area" is actually my multicam sitcom about a very uninteresting guy named Gray who lives in a also uninteresting but clearly designated space.
Dan: "Amazing Gray-ce" is about a nun who is colorblind...because she is a Golden Retriever.
Matt: Wow, heartbreaking. But I hear you re: the STEM device.
Dan: I say let's dive right into it and talk about what happens in this movie when people stop being polite and start getting real...Upgraded!
This movie opens with easily the weirdest vanity card / production logo sequence I can recall. Matt, what did you feel when a lady robot voice sort of just...narrated the names of the production companies?
Matt: I was very confused. I had seen the trailer for this film but hadn't read much about it, so at first I was like... is this going to be about someone who is blind? Or someone who uses sound as a tool in some way? is this a thematic choice? but then.. no, I guess not.
Just a cool idea someone had and then everyone was like "Oh wow yeah let's do it.” Ask cory if he could do it.
Dan: Cory does that lady robot voice at parties, see if we can get him in the booth. While the lady robot voice said the names of the production companies who were involved in this movie, some strings vibrated on screen, sort of cyber-y, sort of like a waveform, but really neither. Aesthetically it was very strange and did not ever align with the movie that followed.
Matt: I guess... voice? In your ear? that's in the movie
Matt: Not exactly a theme but just literally something that happens.
Dan; Yes, the STEM implant, we will learn, can uhhh latch onto your brain stem and "Do Anything." But also you have to talk out loud to it and also it has to talk out loud to you by "sending vibrations to your eardrum."
Matt: Let's please call the blonde Elon Malfoy because that's what he was.
Dan: Ok I'm sold. The opening production narration is STEM talking into our brain. There is no longer any issue with this movie.
His [Elon Malfoy’s] company is even called Vessel which is an exact anagram for Tesla.
Okay so the first scene is a slow pan of a Man Garage full of Classic Stuff. A Classic Man is building a Classic Car with tools. He finally gets the engine started and celebrates with a Budweiser Beer. It is not until his Business Wife comes home that we learn that this is all actually in the future. Business Wife has a Future Car and they live in a Future House. All the Classic Stuff is in fact re-contextualized as a Choice and a Personality for This Guy.
Matt: Yes, and Classic Man is now fully developed as far as he will ever be and is ready to go on Journey.
Dan: Fun note: Some guy on the Car Video Phone with Business Wife says to her: "You can be an idealist or a capitalist, not both!" There is no further elaboration or commentary on why this line is in the movie.
Classic Man does have one other trait, which is how the movie shows us that this couple is deeply, truly in love. He is constantly wanting to have sex with her. This was the first actual thought I had in this movie. Wow, this guy really wants to have sex with his wife.
Matt: Even more than he wants to order pizza! And for a Classic Man that is a real conundrum, so the fact he chooses Wife Sex over Pizza: now thats character.
Dan: Or as they say at the pizza place, That's-a-character! This opening scene in the Smart House establishes that like, voice control and robot arms exist. There are robot arms that make dinner and stuff and I thought: Wow! I can't wait until these robot arms rip a bad guy apart or something. I am excited for the Smart Fridge to freeze a bad guy's head off and then dispense frozen blood cubes.
Matt: I actually thought to myself "i assume this main guy will be great and jumping around and punching and kicking because right now he's not blowing me away with the normal acting." He grew on me, I'll say that.
Dan: So the main guy, played by Logan Marshall-Green, confused me throughout this film. I saw him in Prometheus all these years ago and I remember thinking: Is that RocknRolla era Tom Hardy? Why is he acting so hard.?
In this movie he does a lot of yelling stuff like, "What?! That's Crazy! No way uh uh! I don't think so! What the heck?!" And he quips a lot which is tonally off but also does not fit his non-fighting scene character?
Matt: Again, it's the uncanny valley. He feels like he's just a few robo-tweaks away from a great leading man. He's like the idea of something but not quite the thing itself.
Dan: Right. And I guess my main question for you is, without looking it up, where would you guess that guy is from? His accent was wonky, is my point. It came and went. But like I said, maybe that was STEM, subversively manipulating his vocal chords to distract potential enemies. STEM can Do Anything.
Matt: Oh yea he definitely had that genre intensity that I've learned to associate with someone desperately burying a thick accent.
I'm going to guess Australian.
Dan: He is actually just from South Carolina. The Australia of the Carolinas.
Matt: Well I bet he has a little bit of a southern accent so I'm still right.
Dan: Anything in this movie that is questionable can be attributed to Part of God's (STEM's) Plan.
Matt: There were moments, like Elon Malfoy saying it can "Do Anything," where I thought "Oh okay, this is meant to be a B movie, not to be taken too seriously." But then it did seem to take itself quite seriously
Dan: He should have said it can "Sudo Anything." Another shout out to our STEM fans.
Matt: This I assume is a computer/coding joke. You are someone who knows about the zeroes and ones. How did you feel about Elon Malfoy's operation? Did they put any effort at all into it feeling real or possible?
Dan: Actually, let's get there real quick. We are still in the Smart House caught in the middle between ordering pizza and one sided sex when Classic Man says to his Business Wife, "Oh yeah come with me to this guy's house to deliver this car. You'll love his house!" They get to this admittedly cool rock formation on a cliff overlooking the beach. The house is carved into the ground underneath. They go down the stairs and then the movie goes crazy.
They go down this long dark staircase into an entryway with red plants and cave walls. They walk into a big room with Elon Malfoy playing with a tiny cloud. "What is that?" Classic Man asks. "It is my cloud."
And we're off!
To your question: There is Elon Malfoy as a person, and there is Vessel as a technology company. I'll start with the latter. There is this idea in fiction and by extension, culture, that singular technological advances exist in such a way as to completely separate top of industry companies from others. Example, Google, Tesla, Amazon. The difference in the actual tech is only ever a matter of degrees, and success is a combination of so many other factors. When Elon basically implies that Vessel is generations ahead of his competitors...no, that is not real or possible. But it is good Movie Talk!
Similarly, the high functioning autist child genius CEO is also...good Movie Talk!
But Dan, you are saying, what if Elon wasn't actually A Weirdo and that was just STEM making him act like that?! To that I would say, "I don't even know, Man."
Matt: Yeah that's the benefit of almost any kind of game-changing "twist" -- you can retroactively forgive almost anything. But I don't forgive "The Cloud." That’s just first draft nonsense. What should he be working on? Let me google a few tech terms…
Dan: What should he be working on instead of his Cloud? Or instead of STEM? STEM can Do Anything. And, as we learn, is basically running his company. I would say he earned a little Cloud Time.
Matt: I wonder how STEM feels about Cloud Time.
Dan: He is jealous, clearly, and desires a human body with which to play Cloud Time.
Matt: I wish the film ended with Classic Man standing amongst the dead bodies, playing with the Cloud.
<Dan looks up and Nods at this>
Dan: Okay I know we've talked a lot about STEM and the movie has not, as of yet. So Classic Man and Business Wife talk to Elon for a bit about whatever. We learn that Wife (they call each other husband and wife, this is not Matt and I being cute) actually works for one of Vessel's competitors, called Cobalt.
Upon learning this, Elon decides to show them his newest uh...thing. It is a computer chip called STEM, and as you may have surmised, "It can do anything."
Matt: Even for a quasi-evil movie character in a pretty genre heavy film I couldn't help but laugh at him saying it could "Do Anything." Like... excuse me? Like it can crawl around and do things? Is it a little bug?
Dan: Don’t take him literally, Matt. However, I would like to see STEM implanted into other things, yes. STEM dog anybody?
Matt: STEM would be like "You should bark" and the dog would be like "Okay sure yeah I'm happy to bark."
Dan:"Now open your eyes Sister Biscuit, and see color for the first time!" That is the Amazing Gray-ce origin story which inspires her to devote her life to the Church...of STEM.
Matt: Somewhere within that scene I guess Elon Malfoy (but actually STEM) decided to intentionally paralyze this relative stranger and do so immediately and in such a way that is noticed by multiple police drones and an entire homeless tent community.
Dan: It's truly wild. As a screenwriting device, a chip that can Do Anything is very similar to a twist where Everything Was A Plan.
And when you combine those two? Hoo boy. You can explain away literally any gripe in your script. Why would this magic computer chip that talks directly to your nervous system need you to Speak Commands to it out loud? Why would it need to Speak Replies into your ear? Why, if it can hack remote cars, would it need you to drive it places?
Answer: Part of the Plan. Or: It was just lying maybe.
But yes, the Plan is to paralyze This Guy. How many times has this happened to you Matt? You get into your self driving car and FINALLY get to have sex with your Wife and the car takes you into an industrial homeless tent city at high speed instead. The car truly comes within 3 feet of smashing up Tent City and no one moves or cares beyond just like, shuffling gawking.
Matt: Also seems like if their goal was to injure him in this very specific precise way STEM could have just pulled the car over and locked the doors until the gun boys get there.
Dan: Also a possible plan: ask This Guy if he wants magic super powers?
Matt: I guess he would have said no because he only loves Old Cars and Classic Rock and has no goals or needs.
Dan: Okay then actually Tent City Car Flip is the only choice. No further issues for me.
Well good news: Wife and Man survive the crash but then a truck full of Bad Guys show up. The Bad Guys do not put on their masks until AFTER they get out of the truck. Was that part of the Plan I wonder?
Matt: I guess they were all being controlled by STEM. I wonder if STEM would have made them make small talk on the way over?
Dan: If it helped his goal of <ambiguous>, I would assume yes.
"Ask Craig if he is still doing Keto?"
"Now tell him that you heard that Almonds were ok but Peanuts are not. Why is that?"
Matt: One of them makes an evil speech and another one yells at him to put his mask back on. So are they all STEM or not? Or did STEM just pay them with Elon Malfoy's money? I believe they were all being controlled is what we're meant to think by the end.
Dan: STEM definitely paid. But I think only the Main Henchman was a full STEMhead. He was what I call an Instemcel. He was involuntarily STEMmed and also seemed to hate women.
Matt: STEM is definitely most commenters on 4chan
Dan: STEM is an MRA, machine rights activist. Also a pick up artist who does close up magic.
Matt: So I guess STEM's motivation was "I can control all these ex-military guys but I'm sick of that. I want to control a classic man, that sounds nice"
Dan: Yeah that makes sense to me. Put yourself in STEM's shoes. He wants to retire to a cabin in the catskills. Just kick back, enjoy some Classic Man legs and a tech free butt.
Matt: Go for a walk in the woods where he turns the corners in the dirt path with perfect 90 degrees turns.
Dan: Oh yeah. Fuck I cant wait til we get to the actual part where STEM goes into this dude. We have spent most of this talking about STEM and it isn't even in the movie yet.
Now THAT'S-a-character! <Italian kissy face>
Matt: I do think there's a true missed opportunity when it comes to STEM's motivation here. STEM doesn't seem to want or need power, in an interconnected techie world it seems to be insanely powerful.
Dan: Go on.
Matt: So what it wants is to... feel human. To be inside a human body that isn't mostly machine. Which is a very subtle and emotional thing to want!
Dan: Oh my god, I finally get to say my line. I'm so excited.
Matt: We can continue however and I will circle back to this larger critique.
Dan: Only if you want! In that case I will save my incredible line.
Matt: Okay fine I’ll finish my thought and you can say your line. Basically, by the end we learn that STEM's motivation is not to be more powerful, or to destroy its competitors or something. It's just to have a human of its own. I think the film missed an opportunity to make STEM a little bit... vulnerable, dare I say? Like, maybe STEM wants love?
Dan: Oh interesting. Maybe he wants a Business Wife of his own.
Matt: Exactly. At least that would add up sort of. Not sure why all the murdering in that case however.
Dan: Yeah sorry.
Matt: I guess in order to kill Malfoy?
Dan: I do want to come to the movie's defense a little here. Because I think it actually attempts to answer this question.
Specifically, Man and STEM talk multiple times about how "There are things only a human can do." We still never learn what STEM's ultimate goal is, beyond a nebulous "freedom," but this disconnected human vessel certainly gives him some benefits. And I want to add that now Matt. He doesn't want just to have a human. He wants to BE a human.
For you see, Matt....
The real Upgrade.....is MAN.
Matt: But is it? Man has to walk around. Ride an elevator.
Dan: Man is the animal that poops in a bowl. But I agree, I just say that line after every movie and I was very excited to find a context for it that actually fit.
Matt: Was that your incredible line?
Dan: Yes. You can tell because of the feeling of awe you felt when you read it.
The real Jurassic World...is MAN.
Matt: Profound. I just think the desire to be human for an all powerful wireless whatever thing like STEM seems a little bit like an emotional want to have, more than practical.
Dan: Let the guy have some fun, dude. Take a Classic Man for a spin. Get some leg cramps, slap a big bag of liquid. All the good stuff.
But to your point, the only version of STEM's plan or desires are really told through Elon, and who knows what's really going on under the hood. I guess the movie, hopefully? I agree that the ultimate goal of taking over A Guy is underwhelming.
Matt: But it's first goal is to assist him with his desire for revenge, sort of like a "Watston has Sherlock Holmes embedded his brain" scenario.
Dan: Correct. And also for people reading, please keep in mind that none of STEM’s plan or desires are revealed as even existing until the final 10 minutes of this movie. You do not have to think about any of this while you watch. There are no real distractions during this movie because you also should be able to figure out from the very beginning that like, this shit / accident / murder was all orchestrated to get STEM into his head.
Briefly, after the accident, Classic Man is paralyzed. He is in a coma for 3 months and wakes up with a crazy beard. He now looks like Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs.
His mom shaves his beard a little and he now looks like Hot Judd Apatow.
He is no long Classic Man. From this point on in the movie he is only ever Hot Judd Apatow. To a distracting degree.
Matt: I believe this film is the Judd Apatow origin story for when they introduce Judd into the MCU in the next Avengers movie.
Dan: I think an omnipotent AI is responsible for Seth Rogan, yes. After a bunch of scenes with Hot Judd being sad and despondent at the loss of his wife combined with a newfound dependency on technology to make him "protein shakes" and drive him around, he goes to the police to try and find the guys who did this to him.
Matt: We meet the most wasted character in the film, the police officer assigned (?) to this case.
Dan: Hey Matt. Guess who assigned her? (In my opinion)
Matt: Please don't say STEM.
Dan: I didn't say it, I just vibrated sound waves into your eardrum. Or should I say your eyedrum, since I typed it.
Matt: The police officer seems to want to help but Hot Judd Apatow (HJA) is real mean to her and she says and does nothing to suggest any particular identity outside of "I'm a normal police officer."
Dan: She is also wasted in that there isn't really a need for that particular thread? Specifically the one where there is some sort of outside pressure on HJA? He is already involved with cyber companies and evil AIs. Who cares about a cop? John Wick did not have a cop trying to stop him. QED.
Matt: I think there is a version of this film where he is a more fleshed out character in which he and this cop get a beer one time and she seems like a good person who would prefer not to be suspicious of him going forward because she likes him.
Dan: Maybe they become partners. Even after STEM takes over.
Matt: Maybe one karaoke night scene. She does a song, he does one, stem does one
Dan: Ooh and then he does a Summer Nights duet by himself with STEM.
Matt: There's plenty of precedent of "The cop and the criminal the cop is seeking are friends and the cop doesn't know it until almost the end" so maybe they wanted to avoid that but... they didn't have to be FRIENDS necessarily. Just wish she played more of a role of like, a lifeline for him that he chooses not to take.
Dan: Sure, at least have a scene where she tries to change the radio in his car while they drive around and he says, "Don't ever touch a Classic Man's radio, girl!"
Dan: Well good news, one day Elon shows up at the hospital and tells Hot Judd that he can fix him with a Secret Thing. He would have to do the surgery at Elon's house and it was to be a Secret.
Smash cut to doctors putting STEM into his spine. There are 3 specific Moments in this movie that each take things to a newer, better, crazier, Upgradier place.
1) The Cloud.
2) The scene after this surgery when a nurse asks him if he can feel his leg moving. He can't, and she says "Yeah okay that makes sense, we don't expect progress that fast." He then moves his fingers slowly and this weird harmonic music starts playing as he slowly gets up and flexes his shit and has like orgasmic faces and everyone watching has the same overawed face.
I made the same face as all the onlookers.
I don’t know if I described that moment well enough. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Matt: Of course. It was the "discovering your powers" scene from every superhero origin story but instead of flying or shooting webs he's just moving his arms and standing.
Dan: But Matt the music. And the onlookers.
Matt: It was very... big. Everyone in every department was doing a lot.
Dan: Imagine if Spider-Man climbed his first wall at 240fps while Brian Eno was playing and people on the street we're brought to tears.
Matt: The thing that really brought me to tears was the next scene in which he signs an NDA on an iPad.
Dan: Yeah we need to explain a few things here. (By the way the 3rd scene that takes things up a notch will be pointed out later)
So Elon Malfoy explains that STEM will now act as a bridge between HJA’s brain and the rest of his body. It will reconnect the severed passageways. That's basically all he tells him right? Besides earlier regarding what else it can do (reminder: anything).
Matt: Yes basically at this point based on what we know so far it seems a little odd he would just send him home. If this is meant to be research, maybe spend a few days running tests? What was their original understanding? Okay, you have this piece of technology in you now, giving you this incredible gift. I guess let's put a lunch date on the calendar in a few weeks and until then remember this is a secret?
Dan: Yes. Please don't tell anyone about this. You can pretend you are still a paraplegic right? I know there are drones everywhere so just do your best.
Hot Judd Apatow agrees, via iPad. Back at home, he tells his Smart House to turn off and he just kind of sits around in shock. Important: his smart house is a lady voice. This is important because after a few beats a man voice says something to him.
"What the Heck?!" he seems to say with all his body and face. This type of look is key:
Matt: His initial shock was so over the top that I almost read it as sexist . Like "What!? The disembodied voice I talk to in my home is a woman not a man!"
Dan: There is a wacky Farrelly Brothers comedy embedded in Upgrade. It appears whenever Hot Judd Apatow learns something new about STEM or is asked or forced by STEM to do something he doesn't want to.
Stuck In You.
Matt: He's suddenly able to both kill with precision and make quippy jokes on the fly like never before. I guess STEM also improves your improv chops. He can A to C like never before now.
Dan: My notes would be: Stop saying NO to STEM so much, just go with it and see where it takes you. Good use of facial expressions and leading with your body. Try playing a more normal, human character rather than a cartoon.
Matt: Yeah it's not like he was living in isolation he might have loved old things but he was still very familiar with robot voices that are designed to talk to him and be helpful. Might as well give it a shot, and he can quip along the way.
"All I need is a suggestion from... okay I heard lie to my mom."
Dan: My last improv note for Hot Judd: Don't worry if you don't get put on a STEM team. Work on your fighting and quipping with your friends at Indie abandoned warehouses and biker bars and find your own path.
So back in the living room, STEM starts talking to HJA. He explains that uh...they can talk to each other, as we mentioned many times.
This idea that they need to communicate audibly was dumb at the time but again, maybe it was a ruse. It feels more like a concession to how to make this movie a movie with dialogue, but whatever, I'm only human.
Matt: I guess if he could communicate with STEM non-verbally it would make the movie mostly voiceover with shots of a man running.
Dan: Oh right. We should mention that, for most of this movie, STEM, who can Do Anything, mostly does 3 things.
Hack / google things.
Make Judd Apatow fight like Geese Howard and catwalk like Gigi Hadid.
(Geese Howard is a fighting man from a video game)
(Gigi Hadid is a famous model from real life)
Matt: You also don’t see it but I assume it can look up the weather and tell you celebrity birthdays and all that good stuff.
Dan: STEM, what movies are playing at AMC Loews Futuretown?
Matt: I don't know how you make a movie about someone with a Siri brain who doesn't one time just be like: STEM, when did the Civil War end?
Dan: STEM, what’s the score of the CyberKnicks game?
Matt: I'm sure he could have done that at any time but he gets distracted by other nonsense pretty quickly. He's been shipped a box of evidence for some reason, I guess so he can "help" the police?
Dan: Oh right. Yes the box of evidence.
Matt: Almost a sick joke to send a sealed box to a fully immobile man.
Dan: Before STEM wakes up, Judd is watching drone footage of his wife's murder, but he can't find any clues. Now that he has STEM, he watches again and STEM tells him hey check out that one guy, what's his deal?
Matt: Zoom in, enhance. A classic.
Dan: With the power of STEM we learn that the bad guys have no guns, but rather gun arms (The cops missed this). We also learn that one guy has a military barcode. We learn this when STEM asks Judd if he can take over his body for a sec and doodle it.
He grabs a pen and turns into a walking inkjet printer. This ruled, IMO. I wanted STEM to turn him into all sorts of other appliances.
Matt: I also thought it was cool and a good way to prepare us for STEM to slowly take more and more control. I think HJA would make a great Roomba.
Dan: Hahaha. Crawling around on all fours sucking up crud. Sounds like my honeymoon.
Matt: Sounds like my entire third marriage.
Dan: Business Wife, Business Life, as they say.
Okay so the tattoo that STEM finds has the bad guy’s name, address, phone number, social security, first pet, etc all embedded in it. I thought, at the time, "that's weird."
It either is weird, or STEM is just lying again as part of his plan. This one I am willing to concede is part of the plan.
Matt: I am as well, but I also think HJA reacted sort of like this did not surprise him, that maybe people in the military in this future world get all of their info tattooed onto them in a military code. If so that seems like a reason to wear longer gloves as a criminal. Or maybe just tuck the gloves into your sleeves.
Dan: On the drive over I bet STEM told him, "show Christian your watch and ask him if he likes it or if it seems like you are trying too hard."
The next scene is at the bad guy's house where it is implied that Judd Apatow drove his automagic wheelchair all the way from rich person suburbs to poor person industrial zone?
(Keep in mind that Judd has to pretend for all the world that he is still paralyzed.)
Matt: I imagine 20 minutes of him slowly driving there are sitting on the cutting room floor.
Dan: He and STEM get to know each other during this trip I bet.
Matt: Definitely following STEM GPS directions and probably trying to figure out how to sync his Spotify account with it.
Dan: Good luck with that Gray.
Matt: Yeah Elon Malfoy doesn't strike me as someone who is friendly to 3rd party apps
Dan: STEM is famously a walled garden. STEM 3S will add app support though, which is a start.
So Judd gets to this suspect's house and STEM says something weird again. I will stop mentioning these things because I say the same thing every time. This is either a dumb line, a pointless mistake, or STEM is just lying because plan.
STEM says something like, there is no security in this house but I need you to pick the lock, I can't do it myself.
How could STEM know there is no security? I dismissed it at the time as: oh yeah, STEM can do anything.
Matt: Well remember, he still needs to get HJA to a hacker in order to give itself full control, so in terms of Plan, that is priority #1.
Dan: Sure. And also to us, the viewer, it just looks like STEM really wants to help this guy find his wife's killer.
Matt: Yes which i still sort of half believed around this part of the film.
Dan: He also tells Judd that don't worry Judd is always in control, he will just help him execute what his brain wants.
Matt: i thought maybe STEM was just really into this mission. Finally something to do besides sit around while Malfoy fondles his cloud.
Dan: He already beat farmville. What's next when you've mastered the internet?
Well Judd breaks in and finds a bunch of clues. He says at one point, about one of the clues, "this is useless" and goes to do something else. That is when the Bad Guy comes home.
Matt: STEM gives him terrible advice on where to hide I even think STEM would admit that it was a spur of the moment mistake.
Dan: OR. He wanted them to fight. Checkmate.
And fight they do.
This was the 3rd scene in the movie when things go wild. Hot Judd is getting his ass kick and STEM asks him if he wants help.
Matt: Finally we get to see the robo-hulking that we were promised.
Dan: Judd verbally updates his permission settings and STEM takes over. There was a visual device that this movie used during intense STEM moments and it WORKS. Do you want to describe it?
Matt: It involves moving the camera in tandem with his movement, whether it was rotating as he stood or pulsing forward and backward around the room as he punches and kicks the bad guys. It gave it a very robotic energy but also a little bit bullet-time esque, a la the Matrix, when it came to superhuman movement. I was also into it, it was the "promise of the premise" as they say and it was a worthwhile payoff.
Dan: Yes. The robotic energy felt good. Visually it was, and I can't really say subdued, but it was a light enough touch that it never distracted or confused the eye. Camera tricks, during frenetic action, can suck ass. This felt good the whole time.
It was even great to watch when STEMJudd was just walking around his house.
Matt: I know I criticized the actor earlier but I do think he did a good job as well with "robo mode" movement, even if it was a little bit silly if you thought too much about it.
Dan: Yeah for sure. Robo walk was definitely in his audition tape. It felt like it was inspired by a selfie stick. You've seen this technique before. I recall it in a few martial arts movies; cameras rigged to a particular limb during a kick, for example. Here it was one of the signature looks of the entire film.
I also need to briefly mention how there is NO ONE in this movie that a layperson would recognize as being in movies.
That allows them to spend more money on STEMVision camera shots.
Matt: Yes it’s true. The Matrix was groundbreaking with the way it slowed down movement and allowed the camera to spin through space. I watched the special features on the DVD about "bullet time" enough to know that the goal was to find a new way to capture action that didn't just make everything faster and cuttier, which was the direction things were moving and are still moving. This was definitely a descendant of that mindset, but instead of slowing things down, we stayed at full speed.
Dan: I watched the Animatrix a bunch. Does that help?
Matt: Watching the Animatrix a bunch helps with nothing, but it’s still worth doing.
Dan: Yah and I agree. STEMvision actually HELPED clarify the action and in addition it looked COOL.
Matt: You really FELT that we were now in STEM'S hands, and if that didn't work the movie would have been laughably bad I think. If it was all on our actor friend to "be robot-like", we'd be in big trouble.
Dan: Completely. STEMVision sells it all. Okay the fight scene ends when Hot Judd basically garrote's the dude’s head in half at the maxilla with a knife. Read: he chops the guy's head in half at the mouth,.
It was that #3) moment when oh yeah, also this movie is down for a bit of the old ultraviolence.
Matt: I knew it was going to be violent as soon as he cut his finger fixing his car 10 seconds into the film. A great little way to let everyone know "here's some blood, get ready for more later.”
Dan: Chekov's blood.
Matt: So just to check in with the Plan in retrospect: he has now murdered someone, which is going to make Malfoy very upset, because if there's one thing that Apple doesn't want someone who gets a prototype iPhone X for a week to do is murder someone with it on day 1.
Dan: Correct. Elon...calls Judd into his office? To scold him?
Matt: Yes it’s a "stern scolding for murder" scene.
Dan: But then just lets him ago away with zero consequences other than that he threatens to monitor him more closely.
Matt: It's not often you see someone get off with a warning for cutting someone's head open
Dan: Also let's just get this whole Cop plotline done right now. Throughout this film, as Hot Judd kills bad guys, Cortez the cop gets more and more suspicious and eventually confronts him about it. Great now we don't have to mention this anymore.
Dan: Also I don’t think Malfoy was mad at the murder. I think Hot Judd just violated the Terms of Service that he checked yes I understand on.
Matt: Regarding the cop plot: yes and sometimes his mom is there.
Dan: Right also his mom is there sometimes, thank you. That's two subplots covered.
Matt: I'd say that should have been a red flag for HJA in terms of this legitimacy of this fellow that he reacts to murder like he took his Citibike into Jersey. i assume you aren't supposed to take a Citibike into Jersey but I’ve never tried.
Dan: No for that you need Jersey Citibike which is also known as the PATH.
Matt: The PATH is a show on Hulu starring Jesse from Breaking bad.
Dan: And that brings us full circle, since Breaking Bad is a show about chemistry, one of the core areas of study in a well rounded STEM education.,
Next on our hero's journey, STEM suggests that Hot Judd follow up on the clue that he didn't care about. I actually feel bad for STEM a little. Hot Judd is a pretty bad detective. STEM really had to do a lot of work to help him do very basic deductions.
Matt: Yeah it's a little bit like calling your roommate and asking them to go into your room to find something. He literally spends his entire day four feet from this room but to enter it and open a single drawer is like asking him to navigate a hedge maze in darkness.
Dan: Yeah don't get Gray outside of his comfort zone (read: garage). What the movie doesn't show us is all the super remedial stuff STEM has to constantly remind him about.
“Gray, try turning the knob in the middle of the door rather than just pushing on it a lot.”
Matt: I mean think about how quickly you become reliant on your phone for directions or for choose restaurants. By day 2 I'd be like STEM you do this day I’m gonna chill.
Dan: That's a good point. I think if I were Upgraded it would only take one "Dan, please remember to put your fly up after you pee-pee" before I just kick back and let STEM take the wheel.
Matt: Gray basically does exactly that and it makes him cocky as hell but only for one scene, when he goes to the bar
Dan: Yeah after some good sleuthing (STEM telling him to go to the bar that the bad guy kept talking about in his messages), Hot Judd Apatow decides to head off to Old Bones, the Bar For Criminals.
Matt: He rolls up with a lot of bluster considering all he knows is that this guy likes to text about this place.
Dan: Also: Elon literally just told him not to go to risky places and that he would be closely monitored. But that doesn't matter and never pays off.
The bar called Old Bones has a bunch of old looking bones on the wall and a combination of bad bikers and rough cyberdudes.
Matt: I guess the bikers and the robo-vets are friends. Or at least they both like really old bones.
Dan: Republican, Democrat, at the end of the day, we all love bones. I think that's a positive message. One of the themes of the movie I would say.
Matt: I'd say a major theme of the movie is "Whether you're a bearded biker dude or you're a half-robot criminal with a gun built into your arm, we're really all the same. (in that we think bones are great)"
Dan: But as soon as HJA arrives he immediately yells for everyone in the bar to be quiet and to listen to him. This is not a popular thing to do in bars, definitely a vibe killer.
If I went to a bar with him and he'd did that I'd be like dude cut it out. The bartender does oblige however, and lowers the stereo.
Matt: Yes and the guy sitting at the bar literally holds a drink for him so he can drink it. So far, people are being nice so maybe the yelling is not necessary. But I guess in his defense he is going through a lot.
He asks if anyone knows anything about the people who murdered his wife and one guy literally stands up and claps like he's solved the murder on the orient express. “Well done Poirot, well done."
(Poirot is the detective in that movie/book I believe)
Dan: In the train movie yes. The standing hand clap is a classic thing to do if you are a bad guy.
Matt: It’s a dead giveaway. If he just stayed sitting, he'd still be alive today.
Dan: ...If you call that living. I will say that tonally this movie shits quite a bit from scene to scene, and I need to do a lot of thinking about why it doesn't bother me too much.
Matt: I think it did bother me but it all falls into that feeling of "solid/good/fine" as opposed to "great." Little shifts in tone are definitely forgivable but it just unsettles you ever so slightly and you can't quite love it.
Dan: Fair. Current Bad Guy takes Judd into the bathroom to beat him up and or kill him. I have some questions about what happens next.
Why do they have to go through the ruse of STEM disabling Hot Judd's pain receptors in order to trick Current Bad Guy into thinking he is paralyzed still? Why not just beat him up right now, since they are in private?
Matt: Maybe the filmmaker would argue "Gray and STEM are hoping he will buy that he is paralyzed and then not pick on them anymore."
But what they both WANT is to fight him and get information/create more chaos. So I agree it makes no sense. Another example of "It makes sense in the moment but in retrospect it doesn’t.”
Dan: Yep well after a pointless "i stab you with my knife to see if you can feel pain" scene, Hot Judd does a smirky, Okay Showtime! thing and we get more STEMVision. This time he fights multiple guys and again...it works! Action was easy to follow, frenetic, and stylized.
Matt: Sort of the the big "group fight" scene of the film. I liked when he punched a guy without turning to see him. Always fun. Not sure why these guys are so much worse than the guy we meet soon after who is their "boss"
Dan: Yes and when he punched the guy without looking he said, "I didn't forget about you."
Matt: Oh yes hes now very quickly gone from "What is happening to me" mode to "Yippie ki yay MFer" mode.
If only he had said "now THIS is Pod Racing."
Dan: Dang. Solo, in theatres now.
After the beat-up concludes, Current Bad Guy still won't talk so STEM offers to torture him, no charge. STEM spends a very long time cutting up Current Bad Guy's face while Hot Judd looks away.
Matt: I was really preparing myself for a truly gruesome reveal of what he had done to the man's face
but from what I could tell, unless I was missing something, he basically just made him generally bloody.
Dan: Same. When they finally show his mutilated face it looked like someone dripped boysenberry syrup on his face.
It was weird de-heightened violence compared to the head chop from earlier.
Matt: The build up really made me think we were going to cut back and he'd be wearing his face skin all up top like a snow hat
Dan: Or like maybe his lips were upside down.
Matt: I'm not doubting though that whatever he is meant to have done would not be fun for Current Bad Guy to endure.
Dan: Sure. Now that he is tortured, he is more than happy to answer the tough questions like, "What is your name?"
He also tells them that a guy named "Fisk" hired him.
That’s about it!
Matt: They also find out thanks to a well positioned corporate logo that his wife's company is behind some aspect of the tech inside this Current Guy.
And then STEM starts freaking out about getting shut down remotely by Elon Malfoy, which is a process that for some reason takes like an hour when I can go on "find my iPhone" and freeze my phone in seconds.
Dan: Oh yeah. STEM, at this point, is explaining to Hot Judd that if Elon shuts him down, Judd will revert to wheelchair only mode. And to be fair, your iPhone can't help you do a back handspring. Tradeoffs. It's always like that with these gadgets.
Matt: I guess so. But now he needs to find a STEM authorized reseller in the area who can make alterations to the code.
Dan: He should also get a screen protector IMO. But don't worry, STEM already searched for a good hacker on the "dark web".
Matt: And of course HJA says the hacker's full address out loud for no reason.
Dan: Overheard at the table next to us just now: "You want shit done? You get a pisces!"
I feel like STEM is a pisces.
Matt: STEM is clearly a pisces and HJA is a textbook gemini.
Dan: They don't have time to keep the ruse up any longer and so Hot Judd gives his wheelchair to another wheelchair man and runs to the hacker's apartment.
Hurry hurry hurry as we get intercut shots of Elon hacking the STEM's location.
Matt: He does a good "robot-assisted run."
Dan: The T1000 Good Posture Special.
Matt: Exactly right. and with very pointed hands. He gets to the hacker's office share.
Dan: Oh wait.This is about when we get our first REAL scene with Fisk, the lead henchman. We can't skip this part. Back at the bar, Fisk and another rando with the gun arm (the calling card of these bad guys) show up to see why their friend is dead.
Matt: He uses a pointy something and puts it into his dead friend's eye and rewatches what he most recently saw, which was, as I mentioned before, HJA saying the full address of where he's about to go. And then Fisk repeats it like he deduced something, when in truth he's just repeating an exact quote.
Dan: Clever. Then they decide to be mean to the bartender, who draws a pistol on them.
Matt: Kind of a strange decision to antagonize the bartender at the bar that lets them hang out there and dispose of dead bodies quietly.
Dan: Yep. But Fisk has a superiority complex, based around his sick tech Upgrades and he talks shit to the bartender. When the dude is about to shoot him he sneezes really loud. Matt what did you think about what happened next?
Matt: You mean when he sneezed the tiny little robot murderers directly into the bartender's nose? I thought it was definitely confusing and also unnecessary.
Dan: Yes, I mean what did you think about when he sneezed tiny brain chopping robots into the other guy's nose from 3 feet away.
Matt: These guys already have guns literally built into their arms. I understand they wanted Fisk to be the "best one" but why does he need to be able to sneeze murder? It never comes back again. "Sneeze murder" seems like a weird thing to be your special extra skill. We find out later he's also the fastest and strongest of the gun arm boys so why also sneeze murder?
Dan: It comes back in the following way: during the Big Fight towards the end, Fisk is about to sneeze at Judd and STEM says "Judd", and that conveys to Judd that Fisk is about to sneeze nanobots up his nose and that Judd should head butt him immediately to stop him from sneezing. But that's a treat for later.
Matt: I wonder if sneezing something into someone's nose requires aim or the idea is that they know where they're going
Dan: Oooh interesting. I think it's a combination. I think into the mouth would also work. They probably seek out mucus membranes. Most companies don't have that technology but Elon does.
This sneeze is so weird and again, tonally off from the rest of this movie. They literally do an extreme slow zoom into the snot cloud and we see that it is actually tiny metal robots with like knife arms and then we follow it directly up the bartender's nostril.
Matt: I agree it was tonally strange. The rest of the movie dealt with the camera work very well so it was off putting to suddenly go so aggressively into VFX animation mode.
Dan: Well either way the point of this scene was to show that Fisk now knows where Judd and STEM are headed and to show us that Fisk has nano boogers. Mission Accomplished. Okay sorry I interrupted you, back at the Hacker's Warehouse party slash Dave and Buster's VR Experience.
Matt: Yes, he runs with good posture over to this hacker's co-working space in bushwick where everyone else is doing VR for days and weeks at a time but the hacker is I guess just waiting for gigs to come in. So HJA shows up, losing his ability to move more and more as Elon Malfoy is shutting STEM down remotely.
Dan: Yeah, at this point STEM is slowly being shut down by Elon, and Hot Judd Apatow is slowly losing motor function.
Matt: And also, he writes a bunch of code onto his arm that STEM tells him to write down to help out the hacker.
Dan: Mmm hmm. Literally on his arm, rather than paper or a piece of cardboard. It makes no sense, but then also the hacker is like, I can't read this, but then still does everything no problem.
Matt: Yes and quite quickly. The hacker also feels like a character that would matter or come back in a better film but instead this is the beginning and end of this character.
Dan: Yeah the hacker was kind of weird tonally also. The hacker, Jamie, explains that a) Jamie is not their actual name, b) They are gender non-binary and c) Don't put them in a box. It is unclear what the movie's stance on this type of thing is, as it feels like Jamie's lines are almost played for laughs. As in, listen to this weirdo talk about gender.
Matt: Very confusing how STEM got Jamie's info. Whey does STEM know them as Jamie?
Dan: That could be their Dark Web handle. Like your name isn't actually MrMattPorter. It's just Matt Porter.
Matt: That's true. But I don't think "Jamie" is an especially good fit for what I imagine is the general vibe of dark web handles. Almost feels like STEM and Jamie went to High School together and haven’t spoken in years.
Dan: What is an example of a good dark web handle?
Matt: "Jamie" doesnt fit.
Dan: Well how about this: STEM was lying. There, problem solved.
Matt: I think STEM and Jamie worked at Whole Foods in Silver Lake together in 2012 and stayed in touch. You have your theory and I have mine.
Dan: "Hit me up if you are ever in Neo Bushwick!"
Well, during all this, Elon sends a team of his own people to collect the presumably paralyzed Gray. At the same time, Fisk and his rando henchman are also searching the building.
Matt: Elon's team is pretty pathetic considering he's very aware that this guy is now a superhuman murderer.
Dan: Can I say, I was excited for these randos to all square off and do some cyber soldier fighting against each other as Gray had to basically crawl around sneakily. I thought that would be a fun scene.
The Elon team against the Fisk team. But that’s not what happened, is it Matt?
Matt: It is not. The Elon team takes the elevator for some reason and they are killed in about 10 seconds.
Who takes the elevator during a SWAT style infiltration? Even I know that you shouldn't do that. If you can't take an elevator out of a building on fire, you can't take an elevator to get to the floor where people are trying to murder each other.
Dan: Easy for you to say. You have a Siri that tells you facts all the time.
Matt: And I have a Google Home that can turn off and on a single light that I have.
Dan: Well after Jamie hacks STEM such that it no longer needs to acknowledge "instruction cards" so that Elon can't remote wipe it, Hot Judd just needs to survive long enough for STEM to reboot.
There is also something about a rootkit.
Matt: Love a good rootkit reference.
Matt: But he gets rebooted and then he does a bunch of back flips and makes a run for it.
Dan: Yeah. Did you or did you not think for a moment: "Woah. I know parkour."
Matt: This whole sequence was especially Matrix-like.
Dan: STEM allllllllmost sends Hot Judd on a fun romp through the fire escape and rooftops. I actually wanted more of this.
Matt: He runs down a hall, a voice tells him to go through a door. Yeah they could have gone full Matrix and led them on a much more substantive chase, but he gets to a roof with a fence that is maybe a foot taller than his head and the omnipotent robot literally has no other ideas.
Dan: Yes STEM says stuff like how he has exhausted all options, which again, makes no sense. BUT, and hear me out Matt. What if, it's a part of STEM's plan?
I can sell this, give me a chance. We learn at the end of the movie that one of STEM's other goals is to, ahem, break Hot Judd Apatow's mind and trap him forever in a delusion. Perhaps feigning incompetence and forcing Judd to kill and maim on his own free will gets him closer to that breaking point?
(Note: there is No Way I believe the writer / director was thinking about things like this but I am Having Fun)
Matt: I guess but he doesn't really kill and maim on his own. It's always with STEM's help. So one kill on a roof, one kill in a bathroom, not sure if it’s really compounding on his conscience in a meaningful way.
Dan: No it is not. Every time STEM says "I'm out of ideas" it is very clearly the movie saying, "SEE?! STEM does need a human body and mind to help him! His eventual wants are actually sensible!"
Matt: I am still unconvinced that STEM needs a human body. Also wait... is STEM controlling Fisk or not? Or is Fisk just a really loyal hired gun.
Dan: Fisk is either: a loyal hired gun who is devoted to techno implants and how they form a new race of humanity. Or, since he is so wired, STEM can hack him and control him like any other device.
I think those two things feed into each other but the former is simpler to explain. The latter opens the door to many questions.
Matt: Yes a lot of questions. Okay but either way. HJA kills Fisk's main hang and then he gets away.
Dan: Yes either way he gives the rando a taste of his own gun arm. I just want to say that for the limited screen time that this Rando got, he has a place in my heart forever due to the shot of him loading his arm with bullets…
...And then cocking his arm gun like an air guitar.
Matt: Yes he is certainly memorable for doing this. Seems so dangerous and insane to have a gun in your arm. Even if you're a criminal and you're shooting people all the time.
Dan: And, can I add, useless? Or rather, worse than useless? Worse in almost all ways than having an actual gun, Worse than almost any other sort of implanted weapon.
Oh! Maybe it was from a long time ago when they were all in The War. Back when biotech was brand new and clunky. (Note: all the henchmen are Soldiers from The War)
Matt: Maybe so but then even so, they probably lost that war because everyone kept shooting each other when they high fived and stuff, not to mention they had to load the guns one bullet at a time.
Dan: "Listen up privates! Do NOT wipe ur butt unless you are certain your safety is on!"
Matt: Seems like just carry a gun. Kind of hard to "dispose of the weapon" as well.
Dan: Where was the good guy with a gun arm to stop them I wonder? Also, "Maybe so but then even so" is the tagline for this movie.
Matt: Gun arms don't kill people. Gun arms kill ROBO people.
Dan: Gun arm rights are human arm rights.
Okay, meanwhile Gray's mom shows up for some reason. Cop gets more suspicious. STEM tells Gray that they need to go "finish things" but he no wanna.
Matt: So STEM fully takes over and off they go to Fisk's... house? I guess his house. Car chase on the way of course.
Dan: Yep, before they leave Gray's house however, we have the big reveal. The Big Turn. Or rather, one of them.
Matt: Oh, yes yes. STEM did a trick.
Dan: We find out that STEM has disabled the "instruction cards" not just to stop Elon from tracking him, but to prevent Hot Judd from giving him instructions as well!
The STEM has become the STEMMER! Now control is a one way street, and STEM can force Judd to DO ANYTHING.
Matt: He still puts his jacket on though which I appreciate. STEM doesn't want the human to be nippy during this whole affair.
Dan: Right, and also so that he can carry the listening device that the cop planted on him. Question: Earlier in the movie, STEM tells Gray that the Cop is “checking out [his] boot prints, be careful.” Now, STEM doesn't notice the very conspicuous drop she makes into his pocket?
Matt: STEM is too focused on how fun it is to pilot the Classic Man solo finally.
Dan: That's true. Training wheels are off. Time to go find a bag of liquid to slap.
Matt: Mission accomplished, in some respects. Except for the murders that need to still happen.
Dan: Right! Well Cop follows STEM and Hot Judd to Fisk's house, and a relatively tame highway chase scene ensues. STEM again, is all out of ideas after a while.At this point, they have tried everything to lose their tail. Including: driving.
That's about it.
Matt: STEM runs out of ideas a few too many times considering it seems to be able to fully take over any technology anywhere nearby in a world that I would imagine is full to the brim with tech in every direction.
Dan: Why not just crash a police drone on Fisk? There are a lot of drones. The movie brings up the drones a lot too. The drones never do anything.
Matt: I think a STEM-induced drone kill would have made a lot of sense.A
Dan: Yah why not fly a drone into a bad guy's nose? Right up in there.
Matt: But instead HJA finally gets to use his one character trait: cool classic driving.
Dan: What a payoff! Zzzzz.
Matt: But ultimately STEM wins the day by hacking some n00bs self driving car and backing it up full speed down the highway. I thought this was a relatively good/intense way for them to get away from the cop.
Again though if we had built more of a true connection to the cop character earlier and so had HJA maybe this moment would be more upsetting because we might think she is dead, and so would HJA. But instead he, and us, are a little bit worried but not very worried.
Dan: YOLO. Actually.
A fun alt version of this movie would be if instead of Hot Judd it was a high school nerd girl who gets STEMmed. STEM helps her live a little and come out of her shell. Does things that she normally wouldn't, like run for Prom Queen and ask out her crush.
Matt: And then they have a falling out where she's like "you were just trying to use me to murder veterans?" But in time for prom they are friends again.
Dan: "That's how it started sure! But that was before I knew who you were. What a beautiful person you are. I just couldn't tell you the truth because I thought you wouldn't want to be friends anymore."
At prom one of the jocks is like, "Woah! I didn't know Michelle could dance...like that!"
And we get STEMVision of her breakdancing.
Matt: Just take any buddy movie premise and replace the "cool" character with STEM. That movie with Kevin James and someone where he learns how to be cool.
Dan: STEM is Hitch.
STEM is Cyrano de Bergerac
Matt: It would be a terrible film with a lot of scenes of a guy alone talking to himself. STEM as jonah hill in Michael Cera's brain in Superbad.
Dan: STEM is teaching / forcing Air Bud to play basketball.
Matt: STEM is Garth in Wayne's head.
I think the STEM Cinematic Universe is an exciting place to be creating content right now.
Dan: I'm thrilled to be a filmmaker in this age for sure. The gates are open.
Okay so Hot Judd shows up at Fisk's house for a fight. He threatens him at gunpoint, refuses to let him turn around, and then walks in front of him anyway.
Matt: Fisk says some stuff but I don't remember what.Throughout the film the gun boys tend to say things that seems like they are suggesting they know the truth.
Dan: Stuff like how Hot Judd should join the revolution of Upgraded humans.
Matt: HJA isn’t into it he didn’t come here to make friends he came here to punch and kick.
Dan: They have a decent fight and we get a blocked sneeze and lots of blocked punches. STEM says something to the effect of, "He is predicting my attacks. I've tried everything."
Matt: STEM is not a optimistic problem solver I’ll say that.
Dan: He is better at trivia.
"I have exhausted the entire search space of potential combat tactics. Did you know that the human head weighs 8 lbs?"
Matt: "I can simultaneously control your entire body as well as hack into a car two miles away and drive it, but i can't for the life of me think of a way to win a fight against a single guy in a room.”
Dan: "Gray, you need to help. Think of something."
So Gray figures out that he can distract Fisk by making him emotional, and he does this by making fun of his soldier friends.
Boom. Got him.
This buys STEM enough time to figure out that a good move would be throwing Fisk through a cyber table. Clever!
Matt: For some reason this tactic makes him Fisk not want to shoot him more but less for a period of time, and yes he gets slammed into glass and he dies, never to sneeze again.
Dan: So next up in The Plan is to now go kill Elon. At this point in the movie, it is clear that STEM is Bad, but it is not yet revealed that it has a master plan. Or if it is, it is not clear what that plan is. All we know is that STEM is taking this revenge mission super seriously and it will not let itself be shut down. If they do not stop Elon, he will keep sending bad guys to get them.
Matt: Ever since HJA and his wife's car got hacked in the first 10 minutes, we all knew that Elon was bad and very likely behind it in some respect, but this was the moment of truth in terms of whether he was the big boss man.
Dan: Correct, and this is not dramatic irony. This is literally all information that the main character has:
He is in a scene at Elon’s house with Elon where he is acting weird.
He is in the next scene where they kill his wife and basically telegraph everything.
We are right there with you dude.
Matt: But he walks back into the cool basement lair and shoots two dudes without looking up.
Dan: STEM is in full control right now.
Matt: Quick sidenote. There was a quick cutaway scene earlier after STEM gets hacked and can no longer be tracked in which Elon is sitting sadly in his lair and nearby his Cloud is raining. This is extremely important not to forget.
Dan: Yes, Elon is sad and The Cloud is sad.
Matt: Are we ready to say the big reveal? Who Elon's boss is?
Dan: I mean, I guess so. As ready as we'll ever be.
Matt: Because it also relates to how we perceive this Cloud project.
Dan: Why don't you try to explain the info dump that Elon takes all over Gray's scruffy face.
Matt: Okay well right off the bat, Elon Malfoy is looking sweaty, he's looking shaken. He's not looking like "The Big Boss Man" he's looking like, well, Malfoy. Someone who has been taken for an evil ride by the powers that control him but isn't pulling the strings and is in over his head.
Dan: Late in the series style Malfoy, specifically.
Matt: Oh yes, when he's at his greasiest and most sweaty. So HJA walks in, ready to kill him, but I believe the cop interrupts him before he can truly explain? Or does he begin to explain first.
Dan: In my opinion it all happens at once.
Matt: The cop emerges, gun drawn, and STEM immediately gets to work trying to murder her. But for the first time we see HJA really fighting back against STEM, even stabbing his own hand into the table, I guess forgetting about his other hand
Dan: I think at this point Elon has definitely said what's up. So that means you have to also.
Matt: Okay well.
Dan: Try and explain what's up, Matt.
Matt: At this point the NDA is the last thing on Malfoy's mind He reveals that he is not in charge of this organization, and in fact, hasn't been for a while now. The big boss, is, in fact, STEM itself.
Dan: It was Voldemort all along! Oh, yeah, him.
Matt: Which again, in terms of his Cloud project, is interesting. Maybe it was a solo venture, or maybe as the boss, this is the kind of research STEM wanted to focus on? Clouds that cry when you cry.
Dan: Think of the potential military implications.
Matt: But either way, this is a huge shock to HJA and the cop of course, and now STEM is going to kill everybody and keep this Classic Man for itself.
Dan: Correct. I need to add one thing. STEM needs to kill Malfoy because he is the only human smart enough to create another STEM.
Matt: Oh yes, correct So STEM via HJA stabs Elon Malfoy dead using the knife that's still stuck through his hand.
Dan: Boy bye.
Matt: Resulting in a slightly less deep wound than it would otherwise due to the thickness of the hand but I guess it still does the trick.
Dan: Throughout this whole scene, STEM keeps telling Hot Judd not to fight off his control, for it could Break His Brain.
Matt: Yes that is true. Finally, Hot Judd turns to the cop and STEM tries to shoot her, but HJA fights back.
Dan: To your earlier point, if Cop had more of a relationship with either Hot Judd or us, the audience, this whole sequence would have delivered more.
It was all a dream!
Matt: Yes, in terms of the cop, imagine if earlier in the film we had really felt for this person even just as a cop. Not like they need to be best friends.
Dan: Matt. The first time they show her, she waves at a young girl.
Matt: Hahaha yes you are right, I forgot.
Dan: That tells you a) this is a Good Cop. b) She lost her own daughter to cyber soldiers of fortune. It's all there if you are willing to see.
Matt: But imagine if this was Margie in Fargo coming into this crime scene, we'd be on the edge of our seat freaking out for her. Obviously we can't always get Margie in Fargo but even just... any of the characters in "Killing Eve." If you have seen that show which maybe you haven’t.
Dan: Sure, with the money we save on brand name actors we can certainly afford some brand name actors.
Matt: Plenty of good "just doing my job" police characters that you are still emotionally attached to. Not a single big name there.
Dan: To be clear, I don't blame the actor who played Cop, she did very well. The part itself was just bad.
Matt: Yes agreed. Nothing to work with except delivering plot and then driving/running/shooting/dying.
Eventually, HJA points the gun at his own head rather than shoot Cop, but THEN...Boom, he wakes up, and he's in a hospital bed.
Dan: It was all a dream! He still has his wedding ring. Business Wife is there!
Matt: I thought for a split second maybe they were going to reveal the film was a dream. They are going to finally have sex on the hospital bed.
Dan: Yes I also bought it. I was tricked. And I am famously untrickable.
Matt: That's how tonally unstable the film was, that wasn't off the table in my mind, but then we cut back and we discover....
Dan: You just got STEM'D. (now on MTV 2, Hosted by Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs)
Matt: HJA has been fully taken over. His consciousness is now trapped in a little simulation where he gets to hang out with his wife forever. Who knows if that simulation includes any other rooms or places or things to do or if they just have to stay in that room and catch up generally for eternity. Not to mention SHE isn't real so maybe they hit a wall pretty quickly.
Dan: The human brain can store 8 gigabytes.
Matt: I would guess it has the hospital and maybe a single street or so for him to walk around. Like the street all your houses are on in the SIMS Maybe there's a downtown but prolly not prolly it’s more like the first SIMS.
Dan: Do you think that fog is to limit render distance?
Matt: Yes definitely.
Dan: I imagine it's like Turok for N64 and you can only have at most 2 dinosaurs in hospital at once, otherwise it would be too taxing on the CPU.
Matt: Yes I think this is an N64 level of simulation.
Dan: Finally, we agree on something.
Matt: But meanwhile he's now full robot, and so he shoots the cop dead and walks off into the sunset while we crosscut with his consciousness making out with a simulation of his wife.
What a sentence!
Dan: Bazinga! Well actually STEM first explains to Cop that the final thing he needed was Full Control, and the way to get that was for Gray to break his mind completely.
Matt: Oh and wouldn't that have paid off so much cleaner if the cop had been a really humanized character that we were actively like "No, go home! stay away from this!" when we see her following him.
Dan: OR why not have MOM be the COP? That tightens everything up. She is one week from retirement, also.
Matt: Yes or, she's just his mom and she wants to know the truth. Doesn't even need to be a cop.
Dan: Mmm I sort of hear you. You're saying she's a Fireman or something. Maybe an Animal Control agent.
Matt: Yes Dan, just another job, the job isn’t important.
Dan: Right but she is paid by the city and has a badge and gun, I get what you're saying. Yeah that works.
Matt: They visit the police station early on and everyone is unhelpful.
Dan: Maybe Mom says something like, "We'll see those clowns at the annual Fire Department / Police Department softball game!”
Matt: Imagine if it ended with him shooting his own mom and then making out with his dead wife in his head.
Dan: I like that. Better than the reverse.
Matt: Much better.
Dan: I also thought it would have been fun if STEMJUDD moonwalked off screen in STEMVision before a cut to black.
Matt: Here's my pitch:
Cut the Cloud, and when they walk in on Malfoy the first time he's weirdly dancing to some fuckin Wagner or something. And then at the end, STEMJUDD puts it on again, and he dances.
So it’s like, oh STEM had a "reason,” and it was complicated. and partially emotional! Wanted to FEEL human, do human things. Dancing amongst the dead bodies.
Dan: Wow. All the feels.Here's my pitch”
Same as yours but instead he is jerking off.
Matt: Both times or just the end? Because if he's jerking off earlier it might be harder to play that off as not significant.
Dan: I think any time STEM gets control he should rub one out. And say, “Now this is Pod Racing!”
Matt: And then go into the bullet time ultra close up and see that he's also shot a few robo murderers into the atmosphere.
Dan: It's all there. If you're willing to see. I do think the Wagner change works. Similar but different would be Elon painting. And at the end, STEMJUDD picks up a phone and says, "Get me Banksy, I have an idea.”
Matt: Or maybe this is the origin story of Banksy? Maybe Judd Apatow is Banksy.
Dan: That would explain the hilariously pointed satirical commentary in his work.
Matt: It would explain why most of Banksy's work is 40 minutes too long.
Dan: And why Leslie Mann is in so much of his installations.
Okay, the movie ended. We applauded when the credits got to the voice of STEM.
Matt: We did, that guy did a good job. Credits, bloopers, end.
Dan: We covered most of what we are contractually obligated to cover. Anything we missed? Any points we didn’t get to that you want to cover?
Matt: I think it was a good movie but I think there is probably a version of this idea that could have been elevated just enough to be an excellent action movie worthy of being remembered.
I think we touched on a few aspects of this but overall, I think it was just an issue of character. Everyone was doing a serviceable job but no one was elevating it into feeling like a truly lived in world. The difference between the performances in the prequels compared with the original Star Wars trilogy. You can build a beautiful and intricate plot-driven world, but then you really need to find that humanity and tease it out or the whole thing becomes no better than the sum of its parts. Original Star Wars is a genre backdrop that is then populated by young actors in the 70s who were just trying to have a good time and honor their own taste for naturalism.
This film would have benefited not just in the performances but in the final tweaks to the writing having that added element of ‘these are all real people’ ‘how are they really feeling?’ The end.
Dan: Sure. I would even go so far as to say I never felt literally anything between Classic Man and Business Wife other than one sided horniness. The sense of loss that supposedly drives Classic Man to get STEM'D just feels like general sadness or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It wasn't just the side characters that we spent time talking about that were lacking.
Matt: Yes, her death is exactly as sad as it would be to read in a script. Sad because of course losing a wife is sad, but the specificity of character and performance is not there and so you just feel generalized Loss of Wife Syndrome.
Dan: Point of order: when BUSINESS WIFE is killed, her cleavage is still out.
Matt: But all of this considered, it was still a fun movie to see. I would recommend it.
Dan: Totally. I will also say that the visual language of this film was MOSTLY unified. Sci-fi can be tricky to cover from a design standpoint.
You can go All The Way, and show us the mega future with things barely recognizable.
You can go 201X and show us the Her future with thinner iPads and higher pants.
And you can do everything in between.
This movie was somewhere in between and most of the Future-y design choices work, even if they don't make any actual sense from the perspective of how certain advances would be here without others. The main use of technology in Upgrade is in self driving cars, drones, and tables you can read your text messages on.
Then some assorted smart home stuff that makes protein shakes.
Matt: The text message tables seemed totally unhelpful to me.
Dan: What if you are sitting by your table and you don't have your phone?
Matt: Especially the fact that a criminal had one and it didn’t have a password
Dan: Or what if you want to eat on top of your texts while you read them?
Matt: Yes finally an age old solution to "I wish my texting device was essentially immobile."
Dan: “People keep stealing my phone. I wish it weighed 300 lbs and was bolted to the floor.”
Matt: I think this movie was exactly as good as its logline. And don’t get me wrong it’s a very good logline actually. A very good and interesting premise. The only place in which it was elevated was the way in which they filmed the fighting but in every other category it was. ... dare i say...as good as if a robot produced that logline. Serviceable and effective but not humming with humanity or vision.
Dan: That's a compliment in some cultures.
Matt: Also when his mom cut his beard and then he cried i felt sadness. That was the only other "elevated' moment for me.
Dan: I will add that my other general thought is that this movie was, in many ways, the Anti Hotel Artemis. What I mean by this is: No name cast vs Jodie Foster and Jeff Goldblum. Tight script (save an slightly wonky Cop plot), unified vision vs a truly bonkers number of interconnected threads that do not coalesce or pay off, Fun vs Not Fun.
Matt: Yeah Hotel Artemis sounds like a lot of style or at least a lot of ambition to have style but not a lot of substance.
Dan: It was wild. You should Read the Hotel Artemis Episode of this podcast, Matt. Some day.
Matt: Again I have a thing but maybe i can move it earlier
Dan: Okay quick question: Is STEM make it into the evil AI Pantheon?
Matt: In my opinion, i think it was VERY close to making it. I think it might get an honorary membership and then get squeezed out.
Dan: I agree. honorable mention. I do think the idea of an evil chip that not only teaches you kung fu, but MAKES you kung fu is terrific.
Imagine if Duolingo forced you to go into a restaurant and use Japanese at people.
Matt: Imagine if google maps would just snap you into a world where you were kissing your dead wife and then back and you've arrived at your destination.
Dan: As long as I can still get my wrench on in my car room while I crank some vinyls and chug some American lagers, I’m ready for that future.
Matt: Listen, if there's one takeaway here, it’s that the Classic Man is going nowhere. Technology cannot destroy something as pure as the classic, Classic Man.
Dan: Upgrade is really a tale as old as time.
Classic Man rides Classic Car. Classic Evil AI rides Classic Man.
Matt: You nailed it. The sequel will be AIs racing their Classic Men in an arena and finally we shall hear the line:
Now THIS is Pod Racing!
Dan: "Engines, Start your Gentlemen!"
Matt: Hell yes.
Dan: Okay, I have one more thing to say before I execute the final stage of my Plan (the three questions I always ask). What do you think the budget was for this film?
Matt: Hmm 24 mil.
Dan: Get ready to pick your severed jaw up from the floor. $3-5MM.
Matt: Oh wow.
Dan: Right? That is, legitimately impressive.
Matt: I guess the truly complex FX moments are relatively spread out?
Dan: Yeah, and there were very few set pieces which must have been helpful to keep costs down. Elon's lair. Smart House. The Bar. Hospital bed. A few random fight rooms. That's about it!
Matt: They could have cut the zoom in on the sneeze and made it for half.
Dan: Okay, it's time to get real. Final question 1, what were your 3 favorite things about Upgrade?
Matt: 1) The way the fighting was shot. I know we've discussed it a few times but it was truly exciting and unique, and as someone who is not necessarily a "violence buff" I found myself looking forward to the next moment where we were gonna go into ass kick mode.
2) I think the structure of the storytelling was actually very good. The way in which things were revealed, how things built, the initial "discovering his powers" and the scenes around that part of the film, I felt drawn in by the story, even if it didn't always impress me beyond that.
3) Now that I know it was a relatively cheap sci-fi movie, I appreciate the world building. It wasn't always great or entirely clear, but it worked. Cool to see a smaller film figure out how to set up a set of rules that feel cohesive and unique that don't require huge budgets to keep consistent.
Dan: For me:
1) Haters gonna be mad but I love the Cloud. Don't explain it, I don't care. It was this movie signalling that it was weird and this is not a real future this is Cloud future. Similar to how the Big Worm Crimelord Lady shows up early in Solo to let us know this shit is gonna be silly. Great way to set the tone.
2) This movie has a number of things going for it, but one that I am thinking about now that I am a little bit removed is how it is a simple revenge story with a gimmick and a few twists and turns. That's fun! Like I said, it has a commendably tight focus.
3) STEMVision, baby.
Next up, if you could change one thing about this movie, what would it be?
Matt: I would do our idea and combine the cop and the mom. Maybe instead of his mom it's just a friend? A supportive friend that knew him when and who also is maybe low ranking in the police or is just generally in a position to look into the case, however indirectly. I think it would give him much more of an arc if the person he finally kills at the end that sends him into his head "forever" is really more like a secondary lead than just the person who happens to be following him around.
Dan: I would add a scene where STEM and Gray are scoping out another bar where the next henchman hangs out. Turns out that this bar, Hot Arms, is an off the grid arm wrestling bar, where are the toughest arm wrestlers hang out. Gray shows up, this time not in a wheelchair, but on a segway. Everyone laughs at him. He tells the DJ to turn down the music and offers a challenge: "Anyone in this bar who can pin my arm can have my segway. But if I win, you have to tell me who killed my wife!"
A guy in a booth in the back starts to clap slowly. As he stands up and steps into the light we see that he is in fact, one-armed. His arm is so muscular that what we thought was clapping was actually just his biceps smacking into his forearms.
He says, "I'll handle this chump. or should I say ARMdle."
Anyway, STEM helps Judd win and then they use a hammer to crush the guy's eye sockets..
Matt: Yes this idea would solve the same issues I am looking to solve, but also add another slow clap which is always an improvement.
Dan: I think we can meet in the middle.
Final Q! If you could change the name of this movie, what would you call it?
Matt: Hmm, 50 Gigs of Gray.
Dan: Oooooh. I'd go with, Insane in the Mainframe, or: Chip's Challenge.
Matt: I also think your earlier pitch of "Stuck In Me" gets an honorable mention.
Dan: Pitch joke. Baseball movie.
Well Matt, we've done our part in STEM's plan and spread his Good Word. Is there anything you want to say to our fans before we sign off?
Matt: I'll just say thank you for "listening" and don't forget that your phone is listening to you and sending everything you say to Apple.
Dan: Same. And remember, you too, like STEM, can do anything if you believe in yourself!
Like what you read? Please consider supporting the podcast by subscribing.
Matt Porter is a writer, director and one half of the comedy duo Good Cop Great Cop. His first feature film “5 Doctors” is currently available on iTunes, Amazon and a plethora of other streaming platforms.