Movie Review ~ Gunpowder Milkshake

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A secret sisterhood comes to the rescue of a mother-daughter assassin team.

Stars: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, Chloe Coleman, Paul Giamatti, Ralph Ineson, Adam Nagaitis, Michael Smiley

Director: Navot Papushado

Rated: NR

Running Length: 114 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  As the credits were rolling on the new hyper-stylized action film Gunpowder Milkshake (which features copious glamor shots of both, I might add), a small but lively debate raged on between my partner and myself over the age-old notion of style over substance.  He argued the film was basically plotless, just a shell for Israelian director Navot Papushado to exercise some considerable effort in filming extensive action sequences where a whole bunch of people get shot, stabbed, beaten, maimed, bludgeoned, squished, and squashed.  I took the position that what is an action film but a basic set-up which leads to a series of events that bring resolution to that initial set-up?  With most of our deliberations, movies or otherwise, it ended with a détente, reasoning that we were essentially both right in the case of this admittedly sleight but nonetheless entertaining technicolor-hued romp. (I’m a little more right…because I’m the one with the blog 🙂 )

Originally intended for major theatrical distribution when it was announced for production back in 2018, the film was bought by Netflix from its original production house STXfilms for its continuing summer series pledging new movies every week.  Gunpowder Milkshake fits right in with early 2021 title Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead thanks to over-the-top action and a willingness to go the extra mile with gore and ultra-violence throughout.  Unlike that earlier “zombies in Las Vegas” epic which was always meant for a major Netflix debut at home after its awards qualifying run in theaters, Gunpowder Milkshake feels as if it should have been first experienced on the big screen to allow audiences to truly be immersed in the environmental space Papushado and his collaborators have created.

After being abandoned by her assassin mother (Lena Headey, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) fifteen years earlier, Sam (Karen Gillan, Oculus) has followed in the footsteps of her estranged parent and learned to detach herself from the jobs she is sent on.  Under the wing of The Firm (not the Tom Cruise movie, the other one) and her contact Nathan (Paul Giamatti, Saving Mr. Banks, appearing far less blustery than usual), she has survived not only on her skill but her ability to do what she’s told and little else.  Her latest assignment has left a pile of bodies in her wake, one the son of a prominent gangster (Ralph Ineson, Dolittle) that now wants her dead.  To save themselves embarrassment and willing to lose their great asset, The Firm offers her up…a decision made easier by the fact that she just lost them a tidy sum of money.

Along with the money issues, Sam comes into a guardianship role for Emily (Chloe Coleman, My Spy), a precocious tot Sam feels she owes a debt to.  The Firm first sends a trio of their own henchmen to snuff her out, leading to a spectacular hallway battle where a disadvantaged Sam manages to come up with a clever way to gain the upper hand on her opponents.  It’s not the first of Papushado’s numerous breathless action sequences but it’s the one I remember feeling my jaw drop open out of surprise more than once.  A bowling alley, a library, a fantasy forest, and a fictional shipwreck are all locations that pulsate with color and provide ample playing space for cinematographer Michael Seresin (with a career spanning titles like 1980’s Fame and 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes) to capture Gillan, Headey, and a trio of butt-kicking friends of the two women duke it out with a never-ending onslaught of henchmen.

Surprisingly, it’s the three reasons most will be enticed to see the film that may prove the most disappointing for some.  Those hoping to find Gunpowder Milkshake to be one featuring equal time for Angela Bassett (Soul), Carla Gugino (San Andreas), and Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians) could be vexed at the long gaps the three vanish from sight.  Despite an early appearance, which shows good promise as Sam visits the library lair the women use as a front as well as a watchtower of sorts, we have to wait a solid 40-45 minutes before they are back again.  While all three get in on the action, it almost feels like Papushado waited too long to release his secret weapon.  Up until then, Gillan has remained strangely strained in her role, confusing detached for clipped and robotic.  Finding some moments of levity and lightness when Coleman enters the picture, Gillan comes to regard the youngster with some of the motherly protection she never received.

Miraculously, all of this finely dialed-up mayhem is an original work from Papushado and Ehud Lavski and not, as I had thought throughout, an adaptation of a previously published graphic novel.  You’d forgive me for thinking that, seeing that there are so many key points during the film where it feels like the filmmakers are paying fan service to something…else…that only specific audience members are meant to get something out of.  Mostly, it trends toward a mishmash of different styles from auteur filmmakers that need only go by their last name: Tarantino, Fincher, Bekmambetov, Leone, Besson.  For some, the nods may feel overly emblematic of a movie with no style of its own but I tended to enjoy the way Papushado took something we know as classic Leone (utilizing a haunting Ennio Morricone’s score) but giving it his own twist.

Running about ten minutes too long for my tastes, though with all the slow motion it likely clocks in around 104 minutes instead of 114, Gunpowder Milkshake’s vision may not be as boldly original as one might hope but there’s plenty of worth to be found within.  Despite Gillan’s uncharacteristically shaky leading performance, the supporting cast (especially Gugino) totally understands the tone of the film they’re in and plays it to the hilt.  I won’t spoil if all will come back for seconds but there’s enough story left to tell and you can bet an additional serving could be prepared if it proves popular with audiences.

Movie Review ~ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge — an army of undead zombies.

Stars: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Lena Headey

Director: Burr Steers

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: Let’s just get something out of the way right from the start, shall we?  If you’re willing to pony up the cash to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies you simply must be prepared to check your brain at the door.  Not just because the walking dead that populate the film would love to snack on it, but because the premise is so absurd that to take any of it at all seriously would be your fault, not the movies.

Based on Seth Graeme-Smith’s wildly bold in concept (but stilted by its one joke premise in execution) 2009 book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies marries Jane Austen’s much loved 1813 novel with Walking Dead-style zombies preying upon the upper crust ladies that just want to find a husband and the men that fight off the advances of both.  Adapted and directed by Burr Steers after being bandied about Hollywood for half a decade, the long-awaited (I just said that but I don’t really believe it) page to screen journey of the zombie fighting Bennet sisters is complete and sad to say it’s a maudlin, bloodless romp that’s neither comedy nor horror.  Like the living dead, it’s trapped in a sort of genre purgatory of which it can’t ever escape.

After a brief prologue of zombie hunting and a credit sequence of the history of their rise from the grave that’s beautiful if overstimulating, Austen’s story kicks in with Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, Cinderella), Jane Bennet (Bella Heathcote, Dark Shadows) and their sisters being pushed by their meddling mother (X) to get married off right quick.  While Jane falls for the handsome Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth, Noah), Elizabeth is pursued by the goofy Parson Collins (Matt Smith, Terminator Genisys) while fighting with the brooding Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, Maleficent) and a parade of zombies that infest the countryside.

Fans of Austen will either get a kick out of the memorable text being interlaced with references to decapitations and brain gnoshing or be horrified that their favorite heroines now train in their basement to eviscerate the undead and store daggers in their garters.  Like I said before, you just have to prepare yourself to go along with it or find another movie to see that won’t be nearly as frustrating.

Still, even if you do see it you’re bound to be frustrated by the fact that the film never really goes all the way with its concept.  Bound by a financially friendly PG-13 rating, the bloody business is rendered with little red stuff to be seen.  Though heads roll and slashings slay, nary a drop of viscera sully the perfectly coiffed hair and period costumes of our players.  Had the filmmakers been ballsy enough to go for the R, I think there would have been more opportunities to have fun with the blood and guts that are sorely missed here.

Performance wise, you’re not going to find anyone here that will place higher than previous adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  James fares the best as the headstrong Elizabeth, the only one that feels like she could ably handle the role as Austen intended or carry a picture where she’s a badass zombie slayer.  Smith is next in line, with his Parson Collins also being note-perfect in his delivery and timing of the comedic elements that don’t feel like they are stretching for laughs.  Riley is just not Mr. Darcy. At. All.  With his gravelly voice and brutish emo looks, he just isn’t even in the ballpark…and forget about any chemistry with Elizabeth.  Recasting Lady Catherine de Bourgh as a young eye-patch wearing gladiator zombie slayer may have seemed like a good idea, but Lena Headey (The Purge) and her campy performance leave much to be desired.

Though it fares better than Seth Graeme-Smith’s last novel adapted for the screen, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies suffers from being too coquettish with it audiences that desire more blood and romance.  Possibly worth a rent down the line, but easily skippable in theaters.

The Silver Bullet ~ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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Synopsis: Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge — an army of undead zombies.

Release Date: February 5, 2016

Thoughts: Inspired by Jane Austen’s literary classic and Seth Grahame-Smith’s cheeky genre-bending spoof, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies aims to take full advantage of audiences love of period drama and the flesh hungry undead. This nifty first teaser opens like any number of Austen adaptations before seguing into more bodice/throat ripping action. I can’t tell how well the drama/comedy/horror will balance out but it’s sure to be funnier than 2013’s dismally dreary Austenland and scarier than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (also, by happenstance, adapted from Grahame-Smith’s novel). With a pleasant stable of young stars onboard like Lily James (Cindrella), Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows), Jack Huston (The Longest Ride), Matt Smith (Terminator Genisys), and Sam Riley (Maleficent) this one could be great fun…or a one-joke bit of tedium. I’m hoping for fun.

The Silver Bullet ~ 300: Rise of an Empire

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Synopsis: The Greek general Themistocles battles an invading army of Persians under the mortal-turned-god, Xerxes.

Release Date:  March 7, 2014

Thoughts: It’s hard to believe, but this sequel is arriving a full 7 years after the original surprise blockbuster was released.  I found the first film a hyper-surreal thrill ride filled with ample amounts of blood and bared flesh and in the years since the movie has inspired countless inferior knockoffs and quite a few new ab workouts for those wanting to get into Spartan shape.  Director Zack Snyder was busy with Man of Steel so the directing duties went to Noam Murro…a relatively green director helming only his second feature film.  Even with Snyder staying on as producer and screenwriter, it remains to be seen if the unproven Murro can really sail this ship.  Bolstered by some interesting female leads in the form of Eva Green (Cracks, Dark Shadows) and Lena Headey (The Purge), this sequel is highly anticipated and should be a nice blockbuster of 2014.

Movie Review ~ The Purge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Tony Oller

Director: James DeMonaco

Rated: R

Running Length: 85 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: There are times when I’m in a movie theater where I start to bargain with myself before the lights go down.  The internal conversation before The Purge went something like this… “C’mon Joe, it’s your day off mid-week and you don’t really have much to lose taking in a home-invasion thriller with an interesting concept.  At best you’ll be surprised at the (pardon the pun) execution and at worst your eyes will get a nice workout as they roll in your head.  If the movie is half-way good you’ll come out on top.”  Well, The Purge is one half of a good movie, a par-baked pizza of a film that looks nice when you open it but the more you digest it the less appetizing it becomes.

Running a scant 85 minutes, The Purge has a first act that is nothing if not engaging.  Opening with security footage of some very bad people doing very bad things the audience is reintroduced to the concept that most will know going in: in the very near future the US Government has sanctioned one night a year where for 12 hours any and all crime is legalized.  You can murder your boss, make an unfortunate soul fodder for target practice, loot your local Best Buy, or if you choose to you can avoid it all by sitting back in your home under the protection of the latest and greatest security system…if you can afford one.

That’s what the Californian nuclear family at the center of The Purge is doing…and they know they’re secure within the walls of their manse because Dad (Ethan Hawke, Sinister) is the top-selling agent of the top-of-the-line security system on the market.  He’s outfitted their entire gated community, netting quite the bucks for his efforts and early on we see that the neighbors, while thankful for the protection, don’t love the fact that Hawke and his family have benefitted from the cost of their peace of mind.

Like most families the children have a boatload of issues.  Daughter (Adelaide Kane) is boy crazy and unhappy with her dad for keeping her away from her older boyfriend.  Son (Max Burkholder) is at that awkward age when communication comes best through methods that he has control over.  Dad and Mom (Lena Headey) do their best to keep the peace…though nothing is presented that puts any new spin on family dynamics.  Casting wise, the four actors make for a believable family.

When the Purge commences the family goes about their night inside as gunfire is heard and the television shows the horrors happening outside the tightly sealed doors and windows.  Then the son sees a black man yelling for help in the street and before anyone knows it, he’s opened the gates and let the bloodied man in.  It isn’t long before a group of preppy hunters have tracked the man to the house and begin their own attack in their quest for blood.

What happens after that is best left for the viewer to discover but trust me when I say that it’s at this point the movie starts to go downhill in a curiously rapid fashion.  Though the lead maniac (Tony Oller) possesses a chilly charisma that thinly masks some serious crazy there’s nothing distinctive about anyone else that comes knocking.  Actually, the film is edited so that you never get a true idea of how many people Hawke and family are up against.

Even with its short running time, the middle of the movie has some major pacing problems as the family looks for the man who has disappeared into the house so they can give him up to machete wielding psychos at their door.  That’s when you realize that the film has squandered an earlier opportunity to give the viewer an actual layout of the house so we can get our bearings.  There’s a lot of discussion about a new addition to the house and its general square feet but most of the movie looks like it was filmed in one or two hallways and bedrooms.

Though director James DeMonaco’s script raises some interesting questions about violence in our society, suggesting that what the Purge was really designed to do was aid in the further separation of the haves from the have-nots, it chickens out at the end with a lackluster run-of-the-mill final act where seemingly smart people do infuriatingly stupid things.  Morals only come into play when it’s convenient and a soapbox is handy to stand on.  Worse, no one really seems to understand the message that DeMonaco was going for in the first place.  Close but no cigar award goes to Headey who at least makes the most out of a role that doesn’t give her much to fight for.

I’m not sure that the first 45 minutes of The Purge is good enough to make you leave the theater satisfied but perhaps in the sequel (which was quickly greenlit after the low-budget but handsomely made film made back its budget in midnight screenings alone) there could be a better through-line that marries the societal questions on violence with a more thrilling output.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Purge

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Synopsis: If on one night every year, you could commit any crime without facing consequences, what would you do? Over the course of a single night, a family will be tested to see how far they will go to protect themselves when the vicious outside world breaks into their home.

Release Date:  May 31, 2013

Thoughts: The summer of 2013 will have its hands full with not one but two home invasion thrillers.  Releasing in August, You‘re Next has emerged from festivals with great advance buzz hinting that it could be a late summer breakout hit.  Starting the summer off though is The Purge which has its own creepy trailer to stake its claim on early scares courtesy of an interesting-sounding set-up rich with opportunity to frighten.  With a first time director at the helm, it’s anyone’s guess as to how this one will pan out but I think the stars may align for a needed nifty jolt of horror.

The Silver Bullet ~ Dredd

Synopsis: In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

Release Date:  September 21, 2012

Thoughts: I still remember seeing the 1995 adaptation of the popular comic starring Sylvester Stallone.  A messy affair and box office dud, the film strayed too far away from the character fans came to see so they rightly gave the film a thumbs down.  A second go-around in 2012 is poised to right some of those wrongs…in 3D.  Even I am growing weary of the 3D boom – the trailer makes this look like a darkly lit shoot ‘em out and that doesn’t always lend itself well to the 3D universe.  A less teen friendly R rating should give this a nice little boost for those that like their actioners les sanitized.