Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

gunpowderI sit here wondering what in the world to say about this terrifically underwhelming tosh. It is clearly, absolutely, shamefully indebted to the John Wick films, something so frequently noted by myself of late (the films Kate, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard and Nobody, the latter that I haven’t reviewed yet) that I wonder if it hasn’t suddenly reached some cinematic critical mass. Everybody seems to be referencing John Wick, and in just the same way as in the late seventies/early eighties all those sci-fi efforts ‘inspired by’ Star Wars were all pretty woeful, all these action movies are wholly inferior to John Wick (well, except maybe Nobody, which I really enjoyed, but more on that hopefully later when I get chance to post a review).

Gunpowder Milkshake‘s ingenious (well, maybe not) spin on the John Wick formula brings the novel twist of the protagonists all being women, and all the bad guys/bastards being men. Its about as nuanced and sophisticated as that, and I know of quite a few YouTubers who will get their boxer shorts in a right royal knot at the woke explosion that is this film. It’ll come, I’m sure. I try to stay out of all that gender politics although it winds me up plenty at times, but subtle on such issues this film isn’t (“There’s a group of men called The Firm. They’ve been running things for a long, long time… They think they’re untouchable. They think they can get away with anything”/”But they won’t right?”/”No. They won’t. Not anymore!”). Yeah these sisters are doing it for themselves.

I could, for instance, just reel off all manner of juicy quotes from the films remarkably complex script: “She got us good, Doc. I don’t think I’ll walk again”/”Well, there must be an epidemic, because I’ve got a guy in the next room who’s got similar symptoms”/”What do you mean?”/”I mean, a girl f**ked him up, too.” I’m sure some people lap this stuff up as being absolutely revelatory and hip and intoxicating. The men are all evil or stupid or both, and most are generally incompetent. That’s about the extent of Gunpowder Milkshake‘s philosophy, which would be fine if it was tongue in cheek and maybe self-knowing, but this thing is relentless in its world-building, securing a mythology to mirror the world-building of the John Wick films, only from a wholly feminist bent. Which, as I say, is fine, particularly if it was a bit arch and self-deprecating but seeing slightly-built women kicking four worlds of shit out of armies of man mountain bad-guys twice their size… it was daft in Kate, its quite nauseating in this. There’s nothing particularly feminine about these women- its curious that they are behaving entirely like men themselves, as if there’s an in-joke within these films lost upon the cast and crew, earnest as they are. I mean, this film has a hell of a cast: Lena Headley, Carla Cugino, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Karen Gillian and Paul Giamatti. All utterly wasted in overly-stylish, pretentious nonsense.

So anyway, before I leave myself open to a torrent of abuse by fervent fans of this odd film (I’m sure there are some out in the wild), I’ll leave it there. Its getting late, I’m tired, and really, I was wasting my time watching this tripe, wasting my time writing about it just makes me twice the fool.

I Think We’re Alone Now (2018)

i think 2Hmm, contrary to expectations, this isn’t a film about pop star Tiffany’s ‘Dystopia 2018’ tour across a post-Apocalyptic America. Mind, that might make for a pretty interesting movie in its own right (I certainly hope readers aren’t scurrying to google to search out who the hell Tiffany was/is- I didn’t think it would be too obscure a reference).  Anyway, there’s no songstress belting pop songs out in this one. Instead we have Del (Game of Throne‘s Peter Dinklage) as a lone survivor of an unexplained event in which everyone else has strangely perished.  He’s all alone cleaning up a deserted mid-Western American town, spending his days disposing of the bodies littering the town in unceremonious burials out in a field and tidying up the empty houses. It seems a strange way to spend your Apocalypse but it seems to give him some routine that keeps him occupied and sane. Fortunately he seems totally comfortable in his own company.

ithink2However, one day a young woman named Grace (Ellie Fanning) arrives in the town (well, it could have been Tiffany in her tour bus I suppose) and Del suddenly realises he is not the only survivor of the blight that killed everyone around him. The taciturn Del doesn’t appreciate a strange woman breaking the idyll of his lonely but oddly satisfying existence and  we are suddenly in a character-based study of the interactions between two strangers in a post-traumatic situation at the End of the World. Its a slow, quiet film, its dour mood intensified by a fine, and effectively moody soundtrack score from Adam Taylor (who seems particularly adept at this kind of piece, having also scored the dystopian series The Handmaids Tale).

Unfortunately (well, I say unfortunately, some may think the subsequent ‘twist’ enlivens the film considerably), the film takes a sudden turn into a road-movie thriller, of a sort, and the cast list doubles with the arrival of two more survivors who are looking for Grace- played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Paul Giamatti, no less. It felt like an awkward shift to me but it works, I guess, and offers a slightly surreal coda to the film by offering a suggestion of the world outside of Del’s bubble of existence.

On the whole, I’d say this was an effective and quite refreshing take on the Apocalyptic genre and well acted by its fine cast. Maybe it’s a better cast than the material really deserves, but Dinklage is very fine, carrying the film all by himself really and it’s almost an imposition when Grace turns up, because a Wall-E by way of The Walking Dead seemed a pretty fine way to spend an evening, to be honest, especially with Dinklage in the lead. Indeed, the quiet, moody and intense existence of Dell surviving the End of the World was a bitter reminder of the possibilities of character-focused storytelling that The Walking Dead has largely ignored.

I expect some may have found this film all too slight and all too slow and dark and therefore unsatisfying. To a degree it is indeed an arthouse Walking Dead, but it’s none the worse for that and I found it very interesting and well made. The score, as I have noted, is very fine and the steady calm throughout seems at odds with what these kind of slicks tend to be like. It was quite refreshing and while I have the suspicion it might have been more substantial without the sudden doubling of the cast (seriously, the credits have four named performers, that’s all- although I can’t help but feel insulted on behalf of the canine cast member who was oddly uncredited, for shame) I did enjoy the fact that the Apocalyptic event, alluded to by Dell and Grace, is never explained and remained a mystery.

Nice little film.

 

 

San Andreas (2015)

san1In many ways San Andreas is everything I abhor in so many modern blockbusters; lazy writing rasing all the old tropes and cliches with predictable plotting and cynical insults to audience intelligence. On the other hand, it does everything it says on the tin, as it were. It is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything different. I knew going in that it was hardly going to be high art and if you’re in the mood for a high-octane disaster movie you’ll be in for a treat.

san3Positives? Well, the effects guys pulled out all the stops on this one. There are jarring exceptions that sneak in no doubt due to the sheer amount of effects shots in the film (alarmingly for the film the first effects shots are the worst which creates an initial sense of cheesiness), but on the whole the scenes of destruction are well staged and convincing. You certainly get plenty bang for your buck, whether it be a rental or a purchase or (originally) cinema ticket. The casting is fine (Kylie Minogue though is so out of left-field its just utterly bizarre) and the acting is fairly good, though you suspect that all the actors know the effects are the real draw so they don’t bother breaking much of a sweat trying to make much of the dialogue they are given. Alexandra Daddario as Dwayne Johnson’s daughter is probably the exception here and the best of the bunch- yes she is extraordinary eye candy but she seems the only one who thinks she’s in a better movie and makes an effort. She really does shine in this and it ideally should lead to some leading roles in better films (if she somehow never turns up in some Marvel film in a headlining role it’d be something of a crime). Daddario’s clear efforts here are opposed to the apparently-ageless Carla Gugino and the great Paul Giamatti who both know full well they are slumming in a popcorn pot-boiler with dialogue clearly beneath them.

san2Negatives? Well I could go on awhile but here’s my chief gripe. What annoys me is just this; why is a huge man-mountain like Dwayne Johnson -who does very well in the part given him, to be fair- always the leading man/hero of this kind of film? I think the film would be much more interesting and exciting if it was the balding/middle-aged/overweight Paul Giamatti playing the hero trying to survive the disaster and rescue his daughter. You know, put an ordinary guy in peril and see him making his way through it. It’d be so much more interesting. Irwin Allen’s 1970s disaster movies are often remarked upon these days as being formulaic and cheesy but at least their leading men are fairly ordinary-looking leading men. Dwayne Johnson here is some kind of Masculine Ideal, a helicopter rescue pilot who can hotwire cars and parachute out of planes and race a boat up a tidal wave while dodging falling freight containers… its just preposterous stuff. Its fantasy casting/writing and very irritating  Of course, I well appreciate the fact that no-one is going to spend $110 million on an action blockbuster starring Paul Giamatti as the leading hero. Its been like that for years, its why the original Total Recall starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and not Richard Dreyfuss or James Woods. But wouldn’t they all be much more interesting films? As it is we are stuck with highly unlikely plots with highly unlikely people in them.

The key family dynamic is the best thing in the film but even that is pure formulaic stuff. Following the death of one of their daughters, Johnson and Cugino have split up and Cugino now has another fella who just happens to be some kind of billionaire who travels in private jets/limos and builds skyscrapers for a living. Loving dad Johnson dotes on his remaining daughter Daddario while still clearly having feelings for his wife who has moved on to her billionaire and is starting divorce proceedings. Of course the disaster strikes and Johnson has to save the day. But just look at those leads- Johnson looks like some kind of man mountain, Cugino is a statuesque icon of age-defying motherhood and their daughter Daddario is just breathtakingly hot. Johnson drives a truck all shiny-chrome and gleaming paintwork fresh off an assembly line, Cugino’s new bloke lives in a millionaire palace with swimming pool and servants. The whole thing is utterly divorced from the real world, or at least the world I’m living in.  Its just dumb and lazy and generic nonsense.

I realise we shouldn’t really expect anything more from these kinds of films and San Andreas is just what it was intended to be, but then again, maybe we should be expecting more from these films. This shouldn’t be what these films aspire to be, just dumb trash with beautiful people in extraordinarily stupid situations (the airport is out of action, so lets jump out of this plane and parachute down into that baseball stadium). As these films get ever more expensive to produce and studios become ever more conservative about avoiding risk etc, then these films are just going to get louder and dumber. Where will we end up in ten years or twenty years? I shudder to think.