Gunpowder Milkshake – A Movie Review

There’s a lot to like about Gunpowder Milkshake. It’s a star-studded action movie with plenty of style and pop. Karen Gillan has paid her dues since Dr. Who, and it’s wonderful to see her in a big-budget starring role. Let’s not forget about Hollywood stalwarts such as Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, as well as up-and-comer Chloe Coleman. (Seriously, check out this young lady’s IMDB page. She’s 13 years old.) Paul Giamatti is even in this thing!

Karen Gillan plays Sam, a prestige assassin who finds herself stuck in a moral dilemma when she takes responsibility for a young girl’s safety. Though she hasn’t spoken to her assassin mom or her mom’s … eccentric … friends in years, she reluctantly goes to them for help. They help her, there’s a ton of violence, we see huge action scenes, and we get plenty of chuckles along the way.

While I appreciate the film’s verve as well as the above actors giving it their all, the tone of the movie truly confused me. Sometimes it was very heartfelt, sometimes it seemed to be a satire, sometimes it wanted to be a pure action flick, sometimes it tried to prove itself as a hyper stylized piece of art, and sometimes it came off as a comedy. I’m all for bending genre, but Gunpowder Milkshake created a jarring experience that ultimately distracted me to the point I couldn’t settle in.

Honestly, there were moments when I felt as though I was watching a bad imitation of Quentin Tarantino.

It’s such a shame, because I wanted to like Gunpowder Milkshake so much more than I actually did. I was rooting for it to be great. However, there’s plenty of room for a sequel. I will definitely give it another chance if they keep the story going on the basis of the actors alone.

Army Of the Dead – A Movie Review

As far as zombie movies set in Las Vegas go, Army Of the Dead was more than entertaining.

I can’t claim this film was cinematic genius. I can’t argue it shifted the paradigm regarding zombies. I can’t even say it was the best zombie movie out there.

However, I can truthfully proclaim that, if you’re looking to sit around with a few friends and enjoy a popcorn action flick, Army Of the Dead won’t disappoint.

Yes, some of it didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t completely consistent in terms of tone. Much of it felt like it was setting up prequels or sequels. But, hey, the special effects were fantastic, the action satisfied, and seeing Las Vegas as a quarantined apocalyptic ruin filled with ravenous, undead cannibals proved a feast for the eyes.

And there’s no denying the stars had real charisma. Dave Bautista, believe it or not, really is a pretty decent actor, and a master thespian by action movie standards. There’s a reason big-time directors are casting him in their movies. Omari Hardwick, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ella Purnell, Raúl Castillo, and Ana de la Reguera all had a ton of charm. Of course, Tig Notaro delighted even if she did typically look like she was digitally inserted into the movie–because she was. In the end, this cast was simply a blast to watch.

You can perhaps argue that the director, Zack Snyder, was trying to comment on the greed of modern-day America. Maybe he was trying to say something about the inhumane treatment of detainees. He could even have been ripping on our politicians. But I don’t think any of that was the case. I think Zack Snyder just wanted to make a frenetic zombie movie that could entertain for two and a half hours, and, on that note, he most definitely succeeded.

Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy – A Few Thoughts

If you take a look at Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that critics have quite a different take on Jupiter’s Legacy than does the audience. I’m here to tell you, in this case, the critics have it wrong.

I’ll admit, Netflix almost lost me on the first episode of Jupiter’s Legacy. It seemed a little too preoccupied with style, self-importance, and actors caught in waters too deep.

But then a funny thing happened.

Let me pause a moment and say that I enjoyed this comic book series several years ago. It was written by Mark Millar who is something of a Hollywood powerhouse in that Hollywood loves adapting his works into feature films. For example, Captain America: Civil War is based on a book by Millar. The Avengers largely borrowed from his real-world take on the Avengers called The Ultimates. Old Man Logan became the movie Logan. Wanted and Kick-Ass were also works by Millar. It just makes sense that Netflix would try to snatch up his original catalogue for screen adaptions beginning with Jupiter’s Legacy.

Okay, so I knew Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy would get better, and, in my humble opinion, it did.

For me, I had to adjust to the large cast of characters and invest in their personal relationships. The premise is that a closely connected super team, active since The Great Depression, are still alive and kicking, but now preparing to hand over the reigns to the next generation. Two of the most powerful young heroes happen to be the son and daughter of the two most iconic figures, and they both carry a lot of baggage as a result.

Though the original heroes now appear old and gray, there are many flashbacks to how they initially gained their powers, and that’s where the show really shines. The Great Depression era is a show-within-a show, and this aspect of the plot is where you really connect with the icons.

However, the younger generation also have their standouts, particularly the daughter. She wants nothing to do with being a hero, which results in her becoming more and more interesting as the series unfolds. There are also several younger characters who are introduced and then become more prominent as the series continues.

Josh Duhamel is the lead actor. He plays The Utopian. I’ve never thought of Duhamel as a particularly deep actor, but I have to say that as this series moved along, he really showed a lot of range. In fact, he very much changed my opinion of him as a performer. Watching both the young and old versions of his character proved fascinating. Additionally, I never realized Duhamel is so tall. He’s listed online as being six feet, four inches tall.

Furthermore, Matt Lanter amazed me with his performance as well. I only knew Lanter as the voice of Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars cartoons. He and Duhamel, along with their friendship, made this show special. I honestly can’t quite figure out why Lanter hasn’t had more live-action roles. He seems made for Hollywood.

Ben Daniels was completely unknown to me, and he plays Duhamel’s brother, Walter. Their troubled relationship struck me as very true, and I daresay Daniels is the best actor on the show. Walter is incredibly complex, as you’ll see, yet Daniels plays him with both arrogance and vulnerability.

As I mentioned, the two iconic heroes have a daughter, who is named Chloe. Elena Kampouris plays Chloe. Though she is very unlikable at first, her character, after being given some room to breathe, becomes one of the stars of the show. There are big things in store for Chloe, and I think Kampouris is more than capable of handling the evolution.

Finally, Ian Quinlan plays Hutch, and I think he may be my favorite character on the whole show. Quinlan is slowly introduced and, at first, doesn’t seem all that important. He becomes important, though–very important. Best of all, he easily captured the charm of his comic book counterpart.

Jupiter’s Legacy is definitely slow to start and perhaps initially too heavy on the gravitas. However, the pacing moves faster and faster with each episode and the stakes get higher and higher. There are two major plot lines developing, which, to me, were quite engaging. One of those plots mostly wrapped up and opened the door for the next phase. The other plot ends on a cliffhanger which, truthfully, makes me very excited for the next season.

Though there are definitely similarities to characters from both Avengers and Justice League, Jupiter’s Legacy dives deeply into the interpersonal relationships of these characters and all the messiness embedded within. Most of the characters are either related to one another, friends of several decades, or former friends with bad schisms. Yes, the show does take itself too seriously at times, but the fact that it feels as though all bets are off, that anything can happen at any time, makes it a captivating experience. Of course, I have the advantage of having read the source material. If season one surprised you, just wait and see what happens next.

Though the critics may disagree, I highly recommend Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy.

Derry Girls – A Few Thoughts

A friend once recommended that I give Netflix’s Derry Girls a try and, frankly, it didn’t do much for me. I watched the first episode and didn’t get it.

However, we then saw several of the stars appear on The Great British Baking Show, and they were hilarious. I decided to try the show again and, this time, my wife wanted to see it, too.

I don’t know if I was in the wrong frame of mind the first time I watched Derry Girls or what, but I loved it on the second attempt. In fact, my wife and I powered through the first two, albeit very short, seasons and can’t wait for the third.

The show follows five close friends, four of whom are girls, as they tackle their teenage years during the Nineties. The fifth friend is a male cousin from London who is allowed to attend their all-girls Catholic school for the sake of his own safety. As you can imagine, he is the relentless butt of never-ending jokes. The girls are flawed, misguided, mostly well-intentioned, and more than a little self-centered. However, all of them are, in their own way, extremely lovable.

Amidst the bawdy humor, foul language, and ludicrous plots, Derry Girls subtly tackles the very real conflict occurring in Ireland during the 1990s. Sometimes it is more overt than others, but the potential for violence is always there, always lurking, always on the adults’ minds. It is a fascinating juxtaposition, and one that is handled very well.

Not that those adults are any less humorous than the girls, by the way. The featured family’s grandpa, father, and mother are an absolute roar (especially the grandpa).

If you’re looking for a short, hilarious, mostly breezy comedy to enjoy, I highly recommend Derry Girls. You can find it on Netflix.

(By the way, the Irish accents are thick, so you might want to enable closed captioning.)

Broadchurch – A Few Thoughts

My in-laws recommended that my wife and I watch Broadchurch–we’re glad they did!

Originally a British mystery series, Broadchurch is a fictional seaside town where two detectives, Hardy and Miller, must solve three brutal mysteries over the course of three seasons.

David Tennant plays Hardy, a troubled detective who has moved to Broadchurch out of necessity. Olivia Colman plays Miller, a local detective who knows every nook and everyone in the small town. If that seems like an incredible pair of actors, you’re right. There is no doubt that they are the reason Broadchurch shines so bright.

The first season centers upon the murder of a child. There are eight episodes and they do a masterful job of finding a way to make many, many people possibly guilty of the crime. Jodie Whittaker brilliantly plays the child’s mother. I now understand why so many people were excited when she was cast as the new Doctor Who. Arthur Darvill, also a Doctor Who alum, plays a local priest who works hard to offer comfort to everyone involved. (I think the entire cast appeared in Doctor Who at some point in their lives. Must be a British thing.) Again, the actors in this series are excellent. The first season’s conclusion truly surprised us when they revealed the murderer.

The second season builds upon the first while introducing a new story line. It can’t quite match the novelty of the first season, but it does flesh out the first season as it also explores the very crime that sent Hardy to Broadchurch. The second season, in my opinion, is the best in terms of acting, story, and pacing.

The third season is largely disconnected from the first two with lots of new townspeople coming into focus. While I liked it well enough, it just didn’t compare to the first two seasons in terms of plot cohesion or pacing. I also didn’t care for some of the directions they took with established characters. However, Tennant and Colman are a FORCE in the third season. They are mesmerizing together with each also having a firm hold on their respective characters. Seeing them act so well more than made up for any of the third season’s shortcomings.

If you’re looking for a quick mystery series to watch, I absolutely recommend Broadchurch. It deals with very heavy plot points that can be frankly quite depressing, but the acting and the very (mostly) tight storytelling make for a thrilling experience. You can currently find Broadchurch on Netflix.

The Midnight Sky – A Movie Review

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Midnight Sky when I saw its title card appear on Netflix. The description and trailer didn’t totally captivate me, but they didn’t repel me, either.

In the end, I watched it because I generally like George Clooney and because I enjoy “realistic” science fiction movies about space travel–recent films like Moon, Interstellar, Arrival, The Martian, and Ad Astra immediately spring to mind.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the year is around 2049, a global catastrophe has occurred, and George Clooney’s character is one of Earth’s last survivors as he manages an observation station in the far north. He has taken it up on himself to try to contact a space crew returning from Jupiter in order to deter them from entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The good news is that I only intended to watch an hour of the movie before going to bed and, instead, I ended up watching the whole thing while staying up far too late. It is an interesting, exciting film that keeps the audience guessing and holds them in a constant state of anticipation.

I also appreciated that it suggested horrible tragedy and violence in many cases without actually showing anything terribly gory.

My primary issue with The Midnight Sky, however, is that I felt as though I’d seen bits and pieces of this movie in several other films. The Road seemed to be a heavy influence, as did those other science fiction movies I already mentioned, especially The Martian. It was made very well, it had great pacing, and it looked good, yet none of it struck me as original. Finally, George Clooney, who has made a career off of his charm, displayed none of that natural charisma. That–coupled with the David Letterman beard–made for a pretty dour character.

The Midnight Sky is fine. It’s not bad–not by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it kept me up an hour more than I intended. It’s a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable science fiction movie. But it’s also not necessarily a unique experience that will make you feel like you’ve seen something new.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a movie to watch as a whole family, I completely recommend Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, available to stream on Netflix.

Full of stars with excellent singing and dancing, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is also funny, wholesome, entertaining, and full of surprisingly good special effects.

I don’t want to disparage Netflix, but I wasn’t expecting the quality evident in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. Don Juan Diego, played by Ricky Martin, is a metallic puppet that looked so grounded in reality that I found myself mesmerized–he quickly became my favorite character! Furthermore, a robot eventually appears that is also thoroughly realistic. The sets are extraordinary as the tale unfolds in some sort of a steampunk alternate world where technology is both amazingly complex but also archaic. The costumes are intricate and beautiful to behold. This movie is honestly a pleasure to view.

But the songs and the dancing, for me, are the real draw. I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, because John Legend played a role in writing the music. Plus, who knew Forest Whitaker could sing? I’ve been watching this man since Platoon and I had no idea. And, of course, Keegan-Michael Key played a bad guy who’s still pretty darn likable and not all that terribly bad. (If you ever want to go on a deep dive with me, I think Key’s character was simply the victim of mistreatment by Whitaker’s character that led him to his villainous ways.) The entire cast is really a delight.

The story is a little scattershot and takes a few detours, but it all ends up making sense and works. Again, for a Netflix movie, it proved unexpectedly coherent.

So if you need a good movie to watch this weekend with the family, give this one a shot. I think everyone will enjoy it.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor – A Few Thoughts

I enjoyed The Haunting Of Hill House, but I love its successor, The Haunting Of Bly Manor

The Haunting Of Bly Manor follows the story of Dani Clayton, an American tasked with caring for two young orphans in the massive estate known as Bly Manor. She is joined by Jamie the gardener, Mrs. Grose the housekeeper, and Owen the chef. Together they form a sort of surrogate family for Flora and Miles, the orphans. Soon enough, however, we learn that Bly Manor has some very dark secrets, and that history can literally come back to haunt you.

I found The Haunting Of Bly Manor to be very well crafted. The pacing struck me as nearly perfect, which is unusual for a Netflix show, and they stuck the landing exceptionally well with the final episode, which, again, is rare for Netflix. 

There are some jump scares in The Haunting Of Bly Manor, to be sure, as well as a general tone of creepiness, but I’m not sure I would define the show as “scary.” Yes, it’s a ghost story–no doubt–but I’m not convinced it’s a “scary” story.

In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to find a more likable group of characters than Dany, Jamie, Mrs. Grose, and Owen. These four characters are the heart and soul of the show, and the actors are a pleasure to watch. I considered them my friends by the end of the series, which doesn’t happen to me very often.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor plays with time, structure, and perspective quite a bit, but this serves to strengthen the overall story. Sometimes these narrative breaks are simply to elongate a series, to stretch it out, but I can reassure you that every episode is vital.

I only have one complaint about the show–just the one–and it involves a personal haunting that Dany is suffering early on in the series. Unless I missed it, I’m not quite sure that subplot ever got resolved.

I completely recommend The Haunting Of Bly Manor. I looked forward to every episode. I think it could be appropriate for the family if you have older kids. There’s no nudity, very little bad language, and while there are jump scares, there’s not much gory violence to speak of.

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Cobra Kai: Seasons One and Two – A Few Thoughts

I’ll admit it: I thought it was a terrible idea when I heard YouTube planned to release an original series furthering the Karate Kid story. But, as time progressed, I heard some positive things about the show. Some were even calling it a hit.

Cobra Kai, the show in question, came to Netflix a few weeks ago. My wife and I thought we’d preview it to see if it was appropriate for our twelve-year-old. First of all–it’s not appropriate for a twelve-year-old due to sexual references; second of all–we LOVED it and binged the whole series.

Cobra Kai is a magical blend of nostalgia and modernity. For middle-aged folks like me (I’m 43), it brings back all of the incredible feels from the original Karate Kid. It even goes so far as to provide literal cuts from the first movie during flashbacks.

However, it’s novel in that it provides a completely different take on the prototypical teenage bad boy–Johnny Lawrence. Johnny is no longer the archetypal golden boy villain. He’s now relatable, sympathetic, and even likable. Sure, he’s still rough around the edges, but I think the older crowd sees a lot of themselves in him … for better or for worse.

On the other hand, Danny LaRusso has changed as well. He’s still trying to do the right thing, but we learn Johnny has his own ideas about how things happened back in the 80s which casts Danny in a different light. Furthermore, in his own way, and despite being very successful in life, Danny can’t let go of the past, either. He is every bit as paralyzed in time as Johnny Lawrence.

This kind of complex characterization was COMPLETELY unexpected and riveted us.

Also, the show struck gold with casting their new karate kids. In my opinion, Xolo Maridueña, who plays Johnny’s first protégé, is the heart and soul of this show. He’s a likable, charismatic actor who makes us care about the ups and downs of his character. In fact, though talent varies a bit, all of the “teenage” characters are extremely engaging in their own way. Each one of them has a distinct personality and unique motivations. The days of one-note teen archetypes are over in the Karate Kid saga.

Most surprisingly, Cobra Kai is truly funny. Johnny, though always completely serious, is absolutely hilarious. He’s so disengaged from the modern world to such a degree that he doesn’t understand contemporary civility, technology, or even medical conditions. He utters some horrifically crude lines, but I can’t deny how funny they are.

Finally, the action is fantastic in Cobra Kai. Ralph Machio (Danny) is currently 58. William Zabka is 54. Both of these men can still sell the martial arts. Xolo Maridueña seems to be a natural as do the other lead karate students. There are some great fight scenes in this series, particularly in the final episode of Season 2.

I’m not surprised Cobra Kai is taking the world by storm now that it’s on Netflix. It’s the best of something old and something new. I’m so happy for this second chance at stardom for the original cast, and I love that the new blood is forging their own fame. As you’ve probably guessed, I highly recommend Cobra Kai.

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I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid – A Book Review

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I heard Netflix planned to make this novel into a movie, so I thought I’d give it a read first. Interestingly enough, I reviewed another book by Iain Reid, Foe, exactly one year ago today.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is Reid’s debut novel. It’s written from the perspective of a young woman who is visiting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Most of the book is spent with them conversing in a car as they travel to the boyfriend’s childhood home far into the countryside. The narrator tells us that Jake is incredibly intelligent and generally a nice guy, but she’s thinking of ending things with him. They eventually reach the parents, things become very strange, and then the plot quickens to a frantic pace.

I can’t pretend that I particularly enjoyed this book. It is primarily dialogue and internal monologue, with lots of philosophizing. I found it very slow in the beginning, and while the book ends with quite a bit of suspense, the conclusion dissatisfied.

It’s difficult for me to critically discuss this book without spoiling some major revelations, so I’ll simply have to say that I never found the premise all that engaging, the big twist fell flat for me, and I generally found it far too in love with its own dialogue.

Obviously, I’m in the minority. Netflix and Charlie Kaufman found it worthy of their time, though Kaufman’s interest in the book shouldn’t be surprising considering his other work.

I’m afraid I don’t recommend you read I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, but I found Foe quite interesting if you’d like to give Reid a try.