Capsule Reviews: July 2021—Recent Releases

Gunpowder Milkshake

About halfway through Gunpowder Milkshake, the Stereolab classic “French Disko” appears on the soundtrack. “This world’s essentially an absurd place to be living in,” sings Læticia Sadier. The lyric seems like a commentary on the film’s fictional world. The song comes right after a car chase featuring an eight-year-old girl in Karen Gillan’s lap, with the girl doing the steering and Gillan barking orders (“HARD LEFT!!!”) and operating the pedals. And that’s not even the most absurd thing we’ve seen in the film so far.

Gunpowder Milkshake is entertaining enough. It has a stellar cast: Gillan and Lena Headey as mother-and-daughter contract killers; Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino as a trio of assassins masquerading as librarians; Paul Giamatti and Ralph Ineson as heads of criminal syndicates. There’s a lot of action, much of it impressively inventive. Unfortunately, it suffers from a lack of originality in plot and form: it often feels like a remake of Léon set in the world of John Wick and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. But then again, if you’re watching it at all, you’re probably getting exactly what you expect.

Directed by Navot Papushado. Starring Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Chloe Coleman, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Ralph Ineson. ★★★

Old

Watching Old often feels like riding an ancient, rickety steam engine that threatens to derail at any moment. Thankfully, M. Night Shyamalan keeps it on track.

That’s not to say that Old isn’t fifty pounds of goofy in a two-pound sack; it definitely is. But the cast sells the material, Shyamalan showcases his visual trademarks as much as possible, and the setting provides plenty of eye candy. I’m not sure the third-act reveal (it’s not really a twist) sends the message people should be hearing right now, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott, Alexa Swinton. ★★★

Black Widow

Natasha Romanoff’s first (and likely only) solo outing features plenty of explosions and people jumping off things; what else do you expect from a Marvel movie? But it’s the character interplay that makes it worth watching, with Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh (Midsommar), David Harbour (Stranger Things), and Rachel Weisz painting a portrait of a profoundly dysfunctional surrogate family. They’re not exactly The Americans, but they liven up a plot that often feels like Bourne-by-numbers.

But like Gunpowder Milkshake, you’re probably watching it for the cast and the action, not the plot. And the screenwriting team—which includes WandaVision showrunner Jac Schaeffer—manages to find room for some insightful gender commentary.

Directed by Cate Shortland. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone, William Hurt, Olga Kurylenko. ★★★

A CLASSIC HORROR STORY

For about half its running time A Classic Horror Story looks like it’s going to be as depressingly generic as its namesake, following as it does horror movie characters doing horror movie things in a horror movie setting.

Then the twist comes, and I’ll give it this: it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a conceit this clever.

Too bad “clever” doesn’t actually end up meaning “good.” The film’s two halves never mesh coherently and give the impression that they belong together. Sure, the visuals are pretty, in an A24 sort of way. The violence is fairly effective, considering it’s happening to people we don’t give a crap about. (The filmmakers seem to think “is pregnant” and “comes from Bristol” constitutes character development.)

It’s not a total waste of time, but there are probably a thousand movies on Netflix you should watch before this one.

Directed by Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli. Starring Matilda Lutz, Francesco Russo, Peppinno Mazzotta, Will Merrick, Yulia Sobol. ★★

THE GREEN KNIGHT

If there’s one word I’d use to describe David Lowery’s treatment of Arthurian legendry, it’s dense. There’s no way I can unpack The Green Knight to the extent it deserves in a capsule review, and I don’t think I have enough insight in me to say something about it that hasn’t been said before. So I’m not even gonna try either.

What I am going to say is this: it’s a common critical cliché to call a work a “meditation” on a concept or a theme, but in the case of David Lowery’s The Green Knight the comparison is more than apt. Its slow pace gives the audience a lot of room to think about what Lowery might be trying to say about stories, heroism, and Lord knows what else.

Alternatively, you could just let the lush visuals surround you and transport you to the age of chivalry, and/or bask in Dev Patel’s performance as Sir Gawain.

I reckon August is a bit early to start praising a film as “best of the year” but The Green Knight sets the bar very high.

Directed by David Lowery. Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman. ★★★★

 

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