By Lynn Venhaus
The pleasure of seeing actresses have a blast going gangster is one of the joys of the interestingly titled “Gunpowder Milkshake.”

However, that big plus can’t overcome the minuses. With a graphic novel-comic book-video game feel, the look is cool — but the characters are as thin as the by-the-numbers story.

As a professional assassin, Scarlet (Lena Headey), was forced to abandon her daughter Sam and go on the run. Cut to years later, and a grown-up Sam (Karen Gillan) is a cold-blooded hitwoman. Like mother, like daughter.

After a high-stake mission gone-wrong has unleashed a gang war, Sam has gone rogue, with an innocent 8-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman) in tow. Sam reconnects with her mother and her former sidekicks, also lethal hitwomen with specific skill sets. An avenging war ensues.

This over-the-top action movie is heavy on fantasy. Seriously, how many females, dealing with numerous infirmities and adversity, can be relentless one-woman wrecking crews, even if they are professional assassins?

There is an excessive body count, featuring a plethora of bad guys’ heads rolling, squished, shot, stabbed and maimed in multiple bloodbaths. Some are in slow-motion, other fights are martial arts focused, and editor Nicolas De Toth makes sure blood spurts often.

Israeli director Navot Papushado, who also co-wrote the script with Ehud Lavski, must idolize kitschy maestro Quentin Tarantino, for he tries to emulate his blood-drenched films, in particular “Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2,” through a stylized – and farcical – approach.

Cinematographer Michael Seresin alternates between grit and an unreal quality to film the scenes, and David Scheunemann, the production designer, follows suit. The color palette is striking, using neon colors and artificial set pieces that resemble music videos, such as a diner, bowling alley, abandoned mall and an old-school library/museum.

But those diner milkshakes look fake, which is annoying.

Music is an incessant component in the movie, with Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” effective to punctuate a brutal shoot-out. Composer Haim Frank Ilfman has propulsive music to escalate the combat and a keen ear for a hipster soundtrack.    

Lithe Karen Gillan, who made a name for herself as Amy Pond in “Doctor Who” and broke through as Nebula in “The Guardian of the Galaxy” films, demonstrates spunk and agility as she mows down the male goons.

An 8-year-old girl, who becomes Sam’s “apprentice,” is played with savvy and poise by veteran child actress Chloe Coleman, who was in last year’s “My Spy” and the HBO mini-series “Big Little Lies.”

The angle here is that three generations of women are empowered to fight for survival in this escalating gang war. But it is uneven in attention.

For instance, Sam’s mother, Scarlet, is played by “Game of Thrones” Lena Headey, but she is only seen in the beginning and then re-appears before two climactic showdowns. Yes, not one, but two.

Mom’s fierce sisterhood of Carla Gugino as Madeleine, Michelle Yeoh as Florence and Angela Bassett as Anna May are not used nearly enough, which is a shame, because they mow down guys with inventive implements of destruction once their ‘house’ is breached.

It is a lot, and wait, there’s more. Don’t try to make sense of it all because it is not going to add up.

The generic, formulaic script doesn’t help itself with the antagonists having such a bland name as The Firm ( the shady suits who direct the mayhem). Usually reliable Paul Giamatti, as their facilitator, doesn’t fare much better.

The director displays some panache, so it’s not all misguided. It needed a better, more substantive script to connect with the stylish format.

Nevertheless, fans of such genre films may not mind the lack of originality. At first glance, the film seemed to have potential as a female-heavy “Baby Driver,” but wound up a very lukewarm “John Wick” wannabe, a disappointment.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” is a 2021 action-thriller directed by Navot Papushado and stars Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Chloe Coleman. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout and language, the runtime is 1 hour, 55 minutes. The film began streaming on Netflix July 14. Lynn’s Grade: C-.

By Lynn Venhaus
On Sunday night, the Critics Choice Awards will air beginning at 6 p.m. CST on the CW (ch. 11 in STL). I promise you, it will be way better than the Golden Globes.

For one, I vote as a member of Critics Choice Association (formerly Broadcast Film Critics Association). Hehehehe. I am one of 400+ members. Secondly, we have a diverse membership and our nominations reflect that, unlike the 87 at HFPA.

As far as the show goes, this is what our leadership reports:

We will have virtually all our nominated performers participating virtually in our show on Sunday night. Our lineup of Presenters includes Kevin Bacon, Angela Bassett, Mayim Bialik, Phoebe Dynevor, Morgan Freeman, Gal Gadot, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Hemsworth, Jameela Jamil, Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jared Padalecki, Kyra Sedgwick, Yara Shahidi, Courtney B. Vance, John David Washington, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But once the Critics Choice winner is announced and all the nominees have reacted, we will focus full-screen on the live acceptance speech, without awkwardly returning to the other nominees. And we will offer generous clips showcasing our nominated performances, a treat for audiences who may be inspired to discover movies and series they want to catch up on.

Hosted for the third year in a row by Taye Diggs and with our special See Her Award going to Zendaya, we hope and expect that our 26th annual Critics Choice Awards show will be our best ever. And as the world starts to return to normal in the coming months, we will continue to shine our light on the best the creative community has to offer at our Critics Choice Real TV Awards, Critics Choice Documentary Awards, and Critics Choice Super Awards.

Me and Seth Meyers at 2020 Awards

Last month, we brought our 3rd annual Celebration of Black Cinema to a national audience for the first time, reinforcing our commitment to championing the broadest spectrum of popular entertainment. If it’s as fun as it was last year, I will be very proud and happy! (I attended the ceremony in Santa Monica last January 2020).

It was really hard to pick winners this year — so many good nominees.

Enjoy, movie lovers!

(And if you want to read/listen to my reviews, I am in the Webster-Kirkwood Times; KTRS Radio (segment with Ray Hartmann on Sound Cloud — just go to station website, under Shows, click St Louis in the Know, and the list of audio clips is right there; Reel Times Trio podcast (all posted on Facebook page); and my website, www.PopLifeSTL.com, which is a work in progress, but content is growing.)

Me and Awkwafina at 2020 Awards

By Lynn Venhaus
Oh, so clever and profound, “Soul” tackles life’s Big Questions with whimsy and warmth.

An inspiring ode to mentors and finding our ‘spark,’ this original screenplay by director Pete Doctor, co-director Kemp Powers, and Mike Jones is a fresh take on a subject we generally ignore.

Docter, the genius behind Oscar winners “Up” and “Inside Out,” has gone into new territory while the animators have done stunning, next level work we’ve not seen before.

As the first African-American lead Pixar character, Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is jazz. So, when he gets a shot at performing with the revered Dorothea Williams Quartet, he thinks fate has finally smiled on him. However, destiny had another crossroads in mind – and he has wound up in the “Great Before.” He is paired with a wisecracking infant soul (Tina Fey), trying to figure her life out. Traveling between realms allows him to discover what it means to have “soul.”

The music score is glorious, with hypnotic other-worldly compositions by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and jazz compositions and arrangements by Jon Batiste.

Batiste, the band director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s house band, Stay Human, did the piano performances for Joe in the film – his unmistakable long lean fingers gliding over the 88 keys with such joy. The man exudes optimism every time he tickles the ivories.

“Soul” is geared towards parents more than children, but lessons can be extracted for older youth.

The small moments of life are celebrated, as are the colorful personalities we meet along the way – trombonist Connie, mystic Moonwind, seamstress Melba, barber Dez, obsessive-compulsive accountant Terry, and all those Counselor Jerrys.

Tina Fey is a delight. While Joe and Soul 22 are on their big-city escapades, which are fast and funny, the ‘no-body’ discovers Earth isn’t boring – although she refers to it as “this hellish planet,” but one whiff of pizza and she’s stuffing herself with New York City street food.

Steve Pilcher’s production design of a teeming New York City is remarkable, as is his ethereal Great Before, a mix of pastels and golden lights.

In much the same way as Thornton Wilder’s prose resonates in “Our Town” — “Oh, Earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you…”, “Soul” will stay with you.

And in true Pixar fashion, one must remain for the credits – and they don’t disappoint. The production crew credits appear in the beads of Terry’s abacuses, and the infant souls play games.

Instead of the production babies’ list, they’ve titled it “Recent You Seminar graduates.’

This trip to the astral plane is “Dedicated to all the mentors in our lives,” and is to be savored.

“Soul” is a fantasy animated feature film directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers. Starring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad, Graham Norton and Questlove, the film runs 1 hour and 40 minutes and is rated PG for thematic elements and some language. Lynn’s Grade: A. Now streaming on Disney Plus at no extra charge.
Lynn’s Grade: A