‘Bullet Train’ Zooms Past Sensible Storytelling But Manages to Have Some Fun Along the Way

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Bullet Train (CREDIT: Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Michael Shannon, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Karen Fukuhara, Masi Oka

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: R for Blood from Guns, Swords, Knives, and Poison

Release Date: August 5, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: If a movie takes place on a speeding train, you can bet on non-stop action! Or can you? Well, you can at least rely on a captive set of characters. As the titular transport in Bullet Train charges ahead from Tokyo to Kyoto, our main fellow to follow is Ladybug (Brad Pitt), who appears to be some sort of assassin, except that he doesn’t seem very violent, at least not on this mission. Then there’s the brotherly pair of Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who are much more comfortable whipping out their firearms. And there’s no way to miss Prince (Joey King) in her short skirt and tight bubblegum pink sweater; it’s obvious right away that underneath her schoolgirl facade lurks the heart of a killer. Is the fellow known as The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) the one pulling all the strings? Maybe! Or maybe it could be that one of the other famous faces that pops up along the way will clear up the confusion. Also, there’s a very poisonous snake wriggling around.

What Made an Impression?: For most of Bullet Train‘s path of destruction, I was never really sure what anybody’s mission was. And quite frankly, none of them seemed to either. Sure, there’s a briefcase with plenty of cash that certainly is worth keeping an eye on. But if anything, that’s the reward and not the job itself. Flashbacks pop up to provide backstory, but they don’t fully answer how everyone ended up on the same departure. MINOR SPOILER ALERT: The conclusion spells it all out eventually. But before then, screenwriter Zak Olkewicz and director David Leitch ask for a lot of patience from the audience. Or they request that we just embrace the ambiguity and enjoy Bullet Train as an exercise in frenetic style and a freaky parade of accents.

I at least appreciated how the casting was in part an inversion of this year’s The Lost City, with Pitt and Sandra Bullock switching the roles of bewildered lead and glorified slightly-more-than-a-cameo. And it’s also fun to behold King subsuming herself into the kinda-sorta Big Bad villain role. But in the meantime, questions abound, such as: is that accent real? And also: is that other accent real? And furthermore: why don’t any of the non-criminal passengers seem to notice the gore and bullet holes all over the place? The ending had me going, “Oh wow, that’s what that was all about?” But beforehand, I was somehow against all odds comforted by the steady hand of a cast willing to do everything that was asked of them without any winks to the camera. Vengeance really never turns out how you expect it to go, especially when all the plot twists feel like they were determined by whacking a piñata and throwing what spilled out into a blender.

Bullet Train is Recommended If You Like: The magnetic charm of Brad Pitt, The reveals on The Masked Singer, Derailments

Grade: 3 out of 5 Boomslangs

And You May Ask Yourself: What Awaits Us in ‘The Lost City’?

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The Lost City (CREDIT: Paramount Pictures)

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Patti Harrison, Oscar Nuñez, Brad Pitt, Raymond Lee, Bowen Yang

Directors: Aaron and Adam Nee

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Few Bursts of Violence and Strategically Shot Nudity

Release Date: March 25, 2022 (Limited)

Should The Lost City be discovered, or should it remain lost? That is the question. Or maybe it’s not really the question, but I’ll nevertheless go ahead and ask it because I’d like to have something to focus this review around. And by bringing up the topic of focus, I don’t mean to imply that this film lacks focus. Far from it, in fact! You heard it here first, folks: this is a movie with a straightforward plot that’s easy to follow. Sandra Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a novelist who gets kidnapped and taken to a legendary location from her latest book, while Channing Tatum plays the ditzy cover model who attempts to rescue her, and eventually they make their way out the other end. It’s globe-trotting, high-stakes fun that’s designed to be oohed, ahhed, and laughed at. And I imagine that pretty dang close to 100% of audiences will know exactly when to provide those gasps and chuckles.

So if I have one big criticism about The Lost City, it’s that it’s perhaps a little too straightforward. I hoped for some charming repartee between Bullock and Tatum, as well as a full course of comic relief supporting performances from the likes of Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Patti Harrison, and Bowen Yang. And that’s exactly what I got! But not much more. There’s one surprising development early on involving one of the biggest stars, but afterwards I was left with a sense of, “Yes, that was an adventure.” Here’s the deal: if you’re going to cast Daniel Radcliffe as an eccentric billionaire villain, things should probably get unabashedly weird. Instead, they only get kind of weird. Who knows, maybe I was just infected by the malaise that Loretta was giving off by resenting her career and audience.

But here’s what stuck with me in a welcome way, and why The Lost City might just be worth tracking down. A showcase scene involves Bullock peeling leeches off Tatum after a jungle river swim, which necessitates him dropping trou to make sure she checks every crack and crevice. They keep it PG-13, but this is a classic case of survival-minded lack of modesty that keeps things rolling along. And then there’s an unforgettable performance from Oscar Nuñez (aka Oscar from The Office) as a guy who has a plane and a goat. It makes sense in context, or at least part of it does. And the rest that remained nonsensical is where I derived most of my joy from. So I guess my answer is: I’d like to find this titular city while still feeling like I’m at a loss.

The Lost City is Recommended If You Like: Sandra Bullock unexpectedly witnessing her male co-stars in the buff

Grade: 3 out of 5 Cover Models

Jeff’s Wacky SNL at Home Review: Brad Pitt/Miley Cyrus

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CREDIT: NBC/YouTube Screenshot

The SNL at Home experiment continues onward! For #2, we don’t have a host or musical guest this time, at least none officially announced during the opening montage. Although, Brad Pitt and Miley Cyrus essentially fulfill the same duties that Tom Hanks and Chris Martin did last time. I’d like to say for the official record books that they were in fact the host and MG, but I generally go by what Darrell Hammond (previously Don Pardo) says. (Though, for what it’s worth, Season 45’s Wikipedia page currently does list them as the host and MG.)

In a similar state of confusion, I went to bed on Saturday night planning on making scrambled eggs in the morning, but when I woke up, I was more in the mood for cereal, but when I made it to the kitchen, I was back to being in the mood for eggs. So, the rumors are true, I did cook some eggs and toast. It was the right call.

(One quick note so that we’re all on the same page: for as long as new episodes remain at home, I’ll aim to make my grades for the sketches wackier than usual.)

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Movie Review: Fly Me Away, ‘Ad Astra’

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CREDIT: Francois Duhamel/Twentieth Century Fox

Ad Astra, whaddya got for us?

Daddy issues? Check.

A plot about space travel that sure seems like a metaphor for the emotional space between a parent and child? Check.

Am I getting 2001 vibes? Sure. Not quite as psychedelic, of course, but the feeling of being unmoored and location-less (and somehow kind of liking it) is definitely there.

Was I nodding off while I watched? Yah.

Is that a mark against the film? Nah, it’s more about my own physiology. Nevertheless, I think Ad Astra works as a nice lullaby.

I give Ad Astra 5 Launches out of 4 Landings.

Super Chill Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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CREDIT: Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures Entertainment

A movie that presents an alternative history can be cathartic, and there may be no better example of that than Hitler biting it at the theater in Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino goes back to that well once more with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by considering: in 1969, a pregnant Sharon Tate was murdered by members of the Manson Family, but what if things had gone a little differently? It must be said, though, that while going back and getting rid of Hitler as soon as possible is a fantasy harbored by many, I don’t think it’s as widely-held a wish that Tate and her baby had been spared. Since the relatability factor isn’t as built-in, Tarantino lets us see Margot Robbie as Tate just living her life and finding the joy in being a movie star, ultimately giving this what-if scenario enough oomph. And on a pure cinematic level, the climactic showdown with Charles Manson’s associates just ramps up the preposterousness factor to an irresistible degree.

Beyond that wild what-if, I found Once Upon a Time most satisfying in the comfy friendship between struggling actor Rick Dalton (Leo DiCaprio) and his steady stunt double Cliff Booth (Mr. Brad Pitt). After a busy day on a Hollywood set, a typical night for them consists of pizza and beer at Rick’s house. That sounds like an ideal evening, if you ask me. There are a lot of kooky characters and psychological pitfalls in Hollyweird, and sometimes, especially in 1969, there is also real mortal danger. So the melancholy-but-resilient mood between Rick and Cliff in the face of all that is by contrast delightfully optimistic and downright inspiring.

I give Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 40 Job Securities out of 50 Flamethrowers.

This Is a Movie Review: Brad Pitt Takes Matter Into His Own Hands in the WWII Thriller ‘Allied’

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Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for the Horrors of War

Release Date: November 23, 2016

The World War II thriller Allied has a hell of a premise: intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is informed that his French wife Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) may actually be a sleeper spy for the Germans. If she is, he must execute her himself or face hanging for high treason. This is the sort of flashy, adult-oriented actioner that can only get studio backing if the biggest star in the world is in it, and that few directors besides Robert Zemeckis (Back to the FutureBeowulfFlight) are interested in making anymore. That’s a shame. Allied does not set any gold standards, but it is the sort of perfectly enjoyable effort that Hollywood should be cranking out with ease.

Do not let my pleasant but uninspiring description fool you into thinking that Allied lacks personality. Indeed, its best scene is both Max and Marianne’s sexual linchpin and the prime CGI showcase. Their relationship is confirmed as more than just the bonding of fellow warriors as they find themselves stuck in their car in the middle of a sandstorm. The camera rotates with the force of the environment, as the editing pace intensifies, placing them in a transformational vortex, which serves as the point of no return.

As Max disobeys orders and takes the investigation into his own hands, the twists pile up and complicate the initial assessment of Marianne. Yet the plotting remains straightforward. This is the Occam’s razor of spy thrillers: British intelligence may have a reputation for playing head games with its officers, but sometimes the most simple subterfuge is the correct explanation. Furthermore, while Allied’s official reports may be fudged a few times, its emotions never are. Subtlety may suffer, but integrity (and honor in a very classic sense) survives.

Allied is Recommended If You LikeCasablancaValkyrie, Thrillers About the Wrongly Accused Directed by Alfred Hitchcock or Those Influenced by Hitchcock

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Looks of Anguish from Brad Pitt