‘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

Movie Review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ is Surprisingly Goofy, Unsurprisingly Family-Oriented, and Annoyingly Convoluted

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Universal Pictures

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Eddie Marsan, Eiza González, Helen Mirren

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Big Vehicles and Big Egos Slamming Into Each Other

Release Date: August 2, 2019

Spin-offs should offer something that the original couldn’t. Hobbs & Shaw immediately feels off in that regard, considering that Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have already been a couple of the biggest characters in the last few Fast & Furious movies. Although, they aren’t quite members of the core family, so that leaves them enough wiggle room to break out on their own. But it can’t be too different! This franchise has a sterling stunt reputation it needs to maintain, and while director David Leitch and company do not try to be as relentlessly mind-blowing as Fast Five or Furious 7, there is at least one memorable moment when a motorcycle slinks between some truck tires.

The separation, then, mostly comes in Hobbs & Shaw being at its core an odd couple buddy comedy, and in this case, that means a few celebrity cameos who inject their own particular brands of impishness. These moments feel out of place in this world, but they might also be the best parts? Their charms cannot be denied. Honestly, though, I think we would have been better off spending more time with Hobbs’ daughter (Eliana Sua), as her scenes are both delightful AND internally consistent.

As wonderfully corny as Hobbs & Shaw is willing to be, it can’t change the fact that most of the plot is convoluted high-tech, globetrotting nonsense. Idris Elba is the cybernetically enhanced big bad, and we get a few genuinely disturbing shots of how he is becoming a superhuman or something beyond human. There is a hint of a larger conspiracy at play here, but only a hint. Meanwhile Vanessa Kirby plays Deckard’s sister Hattie, an MI6 agent who has been infected with a virus that’s going to kill her and apparently everyone around her also. The explanation for how the virus is supposed to spread is either glossed over or not emphasized enough, which is a problem because the race to cure Hattie is what drives most of the action.

Thankfully, the reward for dithering through all that is a surefire demonstration that we must, in true F&F fashion, celebrate the importance of family. It’s not as flat-out heartwarming as the series proper, but Hobbs takes us all along to Samoa to meet his mom and brothers, and Helen Mirren totally rocks her prison jumpsuit in her return as Mama Shaw. I could do without all the derivative action flick gobbledygook, but I’m grateful for the good vibes.

Hobbs & Shaw is Recommended If You Like: James Bond, but with a goofy postmodern (though not quite parody) sensibility

Grade: 3 out of 5 Friendy Insults

This Is a Movie Review: Deadpool 2

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I give Deadpool 2 2.5 out of 5 Baby Legs: https://uinterview.com/reviews/movies/deadpool-2-movie-review-second-time-not-the-charm-for-exhausting-sequel/

This Is a Movie Review: Charlize Theron is Masterfully Icy Enough to Overcome ‘Atomic Blonde’s’ Shortcomings

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CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Bullets, Knives, Punches, and Kicks

Release Date: July 28, 2017

At its best, Atomic Blonde is like a cool music video. That description may sound useless in its simplicity, but when a film’s pleasures are its simplest ones, such pith is justified. I believe most people understand inherently what makes a music video cool, but to deconstruct it into its concrete components and how it relates to Atomic Blonde: it is about the combination of recognizable beats and imaginative imagery. Most action films have style, but not all of them have distinct visual wit that you won’t find anywhere else. Spray paint-strewn opening credits give way to an aesthetic dominated by icy blues. 1989 Berlin is filled with cloudy, low-lit neon clubs, and a new wave-heavy soundtrack that tends towards the robotically impersonal. Charlize Theron, the atomic blonde herself, is even introduced waking up in an ice bath.

For some godforsaken reason, Atomic Blonde also cares just as much about its plot. Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent sent to Berlin to kill German spies. There is no need to remember her name – I am not sure anyone ever calls her by it – but it is useful to keep track of all the other byzantine details. Broughton teams up with a loose cannon station chief (James McAvoy) with some trepidation, eventually they have to extract a German operative (Eddie Marsan), and it all goes pear-shaped, leading to the frame device of the (consistently amusing) exit interview with her superiors (Toby Jones, John Goodman). The twists keep turning all the way to a somewhat exhausting near-two hour running time.

But do your best to trim through the fat, because we’re all here to see Charlize – as they say – “kick ass.” Director David Leitch offers hectic set pieces that are much easier to keep track of than his work on the first John Wick. Broughton is impressively skilled in all forms of combat, but she is not invincible. Just about every character suffers puncture wounds, so be prepared to wince. (2017 Trend Watch: improvised slicing weapons to the face, as one baddie gets a set of keys stuck in his cheek, just as John Wick utilized a pencil in his second chapter.)There is also a little bit of time to kick back and relax. A detour with Sofia Boutella as an undercover French agent is kind of cool partly because you do not often see queer relationships in this type of movie, but more so because a Theron-Boutella tȇte-à-tȇte is a solid attraction. The whole affair is a little more distressing and less intellectual than it probably means to be, but Atomic Blonde gets the job done.

Atomic Blonde is Recommended If You Like: John Wick: Chapter 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid: Redemption, Dark New Wave Soundtracks

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Keys to the Face