‘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

Scorsese Influences + Clown Makeup = Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

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CREDIT: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Wigham, Marc Maron

Director: Todd Phillips

Running Time: 122 Minutes

Rating: R for Inappropriate Laughter and Shocking (in Many Senses) Violence

Release Date: October 4, 2019

Can’t a man just get attention for wearing a wonderfully colorful suit without having to also go through the trouble of becoming an unpredictable, violent criminal? With his forest green shirt and tie, goldenrod vest, and maroon jacket and pants, Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime has never looked better than he does in Todd Phillips’ Joker. That outfit is a welcome bit of unique playfulness in a film that easily could have been a thoroughly dark slog. I’m very ready to embrace Joker’s continued relevance as a style icon, but as for what this particular origin story has to say about him, I’m a little conflicted, though generally impressed by everything that made it to the screen.

All new Joker portrayals now live in the shadow of Heath Ledger’s rendition in The Dark Knight, which I, and many others, consider to be the epitome of the character. That chapter may be the best way to tell a Joker story, but it’s not the only way to tell a story about a villain, and by corollary, it’s not the only way to tell a Joker story. But the prospect of a Joker origin is nonetheless concerning, as his most striking power lies in the nihilism matched with his thoroughly ambiguous beginnings. Ledger played him like an elemental force who was somehow also a human being even though it felt like he sprung from nothingness. Any origin would seem to be the antithesis of that, no matter how much mystery Joaquin Phoenix might bring to his performance.

Ultimately, though, Joker somehow mostly works despite all this baggage. That’s mostly because by the end it rejects its own origin story, or at least the one-to-one explanation of “difficult upbringing = supervillainy.” True, Arthur Fleck, the man behind the persona in this iteration, has been beaten around by a thoughtless society that doesn’t understand him, but his propensity for violence isn’t about revenge or the fame that comes with notoriety, or at least not only and not primarily those things. No, he just has an insatiable appetite for crime, the more shocking and well-timed the better. He gets his first lick almost by accident, when he protects himself against some fratty Wayne Enterprises employees with a pistol that a co-worker lent him. From this moment on, you can see the euphoria rising within him as he begins to shed any desire for normal human connection.

I am thoroughly impressed by Joker‘s craft, though I’m a little hesitant to embrace it fully. That’s not out of any discomfort with the message of Arthur’s transformation. It’s clear that he’s not meant to be emulated, despite how intoxicating his act can be once fully embraces his true self. What’s really nagging me is that this is a film that is a little too indebted to its influences. The premise is very much “What if Joker, but Taxi Driver?” Although, unlike Travis Bickle, Arthur isn’t interested in cleaning up the streets so much as making them his own. That’s different enough that Joker can fairly say that its overall tapestry is a new creation, but it never breaks fully free of its constituent parts. It’s like one of those magic eye posters, but in this case you can see the individual pieces whether you’re looking close or from a distance.

Joker is Recommended If You Like: It If Every Movie is a Direct Response to Taxi Driver

Grade(s): 4 out of 5 for the Craft/3.5 out 5 for the Message

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/