Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Film Reviews: The Last Gasp of the Blockbuster Summer Season Ends With a “Bullet Train” Bang, While Modest and Uneven “They/Them” and “Luck” Debut on Streaming

Bullet Train (c) Columbia Pictures

Film Review: Bullet Train 
In Cinemas 

In a movie that takes place on a Japanese bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, you can quickly tell who the main characters in David Leitch’s latest homage to Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie are because they are mostly not Japanese. Brad Pitt plays the hapless and bad luck prone Ladybug (everybody has a code name), one of the many hired assassins who all happen to be on different missions that somehow intersect with each other. Besides Ladybug, who’s there to find a suitcase full of money and get off the next stop, there are Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), British twins (funny because they don’t look like twins and have horrible British accents) on a mission from The White Death crime boss (with that name, duh) to deliver the aforementioned briefcase and his son (Logan Lerman) to him in Kyoto. There are also The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny) from Mexico, a young girl named The Prince (Joey King) and The Young Elder (Andrew Koji), a Japanese (yes, an actual Japanese) assassin, who are all on the train for personal revenge. And that’s not the half of it. 

Bullet Train (c) Columbia Pictures

The screenplay jumps all over the place with flashbacks from years ago to five minutes ago – some of it works, some go nowhere (there’s a Chekov Poisonous Snake introduced in the first act) and others are there just there to be cute, like a rogue bottle of Fuji water, a continuing reference to Thomas the Tank Engine (while we’re on a train) and a cute fluffy costumed mascot name Momomon. It’s way too much for one film to handle, but what holds most of it together is Brad Pitt’s goofy charisma. Even when the film goes off the rail (pun not only intended but expected), it’s Pitt that keeps the audience interested, because at many moments in this kinetic and cartoon violent movie, we will collectively raise our hands in disbelief that more plot points are being added to the cacophony. But, I for one enjoyed myself more than I was annoyed by the spectacle of it all. 

They/Them (c) Peacock

Film Review: They/Them 
Streaming on Peacock


The proper way to say the title of director John Logan’s directorial debut is “They Slash Them” and it may be a bit glib to say but it’s the most inventive part of this latest Blumhouse slasher film. As a non-horror movie fan, I was glad that the murders didn’t come fast and furious like most of films of this ilk, but even I felt the movie was mostly build-up, and until the last fifteen minutes, rather tepid. The good news is the premise and the cast. Kevin Bacon, who’s having a second career burst with these creepy movies, is Owen Whistler, the head of Whistler Camp, a conversion camp for LGBTQ+ teens (or their parents) who hope to change their sexuality. Included in the latest batch are non-binary Jordan (Theo Germaine), high school jock Stu (Cooper Koch), Veronica (Monique Kim), who may be there for covert reasons, and Alexandra (Quei Tann), who is keeping a secret. Logan, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (“The Aviator,” “Hugo”), seems to be making a point that these kinds of camps, outlawed in many states, are horrific enough with their arcane notions of gender roles and activities bordering on sadism. But just as the kids realize that Owen and the other camp counselors may not have their well-being at heart, the serial killer, who started the movie killing a helpless driver outside the camp, finally makes their way into the camp and the murders finally start piling up. 

They/Them (c) Peacock

They/Them walks a tricky tightrope of being respectful of the kids while also having the staff hurling offensive stereotypes. Germaine is definitely the standout in the cast, as Jordan seems to be this slasher film’s Last Person, with the typical curiosity that could get them in trouble and a healthy dose of knowhow to stay unslashed. Bacon is alternately sympathetic and menacing as Owen, with fun turns by Carrie Preston (of “True Blood” fame) as his girlfriend Cora and former teen star Anna Chlumsky as Molly. There’s also a controversial song break that some may feel is a bit too “Glee” but hey, when queer kids get together, bonding over a singalong shouldn’t be ruled out. Overall, the film has sharp things to say about homo and transphobia, Unfortunately the actual horror aspect has been dulled to the point of almost being nonexistent. 

Luck (c) Skydance / Apple TV+

Film Review: Luck 
Streaming on Apple TV+ 

The first thing unlucky about “Luck,” the latest Skydance Animation studio film, is that it’s the first project under the helm of its president John Lasseter to be released after his dismissal by Pixar and Disney for sexual misconduct allegations. So already there’s a controversy over it that no movie should have to bear. But, alas, this animated film, despite being brightly and amusingly animated, is also unbearably complicated and confusing. It starts well enough with Sam (Broadway actress Eva Noblezada), who considers herself the unluckiest person, leaving the orphanage because she was never adopted, turned 18 and now has to live on her own. However, she wants a better future for Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), her young roommate who is meeting a prospective “forever home” family soon. When Sam finds a lucky penny and her unlucky existence miraculously changes into a lucky one, she decides to gift the penny to Hazel. But unfortunately, she loses it and all her good luck. Through plot machinations too wild to describe, Sam finds herself in the magical world of Land of Luck, with a Scottish black cat named Bob (Simon Pegg), where she tries to smuggle out a lucky penny for Hazel. There she meets traditionally lucky allies like leprechaun, rabbits and unicorns (?) while dodging the very un-Irish leprechaun Captain (Whoopi Goldberg) and the CEO dragon (don’t ask) named Babe (Jane Fonda). Director Peggy Holmes, with a script by Kiel Murray with Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, has underestimated the magic of the Land of Luck world that includes a leprechaun job that’s nuttier and more incomprehensible than the one in the series “Severance,” also on Apple TV+. The inspiration is obviously “Inside Out,” which personified emotions, but luck is just too elusive a concept to construct a believable other world. One forgets that if you see a penny and pick it up, all day you’ll have good luck only applies to pennies that are heads up. This is a heads down penny all the way.

If you want to comment on these reviews, please do so on my Instagram account.  All reviews have their own post.  And please follow to know when new reviews are released.