Bullet Train Review

David Leitch has done this cartoonishly bloody and dripping with sarcasm business before with John Wick and Deadpool 2. In Bullet Train, having Brad Pitt loaded for the quipping is a plus. The trip is rockiest in the beginning leg, but picks up steam for quite some time. In the later stages, you may be asking why we aren’t there yet with the climax.

Pitt’s assassin who goes by Ladybug boards the title mode of transportation with simple instructions to boost a briefcase. Hurtling at breakneck speed from Tokyo to Kyoto, he soon finds that many other types who share his profession are along for the ride. This includes “twins” Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry). Their codenames may suggest Prince backup dancers, but they’re tasked with transporting the drug addled son (Logan Lerman) of a crime lord named White Death (Michael Shannon) back home. And they also want that briefcase.

Unlike Pulp Fiction where we are still collectively wondering what was in that case, we find out quickly here. Ladybug and his fruit monikered colleagues aren’t the only ones seeking it. There’s Prince (Joey King), who’s dressed not as a backup dancer but as a schoolgirl who fools many with her innocent appearance. Kimura (Andrew Koji) is a killer burdened with a young son in danger away from the tracks. There’s more – Zazie Beetz turns up as does Hiroyuki Sanada as Kimura’s elder (he’s called The Elder). Multiplatinum rapper Bad Bunny is The Wolf, who is avenging a family massacre that could have used cleanup from Harvey Keitel’s Winston Wolfe in the aforementioned Pulp. There’s cameos I won’t spoil. I will say they add little other than fleeting seconds of unexpected recognition.

Bullet Train gleefully revels in its violence. It kind of feels like a throwback to 90s excess that Tarantino’s landmark sophomore feature helped inspire. That’s not always a bad thing as the slicing and dicing is done with the visual flair we expect from Leitch. The screenplay from Zak Olkewicz is one of those where nearly every character is eventually connected. I found myself straining to care about those connections.  It takes a few minutes before Train gets up to speed. Yet Pitt’s considerable charisma and his support staff (particularly Henry and Taylor-Johnson) help alleviate a lot of those narrative bumps. So was the ride worth it? That’s debatable though I’d say there’s worse fates than taking it.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: Bullet Train

OK, no one’s saying that David Leitch’s Bullet Train was stationing itself for a Best Picture nomination. As for down the line tech nods, it’s at least worth discussing. The action comedy from the John Wick and Deadpool 2 maker stars Brad Pitt and is out Friday.

The review embargo has lifted and Bullet is currently at a middling 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. I would say the only races where nods seemed feasible were Sound and Visual Effects and I don’t envision either occurring. If the Academy were to ever put in a  category for Best Stunt Work (which isn’t a bad idea), the critical reaction indicates this might be in the mix. Absent that, don’t look for this Train anywhere near an awards show.

Leading man Pitt could, however, still find himself in the 2022 mix for Supporting Actor (we think it’s supporting) with Damien Chazelle’s Babylon. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Bullet Train Box Office Prediction

Sony Pictures is hoping moviegoers catch the Bullet Train when it debuts August 5th. The action comedy comes from John Wick maker David Leitch with Brad Pitt headlining as an assassin. The supporting cast includes Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Bad Bunny, and Pitt’s recent The Lost City costar Sandra Bullock (in a role first slated for Lady Gaga).

The Japan set stunt fest is hoping to turn out an adult audience ready for original programming in a summer filled mostly with plenty of sequels and superheroes.

Since starting a franchise with Wick in 2014, Leitch followed up with Atomic Blonde. It was a box office disappointment that debuted with just over $18 million. Train should have no trouble getting past that number. However, it won’t reach the earnings of his last two pictures which were built-in franchise entries: Deadpool 2 and Fast and Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw. 

Nope was able to reach mid 40s and it had the advantage of Jordan Peele’s brand. This will rely mostly on Pitt’s star power. I’m curious to see how word-of-mouth is in the coming days and that could increase or decrease my projection. My hunch is that mid 2os is the floor and low 40s could be the ceiling. I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes toward the lower end of that spectrum, and I’ll say high 20s to low 30s is where this lands.

Bullet Train opening weekend prediction: $29.7 million

For my Easter Sunday prediction, click here:

Easter Sunday Box Office Prediction

Oscar Watch: Army of the Dead

Zack Snyder’s zombie tale Army of the Dead hits hundreds of screens this weekend before its Netflix streaming premiere on May 21. Reviews are out and several indicate it’s a winner (especially the opening scene which is drawing raves). The Rotten Tomatoes score currently sits at 76%.

If an Oscar Watch post for this particular genre seems strange, I get it. I’m not talking about a Best Picture nod or lead actor recognition for Dave Bautista. However, some critics are pointing out Army‘s visuals. Just last year, the Netflix monster pic Love and Monsters scored a surprise nomination in Visual Effects.

Here’s the caveat: several contenders in the race from 2020 were pushed back to 2021. In other words, VE should be more of a crowded field this time around. That includes potential heavy hitters like Dune, Eternals, the fourth Matrix, Top Gun: Maverick, The Suicide Squad, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Having said that, if Netflix launches a serious campaign, Army could march to the shortlist in this specific category and a nod is not out of the question.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Army of the Dead Box Office Prediction

In a newsworthy announcement from this week, Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead will roll out in hundreds of venues on May 14 prior to its Netflix debut one week later. The zombie thriller (sporting a reported budget of $90 million) stars Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notrao, and Garret Dillahunt.

This is the first time where the streaming giant and some theater chains have agreed on a wider release plan. Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse are just two companies that will be showing Snyder’s latest. The same cannot be said for AMC and Regal so that limits Army‘s capacity. While some Netflix titles have played on limited screens for awards consideration, the estimated 600 count here is a high mark.

Snyder’s name has been visible due to his reworking of 2017’s Justice League that recently hit HBO Max. That combined with its often popular genre could bring out eager fans who wish to get the jump on its streaming release. That said, 600 screens certainly limits its potential. There’s also the matter of Spiral, the reboot of the Saw franchise that could siphon viewers aware and appears poised to easily debut at #1.

Giving Army a per screen average of around $4,200 would result in a gross between $2-3 million and that’s what I’m envisioning.

Army of the Dead opening weekend prediction: $2.5 million

For my Spiral: From the Book of Saw prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/05/spiral-box-office-prediction/

For my Those Who Wish Me Dead prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/06/those-who-wish-me-dead-box-office-prediction/

For my Profile prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/05/07/profile-box-office-prediction/

Mortal Kombat Box Office Prediction

Fresh off their massive success with Godzilla vs. Kong, Warner Bros is back in theaters and streaming on HBO Max with the release of Mortal Kombat on April 23. The film is, of course, an adaptation of the hugely profitable gaming franchise. It’s also a reboot of the film series that began in 1995 to potent box office returns and a 1997 sequel (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) that couldn’t live up to the first. Therefore the series has been dormant nearly a quarter century.

Simon McQuoid makes his directorial debut (and James Wan as a coproducer) with a cast featuring Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Chin Han, and Hiroyuki Sanada. While it seems like every major motion picture has experienced major delays due to COVID-19, this one was only pushed three months from an original January release date.

As mentioned, its studio has found a formula that works in recent months with their simultaneous multiplex and HBO Max drop dates. Godzilla vs. Kong set the COVID times record with a much better than anticipated $32 million traditional opening weekend and nearly $50 million for its five-day Easter frame rollout.

Mortal Kombat may not have quite the appeal of those two monsters mashing, but it certainly has a built-in fanbase that will prefer to see it in the theaters. Its R rating (the first two flicks were PG-13) could be a minor hiccup, but I doubt that will have too much effect. It can’t hurt that there’s a new generation of video game players and their parents who are familiar with it.

I look for Kombat to punch in with a little more than half of what GvK accomplished and that means high teens is the range I’m forecasting.

Mortal Kombat opening weekend prediction: $17.5 million

For my Demon Slayer prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/04/20/demon-slayer-kimetsu-no-yaiba-the-movie-mugen-train-box-office-prediction/

Life Movie Review

Calvin Coolidge was our 30th President of the United States and he isn’t talked about too often in the general grand scheme of Presidential history. There will probably never be a biopic about President Coolidge, but he does receive the honor of having an alien named after him in Daniel Espinosa’s Life. The term mild-mannered comes up frequently in relation to the President. His extra-terrestrial namesake is nothing of the kind.

Life takes place entirely on the International Space Station (ISS) where a six-member crew is returning from a Mars mission. They’ve made quite the discovery: Matt Damon and they’re bringing him home with his disco music! Actually it’s a soil sample that turns out to be the first evidence of life outside Earth. School children are given the ability to name this historic being and the lucky winners hail from Calvin Coolidge Elementary – hence Calvin.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Dr. Jordan, who’s been stationed the longest and seems to have a slight case of space institutionalization. Ryan Reynolds is engineer Rory, who keeps the Reynolds patented wisecracks to a minimum. Dr. Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) is the chief quarantine officer. Biologist Hugh (Ariyon Barake) is tasked with bringing Calvin out of his dormant status to life.

That turns out to be a bad idea because Calvin has only survival instincts in mind. The organism shows a mean streak when he wakes up and Life becomes all about the passengers on board clinging to their own.

Audiences have been treated (or in some cases subject to) a host of outer space themed pictures in recent years, from Gravity to Interstellar to The Martian to Passengers to name a few. Some of those titles had a hopeful tone about what lies beyond our planet. Life? Not so much.

The production design and technical elements are top-notch and the acting is just fine, even though no one really has a character to work with. Espinosa’s exercise is mainly an excuse to pay both loving homage and rip-off Alien, the granddaddy of this genre. In that sense, it does provide some genuinely scary moments and plenty of others that are just familiar territory. Life is competent if not memorable, which is also what some historians say about President Coolidge. 

**1/2 (out of four)