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)

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: Shirley

In 2019, The Handmaid’s Tale lead Elisabeth Moss picked up a bit of awards buzz for Her Smell. That speculation never really went anywhere and she came up empty-handed at the majors. Moss might have another contender in 2020 with Shirley, which premiered over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival.

Moss stars as horror novelist Shirley Jackson with a supporting cast including Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, and Logan Lerman. This is the follow-up to director Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, which nabbed some attention on the indie awards circuit two years ago. Early reviews are encouraging.

What’s currently unknown is how much exposure Shirley receives over the course of the year. The limited visibility of Her Smell might have prevented Moss’s first real Oscar attention. If Shirley can mount a vibrant campaign, perhaps that dynamic will change. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Michael Stuhlbarg and Elisabeth Moss appear in Shirley by Josephine Decker, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Thatcher Keats.
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Noah Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah combines the work of a truly talented filmmaker with one of the more well-known tales in Biblical history. It’s an audacious undertaking by both the director and the studio who were willing to budget it at a reported $125 million. For fans of Aronofsky, it is impossible to imagine him going the safe route with this story and he doesn’t. From Pi to Requiem for a Dream to The Fountain to The Wrestler to Black Swan, the auteur has given us challenging and rewarding pictures consistently. Those same adjectives apply in this case, even if the film ultimately drowns under the weight of its aspirations and own flat-out weirdness.

Russell Crowe gives a sturdy performance as the title character, who receives a message from The Creator to take his wife and children on an ark along with duos of the Earth’s creatures. He believes that God has sent word to punish all other humans for their sins. Noah soon becomes convinced that all mankind, including himself and his family and even his unborn grandchildren, must perish too. This creates eventual dissention with his loved ones, especially his son Ham (Logan Lerman) and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson). Even his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly, once again playing spouse to a strong-willed Crowe character) comes to doubt him.

Further complicating matters is tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who leads his followers on a revolt to take the ark themselves. They certainly do not share Noah’s vision of the future and do all they can to disrupt it. Noah receives protection from The Watchers, who are a strange-looking monstrous group of stone creatures. More assistance is provided by Noah’s grandfather played by Anthony Hopkins in some serious old age makeup.

Noah the movie is primarily focused on the inner conflict that Noah the man feels with his God-given vision. Yet along with it comes some battle scenes that could have fit with a Lord of the Rings pic and lots of digital animals that look – well, extremely digital. The effect on the viewer is a bit discombobulating. Biblical purists looking for a straightforward retelling from the Book of Genesis best look elsewhere – like the source material. Moviegoers wishing for something like a Tolkien-esque experience only get it in glimpses.

The picture is undoubtedly the work of a true artist whose very idea to make this is pretty bold. Not as bold, however, as what he’s pulled off before with more satisfactory and deeper results. Noah will surely hold your interest with its often bizarre mix of fight scenes, family drama, sometimes mediocre CGI, dream sequences, creation montages, and supreme British acting. For this gifted director, though, a massive budget and familiar story don’t equal anything close to his finest work.

**1/2 (out of four)

Box Office Predictions: October 17-19

A trio of new pictures open this Friday to try and end the two week reign of Gone Girl at the top spot: Brad Pitt’s World War II actioner Fury, the Nicholas Sparks adapted romantic drama The Best of Me, and the animated tale The Book of Life. You can read my detailed posts on each here:




It’s hard to imagine Fury not having enough firepower to debut at #1, though The Best of Me or The Book of Life or both could surpass expectations. The real battle could be for the runner-up position as Gone Girl is likely to suffer a small decline and Best and Book should open in the same range.

As for other holdovers, I expect Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to experience a slimmer decline than current #2 Dracula Untold.

And with that, we’ll do a top six projections for the weekend:

1. Fury

Predicted Gross: $26.4 million

2. The Best of Me

Predicted Gross: $17.8 million

3. Gone Girl

Predicted Gross: $17.6 million (representing a drop of 33%)

4. The Book of Life

Predicted Gross: $15.6 million

5. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Predicted Gross: $12.5 million (representing a drop of 32%)

6. Dracula Untold

Predicted Gross: $10.7 million (representing a drop of 54%)

Box Office Results (October 10-12)

David Fincher’s Gone Girl held off newcomers to remain atop the charts for the second week in a row. The water cooler hit based on Gillian Flynn’s novel took in $26.4 million, ahead of my $24.2M prediction and has amassed a terrific $77 million in ten days.

Dracula Untold had a robust beginning to the tune of $23.5 million, well beyond my meager $14.4M estimate. The pic is likely to fade rather quickly, but Universal Pictures has good reason to be pleased with its results.

The family comedy Alexander and its long title of a bad day debuted healthily with $18.3 million, right in range with my $18.7M prediction. The Steve Carell pic should hold up decently in subsequent weekends.

Horror spinoff Annabelle, as expected, dropped precipitously after its strong opening last weekend. It earned $15.8 million, barely above my $14.8M projection. It’s made $61 million so far.

Despite star Robert Downey Jr.’s relentless promotion last week, The Judge had difficulty luring viewers. It grossed just $13.1 million, below my $16.4M estimate. Mixed reviews may have kept some adult viewers away.

Finally, the steamy drama Addicted posted an impressive $7.4 million on a limited number of screens for a seventh place start. This outshined my $4.5M prediction.

That’s all for now, friends!

Fury Box Office Prediction

Five years ago, the combination of Brad Pitt and World War II produced robust box office results with Inglourious Basterds. We’ll see if lightning strikes twice in Fury, opening Friday. The WWII action pic comes from End of Watch director David Ayer. Pitt headlines alongside supporting players Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, and Jason Isaacs.

Of course, the aforementioned Basterds (which debuted to $38 million) had the advantage of having Quentin Tarantino and Oscar buzz – something Fury has neither of. The pic was originally thought to be an awards contender, but mixed reviews have rendered that mute (it stands at a respectable 63% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Fury still should succeed at attracting the primarily male action crowd and it shouldn’t have a problem debuting at #1 next weekend. Some estimates put this at getting above $30M, but I’m skeptical. A mid 20s debut similar to what Captain Phillips accomplished last October seems most likely.

Fury opening weekend prediction: $26.4 million

For my prediction on The Best of Me, click here:


For my prediction on The Book of Life, click here:


Todd’s Early Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

We’ve arrived at Day #2 of my first Oscar predictions covering the films of 2014. If you missed my post yesterday on Best Supporting Actress, you may find it here:


For round 1 of my predictions, I’m just listing my current five predictions, along with other possibilities in races that are just beginning to take shape. Let’s get to Best Supporting Actor, shall we? I will note that my inaugural 2013 picks done around the same time last year correctly yielded 2 of the 5 eventual nominees.

Todd’s Early Predictions for Best Supporting Actor

Domhall Gleeson, Unbroken

Logan Lerman, Fury

Edward Norton, Birdman

Tim Roth, Selma

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher


Other Possibilities:

Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice

Albert Brooks, A Most Violent Year

Benicio del Toro, Inherent Vice

Johnny Depp, Into the Woods

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Matthew Goode, Men, Women, and Children

Neil Patrick Harris, Gone Girl

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

John Lithgow, Love is Strange

Adam Sandler, Men, Women, and Children

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes

Tom Wilkinson, Selma

We’ll get to Best Actress tomorrow!