Review: Pitt’s ‘Bullet Train’ hits the mark

Brad Pitt in Bullet Train (Columbia Pictures)

I honestly wasn’t looking forward to seeing the latest Brad Pitt star vehicle “Bullet Train.”

From the advertising, it looked like a riff on the type of films that made Guy Ritchie a name director two decades ago. “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch,” and “RocknRolla” are all solid movies, but I just wasn’t all that excited about revisiting that type of film-making, even with a star like Pitt in the lead.

Despite my hesitation, I have to admit “Bullet Train” was a lot of fun. The film is loaded with action and violence, and it is a thrilling E-ticket ride as Pitt’s hard-luck assassin “Ladybug” attempts to complete a mission without carrying a gun on a bullet train traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto.

As thrilling and action-packed as the movie is, it is the film’s humor, banter, and comical characterizations that lift the movie over the top and make it one of the freshest and fastest films of the summer.

The screenplay by Zak Olkewicz is hilarious and compelling as a comedy and an adventure. It’s outrageous with antics that border on a Road Runner cartoon or Three Stooges short, but it works so well under David Leitch’s direction. He’s truly orchestrating madness here of the best possible way.

The plot is convoluted with rival crime factions working out their bad relationships through rival hitmen and one hitgirl, all of whom Pitt must outmaneuver to complete is his mission of collecting a briefcase on the train to Kyoto for Maria (Sandra Bullock) his contact and handler.

Sandra Bullock in Bullet Train (Columbia Pictures)

Several other assassins on the train complicate matters with similar but opposing goals. Two are Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) who are standout supporting players in the film. Taylor-Johnson and Henry’s chemistry is excellent, and while they are at odds with our protagonist, I found myself rooting for bickering pair of “brothers.” The two could carry a film themselves or perhaps a streaming series.

Joey King plays the deadly schoolgirl assassin The Prince, whom audiences will love to hate, and Michael Shannon shows up at the climax as the film’s baddest of the bad “White Death.” Shannon shines with an outstanding villainous turn that might further typecast him in the future. Pitt is charming as a lovable but very capable and dangerous loser. Playing such a self-deprecating role only makes Pitt that much more appealing. His character always feels like he’s losing even though he’s actually winning.

The action and fight choreography is off the charts in this film, that constantly shifts and turns to take the audience by surprise time after time.

There is a mid-credit scene that’s well worth sticking around to watch.

Maybe it’s because of my low expectations going into the movie, but I had more fun watching this film than any other I’ve seen this summer.

(R) 2 hr. 6 min.
Grade: B+

The Sea Beast

Karl Urban and Zaris-Angel Hator in The Sea Beast (Netflix)

“The Sea Beast” is an animated adventure film by the makers of the “How to Train Your Dragon” series of movies that escaped my attention as a Netflix release for about a month, but if you have kids and/or enjoy animation yourself, the movie is well worth your time.

It’s a head-scratcher why this movie that’s clearly influenced by “Moby Dick,” “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” as well as a gaggle of Disney fantasy films wasn’t widely released in movie theaters. It’s easily my favorite animated movie so far this year.

It’s a classic tale of misunderstanding that works as a morality play as well as a rip-roaring, sea-faring adventure.

Karl Urban (The Boys) voices famous sea-monster hunter Jacob Holland, who gains a new respect and even love for the sea beasts whom he made a living hunting and destroying when he and young Maisie Brumble, a runaway orphan voiced by Zaris-Angel Hator, learn that there’s more to the great sea beasts than meets the eye after being thrown from their sailing vessel.

While the plot is a bit by the numbers, it works, thanks to wonderful animation, fine characterization from the script by director Chris Williams and his co-writer Neil Benjamin, and charming voice work by the entire cast.

The animation is colorful and vibrant, and the action is quite strong and stirring.

Most Netflix movie releases are only so-so, but after enjoying this films so much, I’m going to starting paying closer attention to what and when Netflix releases its next animated feature.

(PG) 1 hr. 59 min.
Grade: B

New in Local Theaters

Bullet Train (R) 2 hr. 6 min (trailer)
AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight

Easter Sunday (PG-13)?????1 hr. 36 min. (trailer)
AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne

Classic Corner – TCM’s Summer Under the Stars underway

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in Singin’ in the Rain (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

August means Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” promotion where the station that specializes in old films dedicates each day of the month to one actor’s slate of films.

It’s a great way for movie buffs to familiarize themselves with the work of a classic star, whom they may have overlooked before or a fun way to reminisce with favorite old films.

TCM equates to comfort food for me, and it’s my go-to viewing option when I want to decompress or just get away from it all for a few hours.

» Here is this month’s schedule

I’ll definitely be firing up the old DVR on Sunday when the movies of Gene Kelly are featured. There’s not a bad movie on the schedule, but “Singing’ in the Rain” (1952) that plays at 3 p.m. central is an all-time great that every fan of classic movies should give a try. Kelly’s version of the “Three Musketeers” (1948) is my favorite cinematic retelling of the classic tale. I also like “On the Town” (1949) about three sailors looking for love during a 24-hour shore leave in New York City. It co-stars Frank Sinatra at the height of his popularity.

Monday features the work of Maureen O’Sullivan, who stared in MGM’s Tarzan movies as Jane along with Johnny Weismuller as the Lord of the Jungle. The first two of their films together in those roles play at 7 and 9 p.m. Monday, but I hope to record several of her other films, which I’ve never seen.

William Holden takes center stage on Tuesday. “Executive Suite” (1954) at 5 p.m., and “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) at 7 p.m. are certified classics, but the sharp satire “Network” (1976) is his can’t miss movie in my opinion. It plays at 10:45 p.m.

The Swedish-American actress Greta Garbo is the flavor of the day on Tuesday. The sultry sex symbol was one of a relative few Hollywood stars who not only survived but also thrived as films transitioned from the silent era to talkies.

“Camille“ (1937), which plays at 11:30 a.m., is considered by many to be her finest performance, but she’s also excellent in the comedy “Ninotchka” (1939) about a Russian envoy who falls in love with a playboy while in Paris.

Those are just a few suggestions of the many great movies TCM will be playing this month. I have a feeling my DVR will be overflowing with movies to catch up on probably through Christmas at the end of this month.