It’s time for me to catch up on the summer’s biggest releases, so here are my reviews for “Bullet Train,” “Nope,” and “Elvis!”
“Bullet Train” was a massive joy from start to finish. Every actor (except for one, who I’ll discuss later) was such a fun and hilarious presence. I adored Brad Pitt as Ladybug, a tired, retrospective, and hopelessly unlucky assassin. One of the running gags in the film is that he’s always on the phone with his contractor Maria (Sandra Bullock), who he uses as a therapist to vent to during the chaos on the train. What makes his situation even funner is that he’s not even supposed to be on the train and is only there to fill in for his obnoxious coworker Carter, who’s out sick with a stomach virus.
The other standouts of the film were Lemon and Tangerine, a British assassin duo played by Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively. Their posh accents, endless bickering, and tempers make for some quality comedic moments.
The action sequences directed by former stuntman David Leitch are exciting too, although they’re surprisingly sparse. You feel the punches between these vicious yet lighthearted assassins. These sequences are also elevated with plenty of cartoonish gore and carnage. The film is also gorgeous due to how colorful it is, as well as the scenery both inside and outside of the train. Despite the condensed setting, the movie is still able to make use of the beautiful Japanese landscape and culture. All this being said, Leitch’s style got a bit excessive at times, namely when the narrative is interrupted by a sequence involving the journey of a water bottle (possibly because of the glaring product placement for Fiji).
“Bullet Train” has an intelligent screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, although it may have a few too many twists and turns in it. You never know which character is going to die or whether he/she is trustworthy. The film always kept me on my toes, although it could have been more cohesive and focused. If you pay attention, you’ll understand everything that’s happening, but if you miss a scene or even a line of dialogue, you could be lost for a while.
Unfortunately, what often sucked the joy out of me during “Bullet Train” was the lackluster performance from Joey King, who played the young assassin named “The Prince.” Her character was meant to be an annoying, smug brat, and King sold that part, but when she needed to be intimidating, King’s performance was almost comical. I think the role required more dimensions than King was able to portray; she’s a fine actress for Netflix movies like “The Kissing Booth,” but here she felt out of her element.
Unfortunately, “Nope” was a nothing-burger. I don’t understand why so many other critics have relentlessly praised this film. There are only three things that stood out: (1) Keke Palmer’s charming and charismatic performance, (2) the gorgeous cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema and his use of IMAX cameras, and (3) the scene with the chimp, which was one of the most frightening, tense theater experiences I’ve had in quite some time (if you see the film you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about). Besides those aspects, the rest of the movie is shockingly forgettable. It’s thirty minutes too long, the main character played by Daniel Kaluuya wasn’t interesting, and the ending was underwhelming. Not much happens and the twist isn’t all that impressive. I’m surprised at how little I have to say about the film. My immediate thought walking out of the theater was, “that’s one of the most okay movies I’ve ever seen.”
I’ll get this out of the way first: I’m not a fan of Baz Luhrmann. I can’t stand his overly flashy style, odd use of modern rap music in period piece films (including “Elvis”), and ADHD editing. That said, I generally enjoyed “Elvis.” While Luhrmann’s polarizing directing style was there, he exercised a surprising amount of restraint that I greatly appreciated. I could actually understand what the heck was happening.
Anyway, as everyone knows, Austin Butler’s performance is the standout of the film. He completely transforms himself into Elvis, not just through his identical accent but also through the way he moves, both in his dancing and body language. He was incredibly endearing and charismatic as the King of Rock & Roll, especially during his dramatic moments toward the end of the film.
Unlike Butler, I disliked Tom Hanks’ performance as Col. Tom Parker. The over-the-top accent and penguin waddle were jarringly out of place when the rest of the cast are giving grounded performances. However, the character didn’t take me out of the film much because he was written far better than he was performed. The character is a diabolical, selfish villain and his manipulation of Elvis over the course of the film is heartbreaking.
What I appreciate most about “Elvis” is its soul. You could tell the cast and crew were actually fans of the artist and wanted to make a respectful biopic. This film is more reminiscent of “Walk the Line” than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the latter being almost entirely untrue and aggressively corporate. Thankfully, Elvis” wasn’t another Hollywood cash grab.