“Bullet Train”: instead of mystery, a loud, black comedy about hit-persons

One Loudoun, Ashburn VA, in front of Alamo Drafthouse

Today I saw the bloated dark comedy film “Bullet Train”, directed by David Leitch, based on the action novel “Maria Beetie” by Kotaro Isaka, screenplay adaptation by Zak Olkewicz (and it wouldn’t have been easy), for Columbia Pictures.  

The protagonist is a mercenary codenamed “Ladybug”, this time openly a he-man, that is, Brad Pitt.  His contact had been Maria Beetle, who is played by Sandra Bullock at the end of the film.

model railroad at Dulles Airport expo, 2019-12

The rest of the setup is indeed complicated by various Japanese and international underworld foes.  Ladybug is supposed to recover a satchel containing ransom money from the bullet train (Shinkhansen) from Tokyo to Kyoto (450 Km), but that is only for starters.

The style of the movie is farcical, populated by cartoonist pop images.  This is in stark contrast to many other films set on trains, such as “Strangers on a Train”, “Murder on the Orient Express”, “Transsiberian”, and especially “Snowpiercer”.  Also throw in “The Cassandra Crossing”. This 127 minute film by comparison is just a wild ride.

At the end comes the spectacle of the train wrecks, destroying a town. The plot in enriched by a snake on the train, whose bite contains a venom causing fatal bleeding. 

It was interesting that the Alamo Draft House (Loudoun, VA) preceded the show (in the largest, Imax auditorium) with an 1950s ad for Lionel model trains.

The end credits offer a compelling and rhythmic concert overture by Dominic Lewis. 

Some have compared Pitt’s role in this film to his role as Jerry Welbach in Gore Verbinski’s “The Mexican” for Dreamworks, 2001, a character who carries the eponymous gun across the border while a girl friend encourages him to give up criminal ways.   

(Posted: Friday, August 12, 2022 at 11 PM EDT)

“Vengeance”, black comedy taking us to west Texas where the libs (of tik tok?) aren’t too welcome

Abilene, Texas downtown 2018-6

Vengeance” attracted my attention because of its presentation of Texas, where I spent a decade of my life (the 80s) and have some attachment to, however horrible the politics are today.

B.J. Novak writes, directs and starts in this self-monument, perhaps, as writer Ben Manalowitz, a youthful 40-something who would like to be 25. He “dates” a few women in continual succession living in New York and starts with a philosophical discussion of all that with friends along the East River, maybe in sight of Barge Music.  He gets a call  one night (when with a heterosexual trick) from acquaintance Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook) that a woman he slept with once down there in southern Baptist country has died mysteriously. That woman is Abilene, Ty’s sister, yes, family.

The film gives us some geography. Abilene is 140 miles west of Fort Worth along a scenic I-20 that goes through the Palo Pinto hill country (a real escarpment at Ranger, which recent burned in a wildfire).  I can remember stopping there on Sierra Club bus trips from Dallas for supper at McDonald’s.  North of Abilene toward the Red River there is some arid country that looks like Mars with a little vegetation. But if you go west another 150 miles or so you come to Midland-Odessa.  Another 200 miles (am I guessing) takes you through the Trans-Pecos mountains to El Paso.  I don’t think it’s a full 5 more hours Abilene as the film claims.  The bus trips didn’t take that long.  The script mentions Marfa, but I think the mountains are visible from there.  The countryside in the film is flat (shot in SE New Mexico, maybe o nt he way to Roswell). 

He gets familiar with all the country folk and townspeople, most of all record producer Quinten Sellers, overplayed a bit by Ashton Kutcher, overdressed in his white house.

There is a conversation early on where he mentions almost every franchised convenience store and restaurant chain in the country, except for Waffle House and Wawa, favorites of science author Matthew Cappucci (book due Aug. 2), and All Sups, the convenience store chain I noticed in west Texas last time out. I also like Sheetz (east, however, like PA), and Race Trak (Dallas).

He writes a piece published back in a major NY rag (his editor is Issa Rae, perhaps Conde-Nast). At one rodeo he gets caught in a public word game with two near-homonyms, “rider” and “writer” (the consonants are hard to pick up). .  The MAGA crowd sneers at his pretentious elitism as a “lib” (maybe of Tik Tok).

But in time Ben tracks down the trail of possible drug activity (especially opioids, what else?) and the slow-paced black comedy (Blumhouse is the production company, for Focus Features) ends with shocking force.  Remember how notorious motorcycle flick “Born Losers” (1967. from American International, of course) ends? And he will get away with it.

Let’s mention another movie, “Paris, Texas” (1984), by Wim Wenders with Harry Dean Stanton as the drifter Travis, from my own Dallas days.  The town is in NE Texas near the OK border .

I also want to re-iterate, the idea that “Vengeance” is indeed about a “writer”, and the whole concept of the film reminds me of Tyler Mowery’s “Writer’s Mind” series (67 posts, even-numbered under Patreon) on YouTube. Tyler has a December 2019 video about his writing his own dramatic sci-fi script for “Blue Moon” (set on Luna), which you can download and read free from the notes on this YouTube post. It’s rather interesting that he came up with this idea a few weeks before the general public would learn about the coming global pandemic. But then, again, how was Avi Schiffmann so ready to write his coronavirus tracker, and how did he come up with this short film “The Central Dogma of Biology” at age 16 (practically predicting the development of mRNA vaccines at the end of the film) in June 2019?

(Posted: Saturday, July 30, 2022 by John W. Boushka at 5 PM EDT)