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122: Does the ‘Batgirl’ Cancellation Make Sense? Plus: ‘Bullet Train,’ Reviewed!

August 9, 2022
Notes
Transcript
On this week’s episode of Across the Movie Aisle, Sonny Bunch (The Bulwark), Alyssa Rosenberg (The Washington Post), and Peter Suderman (Reason) try to hash out the business reasons for, uh, throwing a whole movie into the trash can. Will WB ever #ReleaseTheBatgirl? We’ll see! And then they review Bullet Train, a movie that sounds like it should be awesome but is instead just … kind of flabby. Make sure to swing by Bulwark+ on Friday for a special bonus episode on trains. Buster Keaton, class politics, and Tony Scott: trains have it all, man! And if you enjoyed this episode, share it with a friend.
This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:11

    Welcome
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:11

    back to across the movie aisle presented by Bulwark Plus. I’m your host, Sunny Bunch, culture editor of the Bulwark. I’m joined as always by Liz Rosenberg of The Washington Post, Peter Suderman of Reason Magazine. Alyssa Peter, how are you today?
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:22

    I’m well. I am happy to be talking about movies with friends.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:26

    First up, being controversies, and controversy’s Warner Bros. Discovery has made a decision that is almost definitionally controversial. I don’t even know how we’re gonna do controversies. Or controversies this week. It’s just controversy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:38

    They have decided to shelve the nearly completed Batgirl film forever preferring to take a tax write down on the ninety million dollar or so film rather than releasing it on HBO Max or spending another mid to high eight figures to beef up the CGI work to make it, you know, ready for theaters and to pay for an advertising campaign to let people know it’ll be in theaters. Right? The news came as a shock to the director’s stars and, frankly, most everybody in the world. It’s it’s rare to see a movie of this size regardless of quality, simply get memory hold by a studio. Usually, they end up doing badly in theaters as with Morpheus or they get sold streaming has happened with Skydance’s the Trump tomorrow war, or they get dumped to a surface’s own streaming platform has happened with the remake of the Witches and HBO Max.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:27

    Right? From a pure business point of view, it almost asks certainly makes more sense for WBD to just take this tax write down on Baccarat. Because let’s be honest, no one’s gonna sign up for HBO Max to watch what has been described by Matt Bellini and others as a CW Quality Pilot of a movie. Spending another eighty million dollars or so to get it into theaters would only compound the losses. They’re just pouring good money after bad.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:54

    Right? This is the problem with a streaming first strategy in general when you spend tons of money on a movie that doesn’t get a taste of the theatrical portion of the revenue waterfall You’re looking at madness. It’s just madness, and it’s smart that w b is moving away from that and recommitting to theatrical streaming. Should serve as a TV network of sorts, not a destination for big budget. Film making.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:20

    But the move undoubtedly has down sides confirming fears in the industry that Discovery chief David Zaslowff is more concerned with pinching pennies than making art. And filmmakers undoubtedly look at this and tug on their collars a bit. Right? Why would you commit a year plus of your life to something? That could get shelved to save shareholders a few cents.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:39

    Ironically, Christopher Nolan, who got crucified last year as greedy by much of the entertainment press, at least when he wasn’t being accused of literal murder by insisting on a theatrical release for Tennant, saw the writing on the wall earlier than everyone else. He bailed up long time long time home Warner Bros. For Universal in twenty twenty one. Again, very controversial. But he he seemed to see what was coming here.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:01

    Frankly, I gotta be honest, I wanna see this movie now more than I did before. I I I I just imagine a movie so bad that it’s more valuable to the people who made it to literally burn every print and trash every hard drive then show it to the people, but then I’m a sicko. Alyssa is your curiosity peaked at all by this craziness.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:22

    Not particularly. I don’t care that much about back girl. I was not knocked out by Leslie Grace in in the Heights. I thought she was actually the weak link in that cast. And honestly, this may also get me, you know, framed by our long time listeners, but Zessa kind of makes sense to me.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:40

    Right now, just in the sense that I I mean, I think I have long been the person who’s like the economics of streaming make no damn sense. And clearly, I think there was spending that was getting wildly out of control, not just at, you know, Warner’s HBO, but other places as well. I mean, you know, JJ Abrams had this show that it was in development with them that was budgeted at something like two hundred million dollars per episode, which is insane. Right? I mean
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:10

    Not a reasonable amount of money.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:11

    No. I mean and there have been times, I mean, Game of Thrones spent an astonishing amount of money on some of its final season episodes. But that show was a proven commodity, and I mean, I assume that they could make some sort of business case since, like, If you let us burn down the red keep and make it look really awesome, we’re gonna sell this many DVDs based on sort of previous productions and this, you know, pre established fan base. Like, my understanding is that you could make something of a business case for the amount of money that was getting plowed into Game of Thrones. But did you have spending, you know, more than a billion dollars on a season of television for a totally original concept that nobody knew anything about.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:50

    That’s crazy bananas. Right? Like, that is bonus. And so if SaaS live is looking at the economics, I mean, like, yeah, spending ninety million dollars and that would you know, it’s worth noting that this was, I think, originally budgeted at seventy five million dollars and got up to ninety with the COVID protocols. And he was like, this is not gonna make ninety million dollars worth of business for us.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:13

    It makes sense to look at what you’re doing and see if it is remotely sustainable because This you know, Hollywood has pivoted its entire business model to streaming on, you know, driven by Netflix’s debt fueled spending spree in a way that is insane. And so, like, yes, it’s wonderful if people want to spend a lot of money on great art. It’s not as great if anyone’s been ninety million dollars on expensive CW pilots, although you should probably be fair to what Greg Brolante has accomplished at CTV, which is basically keeping that network afloat with the series of shows. But at the end of the day, if you would like there to be money, perhaps not entirely debt funded money to fund your project, there has to be a, like, a business that supports that. And so know, yeah, Zaslav is obviously gonna have a lot of people furious at him.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:08

    I think there are other things he’s done. You know, in terms of describing the streaming services that he’s merging asking or female skewing, and it’s also driving people nuts. But if someone in Hollywood steps up and is like, yeah, we have to find a way for this business to work, That’s that’s correct. He is not wrong.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:24

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:25

    Just quick quick correction. It was two hundred million dollars for the JJ Abrams series Demi Mon for the whole first season.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:32

    Okay. So is only the whole person still?
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:35

    Still
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:35

    an enormous amount of money to spend on a as you say, an original concept to show I mean, two hundred million dollars is still a I mean, that is more that’s that that is a ton of money, two hundred million dollars to spend on on a TV show. It’s For
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:49

    reference, for for listeners, the final seat the Game of Thrones was budgeted. Around ninety million dollars per season, although there are, like, internal or actually, let’s say internal. The speculation is that those those numbers were low. So probably for the the last couple of seasons, they were probably higher than a hundred million dollars per season. But even still, that was that was really, really unusual at the time.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:14

    I mean, the the biggest most expensive episode of television I can think of was that weirdly, the pilot to Vinyl that Marcus Gorsese produced, you know, like, a, you know, seventies member berry. That that I think had a a budget in the range of thirty million dollars or forty million dollars for the first hour. But after that, they were gonna try and scale it back. And
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:34

    again, Kemeth Thrones was these were the final seasons of a wildly successful show that was based in existing IP with a decades old fan base. So
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:45

    Yeah. I mean, it made sense. It made there was, like, the the the last big hit for HBO. We’ll see how the the the new season Game of Thrones. I don’t know if you guys know this, but the next season of this Game of Thrones pretty well, it’s about a Targaryen lady who was trying to take the iron throne.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:01

    It’s on untramble the ground. No. We’ve never seen a show like this before.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:06

    I am excited about the dragons. They’re gonna be so dragon y. Peter, what do you make of this whole back girl kerfuffle. I have many questions here. How bad is this movie actually?
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:17

    Right? So we we only have sort of third hand reports from test screenings. It wasn’t finished. Like, I at least in the sense that they were still open to editing it further and perhaps beefing up the special effects. And there are multiple reports out there, some saying that the test screenings were a disaster, some saying that it wasn’t so much that the movie was terrible, just that it was really the wrong tone for what what Warner Bros.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:42

    Wants to do. With DC going forward. They wanted to feel big and epic and worthy of the theatrical experience, and this movie just didn’t deliver that. Then they’re saying, you know, oh, look, we wanna work with all of the all all the major creatives again, which suggests maybe it wasn’t a complete disaster, but I don’t know. So this is a question I have.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:01

    I think all of this comes back to up, like, just a deep confusion about what to do with the DC universe. And maybe we like what Zach Snyder did. Maybe we didn’t. We don’t have to have the Zach Snyder argument yet again on this show, Sunny. I mean, like, if you wanna do five minutes on that, Let’s go.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:18

    Let’s go. But I just don’t think anybody ever really had a a great sense of how to handle a big DC universe project over Warner Brothers. It’s not quite as as messy as say what Kathleen Kennedy did with Star Wars at It was at Star Wars theatrical productions at at Disney. And at the same time, there was the sense that DC should be the major competitor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that DC could build that out starting with Man of Steel and deliver something along the lines of what the MCU has delivered for Disney.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:55

    And that did not happen. It just like, the movies didn’t work as well as they should have. The there was no there was there were plans announced for films to sort of be released. But but it never they never sort of came out. They rushed into Justice League too quickly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:10

    Justice League itself was a notorious huge disaster. Even if you think the snider cut was great, I obviously have mixed feelings about it. And it’s just like, what what even is the DC universe? And so this to me stems from, like, a decade worth of confusion about what to do with the DC properties. And it’s also pretty clearly, like, their the the new regime here wants to reset and rebuild DC because they think that in the medium to long term, they actually could have a marble competitor.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:40

    And I think I think that might actually be right. Because this is coming at the exact same time that Marvel seems to be I don’t know, flagging is maybe not the right word, but Marvel seems to be showing some weakness and some uncertainty about its own future right now. And it’s totally possible for me to imagine that there’s like a that, you know, five or eight years from now, it’s the DC comic book movie universe that looks great. And is just is just churning out hits, you know, a couple of times a year and all that stuff. It is just like working, whereas Marvel’s at that point will have seemed to have lost its way.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:16

    And so I I think that this is this comes, like, you have to understand this understand this in the context of more than a decade now of DC versus Marvel rivalry. I also just wonder about Sunny’s Sunny’s desire to see this now. Do we think we will never see this movie? Do we think that there’s, like I mean, does the tax credit? Like, do they do you like, does the IRS come back and say, actually, you have to pay that five years from now?
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:44

    I don’t know the answer to this. But if if in, you know, whatever, twenty twenty eight or something, some somebody says, look. Alright. We’ll let you see back, girl. Is that a possibility?
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:56

    Like, or even next year or the year after? Like, is that something that could still happen? Because I do think This was a movie that it’s not obvious, like, that it was gonna have a giant audience, which is one of the reasons why it got canceled like this. At the same time, now that it’s been canceled. Now that it’s been taken out of circulation, there’s some interest in it, and I I sort of wonder if this is like a a long lead time marketing stunts for, eventually, we’ll release this so that you can see it because people are gonna want it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:30

    I would be I I would be kinda surprised if this was an intentional thing because I think we think look, I think as Alyssa was saying that the the what Zasov is doing here feels like it is almost certainly the correct thing to do. And it it gets to the heart of the economics of streaming as a business. Altogether. I mean, like, the thing about streaming is that you you get money by getting people to sign up for subscriptions and you get the you get more money the longer they stay signed up, which is why weekly episodic TV releases on a streaming service have always made more sense outside of the Netflix, you know, dump everything at once because that’s what Netflix did and that was our big, you know, game changing thing and that’s what everybody expects now. I would be shocked if Netflix is still doing this five years from now, but we’ll see.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:17

    The the what makes no sense at all for streaming, what makes no which what has never made any sense. And the part of HBO strategy that has never made any sense at all is making movies for streaming. It’s making big budget movies for streaming what doesn’t make any sense about Netflix’s strategy, making two hundred million dollar movies for streaming, where you capture somebody’s attention for two hours, on one night and then they’re gone. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It doesn’t make any sense.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:42

    I just signed up for Paramount or whatever the hell it is. Just to see the Bemis and But Head movie. That’s the only thing I’ve watched on it, and now I’m a subscriber.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:50

    How long will you be?
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:53

    Probably not that long. But there’s a previous in my head series now that’s following from it. So But
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:57

    and, Sunny, also, it’s not just that it’s you’re getting them for two hours. Is that you’re getting them for two hours and knee capping all other possible revenue streams that you could have gotten from that. Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:06

    Right. Right. Well, that’s so that’s that’s the thing. Like, streaming should be the last stop on the revenue train. It should be you you get somebody you get a bite of them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:15

    When they’re you get a bite of people when they’re in theaters. You get a bite of people when it hits VOD for the first time. You get a bite of people when it hits Blu ray DVD, whatever for the five people who are still buying physical media. Out there. And then you get a bite when they when it shows up on streaming.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:29

    And, like, that that that is how would I mean, again, I I find all of this talk about streaming being the future, streaming being the you know, this is what everybody wants. It doesn’t make any sense. It just it it eliminates every other portion of the revenue waterfall, the vaunted waterfall that every executive will tell you about. There’s a whole there’s them to this. You get you get you get you get money from a bunch of different places all at after the other.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:58

    And just going straight to the last one is the dumbest thing you could possibly
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:02

    do. I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. I get what you’re saying, but I do think that it’s not insane to think that if you’re If on the one hand, your goal is to get people into movie theaters once a year. And on the other hand, like, and the alternative to that is to get people to pay ten or twelve or fifteen or eventually twenty five dollars a month that you’re you’re better off in the long run pulling twenty five dollars a month out of people forever rather than hopefully, you know, putting something into theaters that will get their butts in once a year because it’s most people aren’t like us.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:37

    Most people don’t go see movies once a week or much more often than that. Those people in fact, we we are the people who we don’t they don’t need to market to. We’re like seeking out marketing. For ourselves. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:46

    And so but, like, lots of families are just like, ah, movies are expensive, and I’m not gonna do that, and so they’re gonna paper streaming and developing that, like, stable, steady form of subscription revenue that you can count on year over year without having to do a ton of, like, let’s oh, there’s a new Wonder Woman movie coming out. Let’s do the marketing for it, which is gonna cost us first a hundred and fifty million dollars in production spend and another hundred and fifty million dollars in ads. But you get those
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:14

    people anyway. You get those people anyway. You like, this is a thing that, like, you already have that segment of the market. Those people are gonna be there. Like and and all of the all of the information that we have shows, all of the data shows, that movies that get a theatrical race and get get the theatrical ad spend do better on streaming.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:32

    More people watch them on streaming. I mean, I like again, it’s it’s totally bonkers to me. It’s totally bonkers to me that you would you would forego the first three revenue steps just to get to the streaming. End game, which is, like, arguably, the cheapest of all the revenue end games. I mean, I like, drives me drives me insane.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:51

    This is also just a a repudiation of the Jason Klar regime, which did not last very long, but also was operating under very weird circumstances, which is that during twenty twenty, basically, movies did not come out. Yeah. We had this yeah. There was January and February and a little bit in March, and Chris Reynolds’ tenant came out. But Jason Keelar developed this strategy for HBO Max of putting everything both in theaters and on the streaming service.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:18

    All the big features in twenty twenty one day and date because he was operating in a twenty twenty environment and looking ahead to twenty twenty one and understanding that even if the box office came back which it did to some extent, it would be soft and also that, like, the the best way to get revenue in that environment was going to be to get get it through streaming because theaters were were too risky. And I think this this move is the signal that movie theaters are back, baby. Right? Like, in some ways, like, this is the the strongest signal that Hollywood has given us that actually movie theaters are here to stay the next decade. And so in some ways, we can look at this as movie theater fans, as people who like to go see things on a big screen, we can look at this and say, whatever we think of the decision to pull that girl and what that says to artists and all that, this does represent a renewed push to put things in theaters and get people to see things on the big screen.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:13

    And that that is actually going to be a big part of Hollywood for at least the next five, if not ten or fifteen years. But
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:18

    also just the end to the drunken sailor era. And I think that’s it’s just not a bad thing. You know, I I like every other nerd in the universe would love it if my favorite RT fartsy weirdness made a zillion dollars at the box office, but it doesn’t. And you know, a a system where there’s no financial control. Everything is, you know, funded by debt.
  • Speaker 3
    0:18:41

    And, you know, a lot of this stuff is just getting made in disappearing isn’t necessarily great for people who love a variety of content either. So, you know, I think that this is probably not I mean, I feel bad for the people who are involved in making stuff that’s getting canceled and axed. I’m sure it’s really depressing. And in the case of the folks involved in back
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:01

    probably
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:02

    pretty humiliating. But this just doesn’t strike me. This strikes me as sensible in a way the last decade of the industry really has not been. And, you know, we we need to get to a new normal that is more sustainable.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:17

    Yeah. Like I said, this is pretty obviously a controversy, but, you know, is is this whole situation a controversy
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:23

    or controversy Peter? It’s a controversy that anybody thinks you need to make money in Hollywood
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:29

    overrated. Listen.
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:31

    It’s obviously a controversy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:33

    Obviously.
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:34

    Yeah. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:35

    Obviously, a controversy. Obviously, controversy, we yeah. Everyone agrees. But again, kinda hope we see that dumb movie. Alright.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:42

    Make sure to stop by at m a dot com on Friday for a special member’s Aldi Bonus episode on Trains. Well, train movies, movies about trains, trains, trains, set on trains, starring trains, featuring trains. Speaking of which, on in the main event, bullet train, bullet train subgenre could possibly be described as convoluted wacky assassin slash heist movie. Right? Predecessors of which include smoke and aces and hotel artemists, or to a certain extent, snatch or bad times at the El Royelle or John Wick, and it sequels.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:13

    John Wick, also makes sense as a reference point since this was directed by David Leech, who directed the first one, co directed the first one with Chad Steleski. And it was put together by his studio eighty seven North which in its previous incarnation eighty seven eleven built the fight sequences for John Wick. All of which is to say that bullet train is a bit like John Wick by way of Snatch with mattering of smoking aces. There are funny digressions, there are constant flashbacks. Every fight scene in the movie feels like it was designed with a purpose.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:40

    Like for instance, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to watch Brad Pitt bring a briefcase to a knife fight? Sure. Pitt is the nominal star here, but it is much more of an on somble cast than you would think, and he is totally almost peripheral to the actual story here, which involves retrieving mob boss, the white death son, and a brief case full of his cash. Right? A a pair of twins played by Aaron Taylor Johnson and Brian Tyrie Henry notably not twins in real life.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:06

    Are in charge of this operation. They are stymied by a vicious young girl, played by Joey King, a grieving father, and grandfather, played by Andrew Koji and Hiroki. Sonata, respectively, and a Mexican hitman played by Bad Bunny. Other various wacky, crazy, hit men, hit people. The plot here is tremendously convoluted for no great reason.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:29

    It’s more complicated than it needs to be or should be and the endless flashbacks destroying whatever momentum the storytelling builds. As I noted in my review, it’s like taking a train that’s going two hundred miles per hour and just slamming it into reverse in between every stop. And then and then stopping at every stop. And then when you stop at every stop, you stay there for, like, ten minutes instead of the allotted one. It’s, like, being on a Lumada train.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:51

    Just tell the dang story and focus on the dang action. That’s why we’re here. All of which is to say that I really liked every component part of this movie and the whole thing just doesn’t hang together as a film at all. For me. I I, like, it was I I found myself tapping my foot and looking at my watch and being like, why am I slightly bored now?
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:11

    I shouldn’t be bored. This is not a boring movie, but I’m bored. It’s kind of a mess. Peter, what did you make of bullet train?
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:19

    Well, this is a movie that works really well in theory. And it works really well if you sort of take like a dipstick and and measure any specific elements. Right? Like at any point, it seems to be working well. But over time, as you actually watch it, it it doesn’t work.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:37

    And I just It’s like this it’s it’s very strangely a dud given that there’s all of these elements that are actually pretty successful. It’s visually interesting. Brad Pitt gives her, like, a takes, like, a a kind of underwritten role and this really proves his star power here. I think a big part of the problem is is the writing and the script. You know, you you focused on the flashbacks, Sunny, in the way that they sort of interrupt the flow of the movie.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:05

    But I think the the bigger issue to me is that Brad Pitt is the nominal star here. And as you said, he doesn’t he’s sort of incidental to the plot. And in fact, he keeps trying to get out of it. And so our hero is someone who kind of doesn’t seem to want to be engaged or involved in the movie. And it’s a it’s an odd I get what they were.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:24

    Going for. They wanted somebody who was a little bit of a slacker who was not, you know, this sort of type a decision making action hero. At the same time, in order for people to be invested in the goings on of a story, you need a character who is in some ways invested in the goings on of a story. And Brad Pitt’s character here isn’t? He is just constantly trying to not be involved.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:47

    And I get that there’s like a story here about somebody who wants out of this business. Who doesn’t wanna be involved in this, you know, assassin’s freak show anymore. But that’s not really the story they told. They just sort of they tell it they tell a different story about a bunch of mob bosses and sons and people die in and I don’t know. It’s like a very again, convoluted and messy, and I couldn’t even really summarize it for you.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:12

    They tell that story through the lens of someone who doesn’t wanna be involved in it. It just happens to have been caught up in it. And it just doesn’t engage you. I also, I thought that the action scenes here were surprisingly underwhelming. They weren’t bad exactly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:29

    But they all started with a clear idea and then didn’t really develop them. And there’s nothing there’s nothing in this movie that sticks out as memorable in the way that, like, the club sequence in John Wick sticks out as memorable or even that crazy, you know, sort of SUV bit Chase at the end of the of the first John Wick, you know, on the dock. Certainly nothing even close to the the big action set and John Wick two and three, which were bigger budget films. I mean, you can just sort of like go through and name all of them conceptually. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:02

    The that that he’s throwing the gun bit. That you gotta shoot shoot him in the neck bit. The mirror sequence. The You gotta horse. Right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:10

    The the horse and, you know, through Times Square or whatever it is, there’s just so many extremely memorable bits that take an idea and then you’re like, oh, you’re gonna fully exploit every little idea, every, like, every sort of ounce of of of of potential in this idea. And I just thought that bullet train’s action scenes didn’t do that. They seemed sort of to to be satisfied with having the idea rather than actually giving you something from it. Now, I will say that my wife who I saw this movie with liked it because of that, because she feels like action scenes are too long. But here, they just they seemed like there wasn’t enough to them.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:50

    Movie was much more interested in sort of narrative editing hijinks that ultimately didn’t work. What
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:55

    I have a theory about why both why the action sequences are not that memorable and why this movie feels sort of inert. It’s a movie called bullet train that does very little with the fact that its characters are on an extremely fast train. You know, you have this device where, like, the white death turns out. Theoretically, it’s like, bought out all the seats on the train beyond a certain point in the line. But this is a much better, more interesting movie if it’s more constrained by the fact that it’s taking place on a full train where people are both trying to kill each other and steal things and escape a murder of snake while also having to actually deal with, like, irregularly coming through conductor.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:35

    And they have the gag about, you know, the annoying, like, white American lady who’s shushing them in the quiet car. But, like, you know, it’s also the way that they’re, like, fighting. It’s, like, very obvious. It would be very obvious to her what’s going on. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:48

    And so a version of this movie that is much more constrained, like, has much more of, you know, they have, like, the one sponsored car by the anime show that, like, turns out to be a disguise for one of the characters. But, like, this is this would be a much better action movie and sort of specific, you know, movie in general, if they did more with the fact that it’s on a very fast train. Right? Like, the thing that they end up doing with it is, like, having Aaron Taylor Johnson, like, you know, hang on to a fast train like he’s Tom Cruise and then, like, punch his way through a window, which is, like, is ultimately, like, fairly both, really boring and not actually thrilling in part because it doesn’t seem plausible. But so, like, do stuff with the specific culture of very fast Japanese high speed trains.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:37

    Like, do more with the you know, the drinks and food service, then have Aaron Taylor Johnson’s character be like a compulsive shoplifter. Right? I mean, And so a movie where the action scenes are more constrained and thus more creative is like a more interesting action movie and a movie that is, like, feels more specifically about Japan. And I have to say I think this movie suffered a lot for me. From having seen it after having watched Tokyo Advice, which is like actually is a very engaging and, you know, human and sort of culturally specific and interesting story about the Yakuza in a way that, like, Russian dude comes in, punches a bunch of people and then, like, shoots and knives, a bunch of people, is just not at all interesting or engaging.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:27

    And I also thought that this movie had a huge tone problem in that it veers back and forth between, like, sort of nasty and violent and just unbelievably modeling. Like, it’s really, like, Joey King’s whole psychopath, like, I just wanted you to see me, Daddy, like, just kill me now. So incredibly boring. You know? Like, Bad Bunny’s character being, like, sad about his dead wife.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:52

    I mean, it’s just it is totally very strange. And you can mix up you know, sort of viciousness and nastiness and sincerity in ways that work. Right? I think, like, Pain and Gain is a great movie in part because it is both, you know, more nastily violent than this movie is by a considerable amount. But also, you know, the characters feel real and sincere in their commitment to this totally skewed version of the American dream.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:22

    Here, you know, all of the sentimentality feels incredibly contrived. And all of the characters are essentially written to be memeable. Right? Like, they’re written you know, they’re written to be sliced and diced into gifts and repurposed on the Internet. And none of them are written as actual, you know, people in any way.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:44

    Even Brad Pitt’s character, it’s like, you know, you could do more with the, like, he’s been through a lot of therapy and, you know, has all of these cones and sayings. And then if you just isn’t really like, it’s a it’s an ongoing gag. Right? I mean, it like, every time Brad Pitt, like, spouts one of his therapy maximum, it’s literally designed to be like sliced down and tweeted a lot. The entire movie just feels like that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:10

    There’s a great action scene on a bullet train in the Wolverine. Yeah. That, like, makes much better use of the fact that you’ve got a superhero character with some claws and some like, try add bad guys after him and it’s all happening on a train that’s going two hundred miles an hour. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:28

    Yeah. I I I think everything you said is right. I mean, I as to the tone, you know, the this was one of the movies I referenced to my my preamble is smoking aces. The Joe Carnahan kind of wackiest ass and movie. I don’t know if you guys have seen — Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:42

    — smoking naces. But it’s not
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:43

    for a while, but yes.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:44

    It it’s a slightly strange movie and that it has all of these, like, kinda goofy, wacky characters, all of these, like, assassins who have sticks and and whatnot. But it’s actually an incredibly dark story. At the heart of it, it’s about a it’s you know, I don’t want I won’t spoil it. But the it is like borderline super nihilistic. Just in terms of how the whole thing comes together and, you know
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:05

    Shockingly, when we’ve jumped on a hand.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:06

    Yeah. When we find out, you know, what what is actually going on at the heart of the story and the the weird family dynamics at the heart of it, blah blah blah. That movie works for me in a way that this one just doesn’t. Because this is goofy And as you say, a list of modeling at the same time, whereas where our smoking aces is almost tragic in a in a more Greek sense. So I don’t know.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:33

    I I just I I I it doesn’t work. And I I I do disagree slightly on the on the idea of the action, you know, not working within the train. The problem is that there’s, you know, there’s really Like a train has one one space and that is a long straight area. In which to fight. And, like, it’s hard to do multiple things within that one big area, which is why they have to keep going to flash back.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:02

    Why we have a big flashback with all of the, like, the countdown of deaths in the the, you know, the scene where they’re, you know, re kidnapping the kidnapped son or the the Mexican hitman going through his his journey through. You have to keep getting away from the trading and they they do that instead of using the train, and it just feels like it feels like a mistake, feels like a a waste of a waste of that space and that that area, I don’t know.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:29

    It’s a fairly obvious homage to Quentin Tarantino, who’s someone we haven’t mentioned here. This movie is very indebted to Kill Bill and Kill Bill’s flashback structure. And you can imagine a version of this movie even directed by or sort of, you know, that’s even more explicitly Tarantino esque in which each one of these assassins is introduced in a chapter with a title card, you know. Part two is
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:52

    a little boy
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:53

    or whatever.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:54

    See, I I don’t think I don’t think that’s right exactly. I think it’s more it is more of a guy richie movie. I think it’s more of a guy richie movie except guy richie understands how to do these flashbacks in like thirty seconds. For sixty seconds. And it’s like it’s like a quick introduction and then you’re gone.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:09

    Like in Snatch, there’s this the great sequence where he introduces us to bullet tooth Tony and explains how bullet to Tony got his name. And it’s like it’s like two or three quick cuts. The whole thing takes about forty five seconds that you’re you’re in and you’re out. But
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:21

    that’s why I think this is more indebted to kill Bill is because because in kill bill, you have these extended flashbacks that will last five or ten minutes and sort of take you away from the action. But what they do is they don’t just provide some backstory about the character before they got there, they provide a crucial piece of information that then immediately pays off. Right? So that whole bit where Uma Thurman is is buried and, like, what’s she gonna do? Oh, we need now to understand her training in ten minutes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:51

    That her training involved hitting hitting something so hard, like repeatedly that she has iron knuckles, and now she can just iron knuckle her way out of the coffin. Right? And immediately, this whole thing builds to to a a punch line, in in that case, literally a punch line because she’s punching her way out. But it builds to a specific relevant piece of information rather than just stopping to say, oh, and this is this person’s backstory.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:15

    Yeah. Specifically, in the in the introduction and spatching of the bad bunnies, the wolf. Yeah. Like, there’s a there’s a whole weird there’s like a whole there’s like a there’s like an extra scene in between It’s like, what is this doing here? Why are why are we coming back to this?
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:29

    What is happening? I don’t understand. Anyway, it’s a weirdly edited movie. I don’t think it just doesn’t it just doesn’t work. Doesn’t work.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:35

    I I I wanted to love this movie, and I indeed loved parts of it, but man, it just does not work.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:41

    I like Billy King’s costume in this movie and nothing else.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:45

    Fair enough. Alright. So what do we think? Thumbs up or thumbs down, Peter.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:48

    Sadly, I have to give this a thumbs down even though if you showed me like any frame or little exchange. I might give it a thumbs up and think that’s the kind of movie I would like to see. Alyssa.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:59

    Thumbs down.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:00

    Thumbs down indeed. It’s too bad. Wanted to like it. Alright. That is it for this week’s show.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:07

    Make sure to swing by TMA dot com for our bonus episode on Friday. Make sure to tell your friend strong recommendation from a friend is basically the only way to grow podcast audiences. If we don’t grow, we’ll die. You did not love today’s episode. Please complain to me on Twitter at sunny button, shock them into that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:21

    It is a fact that I show in your podcast feed, see guys next
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:24

    week.
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