In movie news these days there’s a daily announcement of what’s coming to the Toronto International Film Festival., which starts in just over month. Stephen Spielberg was mentioned early on. Meanwhile, Warner Brothers has trashed an entire movie. Batgirl is apparently almost complete but won’t be in theaters or streaming. And these are available now …
Bullet Train: 3 stars
Thirteen Lives: 2 ½
Prey: 3 ½
The Lake: 3
The Bear: 4
BULLET TRAIN: You won’t find a more mixed up, crazy, nonsensical action film in the theaters this summer but take this to heart. It’s also great fun. It’s speedy, of course, set almost entirely on Japan’s famous high-speed rail system and based on a popular novel from there. It’s got star power with Brad Pitt in the lead, a strong cast with him and a couple of surprise uncredited cameos. And it’s got a narrative that throws in anything the writers could think of. Two characters can’t agree if they killed 16 or 17 people? Throw in a montage so they, and we, can count them. Much of the film has that farcial tone.
Pitt plays an assassin assigned to ride the train and get hold of a briefcase stuffed with money. He doesn’t know there are four other assassins on it that day, and hardly any passengers. It’s all explained eventually, involving a Tokyo crime boss (Hiroyuki Sanada), an upstart Russian gangster (Michael Shannon), an injured child, a son who is being hunted, a suspicious woman, possibly killer, (Joey King) who goes under the name Prince, and others. Code names are common, like the “twins” Tangerine and Lemon. Pitt is called Ladybug. His former stunt double, David Leitch, directed, as he did for Deadpool 2 and brings a similar cheeky comical vibe here. It seems he’s been studying the films of Guy Ritchie and early Tarantino. But he has trouble resolving the very complex plot and the film feels like its slowing down before its destination. Before that: full speed. (In theaters) 3 out of 5
THIRTEEN LIVES: I’ve now seen three full-length films about the Thailand cave rescue of five years ago. This one by Ron Howard is by no means the best and considering his skill as a director quite a disappointment. It does not have half the suspense of the second film, the documentary The Rescue and it doesn’t even mention, as the first film did, that a man from Langley, B.C. was among the many divers who showed up to help. Incidentally there’s another version coming next month. Netflix will have a series to tell it all again.
Howard’s version has one major virtue: it goes deeply into the details of the story. As you probably remember, 12 soccer-playing boys and their coach took a side trip into long cave after a game and were trapped when a sudden rainstorm flooded the way out. Parents were frantic; officials didn’t know what to do and the Navy Seals they assigned to the job didn’t have the expertise. Cave diving is a particular skill, more damanding than regular scuba diving. The whole issue isn’t properly explained here and that results in weaker tension than should be.
People who could do it flew in, particularly two from England (played here by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell). They aren’t even labelled as cave divers but as rescue specialists. The film is distracted by telling too much of some the details. That also dulls the suspense, although the talk about the novel way of getting the boys out is rivetting. Joel Edgerton, as an Australian diver who happens to be an anaethetist, came up with the idea. Sedate them, for the long underwater tow out. Even that isn’t shown with a lot of tension or even clarity. Incidentally, Bron Creative, the Burnaby, B.C. company is one of the producers. (Streaming on Prime Video) 2 ½ out of 5
PREY: Little did we know that when we watched Arnold Schwarzenegger battle the Predator 35 years ago, the space alien had already been on our planet earlier. It menaced the Comanche people about 300 years before as this film by Dan Trachtenberg shows. A young woman warrior named Naru is the first to sense the creature is around and has trouble telling others about him. No wonder. You can’t see him most of the time. He’s translucent, sometimes only a few twinkly lights, usually only a warped distortion of the air.
But Naru (played by Amber Midthunder) can hear his spaceship. Her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) doesn’t believe her. He and her mother (Stefany Mathias) don’t even understand why she spends her time trying to be a hunter when staying home is the norm. That’s a modern view of the role of women back then but it effectively creates the tension between her and them and sets up the shock of the inevitable attack by the creature. We get the battle and carnage we expect in these films but also something surprising: a respectful portrayal of indigenous culture and the life they lived. The natural plants they used for medicine. The waste they deplored among the white hunters in their territory. French hunters in this case. The indigenous characters are all played by indigenous actors. That adds to the authentic feel, although their speaking style is contemporary. “Don’t get your bowstring wet,” says one. The Predator sequels were bad. This prequel is not. (Disney+) 3 ½ out of 5
THE LAKE: or nx̌aʔx̌aʔitk has a novel approach to one of the key issues right now: reconciliation with Indigenous people. It shows it by example. It’s hard to imagine if there can be many others like it but this one is part musical history, part artistic project and all about listening to each other and understanding.
It starts in the 1950s, when composer Barbara Pentland was encouraged by a group in Ontario to write an opera about the relations of Indigenous people and settlers. She based it on the writings of a woman who in the 1870s lived on the shore of Okanagan Lake, and therefore near the Westbank Indian Reserve. The opera wasn’t performed because the Ontario group disbanded but years later singer Heather Pawsey found the libretto and decided to get it heard. To improve the work, she collaborated with a sylix woman from the area, Delphine Derickson, who happened to be an elder and a singer. They removed references that were outdated or insensitive and basically updated it and in doing that came to know each other’s cultures better and became friends.
They got the full opera performed at the Quail’s Gate Winery. Why there? Because the original house of the woman who inspired the opera, Susan Allison, is still there. There’s film; which I think is of that first performance, which seems to have been quite an event. The music doesn’t seem to be too thrilling and we only get bits, not the shape of the whole opera. The film is a bit dry but well-meaning. We get what director John Bolton is saying about comparing cultures. Example: For some, there’s a sacred spirit in the lake. Settlers think it’s a “malevalent monster” some call Ogopogo. Fascinating history. (VanCity Theater) 3 out of 5
THE BEAR: I don’t often cover series but this one has developed such a strong reputation in the US it seemed worth a look now that it has started on Disney+ here. And judging from the first two episodes it is. This is a workplace drama, heightened with lots of tension, deadlines, disagreements and competition into a very lively watch. The episodes are about a half-hour each and both that I saw ended far too soon. You become attached to these characters.
Jeremy Allen White plays a young chef who returns to Chicago to run a small sandwich shop his deceased brother had owned. He’s been at a fine-dining restaurant and wants to bring some of that ambience into this eatery. But with his every idea he butts up against his cousin (Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who is sure he knows better and says so loudly. The other characters are mostly on the sidelines not sure who will win, though a new intern just hired (Ayo Edebiri) is supportive because she’s ambitious. She’ll be promoted to sous -chef as the series progresses and the restaurant name, The Original Beef of Chicagoland, will be changed to The Bear. I’ll be interested to see why and if it can be turned into a Michelin-level restaurant. Meanwhile, there’s lots of stress, frenetic activity and worksite acrimony well-directed by Christopher Storer. (Disney+) 4 out of 5