Tag Archives: Brad Pitt

Hooray for Hollywood


by George Wolf

Well first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

There’s an elephant in the room. A real one, delivered to a film exec’s insane party by the ambitious young Manuel (Diego Calva). Wannabe starlet Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) has also found a way past security, and as writer/director Damien Chazelle’s extended take winds us through some impressively staged decadence, Babylon begins its frantically entertaining chronicle of intertwining fates in early Hollywood.

Manuel and Nellie meet that night, each launching a dream to break into the movie business, where Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) reigns as the king of silent films. While Manual begins climbing the ladder on the production side and Nellie’s persona as the screen’s new “wild child” makes her an in-demand sensation, the jaded Jack pines for innovation and laments that “the most magical place in the world” has become stagnant.

And before anyone can warn Jack about being careful with his wishes, “motherfucking sound!” comes to the movies.

Chazelle’s vision here is more ambitious than ever. Babylon is always big and often wild, swinging in all directions as it proposes a drug-fueled toast to the movies, the people that make them, and to the often cruel way those people are used and abused.

It’s a mess of humor, spectacle and emotion, with all angles fighting the urge to run off on their own. There’s surprising humanity in the arc of Sidney (Jovan Adepo), an African American horn player whose success in musicals can’t protect his dignity, but curious excess revealed in the strange cameo from Tobey Maguire as a scary guy with an alligator in his dungeon, as well as a sudden montage of classic movie moments that pops up in act three.

All three leads are terrific. Pitt exudes charisma and hard-earned wisdom as a man forced to admit bitter truths, Calva provides the film’s sympathetic heart and Robbie is flat-out ferocious, delivering a constant challenge for you to just try and look somewhere else. The always welcome Jean Smart is also a treat, stealing scenes with an award-worthy supporting turn as an influential gossip columnist.

Babylon isn’t just big, it’s large, with a three-hour-plus running time that Chazelle packs with enough pizazz and amazing craftsmanship to keep it constantly compelling. This film may be many things, but boring is not one of them.

Like Jack, the silent film star struggling in talkies, Chazelle knows the movie business may be at an important crossroads. But both men still believe in the power of movie magic, and that despite shame from the past and uncertainty in the future, Hollywood deserves the big loud hooray that explodes from Babylon.

Station to Station

Bullet Train

by Hope Madden & George Wolf

It took us decades to embrace it, but Brad Pitt is really funny. We all saw those acceptance speeches, right? Burn After Reading? And he was easily the funniest thing about the Sandra Bullock/Channing Tatum romance adventure The Lost City.

But those were acceptance speeches and supporting turns. Pitt’s comedic stylings are front and center in David Leitch’s highly advertised Bullet Train.

He’s not alone. There are about 100 other people on this train, most of them for the same reason.

Hitman twins Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are on a job for the mysterious Japanese gang lord known as White Death. Prince (Joey King) is a young woman with more plans for the trip than just finishing her book. Kimura (Andrew Koji) will do whatever it takes to keep his kidnapped son alive, and Wolf (Benito A Martínez Ocasio aka Bad Bunny) just wants to settle an old score with Ladybug.

Pitt would be Ladybug, an adorable code name given to him by his handler (Sandra Bullock). His first job back from sabbatical is a quick, easy one: grab a briefcase off a train and then get off that train. But there are so many other stories and bandits and snakes and whatnot, and that automatic door just keeps closing station after station before Ladybug can make his exit.

Leitch can stage action. You’ve seen Atomic Blonde, right? And since the director’s official 2017 feature debut (he gets an uncredited nod for the original John Wick), his focus has been on slight, action-heavy comedies: Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw.

His Bullet Train continues that tradition: it’s slight, action-packed, silly fun. He and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz adapt Kôtarô Isaka’s novel via a mishmash of styles, blending a spoonful of Edgar Wright with a heaping helping of Guy Ritchie and a smidge of Tarantino. It’s bloody and hyperactive with witty banter and surprise dot connecting, all trying their best to distract you from the lack of tension and bloated run time.

The cast sure seems to be having a blast with it, especially Pitt. He makes Ladybug an endearing mix of daily affirmations and lethal force (with an unusual interest in lavatory facilities).

Throw in a couple other big star cameos, and Bullet Train is a stylish concoction that never finds the right balance of hip action and self-aware absurdity. It’s clever but not really funny, full of high gloss stuck in economy class. The ride may seem fun while it lasts, just don’t expect anything memorable waiting at the destination.

Romancing the D

The Lost City

by Hope Madden

A romance novelist who’s really a bit of a hermit becomes a reluctant adventurer looking for legendary jewels in a far-off land, with a roguishly handsome man—part hero, part heartthrob—at her side.

No, it isn’t Romancing the Stone. It isn’t even Jewel of the Nile. Aaron and Adam Nee’s romantic adventure comedy The Lost City offers less adventure, more screwball comedy. And more sequins.

Sandra Bullock is Loretta Sage, whose romance novels are known less for their anthropological mysteries than their hunky hero. That hero has been depicted over many book covers by Alan (Channing Tatum).

Promoting their latest effort, The Lost City of D, Loretta gets nabbed by a wealthy villain (Daniel Radcliffe, playing delightfully against type), who believes she can decipher a map leading to untold riches.

The real gem in this film is Brad Pitt in an extended cameo as the tracker hired to find Loretta. The Oscar winner and veteran leading man is just so much fun when his only goal is to be funny, and in this movie, he’s a riot. (It helps that he gets to deliver the film’s single best line.)

Bullock and Tatum are both solid comic performers, but neither is given much to work with in this odd couple romance. A grieving widow given up on love, Loretta doesn’t offer Bullock a lot of room for hilarity. Instead, she becomes a rather dour anchor for the project.

Tatum’s dunderheaded beefcake is appealing enough, but can’t quite keep the film afloat. A side plot featuring Da-Vine Joy Randolph (Dolemite Is My Name) feels like filler, which this 2-hour film did not need.

There are some chuckles, especially when Pitt’s onscreen. Bullock and Tatum share enough chemistry, deliver physical comedy well enough, and generate enough charm between them to keep the breezy entertainment enjoyable.

The Lost City offers pretty, lightweight fun, not unlike a romance novel.

Head Space

Ad Astra

by George Wolf

In a near future world full of wondrous space travel, the presence of t-shirt vendors and war zones on the moon provides apt bookends for the struggle to balance both hope and conflict.

The continued search for intelligent alien life keeps mankind gazing “to the stars” (Ad Astra in Latin), but that search has hit a dangerous snag.

Strange electrical surges are amassing casualties all over the globe, and a top secret briefing blames the Lima Project, a deep space probe led by hero astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) that hasn’t been heard from in years.

McBride’s son Roy (Brad Pitt) is a decorated astronaut himself, so who better to task with finding out just what happened to dad and his crew?

Daddy issues in zero gravity? There’s that, but there’s plenty more, as a never-better Pitt and bold strokes from writer/director James Gray deliver an emotional and often breathless spectacle of sound and vision.

The film’s mainly meditative nature is punctured by bursts of suspense, excitement and even outright terror. Gray (The Lost City of Z, We Own the Night) commands a complete mastery of tone and teams with acclaimed cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Dunkirk, Interstellar, Let the Right One In) for immersive, IMAX-worthy visuals that astound with subtlety, never seeming overly showy.

And speaking of subtle, Pitt is a marvel of piercing restraint. Flashback sketches of an estranged wife (Liv Tyler, effective without dialog) and reflective voiceovers help layer Roy as a man lauded for his lack of emotion, but lost in a space devoid of true connection. Though the role is anchored in common masculine themes, Pitt’s take never succumbs to self pity. A new tux for award season would be wise.

We’ve seen plenty of these elements before, from Kubrick to Coppola and beyond, but it is precisely in the beyond that Ad Astra makes its own way. It’s a head trip, and a helluva rocket ride.

California Dreamin’

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Happy QT Day, everyone — that rare and special holiday where moviegoers love a movie made by an unabashed lover of movies. And this time, he’s made a movie about loving the movies.

It’s Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s clearest love letter to cinema both great and trashy. Spilling with nostalgia and packing more sentiment than his previous 8 films combined, Hollywood is the auteur’s most heartfelt film.

Not that it isn’t bloody. Once it hits its stride the film packs Reservoir Dogs-level brutality into a climax that’s as nervy as anything Tarantino’s ever filmed. But leading up to that, as the filmmaker asks us to look with a mixture of fondness and sadness at two lives twisting toward the inevitable, he’s actually almost sweet.

One of those lives belongs to Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a one-time TV Western leading man who’s made a couple of poor career choices and seems to be facing obsolescence. This would mean, domino-style, the obsolescence of his best friend and stunt double with a sketchy past, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).

But that’s not the second story, which instead belongs to the real life tragedy of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Set in the LA of 1969, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood uses the Manson family crimes (marking its 50th anniversary this August) as the thematic underpinning, a violent metaphor for the end of two eras.

Tarantino being Tarantino, though, he’ll use the movies to make everything better.

From the foot fetish (more proudly on display than ever) to the familiar faces (even one who made the cutting room floor and the credits), the hiply retro soundtrack to the inky black humor, Hollywood hides no Tarantinoism. But the film establishes a timestamp more precisely than any of his other works. And on the whole, he shows unpredicted restraint.

The film moseys through the first two acts, with long, deliberate takes full enough of pop culture as to completely immerse you in time and place. Tarantino again frames sequences with alternating levels of homage, but dials back the dialogue from his usual quick-hitting crispness to measured ruminations often thick with intention.

In strokes stylish and self-indulgent, Tarantino is bidding adieu to halcyon days of both flower power innocence and the Hollywood studio machine. Here, he’s looking back on the Manson murders as a dividing line, and again wondering what might have been.

For us QT aficionados, Hollywood may feel at first like an odd, overlong duck, but its wandering nature gives you ample time to adjust. The cast shines from top to bottom, propelling an entertaining vision of humor and blood and irony and bittersweet nostalgia.

Settle in, trust the driver and enjoy the ride.

Spy Versus Spy


by Hope Madden

In turns grand and intimate, Allied blends pulp and melodrama with old Hollywood glamour.

We open on a dashing Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), landing in a North African desert where he’ll be met by a mysterious driver delivering his new identity. Vatan will join French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca on a mission to assassinate a Nazi official.

Director Robert Zemeckis’s vintage spy thriller begins with a bang. Stylish and gorgeous, the first act embraces an old-fashioned dazzle that suits both Pitt and Cotillard.

Problems arise – for Vatan and Beausejour, as well as the film – once the couple relocates to London. Vatan takes a desk job with the Royal Air Force while his new wife and child wait lovingly at home. But when command turns up evidence that Marianne could be a German spy, this ideal life begins to crack.

Both Cotillard and Pitt perform respectably with a script involving tensions that reach toward the ludicrous. Pitt carries himself with a weird stiffness, but his face wears joy, weariness and emotional tumult in a way that the actor has rarely managed.

Cotillard is characteristically excellent, her own demeanor turning the edge of every expression with a hint of something sour. She is effortlessly mysterious, a characteristic required for the part.

Steven Knight’s screenplay loses momentum once the couple settles into their homey London life, and for all Zemeckis’s visual wizardry, the balance of the film never recaptures the thrill of their early adventures.

Instead, we settle for several gloriously shot sequences – a love scene inside a car beset by a sandstorm, a party interrupted by an air raid. But even the tensest late-film moments feel staged, even borrowed.

Knight’s writing tends to play better with grittier, more street-savvy direction (think Eastern Promises or Dirty Pretty Things), but Zemeckis likes a big stage. The result, though often entertaining because of solid performances, is too much of a mishmash to really work.


Housing Collapse Hilarity

The Big Short

by Hope Madden

Earlier this year, Adam McKay won the Hollywood Film Awards Breakthrough Directing trophy. Adam McKay – director of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys – broke through just this year? How can that be?

If you think you know Adam McKay, you haven’t seen The Big Short.

With the help of just about every A-lister in Hollywood – including Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale – he tackles the oft addressed yet rarely entertaining topic of America’s housing collapse. What he seeks to do, in as enjoyable a way as possible, is illuminate the truth of the whole sordid mess. And as his film points out in one of its appropriate screen titles: Truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry.

McKay cross cuts the stories of four different groups of outsiders who foresaw the housing collapse, learned of the unimaginable corruption that weakened the housing market in the first place, and took advantage.

Obviously McKay is known for comedy, and though this is at its heart a drama, the director’s conspicuous outrage as well as his biting comic sensibilities fuel the film, propelling it in a way that has been lacking in any other movie on the topic.

McKay knows this is dry stuff. He addresses that fact head on, stopping periodically to help you understand key terms and ideas with cut-aways. Margot Robbie sits in a bubble bath to define a term, or Selena Gomez uses black jack as a metaphor to explain another. It’s a cheeky, clever approach, but one that rings with a healthy sense of cynicism. He’s begging: Please, you guys, this is very important stuff! Pay attention! Get pissed!

Christian Bale excels as the socially awkward Dr. Michael Burry, the hedge fund investor who first notices the weakness in the US housing market. It’s not a showy performance, but one whisper-close to comedy. Pitt’s is an understated but needed presence – the film’s conscience, more or less. Meanwhile Steve Carell and Gosling again team up nicely as a couple of driven misfits reluctantly fond of one another.

McKay makes no one a hero – including the film’s heroes – and underscores the entire effort with sympathy for the abused working class victim of the eventual, global financial collapse.

Yes, it’s tough material, and even with McKay’s bag of tricks, he can’t always keep the content both clear and lively. But he makes a valiant attempt, one that proves he is more than just a funny guy. He’s a breakthrough.


Bourne and Chong

American Ultra

by George Wolf

Here’s the pitch: what if Brad Pitt’s Flintstones-watching stoner from True Romance was actually a highly trained government operative who can kill you with nothing but a spoon and a cup of soup?

Intrigued? Me, too.

So why can’t American Ultra fully capitalize on that promise?

Okay, its not really Floyd from True Romance – he’s baking comfortably in the stoner Hall of Fame – it’s Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) from the Cash and Carry mini-mart in Liman, West Virginia. Mike plans to propose to his live-in girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) during a romantic trip to Hawaii, but they never make it on the plane.

Mike suffers strange panic attacks anytime he’s about to leave town, but that seems like a minor problem once CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) visits Mike at work and keeps repeating a strange phrase. Turns out Mike is really a sleeper agent who’s been suddenly branded a liability, and Victoria needs Mike to wake up before he’s taken out.

Writer Max Landis, much as he did with Chronicle, pieces together a winning premise from parts of differing genres. We think we know what to expect from weed-soaked characters, but breaking out the MacGyver shit to bust open some heads is not on the list. Throw in plenty of spy game skullduggery, and there’s ample opportunity for black comedy that the film only partially explores.

Director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) seems equally caught in a pattern of two steps up and one back. He unleashes stylish, well-paced bursts of action, followed by slow-moving exposition and then back again, sometimes punctuated by isolated bits of sharp comedy just looking for a home.

On paper, Eisenberg seems miscast, but he’s able to make both extremes of Mike’s character blend surprisingly well. Stewart continues her recent winning streak in the film’s early going, excelling as Mike’s sweetly sympathetic love. Once Phoebe’s true motives come to light, though, it’s back to the well worn K-Stew pained expression once too often.

A little too slow to be action packed, a bit too nasty to be fun-filled, American Ultra seems held back in a familiar haze. It’s got plenty of good ideas, but just when they really start to gel, it decides to just watch some cartoons instead.







Mr. Furyous



by George Wolf

“See that? That’s an entire city on fire.”

It is World War II, and grizzled combat vet Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is teaching scared rookie Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) about the horrors of battle.

Fury is hardly the first movie to use a naive soldier as an extension of the audience, and that metaphor is just one of the familiar devices the film leans on to craft a competent, if not exactly groundbreaking, drama of war.

Collier leads a 5-man Sherman Tank crew which also includes “Bible” (Shia LeBeouf),  “Gordo” (Michael Pena) and “Coon-Ass” (Jon Bernthal). Deep inside Germany, their combat prowess earns the team a mission with mighty long odds. On their own, they must cut off an entire Nazi regiment before it reaches a defenseless Allied supply station.

Writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch) presents powerful battle scenes, frequently gripping and bursting with ugly brutality. Less successful are Ayers’s attempts at the humanity the story needs to cut deeper.

The confines of the tank are a good start, as we feel a bond with the five men simply from the claustrophobic closeups. But as the combat scenes stack up, the character development is reduced to quick sketches we’ve seen before.

The scripture-quoting marksman (Saving Private Ryan), the greenhorn not meant for the battlefield (Full Metal Jacket) and the facially scarred taskmaster (Platoon) are all here, instantly familiar and throwing roadblocks into Fury‘s attempt to reach higher ground.

Pitt is fantastic in the lead, with solid support from all his co-stars. Lerman’s effective naïveté, when thrown beside four eager members of an actual killing machine, creates a stark moral ambiguity that lingers, even if Norman’s transformation from “boy to man” is a bit lacking in subtlety.

Same goes for turning “Wardaddy” into a mythic G.I. Superjoe. Pitt has the chops that could have delivered on the chance to peek inside his character’s psyche, but it doesn’t come.

Instead, though the film’s final standoff definitely delivers the tension, Fury can’t go out in the blaze of glory it aimed for.





For Your Queue: Z-28-Hit-Play..Hut-Hut!


The zombie thriller directed by Marc Forster (who’d directed no thrillers, let alone zombies) that has almost nothing to do with Max Brooks’s fascinating novel World War Z? Surprisingly enough, yes. Yes please, even. Brad Pitt’s scarf-wearing hero traipses the mostly demolished globe in search of a cure in a movie that never lets up, consistently surprises, and delivers the goods. Check it out this week on DVD.


Maybe the zombie movie match-up is Danny Boyle’s not-really-zombie flick 28 Days Later. Sure, they’re not dead yet, but they are super pissed off and they want to eat you, so run! Just don’t run to that military outpost. Boyle’s empty London, brutal monsters, and epically creepy climax makes his foray into horror an especially joyous one. Two great ways to get prepped for the coming Halloween season.


Or, just watch Fight Club. You can’t go wrong there.