Wednesday with a Bullet

by wjw on December 7, 2022

Some thoughts about recent viewing.

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The water bottle ties everything together man.

Bullet Train is great fun for anyone interested in imaginative action, explicit ultraviolence, black humor, and Brad Pitt. If you don’t care for any of these things, the film is not for you.

The plot, such as it is, involves the interactions of six or seven assassins who find themselves on the same train from Tokyo to Kyoto, and are then obliged for a whole host of reasons to target one another. The action is photographed with verve, imagination, and wit. Even though the film runs over two hours, I wasn’t bored. Not for a minute.

But at about the halfway point, I came to a realization. This is a Tarantino film. Even though it’s directed by David Leitch, and written by Zac Olkewicz from the novel by Kotaru Isaka, it’s still got Tarantino’s ghostly fingerprints all over it. It has all the beats of a Tarantino film, shout-outs to other movies, and characters who break into monologues about philosophy and/or pop culture. Plus a laid-back hero— imagine the Dude if he were a high-class thief— who mutters about karma, is going through analysis, and tries to apply lessons from his shrink in helping others survive the massacre that is at the center of the movie.

Except that the signifier has become detached from the signified (if I employ that jargon correctly). Even though Tarantino films are largely about other films, these films are run through the mind and personality of a singular and talented filmmaker, and produce something that is more than the sum of its parts. When you see a good Tarantino film, you leave with something for your brain to chew on.

Not the case with Bullet Train. All the tropes of a Tarantino film have been liberated from the context of Tarantino himself, and jigsawed back together in the form of a lively but forgettable entertainment. It’s not about anything but its own cleverness, though the cleverness is considerable.

But boy does it have production values! It’s as if they took the plot from an early, low budget Guy Ritchie film, then threw a hundred million dollars at it, including an A-level star in the form of Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt elevates everything he’s in by the simple virtue of the fact that he’s Brad Pitt. He turns a B action thriller into an A-level film. He’s worth every penny they paid him.

If this is the sort of thing you like, you’ll like this. (Which is a sort of Dude-like thing to say, isn’t it?)

So. Wednesday.

Being a fan of all things Addams, I approached the Netflix series with a degree of trepidation. Early on I realized that this series broke with conventions set by the earlier productions, and was a re-visualization of the material, and not a remake of any of the earlier projects. All the earlier Addams Family projects were about family, a group of eccentrics with tight bonds and values, all in opposition to the straight world. Here Wednesday is alienated from her family, which she accuses of being over-controlling— and she’s also older, and qualified as an Alienated Teen.

So our Alienated Teen gets sent to Hogwarts, pretty much, and is challenged to fit into a school filled with hostile cliques (werewolves, vampires, sirens, etc.), smug administrators, and one ravening monster. The Harry Potter character gets killed at the end of Episode One, so it’s up to Wednesday to solve the mystery,

Except why should she? There’s a monster endangering a school she despises, and I don’t know why she cares. She’s indignant that the grownup are all lying to her, so maybe it’s that.

So in order to solve the mystery and eliminate the monster, Wednesday has to learn to fit in at high school, make some friends, maybe get a boyfriend, and mobilize her posse to defeat the bad guys. So far, that’s every high school story ever filmed.

I was ready to dismiss this series, except that Jenna Ortega is so damn good in the part. Her dead pan is the best since Keaton’s, her line readings have the perfect combination of sarcasm, superiority, and bile, and she’s very good in scenes involving cellos, swords, and arcane dance moves. During the eight hours of the series, I watched a star being born.

Wednesday fitting into Hogwarts was probably the wrong way to go. Hogwarts, all the cliques and administrators, should fit themselves to Wednesday, not the other way around. She’s the strongest character in the film, and she should set the tone.

And I didn’t like the ending. So—





I was happily anticipating the climax of the film, but (1) it turned out to have all the beats of the climax of every other FX-laden fantasy film, and (2) it did wrong things to the central character.

In the last episode, Wednesday turns from a self-assured, driven, confident personality to the Shackled Maiden Who Must Be Rescued (by friends she’s made at school). This seems a horrible misreading of the character. Wednesday should be rescuing her friends, not the other way around. She does get to nail the baddie, albeit with a lot of help, so that’s a bit of solace, but it seems to me that Wednesday should have had a better plan.

I mean, she spent the whole series single-mindedly chasing down a monster, so I rather assumed she’d have a plan for what to do when she found it. Kill it, capture it, transform it into a nerdy student, something. Turns out her plan was to find the monster and promptly get killed, unless of course she was rescued by her friends (she made at school). She had her cute little sword umbrella, but I don’t think it would have done her much good.

But still, Jenna Ortega, oh wow. Watch it for her, for the cello and the sword and the dance.

And the line readings. Like this one: “I FInd Social Media To Be A Soul-Sucking Void Of Meaningless Affirmation.”

Well, yeah!

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