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‘When You Finish Saving the World’ Review: Jesse Eisenberg’s Directorial Debut Has Family Struggling to Find Each Other | Sundance 2022

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‘When You Finish Saving the World’ Review: Jesse Eisenberg’s Directorial Debut Has Family Struggling to Find Each Other | Sundance 2022

When You Finish Saving the World begins with Ziggy Katz (Finn Wolfhard) playing a song for his 20,000 followers. Going by the name of TheRealZiggyKatz, he sings of “two high speed trains on parallel tracks,” which are “never gonna crash, but never gonna meet.” It’s a fitting start for the directorial debut Jesse Eisenberg, in his look at a mother and son dynamic that can’t quite connect and sympathize with each other, yet attempt to find that connection and bond they once had with other people.

Ziggy’s mother Evelyn (Julianne Moore) works at a shelter for victims of domestic abuse and latches onto Kyle (Billy Bryk), who brought his mother to the shelter and has a compassion that she once hoped to see in her son. While Kyle seems content to work in his father’s auto repair shop, Evelyn wants to push his potential, as she attempts to get him into college and maybe follow in her footsteps.

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Meanwhile, Ziggy has fallen for his classmate Lila (Alisha Boe), an extremely political student who he desperately wants to impress. While his songs about middle school graduation and unrequited love might not get her attention, he thinks that maybe showing that he can care about something greater might win her over.

RELATED: First ‘When You Finish Saving the World’ Image Shows Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore in Jesse Eisenberg’s Directorial Debut

Eisenberg — who also wrote the film which is based on his 2020 audio drama — focuses on how these two are eagerly trying to find what they don’t have in each other, yet their impatience and lack of compassion for each other means they miss what’s right in front of them. At one point, Roger (Jay O. Sanders), husband of Evelyn and father of Ziggy, says “everyone around me is a narcissist,” and he’s absolutely right. Both Evelyn and Ziggy are so stuck in their own needs that it’s hard for them to see what the others around them actually need.

Eisenberg handles a difficult balance for Evelyn and Ziggy, both of whom are oblivious and lost, and frequently irritating in their quest to find what they’re missing. His script is never too dry or mean, but allows for sympathy for these two that are so clearly struggling in their own ways. At times, When You Finish Saving the World is borderline cringey in the way Eisenberg’s characters act, or in their ignorance towards those that are close to them. Eisenberg shows a deft ability to push the likability of these characters, while also still making them sympathetic in their own ways — which Eisenberg himself has clearly had to do in his roles in The Social Network and The Squid and the Whale, amongst others.

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Sundance has long been a great place for actors to present their first films as directors, be it last year with Rebecca Hall’s Passing, or in recent years with Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade or Paul Dano’s Wildlife. But right out the gate, Eisenberg brings a strong sense of style to his debut that in some way can feel like the amalgamation of his past experiences. Take the bleak humor of The Double, the absurd domestic comedy of Vivarium, and the dark warmth that David Fincher could capture in The Social Network, mix them all together and one can sort of see how Eisenberg comes into filmmaking fully formed, an exciting new presence behind the camera, after proving himself in front of it.

Yet naturally, When You Finish Saving the World works because of the performances by Wolfhard and Moore. Wolfhard is incognizant of the world around him, but in a childish and unchallenged way, to the point that he uses slang that only he seems to know. Moore is also quite good as the mother who believed her son would one day be “one of the good ones,” and now tries to find a stand-in for her son. Wolfhard and Moore work well separately, but it’s the rare moments where they are together that show the power of this bond, and the deep-seated resent that exists between them. When Ziggy asks his mom to wait five seconds for him, she counts those seconds to herself, then leaves him behind. When Evelyn interrupts her son during a live stream performance, he drills a gigantic red light into the wall outside his bedroom to let her know when to not come into his room. We’re not seeing a mother and son falling apart, we’re seeing them nursing long-held wounds.


Eisenberg’s debut is a tale of two high-speed trains on parallel tracks that are struggling to meet, complete with warm cinematography from Benjamin Loeb (Mandy, After Yang) and a haunting score by Emile Mosseri (Minari) that sounds like it could’ve been made by TheRealZiggyKatz himself. When You Finish Saving the World is often acidic to a point that might scare away some, but at its core, Eisenberg’s film is an endearing story of mother and son who were once so close, and now struggle to get what they need from each other anymore.

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Rating: B+

When You Finish Saving the World premiered at Sundance this week, but no theatrical release date has been announced yet.


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Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octane Thrill Ride

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Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octane Thrill Ride

Brad Pitt leads a wickedly funny ensemble in a high-octane actioner loaded with twists. Adapted from the 2010 Japanese novel by Kōtarō Isaka, Bullet Train has a bevy of disparate assassins manipulated by a mysterious criminal mastermind. Stuntman turned action director, David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde), stays true to form with unrelenting bloody and flamboyant violence. The codenamed characters get downright verbose before beating, stabbing, and shooting each other to bits. The loquacious banter tends to run long, but the narrative always bounces back with sharp reveals. Strap in for a helluva ride.

Ladybug (Pitt) boards the overnight bullet train to Tokyo with a newfound sense of self. He’s chock-full of philosophy after recovering from a near fatal ambush. Ladybug ignores his unseen handler’s advice to take a gun. Surely any issues can be resolved peacefully. The job seems straightforward enough. Steal a briefcase with a sticker and exit at the next stop.

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Also on board are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), ruthless “twins” known for their brutal methods. Lemon is obsessed with the British children’s show “Thomas & Friends”. He reads people by comparing them to the anthropomorphized trains. The twins are escorting the previously kidnapped son (Logan Lerman) of a powerful gangster, the White Death (Michael Shannon).

None of the hired guns are aware of the Father, aka Yuichi Kimura’s (Andrew Koji), mission. He’s out for vengeance but foolishly runs into a deceptive figure. The Prince (Joey King) has a score to settle with the White Death. Meanwhile, the Wolf (Bad Bunny) joins the fray after his truly horrific Mexican wedding. He’s also ready for serious comeuppance. Ladybug quickly realizes they’re all unwitting pawns in a dangerous game. Someone has packed the train with killers for an unknown purpose. He desperately wants to get off but can’t seem to escape the carnage.


Related: I Love My Dad Review: Patton Oswalt’s Delightfully Cringeworthy Catfishing Comedy

Cast of Bullet Train

Bullet Train introduces the cast with splashy entrances that flashes back to their dark pasts. The murderous montages are informative but don’t fill in every gap. The script doles out more critical information as the bodies pile up. Alliances bounce back and forth as everyone wonders who’s actually pulling the strings. The whodunit element works well as the audience becomes embroiled in a series of betrayals. You don’t have a sense of the plot’s true trajectory until the third act. The film builds to a showdown that delivers a huge action payoff.

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Bullet Train has complex characters that each contribute slices of devilish humor. Brad Pitt preaching self-help and understanding is an effective gag throughout. Brian Tyree Henry’s constant comparisons to Thomas & Friends aren’t as comical but play an important role in the story. There are a lot of moving parts. Leitch, who worked as Pitt’s stunt double for years, is clearly fond of his players. He gives everyone a chance to babble incessantly. I would have trimmed the dialogue to be more incisive.


The action scenes are worth the price of admission. Leitch has a great eye for mixing stylized set pieces with intimate fights. He knows when to go big and small. You never feel let down by his pacing. There’s always the right amount of adrenaline to keep your pulse pumping. Bullet Train is another feather in a skilled filmmaker’s cap. Watch out for A-list cameos and a mid-credits scene.

Bullet Train is a production of Columbia Pictures, Fuqua Films, and 87North Productions. It will be released theatrically on August 5th from Sony Pictures.

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Bullet Train Review: Brad Pitt Has A Blast In The Silly And Badass Action Comedy

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Bullet Train Review: Brad Pitt Has A Blast In The Silly And Badass Action Comedy

If orchestrated properly, with adjusted stakes, tone, and atmosphere, there can be a beautiful, symbiotic relationship between intense action and comedy. A hero pulling off a rapid and vicious series of blows against an opponent can be savage and dramatic in one context, but it can also be so deliriously awesome that an audience’s first reaction is to laugh. Fast paced martial arts can be used for wonderful physical humor (see: the legendary career of Jackie Chan), and the best examples provide dual layers of entertainment: you marvel at the skill in all the ass-kicking, and cackle at the creativity in the choreography.

This is a sweet spot that filmmaker David Leitch knows well. After peppering funny moments in John Wick and Atomic Blonde at the start of his directorial career, he brilliantly utilized the action/comedy weapon that is Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2, and crafted some excellent physicality with the unique styles of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. His latest, Bullet Train, is another effort that takes aim at that particular tonal target, this time with his most expansive ensemble yet, and it’s another success. With a sensibility that could be described as early Guy Ritchie with more specific action focus, it’s a movie that is both silly and skilled and inspires its primary star in particular to do energetic and engaging work.

Based on the novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka, the film weaves multiple narrative threads through the cars of the titular bullet train as it speeds through the country of Japan – all of the protagonists being killers with their own particular reason and motivation for being aboard. Ladybug (Brad Pitt), for example, is a hired gun who has been tasked by his handler (Sandra Bullock) to perform what sounds like a simple job: find a briefcase marked with a train sticker and steal it. What he doesn’t know, though, is that said briefcase belongs to a pair of British hit men named Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and that the contents include the recovered ransom for the kidnapped son (Logan Lerman) of a powerful crime lord known as The White Death.

Meanwhile, Kimura a.k.a. The Father (Andrew Koji) is on the bullet train because he is on a mission of vengeance – hunting down the person responsible for nearly killing his son by pushing the boy off of a building. What he doesn’t expect is that the individual he is looking for is a young woman identified as The Prince (Joey King), and that she has purposefully gotten him on the high speed rail with the intention of forcing him to execute an assassination attempt.

And while five killers sharing the space would be enough for most movies, Bullet Train actually has even more that pop in and surprise throughout the film’s runtime – and their roles are worth keeping as a secret pre-release.

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Bullet Train has a chaotic storyline, but the pieces properly connect as a fun puzzle.

Narratively speaking, Bullet Train is a messy movie to put together, as focus briskly ping-pongs between the different players, but everything stays in harmony as the film persistently finds ways to build on each protagonist’s arc. This is particularly cool later in the movie as different characters are drawn together from individual angles and instant conflict is generated from their simple interaction.

The film is at its best when it keeps things simple, but it does let things go off the rails at times (if you’ll pardon the pun). This is especially true as it gets into the third act and it tries to pull off stunts like one of the leads leaping from a platform on to the back of the train as it leaves a station; it’s both a problem for the “rules” of the universe and in its strained use of visual effects. The movie also frequently tries to get a bit too cute and Tarantino-esque with what are admittedly familiar-but-not-quite-stock characters – the most prominent example being an ongoing and quickly tiresome gag with Lemon explaining that he understands people through the lens of Thomas The Tank Engine.

Primarily, though, it’s a movie that is able to generate its entertainment with engaging and quippy dynamics between the members of the ensemble, both when they are talking out their issues and trying to kill one another.

David Leitch puts a lot of exciting and weird fights in a confined space, and is at its best when working with a “less is more” philosophy.

Coming from a stunt background, both as a performer and a coordinator, David Leitch’s bread and butter remains deftly and specifically choreographed action sequences, and Bullet Train proves to be a terrific challenge and opportunity for his skills. Regardless of where you are in the titular transport, space is not a luxury, and the best fights in the movie are those that are being fought only between the characters, but against the limitations provided by the location.

There are guns, knives and explosives in the mix, but Bullet Train also has some terrific “found item” moments that add spice and humor to the various showdowns, whether it’s a pocketed cell phone saving a character’s life from a blade, a laptop making for a solid cudgel, a water bottle making for a useful projectile, or a venomous snake showing up at a perfect moment.

Once again we see David Leitch work a special magic turning dramatic and comedic actors into badasses with slick and stylish moves, and while everyone shows off some terrific skills, it’s very much the Brad Pitt show at the end of the day.

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Brad Pitt’s joy in the role of Ladybug is palpable.

At the nexus of everything good in Bullet Train is Brad Pitt, who very clearly had a blast reuniting with David Leitch (who performed the actor’s stunts in films including Fight Club, The Mexican, Mr. And Mrs. Smith and Troy). He’s a joy to watch in action not just because of the talented craft he demonstrates in his physicality, but how he channels the psychology of the character. As we meet him, Ladybug is reluctantly getting back into his business following a number of important breakthroughs with his therapist, and Pitt does a fantastic job conveying that he doesn’t ever want to choose violence as a first answer – both via verbal pleas and defense-heavy moves. Action/comedy is a genre he should revisit a lot more often.

Bullet Train doesn’t aim to revolutionize hitman movies, but instead plays with a tongue-in-cheek vibe that lets you recognize the tropes and appreciate how the film plays with them. It’s a slick/goofy action movie that is both contained and wild, and a satisfying late summer release.

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Luck Review: A Spectacular Debut Film from Skydance Animation

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Luck Review: A Spectacular Debut Film from Skydance Animation

The world’s unluckiest woman enters a magical land to change the fortunes of a fellow orphan. Luck will make you smile and possibly shed a few tears. The big-budget, CGI animated fantasy shines a spotlight on needy children while telling a truly original story. An assortment of lucky critters and creatures dazzle in a spectacular setting. The highly imaginative narrative gives age-old superstitions a dynamic new spin. Luck is a brilliant first film from Skydance Animation.

Sam Greenfield (Eva Noblezada) reaches her eighteenth birthday with trepidation. She’s finally aged out of the foster care system. Sam never found her “forever family”. She spent her entire life living in orphanages. It doesn’t help that Sam has the worst luck. Everything she does or touches ends in abject disaster. Her only thoughts are for young Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), Sam’s roommate at the girls home. Sam has been set up with a job and tiny apartment. She has to stay in school and employed to remain housed.

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Sam’s first day at Marv’s (Lil Rel Howery) floral shop goes exactly as expected. She sadly eats dinner sitting on a sidewalk. Sam learns that Hazel’s weekend trip with a foster family was canceled. She gives half of her sandwich to a curious black cat. It scampers away but leaves a strange penny behind.

The following day is a revelation. Sam’s lucky penny changes everything. Her ecstatic mood sours when she loses the penny in spectacular fashion. Stewing on the sidewalk, Sam’s surprised when the black cat returns. She’s astonished when Bob (Simon Pegg) asks for his penny. The “travel penny” is the only way a creature from the Land of the Luck stays safe in the human world. She follows an unnerved Bob back through the portal to the Land of Luck. Sam has to find another lucky penny to help Hazel. Bob reluctantly agrees, but they have to be careful. Misdeeds end up in banishment to Bad Luck.

Related: Bullet Train Review: A Wickedly Funny, High-Octaine Thrill Ride

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The Land of Luck

The Land of Luck is an absolute joy to behold. Leprechauns, cats, pigs, and rabbits, lucky creatures, are the bureaucrats tasked with spreading good fortune. Bringing Sam in such a place is a recipe for absolute chaos. Bob, and his leprechaun assistant Gerry’s (Colin O’Donoghue), efforts to contain Sam’s bad luck will have audiences in stitches. I’m still chuckling at Sam’s “Latvian leprechaun” disguise; their harebrained excuse for why she’s so much bigger than everyone else.

Luck’s serious themes are artfully addressed. Sam’s lonely childhood, and her desperate efforts to change Hazel’s, brings a melancholic touch to the narrative. The film reminds us to not take love and family for granted. Every kid deserves care, nurturing, and a safe place to grow. It shouldn’t take luck or chance for a child to find a “forever home”.

Insert sigh here. Recent headlines concerning John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars) will undoubtedly cloud this film’s release. The genius storyteller and animator behind Pixar’s success left to head Skydance Animation after awful “Me Too” allegations. He’s brought his incredible talent to Luck, and it shows. This wonderful film deserves to be judged on its own merits. Sometimes we must divorce ourselves from art and the personality of the artist.

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Luck is a production of Skydance Animation and Apple Original Films. It will have an exclusive Apple TV+ premiere on August 5th.

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