El Camino Review

If you’re one of the few people who has not treated themselves to watching through Breaking Bad, I envy you more than most people in the world. The show is a stunning blend of excellent writing, great performances and twists that leave you desperate for more. Just over 6 years on from the end of the series, we are heading back to the moments after the series with Netflix’s El Camino.

It’s impossible to talk about this show without spoiling Breaking Bad massively, so please do yourself a favour and do not read on if you haven’t seen the show. Make the time for the 60 odd hours of Breaking Bad and enjoy the incredible ride before watching El Camino.

Onto El Camino itself, it’s a film that sneaked up on me and I am grateful for that. It was a nice treat to find it had dropped on Netflix over the weekend and I sat down to find out what exactly happened to Jesse after the events of the Breaking Bad Finale. The idea of dropping back into that world is tantalising, although I must confess, I was not sure we really needed any more to explain the aftermath.

El Camino picks up from the last time we saw Jesse in Breaking Bad, driving off from his captors and finally free. From there we see the events of the next day or so, interspersed with flashbacks to the previous times and the events of his captivity. It’s an interesting choice to go with for the film, but it fits very well with the style we grew to love with the original series. In fact, calling El Camino a film is a bit odd for me, as it does not feel like one.

This feels like its two bonus episodes of Breaking Bad showing what happened next. As such, I found it to be a bit of an odd experience watching along, as the first hour of the film crawls by at a snail’s pace. I know it’s a bad sign whenever I check a film run time, and when I saw I was only 45 minutes in, I was questioning whether it was worth me sticking with it.

I completely understand why Jesse is how he is, and what the motivations are for him. I just felt like this film was going to give me something a little bit new, whereas this feels very much like a couple of mid-season Breaking Bad episodes. The second half of the film was more enjoyable, and the outcome, even though it was telegraphed from the beginning of the film, feels like a satisfying place to end this story.

Perhaps this is a case of my expectations and what I wanted being too far from what we got, but by the end of El Camino I was very much done with the film. I love Aaron Paul in this role, and he is as great as he was in every episode of the show. Of course, seeing Jesse Pinkman and all the characters we see pop up through the film was fun, but one of the biggest feelings I had watching El Camino was that I now want to watch Breaking Bad again. Not because I loved El Camino, but because I of what I think it’s missing.

It’s not really a criticism, but the film falls apart when you analyse it as a standalone film. This is very much Breaking Bad season six condensed down to two hours, and for me that just didn’t work. At the same time as explaining what happened next, the film also goes into the past and shows Jesse’s time as a prisoner and his day out with his captor Todd. This extra leg work was all very breaking bad, and if this was an episode of the show, I would have eaten it up with no complaints. This isn’t supposed to be just another couple of episodes though, and that is where El Camino falls.

For all the good performances and the satisfaction of seeing where Jesse Pinkman ends up, El Camino just feels unnecessary. I am a huge Breaking Bad fan, but this just felt like filler episodes with a few fun scenes and a nice farewell. Watching this 6 years ago would have felt good, like a nice epilogue to the finale of the show. That epilogue has come 6 years too late for me, and whether that’s a fair criticism or not, that’s how I felt watching this film.

Good: Great performances, some incredible cinematography, trip back to the world of Breaking Bad.

Bad: Six years too late and it feels unnecessary because of it. Answers questions I didn’t care about anymore.

6/10 – Its more Breaking Bad so it’s not terrible. That’s all it is though.  

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Joker Review

The Joker is a character I have been fascinated with for as long as I can remember. I loved the Mark Hamill version in the animated show and Jack Nicholson in Batman 89 was terrifying when I was a child. Jared Leto showed an example of how different the character can be and of course Heath Ledger delivered the most incredible performance we have seen in any comic book movie role. That is until now. 

Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck and it’s 99% him. He is front and centre very much like the films that very clearly inspired this one. Phoenix uses the opportunity to display just how incredible one man’s performance can be, and he transforms into the character of Arthur Fleck. When you have an actor with this talent in a role with this much complexity to it you always have a chance for something special.

Hangover director Todd Phillips is at the helm for this one, and it seems he and all the rest of the people involved in this production realised what they had. Phoenix is given the film and carries it completely on his shoulders. Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Brett Cullen and Frances Conroy play the other characters and are all good, but they are all there to add to the journey Arthur Fleck is experiencing.

There will be inevitable comparisons with Heath Ledger, and I fully understand that’s going to happen. I have said consistently, and it remains true even after this film, that The Dark Knight is my favourite movie. That is almost entirely down to Heath Ledgers Joker.

Part of the appeal of the Joker is that he doesn’t have a clear origin, it’s always a little unclear. This film tries to tackle how a character like the joker could be created in a real world. The 70’s setting not only allows for some great style and production design touches, but also gives the film the same style as the films of that decade. I have recently watched Taxi Driver, and Joker takes a lot of inspiration in a very unsubtle way. The comparisons with past eras of movies doesn’t end there with Falling Down and King of Comedy also being clear heavy influences.

As I have not seen those two films, I didn’t suffer from what I have seen a few people complain about with regards to the films handling of the references and inspirations it takes from those films. I have heard that a lot of this film isn’t particularly original, but I think the originality comes from this being a comic book film unlike any other we have seen before. Yes, we have seen films about terrible people before, but never have we seen a realistic depiction of someone’s slide into becoming the Joker.

How the film handles that transformation is particularly interesting to me, and some of the dialogue in the final act. Mental illness has had a stigma attached to it forever, and even today it’s often misunderstood by society. This film is brash with its messaging, and it makes a clear statement about how important it is to support people with mental illnesses. Arthur Fleck is completely detached from the reality the rest of the world lives in, and its reflected particularly well during the stand-up comedy scenes in the film.

There’s been a lot of controversy around the film in terms of how violent it is, and frankly I find that all to be ridiculous. I have seen more gratuitous violence in every single Tarantino movie, both Deadpool films, and endless amounts of horror films. The violence in this movie is impactful, and it’s all in the context of the film. At no point is any statement made about guns, it’s not the focus in any way. The focus is on the mental illness, and how letting it go unchecked can lead to terrible consequences. It’s highlighting how the downtrodden can feel neglected and unimportant to the people with power and status.

My biggest criticism of the film is it’s handling of the messaging. I personally don’t find The Hangover movies to be that funny because they’re brash and the jokes fall flat for me, and that same brush is being used here but this time it’s being used to paint a different type of story. Joker provokes a lot of thought, it’s a film that stays with you and it forces you to think about uncomfortable, difficult subjects. I suppose in a way, a more subtle approach wouldn’t have the conversation going quite so ferociously in my own mind as this film has managed to do.

In all honestly, Joker is not an entertaining film. It’s a slow burn to start with, and it has a lot of scenes that will make you squirm uncomfortably and begin to make you think you’re being sympathetic to the character of Arthur Fleck. The film shows how tragic events can affect someone’s life and spins that into an origin for an extremely twisted and dark character, and it achieves that goal very well. If you prefer your movies to have redemption or light-hearted fun, steer well clear of Joker. This is the furthest thing you could get from a Marvel film, and yet there were moments which made the geeky side of me just as gleeful as the ThunderCap moment in Avengers Endgame.

Joker is a rare film that will start a conversation about topics that are very rarely brought up in everyday life, but ones that perhaps should be. That ability to start a conversation is a sign of a very good film in my opinion.

Good: Joaquin Phoenix should win the Oscar this year, I will be astounded if anyone can top this performance. Production design, the score and soundtrack are all top notch as well.

Bad: Even if the messages it’s trying to convey are important topics for us to think about, the film has all the subtlety of a brick to the face.

9/10 – I never thought I’d say this after Heath Ledger, but this is the best Joker ever. 

 

 

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile Review

The Ted Bundy story is a horrifying and disturbing one. I have listened through a lot of crime podcasts about the story, and the fast someone so charming was capable of the crimes he performed is borderline unthinkable. This film, with Zac Efron in the role of Bundy, goes through the events of his crime spree and the events that led to his eventually conviction. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured it would play out like a normal crime drama. 

The film took a different path to the one I expected. Coming from the director of the Ted Bundy tapes on Netflix, I figured it would go relatively straight through the events. However director Joe Berlinger decided to show us a different angle for the first act of the film, deciding to show Bundy as a handsome, charming man who falls in love with a woman called Elizabeth.

This choice I found very odd at first. Knowing so much about the story I felt it to be painting a horrific man in a positive way. As the movie went on, I realised the reason behind showing this side of him is to show the audience that Ted Bundy seemed like a very unlikely suspect. Zac Efron’s charismatic performance is perfect for this part of the film. He oozes confidence of a man who knows he is attractive, and knows how to use it.

I can imagine if you did not know the story going in, it may add an element of “Did he, didn’t he” to the film. In the real world, there is not any doubt about whether Bundy committed the crimes. At times the film makes you question if he is a potentially innocent man, which had the effect of making me feel very uncomfortable. By the finale, we are given the answers but the journey there makes for some really interesting moments.

Zac Efron is excellent, but his equal in the film for me is Lily Collins as Elizabeth. There is a scene towards the end where you can see her character beginning to buckle under the weight of what’s happened, and she carries it perfectly before the pay off in that scene. Her back and forth with Efron in that moment makes it one of my favourite dramatic scenes so far this year. The rest of the cast are solid, but the focus is very clearly on Efron and Collins, with only Kara Scodelario being given a moment to shine. She plays Carol Anne Boone, the woman who refused to believe Bundy was guilty and mothering his child while he was on death row. Proving just how charming of a man the murderer was.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a movie I wish I had watched before I knew about the Bundy case. I can imagine the shocking revelations in the third act would have real impact on someone without the prior knowledge. As it is, I found it to be a very interesting way to tell this story, and I was captivated throughout, but mainly because of the angle the story was being told from. At no point did I really get a feeling that he was a really evil man, and that makes me a feel a little uncomfortable. At times it almost seems to be sympathetic towards Bundy, and that made me feel quite uncomfortable with it.

Good: Great performances and a really captivating subject with a different take on the story.

Bad: Left me feeling very uncomfortable with the way it portrays Ted Bundy, as I don’t think there is room for any sympathy for the man, and that leads to a confused tone.

7/10 – Ted Bundy was a horrific person, This depicts him a little too nicely. 

 

Us Review

After flirting for a couple of months now I think it’s time to talk about Us. I just feel like our relationship is ready to go to the next level and if that is something you’re interested in lets talk. If not, here is a review of the new movie from Get Out director Jordan Peele. 

My apologies for that terrible joke of an intro.

So Us’ looks like a really interesting film with several elements that intrigue me. I am not really a horror guy, and I will go into why as I review this. Jordan Peele’s first effort with Get Out is one of my top rated horror/thrillers I have ever seen. Therefore going into this I was excited to see how Peele followed up his breakout success.

From the trailers Us looks like a straight up horror, but in reality it’s a lot more of an amalgamation of different types of films. Primarily it is a horror film and those beats are the parts that I don’t particularly think did much for the film. The horror genre frustrates me when it relies on the protagonists making nonsensical decisions, and there was several moments in Get Out that really had me asking “Why on earth would anyone do this?”. That is my biggest gripe with Horror as a genre, as it takes me out of the film when you know the only motivation the character had for their actions is because it had to happen to serve the story.

For me the actions of the characters should inform the story, not the other way round. Of course the film would have been a lot shorter and much less dramatic had the characters just driven off, but I think that is down to the writers to come up with a more compelling, realistic version that feels natural for why characters choose to do things.

That element aside though, I think Us does a lot right. The slasher/action elements are fun, and we don’t ever get to the torture porn realm I was kind of nervous we might get to when scissors are being brought out left right and centre. The tension is palpable when the action kicks in, even if the slightly comedic tone that kicks in halfway through the movie does destroy some of that. That comedic note is supplied by Winston Duke, who plays an upbeat dad, and one who somehow doesn’t get too flustered by any of the events happening. He sees some horrific stuff, and kind of takes it in his stride, much easier than the rest of the family.

The two kids are played by two talented child actors. I don’t know what has sparked the recent trend of child actors being really good, but these follow in the footsteps of the Stranger Things cast in being endearing, whilst also playing their twisted doppelgänger counterparts just as well. To take on the dual sided roles they are given here is a real show of talent and I hope these kids stick in the industry and continue to grow.

The family is all good in their roles but head and shoulders above everyone is Lupita Nyong’o. She has been excellent in all of her work to date, and continues to shine here. Easily portraying the creepiest member of the doppelgänger family, she also hits it out of the park as the haunted mother whose traumatic childhood weighs heavy on the film’s plot. Seeing her as the villain really made me wish Star Wars didn’t waste her as the orange Maz Kanata, as she’d have been an incredible Sith. Although I guess that could still happen… Please do it Disney CEO Bob Iger, I know you’re reading this.

As I mentioned earlier with the comedic shift, the tone doesn’t shift and stay there. Throughout the film the tone evolves, and this is where director Jordan Peele shows his skill. The film doesn’t feel out-of-place as a horror, a slasher, a horror comedy, or a thrilling chase film. Everything is blended well and that takes a lot of filmmaking skill, it’s a trick that Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw didn’t manage to pull off as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

Us is a pretty entertaining, very well acted movie that, for me, was let down by the horror elements. Each character has a moment where they fall into a horror cliché which to me just doesn’t work. I think big fans of the Horror genre will get a real kick out of this, but those choices kind of wasted what I think is a very intriguing premise. The Doppelganger’s origin is something I would have loved to have been shown more of, but that would have changed the film into a thriller/mystery and probably led to the horror elements melting away. Us is decent, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Good: Excellent performances all round, intriguing premise and some good characters that could withstand the tonal shifts.

Bad: Horror elements just fell completely flat for me, and characters make choices that nobody would ever make.

6/10 – Horror fans will love it a lot, I am not a horror fan.

Triple Frontier Review

Netflix have been putting more and more money into the production of its own content. They’ve found a lot of success with the series they have produced, but their own movies have struggled to be consistent. They tend to be predictable stories with A list talent, and the net results has to date have been inconsistent. Triple Frontier brings Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam and Pedro Pascal. 

They are all very talents actors, capable of carrying the movie on their own shoulders. The film does a good job is a good sense of camaraderie between the entire group when they’re together and the character moments between them are what the filmmakers attempt to use to take Triple Frontier to another level. The group face a lot of challenges through the film, and each actor has a moment to deliver something great. Oscar Isaac is top of the bill for me, but Affleck and Hunnam come to play as well. Pedro Pascal and Garrett Hedlund are given less to do, kind of playing “the other guys” for me but the group all knit together well.

They are all playing ex military servicemen, with different skills and a past we get a hint of without any real details. What you can tell is that they have a bond, and when it comes to it they would lay their lives on the line to save one another. That isn’t often required though, as we learn throughout that these are all very capable soldiers, to the point where they seem almost invincible at some points in the film. They aren’t and the way the tension builds through the film is excellent. Credit has to go to the director for putting together these intense, slow, methodical action scenes that burst into life with gunfire then return to the quiet tension that preceded the moment of explosive action.

One of the reasons this tension is created is by excellent use of the camera. Long tracking shot, slow sweeping one shot sequences, and only cutting when necessary. No action scene is hidden behind chopping between 15 camera angles, something I hate in films. Everything that happens is clear, well shot and feels real. The sound design is excellent, every gunshot pops, and the slow speed of the engagements makes for some of the best military style action I’ve seen in a while.

If the action and the group dynamic are what makes Triple Frontier worth watching, the plot is what might make it a little less enjoyable. The plot is generic, which is fine in itself, but the payoff at the end of the film feels very light and fluffy for what is an intense ride for the majority of the 2 hour 5 minute run time. That run time does feel a little heavy, which I judge based on whether I have looked at the time or checked how long is left during the film. I checked in this film and nearly groaned that there was 45 minutes left. The lack of an engaging premise is what makes the film feel long, and although the third act does pick up the pace a little, it kind of loses its way a little. The finale of the film was a bit odd, and the storytelling choices the make didn’t really make sense with me, given everything that happens in the film.

Triple Frontier has an excellent cast, playing an intriguing group of characters. At times its like the film can’t decide if they are good or bad people, and the meandering between the two leads to a bit of an unsatisfying ending. The action delivers in a big way, just like the cast, but I can’t help but feel this film delivers less than the sum of its parts in a weird way. The potential with a cast this strong and action put together this well is sky-high, and although it’s a good film, it didn’t quite reach greatness.

Good: Great cast and performances all round, and it has some of the most intense and realistic action scenes of the year so far.

Bad:  Generic and unengaging plot doesn’t give the audience the hook to keep engaged for the entire run time, unfulfilling ending.

6/10 – Much like Affleck’s Batman, this is good, but it could have been great.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Review

What We Do In The Shadows is a 2014 mockumentary directed and starring Thor Ragnarok director Taika Waititi.  It was mentioned a lot during the press events for Thor Ragnarok and touted as a big reason he got given the Thor Ragnarok chair. I went back and watched to see if the film holds up. 

Shadows is essentially Taika Waititi’s sense of humour put onto film. The comedic style of Thor Ragnarok is clear to see, with the documentary style serving as a great framing device for the New Zealand native’s excellent writing. Him and co-writer Jemaine Clement also star in the film, and whilst the acting is nothing special, their comedic sense gets them by and their timing is great throughout.

The film is unabashedly weird, and it may be a little too odd for some audience members. The weirdness is contrasted by the realistic lens that Shadows is shot with, the camera work and effects complimenting each other to keep you engaged with the film. Some of the camera work is really clever, and shows how a lack of budget can be worked with to create some really great moments that a larger budget would have solved with throwing money at a special effects team. I like seeing films do this stuff, and really appreciate the ingenuity required to make a low-budget film look this good.

The jokes have a pretty high success rate, although there were a few duds for me. Sometimes the jokes are a little forced, but that’s really in the minority. For the most part I at least smiled to myself and a couple of times I laughed out loud. This is Waititi’s humour at its raw,  unfiltered. Ragnarok showed us his refined, sharpened wit and his writing has only improved over the last few years. What We Do In The Shadows has some really well written jokes and set ups that pay off in entertaining ways, and that ability to find something entertaining in nearly all situations is one of the reasons Marvel went after the filmmaker.

Mock documentary films rarely move the needle for me, as I find it hard to connect with the characters and the jokes sometimes feel a bit forced. However, as I learnt shows like The US Office and Parks and Recreation, when they’re executed well, they’re brilliant. What we do in the shadows is the first film I have watched that really got me invested since the uniquely flavoured Borat in 2006. This film isn’t nearly as politically incorrect (nothing really is compared to Borat) but it does the same job of introducing outlandish characters and putting them in funny situations.

I haven’t watch Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani parody for a long time, but I can’t imagine it holds up terribly well today. What We Do In The Shadows does hold up from 5 years ago, and I think it has the right ingredients to stand the test of time. What is certain is that Taika Waititi is on the up, with clear improvements in his directorial skills as well as his writing from this to Thor Ragnarok. All that means I can’t wait to see what comes next from the Kiwi, and I hope he can stay on this trajectory.

Good: Brilliant writing, outlandish and fun characters, Stu is a great guy, and the filmmaking skills used to get the most out of the budget are great.

Bad: The acting isn’t the best, and there are a few flat jokes. May be a bit weird for some audiences.

8/10 – What Will Taika Do Next?

Captain Marvel Review

By now we are used to Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and this is the 21st movie in the enormous franchise. Captain Marvel is the first MCU movie to be led by a female character, and only the second superhero movie ever after DC’s Wonder Woman. Could Marvel produce something as good as DC’s best? 

First of all, I have to say I think Brie Larson is a phenomenal actress. She’s a top-tier talent and kudos to Marvel for picking such a talent to play the new face of the MCU, and that is certainly what this movie is setting her up to be. She worked hard to do her own fight scenes and does everything she can with what she was given to do. I don’t like to delve into negatives too quickly, but Captain Marvel runs into an issue I was a little concerned by going in.

The issue is one I like to refer to as “The Superman Problem”. This film starts out with Carol Danvers as a powerful and skilled warrior, and ends with her being an even more powerful and skilled warrior. Superman is an indestructible, undeniable solution to almost every problem. In a similar vein, Captain Marvel felt a little too powerful at times in this film, and she is never really threatened by anything she comes up against (spoilers, she doesn’t die in this film).

The problem this movie has is that this new infallible hero isn’t even given a weakness like Superman’s Kryptonite, she is just a force of nature whose solution to all problems is to shoot beams at the problems. There are superb hero moments, but they don’t feel as earned as in some other films we have seen. Think Spiderman Homecoming, when he’s terrified under the crushed building calling for help, in that moment we saw the vulnerability of Spiderman. Captain Marvel has no vulnerability to speak of in this film.

That being said, the beams she is shooting to solve her problems do look cool, and as we have come to expect in an MCU film, all of the action scenes are well done. The stand out for me being ironically one where her beams of light aren’t there as weapons for her, and she has to show her fighting prowess. The other, more spectacularly shot scene is the one we catch a glimpse of in the trailer, with Carol Danvers flying through space blowing up ships.

Good action is expected by now in these movies, what has kept the MCU going for so long is its excellent character development. Nick Fury, played by a de-aged Samuel L Jackson, is brilliant in this film and this showcases everything we love about the character we have seen countless times to date. He has more screen time here than in any other film, and we learn a few things about him that we didn’t know before. Some of this film could spawn some considerable questions about other films in the MCU, and a few of them directly relate to thing Fury has said in movies we have seen.

The 90’s setting that allows for the creation of plot holes in movies we have already seen is an excellent excuse for a lot of references to 90s culture. We see Troll Dolls, hear Nirvana, and get to witness the inside of a Blockbuster for the first time in years. These references are all nice window dressing, but to be honest this could have been set a few days before infinity war and not much would have changed for this actual movie. That being said, they do bring some nostalgia with them, and that plays into some of the funnier moments. 

Aside from Nick Fury, we have Talos played by Ben Mendelsohn and Yonn-Rog played by Jude Law. Both are excellent actors in their own rights, and Law is really solid in his role. Mendelsohn nearly steals the movie for me though, playing an antagonist with a twist, and someone I really hope we see more of in the MCU going forward. I didn’t expect the turns this movie took, and therefore this film provided some of the most interesting world building to date in the MCU. It’s an odd thing but we seem to be reaching a point where Marvel is aware people know the comics, and are going out of their way to do things that will surprise us. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say I thought there were some really smart storytelling choices made in this film.

What I think is difficult to quantify with these films is why it’s any better than say Dr. Strange, or Black Panther, and honestly I am not sure it is. It’s certainly not down with the likes of Thor: The Dark World, but because of the nature of the MCU it’s almost impossible for this to rank in the top echelons of the MCU given how deep in we are and how many characters we have seen combine. Captain Marvel is a return to a true origin story in the MCU, and one that doesn’t fall into the trappings we have seen in previous first outings. The final fight isn’t against a villain with exactly the same powers (Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Ant Man, Black Panther all spring immediately to mind), and there is no really blatant sequel set up.

This film extends the lore of the MCU in a more natural way then we have witnessed before. It gives us insights into characters we have seen before, but from a time before we knew them, and I am not just talking about Fury. Captain Marvel is yet another good film in the Marvel universe, and it got me even more excited for Avengers Endgame. If that was possible. The first end credits scene made me realise just how desperate I am to see that film. I can’t wait. Only a month and a half away.

Good: Excellent Action, Solid acting all round, MCU continues to expand and some great 90s nostalgia. Goose the Cat is awesome, and the Marvel Logo at the start will make you cry.

Bad: Script felt a little empty in some ways, leading to a mildly underdeveloped hero. Superman Problem needs to be addressed in future movies and I didn’t like how Fury lost his eye (Spoilers I guess…)

7/10 – Carol Danvers joins the MCU, and immediately becomes Thanos’ biggest problem.