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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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.

After Life Review

Ricky Gervais is a somewhat divisive figure in the entertainment industry. His stints hosting the Golden Globes are famous for his harsh put downs and dry humour that often goes past the line of politically correct. After Life is the new show from the mind of the comedian that has been released on Netflix.

The how follows a man whose wife has passed away and taken his main reason for living with her to the grave. Gervais is the writer, director and star of the show, and his sense of humour is stamped all over the show. You get the feeling the character of Tony is not very far from Gervais’ real thoughts. He puts himself in this position and it’s hard to say he is acting well, as it feels a lot like it’s just him and not much of a character.

Surrounding Gervais is a flock of talented actors and actresses who are all solid throughout the show, some comedians you’ll recognise from TV and some character actors who have popped up in a lot of British television. It’s clear immediately though that Gervais is the focus, and Afterlife is a vehicle for him to put his thoughts out into the world.

A lot of this is managed heavy handedly by Gervais, with all the subtlety of a brick through a window. The lack of a deft touch is noticeable, especially early in the six episode series. Some of the jokes fell flat to me, and this is evidence that it really is all about how a joke is delivered. The jokes are similar in topic and at times even similar in structure to his stand up jokes, but for me Gervais’ stand up is a lot funnier than this show is.

That’s not to say its not got it’s moments, it just never peaks above the funny clips I saw before release. Three or four times through the series I found myself laughing out loud at the show which is lower than I expected for this season going in. Those expectations I found myself changing as the show went on and I realised what Afterlife is; Afterlife is Gervais trying to tell a story with his comedic style sprinkled in, and I expected a more comically focused series.

The story we follow is interesting, relatable to people, and has a good message at its core. The heavy-handedness with the comedy is also present with the storytelling here though, and at times the script is blunt and repeats its point. The main character’s arc is satisfying if obvious, and didn’t really hit me how it could have if it was better handled.

After Life is an odd series of TV, it’s a lot of good ideas that just didn’t hit the mark for me. Gervais is a good comedy writer, and his sense of humour works for me as it did brilliantly in his stand up show, but something didn’t quite hit right for me here. It is a series with the potential to be a thoughtful introspective on loss, loneliness and the emotions people deal with in tough times. The heavy-handed execution mean it lands as a decent series with unfulfilled potential.

Good: Gervais delivers some good laughs, themes and story are fantastic.

Bad: Poor execution and lack of a light touch took away from the series for me.

5/10 – High potential but didn’t hit for me.

Velvet Buzzsaw Review

Last week I watched Nightcrawler, the first time director Dan Gilroy and star Jake Gyllenhaal combined, and I really enjoyed it. It gave me a lot of hope for Velvet Buzzsaw which is their second time teaming up. Could it live up to the excellent Nightcrawler?

I went into Velvet Buzzsaw knowing very little about the film. I knew it was a satire of the art world, and that something odd goes on, but beyond that I had no idea. The film starts out towards being a satire on the art world and the pretentious nature of some of the people the world contains. I have met some people in the art world who I could see in parts of the characters in this film.

Those characters are all played by some really talented actors, led by the enigmatic Gyllenhaal. Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton (from Fresh Meat), Toni Collette and Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things) are all really solid. I am happy for Ashton and Dyer as they both have shown some talent before, and this feels like a good next step for them. John Malkovich is John Malkovich, and he’s always entertaining but does seem a bit underused in a film I think he was perfect for.

These solid performers inhabiting quite interest characters sets up a thoroughly intriguing film. For the first half I was very in, and was interested in seeing where the plot went. What happens from around halfway into the movie I have to say really did not work for me. The attempt at satirising the culture of the art world is nearly brilliant, but the script largely disregards this and steadily falls into an odd, nonsensical slasher film. It’s not a spoiler, but the final third of this film is basically a horror movie with no real explanation to what is happening. Things just go wrong, people die, and the way everyone dies is just put down to “It’s a curse”.

I did think the film was going to reveal something in the third act that would have really been an interesting twist and I think this needed that kind of momentum shift towards the end. Things ramp up in a way, but for me it’s all just gore porn and the characters introduced in the first act melt away and become generic victims. This really detracted from the movie for me.

I was a big fan of director/writer Dan Gilroy’s work in Nightcrawler, and whilst the direction in this film is really good, the script starts so high, and deteriorates into a generic horror film. Fans of that genre may find it works well, but as excellently shot and executed as the death scenes are, they just aren’t what I look for in a film. They aren’t predictable deaths, as in the way people go out is very different. One in particular, the “Paint” death is probably the best way to describe it, is very artistic and really beautiful to look at from a cinematic standpoint.

The way the films shot is truly great, and the cinematography, particularly a couple of the landscape shots at night, are up there with the hyperspace crash scene from Star Wars in that they are like pieces of art on their own. However, the fact that my favourite part of the 2nd and 3rd acts is a couple of landscape shots really shows my level of enjoyment for this film.

Velvet Buzzsaw flirts with being a really engaging, intelligent film, then wastes its solid start on an unexplained phenomenon that takes over. I really hope slasher fans find this film entertaining, as I really struggled to past about the 60 minute mark.

Good: Excellent cinematography,  solid performances and next steps for some young actresses, Gyllenhaal does his best.

Bad: Satire morphing into slasher could be done very well, it isn’t here, and it ruined the film for me.

4/10 – Promising start wasted.

 

Sex Education Review

Netflix’s original series’ have been going from strength to strength, and the latest one I sat down to binge through is Sex Education, the Asa Butterfield led series about a 16-year-old boy who has grown up with a sex therapist as his mother. The mysterious cool girl at school convinces him to share the knowledge he has picked up over the years with the rest of his school peers, and make a bit of cash at the same time. 

This odd premise is used as a brilliant framing mechanism for the show which delves into a plethora of topics that teenagers have to deal with in their formative years. Exploring their sexuality and all the uncomfortable moments that brings with it. Handling such important topics in what is first and foremost a comedic show is a very tough task, but one that Sex Educations writers get absolutely perfect.

I don’t recall any show I have ever watched successfully bringing real questions the are directly relatable to the real world in the same way this show does. The show is set in 2019, in the real world and every character we spend any meaningful time with has a story and feels real. Again, the writing for these characters and their arcs through the series is tremendous, and somehow the tone stays consistent throughout the whole show regardless of whether the topic is a picture being spread around the campus or characters losing their virginity.

The great writing goes hand in hand with some great break-out performances, particularly from the main 3 characters. Asa Butterfield as Otis is equal parts socially awkward and quirkily charm. Ncuti Gatwa plays fabulously camp Eric, and I found his characters journey was really interesting as it’s a journey I know nothing of, but I am sure a lot of people my age struggled with the same problems he encounters. For me the star of the show is Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley. Maeve is an odd entity in school, maligned by the cool kids, but too cool for the rest of her peers, the story her character goes on is entertaining, heartbreaking and very real.

That element of the show, how real every situation feels, is what I think Sex Educations special ingredient is. I did not experience all of the shows events in my time as a teenager, but I experienced a few of them, and I think it will be the same for anyone in my generation. For the generation below me, who are currently going through this time in their life, this show brings to light the fact that everyone is in the same boat and dealing with their own problems.

There are not many shows I have watched where I have repeatedly thought “This is brilliant”, but Sex Education is one of them. I have written a lot about the messages and societal issues the show addresses, but it would be remiss of me not to touch on just how funny the show is. It finds the funny side of most situations, and more often than not it times the punchline right, so as not to ruin the moment. Occasionally a few of the jokes fall a little flat, but its got a high success rate compared to jokes in most Netflix shows I have watched.

The one real negative I have on Sex Education is the first episodes placement in the season, the “big issue” (pardon the pun) is a bit too on the nose for the first episode and perhaps could have been swapped out to a later episode, even episode two. The show moves through topics and issues that teens struggle with but are perhaps feel are too taboo to ask the questions that sex educations poses, and it often answers them as well. This is one of the cleverest shows I have seen, and I would recommend it to pretty much everyone over the age of thirteen.

Good: Incredible handling of sensitive topics, brilliant acting, 80s wardrobe, Awesome soundtrack (Old Time Rock and Roll being the highlight for me).

Bad: Some of the first episode is a bit silly.

10/10 – One of the best shows that will come out in 2019. 

Polar Review

Polar is the latest movie Netflix have put out on their service. Starring Mads Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens, it certainly has enough talent in the cast to deliver a good film. Directed by Jonas Akerlund I wasn’t sure what to expect, but a quick glance at his IMDB page shows a career made directing several different music videos and documentaries until last years Lords of Chaos, which i didn’t see, so this is the first time i have seen anything from the swedish director. 

The premise of Polar is relatively simple, Mads Mikkelsen plays Duncan, the best assassin in the world, and he is on the verge of retirement. To get out of paying his pension fund, his employer wants him dead before his 50th birthday. That’s the core of it, and it does function well to give everyone motivations to do what they’re doing. In addition to this, the dynamic between Mikkelsen and Vanessa Hudgens’ Camille is by far the best dynamic between any 2 characters in the film, and those actors are the best thing in this movie.

Mikkelsen is a man tired of the life he has led and glad to retire. This can seem at times like he is sleep walking through the film with no expression, but in small moments you do get the hint that it’s all part of the character of Duncan. Hudgens’ plays a character with a past that I didn’t see coming, and I found her the most compelling character in the film.

On the antagonist side of things, unfortunately things aren’t so stellar. I love Matt Lucas’ comedy, but for me his portrayal of the main villain Blut was way too over the top and at times silly. The character would fit in perfectly in a little britain sketch version of this premise, but the rest of the film just doesn’t fit with his odd behaviour. The other antagonists are okay at best, with the only real notable character being Vivian, played by Katheryn Winnick. She isn’t as over the top as the rest of the people on her side, and her character seems to have more depth to her than the rest of the cast aside from Duncan and Camille.

Being a film featuring an assassin, there is of course a healthy serving of action. At times the action is thrilling, a mix of John Wick and Tarantino that really pops and entertains. At other times, the action is hard to decipher, as there are way too many cuts to different angles to make sense of what is happening. The praise heaped on scenes like that hallway scene in daredevil should really be noted by action directors, as cutting 100 times just confuses and blurs the action, meaning it becomes visual noise that doesn’t really do much for the viewer. There is even a scene where Duncan is just pouring a drink, and taking a sip, before relaxing in his chair. A perfectly normal scene that sets him up for his future life that he views himself leading. I counted seven cuts to different angles, really not adding anything to the scene and just keeping your eyes moving.

This cut heavy style, along with a lot of the choices made in the wardrobe department, strike me as habits a director has picked up from making so many music videos. Music is all about the beat, cutting and making the flow of the pictures fit the music is what you are looking for. In a movie, and especially in action scenes, this style just doesn’t work for me.

Polar is an interesting film to watch, and I can really see what the film makers were   aiming for. It’s like John Wick without the action expertise, and Tarantino without the expertly written dialogue. There are some great moments, and two really solid performances. Unfortunately those grievances I have, and the 20-30 minutes of unnecessary ass and tiddies that can be cut straight out of the film, make Polar a slight let down for me.

Good: Hudgens is good, Mikkelsen with an Eye Patch doing his Solid Snake audition, and an interesting twist.

Bad: Antagonist’s are poor and some of the decisions made in the editing room/directors chair didn’t work for me.

4/10 – Decent Idea, Poor execution. 

Netflix’s The Punisher Season 2 Review

Netflix have recently announced the cancellation of a number of their Marvel show’s, with Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil all being scrapped by the property. There is no word yet, but I am pretty sure all of these series are done for. That being said, The Punisher was one of the best series out of them all, with only Daredevil beating it for me, and one of those Daredevil seasons featured Frank Castle heavily. 

After the first season surprised me with the story driven deep dive into Frank Castle’s mind, I was open to whatever story the show runners decided on. From the start of Season 2, I found myself really intrigued by the story. With Frank seemingly close to getting away from his bullet-filled past, the opening episode is quite different, but I thought it was a great way to show that Frank could have a different life, but he is constantly drawn to violent situations.

Jon Bernthal is once again superb as Frank Castle, he has completely owned this role and made the character infinitely more interesting to me. Before this version of The Punisher was brought into the world, he was always a character I felt was extremely thin with not much to explore beyond the rain of gunfire he brings with him. Bernthal plays a man haunted by his past, desperate to get away, but almost subconsciously drawn towards a world he thrives in.

Frank ends up looking after a young girl, around the same age his daughter would have been, who is played excellently by Giorgia Whigham. She’s a street smart kid, and doesn’t initially trust Frank, and why would you, he kills anyone he gets into a fight with. The dynamic between them is the driving force behind the entire season for me. There are elements of Joel and Ellie from The Last Of Us, and I really enjoyed that element of the show. She is there to remind Frank to stay on the right side of a line. He does kill, but he kills when he has to, not just because he can, leading to some of the best moments in the season.

Micro from Season one is nowhere to be seen, or been mentioned but returning from are Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Curtis (Jason R Moore) who are both there to help Frank despite his grumbling. Curtis has a much bigger role this season than he did last, and I liked the way he interacted with Frank and the arc his character goes on is genuinely interesting. Madani however, I found a little odd. There isn’t much for the character to do, she is essentially the worst Homeland Security Agent in history, who is always a step or three behind the protagonists and antagonists in the story.

Speaking of Antagonists, Ben Barnes returns as scarred ex-best-friend of Frank, Billy Russo. I really liked the actors performance, but I did find the story with him and his psychiatrist to be a little repetitive. At the 5th or 6th time we see them discuss the past, the bit begun to wear a little thin and I would have rather dedicated more time with him and Frank perhaps having more interaction. In addition to him, we have Josh Stewart playing a devotee of the Church, whose motivations are initially unclear. I won’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but I found his characters arc grew into the season. His  ominous presence begins as a distraction and uninteresting, but by the end I was keen to learn more about the character.

Being a Netflix Punisher season, the action is something to behold. Every gunfight, hand to hand brawl and car chase is shot and edited masterfully. I loved all of the action, and could have gone for a bit more although that’s not to say the show lacks it in any way. In a similar vein to the entirety of the Punisher show, it never quite reaches the heights of Daredevil’s one shot masterpieces. The brutal action of the punisher is still very entertaining, although be warned, this is maybe the bloodiest of the seasons Netflix has produced.

All in all, I had a great time watching this season. The melancholy feeling knowing this may be the last season we get from this is hard to avoid, but even though a season 3 is easy to get to from where our characters are left, I am happy with the finale of the show. Perhaps the biggest indication of how much I enjoyed it, is that I finished the entire 13-episode run by 3pm on saturday, just 31 hours after the show dropped on Netflix in the UK.

Good: Jon Bernthal is fantastic, along with a number of the rest of the cast, and the story with him and Giorgia Whigham is great. Action scenes are brutally brilliant.

Bad: Madani a wasted character for me, and even though I was hooked throughout, there is probably 2 episodes worth of time we could have saved with some editing and not beating us over the head with the Jigsaw character’s memory loss.

9/10 – Great series and I hope we get more, but if not The Punisher ends on a high.