The Things You Find On Netflix: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (dir by Vince Gilligan)


As one might expect from the sequel film to Breaking Bad, the shadow of Walter White hangs over very minute of El Camino.

Physically, Bryan Cranston doesn’t have a large role in El Camino.  Like many of the characters from Breaking Bad, he appears only in a flashback.  Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) spends a good deal of this movie dwelling on the past, perhaps because the only way that he can have a future is by mentally forgiving himself for all the stuff that went on while he was cooking meth with Walter White and, later, for the Nazi bikers who kept him chained up in a cage like an animal.  So, it makes sense that we would see a lot of flashbacks, the majority featuring characters who are no longer alive.  Cranston’s Walter White only appears towards the end of the film, when Jesse remembers the conversation they had at a diner about what Jesse was going to do with the money that they were making.  It’s a bit jarring to see them, largely because Walter still looks like an earnest and frail science teacher while Jesse is still young, loud, and more than a little obnoxious.  It’s quite a contrast to what we know will eventually happen to both characters.

For obvious reasons, Walter White isn’t in much of El Camino but his ghost seems to following Jesse through the entire movie. For that matter, so does the ghost of Tod Alquist (Jesse Plemons).  It’s not just that a good deal of the movie deals with Jesse trying to figure out where Tod hid all of his money.  (Jesse is planning on using the money to hopefully escape New Mexico and start a new life in Alaska.)  It’s also that Jesse has been scarred, both physically and mentally, by the Hellish time that he spent as Tod’s …. well, Tod’s pet.  Tod treated Jesse like a dog, keeping him on a leash, punishing him for being “bad,” and then offering Jesse pizza as a reward whenever Jesse did something right.  To be honest, the flashbacks with Tod take some getting used to, largely because Plemons has obviously aged quite a bit between the finale of Breaking Bad and the shooting of El Camino.  But, still, Plemons is absolutely terrifying as the unfailingly polite but definitely sociopathic Tod.  At one point, Tod casually brings Jesse over to his apartment so that Jesse can help dispose of the body of his cleaning lady.  Tod murdered her because she came across some money that he was hiding in a hollowed-out book.  Tod shrugs as he tells the story of her murder, as if his actions are as commonplace as waking up and going to bed.

Throughout Breaking Bad, Jesse spent most of the series being manipulated by evil men.  What was ironic, of course, was that Jesse was the only one of those men who must people automatically considered to be a criminal.  Everyone thought that Walter was a tragic family man.  Tod was largely anonymous and those who did notice him usually assumed he was just an eccentric weirdo.  Jesse, on the other hand, was the guy who was continually getting hauled in by the police and harassed by the DEA.  He was the one who was viewed as being a danger to society even though he eventually proved himself to be one of the few characters with anything resembling a conscience.  In El Camino, Jesse finally gets a chance to determine his own fate.  Will he embrace the lucrative but soul-destroying greed of Walter and Tod?  Or will he escape and try to make a new life for himself?

El Camino is a visually stunning tour-de-force, anchored by Aaron Paul’s empathetic performance as Jesse.  Jesse is no longer as loud as he may have been in Breaking Bad.  He’s a man haunted by the past and, watching the film, you know, regardless of whether he makes it to Alaska, the scars will never fully heal.  He has the haunted eyes of a man who is never going to be fully okay, regardless of where he ends up.  In fact, if we’re going to be realistic, he probably doesn’t have much of a future ahead of him.  Those ghosts are always going to follow him and, as Robert Forster’s Ed sagely explains it, much of what has happened is due to Jesse’s own poor decisions.

Still, whatever mistakes he’s made in the past, you can’t help but wish the best for Jesse Pinkman.

He’s earned it.

Film Review: The Upside (dir by Neil Burger)


There’s a lot of opera in The Upside.

That, in itself, is not a surprise.  The Upside is about a wealthy, emotionally repressed white man and, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the movies, it’s that wealthy, repressed white people always love opera.

Another things that we’ve learned from the movies is that wealthy, emotionally repressed white people always hire a streetwise person of color to help them learn to appreciate life.  This person  of color will inevitably not care for all of the opera and will then introduce the wealthy, emotionally repressed white person to their own type of music.  If the movie’s a comedy, that music will be rap.  If it’s a drama, that music will be jazz.  The Upside is a dramedy so the music of emotional liberation is Aretha Franklin.

There’s not a single cliche that goes unused in The Upside.  Actually, I take that back.  As opposed to so many other films of this short, Phillip (Bryan Cranston) does not start the film as a politically incorrect bigot, which means that we’re spared of any cringey scenes of Philip trying to bait Dell (Kevin Hart) by being casually racist.  Otherwise, every cliche imaginable is present in The Upside and it all gets to be a bit much after a while.  I’m sure that the film means well and there’s a part of me that felt a little bit guilty about not liking it but seriously, this is one of those movie’s that just keeps coming at you.

Phillip is a paraplegic who wants to die, though not before listening to a lot of opera.  Dell is an ex-con who needs to find a job so his parole doesn’t get revoked.  Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) is Phillip’s personal assistant.  She’s obviously in love with Phillip, though for some reason this fact is never acknowledged until the end of the film.

Together …. they solve crimes!

No, actually, they all become friends and learn the importance of celebrating life.  It’s a good lesson to learn, make no mistake.  But it’s just all so predictable that it’s hard not to resent just how thoroughly and blatantly the film insists on trying to manipulate you.  You get the feeling that the filmmakers didn’t have any faith in their audience’s capability to feel empathy.  Director Neil Burger did such a great job with Limitless but, with this film, he seems to have lost his sense of pacing.  The movie drags from one heartwarming cliche to another, without any hints of the type of quirky self-awareness that would help to make those cliches easier to digest.

Bryan Cranston’s a great actor but, perhaps realizing that he’s merely playing a more a benign version of Walter White, he seems a bit bored here while Nicole Kidman is sabotaged by a script that doesn’t allow her to do much other than reproachfully shake her head.  Kevin Hart, however, actually gives a pretty good performance, one that suggests that he actually has a lot of potential as a dramatic actor.  The character may be a stereotype but Hart at least brings a bit of energy to the film.

The Upside came out this January and it was actually a modest box office hit.  I imagine that a lot of people loved this film for the exact reason that I disliked it.  The film’s just too predictable for me to embrace The Upside.

The Washington D.C. Film Critics Honor Roma!


Along with Detroit and Atlanta, the Washington D.C. Film Critics also announced their picks for the best of 2018 on Monday!  (Keeping up with awards season can be exhausting work!)  They really, really liked Roma!

You can check out their nominees here and the winners below!

Best Film:
Roma

Best Director:
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)

Best Actor:
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)

Best Actress:
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)

Best Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)

Best Supporting Actress:
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)

Best Acting Ensemble:
The Favourite

Best Youth Performance:
Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Best Voice Performance:
Bryan Cranston (Isle of Dogs)

Best Motion Capture Performance:
Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War)

Best Original Screenplay:
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara (The Favourite)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Animated Feature:
Isle of Dogs

Best Documentary:
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Foreign Language Film:
Roma

Best Production Design:
Production Designer: Hannah Beachler; Set Decorator: Jay Hart (Black Panther)

Best Cinematography:
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)

Best Editing:
Tom Cross, ACE (First Man)

Best Original Score:
Nicholas Britell (If Beale Street Could Talk)

The Joe Barber Award for Best Portrayal of Washington, DC:
Vice

The Washington D.C. Film Critics Nominate Coogler, Jordan, and The Favourite


Yesterday, the Washington D.C. Film Critics announced their nominees for the best of 2018.  While the big three contenders — Roma, Star is Born, and Green Book — are all present and accounted for, the D.C. Film Critics did take the time to nominate Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan for their work on Black Panther.  They also nominated The Favourite for Best Picture, which isn’t unexpected but The Favourite, like Black Panther, can use all the support it can get to prevent being overshadowed by the big three contenders.

(Before anyone asks what I’m basing my analysis on, allow me to point out that I’m not the first film blogger to pretend to be an Oscar expert and I’m sure I won’t be the last….)

Best Film:
The Favourite
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Director:
Ryan Coogler (Black Panther)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)

Best Actor:
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress:
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Toni Collette (Hereditary)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

Best Supporting Actress:
Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale)
Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Acting Ensemble:
Black Panther
The Favourite
If Beale Street Could Talk
Vice
Widows

Best Youth Performance:
Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie (Leave No Trace)
Milly Shapiro (Hereditary)
Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place)
Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give)

Best Voice Performance:
Bryan Cranston (Isle of Dogs)
Holly Hunter (Incredibles 2)
Shameik Moore (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
Sarah Silverman (Ralph Breaks the Internet)
Ben Whishaw (Paddington 2)

Best Motion Capture Performance:
Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War)
Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Solo: A Star Wars Story)

Best Original Screenplay:
Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade)
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara (The Favourite)
Paul Schrader (First Reformed)
Nick Vallelonga & Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly (Green Book)
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole (Black Panther)
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters (A Star Is Born)

Best Animated Feature:
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Documentary:
Free Solo
RBG
Science Fair
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Foreign Language Film:
Burning
Capernaum
Cold War
Roma
Shoplifters

Best Production Design:
Production Designer: Hannah Beachler; Set Decorator: Jay Hart (Black Panther)
Production Designer: Fiona Crombie; Set Decorator: Alice Felton (The Favourite)
Production Designer: Nathan Crowley; Set Decorator: Kathy Lucas (First Man)
Production Designer: John Myhre; Set Decorator: Gordon Sim (Mary Poppins Returns)
Production Designer: Eugenio Caballero; Set Decorator: Bárbara Enríquez (Roma)

Best Cinematography:
Robbie Ryan, BSC (The Favourite)
Linus Sandgren, FSF (First Man)
James Laxton (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Matthew Libatique, ASC (A Star Is Born)

Best Editing:
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, ACE (The Favourite)
Tom Cross, ACE (First Man)
Alfonso Cuarón, Adam Gough (Roma)
Jay Cassidy, ACE (A Star Is Born)
Joe Walker, ACE (Widows)

Best Original Score:
Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther)
Justin Hurwitz (First Man)
Nicholas Britell (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Thom Yorke (Suspiria)
Hans Zimmer (Widows)

The Joe Barber Award for Best Portrayal of Washington, DC:
The Front Runner
RBG
Vice

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Power Rangers (dir by Dean Israelite)


So far, on this Christmas Day, I have posted three reviews for films that featured plots that made little to no sense to me.  Well, here’s a fourth one.

Power Rangers is a cinematic reboot of the old Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television show from the 90s.  It deals with five teenagers who meet in detention and, though a series of events that I really don’t feel like wasting my time recounting, end up in an old gold mine where they find five coins, which allow them to turn into … well, I guess they’re Power Rangers.

There’s Jason (Dacre Montgomery), who was a star football player until he stole a car as part of a prank and ended up crashing it.  (The initial car crash is entirely filmed inside the automobile, which adds some deceptive excitement to the film.)  And then there’s Kimberly (Naomi Scott), who is the mean girl who actually has a good heart.  She’s in detention because she’s a cyber bully.  Billy (RJ Cyler) is the genius, which means that he’s the type of socially awkward student who accidentally blows up his locker.  And then there’s Trini (Becky G) and Zack (Ludi Lin), who are both just kind of there.  Every good group of three has to have two extra people to get in the way and that’s pretty much the function of Trini and Zack.

Anyway, after they discover the Power Coins and share a few moments that feel as if they were lifted from Chronicle, the new Power Rangers are trained by a robot named Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and a former Power Ranger named Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who died at around the same time as the dinosaurs.  Apparently, finding the power coins has allowed the ancient evil of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) to be reborn and now she’s threatening to destroy either Earth or the universe.  Actually, I was never quite sure what Rita was trying to do.  But the Power Rangers have to set aside their differences, learn to work as a team, and come together to defeat her.

Or something like that.  Honestly, this film featured a lot of exposition about people with names like Zordon and Rita Repulsa and Goldar and my eyes pretty much glazed over while I was trying to listen to it all.  Listen, I am a fidget spinner-carrying member of the Severe ADHD Club.  The minute they started explaining the lengthy history of the Power Rangers, my mind pretty much started looking for anything else to focus on.  It would have been different if the film has some sort of epic scope or if it made it look like it would actually be fun to be a Power Ranger.  Instead, it just turned into another franchise-opening action film.  Basically, it felt like The Fantastic Four movie, with one extra member of the team.

I should admit that I’ve never seen an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Perhaps if I had, I would have gotten more out of this movie.  The five actors playing the Power Rangers are all talented and charismatic and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.  But this confusing mess of a movie just left me with a headache.

Belatedly, Here Are The Nominations of the North Texas Film Critics!


Two days ago, the North Texas Film Critics Association announced their nominations for the best of 2017!

On twitter, there’s been a lot of speculation as to why the NTFCA totally snubbed Call Me By Your Name in their nominations.  Hilariously, some people — all from out-of-state, of course — are assuming that the NTFCA must be made up of evangelical, right-wingers because it’s a Texas organization.  Seriously, those people have no idea how left-wing most members of the Texas media are.  Texas may be a Republican state but most of our native film critics are somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.

Anyway, here are the nominees:

BEST PICTURE
“Baby Driver”
“The Big Sick”
“Dunkirk”
“Get Out”
“The Florida Project”
“Lady Bird”
“Logan”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

BEST ACTOR
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Stronger”
Tom Hanks, “The Post”
Hugh Jackman, “Logan”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
James McAvoy, “Split”
Kumail Nanijiani, “The Big Sick”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Robert Pattinson, “Good Time”
Jeremy Renner, “Wind River”
Andy Serkis, “War for the Planet of the Apes”

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, “Molly’s Game”
Judi Dench, “Victoria & Abdul”
Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman”
Jennifer Lawrence, “mother!”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Brooklynn Prince, “The Florida Project”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Emma Stone, “Battle of the Sexes”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Nicole Kidman, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Tatiana Maslany, “Stronger”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
Tilda Swinton, “Okja”
Kristin Scott Thomas, “Darkest Hour”
Bria Vinaite, “The Florida Project”
Allison Williams, “Get Out”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes”
Daniel Craig, “Logan Lucky”
Bryan Cranston, “Last Flag Flying”
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Idris Elba, “Molly’s Game”
Will Poulter, “Detroit”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Ray Romano, “The Big Sick”
Mark Rylance, “Dunkirk”
Patrick Stewart, “Logan”

BEST DIRECTOR
Sean Baker, “The Florida Project”
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
Steven Spielberg, “The Post”
Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game”
Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049”
Joe Wright, “Darkest Hour”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Thimios Bakatakis, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”
Roger Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049”
Hoyte Van Hoytema, “Dunkirk”
Matthew Jensen, “Wonder Woman”
Dan Laustsen, “The Shape of Water”
Janusz Kaminski, “The Post”
Michael Seresin, “War for the Planet of the Apes”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“First They Killed My Father”
“In the Fade”
“Menashe”
“Raw”
“The Square”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”
“Chasing Coral”
“City of Ghosts”
“Cries from Syria”
“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”
“Jane”
“Step”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“The Breadwinner”
“Cars 3”
“Coco”
“Despicable Me 3:
“The LEGO Batman Movie”
“Loving Vincent”

The SAG Nominations are here and … Hello there, Captain Fantastic!


captain-fantasticEarlier the year, I choose not to see Captain Fantastic.  Every bit of advertising that I saw for it led me to believe that Captain Fantastic was basically just Wes Anderson-lite and, as we all know, only Wes Anderson can successfully duplicate Wes Anderson.

Well, I think I may have made a mistake because Viggo Mortensen is definitely in the hunt for best actor.  Though most of the precursor awards (so far) have gone to Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea, Mortensen still seems like a likely nominee.

Just consider this: he got a SAG nomination!  And so did Captain Fantastic, itself!  It was nominated for best ensemble, which is the SAG equivalent of best picture…

Actually, maybe you shouldn’t spend too much time fixating on that.  People like me always talk about how the SAG awards are an obvious precursor for the Oscars.  Our logic is that the Actor’s Branch is the largest voting bloc in the Academy and the members of the Actor’s Branch are among those who also vote for the SAG awards.

Of course, we always forget that the majority of SAG members are themselves not a part of the Academy.  So, while enough members of SAG may have liked Captain Fantastic for it to get an unexpected ensemble nomination, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those voters are also members of the Academy.

I mean, let’s consider what happened last year.  Beasts of No Nation picked up an ensemble nomination.   So did Straight Outta Compton.  So did Trumbo.  None of those films proved to be an Oscar powerhouse.  In fact, Beasts of No Nation received a grand total of zero Oscar nominations.

So, let’s put it like this — it’s a good sign for a film or a performer to get a SAG nomination.  But there’s still no guarantee that it will translate into Oscar recognition. Captain Fantastic may have been nominated and La La Land was snubbed (for ensemble).  But I imagine that the reverse will happen when the Oscar noms are announced in January.

With all that in mind, here are the SAG nominations!

FILM

Best Film Ensemble
“Captain Fantastic”
“Fences”
“Hidden Figures”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Best Actress
Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Emily Blunt, “The Girl on the Train”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Stunt Ensemble
“Captain America: Civil War”
“Doctor Strange”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Jason Bourne”
“Nocturnal Animals”

TV

Best Comedy Ensemble
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Black-ish”
“Modern Family”
“Orange is the New Black”
“Veep”

Best Comedy Actor
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Titus Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

Best Comedy Actress
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Jane Fonda, “Grace & Frankie”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace & Frankie”

Best Drama Ensemble
“The Crown”
“Downton Abbey”
“Game of Thrones”
“Stranger Things”
“Westworld”

Best Drama Actor
Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

Best Drama Actress
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Winona Ryder, “Stranger Things”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

Best Movie/Miniseries Actor
Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Sterling K. Brown, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
Bryan Cranston, “All The Way”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”
Courtney B Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”

Best Movie/Miniseries Actress
Bryce Dallas Howard, “Black Mirror”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
Audra McDonald, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”
Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
Kerry Washington, “Confirmation”

Best Stunt Ensemble
“Game of Thrones”
“Daredevil”
“Luke Cage”
“The Walking Dead”
“Westworld”