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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Breaking Bad, one of the greatest TV series of all time, ended six years ago. Since then, creator Vince Gilligan has been serving up Better Call Saul, a nice extension of the Breaking Bad universe that will go into its fifth season next year.

However, Better Call Saul is a prequel, meaning the Breaking Bad timeline came to a stop six years ago. (Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, but intend to, you may want to stop reading, as spoilers follow.) So, what happened to Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) after Walter White (Bryan Cranston) liberated him from captivity at that American Nazi compound? When last we saw Jesse, he was speeding off into the night, laugh-crying hysterically.

Knowing full well that the fan base is itching for more, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie has made its way to Netflix (and a select few big screens). The film picks up where Breaking Bad left off, with Jesse in a pinch as “a person of interest” after the White assault—and still very much in need of a shave and shower.

It’s a great thing to see Paul back in his wheelhouse as Pinkman, even if the character has become a bit dour after being held prisoner in a hole in the ground. Jesse’s screen time during his captivity on the TV show was limited, as the story, logically, focused primarily on Walter White’s last days. We only really saw Jesse eating ice cream and failing in an escape attempt—he became a background character.

El Camino gives Gilligan and Paul a chance to, via flashback, explore some strange adventures Jesse had with his captor, the quietly evil Todd (Jesse Plemons). Plemons actually plays a big part in this movie—thankfully so, because he’s a badass as Todd. Todd is a seemingly sensitive, low-volume man—with a psycho streak that poses all kinds of threats to Jesse’s well-being.

Other characters we see again include Mike (Jonathan Banks), who makes an appearance in flashback (his character having been eliminated by White in the show). Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) show up early and haven’t lost a step in providing comic relief. Most notably, the late Robert Forster, who passed away on the very day El Camino was released, returns as Ed, the vacuum salesman who does something a little extra on the side.

For those who loved the show, El Camino is a must-see. It fits right in, like two episodes that were hidden in a secret vault for six years. I won’t reveal all of the other cameos, but trust me: Breaking Bad fans, you won’t be disappointed.

If you haven’t seen the show and have read on anyway, stay away from the movie until you have watched the series. This is a movie that reveals virtually everything that happened during Breaking Bad’s run. Watch something else on Netflix until you have seen all 62 episodes of the series.

The movie gives Jesse Pinkman a more poetic sendoff than him screaming like a banshee. While this might be the end for future Jesse, chances are good that past Jesse will appear somewhere within the Better Call Saul timeline, which is taking place before the events of Breaking Bad. I’m sure Gilligan has a few more Jesse stories up his sleeve.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

While it’s far from original, Central Intelligence winds up being an above-average action/comedy buddy movie thanks to its stars, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. These guys belong together.

The plot feels like a bunch of parts from other movies were cobbled together to make a whole. It has elements of Lethal Weapon, Grosse Pointe Blank, Just Friends and even a bit of Sixteen Candles, all stitched together, albeit capably, by director Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers). It’s a well-oiled movie Frankenstein.

Johnson actually scores most of the laughs. Meanwhile, Hart delivers one of the more well-rounded, warm performances of his career.

The pre-opening-credits sequence gives us Calvin (Hart), the most popular guy in his high school, getting honored at a pep rally. In the boys’ locker room, obese Bob (Johnson, aided by some pretty funny CGI) is taking a shower to the tune of his favorite jam, En Vogue’s “My Lovin’.” Bully Trevor (Dylan Boyack) and his cronies spy Bob, pull him from the shower, and slide his naked body into the pep rally. Calvin takes pity on him and drapes him with his letterman jacket; Bob vanishes from school, never to be seen again.

Cut to the present day; Calvin is an accountant getting passed over for promotions. He gets a Facebook invite for beers from somebody named Bob Stone, which he accepts, because he’s bored. He winds up in a bar with a totally transformed Bob: He has gone from being morbidly obese to looking a lot like the Rock.

Bob, who admits to worshipping Calvin over the years, turns out to be a rogue agent in the CIA who is being pursued by his superior (Amy Ryan). He enlists Calvin’s help in detecting codes, or some nonsense like that, and Calvin finds himself in the adventure of his life.

Again, this movie feels a lot like movies that have come before it. Heck, even that recent Netflix Adam Sandler film, The Do-Over, has essentially the same plot. What puts this over the top is the chemistry between the two stars: They have a very winning presence together.

Johnson makes Bob childlike in many ways, making it a mystery: Is he really a man-child, or is it all just an act to pull Calvin into his scheme? Johnson plays Bob as overly polite, with echoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins.

Countering Johnson’s simple yet centered character is Hart’s uptight, unsatisfied Calvin. There are moments in the movie, especially during the opening sequence, when Hart plays the part perfectly, mixing his patented brand of hyper humor with a certain sweetness. He makes it easy to root for Calvin on his road to redemption, while Johnson’s Bob is so likeable, you’d accept him as a good or bad guy.

The film ends with the requisite high school reunion featuring some welcome cameos. The producers have managed to score some big guest stars. In a credited performance, Aaron Paul shows up in a small role as Bob’s former partner. There’s a nod to Breaking Bad that gets a good laugh.

This is the sort of movie that goes down easy in the summer time. I actually watched it at a drive-in, and the movie perfectly suited the drive-in experience. So, yeah, I’m encouraging you to find a drive-in playing Central Intelligence. (Drive to Riverside, perhaps?) Close your windows, though. Mosquitoes can ruin a flick.

This probably won’t be the last we see of Calvin and Bob. Central Intelligence has “franchise written” all over it.

Central Intelligence is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A drone pilot (Aaron Paul) has a missile lined up and is about to pull the trigger on a houseful of terrorists when a little girl appears within the blast zone to sell some bread.

This is just one of the dilemmas brilliantly depicted in Eye in the Sky, director Gavin Hood’s tense thriller about drone warfare and the political ramifications of collateral damage.

Helen Mirren is superb as Col. Katherine Powell, determined to take out multiple targets on Great Britain’s terrorist list, yet needing to check the legalities of all her strategies before she can make a single move. In his final live-action screen appearance, Alan Rickman is terrific as Lt. Gen. Frank Benson, drolly responding to the bureaucracy that’s keeping him from doing his job.

Paul delivers his best big-screen performance yet as Steve Watts, a drone commander torn between killing an innocent child and preventing a potential terrorist bombing. Phoebe Fox gives a breakthrough performance as Carrie Gershon, a drone co-commander.

The film poses many questions and many dilemmas, and wisely doesn’t take sides. It presents you with the frustrating situations and the consequences, and the viewer is left to mull it all over. This is one of the better-acted films so far this year.

Eye in the Sky is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342), the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, PalmDesert; 760-779-0430) and the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682).

Published in Reviews

Goddammit, when is somebody going to ban gum-chewing in movies? I’m a card-carrying Keanu Reeves fan, but he started the whole “Gum Chewing Action Star” thing with Speed, and it’s become such a distracting, cheap acting trick.

Well, knock it off, Hollywood actors! You will never surpass the gum-chewing prowess immortalized by Reeves in Speed. He is, always has been, and shall remain the gum-chewing action guy king!

The culprit this time out is Casey Affleck in Triple 9, the latest film from super-reliable director John Hillcoat. Affleck plays Chris, a new cop among a fleet of bad cops who distinguishes himself by, you guessed it, chewing gum a lot.

He doesn’t just chew that gum, either: He cracks it, he pops it, moves it all over his mouth and lets the white wad stick out of the corners. In fact, he makes sure it gets in the way of almost every line delivery he makes in the movie.

If I should ever get to direct an action-cop movie, what with my budding film career and all, I’m going for the gum-chewing title. I will make sure to have my action-cop guy constantly unwrapping pieces of gum and shoving them into his pie hole. I won’t stop at Wrigley’s, either. Nope: I’ll get some Big Red in there, adding to the color palette. We’ll get some Bubble Yum and Bazooka for bigger, longer-lasting bubbles. It’s going to make my action star so freaking tough-looking.

Beyond the gum … the actual movie is pretty good. Like other Hillcoat movies (The Road, The Proposition, Lawless), it’s a dark film with a bleak outlook on humanity. Nobody is happy in this flick, and they are going to let you know that. Only this time, there’s a whole lot of gum-chewing and some fast-moving action scenes to go with all of the brooding.

All right, back on point. Affleck’s Chris finds himself rolling with Marcus (Anthony Mackie, aka The Falcon!), a bad cop with a crew doing heists for a crime kingpin (Kate Winslet, aka Rose, sporting yet another weird accent). That crew includes Russell (Norman Reedus, aka The Walking Dead’s Daryl!), his brother Gabe (Aaron Paul, aka Jesse!), explosives expert Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor, aka the guy from 12 Years a Slave!) and other dirty cop Franco (Clifton Collins Jr., aka the guy who played the murderer in Capote and one of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!).

The heists themselves are nicely staged, reminiscent of the epic Michael Mann heists in Heat. They make up for the fact that the plot isn’t much; in fact, it’s almost non-existent. Still, that’s a pretty impressive acting crew that is running around shooting at each other, and Hillcoat makes it all look good.

Affleck isn’t the only one resorting to gimmickry in this film. Woody Harrelson (aka Woody!) wears some wacky teeth and smokes a lot of dope as Jeffrey, Chris’s detective brother. Or at least I think they are fake teeth. Woody, if those are your actual teeth, I’m totally sorry, bro. As for the weed, that stuff was probably authentic.

I guess the point of my harping on the gum-chewing is to say that Affleck doesn’t need that kind of bullshit. He’s a commanding actor, and his characterization of Chris is impressive and memorable enough without all the popping and cracking. It doesn’t make his character any tougher or hard-nosed. It just makes him sloppy. It also left me concerned that he might get lockjaw.

The cast does well, for the most part, although Paul is saddled with a dopey haircut (another gimmick), and Reedus is sorely lacking a crossbow (a gimmick avoided). There’s a bit involving Ejiofor and a gift-wrapped package that you will see coming a mile away, but Ejiofor sells it fine.

Triple 9 is a decent-enough action thriller, and it should’ve been sponsored by Triple Mint Refresh Chiclets bubble gum!

By the way, I do see the irony of constantly leaning on the gimmickry of gum-chewing in a movie as a gimmick in and of itself.

I’ll stop now.

Triple 9 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Aaron Paul takes his first post-Breaking Bad step into the limelight in Need for Speed, a big-screen adaptation of the popular video-game series.

Paul is a fine actor, but he’s miscast here as Tobey Marshall, a street racer looking for revenge after doing time for a crime he didn’t commit. Actually, for a crime he sort of didn’t commit.

Wait … now that I’m actually writing about this, I realize he’s pretty much guilty of the crime, even though the movie tries to pass him off as innocent. Man, this movie is stupid.

Tobey has an auto shop that tries to do big-payday racecar jobs. He also moonlights as a street racer—one of those jackasses who blaze around in hot rods on public streets, endangering the lives of other drivers and pedestrians. Yes, this film’s central character and supposed hero is a big moron. It’s hard to get behind a character with such a reckless disregard for others, whose joyriding causes major catastrophes while he cackles with glee—because he’s going really, really fast in a really, really neat car.

Tobey’s nemesis, Dino (Dominic Cooper), walks into his shop and offers Tobey the chance to build a super Mustang. Tobey hates Dino, but he needs the dough, so he takes the gig. When all is said and done, the two wind up drag-racing for the profit on the car, with Tobey’s Justin Bieber lookalike pal, Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), racing in his own car. Little Pete winds up wiping out and dying thanks to a high-speed bump from Dino, who then flees the scene.

Tobey winds up taking the heat for Little Pete’s death and does some serious time, and he’s looking for payback when he gets out of jail. Circumstances lead to him racing across the country in the Mustang he built; Imogen Poots is in the passenger seat. They do all sorts of crazy crap on their cross-country trek, including flying the car through the air to avoid police during one particular chase. (I must admit that impossible feat looked cool.)

I caught a 3-D screening, and the 3-D is put to rather good use. Many shots make the viewer feel engaged in a real race. When Little Pete meets his twisty end, the whole thing is shown from the inside of the car, and it’s a nifty trick. As for the plot, this one unfortunately ends up being only slightly better than your average Fast and Furious movie—a franchise I have grown to despise over the years.

Paul has done some decent big-screen acting in the past, with his part as an alcoholic in Smashed being his best. His future slate—including a film called Fathers and Daughters, a role in Ridley Scott’s Exodus, and possible involvement in the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul—looks promising.

That’s good, because his attempt to become the new Vin Diesel or Nicolas Cage has fallen flat. Need for Speed might look cool during some of the race scenes, but it stalls when anybody opens their mouths.

Need for Speed is playing at theaters across the valley. 

Published in Reviews

If you have never watched Breaking Bad, it is time to get cracking. It is unquestionably one of the greatest television shows ever produced, thanks in large part to stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul—and all previous seasons are now available for you to watch before the show’s final eight episodes air later this year.

If you’ve never seen it, here’s a quick rundown: Walter White (Cranston), a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, finds out he is dying of cancer, and he’s concerned about his family’s future. He’s really good with chemistry, and he comes up with a formula for meth that becomes extremely popular on the streets.

What starts as a way to put some money in his bank account before death comes a-knocking turns into a tragic thirst for power. What happens as a result of his choices has provided five seasons of incredible storytelling.

Season 5 picks up after Walter has killed drug lord Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), and Walter’s ego is out of control. This leads to tension with his apprentice (Paul) and wife (Anna Gunn), and far too many close calls with his in-the-dark lawman brother-in-law (Dean Norris).

God bless the folks who hired Bob Odenkirk to play sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman. There’s been talk of Saul getting his own show, and I say: Make it happen!

Interesting trivia note: Both John Cusack and Matthew Broderick were offered the role of Walter White, but declined.

The final eight episodes of Breaking Bad begin airing Aug. 11 on AMC. Start cramming if you haven’t watched the show yet. It’s not to be missed.

Special Features: This package is loaded. Audio commentaries that feature Cranston, Paul and series creator Vince Gilligan abound. You get deleted and extended scenes, and a ton of behind-the-scenes stuff. A lot of work went into this one. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing