Movie Review: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) conclusion to his arc was flawless, but his partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was left with an ambiguous end as he drove into the darkness. I never thought I needed a revisit, but El Camino delivers the proper end to the second half of one of the greatest shows ever produced.

The DEA along with everyone else in law enforcement are on the hunt for Jesse. He needs cash and a way out-of-state. Following him on this lonely mission is grim and intense, matching many of the emotions felt during the show’s run, yet it feels more intimate. The road he goes down to finish things off rounds out his arc the way it should have done in 2013.

Past characters pop in and out with a few surprises outside of the reveals made in trailers. Skinny Peter (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt L. Jones) make the biggest splash as that comedic relief along with being that heartwarming duo that help out their old friend. Flashbacks to Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) and Jesse’s relationship during his time in a hole gave a new level to what Jesse had gone through when captured, while making Todd a more complex personality.

Speaking of flashbacks, the lone protagonist consistently looks back during his time with Walter or his crew of captors. New scenes in between the events of Breaking Bad gave a better insight to beloved characters I have known and loved years ago. Some of the reminiscing scenes tie into Jesse’s thoughts along with the narrative’s progression, but others felt unnecessary in length or the substance brought to the table all together.

All of the actors slip right back into the roles with ease. Paul goes further into the depths of Jesse’s anguish as he tries to climb out of the rut he has emotionally been thrown into. The bar was set high during his time on Breaking Bad, and he surpasses even his highest achievements that he had established on the series.

Marshall Adams’ cinematic eye made for beautiful environments on this heartbreaking journey. The world around Jesse reflected who he is and where he is going.

Vince Gilligan did not miss a beat in both direction and writing. It feels like his breakout hit while still bringing new ideas to avoid feeling like a grab at nostalgia. El Camino has a necessity that it provides to this world and it is given respect.

A few scenes adding to the length when looking to the past does not hold down a trip back to one of my favorite shows. I have not seen Better Call Saul as I have felt complete in my time with those characters, but this goes into a place that I did not realize how much I needed. It might have come six years later, but I am glad I got to spend time with Jesse on his sendoff.

Score: 10/10

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Movie Review: Joker

I had mixed feeling leading up to Todd Phillips’ origin story for the iconic comic book baddie, Joker. My worries were due to his work with the Hangover trilogy, but the trailers gave me more confidence. Once the credits rolled I knew this is a redefining moment for the highly saturated genre, it is brilliant in every sense of the word.

Gotham is going down hill with its crime, making a depressed Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) spiral down further into the depths of his own darkness. All he has is his job as a clown, which he is not so good at being, and his beloved mother Penny (Frances Conroy), a less compelling role like everyone else compared to Arthur. After being beat down, it is time for him to get up and give himself a new way of life, the sinister force that will terrorize the city.

Phoenix carries the narrative on his back. His acting is both chilling and complex with the emotions he displays. His emaciated body and twisted take on Batman’s arch nemesis’ laugh stands out away from any other actor who has been given the honor to play this role.

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Supporting actors like Conroy, Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin, a TV star that Arthur admires, and his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz) hold their own with strong performances. The characters themselves are not too compelling as they are building blocks for Arthur, except for De Niro’s charming personality.

Giving a name and face outside of the makeup dangerously elevates the classic villain, but it was done justice. Immediately establishing who he is along with his arc works with this grounded  depiction of Gotham. It is not just a study on him because Joker is more than just one man. I hope for a universe that involves this version instead of the Warped Tour attendee that got time on the big screen in Suicide Squad.

This mature drama is refreshing when the genre is full of epic battles and world ending stakes. Some moments of levity help not go too dark, but at times it is confusing if it was intentional or not to bring in humor, making it more awkward than funny. DC has been criticized for its darkness, but the proper execution feels like an adult film rather than acting like an edgy teenager.

Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (Arrival, Sicario, Chernobyl) created a score with her team that set an atmospheric, somber tone. The limited orchestra of low strings heightened the soon to be criminal’s struggles. As his arc moves, the music follows him for an epic conclusion.

Costume designer Mark Bridges (Inherent Vice, Fifty Shades of Grey), art director Laura Ballinger (The Fighter, The Greatest Showman), set decorator Kris Moran (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Lawrence Sher’s (Hangover trilogy, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) cinematography work makes this into a gorgeous piece of cinema. Balance of color along with a new design for the Joker’s outfit gives a new outlook on both the character and the city that has been put to the big screen so many times before.

Joker is a moody, psychological look into one of DC’s best creations. The ending should have been cut a few minutes early as one shot would have been the ultimate conclusion, then the filmmakers could step on the brakes of this slow vehicle. My hope is for more Phoenix as Joker and everyone to take note of what this movie gets right to freshen up the genre.

Score: 9/10

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Images via Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Review: IT Chapter 2

The 2017 reboot of Stephen King’s classic was top notch. One of my favorite horror movies of all time, so the second had a lot to do to succeed. IT Chapter 2 goes above and beyond in every aspect that made Andy Muschietti’s (Mama) first run with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) so special.

27 years later and some of the Losers’ Club have varying degrees of how they have moved on from childhood traumas from bullies, parents, and a shapeshifting entity that eats children, you know, the usual things we all go through. After disappearances and murders in their hometown of Derry, Maine, leading Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) to talk to Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), and Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) to come home to defeat their worst nightmare. He has a plan, a ritual that sounds like it comes straight from a role-playing game that his group of old friends must complete, making for a more epic adventure than a terrifying experience like the film’s predecessor.

Casting the adult counterparts for the already superb teenage actors, but it all worked out flawlessly due to fleshing everyone out more equally and having wonderful chemistry. Hader matches the comedic power of Finn Wolfhard, Chastain looks and acts the part of an older Sophia Lillis, Bean looks like he might be from the future with his resembling features to Wyatt Olef, McAvoy grows Bill as a character after the excellent establishment from Jaeden Martell, Ryan expands on Jeremy Ray Taylor’s charming innocence, Ransone reaches the bar set from Jack Dylan Grazer, and the additional screen time helps Hanlon develop Chosen Jacobs’ role. The middle school characters were irresistibly compelling before, and getting older made them better.

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From left to right: Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Richie (Bill Hader), Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), and Ben (Jay Ryan). Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

A troubling symptom that horror cannot get away from is having characters do illogical actions. This can be done the right way, most of the time, it was as the friends had to make rash decisions because of fear. At other times, things were done for the sake of drama or scares that felt unnecessary, but thankfully it was not too abundant.

Despite being almost three hours, not much of the spotlight was on Skarsgard’s antagonist. His moments were everything I wanted from his creeping performance, but this was less his story. The film is about facing fears, defeating childhood trauma, and relationships, which is beautifully executed to the point I almost cried at the end, but it leaves the big ba monster in the dark too often.

The long length of time did not feel drawn out. The time used wisely established where the Losers were at in their lives from successful businessmen to adults who keep bad habits from their childhood. The plot moved at an acceptable pace to balance character spotlights, scares, and the narrative of killing the evil clown. Some parts moved too fast, but I was able to cope and move on as I was going to be sitting in that theater for a while.

More texture was added to the tone for refreshing and familiar emotions. Additional humor made for laugh out loud scenes, mostly due to Hader being a genius. The comedy kept Chapter 2 from becoming overly depressing or regularly inducing anxiety from its tense beats. The new ideas implemented gave this new life while still having everything that I adored from the first chapter.

The scares took a back seat for comedy and drama, but when it happened, the creativity matched the 2017 entry. Psychological and gory visuals gave a variety of different horror flavors. Better ideas were carried out for greater originality while still having some basic concepts that get put out in every film in this genre.

A bigger budget made for a prettier spectacle. Flashier lights gave this a broader color palette. Many of the scariest moments on sunny days that allow for highlighting the trippy tricks that Pennywise has up his sleeve.

IT Chapter 2 will not make time fly or fix all of the issues from the first film, but it is the ultimate sequel I wanted. What I enjoyed so much before was the characters, and better organization gave every delightful personality a time to shine, for both the kids and adults with plenty of flashbacks. Pros and cons can go back and forth between the two movies, but I have to give the award to this grand finale.

Score: 9/10

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Review: Ready or Not

A wedding is a beautiful thing, and much of the world hate the 1 percent, so Ready or Not turns marriage into a nightmare along with making some despicable rich people into complete monsters. Too many horror movies try to come up with an original idea then fumble it at some point, except this one. Tyler Gillet and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin delivered one of the best scary comedies of the year.

Grace (Samara Weaving) has married Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), she is now a member of this eccentric, wealthy family. At midnight, it is revealed she must play a game which is chosen from a card, and the dreaded hide n seek is drawn. The sinister motives reveal the family must kill her to please dark spirits, kicking off a night of thrills, comedy, and survival.

The family is full of memorable characters with performances to nail each unique personality. The father Tony (Henry Czerny) is a commanding figure is intimidating, his caring wife Becky (Andie MacDowell) makes me feel safe, alcoholic older son Daniel (Adam Brody), and Alex is the good boy who would probably be me. Less immediate family members like the coked-out Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), the ominous Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) and the goofy brother-in-law Fitch (Kristian Bruun) add extra flavor to this wild clan of nutcases.

Weaving and O’Brien have a wonderful dynamic. Co-stars like Czerny, MacDowell, and Scrofano share the spotlight, but the couple is the centerpiece. The two feel like an adorable couple, but seeing that relationship change once murder begins is just as gripping.

The gold star goes to Weaving on her own as she belts out raw emotion during the most painful of times, contrasting against the delightfully fun girl she was in the first act. Her arc soars to plenty of compelling places from the dramatic to comedic. She is the ultimate heroine that I did not know I needed.

The ancient ritual that bonds the family on these special nights gets time to flesh out into something fascinating. The lore was given love, making me question whether hell will rain upon them or are they killing because of a bloodline filled with psychopaths. That mystery adds much more depth than expected from this summer bloodbath.

Horror and comedy have a long-lasting relationship that can be a hit or a miss. Ready or Not leans more towards brutality and tension to keep with its thrilling roots. The humor comes in a few hefty chunks, but those were worth the wait as each dark piece of levity landed to impress the harshes of Olympic judges.

This year has disappointed me a lot, especially with this genre. I got hyped by word of mouth, and it lived up to what I was told. While a balance between the neverending suspense and the laugh out loud scenes, every moment is still worth whatever happens as this is pure gory enjoyment.

Score: 9/10

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Image via Walt Disney Motion Pictures

Movie Review: Blinded by the Light

The trend of movies based on classic rock artists continues, but suddenly it diverts in a different direction away from biopics on rockstars with something with more substance for a general audience. Blinded by the Light tells a true story, based on Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor who also co-wrote this adaption, about hardcore Bruce Springsteen fan and goes beyond that story. This touching film can go for any fan of the musician or anyone wanting to get emotional in a theater, either way, it is a delightful ride.

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is living in tough times with his traditional Pakistani family in a small town in Britain. He feels lost and put down, someone without a voice. His newfound friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) gives him that inspiration for his individuality and passion for writing by introducing him to Bruce Springsteen. The drama-filled life of Javed’s is impactful and becomes way too real; I got put into a weird headspace by how much I could relate to him.

His relationships with Roops, best friend from childhood Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), and his strict family drives everything. It is wholesome to see his connection with Roops, while the tension in his home brought me closer to him. The real meat of the narrative comes from his strict father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), who wants his son on a path that goes with his values.

Where there is negativity in the protagonist’s life, there is positivity. His English teacher who pushed his writing forward, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), was wonderful in every scene. I wish she had more screentime and depth added to the character rather than someone to move the story. Then there is the love interest storyline with Eliza (Nell Williams) who is both interesting and a voice that gives extra contrast to the rest of the cast of compelling personalities.

Everyone’s performance was outstanding, making it even between stars, so nobody took the spotlight. Kalra expressed so much emotion from yelling matches with his father to silently taking in tunes from his big American idol. His costars matched his level of intensity as each member had believable chemistry that brought these relationships to life.

Springsteen’s music gets scattered evenly throughout. The musical scenes get quite inconsistent with each step taken. The stylistic lyrics coming to life to emphasize what the songs mean to Javed make moments more moving. Other times, when people are frolicking in the streets to the legendary artist’s music, it becomes overly cheesy and quite cringy.

An hour and 54 minutes are not too shabby of a runtime, yet it feels too long. Tightening the story would make the enjoyment and wholesomeness of the message much better. Since too many beats in the story get hammered too hard, it starts to become redundant with what is happening in Javed’s life.

The message of music bringing people together and helping them through their troubles speaks the truth. While Springsteen is not my choice, I do know precisely how Javed felt when he listens to the New Jersey-born rocker. The notes about being your own person, especially in a world that beats you down are empowering without becoming too preachy.

Blinded by the Light moved me far more than I thought it had the strength to do. Director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha along with her other writers Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfraz Manzoor balance the story and commentary on politics to more intimate subjects about family and identity. As I am not a fan of that era of rock, I can surely recommend this heartwarming flick.

Score: 8/10

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Review: Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus

Nickelodeon reviving classic shows got me excited with the announcement of an Invader Zim movie. One of my biggest influences for my humor was this gem from the early 2000s. The cancellation prevented getting the right conclusion to the story for these wonderfully disturbing characters, and it is everything I could have wanted.

Zim (Richard Steven Horvitz) becomes quite depressed as he finds out his alien overlords sent him to Earth to dismiss him rather than the vital invasion he had hoped. As Dib (Andy Berman) feels sympathetic for his arch-nemesis, he inadvertently helps him into a disastrous plan for destruction.  Now Dib and his sister Gas (Melissa Fahn) must save the world before Zim idiotically wipes out all of humanity and himself.

Seeing the return of the protagonists along with Zim’s cute, yet moronic robot companion Gir (Rikki Simons) adds to this nostalgic trip. Plenty of classic characters are missing which it should have leaned into, but that does not stop the delivery of favorite obscure faces along with some more iconic personalities from the series.

Having the original cast and masterminds like director Jhonen Vasquez, who created the original series behind the brilliant writing hits every note that my adult brain remembers from my childhood. The humor stays on point with its many flavors from creepiness to random gags that caught me off guard. As I grew older, I worried I would feel differently, but this is the ultimate reunion that still makes me laugh.

The same animation style remains its grotesque self with plenty of disturbing images. The character designs for Invader Zim add to that unsettling feeling as people or aliens interact. Everything gets turned up to 100 with sensory overload with colors and utter chaos during the final act.

The nostalgia does not overstep. Vasquez, Gary Wilson, and Breehn Burns balance out nods to the past and creating an original story. The comics have an influence, but it did not go over my head, making it accessible for anyone who lost touch with one of the network’s best shows.

Nickelodeon has delivered the proper sendoff that Zim deserved over a decade ago. Some jokes or banter stayed past its welcome throughout the hour and 10-minute experience. This short, sweet conclusion is a must for any fan back in the day, which is easy to watch due to Netflix hosting Earth’s invasion.

Score: 9/10

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Image via Nickelodeon/Netflix

Movie Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I never grew up reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I was more of a Goosebumps kid. Once I saw a movie in the making with Guillermo Del Toro as one of the writers and producers, I thought to take a dive into what every middle school horror fan talked about. A few stumbles here and there, yet this twist on Alvin Schwartz’s collection of short stories has enough for an entertaining family friendly-ish horror flick.

Like all small towns in America, this one happens to have a myth that comes true on Halloween. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur) go out to get payback on Tommy (Austin Abrams), a local bully. In the midst of flaming poop revenge, the three friends along with a newfound ally Ramon (Michael Garza) come to hang out at an abandoned house, that has a local legend involving a dysfunctional family, death, and a girl who told scary stories. Once taking the book from its home, the stories start to write themselves and unleash hell…for a fairly kid-friendly scary movie.

The three main kids have great chemistry that makes them feel like real friends, contributed by their impressive performances. I immediately identify them as I have known people like Stella, Auggie, and sadly annoying like Chuck.

Romon coming into their friend group felt forced, especially with Colletti’s character Stella. The two actors had a bond that showed well on screen, but the introduction to the friendship was off-putting.

To give some levity since this is based on books for children, humor in the first act was an easy way to get into the world. Tension and horror were balanced against some funny moments initially, then crumbled as the weight of the world came crashing down on these kids. The development of the tone was organic with an initially sharp turn.

Too many tropes were nailed into the narrative. Of course, people split up, generic music creeps in before a cheap jump scare, and the kids defeat the evil spirits with an eye-roller of an idea. When intensity built with an eerie atmosphere then that is when the scariness gets some justice.

The creature designs are both faithful and chilling to see moving on the big screen. One or two of the stories coming alive had some unrealistic CGI that did not look properly rendered fully. The use of make-up and costumes knocks it out of the park, which is no surprise.

A PG-13 rating was understandable, but at times hurt my pleasure. When the stories had violent demises for characters, it felt a bit underdone to satisfy the guidelines to avoid getting stamped with an R. Thankfully only a moment or two felt lackluster, the rest was creatively worked out. Disturbing and disgusting works best, but those elements did not get enough love that was needed.

André Øvredal did quite a job well done directing his first major release, which was certainly helped by Del Toro producing and being one of the five writers. Maybe with fewer writers and having some less cheesy moments would help this adaption. Despite some blatant flaws, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark can be a great introduction into horror for a younger audience and has plenty to offer with its ideas that were executed properly.

Score: 6/10

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