El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Review

For fans of Breaking Bad (of which I certainly am), one lingering question was whether Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) completed his emotional joyride after being freed from captivity in the title vehicle. El Camino answers it in a manner which never feels entirely needed, but with enough nostalgic merit to keep it from feeling superfluous. It’s been six years since the brilliant AMC show closed up shop with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) finally succumbing to the dangers of his career path. Jesse’s fate was more uncertain as his former teacher and meth mentor allowed him to escape.

Camino picks up immediately after the series finale. As you’ll recall, Jesse had been held prisoner by some Aryan dealers who kept him in an underground cage. During those final episodes of Bad, Paul perfected the wounded puppy cadence befitting his circumstances. That continues here as Jesse must adjust to his liberation. Being the lone survivor of the finale’s massacre makes him the most wanted man in New Mexico.

The Netflix pic volleys back and forth between his need to find a brand new life and flashbacks allowing favorite characters to return. Considering Mr. White and Cranston’s legendary performance, it’s no surprise to see him. Some cameos are more surprising and humorous and poignant. The most effective in my view is Todd, which affords Jesse Plemons more screen time to flesh out his calmly psychopathic creation. Robert Forster returns as a fixer who specializes in giving criminals fresh leases on life. His portion runs a close second in entertainment value. Sadly, the veteran character actor passed away on the day of the film’s premiere.

Does El Camino ever approach the most potent moments from its source material? Not really, but Paul gives a terrific performance with his tragic antihero. Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, returns to write and direct. He was meticulous about his acclaimed series and this continuation doesn’t feel cheap. It’s a deadly and deadpan world that we loved and it feels pretty darn good to soak it back in for a couple hours.

*** (out of four)

Eye in the Sky Movie Review

Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky succeeds as a tense and strongly acted thriller which presents a moral test to the audience without being preachy. That’s a compliment to screenwriter Guy Hibbert for not feeling the need to bash us over the head with whatever his personal politics might be. We don’t know and don’t really need to.

The subject of drone warfare and its prevalence in recent conflicts is one that audiences will bring their own leanings to. This film presents a scenario in a matter of fact manner with characters on different sides of the fence. That situation is in the country of Kenya where a trio of high value targets are in the same location. The British government is in charge of deciding how to kill or capture them and many of the shots are being called by iron willed Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren). Her chain of command is superseded by fellow soldier General Benson (Alan Rickman in his second to last role). Their experience on the ground makes them simpatico when it comes to decisions, but they’re in a constant morass of government officials kicking the can up the chain.

It isn’t long before the capture order becomes a kill order and it’s an American Air Force pilot (Aaron Paul) tasked with dropping the drone from his base in Nevada. There’s one significant complication: a little girl is selling bread right outside the target zone. The question of her being likely collateral damage weigh on the conscience of our characters to varying degrees.

There are moments in the Sky that can’t help but be somewhat humorous even considering the potentially tragic circumstances, as many of the people shown can’t bring themselves to make any final decision. You may not feel like you should be amused by it, but there are times where it feels like the intent. This also extends to small moments where real life gets in the way of those making these massive judgment calls, from children’s toy shopping for one to a bout of food poisoning for another.

The acting is all first-rate with special credit to the always dependable Mirren and Rickman, whose characters disdain for their higher-ups indecisiveness is barely bubbling under the surface. When Eye concludes, it has managed to take the time to lay out the pros and cons of each momentous decision. Yet it invites us to make our judgment call on whether it was all worth it. In this case, that’s the sign of some filmmakers respecting their audience and successfully keeping us enthralled throughout.

***1/2 (out of four)

Central Intelligence Movie Review

Central Intelligence is not bad, which is more than you can say with some scripts that Kevin Hart has been saddled with over the last few years. From Ride Along (both of them) to The Wedding Ringer to Get Hard, the talented Mr. Hart has not seen much material that rises above the strictly mediocre. With a worthy comedic partner in Dwayne Johnson that he has an easy chemistry with, Intelligence may not be very intelligent but it’s got its share of genuinely amusing moments due to their partnership.

The film begins in 1996 when the two stars are high school seniors. Hart is Calvin. He’s the star athlete, resident heralded drama thespian, and runaway Most Likely to Succeed. Johnson is Robbie, whose figure is anything but rock solid. He’s bullied mercilessly by his fellow students and Calvin is the only guy who seems to show him any mercy.

Flash forward two decades as the two are up for the 20 year reunion. Calvin has become a bored accountant in a dead end job, still married somewhat unhappily to his high school sweetheart (Danielle Nicolet). Robbie is now the blandly named Bob Stone,  complete with a physique befitting the actor portraying him. He’s now in the CIA and being accused of being a rogue agent trying to sell secrets to the highest bidder.

What follows is a routine buddy flick where Bob/Robbie and Calvin must team up while chased by people who may or may not be bad guys. Amy Ryan gets the change of pace role of the government agency head pursuing them and Aaron Paul pops up as Robbie’s former partner. The threadbare plot of Central Intelligence is ho-hum at best, but it’s also not what it’s centrally about.

The pic rises and falls on the interaction between the leads and there’s some good stuff to be witnessed. Johnson has already proven his sense of humor (he seems well aware that his character in the Fast & Furious franchise is supposed to be funny). We also have some messages written in about bullying that’s presented slightly better than you might expect in this type of material. There’s some unexpected cameos from other well known comedy actors that are welcome. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber had a hit in 2013 with We’re the Millers, which I enjoyed. That effort had the benefit of hilarious supporting work from Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn and a whacky villain role for Ed Helms that accentuated the proceedings beyond its main stars. Central Intelligence doesn’t have that, but at least the two names above the title help deliver something a bit more worthy of their talents.

**1/2 (out of four)

Central Intelligence Box Office Prediction

Warner Bros. is banking that audiences want to find themselves between a Rock and a Hart Place (get it?) when Central Intelligence opens next weekend. The action comedy is headlined by Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart and hopes to become the first breakout comedy of summer 2016. Rawson Marshall Thurber directs and he’s had success in the genre before with Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and We’re the Millers. Costars include Amy Ryan and Aaron Paul.

As mentioned, this season so far has not been kind to comedies as Neighbors 2, The Nice Guys, and Popstar have all performed with unimpressive results. The one two punch of Johnson and Hart should be a benefit. Hart’s last two pics, Ride Along 2 and Get Hard, both debuted in the mid-30s. While some of the parents that this film is marketing to might be busy taking their little ones to Finding Dory, I don’t see much reason why this wouldn’t accomplish similar results.

A decent comp could be last summer’s Spy with Melissa McCarthy, which opened to $29 million. I’ll say Central Intelligence manages to outdo it and be more in range with Hart’s recent efforts.

Central Intelligence opening weekend prediction: $34.1 million

For my Finding Dory prediction, click here:


Triple 9 Box Office Prediction

With a cast of familiar faces, John Hillcoat’s heist thriller Triple 9 hits theaters next weekend. Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, and Kate Winslet headline this pic, which is getting pretty decent notices (57% currently on Rotten Tomatoes).

The marketing campaign for Triple 9 hasn’t done a whole lot to set itself apart from other genre fare. Of the three newbies out next weekend (Gods of Egypt, Eddie the Eagle), this seems likeliest to come in third among them. This may even struggle to reach the $10 million opening mark achieved by Hillcoat’s last effort, 2012’s Lawless. I’ll predict it doesn’t for a muted premiere.

Triple 9 opening weekend prediction: $6.9 million

For my Gods of Egypt prediction, click here:


For my Eddie the Eagle prediction, click here:


Exodus: Gods and Kings Box Office Prediction

Ridley Scott unveils his $140 million Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings this Friday and it’s expected to end the three week reign of The Hunger Games at the box office. How much it makes is an intriguing question.

Christian Bale headlines the tale as Moses with Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, and Aaron Paul rounding out the cast. Director Scott has seen massive success with ancient tales that include Gladiator but also some failures, which includes Kingdom of Heaven.

Reviews have been very mixed with several being downright negative. It currently stands at 43% on Rotten Tomatoes. Biblical epics, by their nature, often generate controversy and Exodus is no exception. As I see it, the studio would probably love to see Exodus match the $43 million that Noah opened at in March of this year. That is definitely a possibility, but my prediction reflects a belief that Exodus may open around the $34 million that Gladiator accomplished in 2000. I’ll say it gets over that, but not by much.

Exodus: Gods and Kings opening weekend prediction: $35.5 million

For my Top Five prediction, click here:


Box Office Predictions: March 14-16

It’s not often that there are four pictures that have real shots at being #1 in a weekend, but we have one such weekend this time around. This list includes Need for Speed and Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club in their debut frames and 300: Rise of an Empire and Mr. Peabody and Sherman in their sophomore weekends.

You can find my individual prediction posts on the newcomers here:



I believe Need for Speed will appeal to enough of the Fast and Furious crowd to get it to the top while Single Moms Club will continue the trend of Perry flicks coming in slightly below expectations. Still either one could over or under perform and make it a race for number one.

Add to that the fact that Mr. Peabody and Sherman is likely to have a fairly small drop and it could be a real barnburner of a race. And there’s last weekend’s #1 300: Rise of an Empire. While I expect the sequel to fall pretty hard in weekend #2, if it doesn’t – it too could contend for the top spot. Non-Stop, in its third frame, should round out the top five.

And with that, here’s my predictions for the how it all shakes out:

1. Need for Speed

Predicted Gross: $25.3 million

2. Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Predicted Gross: $20.4 million (representing a drop of 37%)

3. 300: Rise of an Empire

Predicted Gross: $18.8 million (representing a drop of 58%)

4. Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club

Predicted Gross: $17.6 million

5. Non-Stop

Predicted Gross: $8.2 million (representing a drop of 48%)

Box Office Results (March 7-9)

While I did pretty well on numbers 2-5 for the weekend, I vastly underestimated the staying power of the 300 franchise with its sequel Rise of an Empire. The film took in a healthy $45 million, well above my $31.1M projection. While it was miles away from the original’s $70 million premiere, this still exceeded most prognosticator’s expectations.

The animated Mr. Peabody and Sherman opened in second with $32.2 million, just below my $33.7M estimate. This was a mid-level opening for an animated feature, but it should have solid legs in the weeks ahead.

Non-Stop took third in weekend #2 with $15.8 million – in line with $15.5M prediction while The LEGO Movie was fourth with $10.9 million, a bit below my $12.5M estimate. Rounding out the top five was Son of God, which fell hard in its second weekend to $10.3 million, under my $11.9M prediction.

As always, I’ll have final results for this coming weekend on Monday. Stay tuned!