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)

Vice Box Office Prediction

Three years after receiving multiple Oscar nominations for The Big Short, Adam McKay is touching hot button issues yet again with Vice. The biopic of Dick Cheney is out Christmas Day with Christian Bale in the title role. Costars include Amy Adams as wife Lynne, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, Steve Carell as Don Rumsfeld, Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, Jesse Plemons, and Alison Pill.

Like The Big Short, this has been subject to awards recognition already as it led the Golden Globes in number of nominations. The embargo for reviews was up earlier this week and the Rotten Tomatoes rating is currently 67%. That’s a bit less than expected, but a Best Picture nod seems quite possible while nominations for Bale and Adams look assured.

The decision to release Vice in the competitive holiday week could limit its potential out of the gate – yet it could appeal to adult moviegoers and politicos. With Christmas falling on a Tuesday, it’s likely its first threes days of earnings could match or even exceed the traditional weekend that follows. Short took in just over $10 million in its Yuletide 2015 wide expansion. For another comp with similar subject matter, Oliver Stone’s 2008 biopic W. did the exact same number as Short. 

Considering there are six days to ponder, I’ll say $7 million for the weekend with over $7 million added from Tuesday-Thursday.

Vice opening weekend prediction: $7.2 million (Friday to Sunday); $14.8 million (Tuesday to Sunday)

For my Holmes & Watson prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/18/holmes-watson-box-office-prediction/

The Post Movie Review

If you could envision a picture made in a factory for Best Picture consideration, The Post might be it. Two-time Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg? Check. Three-time winner and most nominated actress ever Meryl Streep? Yep. Two-time recipient Tom Hanks? Indeed. A historical context that has connections to what’s happening today? Present. Luckily, the film itself manages to be an often engrossing experience that is (surprise) quite well-acted and directed. Does it match the high mark of some other journalistic features that cover similar ground? Not in my view.

The Post opens with State Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) in Vietnam in the late 1960s and his growing realization that the conflict has no end in sight. Ellsberg has access to classified government docs and by the early 1970s, he wishes to expose the top secrets of the U.S. Government’s involvement overseas from the Truman through Nixon administrations. He first leaks some information to the vaunted New York Times, but attention soon turns to The Washington Post, which at this juncture is considered more of a hometown paper. That paper is run by Katharine Graham (Streep) and she’s the first woman to run such an operation. She inherited the Post after the deaths of her father and husband. While the film’s attention is mostly centered on the impending giant story that they may break, we also witness the difficulties Graham experiences as a woman working in a man’s world. This provides some of the best moments and more examples of Streep’s limitless abilities as a performer.

Graham runs in the D.C. social circles and she’s close with many of the figures her journalists look to expose, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The paper’s editor is Ben Bradlee (Hanks), a hard charging type who doesn’t think of the corporate exposure landmines that go along with spilling these secrets. Graham must do so because her business is about to go up for public offering and President Nixon isn’t exactly warm-hearted when dealing with media types.

Therein lies the drama with The Post as Graham and Bradlee struggle to do the right thing. The pic clearly reveres it main subjects and the virtuous acts they took. It also adores the bygone and pre-digitized era of the news. There are lovingly crafted shots of the newspapers being developed for print and frenzied reporters furiously typing their copy to meet their deadline. We also witness occasional spurts of dialogue that border on preachy. Screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer craft a couple of monologues that could warrant a bright red MESSAGE signal across the screen while its actors are speaking.

That said, the story itself is inherently fascinating and it’s told in a well-crafted manner. There are plenty of actors who pop up in supporting roles, including a very nice performance from Bob Odenkirk as an editor who goes way back with Ellsberg and is instrumental in the paper’s expose. This is primarily the Streep and Hanks show, however. And in case you didn’t know, the two can act. Hanks is playing a part made most famous by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men (for which he won a gold statue). It is that movie that you may wish to draw comparisons with. The Post isn’t in that league, but few reach that level of greatness. The Post, rather, is exceedingly competent.

*** (out of four)

 

 

Game Night Movie Review

Too many big studio comedies can be numbered by the handful of gags that work while the rest fall flat. This is thankfully not the case with Game Night. It’s gimmicky, sure. It’s a bit forgettable. Yet it’s consistently amusing and doesn’t overburden itself with too much sentimentality. As far as the genre goes as of late, that’s enough to mark this a success.

The pic comes from co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who last made the more consistently unfunny Vacation reboot. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are Max and Annie, married with no children even though she’s ready. Their biggest shared love is one of competitiveness, which includes their game nights with friends. Their usual group includes playboy Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and childhood sweethearts Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury). Next door neighbor and police officer Gary (Jesse Plemons) is a former regular until his recent divorce has turned him into quite the weirdo.

Our main couple’s typical showing of charade and board gaming dominance is interrupted when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) pops up. Brooks is the ultra cool brother with a better bone structure and larger pocketbook that Max harbors jealousy for. Instead of Clue or Risk, Brooks has a different idea for game night involving a kidnapping and real actors interacting with the group. The players won’t know what’s real and what isn’t.

Wouldn’t you know it? Turns out some real kidnappers turn up and that Brooks may be involved in some seedy stuff. What follows is a search for a Faberge egg, guns that the principals think aren’t real (an overused gag by now), squeaky toys used to bite down on for pain (a never before seen gag that’s pretty darn funny), and Bateman’s patented ironic detachment that always seems to work.

Night is served with a game cast. Standouts include Plemons as the creepy but probably well-meaning neighbor and Magnussen as the dim bulb participant of the team. Sharon Horgan is his much smarter date for the evening and she provides some humorous moments as well. The screenplay also provides a twist or two that are genuinely surprising.

The actual concept of a game night may not be as joyous as it’s supposed to be on occasion. You need fun people there. This movie has them. Like real game nights, you may forget some of details by the next day but you’ll remember enjoying it.

*** (out of four)

Game Night Box Office Prediction

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a couple whose night of innocent fun goes horribly wrong in the comedy Game Night, opening next Friday. From John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the guys behind Horrible Bosses and the 2015 Vacation reboot, the pic costars Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Michael C. Hall, Jesse Plemons, and Jeffrey Wright.

Night could manage to appeal to moviegoers looking for a straight comedy in the midst of other genre fare in the marketplace. Black Panther will certainly being tearing up competition in weekend #2 and Annihilation is also out there for sci-fi fans. As far as movies reaching for the funny bone, this stands alone.

I could envision Game Night performing similarly to recent Bateman outings like Horrible Bosses 2 and Office Christmas Party. That would put it in the mid teens range for its start.

Game Night opening weekend prediction: $16.3 million

For my Annihilation prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/14/annihilation-box-office-prediction/

 

American Made Movie Review

American Made is fun while it lasts and the same can be said of the characters living through it for the most part. The film tells the true-life story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a TWA pilot in the late 1970s who’s grown quite bored with his job. Early on, he creates turbulence on a flight just to break the monotony. Life perks up considerably when his services are utilized by the CIA to deal with Manuel Noriega’s Panamanian government and run guns to the Contras in what would become the biggest scandal of President Reagan’s administration. Seal’s shady interactions with the U.S. government aren’t the only item in his new job description as he starts a lucrative side business bringing cocaine back to the states from Columbia. This brings him front and center with Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Meija) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda).

For most of Made‘s fast moving running time, Gary Spinelli’s screenplay creates a world where Seal is gloriously ambivalent as to the dangerous decisions he makes. He moves his family from Louisiana to the tiny town of Mena, Arkansas where the piles of money he’s earning is buried in the backyard and at new banks that miraculously pop up in the community. His wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) doesn’t ask too many questions, but she also makes it humorously clear that she doesn’t trust a thing her hubby is doing.

The tone of American Made can be slightly jarring if you really think about it. We’re dealing with real-life events that spawned real-life tragedies like illegal arms deals and the drug epidemic that swept the 1980s. However, that’s not on Seal’s mind or the picture’s for that matter. He’s too busy creating his own version of the American Dream and his journey through actual history casts him as a Forrest Gump like figure if Forrest had no moral compass.

For this decade, Cruise has mostly concentrated on starring in a mixed bag of action and sci-fi efforts. Made reunites him with his director from one of the better ones, Edge of Tomorrow. It also gives him one of his best roles in years and a true change of pace as far as material. Domhnall Gleeson is his CIA contact Schafer, who’s endlessly energetic about the chaos his agency is creating. One of the most memorable performances comes from Caleb Landry Jones as Seal’s creepy loose cannon of a brother-in-law. You may recognize him as the creepy loose cannon brother from Get Out and Jones has that character nailed in 2017.

American Made doesn’t necessarily bring much new to the table. Some of its story lines have been covered in much more serious works. Yet it’s got a lot of energy and it’s certainly entertaining, with Cruise’s presence a big factor as to why. By its conclusion, we’re aware that its central figure is creating his own turbulence again and he probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

*** (out of four)

American Made Box Office Prediction

Tom Cruise’s box office fortunes have taken a turn for the worse recently with two flops in less than a year – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and this summer’s The Mummy. The star will attempt to turn that around next weekend with American Made.

The true life crime pic reunites Cruise with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman and finds him playing Barry Seal, pilot turned drug smuggler for the Medellin cartel in the 1980s. Costars include Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, and Jesse Plemons. Unlike his two previous pictures, Made is receiving positive reviews with a current 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

That positive word-of-mouth might help, but I could also see Made opening somewhat lightly with hopes of smallish declines in subsequent weekends. Unlike most of Cruise’s recent work, this isn’t an action or sci-fi project that audiences have become accustomed to seeing him in during recent years. Its box office potential should rely solely on his drawing power (which has waned) and the approving critical notices.

I’ll estimate that American Made generates a mid teens debut.

American Made opening weekend prediction: $15.5 million

For my Flatliners prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/21/flatliners-box-office-prediction/