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)

Oscar Watch: The Irishman

The biggest Oscar domino not yet fall screened has been Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the three and a half hour gangster drama headlined by genre legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. That changed today. The epic opened the New York Film Festival exactly two months ahead of its Netflix debut. And – no real surprise here – it appears to be a serious contender.

The Irishman is said to be both a humorous and contemplative piece with De Niro and Pacino providing their best performances in years. Same goes for Pesci as he’s been away from the silver screen for nearly a decade.

While nearly all reviews are positive, they’re not all raves. My early hunch is that this will earn Picture and Director nods. Winning is another story and that is one still left to play out. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 100%. This will likely mark Scorsese’s ninth nomination (he’s won once for 2006’s The Departed). That’s also his only effort to be named Best Picture. The Adapted Screenplay from Steve Zaillian should also make the final cut.

Down the line recognition presents many chances including Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, and Visual Effects. For the latter, the de-aging technology that allows its stars to look younger could attract the notice of that branch. The pic would actually be the second Scorsese title to get a Visual Effects nod after 2011’s Hugo (which won).

Now to the thespians. The thinking is that De Niro will be in lead actor with Pacino and Pesci in supporting. It sounds as if they will be the trio in contention. De Niro would gunning for his eighth appearance as a nominee. He won Supporting for 1974’s The Godfather Part II and lead in Scorsese’s 1980 masterwork Raging Bull. I’ve had him listed in spot #6 for some time in my weekly rankings. I could still see him missing the cut as his role is said to be less flashy than his costars, but I think his chances are better today. Numerous critics have stated that Pacino steals the show and he’s going for nomination #9 (his sole win is 1992’s Scent of a Woman). Like De Niro, I’ve had him slotted sixth and I expect him to enter the top five in a supporting actor race that is already jam packed. As for Pesci (who won for 1990’s Scorsese classic GoodFellas), other reviewers are singling him out. That opens the door for two men to be nominated in the supporting race for the second time since 1991 when Harvey Keitel (who’s also in this) and Ben Kingsley were recognized for Bugsy. This occurred again two years ago with Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Pesci is not the near sure thing Pacino is, but it could happen.

Bottom line: The Irishman did what it needed to do in the Big Apple to establish itself as a player in awards chatter. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Dolemite Is My Name

Ahead of its October 25 Netflix release, Dolemite Is My Name introduced itself to critics this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. Seen as a comeback role for Eddie Murphy, early reviews suggest it’s just that. Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, who was instrumental to ushering in the blaxploitation genre of the 1970s with his title character. Craig Brewer, best known for helming Hustle & Flow, directs with a supporting cast including Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Snoop Dogg, and T.I.

In 2006, Eddie was seen as the front runner in Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls. He was upset by Alan Arkin’s work in Little Miss Sunshine. This has been eyed as his first chance at Academy attention since. The issue could be significant competition in a Best Actor derby that appears stacked already.

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote the original screenplay and they’ve specialized in highlighting colorful entertainment figures in Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon. Once again, they could face trouble nabbing nods as that writing race is jam packed.

So while Dolemite should succeed in garnering the kind of praise its star hasn’t seen for some time, awards chatter might be elusive. There could be one noteworthy exception. Ruth Carter’s costume design has been noted in numerous write ups. Just last year, she became the first African-American to win that category for Black Panther. She could find herself in the mix again. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The King

The Venice and Telluride fests have certainly made this year’s Best Actor race interesting and potentially jam packed. So let’s add another to the mix in the form of The King. Based primarily on Shakespeare’s Henry V, the historical action drama casts Timothee Chalamet in the title role. David Michod (best known for 2010’s Animal Kingdom) directs with a supporting cast including Robert Pattinson, Joel Edgerton (who co-wrote the script with Michod), Lily-Rose Depp, Sean Harris, and Ben Mendelsohn.

Screening in Venice before its Netflix bow in November, the reviews are solid though probably not Best Picture material level. Yet for the third year in a row, it’s Chalamet (all of 23 years old) commanding the most attention. In 2017, the actor scored a Supporting Actor nod for Call Me by Your Name. Last year, he was on the radar screen in the same category for Beautiful Boy. The nomination never came.

This would be his first look at the lead prize. Overcrowding could be his downfall. Netflix has already seen two of their possibilities solidify their status over the weekend with Adam Driver (Marriage Story) and Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes). And they’ve still got Robert De Niro (The Irishman) and Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name) coming to a festival near you. This could all leave Chalamet on the outside looking in, but he’s got a chance to hear his name called among the five eventual contenders. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Two Popes

It seems as if The Two Popes has emerged as a bright spot at the Telluride Film Festival over the weekend. The Netflix production casts Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as the future Pope Francis. Reviews suggest it’s an engaging and often funny experience that audiences should approve of. Fernando Meirelles directs and he’s a previous nominee for 2002’s City of God. He also made The Constant Gardner in 2005 for which Rachel Weisz won a Supporting Actress gold statue.

Popes may not see white smoke for a Picture nod, but other races are definitely in play. An important question is category placement. It sounds as if the two actors are co-leads. Will the studio be creative to maximize the chances for both to get in? If only one can make it, I’d bet on the never nominated Pryce over four-time nominee Hopkins (who won nearly three decades ago for The Silence of the Lambs).

There’s also Andrew McCarten, who could get noticed for his praised Original Screenplay. He’s a bit of a Best Actor whisperer as a matter of fact. Three of the last five winners in that race starred in scripts written by him: Eddie Redmayne in 2014 for The Theory of Everything, Gary Oldman two years ago in Darkest Hour, and Rami Malek last year for Bohemian Rhapsody.

Bottom line: The Two Popes did well for itself in Colorado when it comes to awards viability. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Laundromat

Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winning director of Traffic, has apparently given us a fun and breezy true life story about tax evasion. It comes in the form of The Laundromat which has premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The pic is star studded as well with Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, James Cromwell, and Sharon Stone.

Reviews are out and they’re mostly solid. Yet from what I’ve seen thus far, I’m not sure if this will be an Oscar contender. Hitting Netflix in October, there’s been some comparisons to Adam McKay’s The Big Short, which did score several nods four years ago. There’s also mentions of Soderbergh’s 2009 pic The Informant! and that’s no accident since they share the same screenwriter – Scott Z. Burns.

Mr. Burns could get attention for his upcoming political drama The Report with Adam Driver and Annette Bening. Streep’s category placement is still uncertain but she seems to be a lead. It’s foolish to ever count her out, but she might also factor into Supporting Actress with the upcoming Little Women. Banderas looks to be a contender in lead for Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory. Oldman won two years ago for Darkest Hour. And Netflix itself might focus more on Marriage Story and The Irishman.

In other words, that’s some significant players involved here who are getting mentions for other projects. While The Laundromat is getting mostly positive feedback, it may not translate to Academy attention (with the potential exception of Adapted Screenplay). My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Uncut Gems

Amidst a stream of Netflix comedies that haven’t exactly had critics on their side, Adam Sandler is now garnering some career best reviews for his starring role in Uncut Gems. The crime thriller from directors Josh and Benny Safdie premiered at the Telluride over the weekend ahead of its December, non-Netflix release.

Praise has been heaped on Sandler and he finds himself potentially in contention for Oscar chatter for the first time in years. In 2002, the comedian’s heralded work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love nabbed some awards buzz that ultimately went unrealized. The Brothers Safdie are making their follow up to 2017’s Good Time, which generated some talk of a Robert Pattinson leading actor nod that also never materialized.

This could all come down to competition for Sandler and if the pic gains any traction with a decent sized audience. Distributor A24 will probably make a push for his inclusion even as they concentrate on other titles like Waves and The Farewell. The original screenplay and cinematography from Darius Knondji have also been singled out in critical write ups.

Bottom line: Uncut Gems opens the door for Sandler to make the cut for Oscar attention, but let’s see how open the field is as time goes on. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…