El Camino’: Very Good, But Still Not ‘Bad’

The ghost of Walter White hangs heavy over El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.

In the literal sense, it’s because – although six years have passed since the Breaking Bad finale – the action in El Camino picks up mere minutes after the climactic battle that left White among the ranks of the recently departed.

But White’s death also leaves the movie (for the most part) without Bryan Cranston, the force of nature whose award-winning performance escalated the show from a storm into a full-blown hurricane.

And though it’s Walter White who’s now a ghost, it’s Jesse Pinkman who wants to disappear. The film’s prologue is a newly shot flashback to better times, when Jesse and his old colleague Mike (White’s fixer) talk about what life will be like after White’s gone. When Mike warns Jesse that the one thing he can never do is “make things right,” we jump violently to the present, with Jesse desperately fleeing the scene of the finale’s carnage in a stolen El Camino.

The present-day Jesse is a badly broken man. Unkempt, unshaven, and seriously disheveled from his time spent captive in his tormentors’ cage, it’s tempting to say that he’s suffering a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But it can’t be PTSD, because his trauma hasn’t ended yet. He may have been freed from his cage, but all of his inner demons left with him in that El Camino.

The film relies on Aaron Paul’s ability to carry the story almost completely on his own as Jesse, and he does an admirable job. Between the flashbacks to more prosperous times and the manic intensity driving him to find his freedom, Paul does great work in presenting several different shades of the heroic anti-hero.

But again, the elephant in the room is Walter’s ghost. On Breaking Bad, the acting partnership of Cranston and Paul created amazing chemistry (literally and figuratively). And while there’s nothing wrong with the performance Paul gives in El Camino, you can’t help but feel something’s missing without Cranston there.

Ultimately, El Camino is a caper movie, with Jesse trying to find the funds that will finance his disappearance. As in the prologue, the movie flits between past and present to expose Jesse’s motivations and mindset, revealing little glimpses of his Breaking Bad life unseen on the series. It’s not just a dramatic device – it also gives the film a chance to bring back some characters whose lack of a pulse would otherwise keep them out of a movie shot wholly in the present. (That’s how we get a poignant, but too brief, cameo from Cranston.)

Written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan, the film stays true to the show’s modus operandi of long, dramatic stretches of character introspection interspersed with heightened moments of tension, conflict and, of course, violence.

As a self-contained story, El Camino is a solid film worthy of the Breaking Bad connection it carries in its title, with excellent work on both sides of the camera. But just as Jesse finds it impossible to outrun his past, “El Camino” cannot ditch the ghost of Walter White. Perhaps that’s the way it should be – after all, Jesse is Walter’s Frankenstein, a creature molded and shaped by its creator, imbued with some of his best and worst qualities. Still, the movie misses the synergistic chemistry between Paul and Cranston that made the series sizzle, and though we’re given a good story and a satisfying sense of closure, we’re left with a feeling of wanting something more.

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

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Posted Ari Coine

CinemAddicts Podcast Spotlights Gripping Jai Courtney Drama ‘Semper Fi’

Directed by Henry-Alex Rubin (Disconnect, Murderball), Semper Fi centers on Cal (Jai Courtney), a police officer and Marine Corps reservist who is the de facto leader of his group of friends (Beau Knapp, Finn Wittrock, Arturo Castro). When Cal’s younger brother Oyster (Nat Wolff) is sent to jail after a tragic bar fight, Cal hatches a plan to break his sibling out of prison.

Semper Fi’s strength lies in the palpable chemistry among the men, as brotherhood and sacrifice are the concepts explored in the feature by Rubin and co-writer Sean Mullin. Courtney delivers one of his strongest performances to date (he also starred as a soldier in 2015’s Man Down), and it’s a drama that, in my opinion, is worth a look.

Also covered on our latest CinemAddicts podcast is The Dead Center, a horror thriller starring Shane Carruth that comes out October 11 and Joker.

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Posted by: Greg Srisavasdi

Meaningless Mayhem: Jim Gaffigan Gets Serious In ‘American Dreamer’

Surely, American Dreamer was meant to be an ironic title for this dark, bleak, violent crime drama. Unless, of course, your dream is to make a quick buck by turning the tables on a drug dealer and hoping you survive the night.

As a rideshare driver, Cam meets dozens of people every day, but never gets to interact with anybody. It’s a loneliness compounded by the breakup of his marriage, which is keeping him from seeing his son. Down on life and down on his luck, Cam supplements his meager wages by working as a driver-on-call for Mazz, a drug dealer who has everything Cam wants — access to his son and plenty of money.

When Cam’s financial and emotional problems drive him to the brink of despair, he devises a plan to make some money: He’s going to kidnap Mazz’s girlfriend and collect ransom money. But when she’s not there and their son is, Cam improvises.

After receiving Cam’s ransom demands, Mazz and his girlfriend go in search of their missing kid — with Cam, of course, at the wheel. Through the night, the body count grows, and Cam grows very, very worried for his own safety.

As the everyman with the plan, comedian Jim Gaffigan basically plays two notes: disturbed and disturbing. While it’s not a huge range, Gaffigan pulls it off. But overall, the acting in the movie is largely forgettable. Even after his son goes missing, you don’t really get emotionally involved with Mazz (Robbie Jones), and everyone in his orbit is written and acted straight outta every “drug dealers in the hood” movie we’ve ever seen.

It’s not only the characters that are written in one dimension. The plot is largely written that way, too, with very little in the way of subplots or character development. In fact, once the search for the child begins, the film plays out almost in real time, never cutting away from either Cam or Mazz.

American Dreamer is definitely not the feel-good movie of the year, and it doesn’t offer anything new in the genre. While it manages to hold your interest for its relatively short 93-minute run time, it doesn’t leave you with any lasting impressions. If mindless violence and a mindless diversion are what you crave, this movie will fit the bill. Just don’t expect any more from it than that.

American Dreamer is now playing in limited release and is also available on VOD.

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Posted by Ari Coine

CinemAddicts Podcast Highlights Nicolas Cage Thriller ‘Running With The Devil’

If you’re interested in seeing Laurence Fishburne and Nicolas Cage tempt their respective fate on the side of a cliff, then Running with the Devil is definitely recommended.

The plot centers on The Cook (Cage), a man who owns a Seattle restaurant but makes most of his money being the right hand of a drug lord named The Boss (Barry Pepper). Fishburne plays The Man, a drug trafficker who unfortunately is way too high on his supply and Leslie Bibb is the DEA agent determined to track them down.

Written and directed by Jason Cabell, Running with the Devil follows a drug shipment from Colombia all the way through the Canadian border, and the feature is reminiscent in tone to such films as Traffic and No Country for Old Men. It’s a solid effort by Cabell, and the story is filled with enough action and double crosses to make it a worthwhile watch.

Other films covered on the show include Villains and Corporate Animals. Take a listen below!

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Posted by: Greg Srisavasdi

‘Ode To Joy’: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Happy?

We all know somebody who’s happiest when they’re unhappy, and most of us wonder what makes them tick. Ode to Joy is about such a man, but his misery is literally written into his genetic code.

Charlie (Martin Freeman) suffers from a rare neurological disorder called cataplexy, a condition that causes his muscles to give out when he’s confronted with strong emotions. In his case, it manifests most often when he experiences joy, so he systematically tries to remove it from his life. He has an unchallenging, unsatisfying job at a New York library; he walks around town listening to funeral dirges on his iPod; he tries to calm himself with humorously depressing thoughts (“white guy in dreadlocks”) when he sees puppies, babies, or acts of kindness; and, most significantly, he has no love in his life. “I’ve mostly steered clear of girlfriends,” he explains at one point. “I can’t afford the insurance.”

Then he meets Francesca (Morena Baccarin). She’s gorgeous, newly single, and attracted to Charlie’s dry wit. Although he’s (almost literally) scared to death by the idea of falling for her, his co-workers convince him to take a chance on love.

Then, their first date ends in the emergency room.

Charlie’s faced with a dilemma: He’s attracted to Francesca and wants her in his life, but knows he can’t be happy around her unless he’s unhappy. His novel solution? He sets Francesca up with his shallow younger brother, Cooper (Jake Lacy). That way, he gets to see her on a regular basis, but is miserable because she’s unavailable.

Cooper returns the favor by fixing Charlie up with Francesca’s “boring” co-worker, Bethany (Melissa Rauch). Bethany would actually be perfect for Charlie … but his chemistry with Francesca — even as a friend — is undeniable.

This curious love parallelogram leads to all kinds of complications as the two couples spend a weekend together at a B&B out in the country. Will Charlie get his “happily ever after”? Or will his condition dictate that he needs an “unhappily ever after” instead?

The movie, based on a true story originally told on NPR’s This American Life, resolves things in somewhat predictable Hollywood fashion, but it’s still fun to watch.

As we’ve seen on Sherlock, Freeman excels at playing the dour, put-upon man who’s seemingly doomed to never get what he wants. Baccarin is effortlessly flirtatious as a woman with a history of bad boyfriend choices and a terminally ill aunt. And Rauch will be virtually unrecognizable to her Big Bang Theory fans (aside, possibly, from an amusing aside about how her character is sexually attracted to recurring BBT guest star Bob Newhart).

The movie’s conceit, of course, gives ample opportunity to ruminate on the fine balance between happiness and misery in all of our lives. Can we truly appreciate happiness without moments of despair in our lives? Is happiness simply a construct we create to brighten up our otherwise humdrum existences? Can we allow ourselves moments of happiness when we’re faced with sadness and loss?

As such, the film oscillates between light comedy and pathos, checking most of the standard romantic comedy boxes along the way. As the genre goes, it’s more of a light snack than a hearty meal, but it’s tasty and enjoyable nonetheless.

Ode to Joy is now available on VOD.

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Posted Ari Coine

CinemAddicts Podcast Spotlights Immersive Thriller ‘Angel of Mine’

Directed by Kim Farrant (Strangerland), Angel of Mine centers on a woman (Noomi Rapace) who believes her daughter is actually being raised by a neighbor (Yvonne Strahovski). The catch is the woman’s daughter died in a fire years ago!

Powered by a strong performance from Rapace, Angel of Mine is first rate thriller that should appeal to fans of the genre. Co-starring Luke Evans, the feature hits theaters and On Demand come August 30.

Other films covered on the latest episode of CinemAddicts is The Fanatic, John Travolta’s latest film, and the Sir Ben Kingsley spy drama Spider in the Web. Take a listen to our show below:

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Posted by: Greg Srisavasdi