El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

When Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan spun off the show’s charmingly dissolute counsel and  infomercial chiseler, Saul Goodman, it was a natural fit. After all, the glib litigator stole every seen he was in, thanks to Bob Odenkirk.

However, with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, Gilligan had his work cut for him: building an epilogue around perma-scowl ne’er-do-well Jesse Pinkman, a dimwit brought to life as foil for Walter White, who couldn’t have existed without him — all id to White’s superego.

With this sequel and coda to the Breaking Bad series, Pinkman is on the lam playing catch me if you can, having busted loose from the Brotherhood’s razor-wire meth compound, and leading the 6 O’Clock news in Albuquerque with his drug dealer exploits.

He briefly meets up with larrikin buds Badger and Skinny Pete for a new ride, shave and a shower before he’s off trying to track down Ed Galbraith, the fixer/Saul Goodman contact who give cons new identities and helps ferret them out of town.

In El Camino Gilligan plays to Pinkman’s (Aaron Paul) “do now, ask questions later,” impulsivity (call it a strength if you must).

Gilligan crafts a film noir “what to do with all this money?” set up, which careens like Badger’s Pontiac Fiero.

Flashbacks to Pinkman’s captivity, plus tête-à-têtes with Walter White and Mike Ehrmantrout help keep things chugging along, but it’s those characters’ small roles that underscore just how big and vital these were to developing Jesse Pinkman. With the White sit-down particularly, the sparks fly as the ex-mentor presses his charge, Jesse, about what major he’d choose if the unlikely college candidate were to choose that route. It turns out, business with a focus on marketing, and White suggests he could teach these.

In El Camino, these wordy exchanges are lacking, perhaps because of time constraints, in a format that doesn’t lend itself to them, but that’s what made Breaking Bad so charming in the first place.

***1/2 (out of 5)

Mystery of Chessboxing

Forget Scream’s Ghost Face Killer. This is the movie that actually originated Ghostie, one of the all-time legendary kung fu antagonists (Mystery of Chessboxing also inspired Wu rapper’s Ghost Face Killah  moniker).

The plot couldn’t be any simpler: revenge. That’s the lighter fluid that fuels a thousand of these films.

Old, ruthless Ghost Face has killed Ah Pao’s father. And Ah Pao needs to go find the geezer with the monster eyebrows and the long wig that’s always threatening to come off his noggin. Problem is, Ah Pao doesn’t know kung fu and Ghost Face isn’t ready to be put out to retirement home pasture, as he’s kicked the ass of everyone else in this film. What to do? Find a kung fu school, of course!

Why? To pad running time with lengthy exercises, montages, and bits of feel the Qi jibber-jabber and everyone should be glad they did. At the first school, teachers and pupils alike torment poor AP, who is as low in the pecking order as you get without a janitor outfit and a mop. He has to bring them all bowls of rice, eventually, become such a proficient server that he’s the flare bartender of doling out rice, flipping plates over his head and behind his back and displaying such incredible dexterity that he’s…a star pupil shown everything the sensei knows?

Hardly.

Ah Pao is booted from the school, and ends up under the tutelage of a chess master, hence the film’s title. It’s there that he finally gets instruction necessary to beat the holy living tar out of the Ghost Faced Killer.

Their ultimate showdown is one for the ages, a throw-down of epic proportions.

Genre fans will get a kick out of (no pun intended) Siu Tin Yuen as a humble cook. He’s best known, of course, for his turns in Drunken Master and Story of Drunken Master.

[check out a full discussion of Mystery of Chessboxing on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]