Month: July 2014

The Problem With The Thor Movies

Thor-the-Dark-WorldI like Chris Hemsworth and think the Thor character he portrays is an entertaining one. The man was born to play the part. Chalk him up on the list of men I will say in public is good looking and I had a gun to my head I would smooch to be set free. Hemsworth is a talented actor who slums it as this rather stoic blank slate hero who hopelessly defends his planet, Asgard, and romances Natalie Portman. There could be greater troubles in real life than this man has in these movies.

Here’s the problem. I find the bad guy or bad brother, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, a lot more interesting than I do Hemsworth’s hulky Thor. It’s not a matter of who is the better actor. It is a matter of the better part and how it’s written. Loki is cool, sly, funny, and cunning. Hiddleston acts the shit out of the part and has fun. Hemsworth is stoic, strong, and lacks a second facial expression. The best parts for Thor are when he smiles like David Ortiz does after a walk off home run after smashing a large monster made out of stone. It’s cool and show a different side to this very serious hero. It’s too bad they happen once or twice a film.

Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo are back as the mom and pop of this Asgard operation. Idris Elba has one real face to face scene as a noble warrior but otherwise looks funny in a big costume and helmet. Portman is the damsel in distress and Kat Dennings is her sidekick friend who puckers her lips for the entire film.

Thor: The Dark World or as I call it, Thor 2, is just okay. It’s entertaining and funny at times, but it never comes close to the sheer coolness of the Iron Man films or the depth of the Captain America stories. Alan Taylor(known for directing many episodes of The Sopranos) tackled the sequel after Kenneth Branagh handed off the duties from the first film in 2011. While The Dark World is better than that dull fish out of water ride, the end result is still less than appetizing.

This movie is like a chewy steak that looked great on the menu. Colorful characters. Action. Big muscle bound beach blonde lock hair carrying dudes  and bad people trying to steal the world all in one movie and it’s Marvel! Once I cleared my plate, I basically shuck my head and left.

Thor is better off sharing a part of the Avengers movies. Like the Incredible Hulk, they haven’t figured out a way for an entire movie to be complete and great yet. There isn’t enough depth to the character of Thor and I find myself wanting more Loki and less stoic bland blonde Conan. Sorry ladies. It’s all eye candy here.

This was worth the 1.67 at the Redbox near you but it won’t be a film I highly recommend. Save for the final scene of the movie and maybe the bonus credits sequence, it’s kind of forgettable.

 

Stuck In Love: A Film That Sneaked Up On Me

featuresBriefing-An acclaimed writer, his ex-wife, and their teenaged children come to terms with the complexities of love in all its forms over the course of one tumultuous year.

Starring Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Lily Collins, Nat Wolff, Kristin Bell, Liana Liberato and Logan Lermann.

Written and Directed by Josh Boone

My Take-This movie snuck up on me and knocked me on my ass. When you go searching into the depths of Netflix on a quiet Friday night, a wondrous cinematic experience isn’t on the docket. You are trying to find something to pick up you interest and hold it for a couple hours before you drift away. Stuck in Love floored me and did so because it was sharp and to the point, carried a great cast and a special script.

A movie about writers struggling to figure out the complexities of life and how it’s harder to convert a real moment with a girl in front of you than it is to write about it on a computer. Greg Kinnear is the accomplished novelist who is divorced from his wife and quietly reeling from the split. He spends his days moping around in his robe in a beautiful house off the coast and having guilty pleasure sex with a neighbor. His daughter is getting published for the first time yet stays as far away from true love as possible. The son is figuring how to talk to a girl that makes him hurt inside while searching for his own story. The instant you see these characters, you are convinced they’ve spent their lives together. That’s hard to find movie magic. Kinnear, Collins, and Wolff are excellent here as a complex, disconnected yet passionate family reeling from a few unfortunate events.

Josh Boone directed this film in 2012 from his own script before he was anointed the honor of adapting The Fault In Our Stars(along with Wolff) this summer. Boone seems to have framed the Kinnear character around himself, because famous novelist Raymond Carver is referenced and there are certain lines and moments in the film that seem true to life. The way a Thanksgiving turkey is made. The awkwardness of talking to your ex-wife who hasn’t let go of your heart yet. Connelly is so underappreciated in Hollywood and doesn’t work enough. She can play conflicted emotion with little effort and she’s great here as a mother who can’t reach his kids anymore due to the separation. Collins and Wolff are exceptional in roles that seem one note at first glance yet seem to develop as the running time climbs. Logan Lerman(Perks of Being a Wallflower) is very good in a smaller role as a fellow writer who makes a run for Collins.

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Fifty Shades of Freak

first-photo-dakota-johnson-and-jamie-dornan-in-character-for-fifty-shades-of-grey-movieLadies, eat your damn heart out! The Fifty Shades of Grey trailer is here and only gives a hint of the freaky naughty activity that will going on inside this film. Husbands and boyfriends across the world, think of this as a field trip without the name tags. You will accompany your wife to the film, and for once, won’t be subjected to boring melodrama that exists in the standard romantic dramas. This isn’t Nicholas Sparks. This is Real Sex Meets Pretty Woman with extra nudity. Let me run over the plot very quickly.

Innocent young bookworm Annabelle Steele(Dakota Johnson) meets Christian Grey(Jamie Dornan) and before you can check your watch, an attraction is built and manifested between the two people. She looks into those dreamy eyes and has no idea a certain brand of freak lies behind them. They have lots of sex. Talk a bit. Have more sex. Parents and siblings come into play. They probably have more sex after that. There is no distraction. If director Sam Taylor Johnson is smart she will stick to the sex and don’t disappoint in that area. I don’t mean to sound crude, but fans of the book didn’t read this thing for the intimate lovely fairy tale. They escaped to it for the erotic nature of the content. Anybody can write a boring sex novel about a playboy who toys around with a sweet young girl but very few can turn this story into something that sells 100 MILLION COPIES IN STORES!

Dornan and Johnson are relatively new and will be good for the roles because all you will associate them with is Annabelle and Christian. There is no need for Henry Cavill because he is superman. There is no need for Emilia Clarke because she is Queen of Dragons. In order to fully digest this wicked sex drama, all bets must be off once you enter the theater.

Expectations for this film have to be modest. Fans of the book must know that filmmakers can only go so far before they abandon the casual moviegoer. Money must be made if the rest of the series is to see the light of day at the cinema so don’t be disappointed if a few anal sex scenes and extreme parts of the book are left up to the imagination. I do see a hard R rating coming on here but nothing more than that. Fans of the book probably wished the film was made in Europe by an indie filmmaker who could go all out and show everything. That is not the case.

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Dark Knight Rises Revisited

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I wrote this over a year ago and I found it today while scanning through my drafts here. Wow. I did have a raucous debate with a fellow comic book fan and it led to me taking another look at a sequel that divided Batman fans. I wouldn’t look too hard at the writing. It’s back in the pre-sharpened Buffa days but please enjoy it. It is full and long and goes to the end and back. 

After a spirited healthy debate with a quality comic book fan and film fan on Twitter today, I wanted to retrace my thoughts about the Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s sensational trilogy of films about Batman.  While doing this, I will answer a lingering question in the film world.  Is Dark Knight Rises Oscar worthy in the main categories and months later, what is the effect of Nolan’s film?

First, this movie isn’t perfect.   There are plot holes and certain threads that don’t completely work,  and any film fan can tell you that the length of the film is felt.   Bane isn’t as great of a villain as The Joker, but that was impossible.   That’s the best way to describe this conclusion.   It wasn’t as memorable or superb as The Dark Knight, arguably the best comic book interpretation ever put on film, but that doesn’t mean DKR wasn’t great.   In my opinion, it was.   The story was great because it wrapped up the three films in a satisfying and morally ambiguous manner, spinning a scene from Batman Begins and weaving it into the storyline of the final film, bookending the tales.   When you watch all three films, the moral of Nolan’s story either hits or it doesn’t.  Like any great film series, the take will be debated for decades.  Did Nolan do enough to capture the heart of comic book and film fans?  In my humble opinion, he did.   I have reasons for that.   I will lay them out here in detail.   The film was a blend of realism and fantasy.   If you go into this movie wanting to know why Batman didn’t pull out the tubes in Bane’s face in the first fight or why didn’t happen, you are clearly nitpicking.  No one can win there.  It is indeed a movie.  An interpretation that gains credible status by staging things in reality.  In the end, the fight for Batman was one made up of symbolism.   Watch this scene first before reading on.  It wraps the trilogy together quite well.

1.) Remember that Batman isn’t a superhero.  He is one man, flawed, human, breakable, fallable and far from perfect.   He isn’t chemically engineered like Captain America or carry a beast inside him like the Hulk.  He is a rich man who uses his intelligence and money for good and creates a suit of armor to protect him and puts together gadgets to help him outsmart and outlast bad people.   He makes a choice, as the moral of the story points to, to fight crime and stop the kind of people who kill innocents, like his parents.  In DKR, Batman ran into a physically and mentally strong opponent in Bane who was connected to Wayne through their past experiences.   A perfect villain for Batman to tangle with.   In the end, Bruce didn’t defeat Bane by himself but with help from reformed criminal Selena Kyle and John Blake.

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When Styles Conflict Inside A Boxing Ring

Lara-CaneloOn July 12th, Saul Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara waged war on each other in a middleweight title match. Lara called out Canelo and the Mexican superstar told his handlers that the fight had to happen. That night, I followed the action on Twitter via my trusted source Dan Rafael of ESPN and other good boxing handles. Canelo won by split decision, winning 115-113 on one card and 117-111 on the insane card of judge Levi Martinez. What I witnessed was a split decision on the social media page. Half of the crowd liked Canelo’s second half resurgence enough to give it to him and the other half said Lara was robbed.

Last night, I watched the fight and scored it as I watched on my IPhone notepad page. I wrote notes down as I scored rounds and I will admit the style contrast in the fight led to these troublesome scoring and a fight that wasn’t entertaining at times and lacked a big moment. Without adding much, here is my live analysis. Keep in mind I don’t hold a special admiration for either fighter. I do like watching Canelo fight but don’t particularly pull for him like I do Manny Pacquiao or Miguel Cotto. I hadn’t seen Lara fight that much so I was green on his action skills.

Lara and Canelo Scorecard

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Frank Grillo: The Authentic Tough Guy

Frank Grillo is a real tough guy. He isn’t the tough guy you see on movie screens but a man who has fought for every role he has played in this world of make believe.

When you see Frank Grillo fight on screen, keep in mind that isn’t a stunt double and those men he is punching better be glad its only a movie. Grillo trains like a fighter year round and his hard work is paying off with bigger roles. In the past 9 months, you have seen him fight Captain America and British action star, Jason Statham. He turned 51 last month, but don’t think for a second he is slowing down. Grillo is signed up for more Captain America action as Crossbones, has a Direct TV series this winter and more mayhem on the docket. On Friday, he headlines The Purge: Anarchy, a sequel to last year’s surprise hit about a 12 hour period where Americans are allowed to do whatever they like. Talking to Grillo, you get the feeling this guy is doing exactly what he grew up wanting to do. Kick ass, take names and make a little money doing it. I talked to Frank last week and let’s just say it was a no holds barred conversation.

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Dan Buffa-You are a New Yorker. What brings you to Los Angeles at the moment?

Frank Grillo-I’m filming this ten episode series for Direct TV. It’s like Warrior Meets Friday Night Lights. It’s MMA at the mid level. It’s a family drama. It’s called Kingdom.

DB-You have busted your ass in movies for a long time in supporting roles. How does it feel to be the star of Purge: Anarchy?

Grillo-It’s funny because before the Purge, I had a few independent films where I was the lead guy. It’s been a progression. As far as being in a studio film and being the lead guy, it’s great. You finally get to be the guy and have this whole story arc and carry the film on your shoulders. Its equal parts scary and exciting. I’m not a kid. Some actors get their shot early. I’m older and I think I am more well equipped to handle the responsibility.

DB-My first impression of you came in Warrior and I thought you stole that movie from Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton.

Grillo-It’s interesting, brother. Those two guys had full characters and the movie was about them. The director was like, “I got this thing and its right up your alley and I think you could crush it. I don’t have a third act. If you want to go to New Mexico and find out who this guy is and bring it to me, I’m game.” In my position, you have to work twice as hard as the guy with the lead role or else you fall by the wayside. It’s about working hard. It doesn’t have to do with talent. It’s about working harder than the other guy. Warrior was it and that movie was the thing that popped in my career.

The biggest compliment for me is when I get phone calls or emails from people saying, “Hey man, I wrestled in Arizona, and I know you are a coach.” And while I have to turn them down, they are paying me the highest compliment when they do that.  That movie, and The Grey, will always be very close and dear to my heart.

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A Hero For One Day

I will honestly admit this isn’t easy to write. When it comes to kids dying at a young age, my hands clam up and my heart starts to bounce off my chest. These are the things that make us human and fragile as a species. Untimely and sad losses of young innocent life. Bring me the most cynical person on this planet and if I told them a four year kid died a week before his 5th birthday, they would crumble within seconds. This is a harsh brutal world and as a fictional boxing legend said on screen, it will beat you to your knees if you let it.

ashtonOn Sunday, Ashton Twibell, a four year old who loved superheroes, died when he accidentally fell out of the window of a loft in Springfield, Missouri. The first time I heard this I immediately thought about Eric Clapton’s kid and his death. Twibell’s mother happens to be a friend of two of my coolest friends on Twitter and Facebook, Deana Stoker and Adrian McClure. McClure sent me this story about the horrible tragedy and told me how it hit close to home for him because another close friend had lost a 2 year old at an early age.  This is far from unfair. There’s unfair and then there is downright tragic and Ashton’s death fits right into that spot.

The minute my son, Vincent, was born, my world was shifted into the form of a protector and overthinker. When you have kids, suddenly your everyday life is similar to a secret service agent working full time. Wherever your kid is, you have eyes there in some way. If your kid goes to the store, the location of your kid is put above everything else. Your own body and its health becomes instantly secondary to your kids. When Vin was born, he was #1 priority. There are times where he strays for even a second and I have get myself straight and know where he is at.  Kids don’t care about consequence at an early age, so that’s our job every single minute. We are their protectors.

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All Part Of The Plan

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7When Lebron James announced Friday that he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, I wasn’t surprised at all. This was always a part of the plan for James. He was born and raised there. He played high school hoops there and started his NBA career there. He became a superstar there. He was the Dan Marino of the NBA for 7 seasons until he made a decision in July of 2010 that will go down as one of the most polarizing topics in sports history. The Decision. On national television, Lebron said he was taking his talents to South Beach and he did it with a nervousness that was real and apparent. When I saw Albert Pujols make his first appearance as a Los Angeles Angel after he signed a 10(in reality, 20) year deal in December of 2011, he had that same nervous look that Lebron had.

James and Pujols are teaching us in those small moments that they are superstars and human beings at the same time. They have blood running through their veins and their blood pressure can rise like anyone else’s can in a big moment. Their makeup is similar to us but differs when it comes to athletic ability. Sitting on that stage 4 years ago, James couldn’t rely on a deadly jumper or dominating route to the hoop. He said 6 words and everything changed. It was a bad plan with good intentions. No one wants to admit that the Decision raised millions of dollars for The Boys and Girls Club of America. That’s not juicy enough. Everybody was quick to turn Lebron into a villain. Cleveland fans did a 360 and burned jerseys and trashed rooms all over the city and state of Ohio. The streets ran red with Lebron venom that night. To a certain degree, it’s understandable. If Pujols had departed after 7 seasons, which would be in 2008, Cardinals fans would put away their Best Fans in Baseball logo and bring out the bats and flames. There would be jerseys burned but no riots. Cavs fans felt betrayed.

The owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote a hate letter before his plane could land. A letter full of erratic statements such as promising a championship before Lebron could win one in Miami(comedy) and attacking James in a number of ways. I said it then and I will say it now. Dan Gilbert overreacted. He forgot that James made him rich and the Cavaliers a great team. Before Lebron got there, th Cavaliers were a dormant team. A laughing stock. James won 3 MVP’s and took them to the finals. He carried them up a mountain like a giant carries a midget and couldn’t bring home a talent. That weighs on a man’s soul. Failing to win the big one. Ask Marino about that when Super Bowl discussions come around. It’s tough. Gilbert should have been mad and disappointed. He didn’t have to burn a bridge.

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Father/Son At Busch Stadium: Volume 1

photoWhen people ask me about taking my son, Vincent, to a game and what it is like, I have an answer automatically. It’s like being the manager of a rookie pitcher on the mound. You don’t know what is going to happen but you hope for the best and by the end of the night, for your mood to not lose out to your nerve. Vincent is 2.5 years old, and he turns 3 in September. He is a little beast, all power and a little scrap. He is 37 pounds and stands a little above 3 feet tall. On Tuesday night, I took my wife, Rachel, and Vinny to the game. The Cardinals were playing the Pirates. When a pregame interview I had set up got cancelled at the last minute, a couple hours opened up before game time.

We stopped in Ballpark Village and got a taste of the Hall of Fame Museum. My son stared up at the Hall Of Fame plagues of Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and Ozzie Smith with an intriguing glare that ended with this statement…”baseball, daddy”. For the entire visit to Ballpark Village, my son kept saying baseball. Basically, dad, all this historical stuff is nice and will have a bigger meaning when I am older but right now I want to see Fredbird, watch some baseball and say hello to the other 35,000 people at Busch Stadium.

In case you didn’t notice or guess, my son is a people’s person. He wants to stand up on his seat, turn around and talk to people behind him. He wants to say hello to strangers. He wants life, in general. This was Vinny’s 4th or 5th game but the first one where he seemed to really have some fun.

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As the pregame cermonies started, he sat there and asked nicely if he could go on the field. The answer was no. I am sure the security guards wouldn’t stop him but they would arrest me so it wasn’t happening. He then asked if we could go home. NO! For the first time in a public place, though, I noticed my son being patient. He watched the field. He looked at the sky. He scanned the crowd. He ate three cheese sticks, 2 bags of chips and a couple pretzels. Suddenly, the game started and he was ready. He looked like me with a glee that one couldn’t possibly explain with words.

Remember how I said in the beginning that taking your child to a game is like being a manager and watching your rookie pitcher take the mound. Here’s why.

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Molina Injury Adds To A Challenging Season

The old saying isn’t a lie. A team is tested most when things don’t go according to plan. With the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals, the team picked to easily mop up the National League and head back to the World Series, very little has gone right or smooth. This is just another weight being dropped on the shoulders of Cardinal Nation.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago CubsSo far today, I have heard crying, whining, panic modes and people calling for a wholesale of the team and for the organization to throw the white flag. Why? Yadier Molina will miss 8-12 weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb. He suffered the injury sliding into third base in Wednesday night’s win. Molina left the game and underwent an MRI after the game. The results came in this morning and at 2:45 p.m. General Manager John Mozeliak informed the media and general public that Molina would be out a long time. Twitter exploded. Talk shows spiked. Minds went rampant. I was quietly thrown for a loop and almost…dropped my coffee. At the most, Yadi could be out until the beginning of October. At the least, he isn’t stepping on a field until mid September. For the first time in a long time, Molina won’t anchor this team and carry them into a stretch run.

This is a devastating injury folks. There is no getting around that. When you lose Molina, an MVP type player, the chips will start falling quick and people will panic. What happens next? Tony Cruz, a very able backup who has trained under Molina for years, becomes the starting catcher and Audrey Perez(that one guy you don’t remember and rather shouldn’t) will back him up tonight as the Cards go for the sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cincinnati and Milwaukee have lost already. If the Cards win tonight, they are one game out of first place, That’s the closest they have been since early May. The Cardinals don’t have time to panic. That’s what writers do as they come up with fables to spin for the screaming public. John Mozeliak will look at the market for a veteran catcher to back up Cruz but I don’t expect any other big moves as a result of this injury.

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