Month: May 2015

“Maggie” Pulls The Right Strings and Pushes Zombie Genre Forward

Maggie-poster-4I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger kick ass and take names. Commando, Running Man, Terminator 2, Raw Deal or Red Heat. You name it and I probably saw it six times. He was the king of “Say little and Shoot Often”. He was rarely asked to act and that was a good thing. Action stars are built on presence and stature along with the ability to convince us they can truly destroy things. If a chef in a kitchen is cooking them up, he’s using 2-3 spices instead of five. More one liners than monologues.

For his latest flick, the heartfelt nerve touching zombie flick Maggie, Arnold finally gets to act a little and it’s about time. He’s 67 years old, looks weathered in the face, and didn’t have any work done to his body or face in the last 40 years. What you see is what you get, and Arnold was the perfect choice to play Wade Vogel, a man facing the worst decision of all time. His daughter, Maggie(Abigail Breslin, wonderfully cast to tango with the big Austrian) is infected and is slowly decaying. Instead of letting her be taken into quarantine and live a tortured last set of days before being executed, Wade keeps her at home so he can “take care” of her himself when the time is right.

In this film, the actual word “zombie” is never used once and frankly, it’s not needed. We know what’s going on. Someone is bit and they slowly change into something else. Director Henry Hobson, working from a genuine simplistic piece of goodness in John Scott 3’s script, doesn’t need to turn this into The Terminator Meets The Walking Dead. He wants to go in the other direction and uses a slow burning tactic. Once bitten, the victims don’t change in minutes or overnight. It takes days, hence the need to quarantine them. (more…)

Batkid Begins Trailer Will Break You

Boys Batman WishTrailers have the unbelievable ability to touch you inside two minutes. Through a sequence of editing of images and scenes weaved together seamlessly, a movie or documentary can cut right to your heart. In the case of Batkid Begins, the documentary about Miles Scott and his day in the life as Batman in San Francisco via the Make A Wish Foundation, this trailer will move you and if it doesn’t, go have your pulse checked.

In the beginning, the Make A Wish Foundation would grant a trip to Disney Land or show a kid a great day away from his normal life. Occasionally, they can do something magical. There’s nothing more tragic than child leukemia and in order to provide Miles with a little dose of childhood fun, the city of San Francisco and its police force, population and the thousands that flew into the city helped create Gotham for the Batman fanatic Miles. This all took place on November 15th, 2013 and the event went viral and persuaded the world to peek in and witness it. Wherever you were, Batkid was on your mind. (more…)

B.B. King 1925-2015: The Thrill is Gone Away

The thrill is gone
It’s gone away from me
The thrill is gone baby
The thrill is gone away from me
Although, I’ll still live on
But so lonely I’ll be

bb-king-4f29a930893b7B.B. King died on May 14th in Las Vegas, but he will live on. The lonely crowd will be us, his fans who wrapped our ears around his world whenever we felt the force of life beating us down to our knees. King redefined the blues and departs this world as the king. Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters may hold a few of the keys to the castle, but it’s King’s face on the front of the building.

Maybe it was the way he played the guitar, sitting in a chair, at the center of the stage, well into his 80’s. He played it so well and so honestly that one would think he was born with a guitar strumming around the crib. Maybe it was the way he sung the blues and made us feel the impact in our souls that he seem to be feeling deep in his bones as he belted out the tunes.

I remember seeing King play live in the late 1990’s at the Fox Theater with my friend Josh Brown. He got two tickets to a Blues festival, and all the greats came out to play so we went. Guy, Susan Tedeschi and B.B. King. The ones that took the stage before him were honorable and dynamic, but what they did paled in comparison to the show King put on. He only played for 45 minutes, but he sunk his soul into those songs. King was a musician who truly connected with his audience. He didn’t need a seven piece orchestra, a skin tight outfit, a trio of singers to help him out either. King could blow you away all by himself. He was old school. A relic from the past that wouldn’t die. One that kept getting stronger. (more…)

Mad Men Signs Off With Happiness

mad-men-season-7-slideshowSeries finales are hard to pull off, especially when it comes to extremely popular shows. Millions of people watching it and a million different people with different sensibilities and desires breaking it down. Imagine sitting in a writer’s room downing endless cups of coffee and trying to please every fan. After all, they are the ones who helped keep your show afloat and allowed you to stick around for so long. Every big series finale will be measured against or next to the final moment of The Sopranos. The fade to black stoner with a side of Journey tossed in for a special kick. While I didn’t mind that finale, I can advise other routes to go when signing off. Breaking Bad went out perfectly, tying up loose ends, never touching sentimentality and giving Walter White a solid goodbye that didn’t feel anticlimatic. The Wire on HBO crammed a ton of goodness into its final hour, and ended with a classy journalism do the right thing note. I can only imagine the stakes when Walking Dead or Greys Anatomy goes off because their fanbases are large and passionate.

Sunday night, Mad Men presented its final pitch to audiences and took the unfamiliar route to end it all. They decided to sprinkle happiness on their inhabitants, allowing characters put through the trenches to come out with a sunny side up future. Let’s review a few things as that meditating Don and Coke ad ending sink in. (more…)

Interview With Pound of Flesh Director Ernie Barbarash

imageedit_6_2192315321There are high profile well known directors and then there are filmmakers like Ernie Barbarash, an action lover who is more comfortable working with martial artists like Jean Claude Van Damme and Michael Jai White. Pound of Flesh was his fourth film with Van Damme, and the two have developed an onset chemistry that is unique in this world of make believe. I had the chance to speak with Ernie over the phone recently after Van Dammage at an older age and the loss of Darren Shahlevi.

Dan Buffa-After four films with Van Damme, do you guys have a speechless rhythm going on the set?

Ernie Barbarash-I think we do. When you first start working together, you don’t have the trust but after a while you develop this vocabulary with each other. Using certain words and phrases from previous films. He trusts me to make the best possible movie. He is a guy who really respects the process and he is always up for something new. There’s a reason people like to work together over and over again. There’s a trust and a way to meld something together. When people have different ideas, it’s best to not be defensive about it. 

DB-He’s an ageless wonder, turning 55 this year. It must be a thrill to work with this guy who has stuck to the action genre.

EB-Very much so. He’s in top notch shape. He does loves what he does and not only the physical work but the acting that goes with it. Inhabiting different people. When the project was brought to him, it presented itself as a character piece. He doesn’t get to do this kind of film that often. Double Impact is one of his favorite films because he got to play more than one person.  (more…)

Fury Road Is A Cinematic Muscle Car With Kick

imageedit_1_7203765016Max Rockatansky. Imperator Furiosa. Rictus Erectus. Toast The Knowing. The Splendid Angharad. Cheedo The Fragile. The Organic Mechanic. Keeper of the Seeds. Nux. Slit. Those are just a few of the characters I met last night.

If the future indeed belongs to the mad men and women of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, then strap me in for the long ride. This 120 power packed thrill ride is exactly the kind of movie to spring us into the summer wind. After getting superpower wasted with Avengers last weekend, Miller’s full throttle rebooting is just what the audience needs. Engine, grease, bullets, blood, tears and lots of extreme action. The kind of action that makes you forget about all the amateur action you’ve seen lately. The kind of chase scenes that make you want to get into a muscle car, find a sandy road and blow down it without thinking about anything else. Fury Road is an original model, something you’ve never seen before and may never see again, unless you see a chained up Tom Hardy swing into your front seat.

Hardy’s casting and Miller’s return made me get excited about this Mad Max return. Hardy doesn’t take a day off at the office and sinks his teeth into every single project he does. While some movie stars see fit to waste their lives and talent for a boatload of cash, Hardy doesn’t like to mess around and makes the Max role his own. The hero here is cut from the darker cloth and doesn’t speak a ton, so it’s good that Hardy can transcribe a thesis statement of emotions and words with a series of looks. Hardy is like Clive Owen and Russell Crowe at their best, actors who can carve a lot out with a little. People have complained Hardy isn’t fit to fill Mel Gibson’s shoes, and I’ll tell them Gibson signed off on Hardy and it’s easy to see. He’s dirty, grimy, and keeps you on your heels. This is his first bona fide action hero role and Hardy never lets it seem like a gimmick. He’s in every single scene and carries the weight of the film on his back, since his name is kind of in the title. Sure, the first 30 minutes of the film sees him wheezing out of a metal mask on his face, so people will think this is Bane reloaded, but Hardy turns him into something else entirely by the end of the film. A walking wounded loner looking for redemption. Aren’t we all? (more…)

Pound Of Flesh: For Van Damme Addicts Only

s4fjgkfdbwkyuww8jtydWatching a 54 year old action star with a receding hairline try to keep the good old days alive on screen carries a well mixed brew of nostalgia, sadness and hidden glee. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s latest direct to On Demand/DVD effort, Pound of Flesh, isn’t a complete waste of time or miserable experience but it does make you think about the sharper days of Lionheart, Kickboxer and Double Impact. If this movie was released 20 years ago, it may have worked. Today, in a day and age where fight choreography has been taken to a whole other level, Pound of Flesh seems tired.

Van Damme plays Deacon, a man who checks into a hotel only to wake up the next day not feeling so hot. A woman who crossed his path rolls around in his head while he figures out that a part of him is missing. A kidney. He finds money, meds and an ace of spades waiting for him. That’s the first complaint. How many times are filmmakers going to use an ace of spades as a big turning point in a story or a big bad guy mark. Why not use a Jack of Hearts or a scrabble piece just to change things up. Like I said, the mechanics used here by director Ernie Barbarash and writer Joshua James are overused and stale. (more…)

Good Kill Doesn’t Shy Away From The Tough Questions

good_kill_quad_v0nTowards the end of Good Kill, Ethan Hawke’s post traumatic stress riddled morally corrupt drone pilot tells a clerk that just sold him enough booze to numb his pain for one night, “We got no skin in the game. I feel like a coward. Worst thing I can get is carpal tonal or spill coffee on my lap. Have a rough drive home on the free way.”

Hawke’s Thomas Egan used to be a real pilot, flying jets into enemy territory and fighting the war face to face. These days, he sits in a closed off trailer with a few other officers, works a stick, aims, and shoots drone missiles at the bad guys and goes home to barbecue after his shift. For some cold to the bone or wanting the quick thrill of doing the right thing, the job would be a breeze. For the few who can’t shake old memories and like to crash hard internally after pushing a button and ending lives, the gig eats away at the soul.

Good Kill is the third film that Hawke and director Andrew Niccol have worked on together, after the impressive Gattaca and the vastly underrated Lord of War. One can tell the two work seamlessly in any cinematic adventure because Hawks fits this character to a tee, refusing to overplay scenes that are sitting on a tee and letting the pot boil slowly over the 100 minutes running time. He is the reason to watch this film, because there isn’t much going on that we haven’t seen before and the pacing is erratic. Burnt out soldier can’t shed the old skin of being a cold blooded killer and it eats away at everything around him. (more…)

10 Reasons Banshee on Cinemax Deserves Your Attention

images (1)A beautiful Amish girl gone bad challenging a pair of criminals to a game of chicken on an open road. A criminal posing as a cop trying to reconnect with his daughter, whose dad happens to be the Mayor. A Kinaho Tribe chief walking down the middle of a road firing arrows at military trucks. A seemingly quiet town lit up with enough noise to equal a monster truck rally.

This is an ordinary day on Cinemax’s Banshee, the best show on television and one that deserves your attention. It’s currently in the middle of its third season and instead of slowing down, it’s speeding up. Forget the DVR folks. Find this show and digest it right this minute. If you don’t put “Cinemax” and “quality TV” in the same sentence, start working on it with Banshee. This show has it all. Action, drama, sex, fast pacing, sly comedy and a confidence that can’t be bought. It’s putting Cinemax on the map as a network to be reckoned with. The premium cable channel is beefing up its original content, and Banshee is at the center of that bullet.

Need more of a reason to take a dip? Here are 10 reasons to rush this show to the top of the must watch list. (more…)

Yadier Molina: True Value


Disclaimer-I wrote this last August for the Conclave but saved it on the dose here for a future publishing. I saved it for when people started to doubt Molina’s brilliance. They were worried about his lack of power or his ability to frame a pitch. Well, when you are king of a position in America’s favorite pastime, all people can do is chip away at your legend. I wrote this when Molina returned in 2014. Read on.

When I think of Yadier Molina’s importance to the St. Louis Cardinals, I think of one of my legs. He isn’t the heart and soul of the team because that position belongs to the logo on the front of the chest and is spread across the entire team. Yadi is a leg and it was broken on July 9th when he went down with torn ligaments in his right thumb. The loss of Yadi didn’t dismantle the team completely. They were able to soldier on and win more games than they lost. Tony Cruz couldn’t fill the starting role so A.J. Pierzynski was brought in to help. Together, they did a decent job in a pinch. In the end, they showed how important Yadi is to the Cards. He is easily the most valuable player and someone I attribute “true value” to every time he steps on the field. He is a leg on this team because since early July, this team has been hopping on one foot and barely getting by. They are scrapping the floor and the other healthy limb is getting tired. With Yadi, the team walks straight and glides. Without him, they are off, in pain and slowly falling apart.

You can try to calculate the value of Yadi but good luck getting anywhere with MVP voters. They prefer glossy baseball card mafia statistics instead of intangibles. They want home runs, RBI and hits. MVP voters like the long ball and Yadier’s career high is 22 in 2012. The WAR(wins above replacement) can’t be correctly graded for a catcher, but last year in that category, Yadi ranked first among catchers with a 5.7. In 2012, it was 6.7 wins above replacement. Yadier Molina should have at least 2 MVP’s but voters don’t want to look at the little things. (more…)