Month: October 2015

Kingdom reviewcap: “Broken or Missing” in the Kulina family

This isn’t your traditional boring what happened TV recap. I just respond, review and break down what I saw while digging deeper at what the masterminds behind the operation are hinting at. Let’s call a reviewcap. 


When-Wednesday nights at 8pm

Where-Direct TV on Audience

Every fighter in the world knows the immortal rule. One punch, kick, or shot can end a fight or career. Once they climb into the ring, danger surrounds them like their own shadow. As confident as a fighter can seem on the outside, inside their head exists a place where they think about and dread over the last fight.

Episode 203, “Broken or Missing”, brought us a lot of developments. The return of Kenny to society, fresh out of prison and slapping bitches who talk shit about his weight. A possible Jay-Ryan fight. Love blossoming between Jay and his photographer girlfriend, Laura. It also brought Nate(Nick Jonas) and his first fight after the street mugging.

It’s easy to call the climax of this episode the most shocking of Kingdom’s run on Direct TV. The moment Nate got caught in the ring with a swing kick and fell motionless to the floor, the midway sideways blow of Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby hit me. They aren’t doing that with the youngest Kulina, are they? Render the most popular face on the show paralyzed and finished!!!?? No way. Turns out creator Byron Balasco was thinking more Manny Pacquaio-Juan Manuel Marquez IV, where the fight ended in the sixth round with a thunderous counter hook landing flush to an attacking Pac Man’s jaw and dropping him unconscious to the floor.

Nate didn’t just lose his fight. He was knocked the fuck out cold. All he got was a concussion, but Alvey(Frank Grillo) has bigger concerns. Can his young tiger finish off opponents? Can he kick the knife all the way in or will he just poke the other guy with shots? Earlier in the fight, Nate was hammering the guy to the point where he left himself unguarded and looking at the referee for a stoppage. Big mistake that was foreshadowing. A fighter should NEVER take his eyes off the opponent in a ring, whether it’s a square, octagon or street alley. Your eyes are as powerful as your fists in any fight, and Nate forgot about rule #1. Never take your eyes off your opponent. During round 2, he was dropped.

If you know where Nate’s head is, let us know. The young man is living a lie when it comes to romance and when it comes to 95% of everything else. How happy can you be if you can’t be yourself? How do you tell your dad, who is Rambo meets Han Solo in a ring, that fighting isn’t the top priority on your list of what to do when you get up and breathe today?

Elsewhere, the stakes for the future got white hot.

In order to solve his opponents dropping out right before the right, Jay is offered a deal by shady promoter Garo(Bryan Cullen) to fight the champion himself, none other than Ryan Wheeler. Before you think Jay will pull a honorable Kulina response of no thank you, remember this is Jay Kulina we are talking about. He wants the glory and desperately wants to be taken seriously by his father, his fellow fighters and the world of MMA again. If this is the only way back into the castle of greatness, Jay is all for it.

What follows is even better. Wheeler is finishing up a workout and holding a cup of piss(for a skeptical Alvey to test) and Jay stares him down mano o mano. This ends in a playful if half serious wrestle scrap between the two lifelong friends, but each knows that a possible matchup has to be on the horizon. The only holdup is Alvey. Will he let his ticket back to the big time in Ryan step into the ring with his troubled son who he doesn’t trust? Can he deal with a Wheeler defeat or a Jay drama show? For Alvey, this doesn’t end well in any outcome. Jay wins and Wheeler’s career is derailed, especially after a disappointing title defense. If Jay loses, there could be a rift in the family and on Navy Street for quite some time. Ah, the drama that follows a season one finale where everybody seemed to win.

Alvey and Christina are officially getting divorced, but when asked about getting married by the whiskey guzzling Alvey, Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) decides to pause and not answer, which in pregnant lady telepathy is “Fuck No.” This doesn’t mean it won’t happen but isn’t high on the list of things to do for the matriarch of Navy Street. The clearly glowingly pregnant and beautiful Sanchez doesn’t overplay this scene at all. She just looks tired and careful.

Think about it. She is promoting her boyfriend’s son who he doesn’t trust and in a fight possibly in a fight against the boyfriend’s main fighter, who also happens to be her ex-serious squeeze. She also has Christina poking around her sons lives and coming to the fight and acting all nice for a change instead of snapping at her with history. Then there is the Nate knockout. Episode 203 was a big drama show, as Gennady Golovkin would call it.

Poor Alvey, I keep thinking back to the first scene of Season 2. Grillo gleaming as he fired those weapons and thought things were settling down. He was a king on a chair with a cracked leg, and he couldn’t even see it. A proud man with his back to the storm. He found out his top fighter used cocaine and can’t make money for six fights, which he may not have. He is unsure his youngest son is ready, and then watches him get knocked out cold. His other son wants to fight Wheeler, and that creates issues. He is severing ties with his wife so he can marry Lisa and gets rebuffed. Thank goodness for whiskey.

Keith is out and looks dangerous. He walks from jail to his house, where Ryan is staying but not before he stops for food and has to slap some fools for making fun of his weight. Ryan does his best to make him feel at home but this guy couldn’t feel at home in a factory full of avocados with a barrel of stuffed animals right now. After all, he is sitting in the place where he murdered his parents. Drama!

Ryan also goes to see his dad, where he finds out that the old man was busting his balls on purpose the last time he visited, which was in Season 1. There is so much history between these two guys that the audience has not seen, which allows Matt Lauria and M.C. Gainey to act the shit out of this scene. Couple pros.


*While Laura and Jay swoon over one another, the Kulina rebel is going to screw this up, right?

*There isn’t a more convincing and more heartbreaking father-son performance than Grillo and Jonas. When Frank looks at him like a hawk with a wounded wing, it’s so heartbreaking that you have to replay it a few times. Acting is all in the eyes and Grillo is a master at it.

*No one says FUCK like Grillo either. Sorry, DeNiro.

*We get one Mac Brandt sighting and it’s right before the Kulina family rushes into the ring to attend to Nate.

*Laura is sexy, smart and ferocious so there are worse ladies to have your heart smashed over, Jay. Jessica Szohr fits into this reckless world of misfits.

What happens next week? Where does Nate stand after his loss? Will Alvey let Ryan fight Jay? Will Lisa marry Alvey? How before Chapas gets involved and really sets the world on fire? Also, I want some flashbacks to Alvey’s career and maybe his record. All these posters and mentions. I want more. Give me some Alvey history.

Thanks for reading. For more traditional recaps, seek out big boy sites like Entertainment Weekly or Hitflix. I just talk a lot. This isn’t your father’s recap…or your brother’s,if you know what I mean.

Check back in next week for more Kingdom talk. Mouthpieces are optional.

5 Reasons to see Amy Schumer in St. Louis

55a60708c8e92.imageIt’s possible that some of you have no idea who Amy Schumer is, but that should all change by the end of the year. She is everywhere and other places as well. This winter, she is bringing her standup comedy tour to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The 34 year old New Yorker is the writer, producer and star of the Comedy Central series, Insider Amy Schumer, but she is also making waves in other circuits as well. She starred in the hit comedy, Trainwreck, over the summer and hosted Saturday Night Live this month. If you want a taste of her standup routine, check out her show from the Apollo Theater on HBO right now. She is all over so get used to it. Is she worth watching? Here are five reasons to consider her for a date in December.

~She is legit funny. You won’t find any gimmicks with her brand of comedy. If you like the old classic days of SNL mixed with a new age theme of realism, Schumer will make you laugh. She will make jokes about the squeamish moment in the bedroom, the dating game and the struggle for women as a whole. Unlike Melissa McCarthy, she won’t tire you out with one kind of joke. She is versatile.

~She didn’t just get her newfound success. She earned it, creating the Amy Schumer show, which caught director Judd Apatow’s attention and made him seek her out for Trainwreck. She wrote the film as well as starring in it, and she got that opportunity after years of hard work on the standup scene and after catching a break in the series, Last Comic Standing. She has carried multiple duties on Inside Amy Schumer for two years and is breaking into film. She didn’t simply show up.

~Schumer put Lebron James and John Cena in the same film and made them funny. The star basketball player and wrestler won’t find a better role in film.

~She isn’t just a comedian but someone who cares about real life threatening issues. Her stance on gun control isn’t a call for attention but something she takes very seriously. At a showing of Trainwreck on July 23rd, a gunman walked into a theater in Louisiana and opened fire, killing people and injuring several. A survivor reached out to Amy on social media and since she has taken the issue by the collar. Recently she appeared with New York senator and cousin Chuck Schumer to close the loop holes on gun control. She isn’t a one trick pony folks.

~In a recent Seattle Times article, she had this to say about feminism. “People ask if there is pressure for you to be pushing feminism, and I’m like, ‘No! It’s just part of us.’ And you have to keep fighting.” Enough said!

Schumer, in a lesser way, is like Ronda Rousey. She is reshaping what it means to be funny, provocative and timely for a woman in show business. She is changing the game. Get a taste of that action with her appearance at Scottrade Center on December 18th.

10 Takeaways from Game 1

mets-at-royals-in-world-series-game-1-52997330e53a87a9The Kansas City Royals and New York Mets wasted no time in raising the dramatics of a World Series face off and it started before a pitch was thrown.

10. Edinson Volquez, the Game 1 starter, may or may not have found out before first pitch that his father passed away at the age of 63. Talk about the emotions. The kid is at the high point of a World Series start, something every kid dreams of and he experiences the lowest point a kid can face with losing a parent. Volquez would pitch six solid innings, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits before exiting to grieve and deal with an unthinkable loss.

9. Baseball players with softball bodies can be efficient. Bartolo Colon may look like a pitcher you saw at Forest Park in a softball game but he can still pitch. He threw 2.1 innings before finally surrendering the winning run.

8. The postseason home run streak for Daniel Murphy ends at six. The hot hitting Met still collected two hits, but failed to go deep. Somewhere, Reggie Jackson smiled.

7. Who could have guessed Chris Young would be the winning pitcher for KC in Game 1? The Game 4 starter threw three innings with only 53 pitches thrown, shutting the Mets bats down and giving the Royals a chance to win it. Improbable doesn’t even describe it.

6. Jeurys Familia, the untouchable Mets closer, gets torched by Alex Gordon in the 9th inning for one of the longest home runs of the postseason. Right when the super powered pitching of the Mets appeared to be too much for Kansas City, they struck down their most lethal threat. The 8th place hitting Gordon did the job. Improbable.

5. Eric Hosmer goes from goat to hero in one night. After making a crucial error at first base, he hits the sacrifice fly in the 14th to win it. He does that on the same night that David Freese four years earlier went from goat to hero. Freese dropped a popup in Game 6 only to go on and make history. Hosmer didn’t shine as bright but collected his dignity.

4. Ben Zobrist, the player many Cardinals fans wanted, had another great game with 3 hits and an RBI. The durable Phillips screwdriver type tool player is hitting .500 this postseason with an OPS of 1.404.

3. Matt Harvey was good if not great in a start many thought would go to Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom. The Dark Knight arm who many thought may not even pitch this October continued a solid postseason. Remember when he was the only Mets pitching ace?

2. The Royals truly starved off a rough start to the series. With a loss, they would be staring down the barrel at Thor and deGrom and be in bad shape. Now, they have the upper hand and another game at home to stage an upset.

1. Is it just me or if Hosmer’s sac fly travels a little less into right field, Curtis Granderson had a shot at nailing Alcides Escobar at home? His throw didn’t miss Escobar by too much last night and he threw it on a fly. Impressive.

This series will only get better. Sure, the Cards are out but there is still plenty of good baseball to watch this week. There’s the opportunity for the ring to come back to Missouri. There is the chance for the Mets to clinb back into the limelight and win a World Series for the first time in 29 years. For the Royals, it would be the first time in 30 years, as 99 percent of Redbird fans know well.

What part of Game 1 did you find the most interesting?

A Stream of Consciousness amid Midnight Baseball

arnold-schwarzenegger-commandoWelcome to the late night early morning Buffa shack of thoughts. For the people who think I resemble a Post Dispatch writer, consider this the unfiltered take. The lost kids in the store in my head. The words I keep silent while I produce prose for the masses. As the Royals and Mets play baseball in the 14th inning at Kaufman in Kansas City in Game 1 of the World Series. In other words, the game where people try to decide which team Joe Buck wants to win more.

Harold Reynolds sucks. No I mean he really fucking stinks at being a color analyst. At one point in the game, he talked about how everything starts with a pitch and a hit ball. He’s just bad. He knows baseball but the wrong words come out of his mouth. It may be the fact that he accused the Cardinals of stealing signs from the Dodgers a year ago. It could have been the fact that he got on all fours and mentally undressed Clayton Kershaw on a mound. I don’t like him and brings Buck down.

No one rolls with the punches better than Buck. He isn’t as good as his dad. He has time there to get there. He can take anything and roll on. A bad graphic? Got it. A technical malfunction that literally cut off the world series from TV sets for a few minutes. He talked about putting change in the meter and playing all night. He’s smooth. He is intelligent. He cares about baseball. He’s a gem.

Eric Hosmer hits a sac fly and wins Game 1 in the 14th for the Royals. Something you’ll never predict. Bartolo Colon loses a decision to Chris Young. Download that one.

Speaking of Colon, he tested positive for PEDs in 2012. Something to help him recover from all those buffet trips. He’s a large man.

The Royals and The Mets. Two good clubs who made moves at the deadline that boosted their team. The royals added Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. The Mets added Yoenis Cespedes, who hit 17 HR and slugged .604 down the stretch. Something the Cards didn’t do at the deadline.

Bridge of Spies and The Martian are worth your hard warren money at the cinema. 2015 was a weak slate until the last month. Add in the Walk and these are three films that could contend for Oscars yet also entertain and inform an audience.

Bridge of Spies is all Cold War history. A lawyer negotiating a swap of spies during a time where 2 countries engaged in a vicious cock fight that captivated a nation. Hanks is great. Spielberg is swinging the hammer again. The movie resonates.

Martian will literally beat you up with inventive survivalist thrills. In a good way.  As Matt Damon says, it will science the shit out of you. Ridley Scott hits all the right notes here in adapting a novel and adding cinematic twists to engage the viewer.

The Walk is a slice of wild American French history. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays the Frenchman who dared to lay a wire across the World Trade Center Towers and walk across it. Director Robert Zemeckis frames the film like a magician showing a bag of historical tricks. It’s a kick and bittersweet because those towers eventually fell 30 years later.

Kingdom is the TV show to watch and Frank Grillo is a big part of it. It’s everywhere. iTunes. Amazon. Hulu. Uverse. Everywhere. Yeah the show I’ve been bothering you with reviewcaps of is good. A family of MMA fighters. Drugs. Destiny. Ambition. Frank Grillo powered of course. Grillo has quickly over took guys like Jason Statham, Denzel Washington, Jon Hamm and Vin Diesel as my authentic action hero and must watch actor. Yeah fuck you I mean it. He’s dynamite. A guy who looks like he was chiseled out of rusted steel and grit to recreate what Charles Bronson would look like if he worked out. He is a guy who looks the part and sinks his teeth, balls and knee into. Few actors can mold into roles. Frank Grillo can do it. If you don’t know him or his films get on it.

Watch these films.

Warrior, The Grey, Disconnect, End of Watch, The Purge Anarchy and Pride and Glory. See who sticks out.

I haven’t listened to enough new music but Alabama Shakes and The National are good bets.

Starbucks coffee officially tastes like shit. It’s burnt. Over roasted. Bad. I get a five shot iced espresso from the Bux these days. It’s like iced coffee with a nasty ex wife and sirloin steak attached to it with a hammer and blowtorch finish. Try it and hang on.

I’m a t shirt, jeans and fleece guy. Always. Fuck polo’s. Fuck suits. Pleats. I’m a stay at home writer dad so I can look like a bastard. I can be a bald headed bearded Italian with torn jeans and a shirt on the snug side. I got the body to back it up too so don’t hate. If you are fat, stop being fat. It’s a choice.

Don’t eat gas station food. 

Too many school shootings but I’m becoming less surprised. The world we live in has a load of fucked Up people in it. It has nothing to do with video games or movies. Or bad parenting. Some people are born with a faulty wiring. Bad makeup inside. It’s sad but true. This would get more attention but we are busy crying over an ex basketball player who snorted enough drugs to kill a horse. Yeah.

People flip that on me by saying I made it okay to sympathize over Heath Ledger. Wrong. I loved Ledger’s work in the Dark Knight. What he did to himself off the set is moronic. He took a wild mix of pills and died. He didn’t kill himself but he was stupid. He left behind a little girl, family, friends and talent. You see people die and it’s not mourning them. It’s mourning the loss from others. Heath was dumb. No sympathy. His performance in DK is legendary and deserved accolades. His death…not. Same for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not cool to have your kid find you with a needle in your arm pale dead.

Oscar Taveras made a terrible albeit common mistake. He drank a shit ton, drove and killed himself and his 18 year old girlfriend in a crash. He left behind a son. He was dumb. People can learn from his mistake. No sympathy but Oscar isn’t a murderer. Murder is premeditated assholes.

Maybe parents who lost a child and had a rough childhood can learn from Odom and not snort everything but the dust off the walls at a brothel to find peace. Maybe that will help future depressed folks not make unthinkable lapses in judgement. No Love Ranch for a healing. Better at a church with a horny priest.

Vladimir Tarasenko is a stud and if he doesn’t like being called Tank, I will stop. I fall victim to the player is great so slap a nickname on it bug as much as anyone. Vladi doesn’t care for nicknames and that’s cool. Special talent can make special demands. Not that he actually cares.

If Daniel Craig wants to talk shit about playing James Bond in four films and its “toll”, let him. On the other hand, he can also decide to stop sounding like a petulant child who finally gets to leave home and explore on his own. I love the guy and his impact on Bond won’t be easy to match, but every time I hear high paid movie stars complaining about how a role makes them look or strains them, I feel like stepping into Danny Bautista’s shoes and bouncing their ass down a slope. Then SAY NO NEXT TIME.  LIKE I SAID, Frank Grillo never bitched and moaned. He has two sequels to one monstrous franchise(Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War and The Purge 3) coming up but you don’t hear him WHINING. He just gets on set and kills it. Follow suit, Mr. Craig or I will stain your tux and kick your ass myself. Or I’ll call Tom Hanks to come kill you again(like he did in Road to Perdition).

Ed Burns new show Public Morals isn’t just a good enough show to write about. It’s an old school classy ode to 1960’s police work. He based on his dad’s stories. Consider it the other side of town to Mad Men. Burns is a master at casting, telling a simple story and at making a dream happen. He is the reason you can watch new releases on demand instead of in theaters. He is the reason Itunes releases movies. He once made a film for 12,000 dollars. Respect the craft. Burns is a made guy in cinema.

Burns responded to my tweet, read my article and retweeted(sending it to his 67,000 followers for the Twitter handicaps) my review. He is a gent. Having actors, directors, creators or whatever respond and show a piece of shit like myself attention never gets old. Never.

My wife, the lovely and ferocious Rachel, turned 32 today. We are getting so fucking old. Yes, 32 and 33 can be old when you decided to fight life at an early and try to play house with another human. I am 33 but feel 45. We met when we were flirting with 21. Now we are an old married couple with a four year old 42 pound heavyweight pain in my ass yet adorably earnest dude named Vinny. Happily ever after comes at a cost my friends, but it’s worth it. If the other person is a good fit. Find someone who loves you at your lowest and when you are a complete gigantic fucking moron. I got one in Rae. She’s mine. Hands off bastards. Did I mention she’s almost 5 feet 3 inches? I can lean on her when I’m sleepy. That’s a bonus round you Facebook slot game clicking maniacs. Anyway, today, wish her a happy birthday or just think it you cheap prick.

Time for me to go. I have talked for over 1.600 words and it’s past 1am. It’s late and quiet. Except for the TV, which never sleeps. What’s bad? Trying to go to sleep and a classic like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando comes on the tube. 96 minutes of brainless yet highly entertaining scenery chewing muscle glistening macho tough guy banter. A movie where Arnold spends the entire film in the same green henley and never showers. Fuck. Those were the days. Budget around 25 million. Explosions. Ugly fat bad guys wearing chain shirts with creepy mustaches. I just got a nostalgic boner thinking about it.

Until next time, enjoy the structured writing.



The Manual Scoreboard and I: 10 Years Later

J.B. Forbes
J.B. Forbes

October 19th. 2005. The day that the Houston Astros and Roy Oswalt shut the lights on the old Busch Stadium. Every St. Louis Cardinals remembers the Albert Pujols majestic blast off Brad Lidge to extend the series to Game 6, but few remember that the next game ended the season and gave a nod to the construction crews to start swinging the hammers. For me, it was the end of my run on the Manual Scoreboard, the wonderful spot located up in the Upper Terrace Reserved from 1997-2005. I worked for eight years on the Scoreboard, watching the true birth of Tony La Russa baseball in St. Louis, the Mark McGwire spectacle and the beginning of Pujols. Ten years later, I think back on my time there.

If I had a chance encounter with Doc from Back to the Future, I’d ask him to me back to a weekend series at old Busch so I could work the scoreboard again. It was located at the highest point of the stadium, and contained layers of scaffolding and enough metal to attract the sun on the hottest of days. You’d sweat a pint off before first pitch, setting up the board with team names and starting pitcher as well as updating the Dow Industrial Board and leaderboards on the ends of the board. (more…)

Catching up with Direct TV’s Kingdom: “Simulations”


Where-Direct TV on Audience/UVerse

When-Wednesday at 8pm(central time)

*This is not a standard recap or a traditional review. I don’t follow the TV critic playbook. Let’s just call this a reviewcap.

Simulations, round two of this 10 round season of Byron Balasco’s authentic slice of fighter pulp unveiled new faces, hardships and a future that looks anything yet certain. If Season 1 closed with a flourish of victory and Season 2’s opening hour showed some greener leaves in the Kulina family tree, episode 202 reminded the audience that with great things comes a whole new kind of heartache and worry.

It was a kick to the balls that Alvey Kulina(the true tough guy Frank Grillo) found out his prize fighter Ryan Wheeler tested positive for cocaine after his first title defense. It was a shot to the knee cap that Wheeler shorted him on his percentage. Six percent instead of ten! As Alvery told Ryan, who looks anything but stable, he is walking a thin line. Here is a guy who lost everything in a hail of violence and went to jail. He lost his career, his family and the chance to be looked at normally for the rest of his life. He’s out, and after damaging gyms, tempting fate with Alvey’s wife Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) last season, he barely wins his fight and was on drugs. Now he shorts Alvey. Next, we see him buying an expensive couch.

Oh, and there is the investigation into the fruit lovemaking teddy bear BFF’ing Keith, the roommate of Ryan’s who stabbed his bully to death. Wheeler has a full plate but if he pisses on Alvey’s cereal any longer, his world will became a true house of pain.

Alvey and Lisa are looking into all kinds of revenue streams, and that includes time share tutorials to a room full of people who don’t want to be there. Yes, Alvey is helping people “fight” their way through their careers because when a muscle bound fast talking guy is telling you how to live your life, nothing can go wrong. It doesn’t go over too well, with 24 of the 25 walking out. This, ladies and gents, is the life of a fighter after he leaves the ring.

Nate(Nick Jonas) is training for his big fight but doesn’t know who he is or wants to be. In an expansive interview to promote his upcoming bout, the youngest Kulina opens his soul about the true meaning of fighting. How it shapes you and breaks you without ever truly fulfilling your hunger? It was impressive and for the audience, a small cry of help from the kid. His annoying girlfriend(whom is merely a friend who wants to kiss him for Nate) does him no favors. Complaining about the kid eating his post workout meal or passing out in the bathroom wasted. This kid needs a cottage, the ocean and some quiet but it won’t come.

Jay(the live wire Mr. Jonathan Tucker) is training on the beach when a beautiful photographer Laura Melvin(newcomer Jessica Szohr) starts snapping photos of him. She doesn’t just want the image. She wants the story and after a quick lunch of drinks, invites the exuberant Kulina to a dinner date. What starts as a potential modeling gig turns into sex, as Jay finds a woman that isn’t just interested in his body but wants to know what makes him tick. For Tucker’s Jay, this is new territory. Season 1 saw Jay regaining a pulse in his career and helping his mother get clean while giving the show a much needed sense of humor. Now, he has a woman walk into his life that is sexy, demanding, powerful and doesn’t just want a bed romp. Could this be what Jay needs or potential hazardous white hot love boat building? Time will tell but let’s hope the Greek fortress of Jay Kulina finds a fight soon because something to hit, what is a Kulina male?

Alvey finds out that the private number calls he’s been receiving come from an old friend Chapas(Mark Consuelos). Chapas is a former fighter and an alley way from Alvey’s past. I’ll just come out and say that this isn’t going to end well. Chapas may look like a nice caring friend(how about that inspirational chat about Lisa!?) but he’s human gasoline. Ready to set fire to Alvey’s life and everything in it. His intentions aren’t laid out yet but the minute he created that shit eating grin, doom set in for me. He will probably partner with the gym, add revenue and seemingly good will, but it will go to shit. If you were paying attention after Season 2’s premiere, Alvey threatens to kill him. I am sure that isn’t over the drink choice Chapas made. He will be a thorn in this family’s side.

While Jay is getting love and Nate is pumping weights because staring at pictures of hot guys next to his passed out girlfriend may be odd, Ryan is pleasuring himself with some late night porn before a mysterious call comes in. Who is that? What will set the course for this rejuvenated yet still misguided creature of habit? The only problem with bringing Wheeler back into the fight world was you ripped all the band-aids off his old life wounds. All of it came rushing back and it started with him getting back into the ring. Trouble awaits.

Alicia Mendez(Natalie Martinez) is getting more comfortable in her new gym and looks to Ryan for advice. Lisa seeing that this is potential doom with her newest fighter tries to talk her down from getting to know Ryan even though the audience knows the two will be kissing before Episode 4. If Alvey is in the trenches fighting for everything, Lisa is the navigator watching over everything. She is the woman who has to pick up the spilled box of matches before they light on fire.

No Christina or Mac this episode which is fine with the new faces rolling in and the plot of Season 2 starting to develop.

What powers Balasco’s show is the authenticity of everything you see. The gyms. The rings. The performances. The locations. So many shows phone in parts of a production and thus lose the allure that makes people stay. Like most shows like don’t exist on NBC or FOX and actually have a pair of balls attached to its body, Kingdom feels like a ten hour movie. For the cast, it’s a ten hour fight and for the audience, it’s a ride unlike anything you have seen. That is due in part because Grillo embodies Alvey with every ounce of grit he can find. Tucker doesn’t just make Jay a joker but a man with so much to find. Matt Lauria doesn’t just play cold and quiet with Wheeler. With every facial expression and word, he teaches you what real pain is like. What does it feel like to live with a monster inside you who is never full.

Let me ask you something. What other show dares to touch a boxing or MMA ring and actually make the story outside of it more compelling than the one inside it? Creators are scared of that. They don’t know how to accurately depict that so they create another terrorism show or reality skit. It’s sad and depressing. Kingdom allows you to crawl inside the minds of these fighters as they figure out how to live before and after success.

If Season 1 was about the recapturing of glory, Season 2 will detail how you can lose it all.

Stay tuned for more weekly recaps of this show. In the mean time, go on Itunes and watch Season 1 so you know what the fuck I am talking about here.

If you want to catch up and actually understand what I am blabbering about here, catch up with Season 1 and stay in tune with Season 2, whether you have Direct TV, Uverse or not. The release of Kingdom on digital media launched this week. Find out all about it here. 

Photos courtesy of Direct TV Audience/Kingdom

One Year Later: Oscar Taveras’ death can still be a lesson

Taveras_1280_4v5j1r9j_ory7b0beYou can have sympathy for the weak, the strong, but not for the devil. What about the devil inside us all?

A year ago, young Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras drank five times the legal limit that the Dominican Republic allows drivers, got into his sports car with his girlfriend and went for a drive on wet rainy roads. It’s a bad decision to drive during a thunderstorm or during a serious downpour. It’s even worse if the driver is impaired, under the influence or swimming in the influence.

It’s almost like the tale is already concluded wen the engine gets turned on. Taveras crashed his car. In the process, Taveras died and so did Edilia Arvelo, who was just 18 years old. Forget baseball here. Put it away. Put the idea of what a supremely talented Taveras could have done with another 5-10 years. It’s not important. As much as fans try, sports can never touch life and death yet only exist as a comfortable metaphor and detour. (more…)

Bridge of Spies: The Best I’ve seen in 2015

In 1957, the world was a gigantic playground when it came to war and power. On one side of the court stood the Americans and the other side stood the Russians. Each had nuclear weapons and the urge to use them. Each side wanted to know about the other’s weapons in order to gain an advantage. It was like a never-ending game between two equally tough teams with stubborn managers/coaches. Somewhere inside of it all, an insurance lawyer was appointed to negotiate the safe passage of an American pilot caught behind enemy lines. Steven Spielberg’s new film, Bridge of Spies, tells that story in grand detail and with a polish only he owns.

In order to do the film right, Spielberg needed his guy. That guy is Tom Hanks. A man so convincing he could play just about anything. Phil Jackson needed Michael Jordan to create a legend in the NBA with the Bulls and it’s the same case here. Two magicians going back to the streets where they carved classics like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Catch Me If You Can and The Pacific. If there is a war involved, Hanks and Spielberg are the men for the job and everybody else in Hollywood is merely filling out applications.

James Donovan(Hanks) is a insurance lawyer in New York and a good one. He studied criminal law years ago but is just fine helping people prepare for potential hardship in their personal lives. When a case file is dropped in front of him involving the defense of a captured Russian spy, he doesn’t jump at it. After all, tensions were so high back then and what if you were the one guy appointed to defend what the general population saw as a monster? You would be #2 on the unpopular list behind the spy himself. You would be hated. Any other guy would just stand next to Rudolf Abel(Mark Rylance, a sure fire Oscar contender) and wait for the judge to slam his gavel down in a guilty fashion.

However, Donovan believed in the law, the constitution and that every man and woman(no matter their alliance) deserved an equal and fair defense. When he brought the matter to the Supreme Court and barely lost, the world couldn’t understand him. As Abel says later on, “Sometimes people don’t make the right decision. People are people.”

What complicates matters is a US soldier Powers(Austin Stowell, from Ed Burns Spielberg produced show, Public Morals) flying over Russia taking photos of their nuclear weapons sites. When he is shot down, the Russians and Americans attempt to orchestrate a swap. It’s not so easy. This isn’t like going to a Walmart parking lot and exchanging cars. This was Donovan going over into war torn East Berlin to negotiate the deal and when an American student is captured there, the ordeal gets even more complicated.

What sets this apart from a History channel rendition is the work of Spielberg and writers Mark Charman and the Coen Brothers. Together, they recreate this mad ripped apart world where people lived afraid and words meant life or death so the audience can truly be taken away from the theater. The best movies don’t just feature a great performance to rest their head on. They give off the illusion that what you are seeing is happening outside the door and something you could step into. There may not be a better marriage between direction and screenwriting this year. The script doesn’t waste a single word and the editing is flawless. This 140 minute movie doesn’t overstay its welcome or make you check your phone in anticipation of the credits.

The tension, despair and brutality in the East Berlin scenes reminded me of a mixture of Spielberg’s most well known Oscar films, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. The haunting streets with half blown out buildings. The fractured families. The film starts in comfy New York but when it switches to a war zone, the filmmakers pick up the pace and really transport the viewer.

The rest is an acting class in NOT overdoing a script. Hanks takes the punches from the script and slips and jabs his way through his best performance in years. He was born to play the incredibly noble Donovan and properly bring him to life. Another actor may have started chewing instead of simply unfolding the sheet and responding to the words on the page. When Hanks read the script, he called Spielberg to do it. A history buff, especially when it comes to the United States, Hanks brings an urgency and poignancy to Donovan that nobody else(not even Daniel Day Lewis) could have brought. He’s a winner.

Rylance is the real surprise here, playing the supposed spy like a regular old man who doesn’t fear anything, from either country. A speech that Abel gives, comparing Donovan to someone he knew from his childhood, is so well played and touching that it may bring you to tears or just make you smile. You will remember “The Standing Man” speech!  Rylance is as calm and cool as a cucumber and I doubt you have seen him in anything. He only has 25 films to his credit and all I remember him from is playing Jason Statham’s partner in a barely heard of cop flick called Blitz. Here, he looks like a pro trading punches with the heavyweights. He embodies Abel with an intelligence and knowledge that few actors can do with a handful of scenes. He’ll be nominated for an Oscar and should win.

Thomas Newman’s tremendous score elevates important scenes in the film, heightening a situation or lending a beautiful grace to others. The thing about background music in movies is that it can enhance an ordinary exchange of dialogue into some poetic. His work here evokes shades of his Road to Perdition and Shawshank Redemption scores.

Here is a film about war with barely any violence in it. All tension. Hanks and Spielberg capture something unique at the movies. A film that is perfectly conceived, meaningful and a powerful history lesson about one man helping two countries connect if for just one moment on a bridge.

You may not see a better movie in 2015 than Bridge of Spies. Skip the hesitation and go see this film. It isn’t just good. It demands your attention. It is easily the best film I’ve see in 2015 and a sure sign that the heavyweights are operating the controls as the make believe desk after a rather ordinary slate of films.

Have a TV and the time? Watch Ed Burns’ Public Morals

public-morals-posterA great new TV show reminds you of a great movie or show from the past while providing a fresh coat of paint to remind you what you are seeing is genuine. Edward Burns’ brilliant new show on TNT, Public Morals, wrapped up its first season Tuesday night.

It ended leaving the viewer wanting more and needing a few more hours with the characters that Burns created from the brush strokes of his father(a former cop) telling him stories from his time on the job. With Burns, you get two things. Authenticity and confidence. A seasoned storyteller, he doesn’t waste a single shot.

Season 1 opened with the streets of the Hell’s Kitchen seemingly being held in check by Terry Muldoon(Burns) and his crew from the Public Morals division. They aren’t just badges covered in suits. They are everything that exists between the hammer of a judge’s gavel to the darkness seen under the front tip of a fedora to the person who may bail you out of trouble. Some may call them corrupt but back then they were the owners of the streets that dictated where the rule breakers could do their business. As Burns explained to a new young officer in the PMD, Shea(Brian Wiles) in the penultimate episode, “There are laws and there are rules. Over time, you’ll understand the difference.” The Public Morals Division determines where the laws end and the rules begin.

All of that gets messy when Muldoon’s uncle, Mr. O(Timothy Hutton) gets killed and a street war erupts thanks to the explosive powers of Rusty Patton(silver steel eyed Neal McDonaugh, who bumped against Raylan Givens on Justified). Alliances are tested and more murders follows Mr. O’s, which puts a strain on the PMD. Thanks to Burns, the chase and pursuit of Rusty never takes center stage and every character is allowed time to get flushed out so the cardboard can’t be found in any crease, crack or corner of this show. Burns knows how to cast people who fit their roles and allow the audience to fail to see an actor and instead a convincing performance.

Burns is the anchor that guides this ship. As Muldoon, he is neither sympathetic or sinister but blunt throughout. The understated actor truly has a gift of delivering dialogue without overacting or squeezing too much juice from the lines. To say he was born to play the leader of this pack is like saying New York Mets’ hero Daniel Murphy was kind of made for the postseason spotlight. It just fits.

The rest of the cast is handpicked with style and reason. Take Michael Rapaport’s Charlie Bullman, Muldoon’s second in command and hard charging tough guy. He talks like a Hell’s Kitchen refugee, pushes Shea around and seems to be tougher than the hardest nail but he has a soft spot for a hooker he can’t resist helping. There’s the young gun, Sean O’Bannon(Austin Stowell, who you will see in theaters this week in Bridge of Spies), a man too dangerous to be a cop and too noble to be a crook. He’s also Mr. O’s son, which puts a healthy spin on things. The other guys in the division(the joker Patrick Murney and the wild man Wass Stevens) feel like they walked off a bus that time traveled from the 1960’s. Peter Gerety is a gem as Muldoon’s father, a former badge who can’t seem to let go of the job or trust that his son is doing the right thing.

Don’t forget firecrackers like Aaron Dean Eisenberg as Richie Kane, a man out for revenge, control, power and anything else he can handle. Here is a guy who doesn’t engage in a gun fight in a hallway until he puts on his fedora and leather jacket. A guy who stabs a man in a street and rolls him under a bus. There’s a scene involving Kane and a few guys in a bar that reminded me of Steven Seagal’s Out for Justice. You’ll get a lot of throwbacks here. There are hints of Goodfellas, Mean Streets, The Godfather, and other classics on display.

The ladies on the show aren’t just femme fatales worthy but strong women. Elizabeth Masucci is Muldoon’s wife, a woman desperate to get her kids out of a dangerous place. Katrina Bowden is Fortune, the girl rocking Bullman’s world in more ways than one. Lyndon Smith pretty much steals the last episode as Dee, Sean’s on/off again woman who holds a secret from him as Season 1 closes. The men may hold the firepower, but the ladies are just as dangerous in this world.

The real gem of Season 1 is Brian Dennehy as Joe Patton, Rusty’s father and kingpin of the Kitchen. Imagine an older Michael Corleone mixed with his father Don but more tired, and you have Dennehy’s Patton. He rocks an Irish accent like you never saw him in First Blood and makes you feel his bleeding heart as his choices shrink in the final hours. After being gone for a little while, Dennehy’s roars back with his work here.

Season 1 doesn’t end with all cases resolved. There isn’t a big showdown between Terry and Rusty. Richie doesn’t get his day in court. There isn’t a shootout in a train station(sorry Untouchables fans). No churches get shot up. The first season ends with a quiet scene between a man and a woman working in opposite worlds who nearly light a fire around their lives. It ends abruptly and without closure, leaving you wanting more. There’s more story to tell, folks. Hell’s Kitchen wasn’t tamed with a ten hour binge. There’s life left in these legs and you’ll want more. Trust me.

public-moralsAs you watch, you’ll know it counts. All his life, Burns wanted to make the Irish American gangster/cop saga, an equivalent to Martin Scorsese’s Italian American films. He had scripts upon scripts of nearly made stories. Dusty stacks of paper called Stoolie and No Sleep Til Brooklyn(Get the full story in Burns’ book, Independent Ed).

It wasn’t until he met Steven Spielberg on the set of Saving Private Ryan that Public Morals got its first tank of gas.  Spielberg helped the show find TNT and eventually, get its legs and find the air. Nearly two decades later, the show has arrived and if TNT is smart, they’ll set these plain clothes badges on the loose next year for Season 2.

Public Morals unleashes a wave of nostalgia over the viewer while putting a fresh spin on the hoods, badges and reckless world of the 1960’s. Pulled from his dad’s stories on the job, Edward Burns has created what could be his masterpiece if TNT allows him to finish the story. It’s classy, powerful, expertly written and authentically pieced together with stellar acting to steer the ship.

It has the same kind of Tommy Gun rapid fire dialogue from his early works like Brothers McMullen and She’s The One, but it’s infused with a hyper kinetic tribute to the tough guys of the 60’s who backed up their talk with action. If you are a Burns’ fan, this will go down like a perfectly cooked steak. If you don’t, it may convince you what you have been missing.

Towards the end of the season finale, the baddest gun on the show who goes by the name Monk(the larger than life Ray Wiederhold), tells a guy before he takes away the rest of his life and buries his memories, “As long as I have a thought and a soul”. That’s how I sell this show. If you have a TV and the time, take a trip to the opposite side of town that Mad Men took place on, the hardened bloody streets of Hell’s Kitchen. Where the good guys carried an extra shade of grey, the women took advantage of that anger and power, and the bad guys scrambled to stay in the game.

If you haven’t watched,  I suggest you grab a blanket, some strong coffee and go catch up. Like now. It’s got class, patience, precise action and a wise guy spirit.

imageThank you for this, Ed.

The Arch and St. Louis at the Movies

Being a native of St. Louis, it’s always a kick to see your hometown in the movies. That moment when you smile at the sight of the Arch, Laclede’s Landing or perhaps Grand boulevard. It’s a small proud moment. Sometimes, films don’t actually film there but basically show an air shot that they put into their movie without actually shooting a single take there. Movies like the Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy comedy, Identity Thief. Parenthood, the 1989 Ron Howard film, was set in St. Louis but shot in Orlando.

Due to St. Louis’ high tax rate for film crews, a lot of films aren’t actually shot in St. Louis but the coverage is basically taken for a location device. Sometimes, a film uses exteriors and shoots in The Lou. Here are a few.

American Flyers(1985)-This Kevin Costner bicycle riding flick opened its film with a moving shot of Laclede’s Landing and the Arch. Before he became a star with No Way Out and his numerous baseball titles, Costner shot a movie in St. Louis with director John Badham.

White Palace(1990)-This James Spader-Susan Sarandon romance shot in numerous locations across St. Louis, including Duffy’s Restaurant, Laclede’s Landing, The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and Lemp Mansion. They shot at a diner called White Knight(a place that still stands today at 18th Street and Olive) several times, renaming the diner in the film “White Palace”. I visited this place numerous times with my dad before school as a kid. A poster of the film hangs in the place.

Planes Trains & Automobiles(1987)-The John Hughes film starring Steve Martin and John Candy shot briefly at Lambert International Airport and featured a shot of the Arch.

National Lampoons Vacation(1983)-A scene where Clark Griswold drives lost through East St. Louis asking for directions and having his car vandalized was actually filmed on a Hollywood backlot and not in East St. Louis, which sparked a controversy. Only exterior shots were used for this film. The infamous scene where Chevy Chase utters the words “Excuse me homes” was not shot in St. Louis.

Manhunter(1986)-The Michael Mann classic with William Petersen chasing a serial killer shot at Lambert International Airport in a brief scene.

Up in the Air(2009)The George Clooney film is the most recent and notable St. Louis film because it didn’t just show the Arch but shot in many locations in St. Louis. They shot at Afton High School, Cheshire Inn in Clayton, and at Lambert as well. They shot many scenes at business buildings right next to KSDK on Market Street off 7th, 8th and 9th street.

Escape from New York(1981)-The Kurt Russell adventure film shot scenes at Union Station, Chain of Rocks Bridge and the Fox Theater as well as featuring the Arch.

King of The Hill(1993)-Steven Soderbergh’s indie shot set in the Depression Era in Soulard’s Market as well as other locations around St. Louis.

Mississippi Grind(2015)-The Ryan Reynolds gambling film features several locations in St. Louis but has a long single take where Reynolds talks with Sienna Miller on a boat going down the Mississippi River and the Arch and Riverfront are in the background.

Showing the Arch is one thing but it’s extra special when actual famous locations in St. Louis are used in films. Sometimes a film just wants exterior shots but sometimes they want both. I hope you enjoyed this list as much I did bringing it to you.