Month: February 2016

Vinyl: HBO’s best series since Sopranos

Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

When I heard Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger were cooking up an HBO series about the music business in the 1970’s, I didn’t want to believe it. My brain wouldn’t compute what my heart was dancing around my chest about. Arguably the greatest director of all time and the greatest rock n’ roll front man baking a drama cake at the premium cable network giant that collects Emmy awards like I collect coffee mugs. Are you talking to me? No way. Then it happened. Vinyl was a reality.

Two episodes and three hours into this wonderful Sunday exodus, I want more. Right now. There’s a reason HBO renewed this series after one night. You don’t let gold leave the hotel room if you have it for the entire night. You don’t let gold get away so Lena Dunham can whine about her existential crisis for another couple seasons. Vinyl hits a cueball shot back to the glory days of HBO. Sopranos, The Wire, Oz and Boardwalk Empire. Shows that didn’t care if you dug them because they had swagger and walked like a heavyweight. (more…)

Stallone and Rocky:40 years bookended by Oscar

“It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Sylvester Stallone wrote those words and embodies them every time he climbs into the skin of his most legendary character, Rocky Balboa. Before he was a superstar and high paid action hero, he was an underdog in Hollywood.

The endurance has paid off. It took 40 years and seven films for Stallone to truly give a performance that deserved an Oscar. On February 28th, he will and should win the best supporting actor award for Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan. The young actor and director brought a reluctant Stallone out of retirement to play a character he seemingly “put to bed comfortably” ten years ago. Fortune has a sense of humor, because Creed became a critical darling, a breakout hit and perhaps another Rocky/Creed story.

It all started back in 1976, when an unknown actor brought a script to a pair of producers about a fighter with a million to one shot and wanted to get it made. Stallone wanted to do whatever it took to get his foot in the door and Rocky was it. It wasn’t easy. The studio didn’t want a 30 year old actor taking the part, but eventually Sly won them over and played a part in casting and the actual fight choreography. The film was made for 960,000 dollars and ended up making 117 million, playing in theaters for over a year and winning three Academy Awards.

The film spawned five sequels, with the last having Balboa fight a heavyweight champion(and real life boxer in Antonio Tarver) in an exhibition. That was supposed to be it. A below than average fifth film, starring Tommy Morrison, was erased and the ending of Rocky Balboa was perfect, with the aging fighter sitting at the love of his life’s resting spot.

Then, Coogler, a die hard Rocky fan, came calling with an idea. Let’s take Rocky’s former nemesis and late friend, Apollo Creed, and bring his son Adonis(Jordan) into the picture to truly place bookends on the franchise and potentially bolster a whole new avenue of films. The gamble was plentiful. Critics and audiences spent the months leading up to Creed’s release pondering the worth and motive of another Rocky film. When it came out, the doubts were put to rest. Critics loved it. Audiences were blown away by it. The Thanksgiving release date was a first round knockout.

The signature ingredient was Stallone and an unforgettable performance. The actor, turning 70 in July, had never been better. As Balboa or any other character. Creed brought something out in the actor that people hadn’t seen before. A true authentic and heartbreaking portrayal of a broken down fighter, living alone and fighting off isolation and death. In a classic scene, Rocky urges Adonis to maintain perspective. “Everything I have is dead and buried. It’s back there. In the past.”

Gray and weathered nearly down to the bone, Sly gave his best performance in 73 movies spanning 46 years. It was so unexpected because while he was good and sometimes great as Rocky, Creed showed a different side of Sly. Equal parts defiant and tragic, it brought tears to my eyes when I watched it. It was like he was climbing into the skin of this character for the first time.

The first film Sly played in was The Party at Kitty and Stud’s back in 1970. He made 15 films before he got Rocky. 40 years later, he will step back onto the Oscar red carpet not accepting a “thanks for your service” Lifetime Achievement Award. He will be fighting for an Oscar for the first time since he was nominated for the original film. He should win. No other performance made you feel like Stallone’s did. The nostalgia and grace combined with the unexpected dose of feeling. Sure, Mark Rylance and Mark Ruffalo are brilliant actors, but I am expected to be blown away by their work. Sly’s work in Creed was like a hook to the ribs. I never saw it coming. That deserves recognition.

When Stallone stands up to accept the award later this month, expect the longest standing ovation. Why? There’s a little Rocky in all of us. Regular people who strive to be their best every day and fight against the odds to win, whether it be a business meeting, an evening run or a personal goal. The ring for us rests everywhere we go every day. When you get out of that bed, you are stepping into a ring of numerous possibility. We are all underdogs facing a million to one shot. People can relate to that, and they gravitate towards it.

Sylvester Stallone wasn’t handed anything. He’s earned it every step of the way. At the 2016 Academy Awards, he will step on that stage, shed a tear, thank a lot of people and represent a winner.

He took the hits Hollywood gave him and kept on coming. Long may you run, Sly.

Crossbones: “Captain America: Civil War”Secret Weapon

While everyone gears up for Iron Man(Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America(Chris Evans) to clash along with their teams of handpicked Avengers, I will be waiting for the entrance of one man. A simple man.

He doesn’t have a superpower. He doesn’t fly, shrink, enlarge or wield a hammer. Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones doesn’t need any of those attributes. In Captain America: Civil War, he is a man out for cold hard revenge. As Steven Seagal once said in an action adventure gem, Out For Justice, Brock may have a “need to impose his will” on his enemies.

Why? At the end of Winter Soldier, he was left for dead under a pile of concrete. After beating Anthony Mackie’s Falcon all over the room, the building collapsed and there was no cool helicopter rescue from Nick Fury for the Hydra soldier. While Rumlow may have died there, Crossbones is what came out of that rubble. He plans on putting a hurt on not only Captain America but whoever else steps into his path this spring.

The first pic of Crossbones was released Monday via Empire Magazine(and it’s fantastic), but I’ve been studying set pics and comic book storylines from this character for a long time. I like simple guys, driven by a certain code or need. While some will be quick to call him a villain, I don’t agree with that. Neither would Grillo. Frank once told me that “They aren’t villains. They may be horrible, but it’s only one side of an ideology. It’s two sides of a different idea. I can find humanity in that and that is what it’s all about. The craft.” That’s Crossbones, a man scarred beyond repair and out for blood. Please don’t call him a traditional villain. You may get punched.

When I think of Rumlow/Crossbones, I think of Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye. He doesn’t have a superpower, but he has a skill and that is good enough to place him in this world. Barton was once an agent himself, and in some other world maybe Rumlow goes a different way and fights for a different cause. In Civil War, he is clearly fighting for his own cause.

You haven’t seen Grillo’s Crossbones in action during the first round of trailers for the May film, but that could be by design from the Russo Brothers. They know that they have something special in this baddie, and want to save him for opening night. While there will be shields, laser beams shot out of hands, and other superpowers on display, Crossbones doesn’t require any of that. He is one of the few Marvel characters who won’t require a single shred of CGI enhancement or aid. What you see is what you get. And it will be a handful.

The character is an embodiment of Grillo and his everyday hustle as an actor in Hollywood. Someone who had to create his own luck, destiny and fight for every scrap he could get. There’s a respect and honor in that particular fight that makes me excited to see what the Russo Brothers, Grillo and Crossbones have in store for me come May. Will the film follow the course of the comics and have Rumlow be the guy to take down Steve Rodgers? I don’t think so but I wouldn’t put anything past Marvel giant Kevin Feige and these filmmakers.

Whatever happens, Crossbones will leave a dent, physically and psychologically. A man apart, Grillo brings him to vivid life in Captain America: Civil War on May 6th. Have any doubts, give the pic another look. Yeah, be afraid. Just be glad it’s all make believe.

Manny Pacquiao no longer has my respect

Go ahead and take yourself off the Christmas list, Manny Pacquiao.

The Filipino boxing star, set for his final bout in April, said something incredibly stupid and hateful this past week. By comparing homosexuals and lesbians who come together in same sex marriage to “animals”, Pacquiao quickly went from my favorite boxer to someone I couldn’t care less for. Yeah, it can happen that quick.

Athletes are free to have opinions. Part of what connects them to us. While they are ungodly gifted with a certain talent, they have feelings, beliefs and opinions like the rest of us. If Pacquiao doesn’t belief in same sex marriage, that is fine. PLENTY of people don’t. Hence why it took so long to become a legal thing in the United States of America. When he compares them to animals, he goes to a whole other level. Simply because a man decides to spend their intimate hours with another man, Pacquiao will now classify those two men as animals. (more…)

Deadpool: A different kind of Marvel film

Thank you Ryan Reynolds for giving the Wade Wilson story a fair shake. The memory of sad Wade with his mouth sewn shut in Wolverine Origins is comfortably sitting in my recycle bin right now thanks to the over the top, blissfully gratuitous, blood drunk and utterly hilarious Deadpool. The perfect recipe for Valentines Day escapism!

Here is a movie that will appeal to comic book fans, especially the ones who were angered by the abuse of Deadpool in previous projects. It will also appeal to the people who hate all the Marvel sequels and comic book retreads because there is more self aware humor and self deprecation in this film than all the other Marvel films combined. Reynolds, along with director Tim Miller and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, take shots at X-Men films, Wolverine, and other movies(Liam Neeson in Taken among them) here. It’s a free for all. Nobody is protected and it’s all done in the name of entertainment.

At its core, Deadpool is feverish entertainment that you can’t find anywhere else. It may be a fast talking and moving movie about a mercenary full of cancer, dread and deadly thoughts who collects some revenge inside 108 minutes of screen time. It’s also a really good time at the movies and one that will make you laugh out loud. For all of you who thought the red band trailers gave away too much humor and would overshadow the movie, rest easy my little chimichangas. This film isn’t just packed with good one liners that will make you grin. There are several scenes that will make you laugh repeatedly. It is more of a comedy than a serious Marvel film. And yes, it is a Marvel film because Stan Lee shows up.

The key to the madness is Reynolds. It took a truly rebellious spirit to get this material right. Several actors would have chewed up the material or merely try to spray Pam all over it and slide to a paycheck. Reynolds goes the other way and digs in. He wanted to make this movie 10 years ago and finally got some friendly faces to join in on the fun to make a seemingly low budget riot that gambled on an R rating and smashed box office records over the weekend thanks to its strong follow through.

Reynolds is a unique talent, built early on the strength of comedies like National Lampoons Van Wilder, Waiting and Just Friends before growing into a versatile talent with films like Buried, Woman in Gold, and Mississippi Grind. Deadpool was made for Reynolds. This is his home run swing and massive bat flip to the producers who don’t know how to handle precious cargo. The actor expertly splices action, comedy, and an easy going confidence into a grand performance that won’t sing Oscar but instead roll in cash the rest of the month. Few times do an actor and a role seem made for each other, but the spices in the Deadpool recipe called for some Reynolds.

The supporting cast all bring different and much needed strokes to the film. Ed Skrein(Transporter Refueled and Game of Thrones) is the perfect “British Villain”. T.J. Miller and Reynolds have some of the best scenes between superhero and “much needed friend who owns a bar”. Morena Baccarin(Homeland) adds something extra to the “hot girlfriend” role while Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand and the motion capture work of Stefan Kepicic.

After I left the movie, I texted my friend who hates anything and everything cinematic with comic book in the description and said this movie was made for him. Deadpool isn’t just a good time at the movies. It’s a dish that can be savored a few times because rarely do action, comics, comedy and self awareness fit so comfortably together as they do here.

Take your friends and family to see it. It’s something different and truly original in its makeup and execution. A unique blend of Marvel entertainment.

More than anything, Deadpool shows that when a studio treats a product with not only care but respect, really good things can happen.

Marrying at 23 years old: Best Move I Ever Made

11 years ago, at a place called Orlando Gardens off Watson Road in St. Louis, I married my wife Rachel. I was 23 years old, mostly clueless but sure about one thing. I loved this woman and everything else would sort itself out. That’s life. It doesn’t give you all the answers early on but when a beautiful tough and resilient five foot three inch lady stands in front of you, you get down on a fucking knee.

Rae and I

Around 15 years ago(add a few months to that), I proposed to my wife at a Dave Matthews Band concert. In a haze of reefer and great music, I decided to pop the question. I didn’t have a ring. Only a promise. As Dave played “Where Are You Going”, I took his lead and asked her a question. When you pop the question at a young age, nerves and uneasiness crawl up inside your body like insurgents. Most people fail because they do it to fix something in their life. Some do it because it’s cool. Others watch too many movies. I did it because I wanted to spend some time with this woman. The girl that burned a hole in my back outside Hatch Hall at Mizzou. The girl who left a note on my dorm room door asking me when I was going to ask her out(I was working the manual scoreboard that weekend!). (more…)

“Can’t Stop Colin”: The true story of fighting cancer at a young age

“Can’t Stop Colin” isn’t just a mantra for the Schlereth Family. It is a way of life. Remember that cool video the St. Louis Blues tweeted out in late January about a young man returning to the ice after a long battle with cancer. Well, here is his story. Meet Colin.

Colin Schlereth hasn’t endured a normal childhood, but the one thing he has never let go of is the pursuit of happiness. He has digested a different value of life and how to live through a unique battle with cancer, one that caught up to him nearly two years ago. Armed with an excellent team of doctors and nurses at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and an assist from the St. Louis Blues, he is thriving today. It wasn’t easy this bright.

Colin’s mom, Becky, remembers the early warning signs. “It’s hard to watch because he started skating at age 3. He’s a beautiful skater and was going up and up. Then, it was an entire year of watching him deteriorate on the ice. We wondered if it was his skates or something making him disengage. It didn’t make sense. We bought two pairs of skates. Then he got a hockey concussion because he was so unbalanced and got thrust into the boards on a hit. The concussion was only the first warning sign. After three months of continued problems, headaches, bigger falls and dizziness, Becky called a sports concussion doctor. An MRI revealed the tumor. (more…)

New “Purge” film: Get your Frank Grillo on

Time for you all to get your Grillo on, folks!

The veteran action star has returned for another night of Purging. The third film in the series centers on the upcoming election and Frank Grillo’s ex-cop has joined the team of Elizabeth Mitchell’s idealistic Presidential candidate, Charlene Roan. She wants to end the Purge, and that means a lot of fellow Washington suits and other groups want her gone. So it’s up to Grillo’s Leo Barnes to save the day again. He has a little help though, in the form of Mykelti Williamson and other Roan supporters.

While the original Purge was entertaining and different, it lacked that distinct must see quality. The Purge: Anarchy brought that to the table, taking the hunt and survival game to the streets. It also informed the rest of the world about Grillo, one of the hardest working hustlers in the business. At the crisp yet subtle age of 52 years young, Grillo is showing these other wannabe action stars how it is done. He’s authentic and that is what separated the sequel from the original.

The third film has a witty twist to it, jumping ahead to the present and putting a female candidate at the forefront. The third film wasn’t a given, but something Grillo and director James DeMonaco decided to do again. Grillo elaborated in our chat last month, “They weren’t planning on doing another one. The second one surprised everybody. (James) DeMonaco and I looked at each other. He said, “You want to do another one?” I said I would if he would, and that’s how it all began.”

The Purge: Election Year takes Grillo’s character, Leo Barnes, from a street avenger in Anarchy to a man with a new lease on life. “You basically get a knowledge of why they called him Sergeant and he goes back to what he was doing before the second film, based off the events of “Anarchy”. You also see from a political standpoint what the purge is really about.”

There’s also an unlikely and completely fortuitous link to Donald Trump in the film. “It’s funny because the film parallels this thing going on with Donald Trump and the election. There’s a character really similar to Trump in the film and it’s by complete accident.”

There are plenty of sequels that shouldn’t happen or merely happen to serve a profit(looking at you Saw franchise). Others, like this one, are made because the audience demanded it and because there is an ability to combine guilty pleasure action and world weary fear.

And, Frank Grillo is involved. The Purge: Election Year arrives on July 4th. Show some self respect and watch The Purge: Anarchy on demand, on Itunes, on DVD or via a neighbor’s goodwill. Trust me it will be worth it.

Peyton Manning: Take the ring and hang it up

That’ll do, Peyton Manning.

Aided by a vicious defense led by Von Miller and a running game anchored by C.J. Anderson, Manning has collected that elusive second Super Bowl, with Denver beating the Carolina Panthers 24-10. The one he needed to vindicate a Hall of Fame career that hopefully ended on Sunday night in San Francisco.

Manning became the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. He became the only quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. He has collected 200 wins, between the regular season and the playoffs, and that is also a record. Add in a slew of regular season records and Manning has done it all. For the postseason, he completes 63 percent of his passes and threw 40 touchdowns against 25 interceptions.

Manning admitted in the week leading up to Super Bowl 50 that he wasn’t exactly Bruce Springsteen anymore. “I’m still a part of the band. I’m not the lead singer, but I can still play a few solos.” He isn’t what he used to be, but that was by design. The Broncos defense, the quickest in the lead, didn’t need Manning to be Joe Montana out there. Wade Phillips defensive schemes were more than enough to sink the ship of Tom Brady and scramble the brain of the young Cam Newton. All Manning had to do was take the field, limit the mistakes, make some precise passes and hand the ball off.

He went from  the guy who wasn’t supposed to play football five years ago after four neck surgeries to a guy tossing a two point conversion at the end of Super Bowl 50 to pound the nail into the coffin of another team. The Colts cast him off after he was deemed damaged goods. When he brought Denver back to the Super Bowl two years ago, the Seattle Seahawks embarrassed him. He was denied against New Orleans years earlier. Today, he can wake up and acknowledge that he was able to bring the Broncos back to the promised land at the rye old age of 39 years old. The only guy who can claim to do that this late in the game is the guy who brought Peyton to Denver. A man named John Elway.

Now, Manning should ride off into the sunset. Hop on a bronco, grab his hat, sit high and ride off. He should say no to that lame offer from Stan Kroenke and the LA Rams when it comes in. Flip Stan the bird as you ride past his house. He has no reason to go out there and be a part of that circus, unless he wants to be laid out at least 4-5 times per game behind that weak offensive line. The Rams are 5 years away from thinking about a Super Bowl, so forget it. There’s no need to be Johnny Unitas or Joe Namath on a football field, existing as more of a prop and marketing tool than an actual football player. Manning should walk away a champion while his back is straight and his brain is intact. Very few players leave when it’s right in their head and heart.

Let me give you some numbers before I leave.

In his career during the regular season, Manning completed 6,125 passes for 71,940 yards(40.8 miles worth). He threw 539 touchdowns and 251 interceptions while fumbling 47 times in 266 games with a 96.5 passer rating. He won a pair of Super Bowls to go with those stellar stats.

Peyton Manning will retire. Bet on it. He will rest, talk with his family, hug his son, kiss his wife and drink some Budweiser. He’ll film a dozen commercials and host Saturday Night Live. He will hang out, reap the rewards of a 17 year career. He will hang out a little and decide if he has thrown his last pass. Sometime this month or next, before the NFL draft unfolds and training camp uncoils, Manning will call it a day. He can’t go out on a higher note and will hopefully resist the Brett Favre body assault tour.

Peyton Manning loves football, so I can only hope he takes that passion to the sidelines and becomes a coach. He won’t be able to stay away and will stick around to keep an eye on his brother and the upcoming fleet. He has one of the smartest minds in the game and doesn’t need to be a color analyst next to Joe Buck or cram into a booth with Boomer and Steve Young. Be a coach. He will make a great head coach one day.

When Manning threw his last college football pass, I was a freshman in high school. When he won his first Super Bowl I had been married for two years. As he contemplates retirement, my son is four years old. Every football fan has their guy. The one they root for no matter what. Manning is my guy.

It’s time for my guy to hang it up. He’s at the top of the mountain. Everybody is looking up at him now. He is the star. One last time. There’s a reason several Broncos and Panthers players broke out their camera phones to snap photos of Manning and get a moment with him.

Everybody wants to share the stage with a legend.

Ben Affleck: The Saving Grace of Batman V. Superman

It’s funny how one TV spot can change fans opinion of an actor’s take on a role. The latest Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer focused heavily on Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman, finally unleashing the sinister nature of the new Bat. Apparently, Wayne doesn’t like the potential damage an alien can bring to Earth. Check it out.

Affleck will save this film from being a campy overstuffed mess. I said it then and stand by it now. When he was first announced as the next Batman years ago, the dawn of fan hatred began. They threatened everything close to Affleck except for his beloved Boston Red Sox and lovely ex-wife Jennifer Garner. It was a serious revolt and worse than the Daniel Craig/James Bond dirt talk.

Why? A number of reasons that all centered around one. Affleck sucked in Daredevil. There are other reasons people will list, but this one takes the cake. The last time Affleck put on tights and tried to be noble, the result was a flop and something Netflix had to clean up later(ironically, the new season of Daredevil premieres a week after Bat and Sup do battle). The reality is that Daredevil was terrible on a whole new level and not just with Affleck. Mark Steven Johnson’s directing was wretched, Garner wasn’t good at all, and the saving grace was Colin Farrell, having too much fun as Bullseye.

Affleck has made a strong comeback in the last ten years, getting nominated for Oscars and directing a trio of films(Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo) that stand up to any other director’s last three films. He has also become a better actor by mixing himself into ensembles and taking the right parts to properly utilize his talent. Love or hate the guy, there’s rapid truth to the fact that he can’t miss right now.

Warner Brothers seems to think his performance is pretty good. Many if not all of the recent TV Spots have focused on Batman and many of the trailers have as well. Director Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel was a good if not great film and the studio declined to give him another stand alone Superman film. Isn’t that telling?

Warner Brothers has dished out three Batman film per decade and only give Snyder one Superman film even after it made some good money. Why? They like Batman more and really like Affleck’s take on the character. Why else would you see Batman in Suicide Squad and there be confirmed rumors of a feature length stand alone Affleck Batman film? A studio doesn’t pour 200-300 million dollars into a guy they are not sure about. They all know Affleck is going to be fantastic as Wayne and do Batman justice as well.

It’s the perfect mix of actor and role, especially since this Batman is older, edgier and has something to prove. Affleck nearly didn’t take the role before Snyder told him what the world around Batman was and how he would fit into it. This is not your ordinary Batman. This is a mad man and someone who saw lives lost in the finale of Man of Steel, a huge plot point and basis of fan criticism that is playing a role in the new film.

Stop worrying about whether Affleck will be as good as Bale and check your hatred at the door knowing he won’t be as bad as Tobey Maguire was as Peter Parker. Ben Affleck will be the best part of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. He will be the one you will be walk away talking about. The film, well, that is still a mystery.

Affleck is a reason for even the casual comic book movie and film lovers to take a chance with this summer tentpole.