Captain Fantastic: One of the best films of 2016

Viggo Mortenson is mesmerizing in writer/director Matt Ross’ indie gem.

Is it better to be sheltered from the storm or released into the wild at birth? Writer/Director Matt Ross(you know him Silicon Valley and Big Love) gets that theory wet like a sponge and throws it against the wall in one of 2016’s most unexpected cinematic pleasures. Captain Fantastic will make you think and explore the idea of when innocence should end. It’s also brilliantly odd, inventive, and easily one of the best films I’ve seen in 2016. Good luck getting this film out of your head.

With the help of Viggo Mortenson(first film in years) and an expertly chosen cast of kids and teens, Captain Fantastic explores what it would be like to raise your family on nothing but the great outdoors. Instead of a cell phone game of candy crush or Pokemon, your oldest son would fully understand the complex music of famous conductors and recite poetry. Instead of playing with action figures, your eight year old would be able to dish her take on the Bill of Rights. A family outing would include hunting and killing a deer and engaging in a morning class of yoga and cross fit.

 

Mortenson’s Ben has raised his kids up tough and gruff in the beautiful outdoor land of the Pacific Northwest. Along with his wife, they have created a life for themselves off the grid and without the need for electronics. A knife is a kid’s favorite tablet in Ross’ world and the film creates a quirky exercise when a tragedy forces the family to join the “other world” for a funeral.

Unknown Object

Ross’ film will make you uncomfortable while making your mind divulge into deep thought about the way a child should be raised. He injects provocative theories on modern society and what triggers a child’s growth. Ross gives every voice a chance to speak in this film. Mortenson’s ideals are challenged when he is confronted with a “conventional practitioner” in his sister in law(Kathryn Hahn). When he is confronted by his father in law(Frank Langhella) for an injury to a child, the father is challenged in a completely different way. Continue reading “Captain Fantastic: One of the best films of 2016”

‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is perfect summer movie diversion

A heartfelt comic adventure that is tailor made for the summer crowd.

There are certain films that you just don’t see coming. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of those cinematic adventures that sweeps you right off your feet in the best way because it comes out of nowhere. It is also the emergence of young star Julian Dennison.

What’s it all about? A simple story about a couple outsiders drifting into the great outdoors in hopes of finding something worth living for. Add in a crazy counselor, some police, and a fair mix of comedy and drama and you have a quiet summer gem. Adapted from Barry Crump’s novel, writer/director Taika Waititi(who delivered the indie darling, What We Do in The Shadows) crafts a film that suits a teenager or their grandfather.

Remember Sam O’Neil? The Jurassic Park actor barely works these days but picks up the right speed of wise knowledge here playing Hector, the foster uncle of the young rebellious Ricky(Dennison). When Hector and Bella(Rima Te Wiata) adopt Ricky, they are warned that he “burns things, hits things, does bad things” and is a general nuisance to society. A modern Dennis The Menace. Is there a chance he could just be a kid who has been passed from home to home and just needs the right family to settle down? Without getting heavy, the film has a poetic stroke about the misconception of foster children. Continue reading “‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is perfect summer movie diversion”

Kingdom Q&A: Mac Brandt 

The life of an actor isn’t all magazine cover shoots and hotel rooms. For hard working grunts like AT&T Kingdom star Mac Brandt, sometimes a phone interview with a TV critic happens while you were on the road. As Brandt traveled from set in New Mexico, he spoke with me about Audience Network’s breakout MMA series Kingdom.

A chat between a diehard Chicago Cubs fan and St. Louis Cardinals addict didn’t include any blood through the phone line, but just a couple guys discussing a show they love.


Buffa: Is this cross city New Mexico trip some kind of hidden Kingdom spin-off?

Brandt: A Mac solo road trip. No, I’m working on a show called Night Shift. I worked on it last year and they brought me back. It’s the guy who wrote on the first season of Kingdom.

Buffa: Work is work, my friend.

Brandt: Absolutely. It’s a good thing. Last year, I was this bada** special forces guy in Afghanistan. Now I’m back and I have PTSD and it’s really cool.

Buffa: We have another season of Kingdom and (creator) Byron Balasco doesn’t waste any time giving us Ryan and Jay showdown. Were you surprised with how that fight played out?

Brandt: I loved it. I thought there was no sense in messing around. Just get to it. The show, for me, is not about fighting. It’s about the consequences of fighting. A great consequence of this fight is fallout. Kenny Florian said it, “what happens now?”. These guys are going to have to deal with it. Now you are back to the fallout of the fight instead of dealing with the fight. For me, that’s the crutch of this show.

Buffa: It’s about what they fight outside the ring. Makes for more drama.

Brandt: These guys are built to fight in the ring. They don’t know how to deal with life outside the ring.

Buffa: You can’t punch your failed romance or electric bill. I mean, you can punch your electric bill but it’s just a piece of paper.

Brandt: That makes for a bad commercial about electric bills.

Buffa: My favorite movie is Heat with Pacino and DeNiro. They talk about not wanting to do anything else in their confrontation. That’s what it is with these fighters. You are built to do one thing. These guys fight.

Brandt: You can imagine where this season is going. You have a guy like Jay. People celebrate him. I know guys like that in real life. They need to struggle. Once they get past that struggle, things go poorly. For my character, it’s great because as the Jay sidekick, if he is going to pour himself down the drain, Mac can’t stand around and watch.

Buffa: I’ve seen this week’s episode and there’s a great and tense confrontation between you and Jonathan Tucker.

Brandt: That’s my favorite scene. I love it more than anything I’ve done on that show. First, I outweigh everybody on the show by 70 pounds. I am a full head taller than most people. That scene shows only a shade of my character. That was a tough scene to shoot. I’m friend with Tucker in real life and it was hard to go in with that. We shot that in a real nasty hotel. It’s a weird thing.

Buffa: Tucker is something else. You work with a pretty elite set of actors.

Brandt: I have no problem putting this out into the world. This is the greatest collective of actors I’ve worked with. I’ve been working for 20 years, and I learn stuff on a daily basis from Tucker especially. I take things away from Frank(Grillo) and Matt(Lauria) all the time. Tucker forces you to up your game. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard and diligently as Tucker.

Buffa: I watched him on a lesser known NBC show called Black Donnelly’s and thought he was amazing.

Brandt: I loved that show.

Buffa: He has so many speeds.

Brandt: In that scene in the hotel room, he and I were comfortable enough to play pretty loose with it. He blows smoke in my face and it’s very close to my eye. I told him to get his hand out of my face and that wasn’t scripted. That was us fighting away through that scene. He put that cigarette too close to my face. And it was great. We walked out of it and said, “Yep, that’s it.” He’s doing something no one else is doing on television.

Buffa: He’s a truck racing down a hill.

Brandt: You don’t want to be anywhere near him. Matt does this thing and it might be my favorite thing I’ve seen an actor do. It’s that quiet scream tremor. It’s so jarring and violent. I watched it twice when I first watched it.

Buffa: It’s amazing what these actors do without a script.

Brandt: I’ll tell you. That is the gift of Byron Balasco. He pours his heart and soul into every script. He crafts every word and every movement but the second we start doing it he lets you do what you want. If you want to do something, you do it. The environment on the show is unlike anything he’s ever worked on.

Buffa: He’s setting the tone for TV with MMA shows and fight show. I got sucked into this show quick.

Brandt: It’s amazing. It has to get word of mouth. I’m out in Albuquerque and people know about the show because Greg Jackson(Kingdom consultant) is out here. Their first question is where do I find it and that’s what we are fighting right now. You got the same thing with Breaking Bad. Once I found it, there was no going back. Kingdom will be the same way. Once people find it, it will spread like wildfire.

Buffa: It’s one of those shows where I will watch each individual episode 2-3 times. It’s like squeezing a steak over a grill and getting every ounce of juice out of it. I was crazy like this about Banshee. Kingdom is my new Banshee.

Brandt: We could have an entire conversation about Banshee. That is another show that nobody watched at first and I kept telling people to watch it. I’d never seen anything like that.

Buffa: They shot fight scenes that would never end. Unlike most shows on TV.

Brandt: There was a fight between the main actress and the Russian that lasted like 37 minutes.

Buffa: Both shows, Kingdom and Banshee, do their thing and they don’t care what you think. I use your line about Banshee with Kingdom. Show some self respect and watch this show.

Brandt: If you aren’t watching Kingdom, you don’t know what awesome TV is right now. I’m a fanboy of the show I’m on.

Buffa: How about those Cubbies of yours?

Brandt: As a Cubs fan, I think the Cards will be out of it by the All Star Break. The only rough thing they have is that bullpen. I don’t see any NL team stopping them.

Buffa: They are definitely going to be tough.

Unfortunately for Mac, the Cards swept the Cubs the week I interviewed him for this story so there is that tiny moment of victory, Cardinals fans.

Brandt couldn’t put it any better about Kingdom. If you haven’t watched it, you should. He is just another one of the grizzled vets out there working hard to stay in front of the camera. Whether it’s handling actors like Tucker in a hotel room or driving to New Mexico for work or putting his face on a Miller Lite beer commercial, Brandt does whatever it takes to “stay in the game”, as his co-star Grillo often says.

When Brandt isn’t on camera on Kingdom, you want him to return. He’s a comedic presence that has all the necessary tools to get serious very quick. A true force of nature that you will see more of as this second half of Season 2 draws to a close as the summer wages on.

You can follow Brandt on social media and catch his white hot political takes on Facebook. He’s an entertaining man and passionate about what he is doing. If that isn’t enough of a buy in as a consumer of entertainment, I don’t know what is.

 

AT&T’s ‘Kingdom’ teaser: “Halos” recap

In order to get ready for Wednesday’s all new Kingdom, catch up with my recap of last week’s episode.

What: Kingdom 

Where: AT&T’s Audience Network

When: Wednesday nights at 8 p.m.

Like father, like son is a phrase often used to show the good nature of a bond forged at birth. What if it is the other way? What if a son is like his father in dangerous and unsettling ways? The two men can’t help this. They can only attempt to control it.

With Jay Kulina(the Emmy worthy Jonathan Tucker) spiraling out of control following his victory over Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria), it’s hard not to notice the similarities between father and son. What does Alvey Kulina(Frank Grillo) do when he gets into a tough spot and has to get away? He goes to a hotel, turns off his phone, drinks like a fish, partakes in drugs, and cuts himself off from the world that scratches at his conscience.

AT&T/DirecTV
AT&T/DirecTV

Jay and Ava(Lina Esco) have taken their “Leaving Las Vegas” like plunge to the nearby Flamingo Hotel. A place that is seedy, dirty, and looks like a great spot for drug(s) be exchanged, ingested, and devoured.

Like his father, Jay is escaping from a reality he doesn’t want to participate in at the moment. Everybody wants a piece of him and he wants no piece of them. Alvey’s biggest plight in his hotel getaways is cough medicine mixed with drugs but keep in mind he’s an older man. Jay is younger and we know that Alvey snorted and injected plenty of drugs in his younger years. Like father, like son.

I’ve said it a few times but this can’t end well for Jay, Ava, or Alicia(Natalie Martinez). What started as a harmless flirtation in a gym kitchen has turned into bad news city. Maybe Ava finds good reason to run away and leave Jay alone or maybe this slide continues to twist or turn the two sinking lovers.

Alvey sees way too much Christina(Joanna Going) in Ava and it’s not a wild comparison. He knows how bad it used to get between them when they were married. Christina sees the hazards in Ava that even she doesn’t want to admit but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It’s like Jay is a runaway train and all his friends are running out of subway platforms to get him off the train. He’s beginning to enter the tunnel and the next stop isn’t a good one.

It was nice to see Wheeler share a quiet soulful moment with Jay in the bathroom at Nate’s fight. They were close friends pulled apart by a reach for professional equity and desire. Neither of them are alphas. Both of them are isolated and troubled. Ryan’s suggestion of canceling the rematch wasn’t from a needy place of his own body and mind. It was a friend reaching out and trying to help another in supreme need.

So, Nick Jonas’ Nate got back in the ring and kicked all kinds of butt. This was easily Jonas’ most impressive moment on the show. Creator Byron Balasco and his writing team seem to know that his strong suit is quiet, brooding, and simmering with rage. The fight was choreographed extremely well and the sound of silence with fists and kicks near the end was superb.

At last, Nate was able to cancel all the mechanism out and just fight. Jonas was so good in this moment. He’s gotten a few stretches this season where the stage is his. He triumphed but soon afterward was urged by his mom to help his ailing brother. Poor kid. His dad struggles to believe in him and his mom is a wrecking ball.

Lisa’s dad(Bruce Davidson) shows up and wants Alvey to resist Lisa’s urge to return to Navy Street. As a collective audience, we scream no but in the end Alvey is given a check for 200,000 dollars to make sure Lisa stays in San Francisco. Knowing Alvey and his love for chaos, I don’t think that check will be cashed or deposited. Lisa will come back soon enough, right? She has to.

How about Mac Sullivan facing down his best friend in the hotel? I spoke with Mac Brandt about this moment in the hotel and he said it was initially hard for him and real life buddy Tucker to execute this but in the end they got it done. Jay begging Mac for drugs that the big freckled dartboard doesn’t want to give him. Mac sees the train going down into the tunnel. Mac’s eyes are the audience’s lens. Nobody likes this version of Jay. It’s a very good scene.

I’ve admired the way Balasco has kept the weird odd and messed up nature of Keith(the gifted Paul Walter Hauser) under wraps for 24 episodes. When Ryan allows Alicia to stay at their place, Keith doesn’t like it at all and it’s a genuine uneasy moment. Remember folks that this guy murdered his parents and also did a few other crazy things to land himself in a halfway house. He’s insane.

Sure, he’s a smarter than you think cuddly teddy bear but he’s capable of bad things. He also adores Ryan and if someone tries to pull him away, that person may be in danger. I can’t wait to see how this develops over the final four episodes. Keep an eye on Keith.

Final thoughts:

*I love the way Wendy Moniz plays Roxanne. She loves dangerous men but she is trying as hard as she can to not fall for Alvey. She “can feel ‘Lisa'” in the house and is now a little more unsure of where this relationship is headed. Grillo and her have chemistry to burn.

*Anybody else catch that look Jay gave their new neighbor at the hotel?

*Poor Jay doesn’t know the difference between seedy “True Romance” like hotel room service and Ritzy type room service. He will soon enough.

*Alicia isn’t as misguided and dangerous as her sister but how about those lack of principles in asking Ryan if she could stay mere days after she turned him down for the same privilege?

Come back next week for more Kingdom analysis and review. Season 2B is heading in a direction that has everything to do with these characters and the consequences of their actions OUTSIDE the ring. Gritty, emotional, and powerful.

 

 

LA Rams showing no respect for STL

Who pissed in the Los Angeles Rams cherrios?

I get it. You leave a city and don’t want to keep playing nice with what is now in the past. When the Rams got up and left St. Louis on January 12th, something was cut and dropped that had been stable for 20 years. Saying nice things about St. Louis wouldn’t be in the cards but I don’t understand why the Rams are taking a giant shit on their former residence now. It’s not classy. It’s bush league. It’s a batch of bullshit.

Before the Rams open up the 2016 season with no quarterback and the same boring offensive game plan with aspirations for a lovely 5-10 finish, let me remind the organization of something. The Rams won a Super Bowl in St. Louis. Remember. Back in 1999. They went to another Super Bowl and lost in the closing seconds. St. Louis was where the Rams found their most sustainable run of success in the franchise’s history. Most of that history is utter shit. In St. Louis, they created the Greatest Show on Turf.

All they will have in Los Angeles is quarterbacks heads banging on the turf and lots of useless penalties, field goal gold star stickers, and lifeless moments where fans wonder what they are watching on the field. It will be like the good old days. Back in 1946, when the Rams formulated in LA in the first place. Anyone remember? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The Rams gathered in LA and played there for nearly 50 years before moving to St. Louis. During that time, they participated in many NFL championships and even won it in 1951. After another 1955 championship appearance, they wouldn’t see sustained playoff success until the 1970’s, culminating in a Super Bowl loss to the Steelers in 1979. They made the playoff 16 times from 1960-1989 but didn’t win the Super Bowl. That happened in St. Louis.

In 1999, against all odds, the Rams came out of nowhere and outscored, beat up, and dished knuckle sandwich specials to the NFL in route to a ring. When can fans expect that in LA? Any time soon is not the correct answer.

As much as Stan Kroenke deserves the visceral shit stain thoughts, Kevin Demoff is a real Harvey Two Face here. After telling St. Louis and local radio talent that the Rams were doing whatever was needed to stay in the Lou, he immediately started trashing us the moment the plane landed out west. I did say “us”. I am a St. Louis native so pardon me if I don’t act 100 % professional and not included “us”. We got screwed together here after all.

From the proposal statement that trashed St. Louis’ market and economic profitability to the outgoing messages on social media to LA reporters about bad it was in St. Louis, this is just a lack of class that one doesn’t see that often. I don’t remember St. Louis doing this in 1995.

All you need to know someone is to see how they act when change occurs. Messy change. The true colors of Kroenke were known years ago before he ever staged his attack on St. Louis football. Demoff and others is the colors that are now blooming like a stinky turd left out in the summer heat. It’s unfortunate and relentlessly arrogant.

The Rams have no quarterback and a head coach that hasn’t won anything since My Space was the hot fuzz on the internet. The last time Jeff Fisher won anything, flip phones were cool. The last time the Rams won in Los Angeles, Pedro Guerrero played first base for the Cardinals. I hope they go 0-16.

If anyone in LA really believes that the ownership’s unique ability to shit on a fan base will change simply because their mailing address did, think again. Watch an action film. The plot will be the same brand of ridiculousness but the happy ending will be better.

Let me make this perfectly clear. The Rams won a Super Bowl in St. Louis. That won’t happen in Los Angeles anytime soon. Trash The Lou all you want but it won’t change your approval ratings or record.

In case you missed it on We Are Live Radio’s Live Blog

AT&T’s Kingdom rewind: “Take pills” recap

The greatest fear in life is being alone. Pure isolation. In the world of AT&T’s Kingdom, that’s the 24/7/365 fear.

The idea of being alone in the end with only your whispers and weathered body to spend the final hours with. Throughout Byron Balasco’s powerful and entertaining MMA series, each of his characters biggest foe is loneliness. You can win every fight in the world, but if you come home to nothing what have you really won? Not much. The quiet theme of Kingdom is how these people feud off loneliness and isolation.

Take Jonathan Tucker’s Jay Kulina. He fears being alone so he ties himself to several people, including his brother Nate(Nick Jones, brooding like a brown eyed panther) and the new woman in his life, Ava(Lina Esco). He is a product of his environment, getting equal parts misery and rage from his mother, Christina(Joanna Going), and father, Alvey(Frank Grillo). A man who has inherited a drug addiction problem from his mother and a need to tear himself apart from his father. He’s more like Alvey in every way except for the fact that he cares too much about his mother. Continue reading “AT&T’s Kingdom rewind: “Take pills” recap”