Throwback Thursday: Vinny fighting for his life

Vinny learned to fight at a young age. We all did.

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The first thing I remember is how blue and gray my son’s face was. 

It didn’t look natural or alright, and after the color didn’t go away, Vinny went to the Children’s Hospital clinic. I was at a work function and waited for the call. As parents, you are programmed to think about the worst and hope for the best. The text message and phone call I got fell directly into the worst category.

Vinny was being rushed to the hospital via the ambulance. The color in his face wasn’t good at all and something was wrong with his heart. For some reason, his heart rate was doing a raw impersonation of Jackie Joyner Kersee. It was reaching 300 beats per minute, which is very bad.

Right away, my adrenaline spiked. A friend of mine, Eric Moore, drove me back to the warehouse, and then I drove to Children’s Hospital off Kingshighway. I honestly can’t tell you if I obeyed traffic laws or even thought about other cars, or the possibility of the police. I just got there, like I was driving the Delorean.  Continue reading “Throwback Thursday: Vinny fighting for his life”

‘Wheelman’ trailer: The love child of John Frankenheimer’s car chases and Michael Mann’s action sequences

Jeremy Rush and Frank Grillo aim for something different.

Jeremy Rush’s Netflix original film, Wheelman, features a very angry Frank Grillo-and for good reason. Grillo’s expert driver is pulled away from a job right before he is betrayed and whisked around town by a mysterious voice on a cell phone. He is shoot at repeatedly while getting his daughter out of harms way and trying to figure out who kicked him down the rabbit hole of “holy fuck” bad nights.

Rush isn’t here to make a standard action film that gives you temporary arousal; Wheelman aims to be something else. In the 100 second trailer that dropped Monday, he dials up the tension by introducing old fashioned yet potent SOUNDS into the viewer’s eardrum. The burnt rubber of a tire on wet pavement. The sudden shocking sounds of broken glass from gunshots raining down on Grillo’s Porsche.

It’s like John Frankenheimer’s car chase scenes had sex with Michael Mann’s action bravado, and Wheelman is the fucking baby.

Excuse me, but I like angry Grillo. Frankly, I like all types of Grillo, but this is my favorite blend. The authentic man of action is at his best when he plays anti-heroes with nothing to lose and plenty of reason to be pissed off. When we first meet his driver with no name, Shea Whigham’s criminal is getting into the car and treating the car like a Starbucks, becoming all chatty with the man behind the wheel. Grillo wants none of that bullshit. He’s a professional and his world runs on time.  Continue reading “‘Wheelman’ trailer: The love child of John Frankenheimer’s car chases and Michael Mann’s action sequences”

Forget ‘La La Land’, ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is Emma Stone’s best work

There’s a moment near the end of Battle of the Sexes where Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) turns towards a reporter and corrects a statement. “I never said women were better than men; I just think we deserve more. Is that too much to ask?” King goes on to ask the male reporter if he would have a problem with his wife, sister, or mother being better than him at something, and he says no. Game, set, match!

That is the overall tone of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ new film, which chronicles the legendary match between King and Bobby Riggs in 1973. Two players on opposite sides of the career mountain-one coming into her own with the other barely grasping notoriety-Riggs and King needed each other more than they knew at the time.

What makes Battle of the Sexes a quality film is that it knows where the important part of the story lies-and it’s not on a tennis court. Sure, the tennis scenes, especially the final match between the two players, are well-staged and filmed, but it’s the moments between the games and after the big matches that carry the resounding impact in this movie.

As she was becoming a star, King was battling personal issues and carrying the boulder of women’s rights on her shoulders. She was married to Larry King (Austin Stowell), but she was falling in love with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), a hair dresser she meets in California while on tour. She was playing the best tennis of her career while broadcasters and retired male players (Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer among them) said women didn’t deserve to be on the same platform as men in the sport.

Enter Riggs. A 55 year old former star of the game who had a laundry list of problems, gambling at the top of the list, but mostly putting himself over everyone else in his life, including his wife (Elizabeth Shue) and kids. What he saw in a potential match with first Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) and King was a chance to not shoot down the idea of women in tennis, but keep his name above water.

What followed was the most popular sporting event to ever broadcast on live television, but also one of the most important battles for women’s rights on and off the court.

Stone is phenomenal in this movie, fully investing herself in the physical appearance and ability of King, as well as her emotions and struggles. This is a complete performance that easily tromps her Oscar winning work in La La Land. Playing every shade of King wasn’t an easy task, but the facial resemblance gets your attention right away, before the emotional recognition comes in later. She finds a way to be magnificent in a tough role without makeup or grandstanding.

Carell is an underrated actor who can blend comedy and drama better than most in Hollywood, and he beautifully portrays Riggs as a man of instant charm but everlasting sorrow. There’s a burning need to be relevant in Bobby Riggs, and Carell finds his way to that decrepit location with a blend of charisma and depth. While he was fighting to keep his own name above water, Riggs was unknowingly helping King cement her own.

Without Stone and Carell’s work, this is a TV movie on ESPN. They make it great and worth the price of admission.

The rest of the cast is fine if not memorable, with Sarah Silverman’s promoter landing some very funny lines throughout the film and Alan Cumming bringing his joyful talents to the fashion designer of the women’s circuit.

Should the film be showered with Oscars? No. Is Battle of the Sexes an important film with great lead performances? Yes.

The secret power of this film is telling a wonderful story at a time where women’s rights were still climbing a mountain and daring to be championed. These days, this tale still carries a lot of weight. Without being overly showy, the film is easy to watch, enjoy, and appreciate.

While not a film that screams awards, Battle of the Sexes is a relevant cinematic treat.

5 Best Coffee Shops in STL

The world definitely doesn’t run on Dunkin!

What would you do without good coffee? Adulting would be obsolete. Chores wouldn’t be completed. Jobs would be lost. Kids would have angry parents. And so on.

As a professional coffee gulper, I am going to help you find the best shops in St. Louis. There’s a time where the half-burnt pot at the work station has to do, but October 7 is not that day, so follow along here as I list the five best coffee shops in the city.

5) Tim Horton’s Cafe and Bakery, The Pre-work Fix

Do you want that reliable diner coffee taste, but with an extra kick in the butt? Go to Tim’s. There’s a drive through off Olive and Tucker, a pitstop at Lafayette and 55/44, or the Big Bend/Manchester location. Don’t get a twenty ounce tank. Get a small coffee with two shots of espresso. Less trips to the bathroom and an extra arch in your morning grin.

4) Hartford Coffee, the Morning Gear shift

After you have polished off the hot cup of Canadian hockey player lava, head over to Tower Grove South and grab a 16 ounce Iced Americano. It’s not 40 degrees outside yet, so feel free to drop some cool temps down the throat to balance things out. A perfect Americano has a backyard firepit aftertaste to it with a bitter finish. If you have to, drop an extra sugar in there, but drink this beverage as straight as possible.

*Located at 3974 Hartford Street, 63116

3) Sump Coffee, the post lunch refuel

Throw down the Blues City Deli sandwich and then head over to Sump for a strong cup of coffee. Instead of drinking a disgusting 5 hour energy capsule, get serious with dirty water. It’s healthier. You’ll see a bald man with a long ginger beard named Scott. He may look like an extra from the Sons of Anarchy, but in reality he has the voice of an angel and is a sweet man. You’ll look behind the counter and see what looks like a science lab experiment happening with coffee. Beakers, test glasses, and pouring seminars. Don’t be intimidated by the menu. Just ask for the Kenya blend. Scott will describe it like Mick Jagger describing the writing process behind Gimme Shelter, but when you drink it, the strength will make the rest of the work day seem like a piece of cake.

*Located at 3700 South Jefferson Avenue, 63118

2) La Cosecha Coffee Roasters, the afternoon mood boost

The Maplewood gents roast their coffee right behind the counter. There’s pour overs and serious business going on like Sump, but there’s a more relaxed vibe here. One of the owner’s is a Royals fan, but that blue is still better than Chicago blue, so go in between 2-4 p.m. for half-priced happy hour, and get a two dollar Cafe Latte. I know what you are thinking: death by a thousand bubbles of foam. But these people do it right, and if you are extra nice, they will drop some honey and vanilla in there. It will almost feel like the weekend.

*Located at 7360 Manchester Road, 63113

1) Shaw’s Coffee, the finishing touch

Leave the coffee, take the macciatto. Your final National Coffee Day stop will happen on The Hill, the place where Yogi Berra called home and Frank Cusumano will eat his last meal. You’ll walk in, duck out of the way of the huge plants, and ask the lady at the counter for a tall macchiato. This isn’t your college campus preppy Starbucks macchiato, with four pumps of caramel and a dab of soy. This is espresso AND foam. Nothing else. It only takes two to make this drink tango. The real deal, minus Arnold. The good stuff. It will come in a small fancy cup sitting on a plate. Head over to a window seat. Relax. Sip. Do not drink. Sip slowly. Savor it. Certain drinks are walks, not marathons.

*Located at 5147 Shaw Avenue, 63110

That’s it. Put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers, and you closed the door completely shut. The weekend won’t know what to do with you. There could be an urge to run home. Just walk. Forget the free cups of coffee at Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts. Check these places out.

The above five drinks will cost you a grand total of 16 dollars. In other words, two drinks at Starbucks.

Take my word for it. I know my coffee.

Leave my daughter, take the car: A few words about Gerard Grandzol

When a good parent meets evil, tragedy happens.

Sacrifice. That is the first thing that a good parent willingly accepts when their child enters this Earth. Selfishness becomes selflessness. Your life is no longer as important as the child’s future. Status quo for the people who cut the shit when they become parents.

Today is a sad day all around. 16 years ago, terrorists cut America to pieces with three planes, costing 3,000 innocent lives. Every 9/11 anniversary, a few fresh heartbreaking tales of heroism emerge like leaves trapped under a rock. Currently, Hurricane Irma is ripping through Florida, after Harvey did a number on Houston. Streets, houses, people, cars, and pets are under siege. You’ve heard about all of that, though, and while it’s all terribly sad, I want to talk to you about Gerard Grandzol.

When I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline today, I read a painful story that is currently buying up real estate in my soul at the moment, so I have to talk about it.

Grandol, 38 years old and a Philadelphia native, was a fine citizen. He did a lot of good work in his community and when people heard his name, smiles and nods were abound. Isn’t that the way to be when you get into your late 30’s and 40’s? People hear your name and sing your praises, instead of wincing and walking away. Grandzol did the right thing often. Last Thursday, he did the right thing and it cost him his life.

He was taking his two year daughter and his dog on an outing to the park. Fun was to be had and good times collected for memory. When Grandzol returned to his home later that night, two men approached him and demanded his car. Grandzol, thinking wisely and going into protective mode, agreed to give up his ride-but wanted to get his kid out of the vehicle first. Then, one guy shot the man twice in the head right in front of his daughter.

This isn’t a movie. In real life, heroes die all the time.  Continue reading “Leave my daughter, take the car: A few words about Gerard Grandzol”

‘The Only Living Boy in New York’: Vintage Jeff Bridges carries charming love story

Stellar acting carries this New York love story

Thomas Webb (Callum Turner, channeling a young James Franco) has a big problem: he can’t tell the difference between true love and infatuation. A young wannabe writer dangling his heart around the streets of New York City between three women, Thomas gets a little help from his new neighbor, W.F. Gerald (a never better Jeff Bridges), who is as almost as mysterious as he is wise. Webb’s struggle reminds of the British loverboy Alfie’s movie ending line: “Love. What’s it all about?”

Director Marc Webb and screenwriter Allan Loeb craftily mix writer’s block, lover quarrels, and a coming of age tale into a smooth talking and moving 87 minute film called The Only Living Boy in New York.  While self-indulgent at times and a little too smart for its own good, the film charms the worry out of its viewer and allows its majestic city to play a tiny role in the film. This is a film that a young Woody Allen could appreciate, because there are laughs and heartstring tugs happening here.

Thomas is ready to lend his entire heart to the affections of Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), who has more feelings for a trip to Croatia than a romance with our young protagonist. When Thomas finds out his father (Pierce Brosnan) is cheating on his mother (Cynthia Nixon) with a beautiful young copy editor (Kate Beckinsale), the rug on his already complicated life is yanked out from under him.

Does Thomas tell his mom-who has already experienced breakdowns due to depression and bipolar disorder-such horrible news–or does he confront the mistress himself, and get the whole story? Webb’s film moves in mysterious ways at times, so it’s a good thing Turner handles the slinky aspects of Thomas’ plight.

The kid loves one woman, feels loyal to another, and then develops an absolute crush on a third. It’s a good thing the always savvy speaking W.F. is around to drop pearls of wisdom on him when he needs a jumpstart.

Turner and Bridges carry the best scenes in the film. Two guys, one young and another much older, debating the how many layers of the onion you have to peel off in order to find love, before you risk being hurt. Whether it’s Thomas’ writing (which has been rejected by his publishing house boss father) or his troubles with women, Gerald is there to help.

While Brosnan, Beckinsale, and Nixon acquit themselves quite nicely, The Only Living Boy in New York doesn’t make such a huge dent without Bridges’ work. In a supporting role, he cuts an intriguing character from a haze of familiarity, which lends the big third act reveal a much needed dose of power.

That’s right, folks. Webb and Loeb’s late surge of a plot reveal really brought the film home. Without it, the few story threads are left dangling and great performances would be wasted. When you watch the trailer for The Only Living Boy in New York, it’s easy to just appreciate the slick features, fast talking, and roll with it for 90 minutes. The final twenty minutes adds a layer of gravitas to the story that took it to another level for me.

I’ll admit that I am a sucker for stories that throw troubled writers, the pursuit of love, and the bristled setting of New York into a blender. This film isn’t perfect by any means, but it makes you feel a lot and the acting is phenomenal.

2017 has been a year of unlikely heartfelt comedy/drama servings leaving unexpected dents in our hearts. Films like Band Aid, The Big Sick, and now The Only Living Boy in New York. You could string them together and create an anthology of heartbreak blues.

When I left Webb’s film, I wanted to spend more time with these characters. I wanted another chapter in a film that will most likely not get a sequel. You know a film is great when the immediate effect is palpable.

If you like well-written and extremely well acted films about the dire pursuit of love and all its miseries, check out The Only Living Boy in New York. Yes, Simon and Garfunkel’s song is appropriately used.

‘A Ghost Story’ is a passionate exploration on life after death

Slow moving yet ambitious take on grief

I’ll warn you up front, ladies and gentlemen: A Ghost Story is a slow moving yet ambitious piece of filmmaking. It takes aims at what we leave behind after death, and the idea that one could get the answers in death that he couldn’t find in life.

David Lowery recruits his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints team of Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara to portray C and M, a couple that go through a traumatic process when one of them dies unexpectedly. Without a ton of dialogue or moving parts, Lowery directs from his own script a tale about the many ways people grieve. Affleck’s C returns to his house as a ghost, complete with the white sheet and eye holes, to look after his wife and the home that he left. There are certain things that C needs to know before he can pass on, and they don’t have to do with M alone.

The great thing about ghost stories is the countless ways it allows a filmmaker to be inventive with. Once he returns as a ghost, C’s story line doesn’t have to deal in a pure linear form. He can visit his wife in the present, or go back to one of their existential fights, or battles over whether to move or stay in a home that carries special meaning to C. Continue reading “‘A Ghost Story’ is a passionate exploration on life after death”