Dustin Hoffman

The grounds of beautiful Santa Anita Park (above), which has given HBO’s new series “Luck” unprecedented access.

We can imagine some of the criticisms of what we feel is a budding hit series, HBO’s new drama “Luck”.  The first few episodes seemed incredibly veiled, cloaked in terseness, as though the show was afraid to give away too much, too soon.  On top of that, anyone not acquainted with race track vernacular and etiquette, as I am not, had another layer of code to wade through.  But from early in episode one when the four amigos put together a complex pick six parlay, led by Jerry, a degenerate gambler genius, who reasoned out the long shot selection of Mon Gateau, a horse they now own, a person like me who fancies a good gamble–especially a good parlay, which is where the real money is–could feel that Luck was cultivating a certain electricity and excitement at Santa Anita.  And when Mon Gateau went out and won its race,  which was captured brilliantly in it’s full glory, as one would expect from a David Milch production, and the four amigos had won the 2.6M pick six, we felt that gambler’s high that only comes when a good wager goes green.

Jerry (Jason Gedrick), who tempts fate by playing in high stakes poker games he usually loses, has already lost a good portion of those massive pick 6 winnings, but the flawed nature of this character has hit home, making his storyline all the more interesting to us.  The four amigos made him the point man for the acquisition of Mon Gateau, and his street smarts both sealed the acquisition and secured that ace trainer Escalante (John Ortiz) would continue working with the horse, who, it seems very few people have the patience or nature to get along with.

While Jerry, to us, has stolen a portion of the show, there can be no doubt that this endeavor belongs to the legendary Dustin Hoffman, whose Ace Bernstein character has just been paroled from prison, taking a Cocaine possession charge for his grandson, that landed him 3 years in the fed.  While the first few episodes were exceedingly murky especially in regard to the Bernstein character, the plot has done enough to direct us toward a Bernstein revenge plan against those who have wronged him and his family.

In our minds, Bernstein is the next great HBO character, and will fall in line with the likes of Al Swearengen and Tony Soprano.  And to see Hoffman on HBO in his first ever television gig has been an immense gift for acting buffs and an all time coup for the network, with the credit going to Hoffman and David Milch.  To see Hoffman in scenes with his driver/confidante/right hand man, Dennis Farina (who could forget Farina as crime boss Jimmy Serrano in the all time DeNiro classic “Midnight Run”?) has been a real treat, and they are brilliant together.  And what about Hoffman’s first scene with our guy, Michael Gambon, who played Eddie Temple in Layer Cake, and who delivered on one of our all time favorite film monologues that ended with him telling Daniel Craig, “Welcome to the layer cake, son.”?  Gambon, most well known to youngsters for his work in the Harry Potter films, plays an ex and again business associate of Bernstein’s named Mike, dubious of character at best, and who was probably behind Ace’s set up and 3 year jail term.

Mike:  ‘How’s your grandson, Ace?’

Ace:  ‘He’s good.  Don’t talk about my grandson again.’

Mike:  ‘He’s very lucky to have someone do what you did for him.  Really, he’s good?’

Ace:  ‘You better fucking pray to fucking God every day he stays that way.’

There could be no doubting that Hoffman would bring his trademark electricity to the role, also establishing instant rapport with Patrick Adams (Mike Ross, Suits), who Ace has chosen to be his go between with the villainous Mike.  When Adams, playing young lawyer Nathan Israel, is first enlisted by Bernstein, the uptight young man is mock chided for “answering a question with a question.” When Israel is a bit more comfortable with Bernstein, in a subsequent meeting, he asks, “so what will I be doing to earn my keep?” Bernstein replies, “so what do you think you’d be good at?” Israel retorts, “answers a question with a question.” After Israel reports back to Ace the details of his first meeting with Mike, he tells him he’s not sure he can continue because of his conscience.  Bernstein replies, “that’s because you’re an honest man.  So far.”

With all of the obvious big money on the line, and with Bernstein already spending a fortune to buy a 5.1% stake in the race track, while leading others to believe he will bring lucrative casino and parlor gaming to Santa Anita, the stage seems set for the sting, and we expect it will bring out the duplicitous nature of some.  In the first episode, Ace tells Gus that he doesn’t trust anyone, but that in Gus’s case, he gets a pass.

In light of the congratulatory cake that Gus and Ace received in episode 6, a message to Gus emblazoned upon it that read not “Way to go Greek” but rather “Wait To Go Greek”, which was presumed as having something to do with Gus’s horse winning a race, from Mike and his crew, until Gus says out of earshot of Ace, “No icing error, this.”

Gus is obviously receiving a signal from the other side, but is he really one of them?  Or are they possibly threatening him?  All still part of the unrevealed plot.

While Ace has shown a forthright business nature in meetings with his board of directors, with the head of the casino, and with Escalante, whom he confronts over the training of the horse Ace secretly owns, Pint of Plain, he has also shown a tremendous soft side for the animal, spending one night in a chair in the barn outside the horse’s stall to see him through the night, and beaming in conversations about the animal.  Bernstein is truly at peace when the horse is at peace, and is livid when he feels Escalante is misusing the horse as a means of manipulating the odds.  Escalante, a major player in Luck, is a gruff trainer and a difficult guy, and Bernstein calls him to the carpet right away, because he wants to know if Escalante is a trainer or a gambler.  Escalante replies, ‘who says if you’re one it means you can’t also be the other?’

To his credit, the hardened Escalante does obviously love the animals he trains, and seems to respect both Jerry and Ace for their smarts, and for the way in which they care for their animals.    Also, Escalante doesn’t seem to know that it was Bernstein who got Escalante his break in the business, by suggesting that the stables hire him when he was only a kid who seemed to always be hanging around the horses.  We feel this is a resting plot line right now that will be revealing itself in good time, which Luck most certainly is, a veritable cornucopia for TV fans, replete with two forms of lightning in a bottle.  They have captured the tension, intensity, and magic of the races themselves, a tall order when filming with the animals, and also, the magical chemistry between fantastic castmates performing edgy, well written scenes.

We even get to see more of Kerry Condon practically naked (Octavia from Rome), who jockeys Walter Smith’s (Nick Nolte) star horse, Gettn’up Morning.

We like everything about Luck, including the song.  If you’re behind on your Luck, you have some great television to look forward to, and for those caught up, while only 3 episodes remain, Luck has already been renewed by HBO for a ten episode run beginning next January.

Lucky for us.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

  My mother is a tough critic.  And we don’t always agree on taste.  Like the other day, when I sent her a picture of a contortionist, twisted up like a pretzel, and giving himself a taste test, she called me and said “You can’t text people those types of pictures.  You’ll get arrested!”  So far, the lady likes my blog.  She especially liked how in entry 1, I discussed the fact that I actually listened to the priest at the wake.  Speaking of priests, that guy was nothing like Tim’s priest, who has a girlfriend, likes to go clubbing, drives a motorcycle, and lives in a loft he describes as “the tits.”

  Of course I am talking about “The Priest,” or even more simply, “Priest” from the HBO cartoon, “The Life and Times of Tim.”  I’m sure my moms would not approve of Tim, but it’s a much more reasonable cartoon than the Aqua Teens, with a lower ceiling as well.  One possible gauge is that my wife approves of Tim and his misadventures.  Tim’s boss is played by veteran character actor of soap, drama, and movie fame, Peter Giles, who plays a snappy, rich executive who ends all his conversations with “Bang!”

  Tim’s new roommate is Stu, played by the very rye witted Nick Kroll, best known to me from VH-1’s Best Week Ever.  Tim and Stu are friends through work and Stu takes Tim in after his girlfriend kicks him out.  They are forced to share a bed, and on their first night sleeping together, Stu goes through a list of things that give him night terrors, including “the ’86 Mets.”  More on that later.  You have to love Stu’s only pick up line with the ladies, which is “do you wanna get Stued?”

  Back to my mother as the tough critic.  She only casually liked The Sopranos and thought 6′ Under was tolerable in “small doses.”  Take that, Alan Ball.  And another thing: Dr. J can not fathom how I could possibly like Ball’s current HBO show, TrueBlood, because he is a man of science and vampires are “stupid.”  What can I tell you?  I’d watch almost anything compelling to me and well written.  After all, as you know, I am a big fan of a show about a piece of raw chopped meat.

  There’s Tim and soon there will be Treme, an HBO original series coming soon about an artsy section of New Orleans called Treme, mostly populated by musicians, and the show will explore the massive corruption in the nation’s poorest city, and how their art and music has been affected by Hurricane Katrina.

  Most impressive about Treme is its producer, David Simon, a true renaissance man responsible for bringing many fine shows to television and books to print, most notably HBO’s The Corner and The Wire, the official all time favorite of yours truly.

  Moms stopped paying for HBO long ago, and recently, that probably was a wise move.  Though HBO has five staples in their original program lineup (Curb Your Enthusiasm, TrueBlood, Entourage, Big Love, and now Hung), it was disgraceful that they had no original programming to follow Larry David this fall.  And many fans, including myself are less than thrilled that the cult hit Flight of the Conchords and the critically acclaimed In Treatment have appeared to have been discontinued.  Gabriel Byrne turned in some phenomenal work on In Treatment, and every episode was loaded with intensity.  While Flight was perhaps the most original and funniest show brought to television by HBO since Da Ali G Show.

  With a new season of Tim, the highly anticipated Treme, a new Band of Brothers, and an original period piece on prohibition Atlantic City, executive produced by Steven Spielberg, things are looking up for HBO, the king of finely made original television.  And then this week, they broke news of a new drama, created and produced by David Milch (Deadwood, John from Cincinnati, etc.),  starring The Dustin Hoffman, who will portray a career degenerate gambler–bringing Hoffman to the small screen for the first time in some 40 years.  There is much excitement around HBO these days.

  Speaking of Dustin Hoffman, not too long ago I heard him on Howard Stern’s Sirius Radio Show, as he called in as a guest for a friend, so that his friend may win a contest in which the person who got the biggest celebrity to call in would win $5,000.  A star of the magnitude of Dustin Hoffman could have many reasons to shy away from Howard Stern, but he provided a fascinating interview.  For me, the highlight was when Hoffman discussed how his life changed due to the success of The Graduate.  After getting some advanced word, Hoffman explained that his agent urged him to move from his apartment in the village, that he shared with Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall.  Hoffman, a 26 year old at the time, thought it was crazy advice, and didn’t heed it.  A few days later he returned home to a throng of young women, mostly Jewish, who had baked goods in hand, and had mobbed the steps of his building and the hall corridors leading to his flat.  For a fuller account of this interview one may try youtube.com or marksfriggin.com for a transcript. 

  Howard is another of whom moms doesn’t approve, but I couldn’t resist in pulling a page from Howard’s book and speaking about my mother publicly.  I only hope she takes it as well as Howard’s mom. 

  While on the topic of radio shows, and while I am not the biggest fan of Mike Francessa, to put it kindly, I heard a fantastic interview today with Gary Matthews Sr., who was an excellent player when I was growing up.  Baseball is the major sport that holds the least interest for me, as I find it slow moving, and dominated by artificial numbers due to the steroid age, which is a fiasco and has made a complete mockery of baseball’s hallowed record book.  Nontheless, Matthews told a great story about Bobby Bonds, who was one of the most talented players in the 70’s, and his teammate on the San Francisco Giants.  Bonds was a leadoff hitter with incredible speed and power, like his son before his hat size and his numbers grew out of proportion, by taking a steady diet of HGH.  Matthews spoke of a game against the Mets in which Bonds tested the waters early against Tom Seaver, and came back to the dugout excited, telling everyone that Seaver was off and they were going to have their way with him.  It would turn out that Seaver pitched a 2 hitter that day with 14 K’s, and he struck out Bonds 4 times.  Interestingly enough, Matthews and Bonds were just good old fashioned hard ball players, while their progeny have both disgraced the game via the needle.  Much more on steroids to come. 

  With ’86 Mets and dominant Tom Terrific mentions, one might get the wrong impression.  I am not a Mets fan.  One of the only things I agree with Francessa on is his characterization of the Mets that I find hilarious, that they are New York’s “junior varsity squad.”  BTW, I’d be remiss to not mention, since New Orleans is also a topic of this entry, that Mike Francessa picked the Colts to win the Superbowl by 14-17 points, proving his expertise as a pompous know little.

  And in other sports news, though this is by no means to be a sports blog, Rafael Nadal’s knee still hurts today.

  Trying to do this body building thing all naturally for about 19 years now, I am proud to say.  The results are still coming, after all these years, though in my experience, diet is by far the most important component of the equation.  Dr. J would also agree.  If you guys are good to me, and I like the number of people who come back and read tomorrow, I will divulge the ingredients of my latest recovery shake.  I’d call it a protein shake, but that characterization, for some reason, has always conjured up male semen-y type images for me!

  So moms likes the blog so far.  But what’s she gonna say, right?  I am her only son.  Hoping you guys like it too.  Gonna take my leave now.  See you tomorrow.  Bang!



P.S.  My blog is newly formed…just a little baby right now.  If you enjoyed this page please check out the entries under the category “Formula 411” where many of my entries will be appearing.  Thanks again.