Tuesday, August 4, 2020


Anytime that you have the chance to watch Tom Hanks in a movie, you gotta take it.  So it was that Mrs. Grandstander and I settled in to watch "Greyhound" tonight on Apple TV (which I got for free for one year when I bought my new iPhone last month).   I believe that this is a movie that was supposed to  be a theatrical release this summer, because I'm sure I remember seeing a trailer for it way back when we were able to go to the movin'  picture shows in an actual the-a-ter.  Looks like the producers gave up on that idea and decided to send it to a streamer, so here we are.

In this one, Hanks plays a US Navy Captain in charge of a convoy of cargo and other military ships crossing the Atlantic during WW II.  At some point, ships would enter a "no man's land" of sorts where they were too far at sea to be able to have aerial cover.  This tells the story of one such crossing and how the ships dealt with continued attacks from German U-boats during their fifty unprotected hours.  

The movie opens with Hanks meeting his girlfriend in a hotel lobby in San Francisco just before he ships out.  That took  all of about five minutes and from that point on, this was one slam-bang, non-stop, action filled movie.  The movie is only 93 minutes long, and it pretty much never stops with the sounds things like "hard right rudder" and "I've got the conn" and "deploy depth charges" and "Captain's on the bridge" and, well, you get the idea.

As always, Hanks is terrific, and he alone makes this one well worth seeing (he also wrote the screenplay; talented guy!).  If I have one quibble with the movie it's that it was very dark, and that made it hard to make out some of what you were seeing.  Also, about halfway through, we switched to closed captions, and that helped a great deal in following the movie.   The sea battle scenes, which I assume were mostly CGI, were terrific, and there was one very touching moment in it that brought Mrs. G. to tears.

The Grandstander gives this one Two and One-Half Stars.  Marilyn would probably give it at least Three.

Friday, July 31, 2020

"The Darkest Secret" by Alex Marwood

I admit that I have gotten away from writing about novels, i.e. works of fiction, that I read because (a) I read a lot of the things, (b) for the most part, such books that I do read fall under the classification of escapism and entertainment, or, as an old co-worker of mine called, it, "mental junk food", and (c) many of them become instantly forgotten after I've read them.  But not this one.  I stumbled across "The Darkest Secret" in one of those Kindle Bargains emails that flood the inbox all the time, and it looked interesting, so I sprung for the $4.99 deal.

At a weekend house party in 2004 celebrating the 50th birthday of British millionaire real estate mogul Sean Jackson, Coco Jackson one of his three year old twin daughters (to his second wife) disappears.  Because of Jackson's wealth and connections (a member of Parliament, high end attorney and publicist husband and wife team, and a celebrity doctor), a nationwide search that soon becomes an almost world wide search begins for the little moppet, but she is never found.

Twelve years later, Jackson, now on his fourth marriage, dies under somewhat shady circumstances, and the family and the so-called "Jackson Associates" gather again for the funeral.  It falls upon the now 27 year old semi-wastrel Camilla Jackson, a daughter from the first marriage, to identify the body, collect her 15 year old half-sister Ruby, Coco's twin, and deliver a eulogy for the father from whom she has been estranged for almost all of her life.  The novel is told through Camilla's eyes, as she struggles with the emotional scars left upon her by her father, gets to know Ruby, whom she hasn't seen in years, and tries to make sense of what happened those twelve years before.  However, in alternating chapters, we learn in flashbacks everything that happened during that fateful four day Bank Holiday Weekend twelve years before.

Along the way, we are exposed to themes of the privileges that the wealthy take as their birthright and the arrogance that that brings about, the emotional damages that can result from multiple divorces, affairs, and how having so many step-parents and step-siblings can just wreak emotional and physical havoc upon families.  There are some hints about back stories that never get told or explained that I would like to have known more of, but maybe by NOT telling them, author Alex Marwood (whose other novels now become books to look for and read) just makes the story all the more compelling.

This seems like it  would be a perfect "book club book" to discuss over all of those book club lunches and/or bottles of wine.  Without putting too much effort into it, I could probably come up with at least a half dozen or so discussion questions.  I am anxious for Mrs. Grandstander to read it so that she and I can dig into a meaty discussion about it.

The Grandstander gives it a sold Three and One-Half Stars, and please be aware that "The Darkest Secret" is still out there on Amazon for $4.99 for your Kindle.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Old Movie Time - "Mean Streets" (1973)

In his ranking of Gangster Movies, Washington DC film critic Jason Fraley listed Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" at Number 16 on his list.  This prompted me to seek out this now forty-seven year old movie, which, surprisingly given my affinity for mob movies, I had never seen.   

The storyline of this one follows a couple of young trying-to-be-up-and-coming-wiseguys in New York City's Little Italy.  Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, whose uncle is a capo of sorts in the neighborhood, and Robert De Niro plays Johnny, a punk wannabe who can't keep up with his payments to the neighborhood sharks and who's constantly flying off the handle and getting into fights with the other punks in the neighborhood.  Charlie spends most of his time trying to cover for his buddy Johnny Boy at the possible expense of his own standing in the neighborhood hierarchy.  It all comes to a predictable conclusion on the "mean streets" of Little Italy.  

In and of itself, "Mean Streets" is a somewhat predictable gangster story.  If it was the only such movie that Scorsese made, it probably would not be as highly remembered or regarded today, but what makes it an important movie is what it foreshadowed.  In 1973, the 31 year old Scorsese had a few directing credits to his name, mostly shorts and documentaries, and the 30 year old De Niro had only one significant role to his name ("Bang The Drum Slowly").  "Mean Streets" was the first time that these two collaborated on a motion picture, and it was the beginning of one of more significant director/actor combos ever.  The two of them would go on to make nine other  feature films together over the next forty-three years, and they're probably not done yet.  This movie had everything that we came to know as trade marks of a Scorsese flick.....a freeze frame shot where the character's name gets  superimposed on the screen to identify him to the audience....a scene consisting of an extended  single take tracking shot (this one was a fight among the various hoods in a bar's  back room that circled a pool table)....extended swatches of dialog with De Niro going back and forth one-on-one with other characters in his NYC/Italian/Wiseguy dialect....and, most significantly, a sound track of period rock-n-roll music (Motown, Rolling Stones, etc) that blared almost constantly throughout the movie.  All of the things that Scorsese did, and did better, in movies like "Casino", "Goodfellas", and "The Irishman", were seen for the first time in "Mean Streets", and THAT makes this a movie worth watching.

In a vacuum, The Grandstander would give "Mean Streets" Two and One-Half Stars, but because it represents and presages what was to come from the Director and the Actor, it gets Three Stars.

A couple of more words on the casting.  Keitel was 34 years old when he did this movie, and he, too, would appear in many other Scorsese films, most recently, "The Irishman."  About the only Scorsese touch missing from this movie was Joe Pesci!  Another character in this one was actor David Proval as Tony.  Many years later, Proval would go on to additional screen Mob fame as Richie Aprile in "The Sopranos."  

De Niro and Keitel

A much younger De Niro and Scorsese

Sunday, July 26, 2020

To Absent Friends - Olivia de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland

As you will read in every obituary of Olivia de Havilland that will be published over these next few days, she is perhaps the very last survivor of "Hollywood's Golden Age" or of "Hollywood's Studio System."  de Havilland was 104 years old when she died today, and surely there can't be anybody else still around who predates her in either of those categories.

A two time Oscar winner, de Havilland is most remembered for her "Gone With The Wind" role of the Goody-Two-Shoes Melanie Hamilton, the cousin of Scarlett O'Hara, whom Scarlett hated because she ended up marrying prissy Ashley Wilkes, played by Leslie Howard.  (AN ASIDE: Scarlett had Rhett Butler/Clark Gable, and she pinned for Wilkes/Howard?  I never could get that.)  In a touch of irony, de Havilland, who was the only lead character in GWTW to die, was the last surviving cast member of that epic production.

With Howard as Ashley

As the perfect Melanie

Perhaps her next most famous role was that of Maid Marion alongside Errol Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood."  She was undeniably beautiful in both roles, and the on screen chemistry with Flynn led to them appearing in many movies together.  Although Flynn was one of Hollywood' most notorious womanizers, de Havilland maintained that the on screen chemistry never extended to anything other than platonic off-screen.

As Maid Marion with Flynn
"The Adventures of Robin Hood"

For all of her distinguished career, I have to say that in 1978, at the age of 62, she appeared in a cast-of-thousands disaster movie that were so popular during that era called "The Swarm" that may well have been one of the worst movies ever made.  Hey, so she was working for a paycheck.  Nothing wrong with that.  

There are two aspects of Miss de Havilland's career that are noteworthy.

The first is that she is the older sister of Oscar winning actress Joan Fontaine.  I believe that they are the only siblings ever to receive Leading Role Oscars, but more to the point, the two of them had legendary Hollywood feud that dated back to the 1930's.   They rarely spoke or even acknowledged each other's existence from then until Miss Fontaine's death in 2013 at the age of 94.  I am sure that Olivia took great delight in outliving her sister by seven years.

The other interesting thing was de Havilland's challenge to the Hollywood "studio system", when the studios kept actors under contract and left them with little choice in what they could or could not do.  To make a long story short, in 1943, de Havilland took Warner Bros. to court for the right to get out of her contract.  In a decision that to this day is known as "de Havilland's Law", the California Courts ruled that no studio could extend a performer's contract without the consent of the performer.  So, in a sense, she was the Curt Flood of Hollywood, or maybe Flood was the Olivia de Havilland of baseball.

RIP Olivia de Havilland.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Old Movie Time - "Atlantic City" (1980)

Jason Fraley is a Movie and Entertainment reporter for Radio and TV station WTOP in Washington DC, and I have become familiar with his work via both podcasts and Facebook.  Throughout the month of July, he has been offering Top 30 lists in thirty different genres....Comedy, Drama, Crime, Musicals, Romantic Comedies...you get the idea. It's been fun to read them and say things like "How could he put THIS ahead of THAT?" or "How could he possibly not include 'The Music Man' in his top thirty musicals?" (ahem!).  Anyway, I read his list of Gangster Movies (Godfather and Godfather Part II were an entry at Number One), and I earmarked three movies from the list that I had never seen and vowed to make it a point to watch as soon as possible. 

Last night I watched the first of these.  From 1980 and director Louis Malle, "Atlantic City."

The movie starred Burt Lancaster as Lou,  an aging, two-bit, yet self-aggrandizing hustler/gangster and Susan Sarandon as Sally, a woman from a broken marriage in Canada who comes to Atlantic City to learn to become a casino dealer with dreams of working her way to a big time casino in Monaco.  The movie takes place as Atlantic City tries to transition itself from a seedy beach resort into a glitzy and glamorous gambling mecca resort destination.  Trust me, Malle captures "seedy" perfectly.  Lou and Sally live in the same dumpy apartment building that is soon scheduled for demolition, and old Lou has made it a habit of observing Sally through the window as she performs her ritualistic ablutions every night at the kitchen sink.  Lemons never were more sexy!

Breezing into their lives comes Sally's no account husband, her sister who is now about eight months pregnant with hubby's baby, and a kilo or so of cocaine that hubby has stolen from the Philly Mob.  Lou somehow falls into teaming up with the kid to peddle the dope and get a score the likes of which he has never seen, the Philly mobsters show up in AC looking for their coke, their money, and their revenge, not necessarily in that order, and Sarandon's life and dreams are thrown into complete disarray.

Sounds like a hokey potboiler, but it's not, not by a long shot.  The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards back when it was released: Best Picture, Actor (Lancaster), Actress (Sarandon), Director (Malle), and Screenplay.  It didn't win any of them, but that takes nothing away from what is a terrific movie.  Lancaster is absolutely fantastic as he talks about the old days ("You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean back then.").  He is mesmerizing in every scene that he is in.  Susan Sarandon was 34 years old when she made this movie, and she is beautiful, sexy, naive, frightened, and bewildered throughout the movie.  Both fully deserved those Oscar nominations.

Some scenes from the movie....

Seedy Atlantic City

Sexy Susan as Sally

 Susan and Burt 
Sally and Lou

I found "Atlantic City" to be just a fabulous movie.  Great performances by the two stars and the supporting cast, and a gritty and realistic portrayal of a decaying - both physically and morally - city.  Not sure how I missed it back in 1980, but, then again, I was in a whole different place in my life forty (!!!!) years ago.

The Grandstander gives it Three and One-half Stars.

Oh, and the other two movies from Fraley's list I plan on watching?  Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" and Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."  Stay tuned.

Monday, July 20, 2020

To Absent Friends - John Lewis

John Lewis
1940 - 2020
At the Pettus Bridge  
Selma, Alabama

It is not often that we can recognize a genuine American Hero in our midst, and we lost one them this past week when U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia died.

A veteran of the American civil rights movement of the twentieth century, Lewis marched along side Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham and Selma and other places throughout the country through those turbulent days.  He was the youngest person to speak at the 1963 March on Washington.  He was 23 years old at the time.  Upon his election to the Presidency in 2008, Barack Obama said that he got there on the "shoulders of John Lewis."

We may never see his like again.

RIP John Lewis.

Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Friday, July 17, 2020

Looks Like We're Going To Have Baseball

A month ago I didn't think that it was going to happen, but Opening Day for an abbreviated Major League Baseball season is set for one week from today; one week from tomorrow for your Pittsburgh Pirates.  Whether MLB will be able to complete the sixty game season and play through to  a World Series still remains a question, but let's hope.

I have to say that despite low expectations of the Pirates. I am excited at the prospect of watching a live played-in-2020 baseball game as soon as tomorrow night when the Pirates play an exhibition game with Cleveland at PNC Park.  (An ASIDE:  I noticed that one night earlier this week, AT&T Sports had scheduled one of those "Pirates Classics" reruns.  The game to be shown was a 2019 game between the Pirates and the Marlins.  Now I ask you, in what stretch of anyone's imagination, could a game between the 2019 versions of the Pirates and Marlins be considered a "classic"?)  And I especially am looking forward to watching games that count in the standings, however bastardized this season will be.  Despite a horrendous 2019 season and a pre-shutdown offseason of bitching and moaning about the state of the team, I am, like I am every season, glad to have them back.

So, how will the team that lost 93 games last year do in 2020?  Well, they traded their second best player (Starling Marte), have lost a key starting pitcher for the season (Chris Archer), their slated closing reliever, Keone Kela, is on the ten day IR, and Gregory Polanco has been confirmed to have COVID19.  So, if you take last year's winning percentage of .426 and apply it to a 60 game season, you come up with  a record of 26-34.  Sounds about right.

Also, the Pirates first twelve games of the season are against the Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, and Twins.  It's going to be a tough stretch.

Still, I'm excited for new manager Derek Shelton.  He's waited forever for this chance, only to be dealt the blow of a pandemic that has....well, you know what it has caused.  I've listened to him many times on his weekly radio interview with Ron Cook and Joe Starkey on 93.7 The Fan, and he seems to be a pretty good guy.  I'm hoping for good things for him and the Pirates, but probably not until at least 2021 or -22.  In any event, I shall be cheering them on, as I have every year since 1959 (that's seasons in eight different decades!!!).