Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"War for the Planet of the Apes"

I have been anxiously awaiting the release of this sequel ever since I saw the "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2014) which was itself a sequel to "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the entire trilogy being a remake of the whole Charleston Heston - Kim Hunter - Roddy McDowell series of Planet of the Apes movies from the 1960's and -70s.  "War for the Planet of he Apes" certainly completes the trilogy of this new series of Apes movies, and it is a good one.

In this one, relations between the apes and the humans appear to have reached a boiling point and an Armageddon-type confrontation is in store.  So much so that the apes have considered moving from their shelters in the forests of the Pacific Northwest to a desert area somewhere "over the mountain".  However, an attack by a bunch of renegade soldiers led by maniacal and evil Woody Harrelson, prevents Ape leader Caesar from leaving and he needs a personal confrontation with old Woody.  

I am not going to say any more, so as not to hint of any spoilers, but I will say the following:
  • Andy Serkis once again plays Caesar, and he's quite brilliant in doing so.  You really believe that this is an honest-to-God monkey walking and talking up there on screen.  It probably won't happen, but if Serkis gets an Oscar nomination for this part, it will be totally deserved.
  • The climactic scene, and I am not even going to hint at what it involved, was pretty spectacular.
  • Harrelson was the definite "bad guy" in this one, so you aren't supposed to like him, and that was easy, because for whatever reason, I just don't really like Woody Harrelson to begin with.
  • The ending was satisfying, yet sad.  The movie makers behind this series wrapped up this trilogy in such a way that I just don't see how they can come up with a fourth  movie with these same bunch of apes.
  • Of course, knowing Hollywood, I am guessing that sometime around 2020-21, somebody will decide to do it all over again with their own particular spin on it.  I think the current Hollywood lingo for that is called a reboot of a movie franchise.
This movie has been getting terrific reviews everywhere.  Tony Norman of the Post-Gazette gave it four stars and said that it would be a cinch for a Best Picture Academy Award nomination.  I'm not sure that I'd go that far, but it really is a great piece of film-making with a good story, great effects, and that aforementioned spectacular ending.

It gets Three Stars from The Grandstander.

And I just can't end a post about the Planet of the Apes, er, franchise without showing this clip from the very first Apes movie.  One of the more memorable lines in movie history.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Huey Lewis and the News

Huey Lewis and The News
Still going strong!

I was happy to see a few months ago that Huey Lewis and The News would be appearing at the Palace Theater in Greensburg on July 18.  It was the perfect opportunity for us to meet up with old friends Ron and Darrylin Loshelder, 

catch up over a nice pre-show dinner, and enjoy a great rock and roll band.  (Ron, by the way, is a local rock and roll legend himself, but that is a story for another day.)

(Sorry for the crummy quality of the pictures, but I forgot to bring my good camera, and had to rely in my less than optimal android phone.)

Huey Lewis and the News were formed in 1979 and have been recording and performing ever since.  Lewis is now 67 years old, looks great and sounds as great as ever.  Loved that he's out there performing in glasses!  This is the third time that I have seen Lewis and the News perform (Civic Arena, Star Lake Amphitheater), but it had been many years, and I'm glad to say that I wasn't disappointed.  Great line form Lewis early in the show:  "Hey, enough of all the old hits, I know that what you all really want to hear is new stuff."  He did do a few new songs, and they were pretty good, but the crowd wanted to hear the hits, and Lewis and the band did not disappoint.

This was our first time at the Palace Theater, and it's a really nice venue.  It's a long trip from McCandless to Greensburg, but if it's an act that you want to see - and the Palace gets a lot of good acts - it can be well worth it.

Oh, I did say that Lewis "did not disappoint", but that is not entirely true.  I was really hoping to hear them do "It's Alright" during the acapella portion of the show, but, alas, they did not.  So, thank God for YouTube.  Enjoy....

Monday, July 17, 2017

Bring On The Brewers

In case anyone missed it, sandwiched around the All-Star Break last week, the Pirates managed to take two of three games from the Cubs and two of three games from the Cardinals.  Forging a .667 winning percentage against NL Central foes has not been something that the Pirates have been successful in doing, even in the "glory years" of 2013-15, and so far in 2017, the Bucs are only 16-19 against the Central. So it is probably not a good idea to get too excited over these last two series, but that small degree of success makes the upcoming four game set with the first place Brewers interesting, does it not?

The Pirates are currently four games under .500, in fourth place in the division, and seven games behind the Brewers.  Should the Pirates pull a rabbit out of their hats and sweep the Brewers, or even win three of four, that will certainly cause what has been a moribund season to percolate.  Should the unthinkable happen, and the Brewers sweep the Pirates, that will all but end any hopes the Pirates will have of capturing the Central division, which is the only path to the playoffs for the representative of what has been a mediocre division in 2017.  Chances are the teams will split the series, and the mediocrity will continue.

Either way, this shapes up as meaningful series for the Pirates, and it so happens that I will be in attendance at games three and four of the series, and I am looking forward to it.


To A Whole Bunch of Absent Friends

A melancholy happy trails to a whole bunch of folks in the last several days.....

Hootie Johnson, a former Chairman of the Augusta National  Golf Club died last week at the age of 86.  A southerner who could certainly be considered a progressive, Johnson will probably be most remembered for the intransigent stand he took when women's groups demanded that Augusta National admit women as full time members.  Fairly or not, the idea that Johnson wanted to keep his Club rooted in 1930's sensibilities will be what most will remember about him.  When I attended a practice round of The Masters "Toon-a-mint" (that's how Hootie pronounced it) in 2002, Hootie Johnson, clad in his green jacket, walked right past me.  I could have reached out and touched him.  Had I done so, I am sure that an army of Augusta National security forces would have been all over me.

Rochester, PA native Vito "Babe" Parilli died over the weekend at the age of 87.  Parilli was an All-American quarterback at the University of Kentucky and a Heisman Trophy contender in the early 1950's.  He couldn't quite make it in the NFL, and he was kicking around the Canadian Football League when he was given new life when the American Football League was formed in 1960.  He had a great career in the AFL, made the all-time AFL team (pre-merger), and was considered the greatest quarterback in the history of the Boston/New England Patriots.  Up until that Brady kid joined the team, that is.  Parilli served as Joe Namath's back-up on the Jets team that won Super Bowl III, and served a stint as quarterbacks coach for the Steelers under Chuck Noll during that height of the Bradshaw vs. Hanratty vs. Gilliam Steelers Quarterbacks Debate.

Oscar winning actor Martin Landau died at the age of 89.  He will probably best be remembered for his role on 1960's TV show "Mission Impossible".  Interesting story from his obit in this morning's paper. Landau was offered the part of Spock on the original "Star Trek" series.  He turned it down, thus missing out on a certain measure of pop culture immortality, and the part was given, as everyone knows, to Leonard Nimoy.  When Landau quit "Mission Impossible" after a couple of seasons in a contract dispute, he was replaced on the show by...Leonard Nimoy!  I will most remember Landau for his roles in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest", Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors", and, of course, his Oscar winning turn as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood".

Finally, filmmaker George Romero died on Sunday at the age of 77.  He was most famous for his filmed-in-Pittsburgh zombie movie classic, "Night of the Living Dead" (a clip of which can be seen in the current hit movie, "The Big Sick").  Zombie movies are not my cup of tea, but Romero was a Pittsburgh guy (sort of) and a giant in his chosen field, and, as such, his passing deserves to be noted.

RIP Hootie Johnson, Babe Parilli, Martin Landau, and George Romero.

Friday, July 14, 2017

In The Area of Critical Commentary - "The Big Sick" and "In The Heights"

Everywhere you look, "The Big Sick" is getting four star reviews from critics all over the country.  Actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani-American, plays Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani-American trying to make it as a stand-up comedian in Chicago.  While doing his set one night, he is gently heckled by audience member Emily Gordon.  The meet afterward, have a one night hook-up, but soon become romantically involved and fall in love.  Meanwhile, Kumail's traditional Pakistani family disapproves of his choice of profession (they want him to go to law school), and are constantly trying to get him into an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman.

Kumail and Emily have a fight and break up, then Emily comes down with a mysterious illness that forces doctors to put her into an induced coma as they struggle to find a cure for her illness.  This brings Emily's parents into the picture and another set of complications for Kumail.

Doesn't sound like the stuff of your typical romantic comedy, but this movie is truly funny while it raises important questions about cultural values, prejudices, and just what this crazy thing called love is all about.

The movie was written by Nanjiani and his real life wife, Emily Gordon.  Yep, that is the name of the character in the movie, so this is somewhat autobiographical, although I do not believe that the real-life Emily experienced a "big sick" in her own life.  Nanjiani is quite good in the movie as is Zoe Kazan as Emily (Fun Fact: Ms. Kazan is the granddaughter of Oscar winning director Elia Kazan), and then there are Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who play Emily's parents.  I won't say that they steal the show here, they don't, but they are terrific in their roles.  I was especially surprised by Romano, who I still see as a TV sitcom star.  He was wonderful in this.  

Lots of professional critics are calling "The Big Sick" the best movie of the year, and they may well be correct. You will laugh and you will cry, and if someone you love has ever been seriously ill, this will especially touch you.   Do not miss it.

Four Stars all the way from The Grandstander.

(CORRECTION: A few days after I wrote this entry, I learned that the real life Emily Gordon did, indeed, have a mysterious illness that caused her to be in a medically induced coma, very much like Emily in the movie.  Truth is stranger than fiction.)


Last night we made what will probably be, sadly, our only visit to the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera this year to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In The Heights".  This was the first Broadway musical production for Miranda, and it was the winner of four Tony Awards, and it certainly presaged Miranda's epic that was to come, "Hamilton".

It was a wonderful show with high energy singing and dancing, music that included rap, hip-hop, and salsa, as well as traditional Broadway-type ballads and production numbers.  As always, the CLO's production was top notch.

This is the kind of show that will no doubt be touring forever, and it is already being performed by high schools across the land.  It is one that you should try to see at some point in your theater going life.

Four stars.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Ron Burkle Interview

I hope that you all had the chance to read the extensive and in-depth story about Penguins principal owner Ron Burkle in the Post-Gazette this morning.  Burkle is an extremely wealthy businessman who, it can be stated with some accuracy, saved the Penguins franchise for Pittsburgh when he partnered with Mario Lemieux to purchase the team.  He prefers to stay out of the spotlight, and this interview, the team said, would be the only such one that he will do.

Anyway, it was a most interesting story and well worth your time to read.  However, one passage fairly jumped off the page and smacked me in the mouth when I read it.  It talked about how Burkle reacted to Ken Sawyer, who was the CEO of the Pens at the time the Burkle/Lemieux group took ownership of the team. The two had, shall we say, philosophical differences.

“I thought we were headed in the wrong direction because Mario, like almost everybody who’s got an incredible talent – whether it’s in business and you’re a great operator or whether it’s as a great player – when they get in the top position, they tend to lean on the CFO a lot, and the CFO doesn’t have a commitment to win,” Burkle said.
“The CFO has a commitment to try to end up with the most amount of money in the bank. And most of the time, just due to their personality, they have the wrong strategy, so their idea of how to end up with the most money in the bank doesn’t build the most value. I’d rather build value than put money in the bank, because value is ultimately what you’re after.”
Further on in the story, Burkle also stated, and this was the Money Quote in the story, as far as I was concerned:
“I didn’t think we had the commitment to winning,” he said. “We had somebody saying, ‘This is the way to end up the year without having to write a check,’ or ‘This is the way to end the year with having a few dollars in the bank.’ I thought that was taking the wrong direction.”
The Penguins, under the ownership of Burkle/Lemieux, have reached the Stanley Cup finals four times in ten seasons, and have won it three times, and are, according to Burkle, "a profitable team, under almost any scenario..."
Compare and contrast this way of doing business to the way Bob Nutting runs the Pirates.  And, yeah, I know that there is a salary cap in the NHL and none in baseball.  Cry me a river.  And just think, Pirates fans, the Burkle/Lemieux group did make an offer to buy the Pirates earlier in this decade but were quietly rebuffed by Nutting.

If you are interested, here is a link to the entire story from today's PG:

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Critical Commentary - Two '70's Movies

I have spent some time in recent days watching a couple of movies from the 1970's, and I have come away favorably impressed.

The first is an undeniable classic and may very well be the movie that defined the term "Blockbuster", from 1975, Steven Spielberg's "Jaws".

We've all seen this one, am I right, so I don't really need to tell you what it is about, do I?  One day this past winter I saw Blue-ray edition of "Jaws" in the ten dollar sale bin at Target, and I just couldn't pass it by, and I finally got around to watching it one afternoon this week.  

First off, I was amazed at how beautiful the movie was on Blue-ray.  Since this movie was made at a time when High Definition did not exist, I wasn't sure how it would look on my HD TV, but I needn't have worried.  It was gorgeous, and it was almost like seeing a brand new movie for the first time.  (How do they do that??) Secondly, and even more importantly, the movie still packs the terrifying wallop that it did that first time you saw it back in '75.

When Spielberg agreed to do the movie - and he was only 27 years old at the time, let that fact sink in on you - his vision was that the shark should not be seen by the audience for at least the first hour of the film.  This would build suspense to the point that you would leave you seat when you did see it, and, yes, I STILL jump when that shark puts his head out for the water as Roy Scheider lays out that chum line.

Then there are all of the extras that appear on the Blue-ray disc.  Hours and hours of them, including a two hour 1995 documentary called "The Making of Jaws", and I am still working my way through them.  

Two lines of dialog from that movie have made their way into the current vernacular to the point that many people who use them may not even realize from whence they came:

  • "This was no boating accident." To be used when presented with a set of facts and suppositions, often in the work place, that are obviously pure unadulterated bullshit.
  • When confronted with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, either at home, with your family, or in the workplace, who among us hasn't said "We're going to need a bigger boat."
If you are a fan of this movie, or if in the unlikely event you have never seen it, seek out and pick yourself up a copy of the "Jaws" Blue-ray.

The second movie was Arthur Hiller's 1976 comedy "Silver Streak".

I remember going to the theater to see this one when it was released - and for all you youngsters out there,that was the only way you could see a movie back in 1976 - and enjoying it a lot, but I know that I had not seen it since.  I was prompted to watch it again because my pal Dan often makes reference to this one, particularly to one specific line of dialog near the end.  

You always wonder how a movie, particularly a comedy, might hold up forty-one years after it's first release, and I am delighted to say that this one was still fresh and still funny.  Not a whole lot of it was dated.  It is sad to note that the three lead actors in this one, Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, and Richard Pryor, are no longer with us, which is all the more reason to watch this one again and enjoy their performances.  Pryor in particular is brilliant in this.  There was also one scene that I had completely forgotten in which Wilder puts shoe polish on his face, at Pryor's urging, to disguise himself as a black guy in order to avoid the cops.  It was absolutely hilarious.

The plot of the story, as if that really matters, involves Wilder taking a three day train trip for Los Angeles to Chicago in order to relax and be "bored for awhile".  On board, he meets a sexy lady in the cabin next door, gets involved with some bad guys, and gets thrown off the train three different times, yet is somehow able to catch up to it and re-board. Implausible and slightly ridiculous, but still outrageously funny.

As I said, Pryor was fabulous in this movie.  I got hysterical when he grabbed the radio while driving a stolen police car, called the sheriff and told him....

Hey Chauncey, this is Grover T. Muldoon. You wanna know what happened? We just whooped your ass. We whooped your ass. Ha ha ha!

This movie also gives you he opportunity to see, in a bit part near the end of the movie, a very young Fred Willard.

Lots of funny stuff in this movie, including a classic line from Scatman Crothers, which I will save for use when we take our own train trip to Chicago later this year.

All in all, two very worthwhile trips back into the 1970's this past week for The Grandstander.