Friday, July 29, 2016

Movie Review - "Cafe Society"

As my friends know, I am big fan of Woody Allen, and I always look forward each summer when a new movie from Woody is released.  Last year's movie, "Irrational Man", was a disappointment, but I am happy to report that both Marilyn and I really enjoyed his new release, "Cafe Society", when we took it in this afternoon.

The movie is a period piece that takes place in the 1930's and stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, and Steve Carrell.  It is a story of a young man from New York, Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) who goes to Hollywood to land a job with his Uncle Phil, a high-powered Hollywood agent (Carrell).  While there, the nebbish Bobby meets and falls in love with Vonnie (Stewart), a young woman who just happens to be in love and having an affair with the married Carrell.  After that secret is revealed, Bobby moves back to New York and takes up running the sophisticated night club, the high society cafe of the title, that is owned by his gangster brother.  While back in New York, Bobby meets another young woman named Veronica, played by Blake Lively, falls in love, gets married, and starts a family.  Life is good, but one day, Phil and Vonnie show up in Bobby's New York night club, and complications, as they say, ensue.

It sounds a little confusing, but it isn't really as it plays out before you.  Eisenberg is terrific as the "Woody Allen Character" in this one as he fumbles and stumbles around verbally and physically.  He may well be the best of all of the Woody Surrogates that have populated Allen's recent movies.  Both Stewart and Lively are charming in their roles, and Carrell plays a guy who you would probably want to not like, yet he shows a somewhat touching vulnerability as the blustering Hollywood big shot.

The reviews that I have read for this one have been mixed, with most critics saying that while it may be just okay, its not great because, essentially, Allen is making the same movie that he has made a dozen or so times in the past.  Well, this one does remind me of one of my Allen favorites, "Radio Days", in a number of ways:  the period setting, the Jewish family discussing what life has dealt them as they sit around the dinner table, the travails of the main character's extended family, the fact the Allen himself serves as the voice-over narrator of the film, and the climactic scene that takes place in a night club on New year's Eve.  

So maybe Allen has made the same movie before, but to that I say "So what?" He tells the story with enough of a twist to differentiate it from past movies, and he tells it with humor, good writing and direction, and with terrific actors.  It is also a beautiful movie to look at, especially since Allen has returned to New York City to film much of this one.  It has been awhile since Woody has set a movie in New York, and his love affair with his home town shows up as strong as ever.

The Grandstander (and Mrs. Grandstander) give 3 and 1/2 stars to "Cafe Society".

See it.

The Jordan Spieth Pendulum Swings

At this time last summer, the world, or at least the golf world, was pretty much Jordan Spieth's oyster.  He had won both the Masters and US Open, was one errant drive on the 72nd hole away from winning the British Open, and he would go on to win the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup, and $22 million in earnings.  All of this in the summer in which he celebrated his 22nd birthday.

In April, he held a five shot lead at the Masters with only five holes to play and we all know what happened: he gagged up that lead highlighted by a quad on the par three twelfth hole when he put not one, but two, shots in the water. He was bit short with reporters and his fans after that, but, hey, that was understandable, right?

What has followed since was a golf vacation that Spieth took with some of his fellow Tour pros (Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, and Smylie Kaufman) to the Bahamas to decompress that featured some of this type of frat-boy, animal-house hijinks on the golf course:

Yeah, yeah, they're still just twenty-something kids, but how would you have liked to save your money all year long to go on a dream golf vacation to some upscale golf resort in the Bahamas only to have found those guys playing in front of or right behind you?

The season has progressed, Spieth won a tournament in Texas a few weeks after the Masters debacle, but was never a factor in either the US or British Opens.  More to the point, he has been dropping some rather churlish comments in press conferences about how "unfair" it is that he is being held to such high standards in golf's major championships. Well, isn't that just too damn bad.

What young Jordan apparently fails to realize is that he himself set the standards by which he is judged by winning the Masters and the US Open last year.  Maybe it would be better if he HADN'T won those events, and then those mean and nasty reporters wouldn't be hounding him with mean and nasty questions like "What happened at Oakmont?" or "What happened at Troon?" or "How could you possibly rinse not one but TWO shots into Rae's Creek when they were getting ready to stitch your name into the lining of that second green jacket?"

Jordan Spieth is a terrific young golfer.  There is a lot to like abut him. He may well contend for and win the PGA Championship this weekend (five shots off the lead after the first round), and may win a raft of majors and a score of other Tour events over the next ten or twelve years.   Or he may not, who knows, but in the crucible since his meltdown at Augusta, Spieth is appearing to be just another typical young millionaire athlete which a highly inflated sense of entitlement who loves it when things go well, and pouts and whines when they do not.  The NFL, NBA, MLB, and the NCAA are full of those types, and why should the PGA Tour be any different?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

To Absent Friends - Marni Nixon

Marni Nixon

Singer Marni Nixon died ealier this week at the age of 86.  You may not be familiar with her name, you have probably never seen her, but if you are a fan of older movie musicals, there is a very good chance that you have heard her many times.

A classically trained singer, a teen aged Miss Nixon found work -  to help pay for her voice lessons - as a messenger on the MGM lot as teenager, where her beautiful singing voice came to the attention of studio honchos, and she was asked to dub her voice for non-singing actresses in the movies.  According to the obituary in the New York Times, thus began a career that.... 

"starting as a teenager in the late 1940s and continuing for the next two decades, Ms. Nixon lent her crystalline soprano to some 50 films, sometimes contributing just a line or two of song — sometimes just a single, seamless note — that the actress could not manage on her own."

You all remember Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", right?  Remember these lines from that song:

"Square cut or pear shaped/These rocks don't lose their shape."

It seems that Miss Monroe just couldn't hit the note required for the word "their" in that second line, so what did they do?  Yep, hired Marni Nixon to dub that particular note in that song.  

She was most famous, however, for supplying the singing voices for Deborah Kerr in "The King and I", Natalie Wood in "West Side Story", and Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady".  Her work in these films was uncredited and she was paid relative peanuts for working on these huge budget movies, the latter two Best Picture Oscar winners.  Studios at the time didn't want the public to know that their bankable stars such as Kerr, Wood, and Hepburn couldn't sing the roles that they were playing, and Miss Nixon  was contractually forbidden to reveal her part in these movies or she would, as the Hollywood cliche goes, "never work in this town again".

Her secret eventually came out, and her bitterness grew, but she did go on to a nice career as concert singer and performer, and she came to be at peace with her particular role in Hollywood history.  She played a role of a singing nun in the movie "The Sound opt Music" and she even played Eliza Doolittle in a Broadway revival of "My Fair Lady" in the 1960's, which was a bit of show biz justice.  

As the Times obit put it, she was "American cinema's most unsung singer."

In closing, here is one of the great songs from one of the greatest of all musicals. The actress is Audrey Hepburn, but the voice is Marni Nixon's

RIP Marni Nixon.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A New Award?

Could The Grandstander's coveted "H.A. Citation" be replaced int he near future by the "DHRA Citation"?

(Photo courtesy of Bill Montrose)

As you all know, the hippopotamus is also known as a "river horse", so the citation is for a Dual River Horse's Ass.  Obviously, this will be awarded to two persons who concurrently distinguish themselves to earn such a high honor.  It won't be easy to earn one of these babies.

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Locke'd Out

After watching yet another ineffective start from Jeff Locke on Wednesday night, it is my opinion that the Pirates need to move on and away from this guy.  I am tired of the dance that the Pirates have been doing with guys like Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon and Steven Brault.  You know what I mean...bring him up, give him a spot start, send him back to Indy, bring him back from Indy, put him on the DL....yet Locke keeps getting sent out every fifth day in hopes for another "lightning in a bottle" start, like the one against Madison Bumgarner a few weeks ago, only to see him not make it out of the fourth inning AGAIN.

Taillon certainly seems to be here to stay, and, yeah, I know Glasnow still has that Too Many Walks Box to check,  but why was Chad Kuhl sent back to Indy after going toe to toe, pitch for pitch against Max Scherzer on Sunday?

Taillon, Glasnow, and Kuhl may become the Pirates equivalent of a Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz rotation someday.  Or, they may turn out to be the second comings of Kip Wells, Josh Fogg, and Oliver Perez.  I don't know, but I do know what Jeff Locke is, and it is time for the Pirates to move on.  It is my hope that Neal Huntington will make some sort of move or moves at the August 1 trade deadline that will allow the Pirates to revamp the rotation that will include guys like Taillon and Kuhl.

Speaking of Taillon, and it does appear that he now is a part of the rotation, I was fortunate enough to have seats right behind the Pirates dugout (thank you, Tim Baker) on Tuesday night so I was witness to the frightening scene of Taillon being hit in the head by a line drive.

"Frightening" is the best word I can use to describe it, and it is positively unbelievable that he was able to stay in the game and continue to pitch, and pitch quite well.

Tough kid.

To Absent Friends - Bill Cardille

Bill Cardille
1928 - 2016

I suppose that every city has a personality that can be called a "legend" in the community, and yesterday, Pittsburgh lost one of its local legends when Bill Cardille died at the age of 87.  How much of an institution was Cardille?  Here's one way to measure.  I will turn 65 years old in a couple of weeks, and I can never remember a time when Bill Cardille was NOT a part of the Pittsburgh broadcasting zeitgeist.

Cardille was a native of Sharon, PA, went to what is now Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and began a broadcasting career at a TV station in Erie.  In 1957, he became one of the original employees of WIIC-TV (now WPXI), Channel 11, when that station first went on the air.  He began as a staff announcer and sometime newsman, but he became a legend when he hosted two of Channel 11's best known and most popular local shows....

Studio Wrestling

and Chiller Theater.

The Saturday late night Chiller Theater horror movie, which included campy introductions and in-movie commercial break pieces by Cardille and his regular cast of characters, was so popular, that it took at least one season before Channel 11 gave in to NBC network pressure and began to air Saturday Night Live at 11:30 in the Pittsburgh market. Chiller Theater can also be credited with the popularity of the Pittsburgh made movie, "Night of the Living Dead", and plays a big part in boosting the career of director George Romero (this according to Romero himself in the Post-Gazette's obit for Cardille this morning).  The show also gave rise to one of the most iconic nicknames in all of Pittsburgh, "Chilly Billy Cardilley".

Sports fans may also remember Cardille doing play-by-play of WPIAL high school basketball playoff games on Channel 13 back in the 1960's.  In the later part of his life, Cardille served as a mid-day disc jockey on WJAS, the Music of Your Life station, until a format change forced him out, amid much public outcry, a few years ago.  When his daughter went on Facebook in recent weeks to announce that her dad was not doing well, and to ask the public to send him some notes of encouragement, the family was overwhelmed with the thousands of cards and letters that they received.  It was final testimony to the enduring popularity of Bill Cardille.

In an era where all local on-air personalities seem to have the same blow-dried look, and where the only "personalities" are the weather forecasters, it is unlikely that Pittsburgh will see the likes of a Bill Cardille ever again.

RIP Chilly Billy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

To Absent Friends - Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall

A melancholy happy trails to producer-director-writer Garry Marshall who died yesterday at the age of 81.

Marshall is perhaps best noted for creating the 1970's television sitcom, "Happy Days", which beget spin offs "Laverne and Shirley" and "Mork and Mindy".  His imprint was also seen on such shows as "The Odd Couple" and numerous others.  He went on to direct many feature films, the most notable of which was the huge hit, "Pretty Woman" in 1990.

Much of what dominated our popular culture in recent decades (who among us never went "Aaaayyyyyy" and gave a thumbs up gesture like The Fonz always did?) can be traced to Garry Marshall.  In his obituary in Variety he even takes credit, perhaps reluctantly, for the Happy Days episode where The Fonz donned water skies, thus introducing the phrase "jumping the shark" into or vocabularies.

RIP Garry Marshall.