Friday, February 24, 2017

Oscars Thoughts and Predictions

I have been completely silent on the subject of the Academy Awards for a couple of reasons.  One, the nominations were announced when we were on vacation in Florida, so I was unable to strike while the iron was hot, as it were, and once we got back home, well, I just never found the time to do so.  Two, I have been unable to see all of the nominated performances, or even a lot of them, so I go on the theory that No Prediction is better than an Uniformed Prediction.

Still, what fun is that, so I've decided to blow some smoke anyway.  Here goes.

Nine films have been nominated for Best Picture.  I have seen four of them: "Hell or High Water", "Hidden Figures", "La La Land", and "Manchester by the Sea".  Of the remaining five, I do want to see "Fences", and I kinda sorta want to see "Arrival". "Hacksaw Ridge", "Lion", and "Moonlight" all fall into the category of "Didn't see it, don't wanna see it."

BEST PICTURE:  I am saying that the winner will come from among the four movies that I have seen.  If we used The Grandstander's standard of What Movie Am I Most Likely To Watch Again And Again Over The Years, then the winner would be "Hell or High Water" in a landslide, but I am going to call this one for another terrific movie, which is also one that I will watch more than once, "Hidden Figures".


ACTOR: Once again, I have only seen two of these nominees, Ryan Gosling and Casey Affleck.  I believe that it will come down as a race between Affleck and Denzel Washington.  Washington has already won two Oscars, but will he benefit from Hollywood reacting to last year's #oscarssowhite controversy?  Possibly, but I say that the Oscar this year goes to Casey Affleck.


ACTRESS: I have seen two nominated performances, Meryl Streep in "Florence Foster Jenkins", and Emma Stone in "La La Land".  I love them both, and both were great performances, but the buzz seems to be heaviest for Natalie Portman in "Jackie", and I say that Miss Portman takes home her second Oscar come Sunday night.


Supporting Actor: Again, only saw two of the five nominees, so this prediction is based solely on personal preference:  Jeff Bridges wins for "Hell or High Water".  Lucas Hedges, the kid in "Manchester by the Seas" was terrific, and I'd have no problem if he won, but Bridges was just SO good, and this award will be a way for Hollywood to honor this terrific movie.


SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Michelle Williams gave a wonderful performance in "Manchester By The Sea", but the one category that seems to be a slam dunk this year is a win for Viola Davis in Fences", so Davis it is.


DIRECTOR: "La La Land" was everybody's darling to sweep the Oscars this year, but in recent months, it has been hit with a strange and bitchy sort of Hollywood backlash.  I mean, have you read some of those "this movie really stinks" types of stories?  Unfair, but I think it will hurt the the movie, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone in the voting. However, Hollywood will honor this movie by naming Damien Chazelle as Best Director.

ORIGINAL SONG: The Oscar goes to "How Far I'll Go" from the movie "Moana" written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Why? Because it was written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and at the age of 37, Miranda will now have achieved an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony), plus a Pulitzer Prize.  It's good to be Lin-Manuel Miranda.


DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:  Never made a prediction in this category before, but what the hell, I am calling for Ezra Edelman's amazing five part, seven and one-half hour documentary, "O.J. Made In America" to win the Oscar.


And here are two more predictions for you.  Strictly semi-educated guesses on my part:

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester By The Sea".

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: August Wilson, "Fences.

There you go.  Ten predictions will make it easy to calculate my winning percentage.  As always....Watch, But Don't Bet.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Seattle, Elvis, and Joan O'Brien

In anticipation of a trip to Seattle later this year, and always being a sucker for Elvis Presley movies, we settled in and watched this one last night.


This 1963 movie was set in Seattle at the time of the World's Fair in that city.  Lots of scenes of the Space Needle and the futuristic monorail system in place at that Fair.  Also - Surprise! - Elvis wooed several  different women (including future Batgirl Yvonne Craig), fell in love with one who resisted him (at first), got into two different fist fights, and sang ten songs.  In other words, standard fare for an Elvis flick.  I also have to say that even for the incredibly low bar of the typical Elvis movie, this one was Cheesy beyond belief, but what the hell, when you watch a movie from The King, you know in advance that you ain't getting "Citizen Kane".  

What interested me in this movie was the love interest played by actress Joan O'Brien.




O'Brien was an actress with whom I was not familiar, and she did not seem to be a "typical" Elvis love interest from his filmography.  So, I went to the Google Machine to do a bit of research.  O'Brien got her start in show biz as a singer, doing stints with several Big Bands, and even had a brief shot as a fill in for Lawrence Welk's "Champagne Lady".  She took a shot at acting in the late 1950's.  Her most well known roles were in "Operation Petticoat" (1959) with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis, "The Alamo" (1960) with John Wayne, and "It Happened At the World's Fair".  She was 27 years old when this one was made (Presley was 28), and it was reported that she and Elvis had a romantic fling when the movie was filming.  This was standard operating procedure for Elvis.  It is interesting to note that while Miss O'Brien came into show biz as a singer, she only sang a few lines in the closing number of "It Happened...."  With exception of Ann Margaret, I can't recall many female leads who did a lot of singing in the Elvis Film Canon.


(Joan and Elvis dining at the 
Space Needle in the movie.)

After "It Happened At The World's Fair", O'Brien appeared in only one more movie, a teen movie called "Get Yourself a College Girl" with Nancy Sinatra in 1964.  She did some guest spots in a few TV series, the last being in a show called "Valentine's Day" in 1965 after which she walked away from the acting profession.  She sang again for a little while with the Harry James Orchestra, but in 1968 she left show business for good in order to raise her two children.  She went on to have a successful executive career with the Hilton Hotel chain.

Joan O'Brien is still alive and turned 81 years of age this past Valentine's Day.

Maybe it's just me, but I find this kind of stuff interesting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spring Training Has Begun



Yes, Spring Training has been underway for one week now, and you are probably wondering, "Why hasn't The Grandstander  written about the Pirates yet?", or maybe you aren't wondering that, but the fact is, I am having a tough time getting my usual jolt of springtime optimism when it comes to our favorite baseball team.  The reason for that can be laid at the feet, I believe, of the Pirates themselves.

Consider that following a season when the team took a 20 game step backwards and which featured a trade deadline deal where the team gave up two highly touted prospects, not to obtain a key player to help them win games, win championships, or even get better, but to dump a salary (I am speaking of the Francisco Liriano to Toronto salary dump trade, in case you forgot), this is what transpired over the Winter Hot Stove Season:

  • The team spent most off their time trying desperately trying to trade Andrew McCutchen, probably their most popular player, and easily their best player over the last ten seasons or so.
  • Re-signed pitcher Ivan Nova, who despite two good months (5-2, 3.06) with the team, is still a pitcher with a career ERA north of 4.00.
  • Signed free agent pitcher Daniel Hudson.  Hudson, who has had two Tommy John surgeries in his career, may well be a good pitcher, but at this point he is destined to be a seventh or eighth inning set-up guy.
  • Obtained a bunch of no name pitchers in hope that Ray Searage can turn water into wine with them.
  • Had to deal with a DUI incident involving Jung Ho Kang.  That's not the team's fault, but it sure has cast a pall over the off-season nonetheless.
That's it.  That's the list. If I left out any big blockbuster that inspires visions of overtaking the Cubs and Cardinals in the NL Central, I will be happy to be corrected.

Now, Spring Training has begun, and the main story seems to be gearing up all Pirates fans for what will probably be  final season, or maybe even the final half-season, of McCutchen's tenure with the Pirates.

Yep.  That ought to have people storming the PNC Park tickets windows.

And today, we have been treated to stories detailing Bob Nutting's annual address to the team, and his various tete a tetes with the media.



Of course, McCutchen's status is still Topic A, and Bob assures us that he "loves" Andrew, and hopes that he will "always be a Pirate", but well, you know, business is business, and sometimes things just don't always work out the way you want them.

Don't get me wrong.  Yes, Cutch underperformed last season, but at the age of only 31, I'd say he deserves the benefit of the doubt before he's written off as being done.  Also, no player should be untouchable, and if the team can be made better, anyone could and should be subject to being traded.  However, how confident are you that value on a par with what McCutchen has given the Pirates will ever be received in a trade for him?  And no matter what, he deserved better treatment than being dragged through the public prints and airwaves all winter as so much excess baggage that the team needs to jettison.

And one other nugget from Bob Nutting's interviews.  Since he has taken over as Chief Bigdome at 115 Federal Street, he has never, not once, taken a salary from the team. What a prince!

Oh, I am sure that the fires will still burn within me.  I think that the first televised game from Florida will be sometime next week, and I am sure that I will be planted in front of the TV set when it comes on, at least for a couple of innings, but it's going to take the players that they have - Marte, Polanco, Bell, Harrison, Cole, Taillon, and, yes, Andrew McCutchen - generating excitement for me on the filed of play to stoke those fires, because all the Front Office has done since last October is throw buckets of water on them.

For Your Viewing Pleasure.....

Catching up with some movies and TV, both old and new.....


Let's start off with this amazing documentary made by Ezra Edelman.  I recently, finally, got around to watching this via On Demand.  The film was made by ESPN Films.  It runs almost eight hours in length, and is shown in five parts.  I guess that you could say that the movie is "about" O.J. Simpson, his rise as an American hero, the murder of his wife and her friend, his arrest, trial, and acquittal, and his life after the trial leading up to his current incarceration in Nevada.  But it is also "about" so much more.  It is a history of the dealings and operations of the Los Angeles Police Department, race relations in Los Angeles throughout the twentieth century, race relations in America, and the criminal justice system.  

When you say "documentary" and "almost eight hours long" your eyes may glaze over and you may be tempted to say "I pass", but do not do so in this case.  "O.J. Made In America" is fascinating and totally and completely compelling.  It also may very well win an Academy Award on Sunday for Best Documentary, and it will be a well deserved Oscar if it does.

Four Stars from The Grandstander.

Don't miss it.

********


You might also, if you have Amazon Prime, check out the ten episode Season One of "Z: The Beginning of Everything".  It is the story of the courtship and marriage of Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It is very stylishly done and rather entertaining.  It stars, and is produced by, Christina Ricci as Zelda, and she is charming.  Scott Fitzgerald is played by David Hoflin, and actor unknown to me, but he's also good in the role.  The only other actor familiar to me in this one is David Strathairn, who plays Zelda's father.

Two and on-half stars from The Grandstander, but worth watching just to see Miss Ricci's performance.

********


A recent podcast interview that I heard with actor John Turturro prompted me to seek out Robert Redford's 1994 movie, "Quiz Show".  This movie centers on the quiz show scandals of the 1950's.  If this is a subject with which you are unfamiliar, it is worth doing  a little research on your Google Machines to get some background on a most fascinating subject.  Redford's movie stars Turturro, Rob Morrow, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Schofield, and David Paymer, and it is terrific.  It was nominated for Best Picture that year, but it lost to "Forrest Gump", another example of when the Academy got it wrong, but I digress.

If you've never seen this one, do yourself a favor - seek it out and watch it.  It's terrific.

Four stars all the way from The Grandstander.

********


"Midnight Lace" was a Hitchcock-type thriller made in 1960 that starred Doris Day.  During a time when Day was playing the virtuous woman in a series of RomComs with Rock Hudson, James Garner, Tony Randall and others, this was departure for her (to me, at least), and she was quite good in it.  In this one, she was always photographed in the best of lighting, she wore beautiful designer outfits, and she screamed a lot, but don't get me wrong, I liked the movie.  Lots of misdirection and red herrings as to who the bad guy who was terrorizing Doris might be, so it kept you guessing, even though, in the end, you said, "well, I knew it was him all along."  The movie co-starred Rex Harrison, John Gavin, Roddy McDowell, John Williams, and, as Day's "older" aunt, the great Myrna Loy.  Loy, of course, was thirty-plus years past her "Thin Man" prime when this was made, but there were still elements of the spunky Nora Charles in her performance, and that is always worth seeing.

Two and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mike and Barry (and Others) and Stolen Bases

I have been inundated with responses (5 "likes" and 2 comments on Facebook) to my post of two days ago comparing Mike Trout to Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, and Willie Mays at comparable stages in their careers.  One of the comments (and the guy who made it shall remain nameless) said that I should have included Stolen Bases.  So, in order to save this guy the trouble of looking it up himself, I present the following:


Mike Trout
Hank Aaron
Barry Bonds
Mickey Mantle
Willie Mays
Stolen Bases
143
20
212
43
121
Caught Stealing
28
9
64
16
43
%
83.6
70.0
76.8
72.9
73.8

Again, these stats are from approximately the first six years and 800 or so games of each of the players careers (see previous post for the exact numbers).

I also wanted to check the percentage of successful steals were for some of the players who are noted stolen base marvels and/or great base runners. 

Jackie Robinson  197 SB, 86.8%
Rickey Henderson  1,406 SB, 80.8%
Lou Brock 938 SB, 75.3%
Maury Wills 556 SB, 72.8%
Omar Moreno 487 SB, 72.8%
Pete Rose 198 SB, 57.1%

baseball-reference.com  does not list Stolen Base Attempts for much, if no all of the careers of noted base stealers Ty Cobb (897 SB), Max Carey (738), and Honus Wagner (723), so an accurate success rate cannot be given for them.

Conclusions:
  • Trout's success rate at stealing bases is incredibly high.  Better than all but Jackie Robinson in this admittedly small sample size.
  • Aaron and Mantle were not being paid to steal bases.  They also played at a time when the stolen base was not a major weapon in the baseball arsenal.
  • Jackie Robinson's reputation as one of the best use runners ever is pretty much deserved.
  • Would you have bet that Omar Moreno had the same success rate as Maury Wills?
  • I don't remember Barry Bonds stealing so much when he was with the Pirates.
  • I chose to include Pete Rose because, whatever else is became and remains today, I remember him as a smart ball player and a good base runner.  I was shocked to see that his success rate at steals was so low.
FINAL CONCLUSION:  Mike Trout is a pretty damn good ball player, no matter how you look at him.




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mike and Mickey...and Hank and Barry and Willie

Spring Training opened yesterday, and rather than doing an extensive analysis of the Pirates, I thought that I would delay such ramblings and instead talk about a subject that has been niggling in the back of my mind for awhile.  It concerns Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout, already a two time Most Valuable Player.


At some point during this off season, someone, probably on the MLB Network, probably after he was named the AL MVP  for the second time in his career, said that he is "this generation's Mickey Mantle." 



High praise for Mr. Trout, so I decided to do one of my famous spread sheets to compare the two of them at comparable stages in their careers, and this is what it looks like.


Mike Trout Mickey Mantle
Seasons
6
6
Games
811
808
BA
0.306
0.308
HR
168
173
HR/162 games
34
35
RBI
497
575
RBI/162 games
99
115
Hits
917
907
Hits/162 games
183
181
Runs
600
642
Runs/162 games
120
129

Through six seasons, Trout and Mantle are practically the same player.  The Mick outpaces Trout in both Runs Scored and Runs Batted In, which may be a function of the other players on their respective teams.  Otherwise, those "Trout Is Mantle" comparisons are not far off.

Then, I decided to throw in a couple of other players into the mix to see how Trout compares to them.  You might recognize them:




So, here is the expanded chart:


Mike Trout Hank Aaron Barry Bonds Mickey Mantle Willie Mays
Seasons
6
6
6
6
6
Games
811
886
871
808
762
BA
0.306
0.323
0.269
0.308
0.311
HR
168
179
142
173
128
HR/162 games
34
33
26
35
27
RBI
497
617
563
575
509
RBI/162 games
99
113
84
115
108
Hits
917
1,137
837
907
903
Hits/162 games
183
209
156
181
192
Runs
600
612
563
642
531
Runs/162 games
120
112
105
129
113

I will only draw a couple of conclusions from these comparisons.
  1. Trout certainly holds his own when compared to these four great players.  No doubt that in Trout, we are seeing a guy who can become one of the all time great players by the time his career is done.
  2. Please don't bother pointing out that Bonds' numbers were rolled up in his Pre-Balco Era.  We all get it.
  3. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this little chart are the stats of Hank Aaron.  When discussions of "who was the greatest ball player ever?" take place, I don't think that Aaron's name gets mentioned nearly often enough.
Okay, time to put the calculator away and start getting into Bucco Spring Training.  Time to worry about just which Ivan Nova shows up for the Pirates in 2017.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Current Sports Illustrated Issue


A couple of comments on the current issue of Sports Illustrated, dated February 13, 2017, which arrived in the mail yesterday.

  • At least half of the issue, as should be expected, was devoted to the Super Bowl of last Sunday.  At least half of that story was devoted to a fawning deification of Tom Brady that read like a mid-1960's issue of Tiger Beat writing about Paul McCartney or Davy Jones.  Hey, five days ago in this blog I stated that Brady is the greatest QB of all time, and I maintain that position, but this syrupy story by Greg Bishop certainly contributes to why so much of America outside of the greater Boston area dislikes Tom Brady so much.
  • Quoted extensively in that article is Frank Edelman, the father of Julian Edelman.  Wow, wait 'til you read those quotes.  They make Mr. Edelman worthy of this citation:
(Photo courtesy of Dan Bonk Enterprises.)
  • The balance of the magazine is comprised of eleven stories that focus on Stories that will shape the 2017 sports year.  A good premise, but here are two of the stories that indicate the National Enquirer-ization of Sports Illustrated.
  1.  A story that focuses on the likelihood of O.J. Simpson getting paroled by the State of Nevada in 2017.  I know that Simpson was the subject of an acclaimed documentary and an award winning TV mini-series in 2016, but, still, a story like this in SI smacks of cheap exploitativeness.
  2. A story about a 15-year old high school freshman basketball player in Arizona named Nico Mannion.  It seems the SI wants to follow in its rich tradition of deifying (there's that word again) snotty nosed high school kids like Todd Marinovich, LeBron James, and Bryce Harper with this puff piece on this kid.  (To be fair, James turned out to be the Real Deal, and is seemingly a good guy to boot.  Marinovich flamed out big time.  Harper is a great baseball player and already an MVP, but that SI story about him when he was only 14 years old is in large part why Harper is so disliked by many people outside of the Washington Nationals fan base.)  Anyway, the story about this Mannion kid talks about what a "regular kid" he is.  He has to do chores at home, turn off his cell phone at 9:00 every night, has problems with acne, and is obsessed, yet still unsure, about girls.  Just like any 15 year old kid.  Oh, and he has over 15,000 Instagram followers, has over a dozen pairs of free shoes (that retail for $150 -$250) in his room, is being courted by Under Armour as a possible Steph Curry successor, has a dedicated cell phone for college recruiters only, and already has received a half dozen scholarship offers.  And he has a former NBA father who pushes him in this direction, but still treats him like a "normal kid".  Yeah, right.  I wasn't going to read this story, but like the traffic accident you see on the freeway, I had to take a look at it.  I'm about halfway through it, but I'm not sure I have the stomach to finish it.
As I have often said, a half dozen or so times every year, Sports Illustrated delivers a story that is so good and so well written, that it is worth the price of a subscription, but, on the whole, SI just ain't what it used to be.