Thursday, February 28, 2013

Some Downton Abbey Thoughts (Spoiler Alert)

This post contains Spoilers regarding the Season Three final episode of "Downton Abbey".  So, if you still haven't watched that recording of this episode you made almost two weeks ago, stop right here.  But come on back once you have seen it.

Almost two weeks have passed since the final episode of Season Three was broadcast on PBS, and fans of the series are still reeling from the events of the season.  Early on, we had to deal with the death of Lady Sybil, and in the final ten minutes of the last show, we saw Matthew Crawley meet his maker.  Who saw THAT coming?

Of course, we must never forget that "Downton Abbey" is a soap opera.  A well-made and high quality one, to be sure, but still, a soap opera, and so once the initial shock of these two deaths passed, we really shouldn't be surprised that these events took place.  In reading about these episodes AFTER they were telecast, you learn that these characters were killed off for one of the oldest reasons in television:  the actors - Jessica Brown Findlay and Dan Stevens - wanted out, had contractual difficulties, and/or, and here's the best part, wanted to "pursue other opportunities".

Now, where have we heard that one before?  Are you like me, and did the name Maclean Stevenson spring to mind?  Stevenson, for all you youngsters out there, was one of the co-stars of the hit TV series M*A*S*H back from 1972-83.  However, that wasn't enough for Stevenson.  He wanted more.  He wanted to be a star in his own series.  So he left M*A*S*H after three seasons, and was pretty much never heard from again, and M*A*S*H ran for another eight years.  David Caruso thought he'd be a movie star so he bagged "NYPD Blue", and pretty much dissed series television as the minor leagues, until, of course, he bombed in movies and came running back to series TV (CSI:Miami) with his tail between his legs.  Katherine Heigl won an Emmy in Grey's Anatomy, but, again, contractual differences and the need to be a movie star called her away from that gravy train.  She has since been featured in any number of bomb romantic comedies.  She's probably crying all the way to the bank, but still.

I am sure if I thought hard enough, I could come up with more such examples, but you get the idea.  In the meantime, let's just add the names of Jessica Brown Findlay and Dan Stevens as the early nominees for the 2013 "Maclean Stevenson Award - British Division".

Another thought on "Downton Abbey", this one courtesy of friend Dave Jones (The Official Fantasy Sports Kommissioner to The Grandstander).  If you are a fan of both "Downton Abbey" and HBO's "Boardwalk Empire", have you realized that both of these shows are taking place in approximately the same time period?  Think about it, while the Grantham's are dealing with the rigors and strains of life in the fading days of the British Aristocracy following World War I, across the pond, Nucky Thompson and his guys are trying to control the flow of booze and all organized crime in Atlantic City.  What a contrast of life styles!

The producers missed a great opportunity for a crossover, when Nucky went to Ireland in Season Two to meet with IRA rebels to corner the American market for Irish whiskey.  Wouldn't it have been a hoot if he had met with Thomas Branson while there?  As for me, I'd love to see a "sit-down" involving Nucky Thompson and the Dowager Countess.  That would be Must See TV!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"The Shawshank Redemption"

I will admit that I may have been the only person among my circle of acquaintance to have never seen "The Shawshank Redemption".  Not to get Freudian on you, but I blame my mother for this.  She had a lifelong aversion to "prison movies" (in fact, she didn't like any movies where the people in it weren't "clean" or "dressed up"), and I suspect that her oft-stated preferences in this regard may have subliminally contributed to me never seeing this movie.

Be that as it may, at the pressure of many people, especially a Loyal Reader in Hatboro, PA (aka, Big Poppy, aka the Official Broadway Correspondent to The Grandstander), I finally slipped this movie into the DVD player and watched it yesterday.  And what can I say, I was the one missing out by waiting 19 years to finally see this movie.  It was really, really good.  A great story about the Human Spirit.  I will no doubt watch it again in years to come.

This movie was nominated for seven Oscars, including Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actor (Morgan Freeman), but was shut out on Oscar night.    It lost out to "Forrest Gump" for Best Picture and Freeman lost out to Tom Hanks for Best Actor.  Freeman was terrific, but so was Hanks, although "Forrest Gump" was not as good a movie as this one, and neither was as good as "Quiz Show" which was also nominated for Best Picture that year.

As often happens when you watch an old movie, you see an actor in a minor role who was to go on to bigger things.  There were two such actors in this movie.  Gill Bellows, who played Tommy, went on to appear in several TV shows, including the current series, "Vegas".  The other was David Proval who played one Andy Dufresne's fellow cons.  Proval went on to play Richie Aprile in "The Sopranos".  Fun stuff. 

Thanks to all of you who finally made me watch this movie.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Post-Oscars Thoughts

Yep, this is one of those years that the Motion Picture Academy got it right by naming Ben Affleck's "Argo" the Best Picture of the Year.  I may spend my afternoon watching the Blue Ray of this movie to celebrate.

As for my Oscar Predictions, I went 6-for-9.  You'd have made money if you bet with me.  I missed on Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Actress, and in two those predictions I was almost right.  In predicting a Screenplay win for "Lincoln's" Tony Kushner, I said that he "may get pushed out by Chris Terrio" for "Argo", and he was, with Terrio winning the award.  In the Actress category, I said Jennifer Lawrence had the "big edge" for this one, but I went with Jessica Chastain because (a) she was my preference, and (b)  you have to pick at least one upset, right?  I never saw Ang Lee as Best Director.  I thought that was going to be Steven Spielberg's all the way.

As I have done in past years, my bullet point thoughts on the awards and the show itself.

  • Host Seth Macfarlane.  Comments on Facebook during the show and some write-ups this morning were critical of him.  Clearly, the Academy wanted a guy to appeal to younger audiences, and I suppose that the pros and cons of his gig last night will split along generational lines.  Anyone familiar at all with Macfarlane's work shouldn't be surprised by anything they saw.  I thought he was funny at times, over the edge at others, and I was impressed by his song-and-dance abilities.  If I was grading him, I'd give him a C+ or B-.  If I had my druthers, I'd love to see Billy Crystal back next year (hey, I'm 61 years old!), but I wouldn't be totally disappointed if Macfarlane came back for another year.
  • I am not a Star Trek guy, but I have always loved how William Shatner self-deprecates his Captain Kirk role.  That said, his bit last night with Macfarlane in the opening went way too long.
  • Macfarlane is not the first Oscar host to crack jokes about how long the show drags on, so he shouldn't be criticized for that.  Crystal made an art form of such jokes.
  • On a night when one of the big movies was "Lincoln" perhaps a John Wilkes Booth joke shouldn't have been told, but the shock and awe over it is a bit over the top.  I have been hearing comedians telling Lincoln/Booth jokes for as long as I can remember.  Bob Newhart's - and who is more inoffensive than Bob Newhart? -  classic routine of the PR guy coaching Abe Lincoln ends with just such a joke, in fact, and that one dates back to the 1960's.
  • Final note on Seth Macfarlane:  I make him a look-alike for Pittsburgh Pirates Prez Frank Coonelly.  Anyone with me on that?
  • One thing will never change on an Oscar show: lame supposed-to-be-funny dialog between two presenters will usually fall flat and lay a huge, uncomfortable egg.  Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy were perhaps the biggest victims of that last night, and there were several others.
  • Speaking of presenters, if Channing Tatum and Kristen Stewart are examples of the next generation of Hollywood stars, then Hollywood is in a lot of trouble.  Man, were they awful last night.  What a couple of punks.
  • The performance of the cast of "Les Miserables" was probably the highlight of the night.
  • Speaking of musical performances, the orchestra drowned out the vocals of Shirley Bassey, Adele, Norah Jones, and Barbra Streisand.  Not good.
  • Streisand is starting to look her 70+ years, but, man, she can still sing.
  • And speaking of Shirely Bassey, I loved hearing her sing "Goldfinger", but that James Bond "50 Year Tribute" was completely over-hyped.  What a let down that was.
  • I know that it was a much admired book, and I know people who have loved both the book and the movie, but I have to be honest.  Multiple Oscars aside, no preview trailer I have seen, and no clip that I saw on last night's show, have given me any desire whatsoever to see "Life of Pi."
  • Wonderful touch to have the First Lady be the presenter for the Best Picture Award.  I am sure that Fox News is no doubt already lambasting her for this.  
  • I loved seeing comments on Facebook last night from people who went out of their way to say how they NEVER watch awards shows.  It must be nice to know that you are intellectually superior to most of the world.
  • Finally, I did see the last 30 minutes of the Red Carpet show.  That redefines the word "vapid".
Well, as they say in the movie biz, that's a wrap.  See you at the movies!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Will The Oscars Get It Right Tonight?

Will the Motion Picture Academy choose a great movie like "Argo" or "Lincoln" tonight, or will they come out of left field with something like "Amour"?  In other words, will the "right" movie win the Best Picture Oscar this year.  It doesn't always happen.

To prove my point, I thought I'd pull out one decade at random, and I chose the 1990's.  Recent enough to remember, but enough time has passed to give us some perspective.  I say that in only once of those ten years, maybe twice, did the Academy get it right.

Agree or disagree?  (Each of the "better movies" below was also nominated for Best Picture that year.)

1990: Driving Miss Daisy.  Better movie:  Field of Dreams
1991: Dances With Wolves. Better movie: Good Fellas
1992: Silence of the Lambs.  Better movie:  None. The Academy got it right this year.
1993: Unforgiven.  Better movie: A Few Good Men.
1994: Schindler's List.  Better movie: Maybe, possibly, The Fugitive, but hard to argue against Schindler's List.
1995: Forest Gump. Better movie(s): Quiz Show, Shawshank Redemption
1996: Braveheart. Better movie: Apollo 13
1997: The English Patient. Better movie: Fargo
1998: Titanic.  Better movie: None, in my opinion, but L.A. confidential was pretty good.
1999: Shakespeare in Love. Better movie: Saving Private Ryan.

What do you think?  Enjoy the Oscars tonight, and hope that the Academy gets it right!

This was fun.  Think I will check out some other decades for future posts.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Seneca Valley High School Musical

If you want to feel good about the future, kids, and life in general, I strongly suggest that you go see a high school musical, which is what we did last night.  We saw the Seneca Valley High School production of "Annie".  We had a connection to seeing this in that our nephew, Zach, was a part of the stage crew (and the crew did an EXCELLENT job, by the way).  

Anyway, the talent and enthusiasm of the cast, orchestra, and crew that went into this excellent production just makes you feel good all over.  Congratulations and THANKS to all those SV kids who made this happen!

In two more weeks, we take in North Allegheny's production of "Footloose".

Now, attending the play last night prevented us from attending a Lenten Fish Fry at a local church.  Instead, we hit a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Zelionople called the Jackson Fish Company Market Cafe.   Excellent fish sandwich, and, on the bright side, you can hit this place 52 weeks a year if you are so inclined.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"1776" and a Burger to Remember

A busy bitter cold afternoon for Marilyn and me.

First, a visit to the terrific O'Reilly Theater for a matinee performance of the tony Award winning musical play, "1776".  This was the first time we had seen this play, and it was really, really good.  The title tells you what it's all about, of course, and the Pittsburgh Public Theater's production was first rate.  A wonderful theater going experience.

We topped off the day by having dinner at SoHo (home of the MOASP Draft and the SABR Hot Stove Nights!) right across from PNC Park.  This was my second visit to SoHo in three days, and I decided to make this visit a part of the Great Hamburger Quest of 2013.  I ordered a Mushroom-Swiss Burger and was not disappointed.  In fact, So Ho has reached Top Three status in the rankings:

The Rankings:
  1. Tessaro's (Bloomfield)
  2. The Rochester Inn Hardwood Grill (Ross)
  3. SoHo Restaurant (North Shore)
  4. Bella Ria's (West View)
  5. The Tilted Kilt (North Shore)
  • BZ Bar and Grill (North Shore)
  • Sunny Jim's (Emsworth)
Marilyn had a tuna melt and raved about it, and combining this with the excellent chicken parm dinner I had at the MOASP Draft on Tuesday, well, I would say that SoHo becomes a highly recommended place to dine.  We have also enjoyed many quick meals there before Pirates games over the years.

DVR Alerts for the Weekend

Some MAJOR DVR Alerts for the next four days.  All are on Turner Classic Movies.  All times Eastern.


8:00 PM: "Double Indemnity" (1944)  Simply put, one of my personal all-time favorites.  Film noir thriller starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred McMurray, and Edward G. Robinson.  Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler.  Movies don't get any better than this one, folks.  Here's a sample of what you'll see:

2:15 AM (Friday morning): "Seven Days in May" (1964)  Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Fredric March in a story about a military plot to stage a coup and overthrow the President of the United States.  Lancaster was never better playing the megalomaniac general who heads up the plot.  Douglas is his loyal aide and March is the President.  No more spoilers here, but as political thrillers go, this is one of the best.


8:00 PM: "On the Waterfront" (1954)  Story about union corruption on the Hoboken, NJ  docks won eight Oscars including Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay, plus, three nominations for Best Supporting Actor.  If you only know Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, then you must see this one.  Brando was amazing in this absolutely terrific movie. 


9:30 AM: "Bridge On the River Kwai" (1957)  One of the great war movies ever, this one won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, David Lean, and Actor, Alec Guinness.  It also stars another of my all time favorites, William Holden.  This is a long movie, 2 hours and 40 minutes, but it is totally enthralling.  The climactic scene is absolutely spectacular.

Another movie that will be shown on TCM this weekend is 1969's "Easy Rider" which stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and in his breakout role, a very, very young Jack Nicholson.  I can remember seeing this movie in Slippery Rock, PA when I was a freshman in college, and I can remember being so moved and so taken with the message that this story was telling.  Then, about five years ago, I rented it anxiously watch it once again.  I couldn't get through 30 minutes of it.  Moral of the story:  Some movies are perfect for their time, but not all of them hold up with the passage of time.  This was one of those. It is on Saturday night/Sunday morning at 2;30 AM if you want to give it a try.  I'm going to pass on it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oscar Predictions

Yes, it is time for The Grandstander's predictions for the 2012 Academy Awards.  Let it be noted that I went 7-for-8 in my predictions for the Oscars last year, which says two things.  One, I'm better at this than I am at predicting the NFL Playoff games, and two, it ain't going to be easy to top that performance.  Nevertheless, I'm going to give it a go.

I am going to add a category this year, and predict the award for Best Original Song.  This award category has really fallen a long way down since the days when Henry Mancini was winning the Oscar every year.  Last year, only three songs were even nominated, so how relevant an award is this?  Anyway, there are four nominees in 2012, and I am calling for Adele Adkins' "Skyfall" from the James Bond movie of the same name to take home the Oscar.  This will also serve as a way to honor this terrific Bond movie, which, not so incidentally, wracked up HUGE box office numbers world wide.

For Best Adapted Screenplay, I call for Tony Kushner of "Lincoln" to win.  This may get pushed out by Chris Terrio for "Argo", but Kushner has been winning all of the other writing awards leading up to this, so his string will most likely continue in Hollywood on Sunday.

The Best Original Screenplay will go to Quentin Tarantino for "D'Jango Unchained".  Despite his not being nominated for Best Director, Hollywood loves Tarantino, and this is how they will honor him and his movie.

Best Director.  Perhaps the most discussed category this entire Oscar season due to the well publicized snubs of Ben Affleck, Tarantino, Katheryn Bigelow, and Tom Hooper.  All of the pre-Oscar directing awards have gone to Affleck, but, alas, he's ineligible for the Oscar.  So, this one goes to Steven Spielberg  for "Lincoln", and, the injustice of Affleck's snub aside, how can you possibly argue with such a choice?

Best Supporting Actress. I have seen only two of the nominees, Sally Field in "Lincoln" and Jacki Weaver in "Silver Linings Playbook", but I will call a win for Anne Hathaway for her nine minute appearance in "Les Miserables".  She has won every such award leading up to this on, and that trend will continue.

Best Supporting Actor.  All five nominees are previous Oscar winners, and while I wouldn't mind seeing Alan Arkin sneak in a win here for his turn in "Argo", this one seems to come down the Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln", and Christopher Waltz, "D'Jango Unchained".  Both have won important awards leading up to the Oscars, but I am going to use the SAG Awards as a bell weather, and call this one as a close win for Christopher Waltz.  

Best Actress.  The Golden Globe and the SAG Awards both went to Jennifer Lawrence, which would seem to give her a big edge for this one,  Also, I have seen it suggested that Lawrence might win this one not only for "Silver Linings Playbook" for which she is nominated, but also for her work in that bow-and-arrow, box office biggie, "Hunger Games."  My own preference would be Jessica Chastain for "Zero Dark Thirty."  All indications say Lawrence, who is quite charming, but let's call this one my wild card pick, and predict a win for Jessica Chastain for this one.

Best Actor.  Should Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Denzel Washington even bother showing up on Sunday night?  In the surest of sure things of the night, Daniel Day-Lewis takes home the Oscar for his amazing performance in "Lincoln."

Best Picture.  Of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, I have not seen "Les Miserables", "D'Jango Unchained", "Life of Pi", "Amour", and "Beast of the Southern Wild".  At this point, I will wait to catch Les Miz when it comes on DVD, and perhaps, maybe, I will see the ultra-violent D'Jango on DVD as well.  Not a chance that I will see any of the other three.  So that leaves four nominees that I have seen, and I am confident that the winner will come from those four: "Argo", "Lincoln", "Silver Linings Playbook", and "Zero Dark Thirty".   

While I found "Silver Linings Playbook" a charming, enjoyable, and very good movie, it is certainly not the "best" movie of the year.  Absolutely worth seeing, but certainly not the Best.  That leaves three survivors, and I would be happy if any one of those three won the big prize of the night.  I believe that the controversy that has surrounded "Zero Dark Thirty", which may have led to Bigelow's non-nomination for Director, will also serve to keep this one from winning Best Picture. 

That leaves it between "Argo" and "Lincoln".   The non-nomination of Affleck for Best Director has been much written about and discussed, and I have mentioned it many time myself on this blog.  Both Affleck and the movie have been cited in numerous other award venues (Golden Globes, SAG, Director's Guild), and I think that the Academy as a whole will make up for the snub he received from his fellow Directors within the Academy, and that Producer Ben Affleck will get his Oscar anyway when "Argo" is called for the Best Picture of the Year. 

There you have it.  As always, watch but don't bet!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Downton Abbey (No Spoilers)

I am giving everyone until this weekend to watch this past Sunday's Season III finale of Downton Abbey.  

Next week, no holds barred in the discussions.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Some Recent - and Very Different - Movie Viewing

During the course of the last two weeks, I watched a couple of very different movies on DVD, and felt like commenting.

The first was one that has become almost a classic, from 1974 and director Roman Polanski, "Chinatown."

This is a noir-style private eye movie, set in 1930's Los Angeles and stars Jack Nicholson as the private eye, Jake Gittes, Faye Dunaway as his client, and John Huston as her father, who also may be the guy pulling the stings in a big case involving Dunaway's husband - who ends up dead - and water rights in the greater Los Angeles area.  When watching this now almost 40 year old movie, you should be aware that when it was made, Nicholson was NOT the major star that he was to become, but you can see WHY he became that star.  As with many such stories, the plot is complex, but it can be followed if you pay attention.  (Unlike, say, the classic "The Big Sleep."  No one knows what that movie is about, but it doesn't matter, because it is such great fun, anyway.)  The period details of this movie are terrific and very stylish.

Also, this was the first movie that Polanski made since the 1969 murder of his wife, Sharon Tate and her friends, at the hands of Charles Manson's minions, and those events are said to have had a hand in his thinking as he made this movie.  Polanski has also since run into some very disturbing legal troubles of his own that have kept him out of the USA for a number of years.

Anyway, a really good movie that you should make a point of seeing, and I love the final line. "Forget it, Jake.  It's Chinatown."

The other movie was way at the other end of the spectrum, "Ted".

This is the movie about the little boy who gets his wish and has his teddy bear come to life to always be his "best friend", which can be complicated when you are in your thirties.  The DVD gives you the choice of watching the theatrical R-rated version, or an unrated version.  We chose the "R" version, and I just can't imagine what the unrated version must be like.  Which doesn't mean that "crude" can't be funny.  It is quite funny, even if it does go on a bit long.

I bring this up because the brains behind this movie (writer, director, and voice of Ted) is Seth Macfarlane, who is also the creator of TV's "Family Guy", and the man who will be the host of next Sunday's Academy Awards show.  The Academy took come criticism last year for bringing back Billy Crystal as host.  I love Crystal, but he was deemed to be "too old" by many critics, and the Academy wanted to appeal to a younger audience, so they're going with Macfarlane.  By the way the last time the Academy wanted to skew young was two years ago when Anne Hathaway and James Franco co-hosted.  Hathaway was okay, and she sure tried hard, but Franco was a complete and total stiff.  Anyway, Macfarlane is definitely for the younger crowd, and "edgy" could be a mild term for what he might bring to the role as Oscar Host.  It will be interesting, to be sure.

Oh, and since we are talking about Academy Awards, watch for my Oscar predictions later in the week.

You Know What?

Today is Michael Jordan's 50th birthday (maybe you've heard), and you know what?  I just don't give a damn!

Friday, February 15, 2013

On Swimsuits and Sports Illustrated

The annual Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated  arrived yesterday.  Now, let me stipulate the following:  (a) I am no prude, at least I don't think I am, and (b) I enjoy looking at pictures of pretty girls and beautiful women as much as anyone.

That said, who is Sports Illustrated kidding?  This issue is not about fashion, it is not about swimming and swimsuits, and it is most definitely not about sports.  This is nothing more than high grade soft core porn, and all of SI's posturing that it is not is just so much boosh-wah (to use a technical term).

No, I will not be one of those outraged subscribers who annually write letters to the SI editor demanding that my subscription be canceled, which I guess makes me a hypocrite, but I can tell you that the SI Swimsuit Issue is resting in the recycling bin in my garage right now.

A Pirates Logo Suggestion

As you all know, the Pirates will be changing their "jolly roger" logo for the 2014 season, and are even conducting focus groups from fans, season ticket holders,, etc. to come up with ideas for the new logo.

An old Highmark buddy of mine, I will only call him "Al B." here because I am not sure he wants his full name out there in cyber space, has come up with a great idea, and I will quote it here:

Regarding their search for a new logo…..I’ve had it for a number of years. And now with the signing of Liriano and all of the other reclamation projects..…it’s more appropriate than ever: New Logo: The Statue of Liberty… an eye patch over her eye…..put a bandanna on her head….stick the Jolly Roger flag in her hand….and alter the description to say something like: “Give us your tired…. lame…. over-the-hill…… inept….. busted amateur first-round draft picks. We lift our lamp beside the Golden Ballpark”.

 I don't know about all of you, but I like it.  Thanks, Al!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Pope, Hamburgers, Nucky Thompson and Other Items From a Mixed Bag

Some disparate thoughts....

  • Like so many of you, I found the news of Pope Benedict XVI's decision to retire to be a stunner.  I also found it to be an incredible act of courage in the Pope recognizing and admitting that he no longer has the "physical and mental strength" to continue in the job.
  • The specificity of the time of the Pontiff's abdication - February 28 at 8:00 PM - was curious.  Why eight o'clock at night?
  • I am stunned by the International Olympic Committee's decision to drop wrestling from the Olympics beginning in 2020.  Not that I was a huge fan of the sport.  If I watched it at all, it was during the Olympics (if you could find it on TV during any of the recent Olympiads), but if there is truly a classic Olympic sport, it's got to be wrestling, right?  I don't think you'll find many ancient Grecian urns depicting rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming.
  • I am too cheap to subscribe to HBO, but I think nothing of buying boxed DVD sets.  As such, we just finished watching Season Two of "Boardwalk Empire".  Great series, albeit  quite violent, with good acting and writing, compelling story lines, and, in true HBO fashion, a healthy dollop of gratuitous nudity.  Can't wait for the Season Three DVD set to be released, which will happen about the time that Season Four begins on HBO.  It is almost a full time job trying to avoid Spoilers.
  • The Great Hamburger Quest of 2013 continued yesterday with a visit to Sunny Jim's on Camp Horne Road in Emsworth.  Sunny Jim's is known for it's terrific wings, so I figured the burgers had to be good, right?  Wrong.  The burger was large and filling, but my request for a "medium" burger came out resembling something the Penguins would use during their shoot-arounds.  I guess any kitchen can have an off day, and maybe that is what I encountered yesterday, but them's the breaks.  Until I am again inclined to order a burger there, Sunny Jim's burgers fall in the "Unranked" category.  To be fair, Marilyn's Cheese-steak hoagie was good, and SJ's wings ARE very good.
  • Ash Wednesday today.  Lent is here, and The Grandstander will, for the next 40 days, be switching from the Hamburger Quest to Friday Fish Fries!  Who says that Lent is all about sacrifice?
The Pope, Nucky Thompson, and Sunny Jim's all in one post.  If that doesn't define "disparate", I don't know what does.

DVR Alerts!!!!

Some DVR Alerts for the coming days.   As is always the case, these movies are on Turner Classic Movies, and all times are Eastern.

Thursday, 8:00 PM: "Gone With the Wind" (1939)   Story of a bratty rich girl who endures a series of bad marriages because the effeminate guy she pines for pays her no heed and marries her goody-goody cousin.  Oh, and there is a war going on in the background.

Saturday, 2:00 PM: "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)  Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Conner, and Jean Hagen in this all-time classic about Hollywood when talkies replaced silent films.  Three of the great musical numbers ever in the movies: Singin' in the Rain, Good Morning, and Make 'em Laugh.  Hagen's performance as the silent star who gets left behind because of her abrasive/lousy voice is a classic, and it often gets overlooked when this movie is discussed.

Saturday, Midnight: "North by Northwest" (1959) Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in an Alfred Hitchcock classic with so many Hitchcock classic scenes: a murder at the United Nations, Grant in a cornfield and cropduster, Grant and Saint being chased over Mt, Rushmore.  Great movie.

Saturday (actually, Sunday morning), 2:30 AM: "Bad Day at Black Rock" (1955) Spencer Tracy encountering some nasty small town secrets in trying to track down a war hero.

Monday (actually, Tuesday morning), 12;30 AM: "The Good-bye Girl" (1977) Romantic comedy written by the great Neil Simon starring Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar for his part, and Marsha Mason.  Classic Simon lines:  "Your lips say no-no, but your eyes say yes-yes." and "I...don' on the rod."

Tuesday, 6:00 PM: "My Favorite Year" (1982)  Yeah, I know, I just hyped this one with a DVR Alert last month, but if you ignored me then, here is another chance to see this terrific comedy about 1950's television with a fantastic performance by Peter O'Toole.

Some more great movies on TCM later in the month, but I don't want to get too far ahead of myself.   Keep watching this space.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Zero Dark Thirty"

We finally made it out to see "Zero Dark Thirty" yesterday, and wow, what a movie!  As you probably know, this movie is all about the CIA's ten year hunt to track down and take down Osama Bin Laden.  You know how the movie ends, but that doesn't take away from the suspense and the overall excellence of the movie.

As you also may know, the movie has become controversial in its depiction of torture by Americans in interrogating detainees.  Is the movie an "endorsement" of these practices and/or a criticism of the ceasing of such tactics?  Director Katherine Bigelow says it is neither, merely a presentation of events, and the questions may have cost Bigelow a "Best Director" Oscar nomination, but regardless of all of that, this is one terrific movie, and the final 40 minutes or so when the team goes into Pakistan on their mission is fabulous.

Jessica Chastain as Maya, the CIA operative who devotes ten years to tracking down Bin Laden gets my vote for Best Actress Oscar.

Also in the movie is James Gandolfini as the CIA Director ("Leon Panetta" is not named in the movie, but Gandolfini has him down pat).  You may have thought that Gandolfini would be forever typecast as Tony Soprano, and you do remember him in that role, but he is completely believable as the CIA Director.  A small, but terrific performance.

On the subject of snubbed movie directors, did you all notice that Ben Affleck received the Best Director Award as bestowed by the Directors Guild of America two weeks ago?  Also, "Argo" was named Best Picture of the Year by the British Film Institute this weekend.  all signs are pointing to "Argo" winning the Best Picture Academy Award while it's director wasn't even nominated.  

Spring Training Begins

Other than a post on the changing of the team's Jolly Roger logo in 2014, I have come to realize that I have not issued a Grandstander post on the Pirates since the calendar turned to 2013.  Unbelievable.  However, today is the day that the Bucco pitchers and catchers reported to Pirate City in Bradenton, so I am compelled to write one today.  I will attempt to do so without once using the phrase "hope springs eternal."

So, what do you write about after 20 losing seasons, and after two seasons that started so promisingly only to see the team collapse, and to collapse in an historical fashion, in the final months of each of those seasons?  Part of my current anger with the Pirates as led by Neal Huntington has been their ability to suck all of the optimism right out of me, even at the dawn of Spring Training when hope spri....oops, sorry about that.

The Pirates off season was highlighted by major publicity gaffes when the minor league brain trust of the NHR (Neal Huntington Regime) issued deranged internal memos and led the minor leaguers in a series of Navy SEAL-type drills that may or may not have led to injury to some of these key young prospects.  This, along with that aforementioned collapse led to a comprehensive top-to-bottom one man review of all team operations by top man Bob Nutting, aka, Capt. Nuts, after which nothing much happened to change things other than than the hiring of some 70-something year old scout from that Yankees as a special advisor to GM Neal.  Oh, and the SEAL-type drills have been discontinued.  Maybe.

On the personnel side, the team traded All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan because he was headed for arbitration where he would have been awarded a $7 million salary.  They signed a catcher, Russell Martin, who hit .211 for the Yankees last year, and in what is to me a perfect symbolic metaphor for the entire history of the NHR player development and acquisition strategy, they signed Francisco Liriano, a free agent pitcher with a broken arm.

On the face of it, I have no real problem with the Hanrahan trade.  A "closer" will emerge, be it Jason Grilli or someone else, who will get the job done.  Four players came to Pittsburgh from Boston in the deal and none of them overwhelms you.  If nothing else, "organizational depth", a battle cry of the NHR, will be enhanced. (Nice to know that the Indianapolis Indians will be strong this year.)  Martin, whatever he might have left in his tank, will be an improvement over Rod Barajas.  As for Liriano, who knows (a) when he'll be able to pitch, and (b) how effective he will be when he does?  According to Jim Sproule (Official American League Scout for The Grandstander), he's pretty much garbage.

But enough of that.  What can we look forward to and be excited about?  Let's break it down by position.

Outfield.  As with everything with the Pirates, you start with Andrew McCutchen.  He's the best player on the team.  He was an MVP candidate last year until he leveled off a bit in August and September.  No reason to think that he will be anything less than the All-Star caliber player he has been the last two season.  Starling Marte should get the job in left field from the get-go, and I think that he could be a quality major league player.  Right field becomes a guessing game....Jerry Sands, Travis Snyder, Jose Tabata, even Garrett Jones.  Snyder was a key acquisition at the deadline last year, but he was injured and didn't show a whole lot.  I think he gets first crack at keeping the job.

Infield.  Pedro Alvarez was the key question coming into last season.  He is not a question this year.  He hit 30 home runs last year and he will not be a "bust", and that was a strong possibility as recently as April of last season.  He needs to be more consistent and avoid those 2-for-40 stretches that seemed to always follow amazingly torrid stretches when he'd hit six homers in eight games.  It would be nice if he cut down on the strike outs, but if he hits 30-35 HR's and gets a bit more consistent, I'll live with the K's.  At first base, Garrett Jones had a coming out year last year when he was used as a platoon player (only 74 of 475 AB's were against lefties), and he produced big time.  The team needs to find the complimentary RH hitting first baseman to platoon with him.  That could be Gaby Sanchaz, Sands, or one of the several dozen or so "outfielder/first baseman" they seem to have on the roster.  One cautionary note:  Jones is up for arbitration and could be headed for a $7 million or so salary, which means he could be sent packing by GM Neal at the orders of Capt. Nuts.  Neil Walker had a terrific year last year until a back injury put him pretty much on the shelf for the last six weeks or so of the season.  Not so coincidentally, this is when the team started going in the tank, too.  I know a little bit about bad backs, so I worry about Walker and his health situation, and I hope that this is not the beginning of a downward spiral for him.  At short stop, Clint Barmes returns.  Whoopee.

Catcher.  In his blog today, Bob Smizik points out that the Pirates have not drafted a catcher who has played in a single major league game, since the Cam Bonifay Regime drafted Ryan Doumit in 2000.  THIRTEEN YEARS AGO!!!!  Sorry, but that is just pathetic.  Anyway, Russell Martin now becomes the overpaid, multi-million dollar stop gap. Maybe he'll succeed where the likes of Barajas, Chris Snyder, Benito Santiago and other forgettable backstops failed. 

Pitching.  Here we go, here's the basket where the NHR has placed all the eggs.  Some bullet point thoughts:

  • I'd love to believe that A.J. Burnett, at 36, will duplicate the season he had last year, but will/can he?
  • I'd love to believe that First Half J-Mac and not Second Half J-Mac is the real J-Mac, but is he?
  • Nice that the team was able to re-sign Jeff Karstens after he was DFA'd, but why weren't 29 other teams anxious to sign him as a relatively cheap free agent when they had the opportunity? 
  • I am excited about having Wandy Rodriguez for a full season.  Really.
  • Charlie Morton, who showed signs of being a really nice pitcher in 2011, comes back from Tommy John surgery, probably in June.  What kind of pitcher will he be?
  • Liriano, from what I've read, may not be ready to pitch until June.  Maybe he'll be the young phee-nom he was with the Twins all those years ago, but I'm thinking if he's as good as Kevin Correia was last year, the Pirates will be lucky.
  • Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke, two of the young gun prospects, may fight it out for the fifth starting spot.  These are the kinds of guys who come up through the system and HAVE to make good for the "Plan" of the Pirates to work.  In brief major league tries so far, they haven't shown the goods yet.
  • Bullpen.  Something will emerge here.  This is one thing that Huntington appears to be able to do each year.  If Grilli can't do the job that Hanrahan has done, someone will emerge to get those last three outs when needed.
  • You notice that I have yet to mention Gerritt Cole, the Overall #1 of two years ago.  No matter what happens in Spring Training, I fully expect Cole to start the season in Indy, but if he shows anything, anything at all in Indy, I expect that Cole will be the first guy called up to start when someone falters or is injured.  Even then, there is always the chance that the Pirates, in an effort to delay Cole's arbitration eligibility, will NOT bring Cole up, even if it is obvious he should be called up.  If THAT happens, my frustration will reach the breaking point, and I may burn tickets on Federal Street at the foot of the Stargell statue!
So, in the end, am I excited that Spring Training has started and we'll soon be hearing some Grapefruit games on the radio?  Of course I am!  Will this be the year the losing streak stops (and say it with me now, "the longest losing season streak in North American professional sports history")?  I will wait until the conclusion of Spring Training to attempt to give an answer to that question.  As I have said before, the fact that I can no longer generate unbridled optimism at the start of Spring Training is perhaps the biggest wrong that has been perpetrated upon me by the NHR.

Friday, February 8, 2013

"The Shame of College Sports"

I am currently reading an anthology, "The Best American Sportswriting 2012" (available a few weeks ago for $1.99 as a Kindle "Deal of the Day"!), and included was a story called "The Shame of College Sports" by Taylor Branch.  This is a very lengthy article that appeared in the August 2011 issue of The Atlantic.  While it is a long article, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of sports, and, particularly, college sports.  

It goes to great length exposing what a hypocritical and self-serving organization the NCAA is, how they have used the oxymoronic term student-athlete for their own selfish purposes, and how the very last people they care about and serve are all of the student-athletes themselves.  It may make you feel just a bit different whenever the NCAA airs all of those cloying commercials during the NCAA basketball tournament this coming March.

Check it out here:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pitt Reels in the Recruits

Thanks to my friend Dan Bonk (Official Golden Panther to The Grandstander), I was able to attend the big National Letter of Intent Day event that Pitt held at Heinz Field last night.

Paul Chryst and his staff officially landed 27 recruits for the 2013 recruiting class, and a lot of great hoopla surrounded the announcement.  As Dan puts it, this event, along with the hoopla surrounding the NFL Draft, is one of the great "Non-Events" on the sports calendar,  but, what the hell, it's fun, and what's the value of following a team if you can't have a little unbridled optimism once in awhile.  

The way the deal worked last night, Chryst opened the show by thanking everyone for coming (and there was probably a couple of thousand people there) and their support. He then introduced each position coach who then talked about each of the kids, or, excuse me, each of the Young Men, who will be coming to Pitt this Fall.  Of course, every recruit was a tremendous football player with great "upside", and all were outstanding Young Men who came from Great Families.  When it was all said and done, you figure that Pitt should probably end up winning 45 games or so over the next four years.

We were the shown video game films from the high schools of each of the 27 Young Men who will be coming to Pitt. It got a little tedious, to be honest, but one thing I noticed was that on everyone of those tapes, the kid that was being highlighted was always, and I mean always, either the biggest or the fastest kid - and sometimes both - on the field.  The only problem is that now these 27 kids will now be competing with and against other kids who were the biggest and fastest kids on their high school fields.

I hope that ALL of these kids work out for Pitt, that they all become All-Americans, Heisman finalists, and/or first round NFL Draft picks, but the reality is that some of these kids won't make it.  Some will drop out of school for various reasons, some won't be good enough to play on the Division I-A level, and one or two may get arrested.  I don't know what the percentage is that makes for a really good recruiting class, but I'm thinking if seven or eight of those kids become solid two or three year starters, with one or two being solid NFL prospects, Chryst and his staff will probably be pretty happy with it.

In the meantime, as a brand new season ticket holder, I enjoyed last evening's event, and am looking forward to Pitt kicking it off in the ACC come Fall.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The PGA Tour Turns Back the Clock

Most people think that the PGA tour doesn't really begin until The Masters (A Tradition Like No Other), but, in fact, the golfers have been teeing it up since the first weekend in January, but it's kind of gotten lost in the shuffle of the NFL Playoffs.  Until, that is, the past two weeks.

In case you missed it, two weeks ago Tiger Woods won, and in pretty much Tiger-like fashion, the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.  This was the eighth time that Woods has won a tournament at Torrey Pines.  This past weekend out in Scottsdale, Phil Mickelson went wire to wire in a beatdown of the rest of the field, including a round of 60!

I don't think that we will ever see the dominant Tiger Woods of the early part of this 21st century, but let's remember that he did win three tournaments last year, and he looked pretty damn good two weeks ago.  Of course, Woods has set major championships as his standard, so the big question about him is always, will he ever win another Major, and if so will he break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Majors (he has 14)?  My thought - yes, he will win another Major, sometime, but, no, he will not break Jack's record.

Mickelson has reached an age, he is 42, where guys just don't win with regularity on the big Tour.  I'm not sure how many more performances like we saw this past weekend Phil has left in him.  Still, his performance last weekend, and Woods' the week before, does tantalize you with hopes of Tiger-Lefty showdowns at Augusta and the US Open later in the year.

Speaking of Mickelson, how did you like the pity party he threw for himself about how he was getting screwed by the tax laws on the Federal and the State of California levels.  My heart really ached for him.  By the way, he made $45 million in 2012.  I would happily trade him my income and taxes for his income and taxes.  Guys who have grown up in the life of country clubs and elite amateur and then professional golf, they really have a handle on the real world, don't they?

Some of the biggest off the course news this year was the signing of Rory McIlroy, the current #1 in the world, to a mega-millions deal by Nike.  In case you haven't seen it yet, Nike has produced this cool commercial featuring their two big guns.  Interestingly enough, Woods and McIlroy were NOT together when this commercial was produced.  A triumph of clever film editing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Super Bowl....and Other Thoughts

For the first time in many years, we watched this years Super Bowl while attending a Super Bowl Party, and many thanks to Fred Shugars (The Official Actuary of The Grandstander) and his wife, Susan, for hosting a really fun evening.  If you know Fred, you will not be surprised to know that this party included a number of betting games for which Fred keeps voluminous statistics.  I am happy to report that we did not come away empty handed:  Marilyn won $20 in a block pool for having the first quarter, and I won $1.93 for correctly predicting that Baltimore would win the coin toss (I shared the $27 pot with 13 other people).

Watching the game in a crowded home with a lot of people present is certainly a different experience.  It is fun in that there is a lot of noise and cheering and it makes for a very cool  atmosphere.  On the other hand, you do miss on a lot of the commentary that is made in the course of the telecast, but, upon reflection, who cares?  The conversation with friends as you watch the game more than makes up for missing the bon mots of Solomon Wilcotts and Phil Simms.

On the down side, though, you do miss out on the commercials, which, to many, is almost as much fun as the game itself.  I did record the game on our DVR and may run through it at some point today just to see the commercials.  Or maybe not.

The Halftime Show.  Beyonce is certainly a beautiful and talented woman and fun to watch, and it's nice to see that the NFL has abandoned the Geezers that have appeared in recent years, but do we really need all the pyrotechnics?   The consensus at the parety last night was to either (a) bring back Marching Bands, or (b) a Dog and a Frisbee.

As for the game itself, it sure appeared that this was going to be a monumental blowout reminiscent of Cowboys vs. Bills type Super Bowls of years gone by, but the Forty-Niners rallied, as they had in their previous playoff games, and turned it into one hell of a ball game.  No need for me to recount the details for if you are reading this, you are no doubt well aware of what happened.  Hats off to both teams for putting on a great show.

I have to tell you that I really got a kick out of the black out at the Super Dome that delayed the game for 35 minutes in the third quarter.  Knowing how image conscious the NFL is and how staged everything is at the Super Bowl, I just loved picturing all of the Suits in the NFL PR offices positively losing their minds over this turn of events.  Wonder how they'll do at next year's game in New Jersey if there's a blizzard or single degree temperatures during there Showcase Game?

As for a local angle, Steelers fans can come off the suicide watch list since the Niners were unable to get their sixth Lombardi Trophy.  On the other hand, their is no doubt deep despair in Steelers Nation because, as Bloggin' Bob Smizik points out today, it is now an indisputable fact that the Steelers are now no longer the "Team to Beat" in the AFC North.

And one final note, I did call this one correctly for the Ravens, and my record for this post season ends at 5-6.  Over the past three NFL post-seasons, I stand at 18-15.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

February 3, 1959 - The Day the Music Died

I will add my voice to many commemorating the death 54 years ago today of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson and others in the Clear Lake Iowa plane crash.

Here is a beautiful ballad that Holly wrote.  He recorded it a little over three months before he died, and it was not released until over a year after his death.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Kordell and Kaepernick

That was a most interesting story in the PG this morning by Ed Bouchette comparing Kordell Stewart and Colin Kaepernick (and other running QB's currently in the NFL like Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton).

In case you missed it, Bouchette's thrust was that Stewart came into the NFL in the late '90s and was every bit the talent that Kaepernick, Griffin and the others are today, but he came in at a time when pro coaches didn't know what to do with him.  The story of Stewart being reamed out by neanderthal offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for not staying in the pocket after he ran for a 45 yard touchdown is a classic.  I believe that Gilbride is still actually working as an OC in the NFL.  What a world.

Believe it or not, I thought of Stewart and his career with the Steelers at one point during these playoffs while watching Kaepernick and Wilson play.  Stewart is pretty much looked upon as a failure as a Steelers QB, largely because of a couple of losses in AFC Championship games (never mind that Stewart was the QB who got them to that point in those seasons).  Too bad, because I think Stewart, along with Neil O'Donnell,  was probably the best Steelers QB in the bridge between the Bradshaw and Roethlisberger Eras.  It's too bad that his coaches did not try to utilize him in a way that best suited his talents.  As Bouchette stated, perhaps he was just born too early.

The Great 2013 Hamburger Quest - Part 5 - The Rochester Inn

Lunch today at The Rochester Inn Hardwood Grill, the very popular North Hills tavern in Ross.  This is a true neighborhood establishment, as it sits a little more than a mile down the road from The Grandstander's home, and is a place that we frequently patronize, but today it was on the clock for the Rochester Inn formally became a part of the Great 2013 Hamburger Quest.  Perhaps I am guilty of pre-judging, for I was well aware that one could get a quality burger at the Rochester Inn.

I was not disappointed as the cheeseburger I had seriously challenged Tessaro's for the #1 spot on the list.  The half-pound burger is cooked to order over a hardwood fired grill and is excellent.  I have ranked it #2 on the list, but it is a razor thin margin that separates the Tessaro and Rochester Inn burger.  In fact, I rank Tessaro's ahead of it only because the bun at Tessaro's was better.  Can't get much closer than that.  I'm almost tempted to rank them 1 and 1-A, but that would be a bit of a cop out.

I have to point out that I  cannot recall ever being disappointed at anything I've ever ordered at the Rochester Inn.  Pizza, wings, various sandwiches (Marilyn had a Reuben today that she said was excellent), and their fish sandwich is among the very best in the City  Hey, finding "Best Fish Sandwich" could be the subject of another Quest.

You can learn more at

The Rankings:
  1. Tessaro's (Bloomfield)
  2. The Rochester Inn Hardwood Grill (Ross)
  3. Bella Ria's (West View)
  4. The Tilted Kilt (North Shore)
  • BZ Bar and Grill (North Shore)

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Super Bowl Pick

I currently hold a 4-6 record with my NFL post-season predictions, so I am guaranteed, for the first time in three years of doing this, a losing record in this prognostication department, but I'm going to give you my thoughts anyway.

First off, I am looking forward to the game.  I think it is a match-up that has the potential to be a very entertaining football game.  The opposing quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco, have easily been the most dominant players in this playoff season. and they have certainly earned the right to be on this big stage.  I am somewhat surprised to hear so many people here in Pittsburgh, some of them close friends, who profess to be football fans, say that they have no interest in the game, and probably will watch very little, if any, of the game.  I don't get it.  If you are a pro football fan, why wouldn't you want to watch the Super Bowl, especially one that appears too offer an exciting and competitive match-up?

As to the game itself, I will be rooting for the Forty-Niners.  I really couldn't care less that this will mean that they will tie the Steelers with six Super Bowl wins.  Hey, all you Steelers Nation folks, that doesn't lesson the Steelers accomplishments, and it doesn't really affect YOUR life one way or the other.  I like Jim Harbaugh, despite his tendency to go berserk on the sidelines, Kaepernick is a very exciting player to watch, and I will show my own Black & Gold Bias here by not wanting to see the Steelers most bitter rival, the Ravens, win the big one.

That said, my call for the winner of the big game?

I'm calling for a Ravens win because of the play of Joe Flacco.  He has certainly made a believer out of me, not only for his play in these playoffs, which has been stellar, but for his body of work over the last few years.  Need I remind anyone that he is 3-1 against the Steelers over the past two seasons?  And like it or not, I think there is something about this "Let's Win It for Ray Lewis" fever that seems to be enveloping the Ravens.  Yeah, it's way over the top, but so was the Jerome Bettis Fever that gripped the Steelers on their Super Bowl run in 2005.  It's hokey, corny, and hard to take for the non-fans, but sometimes, it is meaningful for the team involved.

(By the way, the closest thing that I have to an NFL Insider tells me that Lewis is a "good guy." Respectful to the game, a class act and a true leader on the field, and that the "praise-the-Lord" bit of his is genuine and not something he just turns on for the TV cameras.  This doesn't make me do a 180 and become a big fan of Lewis, but it does temper my opinions somewhat.)

So there it is: RAVENS over the Forty-Niners come Sunday in Super Bowl Whatever the Roman Numeral Is.

To Absent Friends: Ed Koch

Ed Koch, the former Mayor of New York City, died today at the age of 88.

It is often said that the second most important elected official in the country, after the President of the United States, is the Mayor of New York City.  Mostly, this is said by people from New York City, but the claim is not without merit, and no one served that role with more panache, at least in my lifetime, than Ed Koch.

I have two distinct memories of Ed Koch.  I saw him once on the Larry King show during football season when a caller asked if he was excited about the possibility of the Giants and Jets meeting in the Super Bowl.  Koch scowled and said that those two teams play in New Jersey, and he couldn't care less about them.  Loved it.

The other memory comes whenever I see the movie "The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three." The movie - and if you've never seen it, you should - stars Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw and it is about the hijacking of a NYC subway car and the demand for ransom from the City of New York.  The Mayor of New York in the movie is played by an actor named Lee Wallace, and is a dead ringer for Koch.  Watching the movie it is very obvious that the role was modeled after Koch.  Funny thing, though, in looking up the timeline this morning, I see that the movie was made in 1974, and Koch didn't become mayor until 1977.  So maybe Ed Koch modeled himself after the guy in the movie!

Anyway, they don't seem to make politicians like this anymore, so RIP Ed Koch.

The Great 2013 Hamburger Quest - Part 4: Bella Ria's

One of the neat side effects of me writing about my Hamburger Quest has been the suggestions that I have been receiving from people, and today's visit was a result of one such suggestion.  The suggestion came from one of my former Blue Cross colleagues, Jerry Bergman (The Official Head Linesman of The Grandstander), and the place is Bella Ria's Restaurant in West View.

Bella Ria's is located on Perry Highway and overlooks North Hills High School's Martorelli Stadium, and it is more of a diner than a restaurant, and it is exactly the type of place I am looking for in this quest - small, local, and independently owned and operated.  The kind of place where, as the song says, everybody knows your name.  It is also a place that I have driven past probably hundreds of times over the years and never stopped.  My mistake.

I met Jerry there for lunch today, and, of course, I ordered the bacon cheeseburger - an 8 ounce hand made burger cooked to order, and only $5.99, if you can believe that.  My only criticism is that my burger was more on the well done side than the "medium" that I ordered, but what the hell, it was delicious.  So was the chicken dumpling soup that I had that was perfect on a 16 degree afternoon.

There is nothing fancy about Bella Ria's.  If it's fancy atmosphere and plush surroundings you want, try somewhere else, but the "ordinary-ness" of the place gives it a local neighborhood charm all of it's own.  According to Jerry, they also serve great salads, and a pretty mean breakfast.  You can learn more about the place by visiting

The Rankings:
  1. Tessaro's (Bloomfield)
  2. Bella Ria's (West View)
  3. The Tilted Kilt (North Shore)
  • BZ Bar and Grill (North Shore)

To Absent Friends: Patty Andrews

I am going to skew really old here by noting the death this week of singer Patty Andrews at the age of 94.  Before the great "girls groups" of the 1950's and 1960's like the Shirelles, Marvellettes, and the Supremes, there was the Andrews Sisters, and in the middle part of the 20th century, especially during the WW II years, there was no bigger musical act than the Andrews Sisters, Patty, Maxine, and LaVerne.  It is estimated that they sold over 75 million records during their career.

Modern day artists like Bette Midler revered the Andrews Sisters, and if you search YouTube you can find a clip of the Andrews Sisters and The Supremes performing each others hits together on some long forgotten TV show..

Here is one of their most famous ones which had a revival in the 1970's thanks to Bette Midler.

RIP Patty Andrews.