Friday, August 18, 2017

To Absent Friends - Don Baylor

Don Baylor
1949 - 2017

I had debated with myself whether or not to do an Absent Friends post on Don Baylor, who died last week at the age of 68, but decided that yeah, I have to do one for two reasons. One, the guy was a hero to my pal and Super Loyal Little Joe Aro (which is why the picture above shows Baylor in an Orioles uniform), and Two, the guy is a Hall of Famer.  Or, at least, for some reason I thought that he was an HOF'er, but it turns out that he is not in the Hall of Fame.

I discovered this non-fact when I went to baseball-reference.com to check out Baylor's career.  Turns out that while Baylor was certainly a Good to Very Good, and in some seasons, a Great ball player, he is no Hall of Famer.

He played for six different AL teams over nineteen season, hit .260 with 2,135 hits, 338 HRs, 1,276 RBIs, and had a  decent but not great OPS of .777.  While he was the AL MVP in 1979, he only made one All-Star team in his career.  He played in three World Series, being on the winning Twins team in 1987.  He also went on to manage both the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs.  He also, and this is not insignificant, was the Roberto Clemente Award winner in 1985.  He was a really good ball player, and, apparently, a good guy as well.

What I found to be interesting on Baylor's baseball-reference page was the list of "similar players" to him.  They included guys like Jack Clark, Dale Murphy, Joe Carter, Tino Martinez, and, are you ready for this......Gil Hodges!!!  (Gil Hodges!  slowly I turned....)  None of them in the Hall of Fame either.

None of this, by the way, is meant to denigrate Baylor and his career.  I wish that the Pirates of 2017 would have a player of  the caliber of an in-his-prime Don Baylor in the lineup every day.

RIP Don Baylor.

Monday, August 14, 2017

To Absent Friends - Bologna, Campbell, Cook, and Solomon

While I was on vacation last week, the Grim Reaper was not, so it is time to catch up and wish a Melancholy Happy Trails to some Absent Friends.  We'll do it alphabetically....

Joseph Bologna
1934-2017

Joe Bologna was an actor, a playwright, an Oscar nominated screenwriter, and a director.  His credits as screenwriter and playwright include a terrific 1970 comedy called "Lovers and Other Strangers" which she wrote and starred in on Broadway with his wife, comedienne Renee Taylor.  However, his very best work, in my humble opinion, was in the role of King Kaiser in the wonderful 1982 movie, "My Favorite Year", one of my all time favorites.  The role of Kaiser was a thinly disguised depiction of Sid Caesar, and he was terrific in it.  If you've never seen "My Favorite Year", make it a  point to see it sooner rather than later.

Perhaps Bologna's (and Taylor's) greatest accomplishment was that their marriage lasted an incredible 52 years.  How often do you hear something like that in Show Biz?

Glen Campbell
1936-2017

The death of Glen Campbell has been extensively written about already, so I won't go into great lengths here.  It was incredible to read that prior to him becoming a breakout recording and television star, Campbell made his bones in show biz as a session musician in Los Angeles, appearing on the recordings of such disparate artists as Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, The Monkees, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and over 500 other artists.  A victim of Alzheimer's Disease and dementia, Campbell's final years were not pleasant ones, but what a musical legacy he leaves behind.

Barbara Cook
1927-2017


As a star of the Broadway stage and the musical cabaret scene, Barbara Cook probably was not all that well known outside of New York City, but make no mistake, in the 1950's and 1960's, she was a major star on Broadway.  She won a Tony Award for playing the original Marian the Librarian in one of my favorites, "The Music Man".  Her obituary - as obituaries often do - tells a fascinating story of how Cook, following a divorce in 1965, fell into depression and alcoholism.  As she was quoted in the New York times obit 

“I was not some lady drunk,” she said. “I was a real non functioning alcoholic. Dishes, always in the sink. The kitchen a mess. The bathroom a mess. Everything a mess.”

Her weight shot up to over 250 pounds (she weighed 106 pounds when she did "Music Man"), but she eventually overcame all of that, and with help, she reinvented herself as a nightclub and cabaret performer.  Her Times obituary was a terrific story.

The dimmed all the lights on Broadway last week to honor her memory.

Joe Solomon
1933-2017

The death of Joe Solomon last week was not a story anywhere outside of Pittsburgh, but it was sort of personal to me.  I wrote this on my Facebook page last week, and I will let it suffice for The Grandstander as well:

A gentleman named Joe Solomon passed away on Sunday at the age of 83. Joe had a long and distinguished career at Blue Cross of Western Pa, and as a Senior VP of Sales, he was instrumental in hiring me at Blue Cross in 1988, and I will always be grateful to him for that. Joe Solomon also may well have been the greatest wrestler to ever come out of western PA. Joe went to Canonsburg High School ('47) and the University of Pittsburgh ('55). He was a WPIAL, PIAA, and NCAA wrestling champion. He was invited to compete for the 1956 US Olympic team. He is a member of no less that ten different Halls of Fame (WPIAL, Pitt among others) for his career as a competitor and a wrestling official. I know that several of my FB friends are still very much involved in the sport of wrestling, and I wanted them to know of Joe (perhaps that already do) and be aware of his passing. There are also many Pitt alums among my friends, and I wanted them to be aware as well. RIP, Boss.

RIP Joe Bologna, Glen Campbell, Barbara Cook, Joe Solomon.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

To Absent Friends - Ara Parseghian

Ara Parseghian
1923-2017

Death claimed one of college football's all-time greatest coaches yesterday when Ara Parseghian died at the age of 94.

Parseghian began his coaching career at the "Cradle of Coaches", Miami of Ohio, went on to success at Northwestern, but, of course, he is best known for his stint at Notre Dame from 1964-74.  At Notre Dame, he resurrected what had become a poor football program under the likes of Joe Kuharich and Terry Brennan and restored it to the glory days of Rockne and Leahy (I could say that he "woke up the echoes", but that would be just way too easy).  

At Notre Dame, Parseghian complied a record of 95-17-4, which contributed to career record of 170-58-6.  He also won two national championships while at South Bend. I found it interesting in reading the papers this morning that during his years at Notre Dame, he never made more money than the highest paid faculty member at the University.  Such a notion in today's world of Big Money college football is so unbelievably quaint that it is almost laughable.

I can remember a day at Pitt Stadium, probably 1970 or 1971 when Notre Dame came to play Pitt (and deliver a predictable pasting to the Panthers).  I was standing with my Dad under the stands in the end zone where the visiting team entered the playing field, something that we always did before heading to our seats.  Out came the Irish from their locker room, and there was Parseghian, followed by his retinue of assistants.  I can remember looking at him as he walked by, and on the backs of each of his shoes was a wide strip of white athletic tape that had "ARA" printed on it with black marker.  It's an odd memory to have of someone, but that's as close as I can give you to a personal memory of the man.

The obituaries told the story of how Ara lost three grandchildren to a rare genetic disease, and how he devoted most of his life too raising money, over $45 million, for research to combat it and other such diseases.   That is a far greater measure of the man than the W-L records.

The obits also told other stories.  Of the famous 10-10 tie against Michigan State in 1966.  Parseghian took a lot of heat for that game, but I recall how Rocky Bleier, in his book "Fighting Back", defended his coach for that strategy, and Bleier was not alone among Ara's players to feel that way.  Of how even in retirement, he never really left Notre Dame.  I loved the story about how he continued to attend pre-game tailgate parties on campus, but would then go home to watch the games on television so as not to become a distraction for the current coaches, but, mainly, so he could "watch the games uninterrupted".

I suppose that in his own way, Ara Parseghian was as single minded and as driven as the Nick Sabans and Jim Harbaughs of the 21st century are, but it just doesn't seem that way.

RIP Ara Parsghian.


With future Steeler Terry Hanratty

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Critical Commentary, Old Movies Division - "Niagara"

Last night I put out one of my "DVR Alerts" for the 1953 movie, "Niagara", that was being shown on Turner Classic Movies, on Facebook, and the posts generated a lot of commentary. Rather than wait to watch it via DVR whenever I got around to it, I decided to watch it as it aired.

I have seen this movie many times, and it is a pretty good one.  It is a Hitchcock-type thriller that revolves around a couple of honeymooners, played by Jean Peters and Casey Adams, who visit Niagara Falls on their delayed honeymoon.  Staying at the same motel is another married couple played by Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotton.  Cotton is a troubled Korean War vet, much older than his hot-to-trot wife, and Monroe, Peters accidentally discovers, seems to be occupying her spare time with a much younger and more handsome man.

I'll say no more, but will tell you that this is pretty good thriller.  It is directed by Hollywood vet Henry Hathaway, and it is done in a Hitchcock-like style.  Some critics say it is the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock didn't actually direct.  It has also been described as the first film noir that was filmed in technicolor, and it was the first movie that Monroe made that was filmed in color, and it was, according to TCM's Ben Mankiewicz, the movie that took Marilyn Monroe from "up-and-coming, sexy starlet" to full-fledged Movie Star.  1953 was big year for her, as "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" and "How To Marry a Millionaire" were also released that year.


A tip of the cap also does out to Jean Peters for her performance in this one.  She was very good and quite beautiful and lovely herself, but it's tough to be the second female in a movie with Marilyn Monroe, and make no mistake about it, this was Miss Monroe's movie.  As Rose Loomis, she positively defines the word "sultry" in this one, as this one photo from the movie will attest.


The only weak spot in the movie was Casey Adams in the role of Peters' husband.  He was a complete dork in the part (or maybe the part was just written that way), and what did a babe like Jean Peters ever see in him in the first place?  Also in the movie as Adams' over-the-top boss was Don Wilson, the long time second banana to Jack Benny.

Allow me to divert a bit here with a couple of Fun Facts about Casey Adams.  He was one of the guys who you have seen a million times on television and in the movies over the years in small supporting character parts.  IMDB lists 101 acting credits for him.  At some point in his career, he reverted back to his real name of Max Showalter, and he was originally cast in the role of Ward Cleaver in "Leave It To Beaver", before Hugh Beaumont was eventually given the part.  He had an uncredited role as a travelling salesman in the opening train scene in "The Music Man" ("Cash for the merchandise..."), and he played one of Molly Ringwald's grandfathers in "Sixteen Candles".

Okay, diversion over.  If you've never seen "Niagara", I urge you to do so.  It is a pretty good thriller, and Marilyn Monroe isn't the only natural wonder in the movie.  There are some spectacular scenes of Niagara Falls in this one too.  As we watched it last night, we decided that we need to make a trip back there sometime soon.

To Absent Friends - Sam Shepard and Jeanne Moreau

Melancholy Happy Trails today to two pretty big names.

Sam Shepard
1943-2017

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard died this week at the age of 73, a victim of ALS.

Shepard made a name for himself as a playwright, penning dozens of plays that became hits.  His play "Buried Child" won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in  1979 and was later produced locally at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.  His 1980 play, "True West", was also produced by the PPT in 2013, and I did have the privilege of seeing that one.

Shepard later forged a career as an actor and has sixty-eight acting credits listed in IMDB.  It is an actor that Shepard is probably far better known to the general public.  He appeared in such major motion pictures as "Baby Boom", "Steel Magnolias", and "The Pelican Brief", but he is best known for playing pioneer test pilot Chuck Yeager in the terrific 1983 movie, "The Right Stuff".

Shepard with Chuck Yeager
on the set of
"The Right Stuff"

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Jeanne Moreau
1928-2017

Death also claimed leading French actress Jeanne Moreau this week at the age of 89.  If you read her obituaries, you will read that she was perhaps the leading actress of French "New Wave Cinema" in the 1960's and 1970's.  I won't even pretend to know what exactly comprised French New Wave Cinema, but hey, it sounds good.  I also cannot say that I am at all familiar with any of Miss Moreau's work but for one.

Back in my show biz career when I was an usher at the Forum Theatre in Squirrel Hill when I was in high school, the Forum did show "The Bride Wore Black", a 1968 movie directed by Francois Truffaut and starring Jeanne Moreau.  It was some sort of Hitchcock-type noir thriller.  I cannot recall much about it, except for one scene in which Miss Moreau appeared topless.


It's a pretty tame scene by today's standards, but to a seventeen year old kid at the time, it was pretty hot stuff.  Hey, I still remember it, and thank  you, Google Images, for having a screen shot of that particular scene.

Do you suppose that I can find "The Bride Wore Black" on  Amazon Prime?

RIP Sam Shepard and Jeanne Moreau

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

From the "Nothing Is Easy Department"

Last week, Marilyn and I made the decision to upgrade our Motorola Android smart phones to Apple iPhones.  We knew from past experiences that making this transition would, at the very least, cause us to waste at least a couple of hours on the telephone with our carrier, Consumer Cellular.

We received our phones on Saturday, and here is what has transpired since then.....

  • Five separate phone calls to Consumer Cellular.
  • Two separate visits to the Apple store.
  • One visit to Target, where a gent named Paul, at the McKnight Road store, FINALLY was able to rectify the problems that were occurring on Marilyn's new phone, and this was only after he, Paul from Target, made an additional call to Consumer Cellular.
To be fair, the switchover from Android to iPhone went very smoothly for my phone, but there were a number of problems with Marilyn's new phone, and I won't bore you by enumerating them.  However, all seems right with the world now, thanks to Paul from Target.

Progress.  Sometimes it ain't easy.


Marilyn's new phone.  
I went for the "Space Gray" color phone.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Critical Commentary - "Dunkirk"


Probably no movie of 2017 has received the critical acclaim as has Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk", so I was anxiously looking forward to seeing this one when we took ourselves off to the Cinemark North yesterday afternoon.  In fact, I was so looking forward to it, that I actually did a little research about the actual events that took place at Dunkirk in May-June, 1940 so as to be better informed about what I was going to be seeing.  Hey, if a movie prompts you to become a bit better informed on historical events, that's a good thing.

I found "Dunkirk" to be a pretty good movie, but, sorry to say, I can't give it the full on Rave, Four Star Treatment that the professional critics are giving it.

Nolan tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation from three points of view: (1) A British soldier trying to leave Dunkirk over the course of one week, (2) A civilian taking his private pleasure boat across the English Channel to assist in the evacuation on one day, and (3) An RAF pilot on a mission over the course of one hour.  As a plot device, this was kind of neat, if somewhat confusing until you were able to sort it out as you watched.  However, to me, and to other folks that I have talked with about this, the characters were almost secondary to Nolan showing the tremendous scope of what was taking place at Dunkirk.  In fact, the characters seemed to be so secondary, that when the final credits rolled, all the technical people involved in making the film were listed before the actors.  Ever seen that done before?

The most recognizable actors in this one, to me at least, were Kenneth Branagh as a British Navy Commander and Mark Rylance as the civilian boat operator.  Two younger actors playing soldiers in the "one week" aspect of the movie, Fionn Whitehead and Damien Bonnard, looked so much alike that I had a hard time telling them apart, and that detracted a bit from the movie for me.

"Dunkirk" is no doubt a tremendous technical bit of film making, which is why, I suppose, the critics love it so much, and it will probably win a bunch of Oscars because of it.  It also tells a story of amazing and heroic historic events, and if it makes younger generations - or not so young, like me -  aware of those events, that is a good thing.  And it most certainly depicts the horrors of war.  As a movie (as opposed to a film), however, it fell just a bit short for me.  If you want something of this genre, that tells of historic and heroic events, Steven Spielberg's  "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) is a better choice.

Two and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Talk About Pretentious.....

In this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, someone named Amelia Nierenberg reviews the new movie "Atomic Blonde", and the review actually contained this sentence:

"The careless plot bruises the film, otherwise rife with jagged brio, electric visuals, and a steamy, gnarled nest of vipers."

I have no idea as to Ms. Nierenberg's background, but I am picturing a young woman fresh out of journalism school who is itching to show how smart and sophisticated she is.  Instead she produces this claptrap.  A plot that bruises the film?  That is rife with jagged brio?

I have no inclination to do the research, but I am willing to bet that Harold V. Cohen, George Anderson, and Barbara Vancheri never resorted to such pseudo-intellectual b.s. in reviewing movies for the PG over the years.  I hope that the PG doesn't make her the permanent movie critic so that we don't have to read this kind of junk in the years ahead.  I mean.....


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"War for the Planet of the Apes"


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

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

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

It gets Three Stars from The Grandstander.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Huey Lewis and the News

Huey Lewis and The News
Still going strong!

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


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



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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Bring On The Brewers

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

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

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

#letsgobucs

To A Whole Bunch of Absent Friends

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


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


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


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


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

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

Four Stars all the way from The Grandstander.

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

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

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

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

Four stars.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Ron Burkle Interview


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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Critical Commentary - Two '70's Movies

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pirates Thought

The Pirates have closed out the figurative first half of the season on somewhat of a high note, winning five of their last seven games, including two of three form the floundering defending champs, the Cubs (and doesn't your heart just ache for Genius Joe Maddon?).

Today's thoughts, however, are elsewhere.

I hope that all Pirates fans read Joe Starkey's column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday.  It was headlined "Pin the Pirates Pitiful First Half On the Players".  I won't restate it here, but it was good reading, and I urge you to check it out.  

Towards the end of the column, however, Starkey made one statement that summed up perfectly my feelings that have existed towards the management of the team since the trade deadline approached last season:

That is not to absolve management or ownership. It must stink to be a baseball fan here because the Pirates are constantly worried about saving a buck. The minute somebody shows promise, the question immediately becomes: How soon before they get rid of him? Nobody can enjoy McCutchen’s renaissance because he could be tossed out the window any second.
That’s no way to live.

And that is the problem in a nutshell.  Since Memorial Day, Andrew McCutchen has been playing at a level that has equaled, if not exceeded, the levels that made him an MVP caliber - and the 2013 MVP - in the early years of this decade, but how can you really savor them knowing that the man who has symbolized the resurgence of the Pirates will be gone, if not by July 31, then surely in the off season,
It ain't easy being a Pirates fan.