Tuesday, January 31, 2017

That Steelers Loss

Yeah, yeah, I blew it with my prediction of a Steelers win over New England last week.  We spent last Sunday in Epcot at Disney World, all of us wearing our Steelers stuff and exchanging good wishes with other similarly garbed Steelers fans and good natured jibes with those wearing Patriots gear.  It was fun.  We then got back to our condo, I pulled on my lucky Steelers Socks, and then, well, you all know how it turned out.  Little did we realize that when Sammy Coates dropped that pass on the Steelers third offensive play of the game that we were witnessing a microcosm of what was to follow.

Oh, well, it was still a great season, and we'll get 'em next year and all that stuff.  I'm not going to dwell on the game, but I do want to give special recognition for the rare "Triple" that was achieved by Steelers wide receiver Cody Hamilton.


In that game, Hamilton did the following:

  • Dropped a pass in the end zone when a TD could still have been a factor in the game.
  • Had a TD pass reception nullified when he ran out of bounds in the end zone at a time when the TD could still have been a factor in the game.
  • Held on to a TD pass at a time when such a TD was no longer a factor in the game.
It will be awhile before you see a WR have a game like that folks, especially in a Conference Championship game.

To Absent Friends - Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore
(1936-2017)

We were working our way through the Magic Kingdom last Wednesday afternoon when we learned of the death of Mary Tyler Moore at the age of 80, and even though I knew that it would be several days before I could get to it, I knew that if ever an Absent Friends post was deserved, it would be the one for Mary Tyler Moore.

Of course, everyone knows the basic facts.  She starred in two of television's all-time great sitcoms, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-66) and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970-77). There were other series before and after those two shows.  Most notably, she played "Sam" the sultry voiced secretary on "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" (1959) wherein only her legs were shown.  There were also a few other series in the mid and late 1980's that went nowhere, but she made her bones and secured her place in television and pop culture history in the Van Dyke series and her own eponymous series.

Both roles were and are ingrained in our culture.  For example, my wife likes to wear black pants and/or black tights on occasion.  When she does, I refer to it as her "Laura Petrie look", and when I say that, everyone knows exactly what I am talking about.  It has been almost fifty years since "Laura Petrie" last appeared in a first run TV episode, but such was the lasting impact of both "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and Miss Moore's role in it.

However, Miss Moore truly broke new ground in television when "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" began in 1970.  Playing a single career minded woman who wasn't dying to get married and have children was something that just wasn't done on television up to that point.  In a medium that had been populated by Harriet Nelson, Betty Anderson, June Cleaver, and, yes, Laura Petrie, this really was new ground.  Mary Richards was unmarried and had a "man's job", and she wanted to succeed in that.

I have to admit that I was surprised in all of the tributes that followed Miss Moore's death that talked about the importance of Moore's show and the Mary Richards character had on society, particularly it's significance to young working career women.  I admit that I had missed out on that aspect of the show.  I liked the show because it was good, and it was funny, but I can't deny all of the testimonials that have been made about this element of the show that we have seen in the last week.  As someone remarked, it is almost as if people are mourning the loss of "Mary Richards" and much as, if not more, that the loss of Mary Tyler Moore.  If that is the case, then it speaks volumes about the impact that Mary Tyler Moore has had on all of us.

Mary Tyler Moore had her fling at feature motion pictures as well.  She was Oscar nominated for her role in "Ordinary People" (1980), she co-starred with Julie Andrews in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967), and she played a nun opposite Elvis Presley in "Change of Habit" (1969).  She also played Mary Todd Lincoln in a TV mini-series, but it was series television where she was at her best - she won six Emmys - and for which she will always be remembered.  She truly was a giant in that field.

I close with a one of my favorite comedy scenes of all time.  This was from a Van Dyke episode where Laura went on a TV game show and was tricked into revealing that Alan Brady was bald.  Fearing that this would cost Rob his job, Laura went to Alan's office to apologize.  Here is "The Apology" featuring Mary Tyler Moore and the great Carl Reiner as Alan Brady.


RIP Mary Tyler Moore.

Monday, January 30, 2017

At Disney World, Then and Now

As promised, Marilyn just dug through the old photo albums and found a picture from our 1989 visit to Disney World.

Can barely tell the difference.



1989

2017

"The Happiest Place On Earth"





As you no doubt gathered from the title of the post and the pictures above, Marilyn and I have just returned from a week at Walt Disney World  in Orlando, FL.  It was our first visit to Disney World since 2004, and we have our friends, Dan and Susan Bonk to thank for it.  The Bonks are long time members of the Disney Vacation Club, and last summer they asked us if we would consider joining them for what would be their first Disney vacation without their three daughters.  The week could not have been better.  Lots of good times, lots of laughs, it was a great week.

I remember many years ago at Highmark a co-worker remarked that the folks at Disney assure you that you will always have a perfect vacation experience.  It's not inexpensive, but it is one instance where you truly get what you pay for.  Everything runs like clockwork, everyone is happy and accommodating to your needs, the food is good, the place is always clean.  You are hard pressed to find anything negative about a stay at and a visit to Disney World.  That was the case this time around for us.

Recent visitors to WDW will know about this, but one bit of new technology to us since our last visit were these little guys, the Magic Bands:



These things do everything for you....get you into your hotel room, get you into the parks, get you through your Fast Pass lines, and, most importantly, pay for your food and merchandise within all Disney properties, including the golf courses.  You barely need to bring any cash money with you as these babies make you think like you are getting everything for free, which, of course, you are not.  They are the ultimate in convenience, and it is a bit of technology that amazes me.  We were joking that the Magic Bands probably record how many paper towels you use when you visit the rest rooms.  At least, I think we were joking about it.

I won't bore you all with a lengthy play-by-play of the trip, but I will share some photos that are representative of this great week that we spent there.  We are so grateful to Susan and Dan for inviting us to spend the week with them.  We were a poor substitute for Stephanie, Alyson, and Emily, we realize, but we are very glad to have shared a part of that adventure at the Happiest Place On Earth.



Where we stayed.  Great place!

Spent a lot of time chasing after these.  Kidding aside, you can't beat the Disney transportation system.

Expedition Everest coaster at Animal Kingdom.  Yes, I rode this baby!  Also did Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.  

Stroller parking.  Wish I had a buck for every stroller that we saw.  God bless all those parents pushing these around all day.

You have to talk to this guy if you lose your Magic Band.  Glad we held on to ours throughout our stay.

Somewhere in our photo albums, we have a picture taken in this same spot 25 or 30 years ago.  Need to find it and do a "Then and Now" posting.

Dan and I got in two rounds of golf.


Night time at Epcot.

Saying "Howdy" to Woody and Buzz.

 Enjoying "free" drinks at the Vacation Club Lounge.

 Dinner at Tutto Italia in Epcot.  Best meal of the trip!

Just before yet another great dinner in Canada in Epcot.

And, of course, they were always watching over us.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Championship Predictions


The Grandstander brings a 7-1 record for Playoffs Predictions into NFL Championship Weekend.  Astounding!

In the NFC, I was amazed last week at both the performance of the Atlanta Falcons and the individual performance of the Packers' Aaron Rodgers.  It looks to be a set up for a terrific game with a lot of scoring.  It is hard to go against Rodgers, but I am going to play a hunch and choose the FALCONS to defeat Green Bay and make their second trip to the Super Bowl.

In the AFC, well, we all know that the New England Patriots are the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, for God's sake.  Belichick, Brady, and all that.  Yes, they are formidable. Yes, they are favored, and yes, it will be huge task to defeat them.  However, back in September, I predicted that the Steelers would win the Super Bowl, and Tomlin, Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown, and a young and an improving-by-the-week defense are pretty good, too, so I see no reason to back away from that this late in the game. So it will the the STEELERS over the Patriots on Sunday, and a record ninth trip to the Super Bowl for the franchise.

If I am right, and we end up with a Steelers-Falcons pairing in the big game, I will offer a third prediction:  Endless wailing and gnashing of teeth from all the sporting pundits bemoaning the fact that there will be no match-up between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Hey, I concede that those two guys are capital G Great, but have you ever witnessed such a slurp-a-thon as we have seen in the last week over two players? I mean...



This endless moaning will also lead to the inevitable speculation of "Who will even bother to watch a Pittsburgh-Atlanta game, when it could have been Brady vs. Rodgers?"

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

To Absent Friends - Eugene Cernan, Tommy Allsup

The first Absent Friends post of 2017 is a two-for-one entry.

Gene Cernan
1934-2017

Astronaut Gene Cernan passed away yesterday at the age of 82.  Cernan was the veteran of both the Gemini (one flight) and Apollo (two flights) space programs.  As Commander of Apollo 17, the last flight to the moon, Cernan became the twelfth and, more importantly from an historical perspective, the last human to have set foot on the lunar surface. Like all of America's astronauts, Cernan led a life of accomplishment, and he surely was made of the Right Stuff.   His obituary noted how he spent much of his final years testifying before Congress and lobbying the powers that be that America continue it's space exploration.  He wanted to be sure that he would NOT be the last person to set foot on the moon.

Cernan's death now leaves only six living persons to have set foot on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Dave Scott, John Young, Charles Duke, and Harrison Schmitt.   Duke and Schmitt are the youngest of these six, and they will turn 82 in 2017.



RIP Gene Cernan.

********
Tommy Allsup
(right, with Buddy Holly)
1931-2017

This morning's paper also included the obituary of musician Tommy Allsup earlier this month at the age of 85.  The Oklahoma born guitarist spent a lifetime touring with and serving as a session musician for artists such as Bob Willis, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Kenny Rodgers, Charlie Rich, and Zager and Evans.  However, Allsup's place in music history is secured as a result of a lost coin flip.  While touring the Midwest in the winter of1959, Allsup lost a coin flip to singer Ritchie Valens.  As a result, Allsup was stuck taking the usual tour bus, and Valens got to ride on a private airplane to the next stop.  You can guess the rest of the story.  The coin flip took place in Clear Lake, Iowa, and the plane carrying Valens, Holly, the Big Bopper, J.P Richardson, and the pilot crashed, killing all on board.  It was, as legend has it, the "Day the Music Died".

The obit tells of how Allsup kept that half-dollar coin for the rest of his life, of how he always wanted to reach out to the Valens family, but worried about how they might feel towards him as a result of that fatal coin flip.  It wasn't until 1994 that he actually met with Valens' family members, and how warmly they greeted him, saying that he was their "only link to Ritchie" and how they would like for him to be the "brother that they missed having all of their life."

As I always say, you can find some of the most fascinating stories by reading the obituary pages.

RIP Tommy Allsup.

NFL Playoffs Thoughts


Some thoughts on the NFL Divisional Playoff round.  You know, that was the round where The Grandstander posted perfect 4-0 prediction record. (Yes, I believe I had that!)

Game of the Weekend.  Hands down, Green Bay's 34-31 win over Dallas.  That game had everything one could possibly want in a football game.

Play of the Weekend. The pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jared Cook along the sideline with :03 left in the game to set up the game winning field goal for the Packers.  Not sure what was more impressive, Rodgers' throw, Cook's ability to catch and keep his toes in bounds, or the game official seeing it and over-ruling the initial call of incomplete.

Runner-up Play of the Weekend.  Ben Roethlisberger's third and three pass to Antonio Brown from inside his own ten yard line to make first down and enable the Steelers to run out the clock and preserve their 18-16 win.

Surprise of the Weekend (to me anyway). How good the Atlanta Falcons were.  I hadn't seen Atlanta all season, so, like I said, this one surprised me.  Sets up what should be one whale of a game between Atlanta and Green Bay and an Aaron Rodgers - Matt Ryan showdown/shootout.

What Is He Doing Here? Award.  This one goes to Houston QB Brock Osweiler, and do I have to go into the details on this one? Whomever the genius was in the Houston Texans brain trust who decided to bestow a $72 million contract upon this guy has got to be concerned about HIS job security right about now.

He's Proved Himself Award.  This one goes out to Dallas rookie QB Dak Prescott who was pretty terrific in that game against Green Bay (and all season long, for that matter).  Tell me again what some people (ahem, Jerry Jones) were suggestion that Tony Romo would be brought into that game if Dallas fell behind early.  Dallas did fall behind early, and it was Prescott who led them back into that game and almost won it for them.  Best wishes to Romo as he goes to a new team for next season, because it sure looks like Prescott is going to be The Goods for Dallas for years to come.

The Other Guy.  To be honest, I had to go to the Google Machine to look up who Atlanta's coach was as I was watching that game on Saturday.  The NFL has a Final Four of coaches that counts nine Super Bowl appearances and six Lombardi Trophy winners, Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, and Mike McCarthy.  And the Other Guy.  Dan Quinn.

Are They Vulnerable?  Despite the fact that the Texans were easily the worst of the eight teams that played this past weekend, they were able to hang with the Patriots for at least the first half of the game, so it raises the question, Are the Patriots vulnerable?  Houston's pass rush did get to the Golden Boy a few times in that first half and made him look like a 39 year old quarterback.  Of course, they play four quarters, not just two, and Tom Brady was definitely Tom Brady by the time all was said and done, but the question lingers....

Most Valuable Talisman.  For the second week in a row, these babies produced a Steelers Playoff victory:



Yes, I will be wearing them again come Sunday at 6:38 PM.  Belichick and Brady....BEWARE, and #FearTheSocks. Many thanks to pal Joe Risacher for coming up with that hashtag.

Predictions.   Not ready to make them yet, but here's a hint:  Back in September I predicted that the Steelers would win the Super Bowl, and I am not about to back away from that prediction.  As for Green Bay and Atlanta, I need to cogitate just a bit more on that one.  Look for the call(s) come Friday.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Movie Review - "Hidden Figures"



This afternoon we saw what was without doubt the best movie among all of the end of year releases that we have seen up to this point, director Theodore Melfi's "Hidden Figures".  This movie tells the true story of the role that three African-American women played in the American space program back in 1961, the time when the USA was struggling to catch up with the USSR in succeeding in manned flights into outer space.  The women are played by (as pictured above) Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer.  All are terrific in their roles, but first among equals is Henson as the mathematical genius whose work and contributions were critical to NASA.  Also, featured in key roles are Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, and Kevin Costner.  No longer the dashing leading man, Costner has now become a character actor, and he is terrific in "Hidden Figures".

We came away from this movie with two thoughts.  One, how is it that this story was never told and is so unknown, and, two, how shameful it was that we once lived in a country that required separate restrooms, segregated buses, separate water fountains, and even separate coffee pots in offices.  Two great scenes: When chief engineer Costner, clueless up to this point, realizes that he is losing one of his best workers for large portions of the day because she has to leave the building in order to use the "colored ladies" bathroom located in another building, and a scene in a now integrated rest room between Spencer and Dunst.

I can't recommend this one highly enough.  An unequivocal Four Stars from The Grandstander for "Hidden Figures".

********

On the subject of movies, I recently re-watched this one again:


After watching the Blue-ray two days ago, I went back into The Grandstander archives and saw that when I wrote about seeing it in August, I rated it at Two and One-half Stars, to which I said to myself "What was I thinking???"

"Hell or High Water" is easily one for he best movies of 2016, and deserves a rating of at least three and one-half stars.  Jeff Bridges is utterly fantastic in his role as the crusty old soon-to-retire Texas Ranger, and the final scene of the movie between him and Chris Pine is fabulous.

"Hell or High Water" has been available on DVD for some time now, and I am sure that it can be streamed easily enough on the various services out there.  See this one as soon as you can.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

This, That, and the Other....

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box.....


  • The Grandstander went 3-1 in his NFL Wildcard Playoff predictions last weekend, missing only the Packers win over the Giants.  In truth, none of he games were all that great from a competitive point of view, although I loved the non-competitive nature of the Steelers thrashing of the Dolphins.
  • For this coming weekend, I give you this....Patriots over Texans (Joe Starkey suggested today that, somehow, the Pats managed to get another bye week in the Playoffs), Falcons over the Seahawks (the fact that Seattle let a lousy Lions team stay with them into the fourth quarter prevents me from picking them), Packers over the Cowboys (just gotta go with Aaron Rodgers over the rookie Dak Prescott), and Steelers over the Chiefs (not going to back down from my prediction of a Super Bowl win for the Steelers).
  • I also missed on the CFP game.  Congrats to Deshaun Watson and all the Clemson players on their victory.  To their sanctimonious coach, Dabo Swinney, well, all I can say is that he is one of the few guys I can think of that would make me want to root for Nick Saban.
  • Got a chance to watch this Ron Howard-directed documentary this week:

  • If you are a devoted follower and fan of the Beatles, I am not sure that you will learn anything new about the band from this, but it does give you a chance to see the group performing live in their touring years.  As everyone knows, The Beatles stopped making live performances in 1966, so any chance one gets to see them perform like this is a bonus.  There is also some color footage of the group performing at a concert in England in 1963 that is astonishingly good in terms of picture and sound quality, and that is something that I, at least, had never seen before.  I rate this a solid three stars, and will say that any fan of The Beatles should add a copy of this movie to their Beatles Library.
  • Those same fans might also want to download or buy this CD which was recently remastered and reissued in conjunction with the Howard movie:
  • Last week's issue of Sports Illustrated featured a cover story about Ben Roethlisberger, whom that called the "NFL's most polarizing player".   I wish someone at SI would explain what the point was in publishing that story.  It broke absolutely no new ground.
  • That same issue featured and "SI True Crime" sort about former Cowboys running back Joseph Randle.  "True Crime", apparently, is now going to be a monthly feature in SI.
  • With both stories, I felt like I was reading the National Enquirer, and not Sports Illustrated.  
  • Sports Illustrated also announced that US Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman will be featured models in its upcoming swimsuit issue.  Miss Biles and Miss Raisman have made this choice freely, and I presume that they are being paid handsomely for doing so, but I hope that I never hear them complain that they are not being "taken seriously" as competitive athletes, or that they are being "objectified", now that they have chosen to be a part of this issue of the magazine.  I wonder what a true pioneer like Billie Jean King would have to say about this.
  • I guess that this is just what print publications have to do in an increasingly digital age.
  • Finally, I am enjoying this short series from Amazon that was written and directed by Woody Allen:
  • Allen also stars in the show that also includes the great Elaine May as his wife.  I had seen that critics weren't too wild about this series, but I think it has its moments.  I have not finished watching the entire series and will wait until I do to give my final judgment, but, so far, not bad.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Book Review - "Chuck Noll, His Life's Work"

As the book, "Chuck Noll, His Life's Work" by Michael MacCambridge was about to be released, I heard Dan Rooney being interviewed, and he said something to the effect that he was tired of going to NFL meetings year after year and hearing about how great guys like Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells were, while no one ever said anything about Chuck Noll.  So, in 2012 Rooney, at that point a United States Ambassador, approached author Michael MacCambridge and asked if he would be willing to write a definitive biography of the former Steelers coach.   MacCambridge agreed to take on the task, and now, after four years of dedicated research (the bibliography covers five printed pages), hundreds of interviews, and actually sitting down and writing, football history, not to mention football fans in general and Steelers fans in particular, are the better for it.   I just finished reading this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Part of the reason that so little is known of Noll other than the runs-hits-and-errors (if I may use a baseball metaphor) of his coaching record can be traced to Noll himself.  A naturally reticent man, Noll was a notoriously private and closed individual. Part of this is his family heritage and background, which is told in great detail here, and he made his choice to be that way.   Yet, he was one of the more interesting and well rounded men - away from the football field - that you will ever read about.  He was, MacCambridge says, "one of the last hugely successful NFL coaches to have an identifiable life outside of football, to be such a well rounded person."  However, few people knew this, and players who played their entire careers for him will tell you that they never had a personal conversation with him.  Those same players will also tell you, decades removed from their playing days, just what an effect Noll had on them and continues to have on them in their life's work as, say, football coaches (Tony Dungy), businessmen (John Stallworth), and parents (Cliff Stoudt).  

Above all, the book is about the love story that was the life and fifty-seven year marriage of Chuck and Marianne Noll.  Marianne Noll and the Nolls' son, Chris, cooperated with and were interviewed by MacCambridge for this book.  During all the years of Noll's coaching tenure, the Noll Family was very private by their own choice, you knew they existed, but you knew nothing about them, so their stories and input to the book are invaluable and extremely insightful.

Two things I learned in this book that I never knew.  One was that Noll suffered from epilepsy, which he lived with and controlled all of his adult life.  Secondly, when his older sister became widowed at the age of 38 with seven children under the age of ten, Chuck and Marianne contributed greatly to the upbringing and raising of those nieces and nephews.  Chuck walked his one niece down the aisle at her 1989 wedding.

Just about every important and significant name in football and the Steelers of that era agreed to talk with MacCambridge as he researched and wrote this book with one notable exception - Terry Bradshaw.  Probably just as well given Bradshaw's penchant for giving, shall we say, contradictory viewpoints of his relationship with Noll (and others) over the years.  There is a great anecdote in the book of Stoudt running into Bradshaw at some NASCAR event in 2002 where he pretty much tells Bradshaw to give it up and realize just what Noll did for him.

Like many biographies, the best part of the book comes in the telling of the subject's life after he leaves the main stage, and this one is no exception.  I defy anyone to read the last two chapters and the epilogue of this one without a few tears welling up in your eyes.  

But, okay, if all you really care about is the football stuff, there is plenty of that in there for you, too.   Reading it brought back memories of many football games at Three Rivers Stadium where I was present, including the Immaculate Reception Game, but two other stories recounted in the book also stand out to me.  One was the reaction of Glen Edwards in the tunnel waiting to be introduced before Super Bowl IX when one of his old college teammates, now a member of the Vikings, refused to acknowledge him.  If you know your Steelers lore, you know this story, but it's one I never get tired of reading.  The second story was about the Wild Card Playoff game win over the Houston Oilers in overtime in 1989.  It was a loss that cost Oilers Coach Jerry Glanville his job, and the players' euphoria over that win rivaled that of previous Super Bowl wins.

Like I said, I cannot recommend this one highly enough.  Four Stars from The Grandstander for this one.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wild Card Weekend Predictions



Yes, it is time for the Annual Grandstander Predictions for the NFL Wild Card Weekend Playoff Games.

Raiders at Texans.  While it is ingrained in my DNA to never root for or, even worse, feel sorry for the Oakland Raiders, it is hard not to feel just  bit of sympathy for the Silver and Black this year.  After years of ineptitude, the Raiders had the look of a genuine Super Bowl contender this season, right up until QB Derek Carr broke his leg in the 15th game of the season. Then backup Matt McGloin goes into concussion protocol.  Now, rookie Conner Cook makes his first ever NFL start in a playoff game.  The Texans QB situation isn't much better, but they do have a strong defense.  The TEXANS  to win this one.

Lions at Seahawks.  After a good start, the Lions back into the playoffs after losing the final three games of the season.  The SEAHAWKS  win this one.

Dolphins at Steelers.  The Dolphs come into frigid Heinz Field, and the STEELERS avenge that early season 30-15 loss in Miami on their way to the Super Bowl.

Giants at Packers.   This may well be the best game of the weekend.  The Packers are on a roll, winners of six straight, but the Giants have shown an ability in recent years to overcome conditions at the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field.  The Grandstander plays a hunch and says that Eli outplays Aaron, and he GIANTS win.

BONUS PREDICTION - CFP CHAMPIONSHIP GAME


CLEMSON VS. ALABAMA.  I am going to guess that this game may well be more highly contested and more entertaining than any of the four NFL games that precede it this weekend.  An interesting sidelight of this one was Nick Saban jettisoning OC Lane Kiffen on the eve of this game.  Man, those two must have really hated each other.  And while Saban is not exactly the most lovable guy in the universe, I must confess a personal dislike for Clemson HC Dabo Swinney.  This traces back to a game last year, I believe it was in the ACC Championship game, when the Clemson punter made some horrendous gaffe in the game, and Swinney chewed him out as he came to the sideline.  That was somewhat acceptable, but then Ol' Dabo sought the kid out while he was sitting on the bench and then went totally bat-shit crazy on the kid.  On the punter.  Swinney is one of those pious guys who love to invoke the name of the Lord after Clemson wins, but then acts in just about the most unchristian manner imaginable and play tough guy with his punter.  It's not easy to make Nick Saban look like the sympathetic good guy in a given match-up, but in my mind anyway, that's what he is when compared to Dabo Swinney.

So, that's how I'll be rooting.  A Clemson win would make Pitt's season look a bit better since Pitt beat the Tigers at Clemson (remember that one, Dabo?) in November, but I just don't see it happening.  It will not be an easy win, but ALABAMA gets Saban his umpteenth national championship with a win over Clemson on Monday.

There you are....Texans, Seahawks, Steelers, Giants, and Tide are winners.  As always, watch, but don't bet.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Movie Review - "La La Land"


There sure is a lot to like about the movie "La La Land", which we saw this afternoon.  Among them...

  • Great performances and chemistry between stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (who just may be the cutest woman in the movies today)
  • Terrifically staged song and dance numbers, including one on a Los Angeles freeway and another at the Griffith Observatory
  • A great girl-meets-boy motif
  • Some really good music
  • A story about living and fulfilling your dreams
  • Did I mention just how gosh darn cute Emma Stone is?
This movie is making everybody's Ten Best list and many are calling it the best movie of the year.  We went prepared to absolutely love it, and we were loving it....until the end.

Oh, it was yet another terrifically staged number to end the movie, but the actual ending of the story itself left both of us disappointed.  I won't spell it out and spoil it for  those who haven't seen it, and I do recommend that you do see it, but if anyone wants to explain their thoughts on the ending, I am more than happy to listen.

Two and one-half stars from The Grandstander.  (A different ending might have gotten this one three and one-half or even four stars.)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

"Mary Astor's Purple Diary"

Are you a fan of old movies and movie stars? Do you like reading about scandals involving the stars of Hollywood's "Golden Age"?  If the answer to those questions is "yes', then I highly recommend that you read this fun little book by Edward Sorel.

Most people know Mary Astor for playing Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the femme fatal who went up against Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade in1941's "The Maltese Falcon", but like many people, particularly glamorous movie stars, Mary Astor had a life off of the screen, and a "past".  And she kept a diary, which got her into trouble and set off a media feeding frenzy back in 1936 when she got involved in a child custody hearing with her ex-husband.

Mary Astor came from humble, very humble, circumstances, but her striking beauty got her noticed and she began acting when she was teenager in silent movies in the early 1920's.  She also had the misfortune of having two not-so-great parents who managed to bilk her of most of the money she earned, and, as often happens, she also was very unlucky when it came to picking husbands.

This led to Mary seeking "comfort" elsewhere, and led to an affair with George S. Kaufman, one of America's foremost playwrights.  When you think of  masculine good looks and virility, you would not think of Kaufman, but, apparently, in addition to his great wit when it came to writing plays and screenplays, he was also possessed of skills in the boudoir that most men can only dream of, and Miss Astor fell hard for him and took full advantage of said skills. And she kept that diary.  At the time all of this was unfolding , Astor was filming a major motion picture at MGM and the thoughts of how such a scandal would hit the ticket-buying public was scaring the bejeezus out of the studio honchos, who in turn tried to exert their considerable political clout on the judge in the custody trial.

How it all unfolded makes for a great story, and how Sorel, an illustrator by vocation (in fact, his illustrations throughout this book contributes greatly to the enjoyment of it), came to unearth the story and set about writing this book, essentially a Valentine to Miss Astor, makes for a most breezy and entertaining read.

I learned about this book when someone posted on Facebook a New York Times book review that was written by none other than Woody Allen.  Allen's review was most entertaining, and prompted my to read the book itself. 

Here is Allen's review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/books/review/woody-allen-edward-sorel-mary-astors-purple-diary.html?mwrsm=Facebook&_r=0

And, of course, I cannot leave you without a picture of Mary Astor herself in her most famous role.


Good book worth two-and-one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Old Movie Review: "Postcards From The Edge"



The deaths last week of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds (see http://grandstander.blogspot.com/2016/12/two-absent-friends-carrie-fisher-and.html ), prompted us to seek out and watch the 1990 movie, "Postcards From the Edge", screenplay by Carrie Fisher, based on her novel of the same name.

Directed by the great Mike Nichols, the movie stars Meryl Streep as  young actress Suzanne Vale and Shirley MacLaine as her mother, Doris Mann, a one time star of movies and cabarets.  Suzanne has never quite been able to escape the shadow of her famous mother and this has led to a life filled with "mother issues", and, oh, yeah, drug addiction.  The movie opens with Suzanne screwing up on a movie set because of her drug issues and ending up on a rehab center.  In order to get work in a shlocky movie, the producers insist that she live at home with her mother for the duration of the filming.  This opens the entire can of worms that Suzanne has struggled with her entire life.

It was no secret at the time that Fisher's novel was published that this story was autobiographical in nature.  I didn't read the book, but the movie pulls no punches in describing the rocky nature of the Mann-Vale/Reynolds-Fisher relationship.  It is biting and at times quite uncomfortable to watch the two fight and struggle to come to terms with each other, even when the daughter is now a middle-aged adult.  (Funny bit of dialog:  When Streep tells MacLaine that she, Streep, is now middle-aged, Shirley responds by saying that "you are young; I'M middle-aged", to which Streep replies "How many 120 year olds do you know?")  Turns out that Mann/MacLaine, now a past her prime star, has some mother issues of her own, and a fairly serious drinking problem, which, of course, she denies while castigating her daughter for her drug issues.

Smaller parts in the movie are played by Annette Bening, Richard Dreyfuss, and Gene Hackman.  Hackman's part is pretty key, actually.  He plays a movie director who threatens  to see that Suzanne never works again because of her drug issues, but who turns out to play a key role in helping her out, not only in her career, but in her relationship with her mother with this particular exchange of dialog:

Lowell: You know, you're not going to get a lot of sympathy. Do you know how many people would give their right arm to live your life? 
Suzanne: But that's the problem. I can't feel my life. I look around me and I know so much of it is good. But it's like this stuff with my mother. I know that she does these things because she loves me... but I just can't believe it. 
Lowell: Maybe she'll stop mothering you when you stop needing mothering. 
Suzanne: You don't know my mother. 
Lowell: I don't know your mother, but I'll tell you something. She did it to you and her mother did it to her and back and back and back all the way to Eve and at some point you just say, "Fuck it, I start with me." 
Suzanne: Did you just make that up? 
Lowell: Yeah, well, I was working on it when you came in. If you'd shown up a half hour later like you were supposed to, it would have been better. 
Suzanne: It's pretty good as it is. 
Lowell: Yeah, you just like it because it sounds a little like movie dialogue. 
Suzanne: That's right, I don't want life to imitate art, I want life to be art.

The very best scene in the movie may well be the final scene wherein Suzanne, acting an a new movie, sings a slow country ballad called "I'm Checking Out".  The entire movie crew is taken by the performance, including Doris (MacLaine), who is on set watching her daughter during filming. It is a triumphant performance, and it ends the movie "Postcards From The Edge", but without breaking stride, and seemingly in one take, Streep performs the song again, this time in a rocking up-tempo manner as the film's closing credits roll.  It is absolutely terrific!

As one might expect, given the people involved, Fisher's script, and Nichols' direction, the acting is terrific in this one, and, yes, Streep did receive one of her twenty (or is it twenty-one?) Oscar nominations for her performance in this one.  This movie is now twenty-seven years old, long enough ago that Streep was able to play the daughter  in it.  Given the nature of Hollywood, and the attention surrounding both Reynolds and Fisher due to their deaths, I can just picture someone in some studio boardroom pitching this one...."Hey, let's strike while it's hot and do a remake of "Postcards From the Edge", only this time, Streep will play the mother."  Would that surprise anyone?

Three stars on this one from The Grandstander.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Steelers and Panthers and Lions, Oh My

A brief look at the recently completed weeks, and in two cases, seasons for three of the local football teams.

STEELERS



Everyone knows that the Steelers, with nothing to play for in Week 17, sent out the junior varsity against the Browns in order to avoid key injuries as they head into the NFL post-season this coming weekend.  Incredibly, the awful Cleve Brownies jumped to a 14-0 lead and had the Steelers on the ropes in that game.  However, some poor decision making on the part of either the Browns' coaches or QB Robert Griffin III, combined with some equally poor play and execution demonstrated just why the Browns managed to lose fifteen games this season, and the Steelers prevailed, 27-24 in overtime.

The big winner in that game was undoubtedly Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones.  After an pretty bad first half, Jones rallied in the second half, and in the overtime, he was positively Ben-like in leading the team on a 75 yard do-or-die drive, completing a pass on fourth and two to continue the drive, and then throwing the TD pass to win the game.

Jones' rookie contract expires at the close of this season, and he will be an unrestricted free agent.  Will his big game on Sunday  cause some Desperate-for-a-QB  NFL team to shower Jones with a big money contract? Seems unlikely, but look at what Houston did last year with Brock Oswieler.  Jones made the most of his opportunity, so I hope it works out for him.

PITT




The Panthers 2016 season ended in pretty much the same fashion as the 2015 season did with a loss in a bowl game that gave them a finishing record of 8-5.  Unlike last year's bowl, when they were clearly outplayed by Navy, this loss to Northwestern was frustrating due to the fact that stars James Conner and Nate Peterman were lost for much of the game due to injuries.  You can only wonder "what if" had those injuries not occurred.

It was a fun and entertaining season that Pitt provided its followers, including big wins over Penn State and Clemson at Clemson.  A lot to be excited about and look forward to in 2017, but Pat Narduzzi and his staff really need to get some help on the defensive side of the ball next year. And, oh, yeah, find a QB to replace the solid Peterman.

PENN STATE




When Penn State lost to Pitt in the second week of the season, and got pasted by Michigan two weeks later, most of the talk centered around who would be the next coach in Happy Valley after James Franklin, who was sure to be fired after the end of the season.  We all low what happened then...nine straight wins, including beating undefeated Ohio State, and a Big Ten Championship, and a tough loss in the Rose Bowl to USC last night by a score of 52-49, certainly the most entertaining and best game of the New Year's weekend, if not the entire Bowl season.  Certainly a better game than either of the two CFP games on Saturday.    I mean, Alabama and Clemson will have a long way to go next Monday to top that Rose Bowl game.

To me, James Franklin appears to be a really good coach, despite the curious propensity of this years' team to seemingly phone it in in the first halves of games.  A couple of years ago he was being talked about as a possible NFL head coach.  I haven't heard such talk this year, but if you were an NFL owner in need of a coach, why wouldn't you consider Franklin? Seems to me that that is what PSU fans should be worrying about insofar as their football coach is concerned.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Books of 2016


Yes, it is that time for my eagerly awaited summary of the books that I have read in the recently completed year.  2016 saw me read 45 books.  Mostly fiction.  Mostly for relaxation.  Mostly the kind of stuff that I enjoy when I am reading it, but usually forget what it's all about once I am done.  However, some books do stay in your mind long after reading, so allow me to share them with you one final time.  If you want to know more about them, just type the name of either the book or the author into the search box in the upper left corner of this page.

So, in no special order of significance.....

Non-Fiction

"American Pharoah" by Joe Drape.  The story of the thoroughbred race horse that won the Triple Crown in 2015, from the moment of his conception (yep, that's exactly what I mean) to his retirement to a Kentucky stud farm.  Great study, not only of American Pharoah himself, but of his owner, trainer, jockey, and all of the characters that populate the Sport of Kings.

"I'd Know That Voice Anywhere: My Favorite NPR Commentaries" by Frank Deford.  The title of this one should be self-explanatory.  A collection of commentaries over several years by perhaps America's best and most literate sportswriter.

"The Arm" by Jeff Passan.  A study of arm injuries to pitchers, primarily in Major League Baseball, but extending all the way down into amateur baseball played by young teenagers. Why are there so many serious injuries to baseball's most precious commodity, and what can be done to prevent them?  Interesting and disturbing at the same time.

"Hamilton the Revolution" by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.  A series of essays surrounding the creation and presentation of the transformative Broadway show, "Hamilton", that also includes the complete libretto of the musical with footnotes from Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Read the essays, and then read the lyrics on a printed page while listening to the music.  It gives you an entirely deeper appreciation of this epic work.

"American Heiress" by Jeffrey Toobin.  The story of the kidnapping, search for, and the arrest and trial of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst.  It was one the biggest ongoing news stories of the 1970's, and it is pretty much forgotten about today.  Thoroughly researched and wonderfully written by the author.  

Fiction


"The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett.  I reread this classic 1928 detective story, and make no mistake, it is a classic.  If you've only seen the movie and never read the book, do yourself a favor and read it.  Hammett is considered the father of the classic hard-boiled American detective story, and "The Maltese Falcon" shows you just why that is.

"Miller's Valley" by Anna Quindlan.  Not the sort of novel I usually read, but this was truly a terrific story about a young girl's life and dreams while growing up on a small farm in a central Pennsylvania valley, and twists, turns, and breaks, both good and bad, that are dealt to her on her journey to adulthood.  Great book.

"Better Dead" by Max Allan Collins.  Collins delivered to us a new novel in his series of Nathan Heller "memoirs".  This one involved, among others, Joe McCarthy, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg,, and Dashiell Hammett.  Collins and Heller never disappoint.

"The Last Days of Night" by Graham Moore.  A novelization of the real life battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over "who invented the light bulb".  Sounds simple, but it wasn't.  Truth really can be stranger, and more interesting, than fiction.

I also discovered a series of police novel by an author named James Hayman.  They feature Portland, Maine police detectives Michael McCabe and Maggie Savage.  There are four of them out there, and I believe that a new one is scheduled to be released this month.  Can't wait for it.  See http://grandstander.blogspot.com/search?q=James+Hayman

The past year also saw the following novels published by some of my favorite authors:

"Breakdown" by Jonathan Kellerman
"Extreme Prey" by John Sandford (a Lucas Davenport story)
"Escape Clause" by John Sandford (a Virgil Flowers story)
"Razor Girl" by Carl Hiaasen

There you are. If you are looking for something to pass the time in the cold winter months ahead, you could do a lot worse that reading any one of the books listed above.