Friday, June 23, 2017

Critical Commentary: "Into the Water" by Paula Hawkins

Remember the bestselling novel of a couple of years ago, "The Girl on the Train"?  I'm sure that you do, because it was number one on all best seller lists forever, so, I mean, who didn't read it?  I really liked that book and when I wrote of it in this space back in March, 2015, I said the following:

"Makes you look forward to Paula Hawkins' next book."

Well, Ms. Hawkins' next book has arrived, and I wish I could say that it's as good as "The Girl On The Train", but, alas, the sophomore jinx appears to have struck with "Into the Water".

The novel takes place in the current day in a small English town that sits upon a river, a river that seems to have a history of having women drown in it.  In my opinion, and the opinion of Mrs. Grandstander, who has also read it, the book  is a confusing mishigas of story-telling. It has too many characters, and the story is told from the points of view of each of the characters, some of it is written in the first person, some in the third person, and one character even tells the story in the second person.  Telling the story from different points of view worked in "Girl....", but it only adds to the confusion in "Into The Water".  Even when deep into the second half of the book, I had to stop and think at the beginning of each chapter "OK, which person is this telling the story in this chapter?"

I think that if this book was written by some author I knew nothing about, I would have ditched it about halfway through, but I kept thinking "Hey, this is the person who wrote 'Girl On the Train'.  It HAS to get better."  Alas, it did not.

"Into the Water" sits upon the top of current best seller lists, so they will no doubt make a movie of this one, too.  Maybe it will be better than the book.  

Now, what about Paula Hawkins' next book?  I really liked "Girl on the Train", so I am inclined to give her a mulligan on "Into the Water".  I will use her third novel, whenever it comes out, as the tie-breaker to see if she becomes one of those "must read" authors for me.

One and one-half stars from The Grandstander on "Into The Water."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

To Absent Friends - Stephen Furst

Stephen Furst

For better or for worse, sometimes an actor can have a long career yet always be remembered for one particular part.  Such was the case for actor and director Stephen Furst, who died this past week at the age of 63.

Furst had a busy acting career, 88 acting credits listed in 
IMDB, including parts in a couple of long running TV series, "St. Elsewhere" and "Babylon 5", but he will always be remembered - it was in the first paragraph of his obituary - for the roll of Kent "Flounder" Dorfman.....

"Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." the classic 1978 comedy, "Animal House".

Who can forget the famous line spoken to him "You f---ed up, Flounder. You trusted us."

Furst's death was attributable to a lifetime struggle with diabetes.

RIP Stephen Furst, aka Flounder.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Hail to the Penguins, and Their "Exquisite Torture"

It was eight days ago that we watched and celebrated the Penguins winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup Championship, their third one in nine years, and the fifth time in their history that they have done so.

The One and Only Sid!
A Familiar Pose

I don't want any more time to elapse before I write about this victory, and the exquisite torture, as I termed it, that were these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Round One, Pens over Blue Jackets.  The Pens won this series in five games, and as I watched this series unfold, I was impressed with how well the Pens were able to control the puck and keep it inside the blue line for extended periods of time.  I'm no expert, I  said to myself, but this is pretty good team.

Round 2, Pens over Capitals. It took seven games, but when the Pens continued their playoff mastery over the Caps (9-1 in Playoffs series in their history), I was thoroughly delighted. If this was as far as the Pens playoffs journey went, I would have been satisfied just to see the smug Washington media (not to mention Ovie and Barry Trotz-Trotz-Trotz) have to eat it.  Yeah, that means you, Michael Wilbon!  One Washington based podcast that I listen to made mention that while everyone in Washington hates Sydney Crosby, if you asked Caps' fans who they would rather have on their team, Ovechkin or Crosby, fully 90% of them would say Crosby.

Round 3, Pens over Senators. It was during this series that I coined the term "exquisite torture".  These games were so close and so tense, and the fear that they could turn on a dime with each rush of the puck, that it made it hard to watch.  That Game 7 went into double overtime only reinforced the drama and tension.  Thank you, Chris Kunitz, for ending the exquisite torture that night.

Finals, Pens over Predators.  Because we were away on vacation, I saw very little of this series.  Saw the first period of Game 1, and the second and third periods of Game 2, when the Pens scored three times in just a few minutes at the beginning of the third period to win that one while on board the Disney Wonder.  Missed both Games 3 and 4, thankfully, saw half of the Game 5 blowout, and missed not a single minute of that wonderful Game 6, which consisted of 58:25 minutes of even more exquisite torture before Patric Hornqvist lit the lamp that led to the victory and the Championship.

No mention of these Playoffs can be made without mention of this guy, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Pressed into service twenty minutes before Game 1 of the opening series due to a pre-game warm-up injury to Matt Murray, Fleury responded heroically.  He played in goal for all of the Columbus and Washington series, and into the Ottawa series.  He won nine games, before ceding the nets to Murray in that series.  To say that there would be no Cup championship without him in 2017 is not overstating the matter in the least.

He was the third player to hoist the Cup in the on-ice celebrations, and his handing it over to Murray was one of the most poignant and symbolic moments of that night.

Fluery is currently the longest tenured player on the team, a three time Stanley Cup winner, yet all knew that he was being supplanted by Matt Murray, and that this would no doubt be his last hurrah with the Pens.  The post playoffs reactions and comments by all of his teammates make you realize just what he has meant to the Penguins over the course of his thirteen years here, and what a terrific teammate he has been.   I can't wait to see the reception that he will get when he makes his first visit to PPG Paints Arena with another team, probably the Las Vegas expansion team.  He will be one visitor who will be greeted with a standing ovation from both the crowd and his ex-team.

So hail to the Penguins, and a special thank you to Marc-Andre Fleury.  What a great ride they gave us.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

US Open Thoughts

As the golfers prepare to tee it up for the final round of the 2017 United States Open at Erin Hills, some thoughts....

You have to go sixteen names deep into the Leaderboard after the third round to find any golfers with a Major Championship to their credit, Louis Oostheizen and Sergio Garcia, who are T-17 with seven other golfers.  The first sixteen names include two top ten golfers (Fowler and Matsuyma) and a bunch of other guys who can be considered journeymen (Snedeker, Haas) or Up-and-Comers (Thomas, Koepka, Harman, Fleetwood).

What does it all mean?  Are guys like Thomas, Koepka, Reed, and Fleetwood truly "up-and-comers" who will share multiple Majors among them over the next ten years or so, or will they be a guy like Brandt Snedeker, a guy who has made a solid living on Tour, picks up a win a year and a bunch of top ten finishes, but never becomes a Star, or will today's winner be a One Hit Wonder, something that the US Open produces with some regularity (Andy North, Steve Jones).  

One thing for sure, none of these guys is "the next Tiger".

My own prediction is that Brooks Koepka will be hoisting that silver trophy come tonight (or tomorrow if a playoff is necessary).

Watch, but don't bet.

Oh, and speaking of Brooks Koepka, do you think he gets his golf shirts specially tailored for the sleeves to fit tight against his biceps to show off those guns of his?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

In The Area of Critical Commentary....

Some quickie critical commentary as The Grandstander still tries to catch up from vacation.....

We saw the new "Wonder Woman" movie last week, starring the incredibly beautiful Gal Gadot in the title role.

You have heard me say time and again that I am not a super-hero, comic book movie fan, but something drew me to this one, and, yeah, maybe it was the chance to see a beautiful actress in a skimpy outfit, but Mrs. Grandstander attended as well, and we both liked this movie quite a bit.

If you can accept the idea that there actually ARE super-heros, then this was a pretty good story.  There were a lot of neat special effects and slow motion filming that I enjoyed, and Miss Gadot was charming and delightful as the kick-ass amazon warrior princess.  Like a lot of these movies, it went on too long (2:24), and the climactic battle between Diana and the Evil Bad Guy was implausible, even by comic book movie standards, but when the next WW movie comes out, and as this movie is killing it at the box office, there will be more of them, we shall be in line to see it.

Three stars from The Grandstander.


The newest Lucas Davenport thriller from John Sanford finds Lucas in his new role as a US Marshall.   A couple of crooks/killers have robbed a drug cartel of millions of dollars and killed several people, including a little girl, in the process.  This sets both the Cartel and the US Marshalls on their trail.  Typical Davenport/Sandford action - brutal criminals, some new partners for Lucas, a compelling storyline, and a most interesting ending to the story that will set up future stories in the series.  As a side note, the story also describes a US Presidential election with fictional candidates, of course, but comparisons can certainly be made.

Three and one-half stars.


In 2001, a college freshman is drugged and gang raped at a college fraternity party.  Thirteen years later, the woman commits suicide, and shortly thereafter, one of the football players who took part in the rape, is killed, and another one turns up missing.  

The missing guy was last seen in Portland, Maine, and that brings Portland police detectives Michael McCabe and Maggie Savage into the case.  This is the fifth novel in James Hayman's series about McCabe and Savage, and I have written of this series before. "The Girl on the Bridge" continues the series and is another excellent police procedural thriller.

There is a bit of a twist in this one as to who the villain is, and, I must say, I did see it coming, but not at first!  I highly recommend this one, and all of the novels in the series.  Oh, and this one also ends with a hint of a possible change in store for McCabe and Savage in the future.  Can't wait for the next book.

Four stars.


Yesterday we took advantage once again of the fabulous TCM/Fathom Events Series of classic films on a Big Screen.  This one was Billy Wilder's 1959 classic - and it truly is a Classic - "Some Like It Hot".

Has anyone not seen this one?  In 1929 Chicago, musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. In order to escape the Mob, they disguise themselves as women, join an all girl orchestra to escape Chicago and get to Florida, where they will then ditch the band and go on their way.  Of course, another musician and singer in the band is played by Marilyn Monroe, and complications, and hijinks, ensue.

This movie is lauded as the Best Comedy Movie ever made, and it is hard to argue the point.  The three stars, Curtis, Lemmon, and Monroe may never have been better in anything that they ever did, Wilder's direction and script (with I.A.L. Diamond) was fabulous, and, of course, there was that memorable closing line from Joe E. Brown.

No matter how many times you've seen this movie, it is always funny. Always.

Four stars all the way.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Mayoral Wager

As I was four time zones away when the Stanley Cup Finals began, I missed that standard journalistic chestnut, The Bet Between the Mayors. Can anyone fill me in on what was at stake between these two political titans? Let me take a crack at it before you tell me, though.  

Had the Predators won, I am guessing that Bill Peduto, in addition to having to wear a Predators jersey (okay, Tim Baker, "sweater") at an official function, he would also be sending a case of Iron City Beer and a dozen Primanti's sandwiches down to Nashville for Mayor Megan Berry and her staff to "enjoy".

With the Penguins victory, I am guessing that Mayor Peduto and his staff will be dining on some Nashville barbecue and receiving CD Box Sets of Vince Gill, Luke Bryan, and Kenny Chesney (but definitely not Carrie Underwood!). I am also guessing that Mayor Berry will look pretty attractive wearing that Penguins jersey (sweater) at whatever ribbon cutting she has to attend this week.

Megan Berry
Mayor of Nashville

Very attractive Mayor you've got there, Nashville. Let's face it, Sophie Masloff she ain't!

Monday, June 12, 2017

To A Trio of Absent Friends

While away on vacation, and in the whirl of catching up with life upon the return from vacation, some notable people have left us.

Frank Deford

Sportswriter Frank Deford, one of the very best and probably the most literate sportswriters of his generation, died two weeks ago at the age of 78.  Rather than detail Deford's distinguished career in this space, I will just refer you to this Grandstander post from May 18, 2012 that describes Deford's memoir, "Over Time, My Life As A Sportswriter".

It is a terrific book that assures that Deford's wonderful writing and stories will always be with us.

Adam West

Adam West, who died at age 88 last week, had an acting career that, according to IMDB, included 193 acting credits, stretched back to 1954, and was still going strong as one of the voice actors on the cartoon series "Family Guy".  However, West will be forever remembered as Bruce Wayne/Batman on the camp classic TV series that ran from 1966-68.  You read in the obits that West chaffed at first at becoming typecast and remembered only as Batman, but, in time, he came to embrace the form of immortality that this gave him.  I can remember seeing him play himself in a 2016 episode of "The Big Bang Theory".  It was a self-deprecating role, and he was quite charming in it.  And he worked until the end of his very long life, which is something any actor would want.

Glenne Headley
1955 - 2017

Actress Glenne Headley died over the weekend at the  age of 62.  According to IMDB, she has 73 acting credits going back to 1972, and was currently staring in a cable streaming series.  She also had a successful stage career.  I best remember her for two roles:  Elmira Boot Johnson in the great 1989 mini-series "Lonesome Dove" and as Iris Holland, Richard Dreyfuss' wife in the wonderful movie, "Mr. Holland's Opus" (1995).  She had many other film and television roles, and I always found her to be quite good in anything that she did.

No cause of death was released, but 62 is way-too-young for anyone to leave us.

RIP Frank Deford, Adam West, Glenne Headley.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Another Paradigm Shifts, or How We Met and Fell in Love With Uber

We were going to be in Seattle for two days and nights, we had no car, no tour guide, and little idea how to get around.  The solution.....Uber.  (That's one of our rides pictured above.)

Now I realize that many of you reading this have already made use of this ride sharing service, and that we are hopelessly late to the party here, but in our pre-travel planning with the Bonks, we pretty much decided that Uber would be how we would get around while in Seattle, so I loaded up that Uber App....

onto my phone prior to our leaving and prepared myself for yet another plunge into the 21st century.

How was it?  Well, as Dan kept saying repeatedly during our time in Seattle, "this Uber really is the cat's ass, isn't it?"   Indeed it was and is. From the airport to the hotel to the Space Needle and various other tourist spots to the Chateau St. Michele Winery (a 30+ minute drive from downtown) and back again to the railroad station.  Never a wait of more that five or six minutes for a ride.  Never a worry about navigating in a strange city.  It was great.  It was, well, the cat's ass!  Our total costs (we alternated our Uber calls between us) were probably around $160, easily less than what we would have paid to rent a car and pay for parking, and you can't put a price on eliminating the stress of how to navigate from one point to another. Honestly, I don't know that we will ever rent a car again when traveling.

Again, I know that we are way behind the curve on this, and I know many of our friends who have been Uber-ing for several years, but when you discover something like this for the first time, it is a revelation.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Sleeping in Seattle

 It's a funny story as to how we came to spend the first two days of our recent vacation in Seattle, WA. 

This whole tale began last December when Dan and Susan said that they would be visiting their daughter, Alyson, in Seattle, where she was employed as an engineer at Boeing.  They then thought they could use the opportunity to tack on a Disney cruise to Alaska, and would we consider coming with them, and the rest is history, as they say.  The deal was that during our two days in Seattle, Aly would serve as our tour guide.  In the intervening months, Alyson was recruited by and took a job as a software engineer with Uber in....Pittsburgh! So, Aly came home, the Bonks now have their daughter living close to them, but we all lost a tour guide!!

That didn't stop us from having a terrific two day visit to Seattle, a first time visit for both Marilyn and me.  It even included us posing for the cornball picture before a green screen at the Space Needle.  That's the picture that heads this post, and believe it or not, it was freebie.   You get the picture taken, choose a backdrop, scan your ticket and they email it to you.  What a bargain!  We also found Seattle to be a very interesting city.  Very vibrant, very diverse, and very young.  We spent time on Saturday evening in the Capitol Hill area of downtown (bars, restaurants, cultural spots) and the place was just teeming with young people, many of whom, no doubt, employed in the Seattle's burgeoning high tech economy.

As I did with Alaska post, I will spare the prose, and go heavy with photos and some minimal commentary.

 It rains a lot in Seattle, but not the two days that we were there, so we were able to see Mt. Rainier, a magnificent natural wonder that dominates every view in Seattle.  In the foreground of this photo, is the Seahawks' Century Link Field and the Mariners' Safeco Field.

I suppose that no visit to Seattle is complete without a visit to the famous Pubic Market.
It is huge and jam packed with many colorful sights:

 This is also the home of the famed Pike Fish Market where the fishmongers throw the fish to each other.  No one was buying fish when we were there, so for the benefit of the myriad of tourists, the guys are willing to throw your baby for you:

 Just kidding.  They didn't actually throw that kid!

What else did we do in Seattle?  Well......

First, we had to figure out where things were.

Dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  That picture is actually of our reflection in a large mirror opposite from our table.  Very artsy of me to take that, don't you think?

We proudly display our senior citizen discounted tickets on Seattle's monorail.

Great Sunday morning breakfast at they elegantly named establishment.  I mean, how could we NOT eat there?

Then it was on to visit the Space Needle, the signature structure of the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle.

 I was struck by how small the actual overall area of the World's Fair's grounds were.  Some of those Fair structures still stand today, and much of the space is now public space.

 We got a senior discount of our Space Needle tickets, too.  The kids, Dan and Susan, had to pay full boat.

For twelve days in 1962, Elvis Presley was on location at the Seattle Fair filming "It Happened At The World's Fair".  We were indeed on hallowed ground.

 The views from atop the Space Needle are amazing, and they acknowledge how many people have visited the place since 1962:

 And they can be very specific in acknowledging your presence there as well:

We then visited the Chateau St.Michele winery in Kirkland, WA.   We have visited a lot of wineries over the years, and this was easily the most beautiful one.

On Monday morning, it was on to catch the train to Vancouver, BC.

Sitting in a railway station,
Got a ticket for our destination.

 Ridin' the Rails

It was three hour smooth and relaxing ride to Vancouver, BC.  Such a ride was another first for us.  Had never been on a passenger train before, and it was very nice way to travel.  From the Vancouver train station to the Vancouver pier was short cab ride away, and what followed after that was the Alaskan adventure that I detailed in yesterday's post.

Oh, one thing I didn't mention was how we actually got from Point A to Point B to Point C and so on as we toured around Seattle.  That was yet another new experience for the two of us, and it is one that deserves its own separate post, which will be coming in the next day or two, so stay tuned.