Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Predictions

While the installers are busy putting in new carpeting throughout the upstairs of our house today, The Grandstander will, by popular demand (which means that more than one person has asked about it [and there have been two such requests]), revisit an annual feature - My Academy Award Predictions.

This is the third year that I have done this.  Actually, in 2012, I really just made some observations ahead of time, but no predictions per se.  Last year, I did predict the winners in 9 categories and hit on six of them.  Not bad, and let's see if I can do better this year.

Best Picture. 

Nine pictures have been nominated, and I have had the good fortune to see six of them.  Were I voting, I would give the nod to "Nebraska", and I do this by asking the simple question:  Which movie am I likely to watch again and again in the years ahead?  By that standard, "Nebraska" tops the list for me. (By the way, this is not a be-all-and-end-all criterion.  If it were, then movies like Caddyshack, Sixteen Candles, Vacation, and Eight Men Out would have Oscars to their credit, which, good as they are, they really don't deserve.)  However, my call for the Oscar winner come Sunday night is for "American Hustle" to take home the statue.  I had this movie behind "Captain Phillips" before I saw "Nebraska", but I won't argue with this one earning the big prize.

Full disclosure:  I have not seen "Dallas Buyers Club", "Philomena", or "12 Years a Slave".

Best Actor.

Christian Bale was great in "American Hustle", as was Leonardo DiCaprio in "Wolf of Wall Street", and Chiwetel Ejiofor won the British version of the Oscar for "12 Years a Slave", but this seems to be a race between Bruce Dern in "Nebraska" and Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club".  The Academy often likes to award old timers like Dern who get a plum role late in theior careers, but that usually happens in the Supporting category, so I am going to call this one for Matthew McConaughey.

Also, I can't comment on this category without saying one last time that Tom Hanks really got hosed by not being nominated for "Captain Phillips".

Best Actress.

This category appears to be the closest thing to a slam dunk going in, so I will call this one for Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine".  Terrific movie and a fantastic performance.  My vote for second place here would go to the wonderful Amy Adams in "American Hustle".

Best Supporting Actor.

I take back what I said earlier.  THIS is the slam dunk category of the night with the award going to Jared Leto of "Dallas Buyers Club".  However, Barkhad Abdi of "Captain Phillips" won the British version of the award, but Leto won the SAG and Golden Globe, so I'll go with him.

Best Supporting Actress.

I have seen three of the nominees, Sally Hawkins of "Blue Jasmine", Jennifer Lawrence of "American Hustle" and June Squibb of "Nebraska", all great performances, but I will predict that the Oscar will go to Lupita Nyong'o of "12 Years a Slave".  This will also be he Academy's way of honoring this movie which received so many other big nominations.

Best Director.

I have seen four of the five nominees, and my vote would go to Alexander Payne for "Nebraska" if I had one.  Usually, the Best Picture winner director wins this one, which would point to David O. Russell for "American Hustle", but I will go off track and call this one for Alfonso Cuaron for "Gravity".  

Best Original Song.

To me, this has become an irrelevant category for the Academy Awards and has been pretty much since Henry Mancini stopped scoring movies, but since they hand one out, I am going to call a win for Ordinary Love from "Mandela:The Long Walk to Freedom".   Written and performed by U2, I see this as an easy call and am including it here just to fatten up my winning percentage.

Screenwriting Awards.

This are pretty much SWAG predictions on my part, but for Best Adapted Screenplay, I'll go with Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for "Philomena" and for Original Screenplay, Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell  for "American Hustle".

Best Cinematography

I am not going to be so pretentious as to even pretend to be knowledgeable about the art of Cinematography, nevertheless, I am anxious to see how this one turns out as two of the nominees are "Nebraska" and "Gravity".  The look of the movie "Nebraska" really made me feel the openness and loneliness of the wide open spaces of the American Great Plains, and isn't that what movies are supposed to do?  However, "Gravity" really did make like you were in outer space, for crying out loud.  So, what the hell, a Cinematography prediction for Emmanuel Lubezki for "Gravity".

There you go - ten predictions.  Watch, but don't bet.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Movie Review: "Nebraska"

We watched the Academy Award nominated movie "Nebraska" last night, and I'll cut right to the chase and not mince any words.

I loved this movie.  Loved it.

Directed by Alexander Payne ("Sideways", "The Descendants"), and staring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, this is a movie that I can see myself watching again and again (very much like Payne's "Sideways").  It is the story of an elderly man, Woody Grant (Dern), who thinks he has won $1 million in a magazine sweepstakes, and he is determined to set off from his home in Billings, Montana and travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect it.

Of course, he really hasn't won a million dollars, he is an elderly, alcoholic bordering on dementia, and, all in all, not that nice a guy.  His wife calls him a "dumb cluck" and to his two adult sons, he wasn't much of a father as they grew up.  In any event, the younger son, David (Forte), sets off on a road trip to Nebraska to get away from his own troubles, give his mother a break, and convince the old man that he's being scammed.

Along the way, they spend time with some relatives and meet up with some of Woody's old friends, and make, as people always do in such movies, lots of discoveries about themselves and their history.

"Nebraska" is filmed in black and white, which is perfect for the mood of this movie.  It captures the vastness and emptiness of small town America in Montana and Nebraska.  The characters. the main ones and the peripheral ones, are drawn amazingly well.  Even the music that is the background score is perfect.  The movie makes you laugh and cry, and it really makes you feel that you are out there on the Great Plains with Woody and David. 

Bruce Dern, at the age of 77, is getting a lot of buzz for the Best Actor Academy Award.  Not sure if he will win, but this is the kind of "lifetime achievement" award that the Academy often bestows on older actors.  Not sure if he's going to win it, but I wouldn't argue against it if he did.

"Nebraska" has a bunch of big time Oscar nominations - Best Picture, Dern for Best Actor, Payne for Best Director, and Bob Nelson for Best Original Screenplay.  It is the sixth of the nine Best Picture nominees that I have seen, and if given a vote, I do believe that I would give this my vote over my previous Number One, "American Hustle".

Anyway, see "Nebraska".  It is a terrific movie.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

To Absent Friends - Harold Ramis

Actor-Director-Screenwriter Harold Ramis died yesterday at the age of 69.

When the history of American film making in the late twentieth century is written, Ramis' name be a mere footnote when compared to the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, and Lukas, but when you are talking about movie comedy, how can Harold Ramis not be considered a true giant? Consider this mere sampling of his body of work, in each of which Ramis either wrote, directed, or acted:

  • Animal House
  • National Lampoon's Vacation
  • Groundhog Day
  • Meatballs
  • Caddyshack
  • Ghostbusters
  • Stripes
  • Analyze This
On Facebook yesterday, my friend Dan Bonk said it best: "I would have laughed a lot less in life had it not been for Harold Ramis."

That is a damn fine epitaph.

RIP Harold Ramis.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Sochi Games Draw to a Close

The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi will close down today, and, while I have not written of them in this blog, I will say that I have enjoyed watching them.

The Winter Olympics bring to the forefront an odd mixture of sports that are unfamiliar to Americans, so, as such, they often draw criticism from xenophobic American sportswriters and sports fans.  "What in the hell kind of sport is luge/biathlon/speed skating/curling (take your pick, and I could go on)? Who cares about that stuff?"  Well, just because we don't have Little League Biathlon here in the US of A, doesn't mean that these things are not sports, and, in fact, are very important sports in other parts of the world, and seeing them once every four years is kind of fun.

The prime example of this to me is curling.  "Shuffleboard on ice" some folks sneer, but, once you get the basic rules of the game straight in your mind, and it is relatively simple, and watch these players (curlers?) do their thing, you realize that you are watching performers with a unique skill set.  And is the joy and sense of accomplishment for Canadian curlers winning a Gold Medal any less important to them that the joy experienced by Sidney Crosby or Kobe Bryant winning Gold Medals in their sports?  I contend that an Olympic skier, snowboarder, luger, biathlete, or curler experiences a "thrill of victory" equal to or greater than the ones experienced by NHL or NBA professionals. 

Okay, all that said, what did I like best about these Olympics?

  • Believe it or not, I really got a charge out of the X Games types of events like slope style snowboarding and skiing, and the 4x4 ski races.
  • Curling.  Didn't see as much these games as I did in the Vancouver Games four years ago, but enjoyed the matches I did see.
  • The alpines ski events and skiers like Tina Maze of Slovenia and Mikaela Shiffrin of the USA.
  • Noelle Pikus Pace, thirty-something mother of two, winning a Silver Medal in Skeleton for the USA 
  • Rochester, PA's Lauryn Williams winning a silver medal in bobsled for the USA, thus becoming the first woman and only the fifth American ever to medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics.  Such an accomplishment should earn her, at the very least, Pittsburgh's Dapper Dan Sportswoman of the Year honors.
  • And finally, the hockey tournament, both men and women events.  Is it only me who finds Olympic hockey far more entertaining than an ordinary normal NHL contest?  How can these players, many of them NHL stars, play this skillfully and in such a free-flowing manner, only to return to NHL thuggery hockey once they are back to their teams this week?  
  • I will remember the heartbreak of the USA Women blowing that 2-0 lead to Canada with under four minutes to play in the gold medal game, as well as the intensity and high level of play of the USA-Canada men's semi-final game.  (I will try to forget the no-show performance of the USA in the 5-0 loss to Finland in the bronze medal game.)
So farewell to the Winter Olympics for another four years.  It was a pretty damn good show!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Movie: "Monuments Men"; Book: "Killer"

You've no doubt seen the commercials promoting George Clooney's new movie, "Monument Men", so you probably have a pretty good idea what it is about.  A team of seven men attached to the US Army in Europe following the Normandy Invasion on D-Day are assigned the task of rescuing works of art that have been stolen by the Nazis during the course of the war.  The German Army has orders that in the event that Hitler dies or Germany surrenders, all of this artwork is to be destroyed.

The race against time to find and save these art treasures is the story of the movie.  Clooney proves to be a man for all seasons here.  Not only does he star in the movie, but he directed it and co-wrote the screenplay.  It is also a terrific cast - Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and the guy from "The Artist" and Lord Grantham for Downton Abbey.

Very good movie, and highly recommended.

Regular readers of The Grandstander know that I am a big fan author Jonathan Kellerman and his series of mystery novels featuring psychologist Alex Delaware and his police friend, Lt. Milo Sturgis.  "Killer" is the latest in the series, released earlier this month.  

In this one, Alex is called upon by a Judge to consult in a child custody battle being waged by two sisters.  What follows is a threat upon Alex's life, a murder, a disappearance, and the involvement of a long ago patient of Alex', now a serious gang-banger in Los Angeles.

I will resort to that hoary old cliche - once I started reading this, I couldn't stop.  Finished it in two days.  If you're a fan of Kellerman/Delaware, I know you will read this.  If you are unfamiliar with the series, you can pretty much start with any one of the novels; it is not necessary to read them all in order, so "Killer" would be as good as any to begin with.

No one writes better dialog than Kellerman.  The conversations within any of these books are examples of really terrific writing.

To Absent Friends - Cannonball Butler

The Grim Reaper continued his relentless run through the month of February by claiming the life of former Pittsburgh Steeler Jim "Cannonball" Butler last week at the age of 70.

If you are a Steelers fan under the age of fifty or so, your only memories of the Steelers are of a team that has a glorious history in the Super Bowl Era and is a perennial playoff, if not Super Bowl, contender.  However, if you are an old gink like me, you know that the prior to the hiring of Chuck Noll and the drafting of Joe Greene, the Steelers were more often than not, perennial doormats in the NFL, and it was guys like Cannonball Butler that came to symbolize the general ineptitude that surrounded the Steelers in those days.

The obituary in the Post-Gazette the other day emphasized the one play that pretty much epitomized Butler's tenure with the Steelers.  When running on to the field late to get in position in punt formation, Butler ran in front of the punter and was hit by the center's snap to the punter.  A botched play that I have never seen happen in a football game in the fifty or so years since it happened that day at Pitt Stadium.  And, yes, I can say that I was in attendance at Pitt Stadium that day and saw this play unfold.  No jumbo-trons at Pitt Stadium back then to enable us to see a replay of this epic play. Probably a good thing.

After spending three seasons with the Steelers, Butler played five seasons in Atlanta and made the Pro Bowl in 1969 while playing for the Falcons.  In fact, the obit in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution refers to him as "former Falcons great, Cannon Butler".

RIP Jim "Cannonball" Butler.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

For Patrick and Zachary

To honor two of my great-nephews, who will be graduating from high school in a few months.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"We're Ready for Our Close-ups, Mr. DeMille, er, I Mean Mr. Sebak"

The Once Monthly Saturday North Side Morning Breakfast Club, of which I have written many times, had an exciting experience this morning today at Ye Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe, one of the North Side's finer establishments.

Dan Bonk, Jim Haller, Len Martin and I were interviewed and video taped for one of Rick Sebak's upcoming WQED Pittsburgh documentaries.  The title of the show will be "The History of Pittsburgh in 17 Objects", and, please, don't ask why Rick is limiting it to only 17 objects.

As you might guess, Rick has chosen one of his objects to be sports related, and that is what brought him to the four of us this day at Ye Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe.  I am not going to spoil the surprise as to what the object was we were discussing, although you may be able to surmise what it is by looking at the pictures below.

It was really interesting to be a part of one of Rick's shows and to see what goes into making one of these very special WQED shows.  It was a lot of fun to be a part of it, no matter what may end up on the cutting room floor.

Here you see Rick interviewing Yours Truly:

Of course, there is no guarantee as to how much, if any of the footage filmed today will make it onto the final show, but hey, we can dream, can't we?

No air date has been set, but Rick is hoping for a debut sometime in April. Naturally, I will keep you all informed as more information becomes known.

Friday, February 14, 2014

To Absent Friends - Sid Caesar, Ralph Waite

I keep no such records, and I'm too lazy to do the research, but February, 2014 has to be the busiest month in Grandstander history as far as the compilation of Absent Friends is concerned.  Four such citations so far, and two more to be added today, and the month is only half over.  Must be this weather.

First off, we note the passing of television comedy giant Sid Caesar at the age of 91.  Caesar's comedy-variety "Your Show of Shows" is generally considered one of television's landmark shows.  To be honest, this show, which ran in the early to mid-fifties, predates my memory of television watching, so my only reference to it is from film clips on other TV shows that followed it.  I also have a memory of Caesar on talk shows over the years where he, much like an old ballplayer, constantly bemoaned the fact that people in television "today" weren't nearly as funny, talented, innovative as people, especially himself, were in his day.

One thing about Caesar that does need to be recognized was the stable of talent that flowed from the "Your Show of Shows" writers' room.  Such giants and Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Woody Allen all served as writers for Caesar on that show.  Television's classic "Dick Van Dyke Show" and the great Peter O'Toole movie "My Favorite Year" also owe their lineage to Sid Caesar and "Your Show of Shows", and that is no small accomplishment.

Also headed to that great Mountain in the Sky this week is actor Ralph Waite, who played Daddy Walton in the 1970's series "The Waltons".  Waite was 85. in 1983, I spent a week in New York City for my then employer, Equitable Life. The only "celebrity" I saw during that week was Ralph Waite as I walking on the street one day during my lunch break.  Ah, those brushes with celebrity!

RIP Sid Caesar and Ralph Waite.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

To Absent Friends - Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple, one of the greatest stars ever produced in Hollywood, and certainly THE greatest child star of them all, died yesterday at the age of 85. 

She was the leading box office attraction in American movies from 1935 through 1938, and is often credited with saving, not only 20th Century Fox Studios, but perhaps the entire American film industry from bankruptcy during the throes of the Great Depression.

Unlike many child stars, Miss Temple's life did not slink into depraved tales of drug and alcohol problems or of having all her money leeched away from her by unscrupulous family members and managers.  However, like many child stars, she never quite made the impact in the movies as an adult that she did as a child.  She did make several movies as a teenager, but without the astounding success that she had as a child, so she pretty much retired as an actress, making her last feature film in 1949 at the age of 21.

On a personal note, I happen to be a big fan of a 1947 comedy called "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" in which Temple co-starred with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.  She was 19 years old at the time, and she was quite good in it.  I guess that too many people still wanted to see the six year old curly-topped moppet, though, and Temple saw that writing on the wall, and moved on.

On another personal note, the passing of Miss Temple is being felt particularly hard by Mrs. Grandstander, who still owns her Shirley Temple doll from her youth.

After one brief marriage that ended in divorce, Temple married Charles Black in 1950, a marriage that lasted 55 years and ended with Black's death in 2005.

She returned to public life in the 1960's and served in various diplomatic positions, including a couple of ambassadorships in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush administrations.  Curiously, she did not serve in the administration of President Reagan, with whom she co-starred in a 1947 movie called "That Hagen Girl".

A victim and survivor of breast cancer in 1972, Mrs. Black became one of the first prominent American women to speak publicly of this disease.

An Academy Award winner, a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1998, and a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Awardee in 2005, Shirley Temple Black lived one terrific life.

RIP Shirley Temple.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Spring Training Thoughts

Spring Training opens for our beloved Pittsburgh Pirates in three days, and it occurs to me that The Grandstander has been very quiet on the subject of our favorite team this off-season.  In fact, in checking the archives, I see that I have written only one extensive post on them and that was back on December 14:

Of course, others have been commenting extensively on the team's off-season, and not in very positive terms.  The comments have run along the lines of....Marlon Byrd is one to play right one to play first base....what is going on with A.J. Burnett....and, the old standard, Nutting is cheap, doesn't want to win, and only wants to make money.  (As to that last statement, I will grant you that Bob Nutting does want to make money, he may very well be cheap, but I don't buy that he doesn't want to win.)  All of this hand-wringing and sturm und drang has led many to believe that (a) the Pirates have taken a step back, (b) 2013 was a fluke convergence of fate, and (c) the losing seasons will return beginning in 2014.

Well, as I have stated before, the Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington Management Team, and particularly Neal Huntington, bought themselves a lot of credibility with me last season, so I am not ready to replace my Jolly Roger with black crepe just yet.

Of course, there are questions:

Right Field. Looks like this spot will be manned by a Jose Tabata and Travis Snider.  I am hoping that the stuff being floated by the team about Snider's bad toe slowing him up last season is true, and that good things can be hoped for now that he is fully healthy.  If so, then perhaps this platoon could be an effective for the Bucs.  Maybe not All-Star caliber, but serviceable and productive.  And if not, we all know that Gregory Polanco awaits in Indianapolis and predictions of super stardom envelope him.  Even Huntington, who seems to never want to talk about bringing his prospects to Pittsburgh, has hinted that Polonco is "ready", and will probably be playing in PNC Park this season.  If nothing else, that should light a fire under the backsides of Tabata and Snider.

First base. Right now, it looks like it will be a platoon of Gaby Sanchez and Andrew Lambo.  Personally, I would love to see what Sanchez would produce playing strictly against LH pitching.  As for Lambo, well, that IS a question mark, but the guy was their minor league player of the year in 2013, so he deserves a shot to see what he can do.  Given the poor year of Garrett Jones last year, you might say that the Pirates are no worse off than they were for the first five months of last season.  That is damning with faint praise, to be sure, but I think that if most fans think this, then I am sure that NH does too, and that the situation at first base is far from a closed book, and the team doesn't play a game that counts for another 49 days.

Pitching/Burnett.  As of this morning, A.J. Burnett has not retired, has not yet signed with any other team, and will probably sign with the team who - get ready for this now - will pay him the most money.  If this surprises anyone, I can only ask, why?  He is 37 years old, and the Pirates are simply not going to give him a multi-year deal.  I know that the Pirates made him an offer of $10 million for one year.  That seems to be their limit, and they have been criticized for it, and a case could be made that they should open the vault and give hem whatever he wants.  It's easy to spend other people's money.

The fact is, however, the Pirates would be a better team on the first day of Spring Training if Burnett was on the roster, and if he does not return, someone is going to have to make up for those ten wins, 191 IP, and 209 K's. Who that might be will be a big question for Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage as they put the staff together to head North.  That pitcher could be Jeff Locke, presumably recovered from a back injury that made him all but disappear in the second half of last season.  It could be free agent signee Edinson Volquez, who everyone hopes that Searage can rescue his career as he did Francisco Liriano's last season.  It could be a healthy Wandy Rodriguez.  Or it could be June call-up Jameson Taillon, who some in the front office feel will be an even better pitcher than Garrett Cole.

No, the Pirates aren't the Cardinals or Dodgers, and perhaps not even the Washington Nationals (who, by the way, did not make the Playoffs last year), but I am far from convinced that a losing season is inevitable.  Yeah, there are questions, but those questions will make for an interesting and exciting Spring Training.

Can't wait for it to start.

It Was 50 Years Ago Today.....

Unless you have been living under a rock and avoiding all media of late, you know that it was fifty years ago tonight, February 9, 1964, that The Beatles made their historic first live appearance on American television on the Ed Sullivan Show.  A then-record 78 million Americans watched that show, and popular music in America was never the same.

In 2003, there was a DVD set released that contained all four of the Sullivan shows on which The Beatles appeared.  The complete shows, all acts and all of the commercials.  In addition to seeing The Beatles, this set is a remarkable time capsule of American popular culture, and that is what I wish to write about today.

I will say right off the bat, that fifty years later, The Beatles remain incredible.  It never gets old seeing and hearing them sing, and watching them sing live, as they did on the Sullivan shows, is to use a word that they introduced to us, absolutely fab!

As for the Ed Sullivan Show - not so much.

You might often hear older folks waxing nostalgic and saying things like "I wish there were shows like Ed Sullivan's still on today."  Don't believe them. To celebrate this 50th anniversary, and in anticipation of writing this post, last night I watched that Sullivan show from 2/9/64, and I have to tell you, it took all in my power to stay off of the fast forward button.  Here's what you saw:

  • The Beatles opened the show and did three numbers.
  • They were then followed by a magician doing card tricks.  Card tricks! I kid you not.  Can you imagine the phone call from his agent?  "The good news is I got you a gig on the Ed Sullivan Show.  The bad news is you are following The Beatles."
  • Two musical numbers from the Broadway show "Oliver". That wasn't bad, and it did feature, playing the Artful Dodger, a young Davy Jones, the future Monkee.
  • Frank Gorshin doing eight - EIGHT! - minutes of bad impressions and unfunny material.
  • USA Olympic Terry McDermott introduced from the audience.
  • Old bag British music hall performer Tessie O'Shea getting seven - SEVEN! - minutes singing and playing a banjo.  I am not making that up. If ever the past and future of British musical entertainment was in one place at one time, it was the night Tessie O'Shea and The Beatles were on the same a TV show.
  • The very unfunny and very forgettable comedy team of McCall & Brill.
  • Two more numbers from The Beatles.
  • The show closed with an act of acrobats. Again, I am not making that up. I suppose that their agent had the same conversation with them as the magician's.
When I first got this DVD set back in '03, I made the effort to watch all four of the shows in their entirety, and by about mid-way through the third show, I gave up, and went the the FF button to stop on The Beatles and some of the acts that I might have wanted to see.

For over twenty years, the Ed Sullivan Show was "must see TV", but times and tastes change.  Very few forms of entertainment are timeless.  The Beatles are timeless, but there is a reason why there are no Ed Sullivan Shows today.

Friday, February 7, 2014

More on Ralph Kiner

Following up on my last Grandstander post....

  • The fact that Kiner lived to the grand age of 91, also means that he pretty much "out kicked the coverage" of his contemporaries.  I am 62 years old and only know of Kiner the Pirate from stories from my Dad and older brothers and their contemporaries.   One would have to be pretty much over 70 years old to have any clear memories of Kiner taking aim at Greenberg Gardens at Forbes Field.
  • The sad downside of that fact is that for many, many people today, they only know Kiner as the announcer for the New York Mets.
  • It was noted on PTI yesterday that Kiner was quite the celebrity when he was belting all those home runs.  Among some of the fruits of that celebrity were the fact that at one time or another, Kiner dated Ava Gardner, Janet Leigh, and Elizabeth Taylor.  That may be more impressive than leading the National League in home runs for seven straight years.

To Absent Friends - Ralph Kiner

Baseball Hall of Famer and all-time Pittsburgh Pirate great Ralph Kiner died yesterday at the age of 91.  As someone on Facebook noted, it is hard to feel sad at the passing of a gent who lived such a full and rich life in his 91 years as did Kiner.  Such a life should be celebrated, and not mourned, said the post.

If you are a Pirates fan, even if, like me, you are one who began following the Bucs well after his career was over, you certainly know all about Ralph Kiner - about all the home run titles, about taking advantage of "Greenberg Gardens" at Forbes Field, and about waiting to leave what was most likely a losing ball game until you saw Kiner get his last at bat in the game.

Many baseball fans today know only of Kiner, one of the New York Mets original broadcasters who was prone to sometimes hilarious malapropisms.  Not if you're a Pirate fan, though.  You know what great player he was - the first truly great power hitter the Pirates ever had.

I don't necessarily believe in this sort of thing, but surely some sort of karmic convergence took place yesterday with Kiner dying on February 6, which is also the birth dates of baseball's first power hitter, Babe Ruth, and the man to whom some current Pirates fans compare Kiner, Pedro Alvarez.

RIP Ralph Kiner.

Monday, February 3, 2014

To Absent Friends - Phillip Seymour Hoffman

What a shock it was yesterday to hear of the death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman at the age of 46.

An Oscar winner for his portrayal of author Truman Capote, Hoffman had been nominated three other times for Academy Awards.  The obituaries online and in the newspapers lists so many of his great roles...a priest in "Doubt", a CIA operative in "Charlie Wilson's War", a baseball manager in "Moneyball", and many other terrific parts that you may have forgotten over the years, but think about it, have you ever seen him in  a movie where he wasn't good? Throw in a Tony Award nomination playing Willie Loman in a revival of "Death of a Salesman" and you are talking about one of the great actors of this generation.

I will also site two other movies that I think are must see:  "The Savages" a movie where Laura Linney and Hoffman play an estranged brother and sister dealing with an aging father, and "Ides of March" where Hoffman plays the campaign manager of George Clooney's presidential candidate.  This was, in my opinion, perhaps the best movie I saw in 2011.

It was doubly sad that Hoffman, a one time drug addict who had reportedly been clean and sober since his mid-twenties, had apparently fallen off the wagon and died from a drug overdose.  What a terrible waste.

RIP Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Hail, Seattle, and Other Super Bowl Thoughts

Well, that was one dud of a game yesterday, wasn't it?  I mean, really, what can be said about it?  But I'll throw some random thoughts at you anyway....

  • Denver's first three possessions consisted of eight plays and produced a Seattle safety, a punt, and an interception.  It was four and one-half minutes into the second quarter before Denver made a first down.  I was thinking "this is like the Steelers vs. the Vikings in Super Bowl IX."
  • The safety on the first play of the game gave an indication of what was to come, and the kick return for a TD to open the second half effectively ended the game.  The "Denver Super Bowl Champion" hats and t-shirts were already on the planes to Third World countries once Percy Harvin crossed the goal line.
  • I thought that Peyton Manning looked every one of his 37 years by half-time.
  • That DB Kam Chancellor for the Seahawks - WOW!  And he's only the second best DB for Seattle!
  • I could go on and talk about key plays here and there in the game, but why bother?  I mean, how can you single one or two specific plays in an ass-kicking like this? The game was never, not once, in doubt for the Seahawks.
Some other thoughts on events surrounding the actual game...

  • That fur coat on Joe Namath for the coin toss - tremendous.  Broadway Joe is still Broadway Joe!
  • The weather sure wasn't a factor.  Expect the Super Bowl to return to New York in the next 8-10 years.
  • It wasn't until late in the second half that Fox began to show shots of celebrities in the stands (Hugh Jackman, Michael Douglas, Paul McCartney).  This is unusual for Fox, and, thankfully, none of these people were stars of lousy Fox Network sitcoms.
  • I was unfamiliar with his work, and I am not about to go out an buy  a bunch of his records (can we still call them "records"?), but I was impressed with Bruno Mars and his halftime show. Very talented and quite entertaining guy.  I only wished that he didn't relinquish a part of his 14 minute show to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
  • Loved it when, at one point in the third quarter, Troy Aikman essentially said "this game is over."  The Suits at neither the NFL nor Fox had to be happy about that.
  • For the umpteenth year in a row, I turned the TV on shortly after 6:00, thus missing the entire four hour pregame drivel.  This is great for one's mental well being.
The commercials. I liked...
  • The Chevy Silverado commercial with the bull saying "Hello, ladies."
  • Radio Shack, "the 80's called"
  • "Gwen quits" for
  • The Tim Tebow T-Mobile "no contract" commercials
  • Bob Dylan for Chrysler.  Great commercial!
  • The Budweiser Puppy Love and Returning Hero commercials
  • The one with the woman running the tanning salon.  I think it was for GoDaddy.
Did not like....
  • David Beckham in his underwear. Those tattoos are awful.
  • The VW engineers sprouting wings
  • The Steven Colbert pistachio commercial. Kind of creepy.
  • Heinz Ketchup "if you're happy and you know it".  I'm sure all those Heinz employees recently let go are glad the company spent $4 million on that lousy commercial.
  • The bear in the store eating Chobani Yogurt with a Bob Dylan song playing over it.  Just when I was going to write about how disappointing it was to see Dylan sell out like that, he redeemed himself with that Chrysler spot.
  • That two part Bud Light commercial early in the game.  Bud Light usually has some of the best Super Bowl commercials, but those two were big swings and misses this year.
As for my predictions, I called for a Seattle win - check. I said fewer than 50 points would be scored.  Actual total was 51, pretty close.  I said it would be a close game.  Well, you can't win 'em all.

I finished the NFL Post Season with an 8-3 record.  Pretty good.

Congratulations, Seahawks, a most deserving Super Bowl Champion.

Pirates pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton in nine days.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

To Absent Friends - Maximilain Schell

Austrian-born actor Maximilian Schell died today at the age of 83.

A three time Oscar nominee, Schell won the Best Actor Academy Award in 1962 for his best known role, that of defense attorney Hans Rolfe in Stanley Kramer's "Judgement at Nuremberg".  In a cast that included the likes of Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy, and Marlene Dietrich, it was the then 31 year old Schell who out-performed them all and won the Oscar.  

Regular readers know that "Judgement at Nuremberg" is one of my favorites.  A must see for movie fans and students of history alike.

RIP Maximilain Schell

Super Bowl Prediction

So, it was back on September 5 that I wrote in this blog that "the Broncos (would) defeat the 49'ers in a New Jersey blizzard on February 2."

Well, doesn't look like there will be a blizzard, but at this point I have one-third of the equation correct, with a chance to get two-thirds of it right. 

So, I'm gonna go with the Broncos, right?

Well, I know who I want to win and for whom I will be rooting - Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.  I admit that I am a big fan of Manning's.  I want him to win this game, if for no other reason than to shut up people who think that the only way to evaluate a player's "legacy", a word that has been much overused these last two weeks, is by how many Super Bowl rings he has collected.

And while on that subject, people need also shut up about how many Super Bowls a particular player has won.  Sorry, but Tom Brady has not won three Super Bowls, nor has Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana won four, nor Eli Manning two.  Rather, Brady's (and Bradshaw's, Montana's, and Eli's) teams have won those multiple Super Bowls.  Last time I looked, no team has ever sent only one guy on the field in one of these games.  This same reasoning also applies to the World Series, NBA Finals, and Stanley Cup.

But back to the game tomorrow.  I am going to pick the Seahawks in this one.

I am basing this on the old axiom that "offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships."  I think that Seattle has the better defense, and that is how I am picking this one.

I also think that it will be a close game, and that fewer than 50 points will be scored.

Again, I hope I'm wrong, and I hope that Manning undresses Richard Sherman at least once in this game.

Enjoy the game, everyone, and, oh yes, watch, but don't bet.