Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: "The Kind Worth Killing"

Here you go, folks.  The latest terrific thriller for you all to read, "The Kind Worth Killing" by Peter Swanson.

This is much like "Gone Girl" and current #1 best seller, "The Girl on the Train" in that it tells the same story from the viewpoints of four different characters.  Each chapter alternates to the point of view to a different character, and it is told in the first person.  This means you will often see the same scene in the story, but told from a different point of view.  

The book starts when Ted and Lily meet in a bar in London's Heathrow  Airport while waiting out a delay in their flight to Boston.  They get to talking, Ted reveals that he thinks, no, he knows, that his wife, Miranda, is cheating on him.  He is so upset about it that he says that he'd like to kill her.  Could be all those martinis Ted had in the bar and on the flight talking, but then Lily says "Maybe I can help..."

So begins the story, which also includes flashback scenes in Lily's life that shows just how uniquely qualified she may be to help Ted out....and just exactly why she is so motivated to do so.  Kind of like Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train."

This is terrific book and perfect read for relaxing during vacation, or reading on a summer Sunday afternoon, when you just don't feel like watching the ball game on that particular day.  The mix of ingredient that include a rich-beyond-belief cuckolded husband, his beautiful, but scheming wife, Miranda, a ruggedly handsome building contractor, a determined Columbo-like police detective, and at the center of it all, the mysterious and captivating Lily makes for one whale of a story.

If you read this blog, you know that I love these kinds of novels.  There are a few twists and turns, one of which I kind of suspected, and another that took me by surprise. It is a very tightly written story that moves very quickly, and it's one you just...oh, man, I really wanted to avoid this cliche, but what the's one you "just can't put down" once you start.

Many thanks to my wife's book club, "The Gone Girls", for selecting this book for an upcoming session, and to Marilyn who told me, "I think that you would like this one."  Oh, yeah.

Oh, and note to Loyal Reader and Facebook Friend Kaye Peltier:  The story of "The Kind Worth Killing" is set in the greater Boston area and the state of Maine, so this has got to be a must read for you.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


This past Thursday evening, the forty-first Introductory Group Session at the Warrendale location of the Highmark Caring Place came to an end.  Marilyn and I had the honor of volunteering with this group, and over the course of the ten week session, we came to know some extraordinary children, teens, and adults.

As has become a tradition, on this final night each family member - child, teen, and adult - as well as each volunteer, completed a message to the Loved One that they had lost, attached that message to a balloon, and we all then gathered in the parking lot to release the balloons.

If I may, I would like to share that moment with you.

After ten weeks of getting to know each other, of sharing such personal thoughts and experiences, it really is a remarkable feeling that is shared among the children, teens, and adults - and the volunteers! -  whenever this release takes place.  No words of mine can describe it.

Remember, Children's Grief Awareness Day will be observed on Thursday, November 18.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Old Movie Review - "The Last of Sheila" (1973)

Earlier this week, Turner Classic Movies showed the 1973 all-star cast whodunit, "The Last of Sheila".  I remember seeing this back when Marilyn and I were dating and remember enjoying it a lot then.  I do not believe that I have ever seen it since, so I was wondering how  it would hold up after all these years, and I have to say that it holds up very well.  About the only thing that didn't hold up was that bad '70's mustache sported by Richard Benjamin.  Still a good mystery story with an attractive cast, and wonderfully filmed and directed by Herbert Ross.  A fun movie, although very early in the movie, one of the characters does something that will deeply incriminate him/her at a point later in the movie, and, for better or worse, I remembered it as soon as I saw it happen when watching last night.   Oh, well, that may have spoiled the surprise, but it didn't spoil the movie for me last night.

Before and after the movie, TCM host Robert Osborne and Guest Programmer  (by the way, I would love to have that gig sometime), film maker Edgar Wright, discussed a lot of inside stuff about the movie, such as....

  • The screenplay was by composer Stephen Sondheim and actor Anthony Perkins.  It was the only screenplay that either of them would ever write.
  • There was a lot of "inside Hollywood" stuff included in the script.  For example, the James Mason character was really Orson Welles, the Richard Benjamin character was really Anthony Perkins, the Dyan Cannon Character was  really Hollywood super agent Sue Mengers, and the Raquel Welch character was really, well, Raquel Welch!
My own observations are as follows....

Man, what a set of teeth God gave James Coburn.

Raquel Welch was undeniably gorgeous, 

but Dyan Cannon looked pretty damn good in a bikini back in '73 as well.

Also, it was hinted that one of the characters had a history of child molestation. This was brushed off as bit of a harmless peccadillo, something that would never be done in a movie made in 2015.

Both Osborne and Wright hinted that this movie has acquired a bit of a cult status, and that was news to me, since, as I said, I can never remember having the opportunity to see it since it was released forty-two years ago, and this showing marked its TCM debut.
Very entertaining movie, and well worth seeing whenever you have the opportunity.

Oh, and here's a shot of Richard Benjamin in the movie.  See what I mean about that mustache?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Catching Up - Spieth, Pirates, and Warriors

The finish of the US Open at Chambers Bay yesterday certainly was one for the ages.  A four way tie to begin the fourth round, Dustin Johnson (my predicted winner) holds the lead for most of front nine, Rory McIlroy makes a charge and folds, Louis Oosthuizen makes six birdies on the back nine and is tied for the lead in the club house, Jordan Spieth takes a three shot lead with a spectacular birdie putt on sixteen, gives the lead away with a double on seventeen, makes another great birdie on eighteen, only to see Johnson birdie seventeen and have a putt for an eagle to win on eighteen, and a for-sure two putt birdie to force a playoff.  Amazingly, heartbreakingly, Johnson misses a two footer for birdie, and Spieth wins.

What is the fallout from this Open?
  • Spieth now holds the first two legs of golf's Grand Slam.  This hasn't happened since 2002.  The hype leading to the British Open next month at St. Andrews for Spieth and his Grand Slam chances will be incredible.
  • No doubt about it, Jordan Spieth is now THE pre-eminent golfer in America, if not the world, and he doesn't turn 22 until after the British Open.
  • He is the youngest winner of the US Open since 1923, when an amateur of some note named Bob Jones won it.
  • For Johnson, it was a heartbreaking defeat.  As much as I like Spieth, as Johnson stood over that birdie putt, I said to Marilyn, "I hope he makes it because no one should have to live with what will happen if he misses."  He has had close calls in Majors before, but this one is going to be a hard one to overcome mentally.  I hope that he does and gets his Major sooner rather than later.
I am going to forgo commenting on the Chambers Bay golf course and the TV coverage by Fox Sports.  Enough has been said about those two things already.


The disastrous weekend in Washington DC for the Pirates takes away a bit of the luster from what has been a pretty special streak for the Pirates.  Prior to that Nats series, the Bucs had won eight in a row and, I believe, twenty-one of their prior twenty-six games, and had been doing it with pitching that was nothing short of spectacular.  While you hated seeing them get swept, perhaps what happened this week was inevitable.  As well as the Pirates had been playing, that's how poorly the Nats, a good team, had been doing, so some "market corrections" were due.  Next on the docket are three games with the division rival Reds, a team that the Pirates have had trouble beating.  Win two of three against them, and spirits will be lifted, no doubt.

By the way, I am stunned, although maybe I shouldn't be, at the over the top coverage of the Jose Tabata's HBP that broke up Max Scherzer's perfect game on Saturday with two outs in the ninth.  You'd have thought Tabata was responsible for snatching the Lindbergh Baby.  That is the ESPN-24 Hour Media culture in which we live, I suppose, but really...


A final comment on the NBA Playoffs that concluded last week with the Golden State Warriors defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.  (I believe that I had that, although I did say it would go the full seven.)  The Warriors are deserving champions, and Steph Curry and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala were phenomenal in the Series, so Congratulations and Hail to the Champion Warriors.

Congratulations also to LeBron James who, essentially, dragged the injury riddled Cavs through six games in this series.  When he was doing TV announcing back in the '70s, I once remember the great Bill Russell saying that "Injuries are a much a part of this game as free throws."  He was right, of course, and the Cavs chances were severely hurt when Kevin Love went down early in the Playoffs, and whatever chances they had left were pretty much submarined when Kyrie Irving went down and out after the first game of the Finals.  What was left was a team consisting of LeBron James and four guys named Joe.  Minus James, that Cleveland team that took the court against the Warriors after Irving's injury was one that would have trouble winning 35 games in an NBA season.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review - "The Wright Brothers"

I just finished this newest book by noted historian David McCullough.  It is a thoroughly researched story of Wilbur and Orville Wright, who, as we all know, invented and flew the first heavier-than-air, motorized aircraft at Kitty Hawk, NC back in 1903.

By all accounts, the Wrights were wonderful fellows, honest, hard-working, smart, the true embodiment of the "can do" spirit of which all Americans pride themselves.  McCullough makes no secret of his admiration of them.  

I have to be honest when I tell you that I found a portion of this book hard going.  Especially the early parts when McCullough dwells on the scientific and mechanical parts of the story when the Wrights were actually coming up with the design elements of their flying machine.  I suspect that true airplane buffs - yeah, I am talking to you, Tim Baker - and those of an engineering bent will eat this stuff up, but it wasn't for me.

To me, the book really picked up after Wilbur and Orville got their machine off the ground, and then had to go out and sell it to the public.  Oh, the general public loved it, but the US Government was skeptical at first, and the Wrights actually had to go to Europe, France in particular, to actually sell the idea of the practical applications of their Wright Flyer.  That is when the story really got good for me.

What I learned, and what I should have known, was how much the Wrights actually flew their planes.  I knew that, yeah, they invented it, but I never realized that they flew the things all the time in their efforts to sell the idea to the world.  Makes sense when you think of it because, really, who else was there to fly it?

It's a great story and a good book about two authentic geniuses who really did change history.

U.S. Open Forecast

It was my intention to write a Grandstander post Wednesday evening or Thursday morning that would offer my prediction for the US Open that is currently being contested at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington.  However, I never got around to it, so, better late than never, here goes, and, yes, these were the names I would have written had I done this post on Wednesday night.  Honest.

Rather than make a flat out prediction, I was instead going to offer a short list of names and state that the winner would come from among those golfers.  The names were:

Jordan Spieth
Dustin Johnson
Rory McIlroy
Patrick Reed
Jason Duffner
Rickie Fowler

As I type this, they are about midway through the second round with half the golfers not yet out, and here is how it's looking for my boys.

Spieth and Johnson are part of a four way tie for first at -5.  Reed is one back at -4, Duffner is at -2, McIlroy is +2, and Fowler is at +13.

Of interest is 45 year old Phil Mickelson who is searching for the only Major title that has eluded him.  He sits at -1 after one round.  It would be a great story, and I would be pulling for him, but I am doubtful that Lefty will be able to hang on. He hasn't teed off yet for today, and we'll know more about his chances tonight after he signs his card.

The good new for Tiger Woods is that he is keeping right up, shot-for-shot, with one of the bright lights and Young Guns on the Tour today.  The bad news is that this particular Young Gun is Rickie Fowler.  Yep, Tiger is +13 through fifteen holes today.

I have been calling for Dustin Johnson to win a major for just about every one of these over the last three or four years now, so that's who I am picking for this one come Sunday.

As always, watch, but don't bet.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cole vs. Strasburg

The Pirates head to Washington DC this weekend for a three game set with the first place Nationals.  Circumstances are such that we will not be seeing a pitching match-up between two former overall Number One Draft Selections Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole.  We all remember the hype that greeted Strasburg when he made his debut in 2010 against the destined-to-lose-100-games Pirates, and completely overwhelmed them.  It was that crummy season that gave the Bucs the number one draft choice the following year, which they used to select Cole.

Too bad we won't see such a pitcher's duel this weekend, but it gave me the idea to look it up to see how these two guys are doing, career-wise, and here you go:

Stephen Strasburg
Gerrit Cole

Strasburg's body of work is about double that of Cole's, so it is probably not a good idea to draw any conclusions.  However, Strasburg has had Tommy John surgery in his past, and there is evidence to suggest that he may never achieve the levels that were expected of him after that 14 strike out first game in 2010.  He is currently on the DL, and is 3-5 with a 6.55 ERA for 2015.

Cole is now 10-2 with a 1.71 ERA for 2015, and he seems to be on the ascent.

As I said, way too early to draw any conclusions about either guy, much less which of them will prove to have been the better #1 Draft Pick, but it's interesting, nonetheless.

Movie Review - "Jurassic World"

One of the plot points (insofar as this movie actually has a plot) is that the "Jurassic Park" of twenty-some years ago has become old and tired, and the owners of the Park need to keep coming up with something newer, bigger, scarier.  Something that will increase the WOW Factor of the park so that tourists will keep coming to the place and paying for "eight dollar sodas" (an actual quote from the movie).  One critic I heard on the radio said that in this regard, this movie is a perfect metaphor for Hollywood itself, with its penchant for sequels, remakes, and reboots.  Pretty clever.

You have to look at this movie in context.  Let's face it, "Citizen Kane" it ain't, nor was it intended to be so by the film makers.  It was produced to churn huge ticket sales and make money, and it appears to be doing so.  In reviewing and watching it, keep that in mind.  If it's "cinematic art" that you want, skip this and rent a Fellini movie. 

The characters in this movie are stereotyped beyond belief.

The leading man is Chris Pratt who plays Owen, and ex-Navy guy who has some sort of job at the Park training (if that's the right word for it) some of the prehistoric beasts.  He warns everyone continually that these are "living creatures" and of the dangers of messing with nature and trying to play God.  None of these objections, apparently, stop him from accepting a paycheck form the place.  He also has a history and a head-butting failed romance with.....

Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Clair, the hard-driven and determined Career Woman who manages (we never know her exact title) the Park with a totally focused view of the "bottom line" and the profit margins.  Her two nephews, whom she claims to adore but whom she hasn't seen in years visit Jurassic World, but Aunt Clair palms them off on some other functionary because she is just too busy.  She also spends much of the movie running through the jungle in a white skirt and jacket and high heels.

She is also, I just learned, the daughter of actor/director Ron Howard, and she is quite lovely.

Yep, this is the white suit she wears throughout the movie!

Also in the cast is Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays Hoskins, some sort of government, para-military contract who is at the park to see if these animals being developed can be used for military purposes.  "Just think if we had these babies at Tora Bora" he says at one point.  His character  screams "Villain" so loudly that it's surprising that the director didn't give him a handlebar mustache that he could twirl.

Within moments of the appearances of these characters you immediately know that  (A) the two nephews are going to get into one major heap of trouble within the walls of the Park, (B) Clair and Owen are going to experience major amounts of tension, but are probably going to end up together, and (C) it is going to end very badly for Hoskins.

So, having said all that, you think I am going to say don't waste your time and money on this one, and to that I say "Hell No!"  This is a summer popcorn movie and in that context, it is great fun.  I haven't even mentioned the dinosaurs yet.  They are fabulous!  The special effects that produced these creatures are amazing, and much better than what was seen in the original Spielberg "Jurassic Park" movie from 1993.  Hollywood continues to up the ante where the Wow Factor is concerned.  And pay the extra bucks to see it in 3-D.  I did, and it was amazing.  I will also tell you that there was one moment in the movie when I literally jumped in my seat.

Hey, it's summertime, and this is the perfect movie for it.  You won't be hearing it's name much on Academy Award night (maybe for some special effects stuff), but that doesn't mean you won't be entertained by it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

By the Sea.....

Some of you may have noticed that The Grandstander has been a bit silent for awhile.  This was due in large part because Marilyn and I took ourselves "ahta tahn" recently for a quickie beach trip to....

As I said, it was a quick trip, highlighted by some cool weather, some crowded beaches....

Some great places to eat....

A terrific bookstore...

A ride on the Lewes to Cape May Ferry, a very cool experience....

And one absolutely spectacular storm, which we viewed from our hotel balcony....

Unfortunately, I was unable to capture with my camera some of the fabulous bolts of lightning that were seen that day, as well.  The good news was that the storm took place after we had spent all morning at the beach, and it ended relatively quickly, so we were able to head out for the evening.  Even got to see American Pharaoh win the Triple Crown while standing in a crowded Rehoboth Beach bar.  Exciting.

Of course, it wasn't all good news.  A very windy day on our last day at the beach lead to one casualty:

In battles with inexpensive beach umbrellas, Mother Nature still stands undefeated.

This was our second visit to Rehoboth Beach. It is a very nice, very friendly old style east coast beach town.  A nice beach, lots of great places to eat (for example, we had ice cream from four different places over the course of our stay), a boardwalk to stroll and people watch, lots of junk food places, too.  And t-shirt shops.  A countless number of t-shirt shops. I mean, really, how many t-shirt shops can any beach town support?

A great trip...all that we wanted it to be.

Movie Review: "Love & Mercy"

When it comes to a discussion of the really, really greats of American popular music in the latter half of the twentieth century, I believe that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys stands, if not alone, then certainly among the top three or four such artists.  If you follow such things, you would be aware that Wilson, for all of his talents, has led a very troubled life, dealing with addiction and mental health issues.  This is the story that is told in "Love & Mercy", and it is not always an easy story to watch.

In making this movie, director Bill Pohlad has chosen to cast two different actors to play Wilson.  Paul Dano plays the 1960's version of Wilson.  This is the Brian Wilson who struggles with a controlling and abusive father, and band mates who don't get it when he, Wilson, wants to move beyond summer-and-surfer music and expand into something greater.  We see the greatness of Wilson who works tirelessly in the recording studio to make the album "Pet Sounds", and album that bombed when it was released, but has since been recognized as one to the great rock albums of all time.

Brian Wilson / Paul Dano / John Cusack

John Cusack, always a personal favorite of mine, plays Wilson in the 1980's.  It is a time when The Beach Boys have become a nostalgia act, and Wilson himself has fallen deep into the grips of depression and under the controlling influence of charlatan doctor Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).  Into his life comes failed model turned car saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks).  It is Melinda who sees Landy for the controlling creep that he is and will work with the Wilson family to "rescue" Brian.  Melinda and Brian would go on to be married and have five children.  They remain married to this day, and it is with their approval that this movie has been made and this story told.

The movie moves back and forth between the life and times of the younger and the older Wilson, a technique that works very well.  The acting by all four of the leads is superb.  The decision to use two actors to play Wilson worked to perfection.

The music of The Beach Boys and Wilson, particularly "Pet Sounds", is in the movie, but if you are expecting a juke box movie, you will be disappointed.  This is a story of a man struggling with a lot of inner demons who is being pulled in many directions by a lot of people, very few of whom have his interests at heart.  It is well made and well acted.  It is not always easy to watch, but it tells an important story about one of the great persons in his field.  It is well worth seeing.

Oh, and stay for the credits.  All of the credits.

Let me leave you with this from the man himself.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

NBA Prediction - Warriors vs. Cavaliers

The NBA Finals begin tonight, to much ennui here in my hometown, but I, for one, am anxiously anticipating this series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.  More importantly, I anticipate the match-up between the star players of each team, Stephen Curry and LeBron James.

Personally, I will be rooting for the Cavaliers, and for the following reasons:

  1. I really like LeBron James.  He may well be the greatest player ever so sometimes you just root for sheer greatness, or at least I do.
  2. I once lived in the greater Cleveland area (1974-78) and rooted for the Cavs back in those days.
  3. I have a lot of friends who live in the Cleveland area (you know who you are).
  4. I once owned a Chevy Cavalier.
  5. It's not like you're rooting for the Browns!
As for my prediction, while the Cavs have the best PLAYER in the NBA  in James, I believe that the Warriors are a better TEAM than the Cavs, so, despite my rooting interest, I am going to predict the Warriors will prevail in this series, and that it will go the full seven games.  Despite my rooting interest, the Warriors, and Steph Curry and coach Steve Kerr in particular, seem to be a likable group, so it won't be a huge disappointment if they win what I am sure will be an entertaining Series.

As with all Grandstander predictions, watch, but don't bet!

It's Tony Awards Time!

As has been the case since the inception of this Blog, The Grandstander today turns this space over to it's legendary Broadway Correspondent, Bill "Big Poppy" Montrose.  Bill is a longtime family friend, son of Landview Street, and proud alum of St. Philomena Grade School, Central Catholic High School, and La Salle College (now University), and an expert on all things Broadway.

So without further ado, take it away, Bill.....

IT'S PREDICTION TIME!  The TONY Awards.   For the sixth consecutive year, this fearless prognosticator - to quote the Grandstander, "watch but don't bet" - makes his picks of the Broadway Awards for 2015.  Last year, I came in with a stunning 11 correct picks out of 12 categories.  This year, hoping that the handicapping gods don't get even, I'm picking 10 categories.  Here goes:
BEST ...
Musical ....................... An American in Paris
Play ............................. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Musical Revival ..........  The King and I
Play Revival ................ Skylight
Actor in a Musical ....... Michael Cerveris (Fun Home)
Actress in a Musical ...  Kristin Chenoweth (On the 20th Century) *
Featured Actor in a Musical ... Christian Borle  (Something Rotten!)
Featured Actress in a Musical ... Judy Kuhn (Fun Home)
Director of a Play ....... Marianne Elliott (Curious Incident of the Dog ...)
Director of a Musical ...  Christopher Wheeldon (American in Paris)
* Actress in a  Musical (award) is my favorite category.  This year, it looks like Chenoweth's competition is (TONY's answer to Susan Lucci,) the fantastic  Kelli O'Hara for "The King and I" .  Choosing Kelli last year was my only miss. This year is her 6th nomination, still looking for the prize.  Deep down, I hope she wins it.

The TONY Award Show is on CBS this Sunday night.  As George M. Cohan (statued below) so famously wrote, "Give my Regards ...."

Yes,  readers, that is the legendary Bill Montrose himself, in the shadow of George M. Cohan (who didn't at all look like James Cagney).
We will be checking in come Monday morning to see how Bill fared in his prognostications.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hello, Good-bye

Earlier this week, we bid good-bye to our 2008 Toyota Corolla, a vehicle that served us well for 7 and 1/2 years and 62,000 miles.  This car also served as my vehicle for my final two years at Highmark, and it also made at least two trips to the Outer Banks for our vacations.

In its place, we say hello to this little beauty:

A 2015 Chevy Malibu.  Let the record show that this will be Marilyn's car.  I am only hoping that she will let me drive it once in awhile.

As we did with our Equinox three years ago, we bought this car at Baierl Chevrolet in Wexford.  We even used the same sales rep, Ed Haskins.  Baierl earned our business this time around, based upon our experience, not only from buying the Equinox three years ago, but in the service we have received in the intervening years.

One other observation - for all the ways that our society has moved towards a "paperless system", an awful lot of paper is still generated when you buy a car.  Wow!