Friday, September 30, 2016

We See Tom Jones

Last night the Sproules and the Bonks.... 

hit the third leg of their personal "Geezer Rock Tour" (Ringo Starr last October; Brian Wilson last month) when we went to see 1960's superstar/heart throb Tom Jones at the Benedum Center.

Tom Jones is 76 years old.  You never quite know what to expect when you go to hear a guy in his seventies sing, but from the moment Jones sang the opening lines of his opening song, you realized that the Jones Pipes have lost nothing - nothing! - since the time you heard him for the first time, back when Lyndon Johnson was President.

First of all, Tom Jones has aged well:

Still a great looking guy who can belt out a song.  Oh, he doesn't move and swivel like he did back in the day, but, as I said above, he can still belt out a song.

Jones was backed by a nine piece band that included a terrific brass section.  The show was a mixture of new stuff, old stuff, rock and roll, gospel, blues.  A polished and very professional Vegas-type show.  The man is a Pro, no doubt about it.

Jones also gave the fans what they wanted, a handful of Jones classics - Delilah, What's New, Pussycat, Green Green Grass of Home, Thunderball, and, of course, It's Not Unusual.  He sung What's New, Pussycat accompanied only by an accordion and a tuba!  How often have you seen that at a rock concert?  (Minor quibble: He did not sing Help Yourself, and that bummed me out a little bit.)

All in all, a great night out and a great show and performance from a guy who shows no signs at all of slowing down.

Let's close this post out with a view of a younger Tom Jones (from 1989) singing perhaps his most famous song:

(All photos, except the one of the Benedum marquee, courtesy of Dan Bonk.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On "The Magnificent Seven" and Movie Remakes

As the title of this post and the picture above will tell you, we saw "The Magnificent Seven" this afternoon, and I have to say that we both liked it, and The Grandstander gives it three stars on his always reliable scale.  This movie is, of course, and remake of the 1960 classic western that was directed by John Sturges and starred, among others, Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn.  This version was directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawk.

You may know the story.  A small western town is held as a virtual hostage to evil mine owner, played perfectly by Peter Sarsgaard.  A beautiful young woman (Haley Bennett), widowed when her husband was killed by the vile Sarsgaard, appeals to bounty hunter Washington, who then puts together his "magnificent seven" to save the town.  It's a familiar theme that has been told countless times ever since Hollywood began churning out  westerns.  That doesn't mean that it can't be an appealing story.  This one is beautifully filmed, and there is lots of action in it.  And violence.  Lots of people die in this one.

And how can you not like Denzel Washington.  He's terrific.  This will not make anyone's Ten Best List for 2016, but it is pretty good entertainment, and worth seeing.

Oh, and I am not going to give a spoiler here, but make sure you are in the theater as the closing credits begin.  Fuqua and the current film makers give a special sort of tribute to the original movie, and I loved it.


Discussing a movie like this becomes tricky sometimes because it is a remake of what many consider to be a classic.  Why does Hollywood do this, people often ask.  Why take something that everyone loves and mess with it?  And can a remake possibly be better than the original?

Well, this summer a remake of 1959's epic "Ben-Hur" was released and if you blinked, you missed it.  It bombed big time with the critics and audiences, and it was gone after a week in the theaters.  "Magnificent Seven" seems to have been given a better fate, critics may not be in love with it, but most liked it, and it grossed $34.7 million in it's first week of release.

My own feeling is that a remake should be judged on its own merits.  I saw the original "Magnificent Seven", but it has been so long that I honestly can't make a comparison to this new version.  So, I went into this one today with pretty much of an open mind. 

Some remakes are bad.  Director Gus van Sant, in a massive ego trip, remade Hitchcock's "Psycho" a few years back, and it was awful.  Never should have seen the light of day.  On the other hand, a few years back, a remake of the John Wayne Oscar winner "True Grit" was made that starred Jeff Bridges.  Was it as good, or better than the original?  Who knows, but I liked them both.

Sometimes a different spin can be put on a movie and a great improvement can be realized.    In 1931, a movie version of the Charles MacArthur-Ben Hecht play. "The Front Page" was made that starred Pat O'Brien and Adolph Menjou.  It is a fairly well regarded movie, although I confess that I can't remember ever seeing it.  In 1940, however, Howard Hawks did a remake of the movie, but made one of the reporters a female, cast Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as the leads, and renamed it "His Girl Friday", and that movie is an undisputed classic.  In 1974, one of the great directors of all time, Billy Wilder, took another stab at "The Front Page", and it became one of Wilder's more forgettable movies.  It starred Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Carol Burnett.  My memory of that version was that Wilder felt the need to have Lemmon and Matthau used the f-word way, way too often.  Not a good movie.

One of the more charming romantic comedies of the last twenty years or so was "You've Got  Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  Great movie, and most people who saw it didn't realize that it had been done in 1940  as "The Shop Around the Corner" with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.  That one shows up often on TCM fairly often, and both versions of this story are delightful.

Denzel Washington seems to be making a career of doing remakes.  "Magnificent Seven" is the third one he has done.  The first was a remake of "The Manchurian Candidate", and it was completely forgettable.  The original with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury is one of the great political thrillers of all time.  All the new version proved was that this was one instance where it was losing proposition to mess with the original.  In 2009, Washington also did a remake of 1974's "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three", which starred Walter Matthau.  All I remember about the '09 version was a lot more cursing.  I'll never watch it again, but I'll watch the Matthau version every time it is shown on TCM.  It looks like he will do better with the "Magnificent Seven" than he will do with those other two.

(This has spawned a lot of gags, by the way about what Washington will do next.  Rick Blaine, Charles Foster Kane, Rhett Butler?  My friend Al Cotton has suggested he play Kevin McCallister in a "Home Alone" remake.)

I suppose that there are lots of reasons to do remakes.  Studios think that they can make money.  Sometimes they are pure vanity projects for actors or directors.  Sometimes a director thinks he can say something "different" with the material, and sometimes, the film maker may even be right about that.  In all instances, the movie going public will be the final judge of whether or not it was a good idea to remake a movie.

And, of course, one of the great by-products of all of these remakes is that it might send the audience back to look at the originals.  As for me, I am going to see where I can rent, buy, or stream the 1960 "Magnificent Seven" (which itself was a remake of a Japanese classic movie, "The Seven Samurai) sooner, rather than later.

Monday, September 26, 2016

To Absent Friends - Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer

The Great, and I mean the Truly Great, Arnold Palmer died last night at the age of 87.   The winner of over sixty tournaments on the PGA tour, including seven major championships and four Masters Championships, Arnold Palmer cannot be summarized in mere numbers and statistics.  Palmer exploded onto the professional golf scene at about the same time another force, television, did and the convergence of those two forces was a Perfect Storm that took golf out of the stuffy milieu of the country clubs and took the game to the masses.  Arnie moved the needle of television ratings like no one before or since, and television's money brought the game to previously unimagined heights.

I have read many quotes over the years from one pro golfer or another that pretty much said the same thing: that every golfer on tour owes a large portion of their earnings to Arnold Palmer, because it was Palmer who made all of them rich.  If you read enough golf history books you will know that Palmer was revered, almost universally so, by every golfer with whom he came in contact and competed against. No one will ever make the case that Palmer was the Greatest Golfer of all time, although he was pretty great, but a case can easily be made, for the reasons I stated above, that Palmer was easily the Most Important Golfer of All Time.

Like literally millions of other people, both Marilyn and I had personal encounters with Palmer.  Mine came at a charity golf outing at Latrobe Country Club sometime in the mid-00's.  Late in the day, as my foursome approached the tenth hole, which was our eighteenth hole of the day, there stood on the tee taking practice swings the Man Himself.  He was playing that day with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and a gaggle of secret service agents surrounded them, but Palmer insisted that we the tee it up and finish our round ahead of them.  I was happy to shake his hand on that tee, and I have to say, hitting that particular tee shot was one of the most difficult swings I've ever had to make on a golf course!

Marilyn's came in the early nineties when her company, MAC, was one of the  sponsors of the Bell Atlantic Seniors Tournament in Philadelphia.  At the draw of players for the Pro-Am event, MAC drew Arnold Palmer!  Marilyn got to meet him then, and in recounting the story this morning, she remarked what a great gentleman he was with all of them and their customers.  While other players acted like they could hardly be bothered playing in a pro-am, Palmer was as enthusiastic as you could possibly be, and that the four guys who played with him that day had the absolute thrill of their lifetimes.

I once read that the distinctive Arnold Palmer autograph reproduced above is virtually worthless on the sports memorabilia market.  Why? Because Palmer signed all the time, for everybody.  In his later years, a large part of his day was spent signing balls, gloves, pictures, flags, anything that anyone sent him, he signed.  Says a lot about the man.

Palmer became a public figure, I suppose, when he won the US Amateur in 1954, turned pro a year later and never looked back.  It was public lifetime that lasted over sixty years and was lived without a whiff of scandal or bad behavior.  What a legacy.

On Facebook today, the man most closely associated with Palmer as a competitor, business rival, and, most importantly, good friend, Jack Nicklaus released a statement that read in part:

Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself. Along the way, he had millions of adoring fans—Barbara and I among them. We were great competitors, who loved competing against each other, but we were always great friends along the way. Arnold always had my back, and I had his. We were always there for each other. That never changed.

He was the king of our sport and always will be.
What more is there that can be said?
RIP Arnold Palmer.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Movie Friday

Spent some time watching movies this past Friday.

First up was "Sully", the Tom Hanks starring and Clint Eastwood directed movie about the forced landing of a disabled US Airways passenger airplane in the Hudson River in January 2009.  Hanks, who is always good in anything he does, stars as Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot of the craft.  The events depicted in the movie are recent enough that most people will remember them, and Eastwood does a great job in turning an event that last 208 seconds into a full length movie.

Much of the movie focuses on the NTSB investigation of the event that followed.  Did Sully do the right thing in making the forced water landing? (All 155 people aboard survived, so I'd say, yeah, he did.)  Should he have tried to return to one of two airports available to land?  These are the issues facing the NTSB, who it must be said were doing what they needed to do, but Eastwood makes them the "bad guys" in this one in such a broad fashion that I am surprised he didn't have then wearing black hats during the board hearings.

I give this one three stars, and I am looking forward to discussing this one with my buddy Tim Baker at some point in the future.


Next up was from 1965, Blake Edwards' "A Shot in the Dark", perhaps the best of Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau movies.  To be honest, some of the gags in this one go on too long and become almost annoying to watch, but there are enough honest-to-God laughs in this one to make it worth watching.  Watching Sellers trying to return a pool cue to the rack of cues in the billiard room is hilarious.

It also stars the beautiful Elke Sommer, the single most beautiful woman I have ever seen in person (I've told the story before), and she is gorgeous in this one.


On Friday night I tuned into TCM to watch Woody Allen's 1988 drama, "Another Woman" that starred Gena Rowlands and Mia Farrow.  Rowlands plays a college professor who accidentally overhears another woman, Farrow, while she is visiting a psychiatrist.  Hearing they stranger's story makes Rowlands take another look at her own life, both past and present.  I had never seen this one, but I am always anxious to "discover" an Allen movie.  As I said, this one is no comedy, but rather an adult drama, one that makes you really think.  Maybe it's not for everyone, but I thought it was quite good.

The final Friday movie, also on TCM, was "I Never Sang For My Father" from 1970 starring Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman.

Hackman plays Douglas' adult son who returns home after the death of his mother, and is faced with dealing with an aging father.  Lots of unresolved father-son issues come to light.  Again, not always an easy movie to watch, but excellently done - both Douglas and Hackman received Oscar nominations for this one - and a movie that probably everyone, to one degree or another, can relate.


Still have one more movie on the DVR that I want to watch soon, another Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers comedy called "The Party" from 1968.  Maybe after the Steelers game tonight.  More on that one later, after I watch it again.

North Carolina 37 - Pitt 36

So, I am watching the Pitt - UNC game yesterday, and Pitt is leading 33-23 early in the fourth quarter.  Their offense, which has been dominant throughout the game is marching into North Carolina territory, and another touchdown seems inevitable.  The ESPN announcers even say that a Pitt touchdown here could well be a knock out punch to the Tar Heels.   Lo and behold, the NC defense stiffens, forces a fourth down situation, and Pitt kicks a field goal to go up 36-23, and the game remains a "two score game" for NC.  On Facebook, I make the comment at the time that I hope that settling for three instead of getting seven doesn't come back to haunt the Panthers.

Regrettably, I believe I had that.  

You know what happened.  Pitt stopped playing defense, the offense didn't seem able to make a first down after that, and North Carolina began to play defense, and with :02 left in the game, NC scores, kicks the PAT, and wins 37-36.


For the second week in a row, Pitt's pass defense is torched for over 450 yards, and memories of how close the same thing happening in the Penn State game two weeks ago came to my mind.  A last minute interception by Pitt in that game is what stands between Pitt being 1-3 instead of 2-2 right now.

Oh, well, in year two of the Narduzzi Era, it is not the time to be hard on the coach.  I am sure he knows the shortcomings of his team better than any of us mokes out in TV Land do, and we need to give him the time to get the players and coach 'em up.  Next week is Marshall which should - should -  be a win, but in two weeks, Georgia Tech comes to Heinz Field and it would behoove Pitt to win that one and avoid falling to 0-2 in the conference play.

A word about North Carolina's Ryan Switzer.  I don't know if we will ever hear of this kid again, or if he will ever play beyond the collegiate level, but based on what he did against Pitt yesterday, he should win the Heisman Trophy, be the Number One overall pick in the NFL Draft, and be no less than an even money bet to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.  What a performance he turned in, and perhaps his best play, a long punt return for a TD was nullified by a penalty.  Wow!

In retrospect, we didn't know it at the time, but the absolute highlight of the day came early in the first quarter when Pitt kicked  FG to go up 5-0.  The ESPN cameras focused on the section of Pitt fans in the stands and the country, or at least the ESPNU audience, got a full glimpse of our own Dan Bonk cheering on his beloved Panthers.  Another fifteen minutes - okay, maybe fifteen seconds - of fame for Dan!

For those who don't know him, that's Dan in the blue shirt
 and cap standing with hands clasped and looking to his right.

Friday, September 23, 2016

"Kinky Boots"

We missed this last year when it came to town with Billy Porter starring, so we jumped on the dance to buy tickets this spring when the national touring show was announced for Pittsburgh, and last night we saw this Tony Award winning show.  It was terrific and a great theatrical experience.

A story with a great message underlying a presentation that was filled with tremendous energy, great choreography, and a fantastic score with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper.  Tremendous performances by lead actors J. Harrison Ghee as Lola and Adam Kaplan as Charlie, and I can't think of a show that had two such rousing numbers as "Everybody Say Yeah" that closed the first act and "Raise You Up" that closed the show, not to mention a few other show stoppers such as "Sex is in the Heel", "The History of Wrong Guys", and "Hold Me In Your Heart".  That Cyndi Lauper knows what she's doing.

I imagine that "Kinky Boots" will be one of those shows that will be around for a long, long time, touring constantly.  It is one that I would be happy to see again some day, and one that I would recommend to anyone.

Four stars all the way from The Grandstander and Mrs. Grandstander.

This leads to another question:  Will it ever become a staple on the High School Musical circuit?  Hard to imagine that skittish school districts would give their blessing to a show that features drag queens, but you never know.  Every spring some high school or another is doing "A Chorus Line" and featuring some sixteen year old girl doing that "T & A" song, and I never thought that that would happen, so I suppose that we may see Lola and her Angels trodding the boards at some high school in the next decade or so.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: "The Last Days of Night" by Graham Moore

I recently heard an interview on Public radio with Graham Moore, 2015 Academy Award winning screenwriter for "The Imitation Game" and author of this current best seller, "The Last Days of Night".

The book is a novelization of a true event: a lawsuit brought by Thomas Edison against George Westinghouse in 1888 over the more-or-less simple question of "Who invented the light bulb?"  The real issue, however, was which system of electricity, Edison's Direct Current (DC) or Westinghouse's Alternating Current (AC) would be used to provide electricity throughout the United States.  Lots of money at stake in this quest.

The central character of the book is neither Edison nor Westinghouse, but a twenty-six year old lawyer named Paul Cravath who Westinghouse hired to be his lead litigator in this critical case.  Add in other key real-life characters such as opera singer Agnes Huntington, scientist/inventor Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell, and J.P. Morgan, and you come up with a pretty interesting story.

All the people in this book are real, and all of the incidents described did really take place, including all of the legal machinations that didn't resolve themselves until the lawsuits reached the United States Supreme Court.  Interestingly enough, the final decision of the Court - and I won't tell you who won the case - became pretty much irrelevant by the time the decision was handed down, because by that time, both some business maneuvering by all parties and rapidly advancing technologies rendered the issues of the suit pretty much moot.  It's a pretty interesting story.

My favorite scene in the book comes when Cravath pays a visit to Alexander Graham Bell, who was also involved in patent lawsuits with Edison.  Bell's comments on what a nuisance his invention, the telephone, turned out to be, as well as comments on science for science's sake versus business versus the need to rapidly expand technology were pretty fascinating.

I also learned how the practice of law in the United States was pretty much changed as a result of some of the processes put in place by Paul Cravath, a man of whom I had never heard.

Good story, good book.  The Grandstander gives it two and one-half stars out of four.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Virginia Vacation Vignettes

Regular readers will recall my mention last month that some medical issues that cropped up with me last month forced us to cancel our annual Outer Banks vacation, a decision that disappointed us no end.  However, with good news coming from all of the medical tests, Marilyn and I decided that we were not going to miss out on a beach trip after all, so with very little time to plan or prepare, we decided to go to a place where we had nave been, although it was place about which we had heard much from various friends: Sandbridge, a community just south of Virginia Beach, VA.  The result was one of the best vacations that we had ever experienced.

We were able to secure a two bedroom condo in The Sanctuary....


at out of season prices.  The place was right on the beach, the condo we had was terrific.  

One of the things that people told us about Sandbridge was that it was "quiet, out of the way, and there won't a lot to do there."  Yes, it was quiet, which was fine by us, but with all due respect to those who told us these things, we found it to be quite convenient to lots of cool stuff, all within an easy drive of our place.  (To be fair, I can only imagine that with lots and lots more people concentrated in the area at the height of the season, things might not be so convenient to get to, i.e., traffic would be a lot tougher than what we experienced last week.)

We found some great restaurants...

(The view from the back deck at Blue Pete's.)

 (Right across the street from our condo complex.  We walked to it.)
(This was a take out place for fresh seafood that we went to twice. 
 Unbelievably great food from this place.)

where we had some great meals...

and enjoyed a joint "Birthday Dinner" at a great place called Waterman's in Virginia Beach (thank you, Bill Montrose, for that recommendation)....

In fact, the food was terrific.  We didn't have a meal down there that was not outstanding, even a cheese steak hoagie for lunch at the Virginia Aquarium was great.

I was able to play golf twice at two really great courses, both within a twenty minute drive from our place.

At Virginia Beach National, Marilyn rode with me in the cart for the back nine, and got some pretty cool action shots.

I'm only going to post this one because it is a neat picture in that you can see the ball in flight after I hit it.

Some beautiful scenery along both courses...

On Friday, we visited the Virginia Aquarium...

and I would recommend a stop there if you are vacationing in Virginia Beach or Sandbridge.

By the way, one of the missions of the Aquarium is the preservation of endangered species, as evidenced by this display in the place.  I mean, honestly, how many of THESE do you see any more?

We really enjoyed staying in a condo, something that was a bit of a new experience for us.  We actually ate in three nights, although we didn't cook.  It was all stuff that we ordered as take out form places like Simply Steamed.  It was so nice to have a living area separate from the bedroom and a full kitchen.  It was really nice.

In the end, though, we came for the beach, and we were not disappointed.

This trip is not going to replace the Outer Banks of North Carolina for us, as we are already looking forward to a return to Currituck County, NC in 2017, but for a trip like this one, just the two of us making a quick trip after Labor Day, we both said that we could see a return to Sandbridge at some point down the road.

However, at the end of every vacation, no matter how nice, we always quote the opening line from one of Paul Simon's tunes: 

"Gee, but it's great to be back home, 
"Home is where I wanna be..."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pitt 42 - Penn State 39

First off, The Grandstander will be on a brief hiatus this week (or, as a guy I used to work with might have put it, "a brief hi-anus";  yes, he really did say that), but before I do, I have to comment on that whale of a football game today between Pitt and Penn State, which Pitt won 42-39.

Had this game been played in a vacuum, it really would have been no big deal.  Two non-conference opponents playing early in the season, and let's face it, both teams could generously be described as mid-level teams within their own conferences.  Of course, it was PITT versus PENN STATE for the first time in sixteen years, so this game was definitely not played in a vacuum. It was, as my friend Dan Bonk has been reminding us since 2011, a BIG GAME, and man, oh, man, did it live up to all of the hype.

George Aston scores Pitt's first TD of the day.

Let me clear on my loyalties.  I was rooting for Pitt all the way, and I was delighted when they bolted to a 28-7 lead in the second quarter.  Who would have envisioned that it was going to be this easy?  Well it wasn't.  Penn State scores right before the half and once again early in the third quarter, and all of a sudden it was 28-21 and it was real ball game.  In the waning minutes of the game, Penn State was driving, trailing by three points, and they appeared to be unstoppable, when Pitt intercepted a pass in the end zone to seal the three point win.

Absolutely fabulous.

Some final observations...

  • I have been a part of this Pitt season ticket group since 2013, and in all that time, I can point to only one "signature win" for Pitt during that time, a win over Notre Dame in 2013.  That changed today for Pitt and Coach Pat Narduzzi.  If ever there was a Signature Win, this was it.
  • It is said that a loss today would raise the heat in Happy Valley under James Franklin. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but before Lions' fans come down too hard on Franklin, be aware that he sure as hell did something at halftime for his team.  PSU was getting whipped in the first half, but they dominated the second half and almost won it.
  • All of my fears about bad behavior among the fans of the two teams appeared to be unfounded, or at least they were in what I saw in the parking lots, tailgate parties, and stands today.  That was refreshing.
  • It is said that watching a game on TV these days is superior to actually going to the stadium, and for the most part, I agree, but I have to say, that for today at least, it sure was better being at Heinz Field than sitting at home watching on TV.
Finally, the attendance was announced today to be 69,983.  It is the largest crowd ever to see any sporting event in Pittsburgh, and I was a part of it.  Of course, as friend Fred Egler has noted, this does not count the 350,000 people who claim to have been at the Immaculate Reception game in 1972 or the 130,000 who claim to have been at Game Seven of the 1960 World Series.

Very cool to be able to say that I was a part of a record crowd for ANY sporting event in this city.  And in case you were wondering who the best looking people were at that game, well, here they are:

Bob Sproule, Len Martin, Dan Bonk, John Sebastian
Photo courtesy of Donna Sebastian

Friday, September 9, 2016

Steelers Prediction for 2016

Okay, gang, I'm going to make this short and sweet.

In 2016, the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to win twelve games, win the AFC North Division and gain first round playoff bye, win the AFC Championship, and win the Super Bowl.  I'm not going to make a prediction as to who they will play in the Super Bowl, because, who cares?  The Steelers are going to take home that seventh Lombardi Trophy.  

Of course, this prediction is contingent upon Number 7 staying healthy throughout the season.  If Ben goes down for any considerable length of time, i.e., more than two games, all bets are off.  Any loss of significant playing time for Antonio Brown would also hurt the cause, but the QB is the real key here.

You don't really need any more analysis than that do you?

You heard it here first, and, as always, watch, but don't bet.