Monday, September 25, 2017

In The Area of Critical Commentary - Beautiful, E.T., The Big Sick

Random Critical Commentary.....

I didn't want to let too much time pass before talking just a bit more on "Beautiful, The Carole King Musical" that we saw last week on our one day visit to New York City.

The play has been running on Broadway for over four years and has also begun touring nationally.  It tells the story of singer-songwriter Carole King, her life and romance with husband and collaborator Gerry Goffin, and, to a lesser degree, fellow songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.  The music that they wrote was the music of a generation that has spanned from the late 1950's and into the 1970's.  If you are my age, there is a good chance that you owned King's seminal album "Tapestry" in your youth, and you no doubt still have it stashed away on one of your digital play lists.

The show was fun, lively, wonderfully performed and acted by the entire cast.  This is a show that will undoubtedly be performed on the High School Musical circuit in the years ahead, even though today's high school  students probably have no idea who Carole King is.  It has everything that would make it perfect for high schools - great songs, lots of dancing opportunities, and a large cast.

A week before we saw the show, actress Chilina Kennedy returned to the title role.  This is Ms Kennedy's second run as King in the show on Broadway, and while she did not originate the role, she has played the part longer than any other actress on B'way, and she has toured with the show as well.  She bore an uncanny resemblance to the young Carole King, and she was simply terrific in the part. Her Playbill bio lists a lengthy summary of her acting credits.  Like many actor and performers from the New York theatrical scene, she is no doubt unknown throughout most of the country, but she is amazingly talented, as was the entire cast of "Beautiful".  

Shortly after we returned home, I purchased the Original Cast Recording of "Beautiful", so I can return to this wonderful show again and again, and I hope that I will have the opportunity to see it on stage again someday.

Chilina Kennedy


Last week we took in Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic, "E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial" as a part of the TCM Big Screen Classic series.  The movie was as delightful now as it was 35 years ago, and I was glad to have the chance to watch it once again.  While it was an amazing technical achievement when released, you could see how it might be different and perhaps a bit jazzier if made today, given the advances in CGI and other movie making technology. I hope, however, that no one ever attempts to remake this one.  It is just about perfect as it is.  Similarly, I am glad that Spielberg never chose to make a sequel to it.  It was a huge money-making hit, so there were no doubt offers for him to do so.

My buddy, Dan Bonk, asked me if anyone in that movie went on to become a big star.  The obvious answer to that question was Drew Barrymore.  She was six years old when she played little sister, Gertie, and could not have been cuter.  She has gone on to star in, produce,  and even direct feature films in the thirty-five years since "E.T."

The real child star of "E.T.", though was eleven year old Henry Thomas, who played Elliott, the boy who found and befriended E.T.  Thomas never became a big star, but he has steadily worked in movies and television ever since.  IMDB show 62 acting credits for him.  Perhaps the most well known films in which he has appeared were "Legends of the Fall" (1994) and "Gangs of New York" (2002).  In 1990, he played a young Norman Bates in a TV movie called "Psycho IV: The Beginning", and in 1982, the year before "E.T." was released,  he and Joe Greene played the title roles  in "The Steeler and The Pittsburgh Kid", a TV movie based on Greene's famous Coca-Cola commercial.

Barrymore and Thomas (with Spielberg)
Then and Now


Last night we once again watched "The Big Sick", this time on DVD.  When we saw this movie this past summer, I said at the time that it was the best movie that we had seen thus far in 2017, and seeing it again last night only reinforced that opinion.  If you have not seen it, please do so soon.  It is a terrific movie.

It is also worth seeing for the truly wonderful performance of Holly Hunter, who plays the mother of Emily.  Hunter's performance is one of the best acting performances that I have seen all year, and she surely deserves an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in this one.

To Absent Friends - Penny Chenery

Penny Chenery
1922 - 2017

Penny Chenery died last week at the age of 95.  The obituary of Ms. Chenery contains a lengthy lists of accomplishments, including the founding of the Vail ski resort in Colorado in the early 1960's.  However, she is most noted for her contributions to the field of thoroughbred horse racing and breeding in the United States.

In 1968, she inherited her father's Meadow Stable in Virginia, help it stave off bankruptcy, and in 1972, it produced Kentucky Derby winner Riva Ridge.  It was the following year, however, when Penny Chenery Tweedy and Meadow Stable made history when its most famous horse, Secretariat, burst onto the sports scene.

The world knows what happened.  Secretariat became the first horse in twenty-five years to win the Triple Crown, and he became a racing and pop culture icon whose status remains undiminished to this day.  Penny Chenery remained involved in thoroughbred racing all of her life, and she became the full time steward of Secretariat's legacy.

He death prompts me to post this clip of the Secretariat's victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.  I can remember that for some reason I was home all alone that June Saturday afternoon, so I watched that race all by myself.  It was one of the most astonishing sporting events that I had ever seen up until that point, and it remains so until this day.  Watch it and see if you don't agree.

RIP Penny Chenery.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Weekend Trip - Pat II - A New York State of Mind

I often refer to my pal, Bill Montrose, as The Official Broadway Correspondent to The Grandstander.  His annual Tony Award predictions, which are dead on accurate more often than not, are a regular feature of this blog.  Last year, Bill urged that Marilyn and I come out to visit Joanne and him, select a Broadway show that we would like to see, and then follow his normal routine: drive to Weehawken, NJ, ferry across he Hudson, take a bus into the Times Square/Broadway area, see a show, have dinner, and head home.

So it was that several months ago, we selected the show we wanted to see....

....and the date, last weekend, finally rolled around.

The day unfolded exactly as Bill described that it would.  We took the ferry across the Hudson on a foggy Sunday morning, which put me in that Billy Joel New York state of mind.

We had a terrific brunch at a place called Blue Fin...

We then walked a bit to soak up the atmosphere, which included taking some typical touristy photos....

 Rockefeller Center


 Yep, that ball is still there from last New Year's Eve!

I gave my regards to Broadway.  Funny, but the statue doesn't look  thing like Jimmy Cagney.

As I mentioned, the show we saw was "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" at the Stephen Sondheim Theater.

We took the now obligatory selfie 'neath the marquis.

And really, really enjoyed those eighth row seats that Bill scored for us.

I will write more about the show in another post, but I will say here that it was just fabulous.  A wonderful, wonderful show, with great performances and music.

This was my first visit to the heart of New York City since 1983, when I spent a week there for my employer at the time.  Perhaps it is a function of age, but I was completely overwhelmed by it.  So many people, so much traffic....and on a Sunday afternoon! It was exciting, it was energetic, it was nerve-wracking, and it was overwhelming.  I was glad that we were with people who knew their way around.  I would have been paralyzed if I was there on my own.  We were in the City for about a total of ten hours, and it was just a wonderful, or should I say, a "Beautiful" experience.

We topped off the evening with dinner here...

....where we were joined  by Bill and Joanne's son, Michael, and his wife, Jamie, who live in Brooklyn.  It was so nice to meet them.  And the restaurant even managed to note Marilyn's birthday:

What an experience!  Many, many thanks to our hosts for leading the way.

A Weekend Trip - Part I

This past weekend Marilyn and I enjoyed another of our Retiree Adventures with a weekend trip to the Philadelphia area to visit with some friends and relatives, and the weekend also encompassed a trip to New York City.  

We left last Friday morning and made our way to the town of Chadd's Ford, PA in the Brandywine River valley.  Our destination was this place....

...which has for the past several months been hosting this event....

Chadd's Ford was the place where noted artist N.C. Wyeth had his studio, and his children, all artists, most notably son Andrew Wyeth also had their studios and was the home base for their careers.  We have long been a fan of Andrew Wyeth, and were excited at the opportunity to see this exhibit.

The museum is in a gorgeous wooded area, and the exhibit was astonishing.  Three floors of Andrew Wyeth original works.  A wonderful thing to see.  

Oh, I mentioned seeing relatives.  By pure coincidence, Marilyn's brother George and his wife Ann were also at the Brandywine Museum that morning to see that same exhibit.  A lucky accident of timing on both our our parts.  George and Ann were there all morning, while we arrived around Noon.  So while our visits did not coincide exactly, we did get to see them and say "Hi", which was nice.

Following our tour of the Wyeth exhibit, we journeyed to the small town of Limerick, PA, and met up with our niece, Jill Richards, her husband, Ryan, and son, Gavin for a nice outdoor dinner at a local Italian joint.  A delightful visit.

After that, it was drive to Willow Grove to check  in at a local hotel, and then visit all day Saturday with friend Bill and Joanne Montrose.  It was a fun visit, including lunch at a great local deli....

It was at the suggestion of Bill that we planned and made this trip in the first place, but the story behind that, and details of the remainder of our weekend visit deserves a post of its own, and that will be forthcoming later today.

In the meantime, I leave you with some photos that we took, and, yes, photos WERE permitted in the Museum, which is not always the case, of some of Andrew Wyeth's marvelous works.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

In the Area of Critical Commentary - "Wind River"

I took in "Wind River" yesterday and found it to be a very good movie, but perhaps one that is not for everyone.

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote last year's excellent "Hell or High Water", "Wind River" is another tale that can be classified as a modern western.  Jeremy Renner plays a tracker for the US Fish and Wildlife Service stationed in Wyoming.  His job, as he describes it, is to "hunt predators", such as coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions who may be feasting on local ranchers' livestock.  While out on the job one night, he discovers the body of a young Native American woman who had recently gone missing from the nearby Wind River Indian Reservation.  Renner's job description changes to now include another kind of "predator" as he assists a young FBI Agent, played by Elizabeth Olsen, who is unprepared for conducting such an investigation in such forbidding territory as Wyoming in the winter.

There is a backstory to Renner's character that makes him more than just a little emotionally involved in the case that adds a real bit of human emotion to the movie.  Of all the movies that I have seen thus far this year, Renner's performance is one that I will categorize as worthy of an Oscar nomination.  He is really very good in the role.

"Wind River" tells the story of a violent act and more violence takes place as the story unwinds and resolves itself, so it can be disturbing in that regard.  However, it is a very well written and acted movie, and worth seeing, and the Wyoming mountains location makes it  a beautiful movie to look at, by the way.  In my mind, it also puts the name Taylor Sheridan squarely in the forefront of my mind as far as movies go.  If I see that he is involved in a movie, I will be very much inclined to see it.

Three Stars from The Grandstander.

Oh, and while I was watching "Wind River", Mrs. Grandstander was in another room of the Cinemark Multiplex watching "Home Again", the new romcom starring Reese Witherspoon.  She gives it  big Thumbs Up, and she especially enjoyed seeing Candice Bergen playing Witherspoon's mother in the movie.

Fun Fact About "Wind River":  Elizabeth Olsen, who plays FBI Agent Jane Banner is the younger sister of twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen who starred on some sitcom back in the late eighties or early nineties.

To Absent Friends - Frank Vincent

Frank Vincent

We learned yesterday of the death of actor Frank Vincent at the age of 78.

Frank Vincent is probably best known for two roles, New York city mob boss Phil Leotardo in 38 episodes the great HBO series "The Sopranos" (2004-2007), and as small time hood Billy Batts in Martin Scorese's 1990 classic, "Goodfellas".  In the former role, Vincent showed us the potential danger that could come from pumping your own gas at a service station, and in the latter, he taught us never to mess with Joe Pesci.

Vincent's acting career numbered eighty-nine acting credits in IMDB and included rolls in two other Scorsese classics, "Raging Bull" and "Casino".  Most of his other rolls consisted of his playing guys with names like Sal, Vinny, and Carmine and having last names that ended with vowels.  So, I guess that you could say that he was pretty much typecast, but it was still a long and pretty successful career.  Oh, and before he started acting, he was an accomplished musician, playing drums behind such artists as Dell Shannon and Paul Anka.

I conclude with the famous scene from "Goodfellas" when Vincent as Billy Batts told Pesci to go home and get his shine box.

RIP Frank Vincent.

This Date in Baseball - August 24, 2017

We will not know for certain just how significant the above date will be in terms of the 2017 Major League Baseball season until the World Series is over several weeks from now, but from the vantage point of today, September 13, something  happened to flip a switch in the fortunes of two MLB teams or about that date.

On August 24, the Dodgers defeated the Pirates 5-2 in Pittsburgh to complete a 3-of-4 series victory over the Pirates.  The next night, they defeated the Brewers in LA and pushed their record to an astonishing 91-36, a pace that would have them winning 116 games over a full season.  As I said, astonishing, and talk of the Dodgers being a Super Team was being bandied about freely.  

Over the next seventeen games since then, the Dodgers have gone 1-16, and 3-16 over the next nineteen games (they are now on a two game winning streak).  What was a 21 game lead over Arizona in the NL West has now shrunk to a 10 game lead.  It is still almost inconceivable that thay will not win their division, but all talk of then being a super team has long been abandoned, and they are as shaky as the San Andreas Fault upon which they sit as they enter into the MLB post-season.

Maybe Rich Hill losing that no-hitter on Josh Harrison's tenth inning walk off home run on August 23 took more out of them than we realized at the time.

Meanwhile, over in the American League Central, on the morning of August 24, the Cleveland Indians were chugging along nicely at 69-56 and had a 4.5 game lead in the Central over the Minnesota Twins.  That night they beat the Boston Red Sox, 13-6, and THEY HAVE NOT LOST A GAME SINCE THEN!!!!  Their winning streak is now at 21 games, they are 90-56, and hold a 13.5 game lead over the Twins.

Like I say, a remarkable turn of events for two different MLB teams, and it all began on August 24 (sort of).

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Penn State 33 - Pitt 14

Quick thoughts minutes after the final gun has sounded......

  • While Pitt dominated in total yards and time of possession through much of the first three quarters, there was little doubt as to who the best team on the field was, and it was Penn State.
  • Still, I expected a much bigger win, score-wise, for PSU, so there's that at least.
  • Sequon Barkley.  A beast. 
  • Mike Gesicki looked like Ted Kwalick reincarnated.
  • When you have first and goal on four different occasions, you simply have to do better than FG, FG, TD, Lost Fumble.
  • The jury is still out on Max Browne.  Too early to give up on the guy, but improvement has to come.
  • Can't you just hear the calls on Nightly Sports Call and The Fan screaming to "put DiNucci in there" starting up, oh, probably right about now.
  • The vintage Pitt uniforms looked good, but didn't help much.  
  • Going to be tough against Oklahoma State next week.

Brady and the Pats Go Down

The 2017 National Football League season opened two nights ago with a surprising, to me, anyway, 42-27 beat down by the Kaycee Chiefs over the New England Patriots.  Tom Brady had a most un-Brady-like performance in the loss, and it led to an interesting discussion on PTI on both Thursday and Friday.

The question proposed was, Will 2017 be the year that Tom Brady declines as the pre-eminent quarterback in all of football?  He is, after all, 40 years old - young for a doctor or lawyer, but ancient for an NFL player - and Father Time does catch up to everybody, does he not?  I liked Wilbon's response:  "I won't be surprised if Brady declines significantly this season, he is forty years old, after all, but I will never predict that he will, because he is, after all Tom Brady!!"  (Maybe not the exact Wilbon quote, but close enough.)

As for me, I will never sell Brady, Bill Belichick, or the Patriots short.  They are still the team to beat and if you want to go to the Super Bowl, you are probably going to have to win in Gillette Stadium come January.  So, until it actually happens, I, like Wilbon, am not going to predict a demise of the Golden Boy or his team.  Again, though, always remember the words of famed philosopher Shaquille O'Neal: "Thirty-nine, it ain't twenty-nine, bro."  And Brady is now forty.

And speaking of the ever charming Coach Bill, I conceded after last season's Super Bowl victory, that he is among the very best coaches, and may very well be THE very best coach, in all of football history, but I have to wonder....when Tom Brady goes, just how great a coach will Bill Belichick be?

Steelers Prediction - See You In Minneapolis!

Hey, how about that picture above for an "old school" Steelers logo.  That's so old that even I don't remember it, but it's appropriate because it is time for that annual Grandstander Tradition, the How-Are-The-Steelers-Going-To-Do-This-Season post.  

One thing is clear - the Steelers themselves must think that this season simply has to be the year that they make a full, all out effort to reach and win the Super Bowl.  The fact that GM Kevin Colbert wheeled and dealed so vigorously in the final two weeks of training camp, bringing in a new veteran tight end and two veteran defensive backs tells you that that are leaving no stone unturned in making an all out effort to win it all this year.   If you don't believe me, check out this photo of Colbert as he worked the phones during those final two weeks of camp:

"We're going for broke!"

One has to wonder if Ben Roethlisberger went to the powers that be and told them that 2017 was going to be his final season, and the team realized that they simply had to do everything possible to win it all this year.  Even if he didn't, Ben is 35 years old and about to begin his 14th season in the NFL.  The clock is ticking on him and, by extension, on the Steelers' window to make a serious run at that seventh Lombardi Trophy.  They really can't afford to hold anything back at this point.

So how will they do?  Not going to go into in depth analysis here, but I like their chances.  I'm calling for 11, and possibly, 12 wins, an NFC North title, and a first round bye in the playoffs.  I say they win the AFC championship and reach the Super Bowl, and if I pick them to go that far, then I just might as well pick them to win it all.  And I say that they will do it by avenging that Super Bowl XLV loss by beating the Green Bay Packers in Minneapolis come February 4, 2018.

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Pitt 28 - Youngstown State 21 and the Steelers Cuts

Pitt escaped with a 28-21 victory in overtime against YSU yesterday, and it never should have come to that. After a plain vanilla performance in the first half that led to a 21-0 lead, the Panthers did nothing in the second half and allowed the Penguins to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.  They prevailed in the overtime, and that has prevented a complete and total embarrassment for Pat Narduzzi and his squad.  Or has it?

The fact the Penn State ripped through their opening day cupcake (PSU 52 - Akron 0), has only intensified the sniping between partisans of the two schools that will soon descend to the "oh-yeah-well-your-mother-wears-combat-boots" level. Trust me, I pretty much heard that on The Fan this morning.  This will be quite a run-up to the Pitt-Penn State game in State College next Saturday.  While I saw nothing of the slaughter of Akron yesterday, I do remember how Penn State finished the season last year, and I know what I saw at Heinz Field yesterday, so I am not holding out a lot of hope for Pitt next week in Happy Valley.


The Steelers announced their final roster cuts yesterday, and they included wide receivers Sammie Coates (I believe that I had that one) and Cody Hamilton.  These two moves could have been foreseen at the close of last season's loss to New England in the AFC Championship game.  

You will recall that on the Steelers third offensive play of the game, Coates dropped a catchable ball that would have given the Steelers a first down at midfield or, perhaps, beyond.  Not that it would have made a difference in the eventual outcome, but it sure didn't help matters, and it set the tone for what was to come.

As for Hamilton, he performed a unique "triple" in that game that may never be equaled.

To refresh your memories, Hamilton did the following in that game:
  • Dropped a pass in the end zone when a TD could still have been a factor in the game.
  • Had a TD pass reception nullified when he ran out of bounds in the end zone at a time when the TD could still have been a factor in the game.
  • Held on to a TD pass at a time when such a TD was no longer a factor in the game.

Oh, well, here's to better things for the Steelers, and for Coates and Hamilton, in the season ahead.