Thursday, March 29, 2018

To Absent Friends - Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub
1944-2018
"Le Grande Orange"

Rusty Staub, one of the more dominant players of his era, died earlier this week, a few days shy of his 74th birthday.

Staub played for twenty-three seasons, 1963-85, for five different teams, Astros, Expos, Mets, Rangers, and Tigers.  He had a career batting average of .279, hit 292 home runs, and had 2,712 hits.  He was essentially the first great player of the Montreal Expos franchise, whose fans gave him that iconic French nickname, "Le Grande Orange".  He was guy I never liked to see come to bat against the Pirates in a critical situation.

Did you scoff when I said that he was one of the more dominant players of his era?  Baseball-Reference considers him "similar" to Tony Perez, Dave Parker, Brooks Robinson, Steve Garvey, and Al Oliver.  Pretty good company.

RIP Rusty Staub.

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Jeff Capel



With the Pirates Opening Day game in Detroit postponed a day, let's talk about basketball, specifically, basketball at the University of Pittsburgh.

Pitt introduced its new Head Basketball Coach, Jeff Capel, at a news conference yesterday.  Capel was a player at Duke University under Mike Krzyzewski, and head coach at both Oklahoma and Virginia Commonwealth, and, for the last seven years, the Associate Head Coach under Krzyzewski at Duke.  The announcement has been greeted positively by the media and even by the unbelievably finicky Pitt Hoops Fan Base, although I have not checked into the comments on some of the more radical Pitt fan sites on social media.

When it was first reported that it was going to be Capel, I expected that the reaction would be "Euww, who wants anybody associated with Duke?"  You know, all the people who who reside outside of Durham NC who can't stomach Coach K, Jay Bilas, and just about anyone else associated with what is arguably the best and most successful collage basketball program over the last thirty years.  Yeah, who would want that?

Surprisingly, though, this hire seems to be well received and AD Heather Lyke deserves much credit for being able to pull this one off.  Apparently, neither she nor the rest of the University athletic department were behaving like the Keystone Kops as many people in the talk radio world were portraying them.  And I give much credit to Pitt for staying away from the guy that "the fans" seemed to really want most: Sean Miller.  It says something good about Pitt that they chose not to go that particular route.

As we all know, though, being an assistant under a great head coach does not necessarily guarantee success, but it's a good place to start, so let us all hope that this works out well for both Pitt and Jeff Capel.

I will close with an absolute classic call that I heard on The Fan yesterday morning.  Morning host Colin Dunlap was talking to "Sam from New Castle" who was, of course bitching and moaning about the hiring of Capel.  Among the many of Capel's shortcomings, according to Sam, was that he, Capel, was "known cheater" while at Oklahoma.  When Dunlap then asked who Pitt should have hired, Sam's first choice was Rick Pittino.  How's that for logic?

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Coach.  Enjoy the Primanti sammitches and Iron City's n'at.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

To Absent Friends - Linda Brown Thompson

Linda Brown Thompson
1942-2018

The key figure in what may well be the most significant and important case in the history of the United States Supreme Court, Linda Brown Thompson, died earlier this week at the age of 76.  

Linda Brown just wanted to attend the elementary school in her Topeka, Kansas, neighborhood with her friends, but, of course, due to the segregation laws in place at the time, she was unable to do so.  The legal proceedings that followed led to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. The Board of Education,  that struck down the "separate, but equal" (1894's Plessy v. Ferguson) doctrine that had governed such matters previous, and called for full integration of schools throughout the land.

Linda Brown went on to attend Washburn University and Kansas State University, and at time chaffed under the spotlight of being such a lofty historical figure.  However she did lead a life of activism, and in 1979 she led a fight along with the ACLU that said that the Topeka schools still were not fully integrated despite the Supreme Court ruling of 1954, a fight that was eventually upheld by the Court of Appeals in 1993.

History can be written by a humble Kansas school child.

RIP Linda Brown Thompson.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pirates Preview Time!!!!

If you are a Pirates fan, 2017-18 was, to paraphrase The Bard, the winter of our discontent.  We all know what happened. The Pirates traded, or, depending on your point of view, dumped the salaries of their best pitcher, Gerrit Cole, and their best and most popular player and Face-of-the-Franchise Andrew McCutchen.  We all know the wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed, much of coming from this particular Grandstand.   

But that is all behind us now, Spring Training is about to conclude and Opening Day is a mere four days away.  And while we can bitch and moan about the Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington triumvirate all we want, I'll try and focus on the players that are here.  THEY all want to be in the major leagues, and THEY all want to succeed, so if THEY make the efforts needed to be successful, I will certainly be cheering them on, as I have for the fifty-nine previous incarnations of the Pirates that I have been following since that 1959 season, when I attended my first ballgame.  If they fall short because they just weren't as good as the other teams, well, then we can go back to the management of the team and what they have and have not done.

But before any analysis, let's recognize the two new "Faces of the Franchise" as described in the Post-Gazette's season preview write up today, Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon.


Bell arrived last year as a full time player and hit 26 home runs.  Taillon struggled with non-baseball health issues last season, but it has been apparent since he arrived in Pittsburgh two seasons ago that he has the goods to be a top of the line starting pitcher in the big leagues.  Pirates fans, these are your leaders going forward.

So what are we to make of the chances for your 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates?  Me?  I am more pessimistic than I am optimistic, but, call me a Kool-Ade drinker, but I do see some positive signs.

The outfield will consist of Starling Marte (.362 BA, 1.047 OPS in spring training),  Gregory Polanco (.326 and .998), and newcomer Corey Dickerson (.325 and .800).  That's pretty damn good if spring training stats mean anything, which, of course, we know they do not.  Still, we know that serious trust issues exist where Marte and Polanco are concerned.  We know what perhaps they can do, but we also saw what happened last year, so who knows which versions of those guys will show up.   Dickerson was an all-star last year for the Rays, but he had a big drop off in the second half of the season.  The potential is there for a good to very good outfield, but it could just as easily go the other way, too.  And if one of those guys get injured, the roster as it is comprised today has no fourth outfielder, other than some combination of Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez, and Jose Osuna, who are all infielders by trade.  Having no fourth outfielder killed this team in 2017.  Will it happen in again in 2018?

In the infield, Bell (.283 and .899) is as close to a sure thing that the Pirates have in this  lineup.  A lot is being expected of third baseman Colin Moran, obtained from Houston in the Cole trade.  Moran is hitting .346 and .793 with 10 RBI this spring.  That is hopeful to be sure.  Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison are not having a spring that, to use Neal Huntington's new favorite expression, lives up to the backs of their baseball cards, but we know who and what those guys are and if they perform as they have in the past, that will be okay.  Harrison and Mercer are also, it should be noted, prime candidates to be traded by the July 31 deadline date.

Francisco Cervelli is having a good spring at .375 and 1.224, but the big question is can he stay healthy and catch 130-140 games.  There's a drop-off behind him at that position.

But it is the pitching where the biggest questions rise for the Bucs.  Taillon has had a solid spring with a 2.79 ERA albeit in only 9.2 innings pitched.  It is the other four projected starters that cause you to gulp a bit....Ivan Nova (4.85), Trevor Williams (5.54), Chad Kuhl (8.27), and Joe Musgrove, also obtained in the Cole trade, (10.80, but only 6.2 IP).  Felipe Rivero is a good closer, but it is the all the usual suspects between the starters and Rivero as Huntington and Clint Hurdle cobble together the '18 version of the bullpen.  Again, spring training stats don't mean anything, and both Williams and Kuhl have shown signs of being, if not aces, at  least decent big league starting pitchers.  The team is pinning a lot on Musgrove, but I'm betting he won't be nearly as good as the guy he is replacing in the rotation, Gerrit Cole.

What does it all mean?  Well, the Pirates won 75 games last year, and if you set that as the over/under number for wins for this team, I would have to bet the Under.  I'll predict 73 wins for them in 2018.  Any number of wins over last season's total of 75 would have to be a surprise, and if they should exceed a .500 record, then Clint Hurdle should be the Manager of the Year.

Is this going to stop me from following the Pirates? Nah.  As upset as I was and still am with the direction the team took this past off season, I just can't bring myself to swear off of them for good because of it. The Pirates are just too deeply embedded in my DNA.  Again, I am not happy with how things went this off-season, and they are going to really have to play well to re-earn my usual annual commitment of going to see 12-15 games a season.   

Again, none of this is the fault of the Pirates players, and I will be pulling for them.  As for the guys in the suits, that's another story.

As always......LET'S GO BUCS!!!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"The Party"


I saw a trailer for the movie "The Party" a few weeks ago, and I thought it looked interesting.  Then it got a four star review in the Post-Gazette.  So on a Monday afternoon with nothing better to do, Mrs. Grandstander and I sought his one out and saw it.

It has been described as movie in the "dinner-party-gone-wrong" genre, which I didn't realize was a movie genre until I started checking out online reviews of it.  Those reviews were of two extremes, some absolutely eviscerated it, others hailed it as the greatest thing since Bill Shakespeare started putting pen to paper.  

Here are my thoughts....
  • It was short, only 71 minutes long.
  • It was like watching a filmed stage play.  In fact, it would probably be better as a play.
  • It was filmed in black and white, and, in fact, the movie's tone was such that I do believe that it was best served by being black and white.
  • Two terrific performance by Kristin Scott Thomas and Patricia Clarkson.
  • Some very pithy and incisive dialog, particularly by Clarkson's character, but I don't believe that people actually talk that way in real life.
  • It had a terrific twist as an ending.  Made the whole movie worthwhile.
I thought it was an interesting movie.  I didn't love it like the Barry Paris of the PG did, but I didn't  hate it like the critic in the New York Time did either.   Worth seventy-one minutes of your time as rental when it starts showing up on the streaming services.

Two stars from The Grandstander.

Oh, and don't confuse it with the 1968 Blake Edwards-Peter Sellers-Claudine Longet movie of the same name.  That was also about a dinner-party-gone-wrong, but the tone of that one was entirely different, as you might imagine.


Monday, March 19, 2018

"Vertigo" on the Big Screen


So we venture out last night to watch Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (1958) on the Big Screen.  First of all, kudos once again to Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events for presenting this series.

Some quick thoughts and a question....
  • I have seen "Vertigo" many times, but this was the first time on a big screen in a movie theater.  Huge flat screen high def televisions and Blue-ray discs are great, but, trust me, any movie is better in an honest-to-God movie theater.
  • There are some film scholars and critics who will tell you that "Vertigo" is the greatest movie ever made, and certainly Hitchcock's greatest movie.  Yeah, it's a good movie, but I personally would rate "Rear Window", "Notorious", "Psycho", and "To Catch A Thief" ahead of it in the Hitchcock canon alone.
  • A measure of how great an actor James Stewart was can be seen in "Vertigo".  In the beginning of this movie, he mostly plays "Jimmy Stewart", but as the movie progresses, he goes against type, and becomes sort of weird and not all that likable, but it is totally believable.
  • Kim Novak sure was beautiful.
  • The character I feel really bad for is the one played by Barbara Bel Geddes.  A great performance by her.
  • The "green scene" in the hotel room between Stewart and Novak, and if you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about, is a spectacular piece of film making.
  • Perhaps the best "character" in this movie is the City of San Francisco.  As much as anything else, I enjoy watching this movie for the location scenes of that city throughout.

Okay, now for the question for those who have seen this movie.  You all know how it ends and the final shot of the movie (I'll say no more so as to avoid spoilers.)  If Hitchcock hadn't ended the movie where he did, what would have happened next?

Coming in May in the TCM Big Screen Classic series....."Sunset Boulevard".  Can't wait to see that one on a Big Screen.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Day In The Life....

Woke up, got out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head....

And decided to clean out the Mental In-Box......

Regardless of what happens today or over the next two weekends, the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament will be forever defined and remembered for 16th seeded University of Maryland - Baltimore County's unprecedented win over #1 Seed and #1 ranked Virginia.  Did I say "win"?  I meant thoroughly convincing dismantling of the Cavaliers by UMBC.  There was nothing flukey about it.

Two days after the end of that game, it is still almost incomprehensible that what happened happened.  That game will be remembered long after Duke or Villanova or North Carolina or some other NCAA Blue-Blood cuts down the nets in two weeks.  It will easily be one of the Top Five sports stories of 2018.  A game like that is why you follow sports.



********
The University of Pittsburgh is looking to weasel out of the $9 million contractually agreed upon buyout that they owe Kevin Stallings after giving him the paper key last week.  It has been reported that they are claiming that an exchange between Stallings and a spectator in Louisville is "cause" for firing Stallings and not paying him the full amount of the buyout.  If that is the case, I have two questions:
  1. If the incident in January is "cause", why not fire him then?  The University, in fact, publicly brushed off the incident and supported Stallings.  And it's not like firing him in January would have caused a distraction for a team that was on its way than 0-19 conference record.
  2. Again, if the Louisville incident is "cause", then why cut the buyout in half (as has been reported) and offer Stallings anything at all?  Why not just say, "You're fired, you're getting bupkis from us, and if you don't like it, we'll see you in court."?
And I have stated many times, this has nothing to do with whether Stallings should or should not have been fired.  His record clearly indicated that he should have been.  This is all about standing up to what you contractually agreed to do when you hired the guy in the first place.  

********

At one point yesterday afternoon I tuned into he telecast of the Pirates-Twins Grapefruit League game, and watched the Pirates score nine runs in a half inning wherein the Twins committed a couple of errors, a couple of others that weren't scored as such, threw over sixty pitches, and took over thirty minutes to complete.  About half of the players on both teams are guys who will certainly not play in the majors leagues this season, if they ever make it at all.  The regular guys who were playing (Francisco Cervelli for the Pirates and Dee Gordon for the Twins to name two of them) had to be thinking "What do I have to do to get out of this game?"

It's fun to tune into a Spring Training game on a cold wintry day, but those games can also be unbelievably tedious.  I'm ready for the real thing to start eleven days.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Two Movies and a Book About Movies

First the book....

Thanks to my movie maven pal Barb Vancheri for recommending and then lending me the book you see to your left. It was published in 2005, but it is not all that dated, and it tells, as its ponderous subtitle indicates, about high times and dirty dealings backstage at the Academy Awards (whew!).

I enjoyed this book a lot because you do get a lot of inside scoop about the people that you see when you go to the movies and watch the Academy Awards show.

One name mentioned throughout the book was that of Harvey Weinstein.  The first significant mention of Weinstein in the book refers to him thusly: "The (Weinstein) brothers, particularly the corpulent, flamboyant Harvey, were known for abusing staffers, bullying filmmakers, throwing tantrums, driving hard bargains, and a host of other sins both common and uncommon in the movie business...."  Other mentions of Harvey throughout the book are usually made with reference to his bullying tactics and borderline shady business dealings in the industry that we generically define as "Hollywood".  Not mentioned in the book were the now very well known sexual proclivities of Weinstein, which have been reported to run the gamut of sexual harassment to full on sexual assault.  I am guessing that Weinstein's sexual appetites were well known at the time this book was written, but for some reason were not mentioned in the book.

Anyway, as I said, lots of fun inside stuff in here.  A few takeaways of mine:
  • The egos of the "talent" in the movie business are beyond belief.  How the production people, who probably have some large egos themselves, deal with it is beyond me.
  • The Academy Awards show is just that - a show, more specifically, a TV show.  The money that ABC pays for the rights to televise that show finances much of what the Academy does.
  • In the eleven Academy Awards shows covered in this book, five different producers ran the show, each vowing to bring a "different" look to the show, to make it snappier, more relevant, and, above all, shorter.  In the end, all the shows ended up looking pretty much the same.  In the fourteen years that have happened since this book was published, the show still looks pretty much the same.
  • In the end, what makes the show memorable are the moments that can't be planned or scripted: Jack Palance doing one armed push ups, Michael Moore making an overtly political speech and getting booed off the stage, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry winning Oscars the same night, or, more recently, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway being given the wrong envelope and announcing the wrong Best Picture winner.
Three Stars from The Grandstander.

Now, the movies....


Woody Allen's 2017 release, "Wonder Wheel", was generally panned by critics.  If it even opened in Pittsburgh at all, it was here and gone in about five minutes, so we finally caught up with it via streaming (I feel so hip when I say that!) last Saturday.

As Allen movies go, it was not that great, but it had some things going for it, mainly Kate Winslet and some photography and lighting that was just gorgeous.  Working against it was Jim Belushi as one of the male leads.  Justin Timberlake and Juno Temple as secondary leads were okay. It was no comedy, and was a bit dark in tone.  Like I say, I don't think it was as bad as some critics said, but you do expect more from Woody Allen.

Kate Winslet

Oh, and for fans of "The Sopranos" also appearing in the cast were Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts) and Steven Schirripa (Bobby Bacala).  They played, not surprisingly, a couple of Mafia hoods.

Two and one-half stars.

The second movie is the current "Red Sparrow".


This is a rather convoluted set-in-the-present spy thriller.  It has some rather gruesome scenes involving Russian interrogation techniques that are hard to watch, and at 139 minutes, it is about thirty minutes too long, and I am still not sure which side Jennifer Lawrence ends up being on, so this was no great shakes.  

However, it does star the aforementioned Jennifer Lawrence,


as Dominika, the Russian prima ballerina turned spy, who is trained to use her beauty and powers of seduction to become a "sparrow", a spy who will get all sorts of secrets from those bastard Americans.  All so her mother can continue to receive proper health care from the Russian government (told you it was convoluted).  Anyway, Lawrence is terrific given the part she had to play in this potboiler.  She's a wonderful actress, and she does kinda sorta make it worth seeing the movie.  But that's about it.

And be prepared to turn your head away from the screen during the interrogation scenes (there are at least three of them in the movie).  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Two stars.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Axe Falls in Oakland.....


The news came about an hour ago that was unsurprising and inevitable.  Kevin Stallings has been fired as Head Men's Basketball Coach at Pitt.   After a season in which Pitt went 0-19 in conference play this move was, as I said, inevitable.    Pitt probably had no other practical choice.  It brings to a close a two year coaching tenure that was, to me, almost unprecedented in my sixty years (yes, sixty, as in 60, as in Six Zero;  I'm old) of following sports in Pittsburgh.

The Panthers Hoops fan base never accepted Stallings as their coach.  There were calls for his head almost from Day One and certainly before he ever coached a game at Pitt.  Yeah, I get it that the Athletic Director Scott Barnes  probably botched the entire hiring process, and he was soon gone to greener pastures, and the people then took there wrath out on Stallings, whose biggest crime at the time of his hiring was that he wasn't Sean Miller, Archie Miller, or a resurrected John Wooden.  Over the years, even such Pittsburgh coaching failures as Bill Austin, John Russell, and any number of Pitt football coaches had honeymoons with the public.  Stallings never did.

Whenever a coach gets fired, I always recall one of Myron Cope's personal rules over the years when he conducted his talk show.  Whenever a caller would ask "Do you think the Pirates/Steelers/Penguins/Pitt ought to fire (insert coach's name here)?", Myron would always respond with words to the effect "I don't fire coaches on my show.  I've come to learn that these are guys with families and bills to pay just like me. If you want to call and say so-and-so should be fired, I won't stop you, but I'm not going to be the guy to make such demands."  It was kinder, gentler time in the sports talk radio biz then.  

Like I said, Pitt had probably had no other choice, and coaching on this level is a cruel business, and no one knows that better than Stallings himself, but I am also guessing that people who take such glee in demanding that someone be fired, and who rejoice when someone does lose his job,  as  Stallings did today, are people who never in their lives had the misfortune to be told by their employer that their services were no longer needed.  It is a devastating thing to have happen to you.  Trust me on that.

(As an aside, I also feel bad for Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings, Kevin's son.  Jacob has had a couple of call ups in the past two seasons, and will probably have others in seasons ahead.  I can picture him being called up again, being announced into a game at PNC Park and getting showered with boos from any Pitt fans who might be in attendance that night.  How fair will that be?)

So now another coaching search begins, and I can't wait to hear the speculation that will ensue among the Panthers fans.  Hey, Rick Pittino is available.  Pat Gallagher and Heather Lyke should go after him, whaddaya think?

Broadway Pittsburgh: "Waitress"




Last night we once again visited the Benedum Center to see the touring production of the Tony Award nominated musical, "Waitress".  I am not going into a full blown review of the show other than to say that it was funny, had great music and dance numbers, and terrific performances by Desi Oakley in the lead role of Jenna, and also by Charity Angel Dawson and Lenna Klingaman as her best friends and fellow waitresses at Joe's Pie Diner.

We attended as a part of a group of friends of ours, there were fourteen of us in all, and that made for a really fun evening.  This is the second time that we've done this, and I have to say that the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust really makes it easy and simple to put a group together and do this.  It was also our good luck that the PCT put on a "Know the Show Before You Go" event one hour before curtain time last night.  They only do this for one performance during the run of the show, which, luckily, was the performance for which we had tickets.  Who knew that was going to happen when I ordered the tickets back in September?  So we attended that and were fortunate enough that three of the male cast members appeared and did a Q & A with the audience.  It was very interesting and it really added to the enjoyment of the show.  So, kudos to the Cultural Trust all around.

As I said, a fun show and one that, if you like live theater, you should really try to see at some point.  It's run in Pittsburgh concludes on Sunday.

Three Stars from The Grandstander.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

To Absent Friends - Roger Bannister

Roger Bannister
1929 -2018
Breaking the four minute mile

The obituary for Sir Roger Bannister that appeared in last Saturday's New York Times began as follows:

On the morning of May 6, 1954, a Thursday, Roger Bannister, 25, a medical student in London, worked his usual shift at St. Mary’s Hospital and took an early afternoon train to Oxford. He had lunch with some old friends, then met a couple of his track teammates, Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher. As members of an amateur all-star team, they were preparing to run against Oxford University.
About 1,200 people showed up at Oxford’s unprepossessing Iffley Road track to watch, and though the day was blustery and damp — inauspicious conditions for a record-setting effort — a record is what they saw. Paced by Chataway and Brasher and powered by an explosive kick, his signature, Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes — 3:59.4, to be exact — becoming the first man ever to do so, breaking through a mystical barrier and creating a seminal moment in sports history.
The obit goes on to describe how Bannister accomplished what was thought up until that time to be beyond human capability - run a mile in under four minutes.  I don't suppose that people living today, and I include myself in this, can truly comprehend the enormity of what Bannister accomplished in Oxford on that 1954 afternoon.  However, if you followed sport back in those days, and I can remember my Dad talking of this over the years, you certainly appreciated the enormity of what Bannister had done, which was The Impossible.

I can imagine that most of the current day world had no idea of who Sir Roger Bannister was when news of his death at age 88 was announced over the weekend.  Such is the nature of the passage of time, and 24 hour news cycles of the 21st century.   If the name meant nothing to you, look up and read an obituary for Roger Bannister that appeared in any number of sources of the weekend.  The NYT piece from which I quoted above is a good one, but there are others.  It makes for extraordinary reading.

In 1955, not long after his history making run, Bannister announced his retirement from competitive racing to pursue his medical education and career, and it was indeed an extraordinary career, as further described in that Times obit:

In addition to his medical career — he became director of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London — Bannister, from 1971 to 1974, served as the unpaid chairman of the British Sports Council, a government-sponsored organization that helped build and maintain sports facilities, and from 1976 to 1983 he was president of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Recreation, an umbrella group, founded in 1958, dedicated to disseminating new findings in sport science and promoting their applications.
From 1985 to 1993, he was the head of Pembroke College, Oxford.
It was a distinguished life, all the rest of it, however, in the shadow of a single moment, shortly after 6 p.m. on May 6, 1954, when an Oxford public address announcer delivered news of a just-completed race to 1,200 apprehensive spectators.
One can almost hear the words of Moonlight Graham, as played by Burt Lancaster in "Field of Dreams", being paraphrased by Bannister: "Suppose I'd only have been a doctor for four minutes.  That would have been a tragedy."

The four minute mile began to fall with some regularity once Bannister did it, but he was the first, and that makes him special and historic.  For the record, the current record for the mile is held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco with a time of 3:43.13, a pace that would have put him 100 meters ahead of Bannister in that 1954 race.  That record has stood since 1999.  

RIP Sir Roger Bannister.


Wrapping Up the Oscars

I will begin my post mortem of Sunday evening's Oscar Awards telecast by stating that I had my best year ever in predicting the Oscars.  I made eight predictions, was wrong on the Best Supporting Actress pick only because I figure that you have to pick at least one upset, right?  On the other seven picks....I believe I had that.

This points out what was perhaps the major disappointment of the evening.  There were no surprises.  Everything went according to chalk.  Maybe it is the glut of all the other awards shows leading up the the Oscars that serve as indicators, maybe it is the fact that there is just so much information out there on the interwebs that makes you so much better informed about these things. Whatever the reason, the fact that all the awards winners are so predictable does take some of the fun out of the show itself.

In any event, some final thoughts on the Oscars and the telecast.....
  • Having seen seven of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, I had stated that I would be happy if any of four movies took down the big prize - "The Post", "Get Out", "Lady Bird", and, of course, the one that did indeed take home the Best Picture Award:
  • So I'm not going to complain.
  • I also want to note the winners of the four acting awards:
Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, Allison Janney, Gary Oldman

  • I was happy to see Jordan Peele take home an Oscar for his "Get Out" screenplay.  That really was an Oscar worthy movie.  I'm also glad that we did see it last Monday, if for no other reason than to get the joke about what would happen if any winners' acceptance speeches went on too long.
  • We spent Sunday afternoon at the Cinemark watching screenings of all nominees for Best Live Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film.  This is a great service that Cinemark does, and it enabled us to see some pretty neat films.  Not sure if I would have selected "The Silent Child" and "Dear Basketball", but I'm not going to say that they weren't deserving, either.  This is the second time that we have done this, and we look forward to making it an annual event.
  • For the second year in a row, I really enjoyed Jimmy Kimmel as host.  His opening monologue was funny, and after that, he kept the traffic moving.
  • The bit about awarding a jet-ski to the winner, with Helen Mirren serving as the game show model, was a good one, and they actually showed the guy who won it in the jet-ski at the end of the show while holding up his Oscar.  Good stuff.
  • I also liked the piece where Kimmel and many others went to a movie theater across the street to surprise movie goers by having Oscar nominees handing out snacks to them.  You need a bit of coming relief like that on the show and that one was pretty good.  Some people complained that it took too much time, but here's my suggestion to cut down on the length of the show.....
  • Get rid of the Best Original Song category.  In true "Get Off My Lawn" fashion, I maintain that with very rare exceptions, this ceased to be a relevant category since Henry Mancini was winning this award n a regular basis.  Then each nominated song gets performed (and in some cases, over-performed) during the telecast.  Eliminate the category, or at least eliminate the performances, and your show is then 20-25 minutes shorter.
  • Bringing out Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty to once again present the Best Picture winner after the fiasco of last year was a master stroke.  Both Dunaway and Beatty handled it with great grace and humor and were good sports about it.  I also loved how Beatty made sure to have winner Guillermo del Toro double check the card and how del Toro held it up to the audience and gave a thumbs up signal.
  • Every year it seems, there is at least one movie that I really liked that gets a passel of nominations and proceeds to get shut out when they hand out the awards.  I recent years, such movies have been "American Hustle", "The Martian", "Brooklyn", and "Hidden Figures".  This year two such movies fell into that category, "Lady Bird" and "The Post".
Then, of course, there is what I call the "test of time" winner.  That is, of all the movies that won and/or were nominated, which am I likely to watch again and again well into the future.  Of the four movies that I mentioned in the first bullet point of this essay, I can see me watching all of them either by owning the DVD, or catching them on one TV platform or another in the years ahead.  Of course, this is not a foolproof method of determine the Best Picture.  If it were, then "Caddyshack" would be considered the greatest movie ever made.

In conclusion, I am planning on celebrating Frances McDormand's Oscar victory of Sunday night this afternoon by watching "Fargo", her first Oscar winning performance.  You betcha!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

My Oscar Predictions

The world, insofar as it is comprised of my minimal readership, has been anxiously awaiting The Grandstander's Annual Oscar Predictions, so pull up a chair and read on.

I can not offer a totally informed opinion, but I have seen seven of the nine set Picture nominees, thirteen of the twenty Acting nominees, four of the five Director nominees, and five of the ten Screenwriting nominees.  I will also base my predictions on how other awards have been given this year, and what I have been hearing on a couple of movie based podcasts that I  follow.

In the wake of the #oscarssowhite movement of a few years back and the #metoo and #timesup movement of this past year, the Motion Picture Academy is in a position to recognize African-American and female artists this year in both the Screenwriting and Directing categories in the persons of Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele.


Gerwig and Peele have been nominated in both categories for their respective films, "Lady Bird" and "Get Out".  Both movies were among my favorites of the year, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out as the envelopes, hopefully the correct ones this year, will be opened tomorrow night.

So, here we go in the Big Eight categories, or as will call it this year, "Eight Predictions Outside McCandless, Pennsylvania".

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

This is the one category where I have seen none of the five movies nominated, so this will be just a SWAG on my part.   I am just going to play a hunch and say that the Oscar will go to James Ivory for "Call Me By Your Name".  That's all this one is - a hunch.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

This is one category where I have seen all nominees.  This is also a most interesting category because the winner in this one has been Best Picture winner in recent years ("Argo" and "Spotlight" to name two), and this is where Gerwig and Peele will face off for the first time of the evening.  This is also the only category where one of my favorite movies of 2017, "The Big Sick", received any love from the Academy, so I'd love to see Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon win the award, but I think the winner will be Jordan Peele for "Get Out".

DIRECTOR

I originally postulated that this would be the category wherein the Academy would recognize "Dunkirk" and award the Oscar to Christopher Nolan, but every indicator leading up to Oscar night tells you that the winner will be Guillermo del Toro for "The Shape of Water", and The Grandstander will not buck the trend. Del Toro it shall be.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Allison Janney of "I, Tonya" has won every conceivable award in this category leading up to Oscar night, so it seems almost preordained that she will win this for her over-the-top portrayal of Tonya Harding's mother.  Upon reflection, I have heard a lot of people say that Laurie Metcalf gave a much more nuanced performance as Saoirse Ronan's mother in "Lady Bird".  So, on the theory that you have to pick at least one upset, I am calling a win for Laurie Metcalf for "Lady Bird".  

My $.02.....One of the very best acting performances I saw all last year was turned in by Holly Hunter in "The Big Sick".  The fact that she was not nominated in this category is a huge injustice in my mind.  

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Like Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" has been winning all the pre-Oscar awards in this category, but in my opinion, he wasn't even the best supporting actor in that same movie.  That would have been Woody Harrelson, and he, Harrelson, would be a much more deserving winner.  However, I will not go against the tide here.  The winner will be Sam Rockwell for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri".

ACTRESS

Another category in which I have seen all five nominees, and all of them, Sally Hawkins, Frances McDormand, Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan, and Meryl Streep, were brilliant.  In another category that seems almost preordained, I will go with the prevailing wind and call for a win for Frances McDormand of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri".   Readers know that I was not a fan of this movie.  I thought that it was an unpleasant story about very unpleasant people, but there is no denying the performance of McDormand.  She was totally convincing in this part.  This will be her second Oscar, but I will tell you that I liked her a lot better as Marge Gunderson in "Fargo".

My $.02....Two years ago, I loved Saoirse Ronan as the young Irish immigrant in 1952 in the wonderful movie "Brooklyn". She was nominated for that performance and did not win.  In "Lady Bird", she plays a contemporary American high school senior, and she is equally brilliant. She won't win again this year, but her day is coming.  If any young actress will become the "next Meryl Streep", is will be Ronan.  She is just terrific.

ACTOR

Not going to waste much space on this one.  The slam dunk winner in this category will be Gary Oldman for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour".  No other performance of the last year can touch it.

BEST PICTURE

Now, the biggie.  As of last week, if I had a vote in this thing, I was torn among three movies: "Lady Bird", "The Post", and "The Shape of Water".  If any three of those won, I would be happy.  Then, just this past Monday night, I saw "Get Out", and it is a movie that I just can't get out of my mind.  It is a horror movie on the face of it, but it has many layers to it that makes it so much more than that.  Honestly, Marilyn and I have been talking about it pretty much all week since we have seen it.  So, "Get Out" now becomes the fourth movie that I would be happy if it were to win.

So, what will win?  My official prediction is that "The Shape of Water" will take home the big prize, but let me offer this.  The Best Picture category is the only category where the electors give a weighted vote.  In all other categories, you vote for one person.  Period.  For Best Picture, the voter gives a ranked voted - first, second, third, etc - like the MVP voting in baseball.  This can allow a sleeper, a movie that gets a lot of second and third place votes to sneak in and win when opinions on other movies can be highly divergent among the electorate.  It has been speculated that such divergence exists between "The Shape of Water" and "Three Billboards...", and if that manifests itself among the voters, a  sleeper like "Lady Bird" or "Get Out" might end up winning the Best Picture Award.  A key indicator for this, to which I alluded earlier, might come in the Original Screenplay award.   Should Greta Gerwig or Jordan Peele take down that one, there might be a surprise when they open the envelope for Best Picture.

There you go.  Eight categories, eight predictions.  As always, Watch, but Don't Bet, and enjoy the show Sunday night.

Friday, March 2, 2018

"The Bodyguard"


Marilyn and I thoroughly enjoyed taking in "The Bodyguard" , part of this season's Broadway - Pittsburgh season, at the Benedum Center last night.

Based on the 1992 Whitney Houston - Kevin Costner movie, this production starred Deborah Cox and Judson Mills in the lead roles.  Miss Cox was spectacular in the starring role.    Lots of great songs and wonderful dance numbers, and a "gift" performance by Cox and the entire cast after the traditional curtain call that was worth the price of the ticket.

If you live in the Pittsburgh area and have no plans for the weekend, you might want to get yourself a ticket to see "The Bodyguard".  It will be well worth it.  

Three solid stars from The Grandstander.

On a sad note, listening to this music and seeing dynamic performers like both Deborah Cox and Jasmin Richardson, who plays her sister in this show, makes you feel so bad about the untimely and sad death of Whitney Houston at age 48 in 2012, a victim of success, excess, and too many bad life decisions.  What a waste.


To Absent Friends - Adam Lynch


Long time Pittsburgh newsman Adam Lynch died earlier this week at the age of 89.

I suppose that every large city has people like Adam Lynch, men or women who are just so ingrained in the community that it felt as if they were a part of the family.  The obit for Lynch said that he began his on-air career in the Pittsburgh area at radio station WEDO in 1951, the year that I was born!  He went on to work at all three Pittsburgh television stations, KDKA, WTAE, and WIIC (now WPXI), and was the lead news anchor at both channels 4 and 11.  He retired in 1993.  I would have never guessed that he had been off the air for twenty-five years.  

RIP Adam Lynch.


Oscars in the Rear View Mirror

Before giving you my annual Academy Awards predictions, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at what and who won Oscars ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, and sixty years ago as the Motion Picture Academy prepares to anoint the Best of 2017.

I am only going as far back as 1957 because, well, I just didn't feel like going any further, but it's easy  enough to look this stuff up yourself if you are  so inclined.  Just click on this link:


I will give you the Best Picture and the four Acting Awardees.  I will also include that other Best Picture nominees, and you can decide for yourself if the Academy "got it right" in that particular year.

2007

Best Picture: "No Country for Old Men" over "Atonement", "Juno", "Michael Clayton", and "There Will Be Blood"

Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis
Actress - Marion Cotillard
Supporting Actor - Javier Bardem
Supporting Actress - Tilda Swinton

My $.02.  I got nothing for this year.  I must not have gone to the movies much in 2007.

1997

Best Picture: "Titanic" over "As Good As It Gets", "The Full Monty", "Good Will Hunting", and "L.A. Confidential"

My $.02 - "Titanic" was the right choice, but "L.A. Confidential" was pretty damn good, too.

Actor - Jack Nicholson
Actress - Helen Hunt
Supporting Actor - Robin Williams
Supporting Actress - Kim Bassinger

1987

Best Picture: "The Last Emperor" over "Broadcast News", "Fatal Attraction", "Hope and Glory", and "Moonstruck"

Actor - Michael Douglas
Actress - Cher
Supporting Actor - Sean Connery
Supporting Actress - Olympia Dukakis

My $.02 - Cher won for "Moonstruck" over Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction".  Are you kidding me????  And has anyone ever watched "The Last Emperor" a second time?

1977

Best Picture - "Annie Hall"  over "The Goodbye Girl", "Julia", "Star Wars", and "The Turning Point"

Actor - Richard Dreyfuss
Actress - Diane Keaton
Supporting Actor - Jason Robards
Supporting Actress - Vanessa Redgrave

My $.02 - The Academy rarely, if ever, rewards comedies, but this year two comedies were nominated for Best Picture, and the two lead acting awards went to actors in a comedy.  Also, while Annie Hall is one of my all-time favorites, you wonder if, in retrospect, Star Wars would have been a more deserving winner, considering all that it has spawned over the last forty years.  

1967

Best Picture - "In The Heat of the Night"  over "Bonnie and Clyde", "Dr. Doolittle", "The Graduate" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"

Actor - Rod Steiger
Actress - Katherine Hepburn
Supporting Actor - George Kennedy
Supporting Actress - Estelle Parsons

My $.02 - George Kennedy won for "Cool Hand Luke", but we all know that he should have won it several years later for playing Joe Patroni in "Airport".  Seriously, though, 1967 may just have been one of the greatest years ever for American motion pictures.  Please click on and read this post of mine from May 4, 2014 and see if you agree:


1957

Best Picture - "Bridge on the River Kwai" over "12 Angry Men", "Peyton Place", "Sayonara", and "Witness for the Prosecution"

Actor - Alec Guiness
Actress - Joanne Woodward
Supporting Actor - Red Buttons
Supporting Actress - Miyoshi Umeki

My $.02 - "12 Angry Men" and "Witness for the Prosecution" are both great movies, but this year's winner, "Bridge on the River Kwai" was and remains an absolute masterpiece. It was on TCM just two nights ago and I watched it - again! - and was riveted by it - again!  It is one movie that never, and I mean never, gets old.  Alec Guiness was absolutely brilliant in this one, as were William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and Sessue Hayakawa.  If you have never seen this one, stop what you are doing RIGHT NOW and find some way to watch this one.

I didn't bother going list all of the other nominees for the Acting Awards, and that would make for far too lengthy a post, but as I said, you can look them up easily enough in the link I posted above, and you can have a lot of fun debating the merits of THOSE awards over the years as well.

And just to go back to the beginning, here are the Best Pictures for the previous years in these ten year cycle:

1947 - "Gentleman's Agreement"
1937 - "The Life of Emile Zola"
1927-28 - "Wings"  (the very first Best Picture winner!)

Coming later this weekend....The Grandstander's predictions for the Oscar winners of 2017.