Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Bet I Was Happy To Lose

Back in the first week of September, the Pirates' record sat at 69-71.  They had 22 games remaining, nine against bad teams (Marlins, Royals, Reds), thirteen against good teams (Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers).  They would have had to go 13-9 during that stretch to finish above .500.  I felt that they would not be able to do it, and I went on The Facebook and offered to bet $2 on it to the first five people who accepted the bet.  Only four people, Tim Baker, Andy Terrick, Ryan Frankhauser, and Len Martin took me up on it.

(Yes, I was only willing to put ten of my own dollars at risk here.  I'm not a complete idiot!)

Anyway, last night's win over the Reds was win #81. Combined with the cancellation of the now meaningless rained out game with the Marlins, the Pirates are assured of a winning, i.e., an above .500 season.  FYI, the Bucs went 6-7 against those "good" teams, and are 6-0 with two left to play against the "bad" teams.

I have to admit, I never saw this coming at the beginning of the season, so good for the team for this accomplishment.  I have many thoughts on the 2018 Pirates, and I will share those at length later  in the week when the season officially concludes.

Tim - Your Thomas Jefferson is in the mail.
Len - I will square away with you at our next breakfast.
Andy and Ryan - Thank you for how you have asked me to earmark your winnings.

Oh, and I had one other bet on the likelihood of an above .500 season, so, Jim Haller, your October breakfast is on me.

I will close with a pic of the guys who I deem to be the Co-MVP's for this year's squad.

Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon

Like I said, it's a bet that I don't mind losing.

Monday, September 24, 2018

"The Wife"

As "The Wife" opens novelist David Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) and his wife, Joan (Glenn Close), are anxiously awaiting a phone call.  In the middle of the night, the call comes from Stockholm:  Castleman has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  The couple celebrates, and then we get glimpses into their marriage as they are toasted by friends and travel to Stockholm to receive the award.

Castleman is a pompous, narcissistic bore....he is begrudging and overly critical of his son's own attempts at writing fiction....most importantly, he takes Joan for granted and publicly overlooks her talents, which she has sublimated over her lifetime in order to feed his own, and the degree to which she has done this becomes more and more apparent as the movie unfolds.

The movie includes several flashbacks of the younger David and Joan showing how they met and the early years of David's struggles to become a serious novelist.  In these flashbacks, Joan is played by Annie Starke, who is the real life daughter of Glenn Close, which is a pretty cool piece of casting.  

There is also a key character of a writer who wants to do a biography of the new Nobel winner, a project with which the Castlemans want no part.  He is played by Christian Slater, and when was the last time you saw him in a movie?  It was one of those times where you're watching and saying "I recognize that guy, but I just can't put my finger on exactly who he is."  It's a key role, and Slater pulls it off nicely.

This is a a dramatic movie.  If you're looking for a lot of laughs, super heroes, or seeing things blow up, "The Wife" ain't it.  What you do get is a well written and directed character study that is thought provoking and insightful.    I'm not sure just how commercial "The Wife" will be or if it will find a big audience.  Too bad if that is the case, as Marilyn and I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

It gets Four Stars from The Grandstander.

Glenn Close as Joan Castleman

Glenn Close is a six time Academy Award nominee who has yet to take home the Oscar.  (I know what you're thinking:  How could she NOT have won in 1988 for her role in "Fatal Attraction", but she didn't, and Cher, of all people, did.  Another instance where the Academy got it wrong.)  All the reviews and buzz about "The Wife" says that THIS will be the role that will finally get Close her Oscar.  We'll see, but another nomination is a cinch and will be well deserved.  Just watch her face in a couple of scenes (when David accepts his award from the King of Sweden, and when he makes his speech at the banquet that follows).  It is one terrific piece of acting that you are seeing up there on screen.

Sunday, September 23, 2018


Back in January, one of my sports wishes for 2018 was to see Tiger Woods win again.  Didn't have to be a Major.  Just wanted to see Tiger win a full fledged PGA Tour event one more time.  He teased us throughout the summer, and this weekend at the PGA Tour Championship, the magic was back.  I was planted in front of the tube for all eighteen holes, and it was terrific to see.  

Loved every bit of it.

"The Play That Goes Wrong"

Last night we took in the first show of the Broadway Pittsburgh 2018-19 season, the hilarious "The Play That Goes Wrong" by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields.  This is actually a play within a play, wherein a ragtag amateur British theater group sets out to present a play called The Murder at Haversham Manor.  As the title tells you, nothing, and I mean nothing goes right for this spunky little theater group, and the results are hilarious.

Everything that you ever laughed about in, say, a Marx Brothers movie, an episode of I Love Lucy, or a madcap comedy sketch on the Carol Burnett Show is all here for you in this show.  A dead body that can't stop moving, actors missing their lines, crew members wandering onto the set, and scenery that doesn't always stay in place.....and those are just some of the things that will make you laugh during this play.  As much as anything, great comedy depends on great timing from the performers, and the eight actors in "The Play That Goes Wrong" had their timing down perfectly.  You have to be a really good actor to portray a really bad actor, and, again, this cast pulled it off perfectly.

I laughed throughout the whole show.   Even the folks at the Benedum got into the spirit of the whole thing:

This show's run in Pittsburgh ends today, but put it on your radar if you ever get the chance to see it someday and you need a good laugh.

Three Stars from The Grandstander.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"A Simple Favor"

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is a single mother who does a video blog for other "Moms out there" featuring recipes, household and mothering hints, is eternally perky, and volunteers for everything at her son's kindergarten.  Emily (Blake Lively) is married, has a high powered job at a New York City fashion design house, and lives in a gorgeous home straight out of Architectural Digest.  About the only thing that the two of them have in common is the fact that their sons go to the same school and want to have a play date together.

So that is how Stephanie and Emily meet and, improbably, become good friends, maybe even best friends.  

Stephanie and Emily toast their friendship

Then one day, Emily calls Stephanie and asks for "a simple favor".  Seems she's tied up at work, so can she pick up her son after school, and take him home with her until she gets free.  Well, OF COURSE she can!

Then, Emily doesn't come home that night.  Or the next night, or the night after that.  Emily's husband Sean (Henry Golding) calls in the police, and an amazing series of twists and turns ensue right up to the movie's conclusion.

To say any more would be to give away key elements of the movie, which I won't do, because you should have the fun of taking them all in yourself when you see the movie, which I recommend that you do.  I will say that if you thought about it enough, you might find several plot holes and inconsistencies in this one, but, as Alfred Hitchcock once said, "It's only a movie", so forget about those things.  Just sit back and enjoy it.

I have only seen Anna Kendrick in two movies (and none of them were those Pitch Perfect ones), but I confess to finding her utterly charming.  In this one she is perky, shows a lack of self-confidence and vulnerability, and turns tough when she needs to do so.  Blake Lively is beautiful and icy.  Is she a good guy or a bad guy?  I'm still not sure.  Until last month, I had never heard of Henry Golding, but after seeing "Crazy Rich Asians" last month, I have now seen him in two movies in a row.  As he was in that one, he's good in this one, too.  I suspect that we will be seeing a lot of him in movies in the years ahead.

Three Stars from The Grandstander for "A Simple Favor".

Martinis play a key role in this movie

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Paul Simon

Last night we added another concert notch to our belts when we saw the Great-with-a-capital-G Paul Simon perform at the PPG Paints Arena as a part of his Farewell Tour as a performing artist.

In the pantheon of American songwriters and performers, I don't think it can be argued that Paul Simon ranks at the highest levels of excellence and genius, and this includes all levels of music and performance, not just rock and roll or pop music (however one might define that term).  And all levels of Simon's genius were put on display at the Arena last night.  Only one month short of his 77th birthday, Simon performed for almost two and one-half hours, much of the music was from his catalog as a solo performer, not so much from the Simon & Garfunkel days, and if I were to be critical of anything about this show that would be it, but, hey, the Paul Simon oeuvre is so great and so extensive, the guy just can't do everything.

So many highlights...
  • A rendition of "Mother and Child Reunion" that slipped right into "Me and Julio Down by The Schoolyard"
  • Simon performing several numbers with, essentially, a mini-chamber group/orchestra that concluded with "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
  • A rousing conclusion that featured "Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al"
  • An encore with his simply fabulous back up band that featured "Late In The Evening", "Still Crazy After All These Years", and "Graceland"
  • But perhaps the best was saved for last, a second encore that was Paul Simon alone on stage with just an acoustic guitar singing these five songs..."Homeward Bound", "Kodachrome", "The Boxer", "American Tune", and, you guessed it, "Sounds of Silence".
Early on Simon said, and he conversed quite a lot during the concert, that this tour would be "the last kind of iteration of these's actually quite exhilarating."  

Yes, "exhilaration" was definitely one of the emotions felt last night watching Paul Simon perform.

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's online review of the concert, the headline said "Paul Simon Says Farewell to Pittsburgh With  A Concert For The Ages", and PG rock critic Scott Mervis concluded his review as follows:

"..Paul Simon, in his eighth decade on the planet, left us with what will be remembered as — look out, here comes an unfettered rush of superlatives — one of the best sounding, best arranged, best played, most sophisticated and most poignant shows we’ve ever seen in Pittsburgh."

Yep, that says it all.  Definitely one of the best concerts that The Grandstander and his Better Half have ever seen.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday, Monday.....

A lot of what I like to call the exigencies of real life have been taking place in The Grandstander's world of late, which has caused what is now a thirteen day hiatus from the keyboard.  Lots to catch up on, but let's confine it the the wide, wide world of sports, shall we.....


I never got around to writing a pre-season preview/prediction post for the Steelers (those exigencies I just mentioned), but if I had I probably would have said that (a) the Steelers would win the AFC North Division, (b) that they would be contenders to reach and win the Super Bowl, and (c) all this would be contingent upon Ben Roethlisberger staying healthy and not all of a sudden playing like a 36 year old guy who is reaching the end of the line.

The season has started and in two games they have blown a 14 point lead in the fourth quarter and were tied by the improved but still lousy Cleve Brownies, a game where Roethlisberger turned the ball over five times, and lost to the Kaycee Chiefs 42-37 in a game where it appeared that the North Allegheny High School defense lined up for the Steelers when the Chiefs had the ball.  On the bright side, Roethlisberger turned in terrific performance, so maybe he ain't done yet.  As for the rest of the team....

Only two games have been played, still lots of time, and blah blah blah, but the overwrought drama that seems to always surround this team looks like it MAY be too much to overcome.  The Le'Veon Bell holdout, the petulance (to use a mild term) of Antonio Brown, the mediocrity (to use another mild term) of the entire defensive corps, the Diva tendencies of Roethlisberger, what appears to be an undisciplined coaching staff.....

It's going to make for an interesting season.  Maybe not a good season, but certainly an interesting one.


A week ago, with the Pirates sitting at 69-71 with 22 games to play (against the lousy Reds, Royals, and Marlins; 13 against the good Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers), I went on The Facebook and offered to bet $2 to the first five people who accepted the bet that they would finish below .500.  Four people took me up on it, and here is where that bet stands, eight games later.

The Pirates have gone 5-3 in that stretch (2-0 against the Lousy teams, 3-3 against the Good teams) and are now 74-74.  They have thirteen games remaining (I am guessing that that postponed game against the Marlins, rescheduled for Monday, October 1, will not be replayed) and need to go 7-6 to finish 81-80.  If they go 4-2 against the Lousies, they need only go 3-4 against the Goods to achieve it.

I figure that there is a good chance that I could be out eight bucks once all is said and done.  Tim, Len, Andy, and Ryan, you maybe shouldn't start making definite plans on how to spend your windfall just yet, but maybe you could think about it.

Oh, and I may also be buying Jim Haller's breakfast in October.

On the other hand, here we are sitting on the edge of our seats wondering if the Pirates can win a mere 81 games in a season.  Kind of pathetic, but you take your thrills as a sports fan where you can get 'em, I suppose.


Pitt now sits at 2-1 (1-0 in conference).  They defeated a Division II (or whatever the NCAA calls these schools these days) team in Albany, were positively pasted by Penn State 51-6, and held on to defeat Georgia Tech 24-19.

The Penn State debacle was disappointing, not only for the magnitude of the point spread, but for the behavior of Pat Narduzzi.  At the beginning of the game, he went apeshit on his captains for incorrectly calling the coin toss, incurred a personal foul penalty for running on to the field to argue with the zebras, and seemed to heap an inordinate amount of blame on his placekick holder and punter for botching a few snaps.  Yep, a missed extra point here, a botched punt there, pretty soon you lose by forty-five points.

Well, the Panthers did seem to shake it off against Georgia Tech, but they did take a 21-0 lead and had to sweat out a GT onside kick at the end of the game.  As guy in the men's room said to me between the third and fourth quarters, Pitt did everything in their power to make sure that Tech made a game out of it.

Also, Pitt has scored 0, 0, and 3 points in the second halves of each of their three games.  What is up with that?


Penn State is a good team, maybe even a very good team that will probably contend for the Big Ten title and maybe even for a spot in the CFP.  James Franklin is also a good coach, maybe a very good coach, and perhaps a top echelon college football coach, but here is how I am always going to remember him.

In the final minute of the Pitt game, with a 51-6 lead in a driving rainstorm, Penn State fumbled, Pitt recovered, and Franklin challenged the ruling and had the refs review the play.  Again, there was less than a minute to play and PSU was leading by FORTY-FIVE POINTS.  The ruling was upheld, and Franklin put a sour look on his face.  It was move that totally and completely redefined the term "chickenshit".

As a group, there are few people more unlikable that big time college football coaches.  Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly, Dabo know who they are.  You like them when they coach YOUR team, but, objectively speaking, they are hard people to like.

Group photo taken at  recent 
NCAA Football Coaches Convention.

Add James Franklin to the list.   To all my friends and family out there who are Penn State fans, I don't necessarily want to see the Lions lose, but I sure would love to see James Franklin get dealt a big heaping helping of humility somewhere along the line.


Yeah, I don't talk much about Robert Morris football on here, and with good reason these past few years.  The Colonials have a new head coach this year, Bernard Clark, who has to rebuild a program that has really been in the dumper these last few years.  They are 1-2, and on Saturday they were pasted by James Madison University, 73-7.  JMU is a powerhouse, but, still, it looks like a tough road ahead for Clark and his Colonials.  It should also be noted that this rout by JMU was led by the quarterback transfer-from-Pitt, Ben DiNucci.  So, good for DiNucci.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

To Absent Friends - Carole Shelley

 Carole Shelley

British born actress Carole Shelley died last Friday at the age of 79.  Shelley was best known as half of the Pigeon Sisters  in Neil Simon's classic comedy, "The Odd Couple".  She played Gwendolyn Pigeon who lived with her sister Cecily (played by Monica Evans) in an apartment upstairs from Oscar and Felix.  They originated the roles in 1965 when the play debuted on Broadway, went on to reprise the roles in the 1968 film adaptation, and even appeared in four episodes of the TV series in its first season.

Shelley may be best known as Gwendolyn Pigeon, but her Broadway career was a full one.  She won a Tony Award in 1979 for her role in "The Elephant Man", and was nominated for Tonys on three other occasions.  She was an original cast member of the long running musical "Wicked", she played Madame Morrible, and she appeared most recently on Broadway in 2013 in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder".  She has 49 movie and TV acting credits listed in IMDB, including the outstanding "Quiz Show" (1995) and several voice over roles in Disney animated films.

I remember seeing a play at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 2006 called "The Secret Letters of Jackie and Marilyn".  It was essentially a two woman play with actresses portraying Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.  However, there was a third woman in the play who served as sort of Narrator/Greek Chorus, and I recall that her voice sounded SO familiar as I was watching the play.  When I checked the Program at intermission I learned that it was Carole Shelley, most famously known as one-half of Neil Simon's Pigeon Sisters.  I thought that that was very cool to see her in a play in Pittsburgh forty years after first seeing her in the movie version of "The Odd Couple".  And it was only today, after reading her obituary, that I realized what a full and active career she had.

RIP Carole Shelley.

The Pigeon Sisters
Carole Shelley and Monica Evans
They remained close friends all of their lives.