Friday, May 22, 2015

Movie Review: "Tomorrowland"

We kicked off the Unofficial Start of Summer today by contributing to what will undoubtedly be the big box office winner of this Memorial Day Weekend by seeing the new Disney movie, "Tomorrowland".  From what I have read, much of what this movie was all about was kept pretty much under wraps by the Disney Studios.  About all that anyone knew was that it was a science fiction feature of some sort and it starred George Clooney.  That and a positive review by the Post-Gazette's Barb Vancheri was enough to get us out to the movie theater.  

Normally, the sci-fi genre is not our particular cup of tea, but we made an exception here, and we are glad we did.  We may not have done so had it been anyone other than Clooney starring.  He was very good in it, as were his young female co-stars, Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy.  It was directed by and co-written by Brad Bird, who has two Oscars to his credit for a couple of Pixar animated movies ("The Incredibles" and Ratatouille").  I won't try to summarize the story, but I will tell you that it is quite entertaining, beautifully photographed, it does carries a Message, and it leaves you with a very positive conclusion.

Early in the movie, one young character asks the question "Why can't it just be for fun?"  "Tomorrowland" does, as I said, carry a message, but it is also a fun experience.  Good movie.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NBA Playoffs

The NBA Conference Finals tip off tonight, so let me call it now.

East - Cavaliers over Hawks

West - Warriors over Rockets

Warriors to win it all over the Cavs in the finals.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tonight: "Mad Men" Concludes (No Spoilers)

This past Friday evening was spent binge watching the last three episodes of "Mad Men" in anticipation of tonight's series finale.  For the most part, this final season has been disappointing, and we have found ourselves saying things like "I'm ready for this show to be over."  However, the penultimate episode last week seemed to be setting up conclusions to the stories of Joan, Pete, Betty, and, possibly, Peggy and Roger.    Still not sure where Don is headed, and I am betting that when the show ends tonight, we STILL won't know, which will lead to endless kvetching across the Internet about such an unsatisfactory conclusion to this long-running series.  Series creator Matthew Weiner and AMC will, of course, defend this as "art", but long time fans of the show will be left with a sense of dissatisfaction.  This seems to happen more often than not when long running series are sent off with a "Grand Finale".

Of course, the series could conclude with an open-enough ending so as to set up a "Mad Men" feature film to bilk fans of their money one last time.  

I could be wrong on all of this, of course.  We'll just be watching - in real time; not gonna wait to see a DVR'd recording - to see how it all ends.

I will say this, though - I am going to miss the spectacular Christina Hendricks (Joan Harris).  

And that isn't the type of picture of Miss Hendricks that you thought I would post, is it?

Friday, May 15, 2015

To Absent Friends - B.B King

What better way to say good-bye to the truly legendary blues man B.B. King than to watch and listen.

The Thrill is Gone, indeed.

RIP B.B King.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Family Reunion

Well, it wasn't really a "reunion" since prior to about two weeks ago, neither of us knew that the other existed, but last week second cousins Casey Brown and Yours Truly met for the first time over lunch in the Strip District at the Smallman Street Deli.

Casey's grandmother, Marie Madden Brown and my grandfather, Bill Madden, were brother and sister.  It was yet another cousin, Marla Madden of Boca Raton, FL, who is the granddaughter of yet another Madden sibling, Leo Madden, who did the genealogical research and who ferreted out the existence of Casey Brown and me.  Amazingly, while I was growing up in Squirrel Hill, Casey was growing up in Swissvale, not even ten miles apart.

Bill Madden was my mother's father, and, for whatever the reason, I knew very little of the background or history of the Madden branch of my own particular family tree.  So, I am grateful to Marla for finding us, and I am grateful to have had the chance to meet Casey.  We spent a delightful couple of hours together learning about our heretofore unknown shared pasts.

Kind of like something you'd see in a movie.

The Pirates - 31 Games In

I have been fairly quiet, at least on this Blog, about the State of the Pirates in 2015.  It was my intention all along to wait until about 30 games, or approximately 20% of the season was in the books.  The conclusion of a weekend series with the Cardinals allowed for the perfect demarcation point.  Thirty-one games, almost twenty percent of the season.  

So, here we go.

The team sits at 15-16, tied for third in the NL Central, and seven games behind the Cardinals.  Certainly not what we had hoped for, but not worth jumping off of the Fort Duquesne Bridge, either.  (In case you were wondering, the 2014 team was 12-19 and the 2013 team was 17-14 after thirty-one games).  Here is one thing about this first fifth of the season that does raise a red flag for me, though.  The combined record for the Pirates against the Cardinals, Reds, and Cubs stands at 6-13; they are 11-14 in the division overall,  thanks to a 5-1 record against Milwaukee.  Still early, still a small sample size, but it is a continuation of a disturbing trend from last year when the team went 22-35 against the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers, and 36-40 in the Central Division.  Perhaps that two-of-three series win against St. Louis this weekend will signal an upward trend going forward.

As for individual performances, the starts of Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, and Jordy Mercer have been disappointing.  Up until a week ago, all three carried batting averages below .200.  McCutchen seems to have righted the ship.  In the last seven days, he has batted .333 with an OPS of .885 to bring his numbers up to .223 and .658.  Harrison and Mercer remain at .173 / .491 and .194 / .481, and, if anything, their "last 7 days" numbers appear to the trending down.

I have no concerns, none, that McCutchen will be the MVP caliber player that we have seen over the course of his career.  We have also seen this before with Mercer.  In 2014, he was awful at the plate through mid-May, but was solid from that point forward.  The team can only hope that that happens again. As for Harrison, many people had to wonder about the breakout season he had in 2014.  Was it real, or was he a One Hit Wonder who would regress to being the utility guy he had been throughout his career?  The jury is still out on that, and I am sure that the people who made the decision to give him that big contract are rolling their rosary beads over the outcome on how this one will play out.

As for others, Starling Marte looks like he will have a big breakout season, Gregory Polonco is still learning, and Neal Walker is having a solid year at .287 with a .767 OPS (and his "last 7" numbers, .389 and 1.059, are off the charts)

And then there is Pedro Alvarez.  He seems to be handling the move to first base reasonably well, defensively.  His offensive numbers, however, sit at .217 with 5 HR, 14 RBI, and a.753 OPS.  Oh, and 27 K's in 92 at bats.  Alvarez has now accumulated over 2,100 at bats in the major leagues.  We can probably draw some conclusions.  He's going to hit 25-30 HR's in a season, drive in about 90 runs, hit about .235, and strike out 180 or so times.  He will make our jaws drop with some of the blasts that he will hit, and he will drive us totally nuts when he looks completely impotent at the plate swinging and missing while striking out in key situations.  Love him or hate him, what we have seen is what he is.

As far as the pitching is concerned, I will only say this: if the starting pitching continues to perform as it has over the first 31 games, I will sign up for that right now and take my chances with how the team will fare in the standings when 162 games are in the books.  Gerrit Cole has been a real ace, A.J Burnett has been a revelation, Liriano has been solid, and even the back end of the rotation, Worley and Locke have been serviceable.  The back end of the bullpen, Hughes, Watson, and Melancon (after a shaky start) are getting the job done, and there are a couple of other guys in the pen who are intriguing, particularly Arqueimedes Caminero.  I want to see more of him as the season rolls on.

And how about that guy pictured at the top of this post?  The decision to bring Jung Ho Kang north with the team caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth among some Pirates followers.  Heck, even the decision to sign him in the first place out of the Korean Baseball Organization was questioned.  Not so much today.  Granted, questions remain, but as of this morning, Kang is hitting .333 with 2 HR, 9 RBI, and .898 OPS in only 48 at bats.  He is arguably the hottest hitter on the team.  Clint Hurdle has done a great job in finding playing time for him, and he must absolutely, one would think, continue to somehow keep him in the lineup while his bat remains hot.  He has also looked quite good in the field at both 2B and 3B.

In conclusion, yeah, you wish they were doing better, but it is early.  A well placed hit in any of those three games in St. Louis last week would have meant a three game sweep for the Pirates against  the Cards, and a record of 18-13 today, and talk of ordering playoff tickets for October.  It didn't happen that way, and we will all just see how it will even out, or if it will even out, over the course of 162 games.

There is no definitive answer as to when "Hey, it's still early" turns into "Hey, these guys better start moving here" which turns into "Hey, this season is a goner".  We just have to sit back, enjoy the action day by day, and, dare I say it, take it one game at a time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

To Absent Friends - Sid Tepper

Okay, I had never heard of Sid Tepper, either, until I read today's obituary page, and, I've got to tell you, these are the kinds of obituaries that I find absolutely fascinating.

When Sid Tepper died on April 24, he was two months short of his 97th birthday.  Mr. Tepper was a songwriter who is credited with writing over 300 songs in his career.  His songs were recorded by such diverse artists as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Dave Clark Five, Andy Williams, Ray Charles, Slim Whitman, The Ink Spots, Arthur Godfrey, and Lawrence Welk.  Elvis, alone, recorded forty-five of Tepper's songs, most of them being written for the numerous schlocky movies that Elvis made.  All of which means that Sid probably made a pretty nice living churning out these songs.

Among the songs that Tepper had written were "Red Roses for a Blue Lady", "G.I. Blues", "Nuttin' for Christmas", and "Glad All Over".

Like I say, there are people who contribute, in some small ways, to the fabric of our lives, and we have no idea who they are, until we stumble across their names in the News Obituaries.

RIP Sid Tepper, and let's send him off with one of his numbers, "The Lady Loves Me", as sung by Elvis Presley and Ann-Margaret in "Viva Las Vegas".