Sunday, April 26, 2015

Television Thoughts - No Spoilers

Some quick hit television thoughts.....

  • The season three finale of "The Americans", while not disappointing, it did not pack the punch of previous season-ending episodes.  This entire season seemed to be a bit of a miss-mash of too many plot lines that only confused the viewer (or at least the two viewers that reside at our house).  As friend Fred Shugars has stated, perhaps, one of he overlying themes to emerge from this season is that "you can't trust teenagers".
  • We are now halfway through the final season of "Mad Men" with only three episodes remaining.  We have invested six years into watching this series, and it is disappointing that in this last year, our overall sentiment is "Well, we have to watch, but we can't wait for it to be over".  All of the characters have devolved into people that are just plain unlikeable to the point where you just don't care what happens to them. (Possible exception: Peggy Olsen.)  
  • Perhaps the producers of "Mad Men" should have just ended it a season to two ago and gone out on top.  It's too bad that long running TV shows feel that they must end a show's run with some blockbuster tie-all-the-strings-together Grand Finale.  It rarely works out to anyone's satisfaction.  Exhibit A of this theory of mine is "Seinfeld".

  • Has anyone watched this new TBS sitcom "Your Family or Mine"?  I have tried watching it on two separate occasions, and I could not get through to the end of either episode.  Crude and awful.  And one of the stars is Richard Dreyfuss!  I suppose that at this stage of his career, and Oscar winner like Dreyfuss is entitled to an gig like this to guarantee himself an easy phone-it-in paycheck, but it's a shame to see a guy who starred in such things as American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters, The Good-bye Girl, and Mr. Holland's Opus performing in something as dreadful as this.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"True Story" - Book and Movie

Until one week ago, I was completely unfamiliar with both Michael Finkel and Christian Michael Longo.  Until, that is, I read the movie review last Friday by the Post-Gazette's Barbara Vancheri of the movie "True Story".  The movie sounded interesting, but Ms. Vancheri recommended that one should familiarize oneself with the source material, Mr. Finkel's book, to really understand the movie.

So, I did.

Michael Finkel was a young feature writer who had written a number of excellent stories for the NewYork Times Sunday Magazine, until he fabricated a portion of one of those stories, was caught in this lie, and abruptly and publicly fired by the Times.  As he was preparing to spend his time in journalistic hell by being scorned by his ink stained brethren, he received a phone call from a newspaper reporter in Oregon asking for a comment on the case involving Christian Michael Longo.  Finkel had no idea who Longo was, but he learned quickly that he was a man accused of murdering his wife and three young children, then going on the lam in Mexico and claiming to be "Mike Finkel of the New York Times".

Thus began a strange symbiotic relationship between Finkel and Longo.  Longo spelled out all of the strange history of his life right up until the time of the murders.   Finkel saw Longo as "story" that might enable him to redeem himself professionally and restore his name in the journalistic fraternity.  As for what Longo saw in Finkel, well, I have read the book and seen the movie, and I am still not sure exactly what Longo was attempting to do.  As one of the police involved put it, Longo's long dance with Finkel was nothing but a dress rehearsal for how he would "perform" for a jury.

The book portrays Longo, a psychopathic killer, as the ultimate narcissist, but a trace of narcissism exists in Finkel, too, as the aim of this book seems to be as much a public confession by Finkel of his own journalistic "crime", and an effort to rehabilitate his reputation, as it is a portrait of a killer and his crimes.  The book is as much about the author as it is about his subject, and if there is a criticism that I have of the book that is it.

As for the movie, I waited until I had finished the book before going to see it, and I read a number of reviews of it on line, and if ever a movie can be described of having "mixed reviews", this is it.

Like the book, the movie is as much about Finkel, played by Jonah Hill, as it is about Longo, played by James Franco.  The movie spends much of it's time dwelling on the relationship between the two men as it does on the crime itself.  A pretty good movie could be made out of the life that Longo had led leading up to his crimes, but that is not the direction in which the film makers wanted to go.  The movie also does not dwell on the actual crime itself, with the actual murders having taken place before the start of the movie, and even in flashback scenes, the murders are done "off camera".  That's a good thing, as they were pretty ghastly crimes.

As for the performances, Hill has proven in movies like "Moneyball" and "Wolf of Wall Street" that he is more than just the slob character in R rated comedies where he made his bones, and while he is okay in this one, that's about as far as I'd go: he's okay.  Franco, on the other hand, is terrific as Chris Longo.  I always maintain the the very best actors on screen act with their faces, especially their eyes, and Franco's eyes really sell you on the fact that this is one cold-blooded psycho that you are seeing up there on the screen.

On a four star rating system, I'd give the book three stars, and the movie two-and-a-half stars.  Both worth your time, but nothing that will rank in any ten best lists.

Two side bar stories to my movie experience today.

I went to the first show of the day at the Cinemark, it started at 10:40 AM, and I was one of two people in the theater for "True Story".  I bought myself a small popcorn, and a small Coke.  The tab for that $10.05.  I figure that Cinemark's actual combined cost for these two items came in at less than one dollar.  The Pirates and Steelers aren't the only folks in the entertainment business who gouge you for food and refreshments.

Also, at the conclusion of "True Story", I went into another theater and watched about ten minutes of "Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2".  After seeing this brief part of the movie, I am convinced that it could be among the worst movies of 2015, if not the entire first 15 years of the 21st century.  By the way, there was no one, not a single warm body, in the theater for this dog of a movie.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Congratulations, Richy Werensky

Congratulations to Richy Werensky, the winner of Golf Channel's "Big Break, The Palm Beaches, Florida".

The 23 year old Georgia Tech grad secured his victory with a 2 and 1 defeat of runner-up Justin Martinson.  About halfway through the season, it became apparent that Werensky, Martinson, and third place finisher Robert Rohanna of Waynesburg, PA were the best golfers on the show.  This made Werensky's win a well deserved one.

For his Big Break, Werensky will get an exemption into the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship which will be played in Alabama on July 16-19.  This is an event which will run concurrent with the British Open Championship, so, obviously, all of the very best players on the PGA Tour will not be playing in the Barbasol event, which means that Richy could have the opportunity to fare well, certainly better than past Big Break winners have done in the events in which they have played.  The Grandstander shall be monitoring the event come July and will provide an update on how he fares.

Monday, April 20, 2015

"The Americans"

The season finale for one of our favorite TV shows, "The Americans" on the FX Network is this coming Wednesday, and we anxiously await it.

If you are unfamiliar with the show, it is set in Washington DC during the first term of the Reagan Administration, and it centers around the lives of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.  The Jennings at first blush are typical Washington suburbanites who have two teen aged kids and run their own small business, a travel agency.  In fact, however, they are KGB agents who have been planted in the American capital city to spy for the USSR.  They do this with an incredible number of disguises, an appalling amount of violence, and the need to use sexual wiles to obtain such vital information.  (Like many shows on these cable networks, "The Americans" features healthy dollops of gratuitous nudity, including almost weekly shots of Ms. Russell's bare bum.)

How they can do this without arousing the suspicion of their children (for the first two seasons, anyway), their employees at the travel agency, and their neighbor, who just happens to be an almost clueless FBI Agent, is one of those questions that you just shouldn't ask.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Season three has been a bit bewildering as the producers have give the Jennings an incredible number of balls to try to juggle in the air.  There have been plot threads involving the Russians in Afghanistan, something to do with South Africa, the KGB's desire that the Jennings' daughter be recruited into the KGB, a female KGB agent, the incredibly hot Nina, who is now in a Soviet jail, Stan the FBI neighbor's divorce, and a disturbing and very icky plot element that has Philip being ordered to become "involved" with the 15 year old daughter of a CIA officer. 

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the bug planted in the FBI office by FBI secretary Martha, who is also married to Philip.  If you watch the show, you know what I'm talking about.  If you don't know, it really sounds preposterous, doesn't it?

Anyway, it had gotten to the point many times this season to say things like "now, who is this guy again?" or "why are they talking to this kid here?"  and "who is that lady?" As I said, I think that they have tried to do too many things his season, and it appears that they don't know what to do with all these elements.   And the show seems to have lost contact with the single great tension point of the series: THAT THESE SOVIET SPIES LIVE RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE FBI AGENT WHO IS TRYING TO TRACK THEM DOWN!!!!!

Anyway, about halfway through the season we came to grips with the idea that we not even try to connect all the dots that are out there, and to just let the show flow over us.  Also, in the previous two seasons of the show, the season finale has managed to tie loose ends together and deliver a wallop that will make you anxious for the next season to come around.  We suspect that that is what will happen this time as well.

Wednesday night at 10:00 on FX.  Please don't try to call us during that hour.  We won't be answering our phone.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

To Absent Friends - Dan Farrell

Dan Farrell died earlier this week at the age of 84.  Farrell was a news photographer for the New York Daily News, and in November, 1963 he took one of the most famous and poignant pictures ever taken:

Do I need to explain this picture?  I don't think so, such is the fame of it.

In researching Dan Farrell on the Internet, you can find a sampling of some of the other news hoots that he took for the Daily News over the course of a remarkable career.

RIP Dan Farrell.

The Future of Golf, or Post-Masters Reflections

Four days after the conclusion of an amazing Masters Tournament, it's time to reflect upon just what took place and what it might mean.

First off, the wire-to-wire win for 21 year old Jordan Spieth prompted this great cover and tag line to appear in the mail box today:

Clever take on the book about Michael Jordan, and a statement that the "Spieth Era Begins Now".

First the tournament itself.  Spieth's performance was nothing short of, sorry about this, Masterful.  Only the fifth wire-to-wire win in the history of the Masters, and a tie for the all-time low score.  On Saturday, he stood up to the challenges and charges of the biggest names in the sport (McIlroy, Mickelson, and Woods), and on Sunday, every time someone looked like he would challenge him, Spieth answered with a birdie, an amazing up-and-down, or a clutch par, all leading to this moment.

Does this mean that a "Jordan Spieth Era" is now upon us?  

Well, how do you define an "Era"?  Is Spieth the next Tiger Woods?  Sorry, but no, or at least no one should be ready to declare so at this point.  Does it mean that Spieth can be a dominant player on the PGA Tour for the next 10-15 years?  It is quite possible that Spieth could indeed be just that, although, I do not think that we shall ever see anyone dominate professional golf the way that Woods did in the period from 1997-2008.  The probability of such dominance is infinitesimal, if for no other reason than this guy:

Rory McIlroy is only 25 years old and already has four majors to his credit.  And if McIlroy will prevent Spieth from being the "next Tiger", then Spieth, in turn, could prevent McIlroy from being the "next Tiger" as well.

What does excite the imaginations of golf nerds everywhere is the possibility of Spieth-McIlroy duels over the next dozen years or so that will be reminiscent of earlier days when Arnold Palmer battled Jack Nicklaus, and Nicklaus battled guys like Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, and Greg Norman.  It is a measure of Woods' total dominance during his time that there never was a real challenger to him, not even Phil Mickelson.  The idea of Spieth and McIlroy going head to head on Sundays at Augusta, Oakmont, St. Andrews and other such places over the next decade to so is wonderful to think about.

Oh, and we should also keep one other thing in mind.  Spieth could end up being a one hit wonder like Trevor Immelman, Lucas Glover, Andy North, or one of the many other golfers who have managed to win one major, and little else.  It certainly doesn't appear likely that Spieth will fall into that category, as he has already won several times on Tour and performed well in a Ryder Cup competition, but you never know.  It will be interesting to look back at the ledger at the conclusion of this Tour and Majors season and re-evaluate the possibilities.

Of course, you can't make any evaluation of the State of Golf without talking about these guys:

Phil Mickelson had a terrific Masters.  His score of fourteen under par would have won the Masters 70 of the 78 times in its history.  It appears that he has something left in the tank, at least at Augusta, and it would have been interesting to see how Spieth would have held up had he been paired with Mickelson instead of Justin Rose on Sunday.  One of those intriguing "what ifs" that makes sports so much fun to follow.  However, Phil is now 44 years old.  It's hard to win anywhere on tour at that age, much less a Major, which makes his performance at Augusta all the more remarkable.

As for Tiger Woods, he is 39 and he managed to shoot eight under par over the second and third rounds of the Masters. He also was two over par over rounds one and four.  The fact that he scraped by in one over on Sunday, when he could never find a fairway off the tee, is amazing.  He could overcome such erratic driving at Augusta, but if he drives like that at a course set up for the US Open, he won't make the cut.

The key points in the above two paragraphs are the ages of the two golfers.  In all sports, and especially tournament golf, Father Time beats all comers.  I don't doubt that Mickelson and Woods all again win tournaments here and there on the PGA Tour.  Woods may even possibly still be able to dig down and win a Major one more time, but at this point it's a long shot.  This takes nothing away from what they have been, which is two of the greatest golfers of all time (and in Woods' case, he is in the argument for THE greatest golfer of all time).  It will still be fun to see them play and watch them on TV, but I am afraid that their Days of Dominance are over.

The US Open will be played in Oregon this June, which means prime time telecasts here in the east.  You know that Fox, which is televising the Open this year, has to be licking its chops in hopes of young guns like McIlroy and Spieth going at it at Chambers Bay.  Bring it on!!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Remember, The Masters Doesn't Really Begin Until the Back Nine on Sunday

As I see it, four people have a shot at taking the green jacket tomorrow: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, and Charlie Hoffman. Those are the four with a legitimate shot at winning, and, really, I believe that it will come down to the final grouping of Spieth and Rose. 

I don't think that 44 year old Phil can hang in again, and I can't see Hoffman holding up either. Rose has won a Major - the US Open a few years back -  and knows what it takes to do so, and Spieth should have learned how to withstand final round pressure from last year. After Hoffman, the next five golfers are ten shots out of the lead. If any of them comes from that far behind to win it will be almost miraculous. 

I am going to predict a win for Spieth, mainly because I have him as one of my golfers in the MOASP Fantasy Pool, but it will be a close win over Rose. It's not going to be the runaway that many thought it might become after the second round. It should be, dare I say it, a Barn Burner! 

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