Thursday, October 31, 2013

Doris Day and Rock Hudson Meet the Sopranos

As I typed the title of today's movie review, I even intrigued myself.   What the hell does that mean?

Okay, Spunky, read on.

I happen to like the work of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I became a total fan when he started in the wonderful and very under-rated "(500) Days of Summer."  And he was the only thing worth watching in junk like "50/50," "The Dark Knight Rises," and "Inception."  Indeed, the only reason I saw those three garbage dumps was because this guy was in them.

So, my interest was naturally piqued when I heard about "Don Jon," which is Gordon-Levitt's very first attempt at feature film writing and directing.  I can safely report that his talent is still up on the screen as he stretches his creative muscles.  "Don Jon" is not perfect.  It may not be everybody's taste.  Hell, I might not even like it as much when I see it a second time.  But, nothing should discourage Gordon-Levitt from writing and directing again.  He's got an ear and an eye for real human stories.

But, that should be no surprise.  As I dug into his background, I noticed that Joseph's maternal grandfather was director Michael Gordon.  Among his credits is one of my favorite movies of all time "Pillow Talk."  

Ah!

Because the grandson has, in a fashion, crafted a movie very similar to Grandpa's.  A romantic comedy that follows the usual beats of one of those Doris Day-Rock Hudson yarns, but mashes it up and updates the tale to fit the dark edginess we have come to know as 2013.  

Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello and he's somebody that anyone from New York can spot in an instant.  The Italian stud living in New Jersey. Working in a menial job.  Clubbing every Saturday night with his goombah friends.  Having tons of meaningless sex, that is erased every Sunday morning when he goes to confession and then mass with his family.  Naturally, he then winds up at Mom and Dad's.  Having a plate of pasta.  Wearing a wife beater t-shirt, the same that his father is wearing at the dinner table.  BTW, Daddy here is played by TV's Tony Danza and this is not the guy you remember from "Taxi."  Indeed, Tony, in a wonderful performance, shows you who's the fucking boss.

It's nothing more than the set-up of "Saturday Night Fever."  But, instead of an obsession to doing the Hustle, Jon's big hobby is watching internet porn.  Lots and lots and lots of internet porn.

Gee, we never saw Rock Hudson do that on screen.  In real life, probably.  But never on film.

Jon meets Barbara Sugarman in a club and immediately picks her up.  Played to a Brooklyn tee by Scarlet Johansson, Barbara is looking to settle down and she thinks Jon is the guy who will keep her in kids and cannolis.  She has but one stipulation.  He needs to stop watching internet porn.

Easier said than done.  And the rest of the film shows us as this relationship plays out, all of us knowing fully well that Jon will never really be able to turn off the hot chicks from Korea.  Indeed, what we watch is another version of "Pillow Talk" but with the main characters being played by Christopher and Adriana from "The Sopranos."  It's funny and incredibly authentic.  You don't doubt for a single moment that these people live right next door to you.

Meanwhile, Jon is going to night school and he meets up with a middle-aged woman named Esther who lost both her husband and young son in a car crash.  Played with style by Julianne Moore, Esther comes out of nowhere to offer Jon a real alternative to Barbara.  A triangle develops and, yet throughout it all, Jon still can't turn off the internet.  

So I guess you could say the plot is your standard "boy meets girl, boy meets woman, boy loses girl, boy loses woman, boy jacks off in front of a laptop."  

Or something like that.

Don't get me wrong.  "Don Jon" is fascinating to watch.  But it's gritty and, towards the end, a little tough to watch.  Perhaps that's what Gordon-Levitt was going for.  It doesn't all tie up with a pretty pink bow like Doris and Rock would.  This is the real world of 2013, not the virginal realm of 1959.  Not everything ends happily ever after.

So, in his perhaps unwitting nod to Grandpa, Joseph Gordon-Levitt honors both genres with his work at the helm of "Don Jon."  He may not have even realized he was doing that when he wrote this movie.  Thank God for him that there are writers like me who will connect the dots for him.

LEN'S RATING:  Three stars.

Dinner last night:  French dip ham sandwich at Philippe's. 



 



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This Date in History - October 30

Happy birthday, Henry Winkler.   Ay!!!!!!

758:  GUANGZHOU IS SACKED BY ARAB AND PERSIAN PIRATES.

I wonder if the Persian Pirates had as many losing seasons as the ones in Pittsburgh.

1226:  TRAN THU DO, HEAD OF THE TRAN CLAN OF VIETNAM, FORCES LY HUE TONG, THE LAST EMPEROR OF THE LY DYNASTY, TO COMMIT SUICIDE.

The Tran Clan?  I see Florence Henderson, Robert Reed, and six Chinese kids.

1485:  KING HENRY VII OF ENGLAND IS CROWNED.

One more Henry till the really interesting one.

1501:  A BANQUET HELD BY CESARE BORGIA IN THE PAPAL PALACE IS ATTENDED BY FIFTY PROSTITUTES, THERE TO ENTERTAIN THE GUESTS.

Bring Your Own Boobs.

1735:  2ND PRESIDENT OF THE US JOHN ADAMS IS BORN.

Or so the HBO mini-series said.

1831:  IN VIRGINIA, ESCAPED SLAVE NAT TURNER IS CAPTURED AND ARRESTED FOR LEADING A BLOODY SLAVE REBELLION.

Years later, cops will capture and arrest Ike Turner as well.

1864:  HELENA, MONTANA IS FOUNDED AFTER FOUR PROSPECTORS DISCOVER GOLD AT LAST CHANCE GULCH.

Where's my cut?

1896:  ACTRESS RUTH GORDON IS BORN.

Wouldn't it be funny if her mother's name was Rosemary?

1905:  CZAR NICHOLAS II OF RUSSIA GRANTS THE COUNTRY'S FIRST CONSTITUTION.

"All men's bank accounts are created equal..."

1918:  THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE SIGNS AN ARMISTICE WITH THE ALLIES, ENDING THE FIRST WORLD WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

At this point in my world history class, I was totally asleep.

1920:  THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF AUSTRALIA IS FOUNDED.

"All men's kangaroo pens are created equal..."

1922:  BENITO MUSSOLINI IS MADE PRIME MINISTER OF ITALY.

They gave him the job because he always seemed to be hanging around.

1932:  DIRECTOR LOUIS MALLE IS BORN.

My Birthday with Andre.

1938:  ORSON WELLES BROADCASTS HIS RADIO PLAY OF HG WELLS' "WAR OF THE WORLDS," CAUSING ANXIETY ALL OVER THE COUNTRY.

That was the time when we were really worried about alien invasions.  In 2013, not so much.

1941:  US PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT APPROVES US $1 BILLION IN LEND-LEASE AID TO THE ALLIED NATIONS.

Hey, Gimpy, what took you so long???

1944:  ANNE FRANK AND HER SISTER ARE DEPORTED FROM AUSCHWITZ TO A CONCENTRATION CAMP.

Anne was the smart one of the two sisters.  She wrote everything down.

1945:  JACKIE ROBINSON OF THE KANSAS CITY MONARCHS SIGNS A CONTRACT FOR THE BROOKLYN DODGERS TO BREAK THE BASEBALL COLOR BARRIER.

If he got nasty treatment in Brooklyn, how bad must it have been in Kansas City??

1945:  ACTOR HENRY WINKLER IS BORN.

If you do the math, he was already 30 when he first started to play Fonzie.  

1950:  POPE PIUS XII WITNESSES THE MIRACLE OF THE SUN WHILE AT THE VATICAN.

Yeah, Pope, he rises every morning.

1961:  IT IS DECREED THAT JOSEPH STALIN'S BODY BE REMOVED FROM ITS PLACE OF HONOR IN LENIN'S TOMB AND BURIED NEAR THE KREMLIN WALL.

It is totally creepy that you can still see their bodies out on display.

1970:  IN VIETNAM, THE WORST MONSOON TO HIT THE AREA IN SIX YEARS KILLS 293.

Oh, yeah, and the war, too.

1972:  A COLLISION BETWEEN TWO COMMUTER TRAINS IN CHICAGO KILLS 45.  

And, as a result, they're all late for work.

1975:  PRINCE JUAN CARLOS BECOMES SPAIN'S ACTING HEAD OF STATE, TAKING OVER FOR THE AILING DICTATOR GENERAL FRANCISCO FRANCO.

And he's still dead.

1979:  BENITO'S WIFE, RACHELE MUSSOLINI, DIES.

She stopped hanging around, too.

1983:  THE FIRST DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN ARGENTINA ARE HELD.

Bullets on sale at your local polling place.

1985:  SPACE SHUTTLE CHALLENGER LIFTS OFF FOR ITS FINAL SUCCESSFUL MISSION.

Key word: successful.

1985:  ACTOR KIRBY GRANT DIES.

Sky King!!!

1988:  ANIMATOR T. HEE DIES.

I have no clue who this guy is, but the name is...ahem...a laugh riot.

2000:  TV HOST STEVE ALLEN DIES.

The Start of Something Not So Great.

2005:  BASEBALL MANAGER AL LOPEZ DIES.

Adios.

2007:  SINGER ROBERT GOULET DIES.

And now Carol Lawrence's right jaw can finally take a rest.

Dinner last night:  Leftover pork tenderloin.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Homeland Insecurity

It was about a year ago that I became a fan of Showtime's "Homeland" and I wrote about it here.   The show had won the Best Drama Emmy for its first season and their second season had just begun airing.  Intrigued to see what all the hoopla was about, I watched Season One on demand and was instantly drawn in.  Essentially, I viewed the series' first 16 episodes in the space of two weeks.

Talk about your binge viewing habits.

I got completely hooked on the exploits of bi-polar CIA Carrie, would-be Muslim terrorist Brody, his family, and compassionate CIA boss Saul.  Hell, the show made me like Mandy Patinkin.  That's a win for the producers right there.

But, as last fall's second season wound down, "Homeland" started to let its story meander.  It all began to get a little silly.  For those of you yet to sample, I'm giving away a few integral plot points now.   A Vice President whose pacemaker is hacked, resulting in his death.  Some sexual alliances that seemed very gratuitous ( if not welcomed by some of us whenever Brody's wife gets naked).  And a climactic terrorism event that rivaled what happened to all of us on 9/11.

Okay, I was still in.  A bit unsettled.  A trifle confused.  But, again, as long as Brody's wife occasionally took her clothes off, I was good....

And I anxiously awaited Season Three, which started about four weeks ago.

The good news is that "Homeland" still offers a lot of entertainment.  Great tension.  Marvelous acting.  Terrific production values.  And, oh, the guy that Brody's wife had the first season affair has come back for an episode.  Here's hoping that they hit the sheets soon.

But, then, at the end of the fourth episode, "Homeland" pulled a plot switch that was so startling and jarring that a 7.5 earthquake wouldn't have done as much damage to my television.

HUH?

No worries.  I am not explaining what happened here.  Frankly, I can't.  Because essentially the audience was totally duped by everything that had happened in the first three and a half episodes.  Now I may have to go back and rewatch them just to connect the dots.

Fonzie's now on water skis and is jumping over a shark tank.

Or something like that.

The plot point, meant to be a shocker, was ultimately more of a confounder.  It makes a lot of the prior exposition open to review and scrutiny.  I don't need a television show to make me dizzy.  I already have the new health care regulations.

Still, the actors here are valiant and laudatory.  Nobody plays crazy like Clare Danes. You begin to wonder if she's as loony like this in real life.  Damian Lewis is perfect as Brody, especially when he's held captive in a dungeon which is most of the series.  And please notify the folks at Ripley's Believe It or Not.  Mandy Patinkin has actually made me like Mandy Patinkin.  Let's not forget the work of Morena Baccarin as Brody's wife.  See above references.

Oh, there are problems with the show.  The wild detours into plots you don't care about.  And ridiculous twists that remind you that Pam Ewing might be opening up shower doors all over again.  

Add to this the draggy subplot of Brody's young daughter Dana.  Now I know what the writers are attempting to do here.  They're showing how the exploits of Brody and his secret life are impacting two women in his life.  The CIA agent Carrie and his teenager at home.  So far in the series, she has sulked and pouted through every scene as if she's constantly swallowing her gum.  She's taken up with the son of the Vice President, been in a car crash, tried to commit suicide, and had sex with a fellow mental institution inmate on top of somebody else's clean laundry.  All of it is way too soapy and doesn't really fit into the high intrigue of defending this country against acts of terrorism.  Plus she's not nearly as fun to watch naked as her mother.

So, yes, "Homeland" is still on my DVR.  I will watch it religiously every week.  And wonder just how quickly the show went off the rails.

If you'll excuse me, I have to rewatch Episode #2 again.  Something's still not making sense.

Dinner last night:  Pork tenderloin, rice, and salad.   

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Morning Video Laugh - October 28, 2013

Just in time for Halloween.   There are no words to describe this.

Dinner last night:  Assorted Chinese dishes at Panda Inn.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - October 27, 1986

I remember it all like it was yesterday.   I wish it still was.

Twenty-seven years ago today.

I sat at my Manhattan office desk.   The company I worked for was going through some renovations.  My office was the size of a nice bedroom walk-in closet.  You'd love one of these spaces to store your shoes.  To get some work done?  Not so much.  

But, on this Monday morning, I didn't care.

The weather outside was schmutzy.  That's a word my mother used to describe an annoying mist of a rain.  It was the end of October but not as chilly a rain as you would expect.  It was borderline humid.

But, on this Monday morning, I didn't care.

The day before had featured a deluge of precipitation.  The kind where a short walk from your car practically submerged you up to your knees.   I know.  I had been out in it.  Walking from my car to an Eastchester pub with my good friends Bob and Ellen and my high school best friend Danny.  We had gone there to eat because we were all supposed to be elsewhere.

At Shea Stadium.

For the seventh game of the 1986 World Series.

So, the deciding contest was reset for Monday night after a monsoon created Lake Shea on the shores of Flushing Meadow Bay.   And it's all I could think about that Monday morning.

The New York Mets had stormed their way through the season.  But the postseason had proved challenging for my guys.  It took almost two days to complete their winning the National League pennant one Wednesday afternoon in Houston.  And, at death's door about a dozen times during Game Six of the World Series the past Saturday night/Sunday morning, the Mets had staved off historical asterisks to go for it all in the seventh game.  

If you're a baseball fan, you don't need to hear all about Game Six again.  Or do you?

"Little roller behind the bag.  It gets by Buckner..."

And now we were here.  Game 7.  It should have been Sunday night.  It was now going to be Monday night.  Whatever.  The time was now.

And, for the first time ever, I was going to be in a baseball park for a pivotal Game 7 of a World Series.  One winner.  One loser.   And my team was still in the hunt.  

I thought about the 1969 New York Mets.  World Champions against the Baltimore Orioles.  I wrote several weeks about the ticket snafu attached to my missing this miraculous moment.  My father and a ticket application that may or may not have arrived in the mail.  

Well, that was then and this was now.  In 1986, I was determined to miss nothing.  This year, I would go to not only the Mets home games in the World Series, but one up at dumpy Fenway Park as well.  I had been there for the roller coaster ride of Game 6 and Mookie Wilson's dash up the first base line.  The swing between extreme emotions that most human bodies should not have to endure.   The depths of despair and the heights of exhilaration.  Both achieved in the space of ten minutes.

There would be one more chance for a lasting memory in 1986.

I left work early that day to get home and get my car for the ride to Shea.   During that October, I was always leaving early for some baseball-related function.  Nobody gave it a second thought.  I remember little of the trip to Shea.  Oh, I probably picked up my friends.  I likely cut off a driver or two trying to navigate down the Shea exit ramp as quickly as possible.  And I recall very little of the downtime before the game.  Danny and I were in the upper deck.  First base side.  Up a long set of stairs that would destroy my knees in 2013.  Bob and his wife Ellen were about a section or two away. 

The Red Sox got out to an early lead against Met starter Ron Darling.  But, the way the Mets had come back on Saturday night, Boston could have scored 100 runs in the third inning and the game would still not be over.

Due to Darling's early exit, the Mets were forced to use another starter, Sid Fernandez, in relief.  He was masterful in stopping the bleeding.  There was a guy several rows ahead of us who coached Sid with every pitch.  It was as if the dude was in the middle of sex.

"Yes, Sid, do it."

"Come on, Sid, you're the best.  Make it happen."

"Sid, bring it to me, baby, bring it to me."

It's a wonder that all the fans in my section didn't have orgasms.  I turned to Danny and asked if we should smoke after Sid.

The Mets would eventually tie the game.  Ray Knight would ultimately break the tie with a solo homerun that literally had Shea Stadium testing the limits of the New York City building code.  

Before we knew it, we had been standing as a group for three innings.  It was the top of the ninth.  Met closer Jesse Orosco was on the mound and we could taste it.  Somebody got way too excited and hurled a smoke bomb into left field.  Mookie Wilson walked through the purple haze as if he was the lone survivor in a Civil War battle.  It delayed the euphoria but only briefly.

Upstairs in our seats that also doubled as a flight approach to LaGuardia Airport, lifetime Met fans Len and Danny had their arms around each other.  So did maybe 55,000 other fans.   And Danny uttered perhaps the most salient comment I have ever heard at a baseball stadium.

"We need to really enjoy.   Because something like this doesn't happen a lot."

At some point, there was a final strike.  And this happened...
And it was followed by this...
The lights of the scoreboard flickered on and off.  Diamondvision kept flashing "We Win.  We Win."  New York City Mounted Police galloped onto the field from out of nowhere.  They were making sure that the team could celebrate without the assistance of a swarm of fans.  And it all felt weird.  And wonderful.

Up in the literal and figurative stratosphere, four Met fans hugged in the walkway under the stands.  Danny was right.  This moment doesn't happen a lot.  For me, it hasn't happened since.  

I wonder if 1986 had happened in 2013.  There would be lots of ways to relive the event.  Cell phone cameras and videos.  You Tube.  Every fan there capturing the moment in his or her own way.  

Back then, all we had was our memory drawers.  Sure, we can relive it by watching game highlights on the Internet or DVDs.  

But being there?  With or without credit card...priceless.

Yep, that was twenty-seven years ago today.

Dinner last night:  Turkey french dip sandwich at the Arclight.




  





Saturday, October 26, 2013

Classic TV Theme of the Month - October 2013

Well, it is Halloween this week.

Dinner last night:  Bacon and cheddar omelet.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Awkward Leaves Come Falling Down....

Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf's...head?
And, yet, the only thing I can focus on in this snapshot is the tube socks.
You're not pretty enough, so you have to stand over there.
Anybody got a magnet?
Can't read the inscription on the cake?  Look a little closer.
Rabbit season?  Duck season?  No, it's baby season.
Ugly tattoos.  Even uglier babies.
Me, too.  
Now that's what I call a wedding party.
Lucky her.  She got to meet Rick Springfield.  And lawyers were later to use this photo when he applied for a restraining order.
At least it's a career path.
Oh, here we go again with that "who's your real father" plotline.

Dinner last night:  Leftover ziti and meatballs.



 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Trapped....In More Ways Than One

When you see a movie like "Prisoners," I suppose you could leave the theater with a lot of thoughts.  About the acting.  The plot.  The setting.

Me?  I started to wonder about whether there was just one editing machine in Hollywood that all the major studios had to take turns using it.  How else can you explain the exceedingly long films being unspooled at multiplexes all over America?  It's now officially an epidemic with the release of "Prisoners."  One more movie that chugs along to a more than two-and-a-half-hour length.  

With a tale that could have been easily told in a crisp ninety minutes.   Or one two-part episode of your favorite CSI TV concoction.

Indeed, I was immediately gripped by this story.  Two families in a middle class Pennsylvania get together at one of their homes to celebrate Thanksgiving on a dark and dank day.  From the outside, these are your typical American working class stiffs.  Well, after the pumpkin pie has been eaten, the parents notice that their two youngest daughters are nowhere to be found.  Disappearing without a trace.  The only clue?  A broken-down RV that had been parked down the block but is now mysteriously gone.

Well, these folks don't wait the 24 hours and immediately call in the local coppers, led by Jake Gyllenhaal.  The police go through the standard search-and-find playbook but uncover nothing, much to the disdain of the parents.  One of the dads, played with teeth-gnashing and headache-provoking histrionics by Hugh Jackman, doesn't like the approach and takes matters into his own hands.  Jackman spends most of the movie screaming or pounding his fists onto some desk, as if he was just told that the Tonys have made Neil Patrick Harris their permanent host.  Every scene he plays is utterly exhausting.  For both the actor and the audience.

So, as you would expect, there are lots of scuffles between irate parents and by-the-book police officers.  There are positive leads.  There are dead ends.  There are suspects that remain suspicious.  There are suspects that are complete red herrings.  It is a virtual taffy pull of emotions.  But, at around the ninety minute mark, you start looking at your watch and hoping that they find these two girls sooner than later.  And you stop caring whether they're dead or alive.  

So who really is being held hostage here?  The kids?  Or us?

"Prisoners" features an all-star cast.  Besides Jackman and Gyllenhaal, there's Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, and Terrence Howard.  With all that high-priced talent, you know that each of them will have at least one scene where they are so overwrought that the Academy simply can't overlook for a nomination.  And each of them does.  The film is so jammed pack with these emotional renderings that it looks like a sizzle reel for the Actor's Studio.  As a result, the movie drags on longer and longer.  If we're headed down this road, gang, the least the filmmakers could do was give us a chariot race to break up the monotony.

Then suddenly, at the two hour mark, there is a major, major development that really sinks the audience into complete despair.  It happens without explanation or logic.  You never get any background on this thing that just occurred.  And then you realize that this bizarre and inexplicable plot turn has just one purpose.   To stretch another half-hour out of a saga that better filmmakers would have wrapped up by now.

If you see "Prisoners," you will get the look, feel, and grit of "Mystic River."  It is very, very similar.  And, while that movie was over two hours as well, it never felt long.  Perhaps because you were in the competent directorial hands of Clint Eastwood.  "Prisoners" director Denis Villeneuve is no comparison here and, frankly, with a name like that, he's better suited being a goalie for the New York Rangers.

At the end of "Prisoners," you are thoroughly relieved.  Or, at least will be.  As soon as you get to the bathroom and let that large Diet Coke escape your bladder.  Indeed, there is a bit to like in this movie.  And there would have been a lot more if somebody had decided to be innovative and actually edit a movie.

"Prisoners" tells the story of some common folks trapped in a horrific situation.  And shown to people who are suffering the exact same fate.  After playing fifteen bucks to do so.

LEN'S RATING:  Two and a half stars.

Dinner last night:  Beef pot pie.







Wednesday, October 23, 2013

This Date in History - October 23

I don't usually post birthday greetings of folks who have passed on, but today is Johnny Carson's birth date from 1925.  And, well, it is Johnny Carson....

42 BC:  DURING THE ROMAN REPUBLICAN CIVIL WARS, MARC ANTONY AND OCTAVIAN DECISIVELY DEFEAT BRUTUS' ARMY.  BRUTUS COMMITS SUICIDE.

Et tu, coward?

425:  VALENTINIAN III IS ELEVATED AS ROMAN EMPEROR AT THE AGE OF 6.

Ready to declare war?  Nah, the emperor is playing with his toy soldiers.

1157:  THE BATTLE OF GRATHE HEATH ENDS THE CIVIL WAR IN DENMARK.  KING SWEYN III IS KILLED AND VALDEMAR I RESTORES THE COUNTRY.

Valdemar?  Not that Harry Potter character, right?

1641:  OUTBREAK OF THE IRISH REBELLION.

It started during a happy hour at O'Reilly's Pub.

1694:  BRITISH/AMERICAN COLONIAL FORCES, LED BY SIR WILLIAM PHIPPS, FAIL TO SEIZE QUEBEC FROM THE FRENCH.

How inept are you if you lose to the freakin' French?

1707:  THE FIRST PARLIAMENT OF GREAT BRITAIN MEETS.

All of them there were smoking Marlboros.

1850:  THE FIRST NATIONAL WOMEN'S RIGHTS CONVENTION BEGINS IN WORCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS.

Alice Kramden presiding.

1861:  US PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN SUSPENDS THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS IN WASHINGTON DC FOR ALL MILITARY-RELATED CASES.

Habeas Corpus later pitched out of the bullpen for the Baltimore Orioles.

1893:  ACTOR GUMMO MARX IS BORN.

The one you know nothing about.

1905:  SWIMMER GERTRUDE EDERLE IS BORN.  

If the baby was born breach, would that have been her first official flip turn?

1906:  ALBERTO SANTOS-DUMONT FILES AN AIRPLANE IN THE FIRST HEAVIER-THAN-AIR FLIGHT IN EUROPE AT PARIS, FRANCE.

Well, after all, France is full of hot air.

1915:  IN NEW YORK CITY, 33,000 WOMEN MARCH ON FIFTH AVENUE TO ADVOCATE THEIR RIGHT TO VOTE.

Conveniently close to Bergdorf Goodman.

1917:  LENIN CALLS FOR THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION.

So do we.  Every year when we have to listen to Joe Buck do the World Series on FOX.

1923:  ACTOR FRANK SUTTON IS BORN.

Pyle!!!!

1925:  TV HOST JOHNNY CARSON IS BORN.

And, boy, were we ever lucky that he was.

1929:  AFTER A STEADY DECLINE IN STOCK MARKET PRICES SINCE A PEAK IN SEPTEMBER, THE NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE BEGINS TO SHOW SIGNS OF PANIC.

Wait a few days.  It gets a lot worse.

1929:  THE FIRST NORTH AMERICAN TRANSCONTINENTAL AIR SERVICE BEGINS BETWEEN NEW YORK AND LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA.

A trip I've probably made over 150 times.

1931:  BASEBALL STAR/POLITICIAN JIM BUNNING IS BORN.

The very first baseball perfect game I ever knew about.

1935:  DUTCH SCHULTZ AND SEVERAL OTHER GANGSTERS ARE FATALLY SHOT IN A NEWARK, NEW JERSEY SALOON.  

Where was Junior Soprano that night?

1942:  AUTHOR MICHAEL CRICHTON IS BORN.

And so, too, is Jurassic Park.

1942:  ALL 12 PASSENGERS AND CREW ABOARD AN AMERICAN AIRLINER ARE KILLED WHEN STRUCK BY A US BOMBER NEAR PALM SPRINGS.

One of the casualties is Ralph Rainger who wrote "Thanks for the Memory" and "Love in Bloom."  The theme songs for Bob Hope and Jack Benny.

1946:  THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONVENES FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FLUSHING, NEW YORK.

Where?  In what would be the Shea Stadium parking lot??

1950:  ENTERTAINER AL JOLSON DIES.

Toot toot Tootsie, good bye.

1957:  DESIGNER CHRISTIAN DIOR DIES.

Finally out of style.

1958:  THE SMURFS APPEAR FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A FRENCH MAGAZINES.

Les Smurfs to you.

1959:  WRITER/COMEDIAN AL YANKOVIC IS BORN.

Weird to you.  And me.

1965:  THE UNITED STATES, IN CONJUNCTION WITH SOUTH VIETNAMESE FORCES, LAUNCHES A NEW MILITARY OPERATION AGAINST THE NORTH IN PLEIKU.

Pleiku?  Gesundheit.

1973:  US PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON AGREES TO TURN OVER AUDIO TAPES OF HIS OVAL OFFICE CONVERSATIONS RELATED TO WATERGATE.

Hey, part of this is missing!

1983:  JOURNALIST JESSICA SAVITCH DIES.

Now that's a lead story.

1993:  A PROVISIONAL IRA BOMB PREMATURELY DETONATES IN BELFAST, KILLING THE BOMBER AND NINE CIVILIANS.  

Serves him right.

1998:  ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU AND PALESTINIAN CHAIRMAN YASSER ARAFAT REACH A LAND FOR PEACE AGREEMENT.

Every time I hear about one of these Mideast peace agreements, I laugh.

2002:  SONGWRITER ADOLPH GREEN DIES.

Mr. Phyllis Newman.

2004:  OPERA SINGER ROBERT MERRILL DIES.

O, say, he finally stopped.

Dinner last night:  Ribeye steak and salad.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wait Till........Well, You Know the Rest

They used to say it in Brooklyn.   They say it now in Los Angeles.

If you're a baseball fan, the end of any season has a bit of a mourning process.  Indeed, with as many teams there are in the major leagues, it is really a survival contest.  How long can you last?  How deep can you play into October?  And, if the players go on strike for a few weeks every so often, how deep can you play into November?

On the last day of the regular season, a lot of teams and fans drop out all at once.  I know that sensation quite well.   I was a New York Mets for several decades.  Meanwhile, nowadays, there are then eight teams still standing.  A week later, there are only four teams still hanging around.  A week later, only two and they play each other in the World Series.  Essentially, the first baseball team to win 11 more games in the postseason is the World Champion.

And so it goes.  And off we all traipse into the winter.  

This year, the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the final four.  I was at a baseball game on Wednesday, October 16, which just happened to be the anniversary of the date when the New York Mets won the 1969 World Series.   Lots of fans would love to be still able to attend a baseball game in mid-October.  I was lucky this year.  This was a great year to root for the Dodgers. 

And, indeed, I was already thinking ahead to the delicious symmetry of 2013 World Series games being held in the National League park on the nights of Saturday, October 26 and Sunday, October 27.   I, too, was at a baseball stadium on those dates in 1986 when the Mets won the World Series.  Okay, I'm cheating on October 26.  Game 6 actually started the night before on October 25.  But it ended in the wee hours of October 26 when Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson joined hands for their ride into baseball history.

But there will be no more magic for me this year.  At least at Chavez Ravine.  The stove will be getting hot as it does every winter.  You'll think about the future and next April when, at one single moment, everybody will be tied for both first and last place.  I'll look forward to new memories because they are always being manufactured when you're a baseball fan.

All of my usual sensations and feelings will accompany this lonely winter as you await the spring.  This year, however, I am wondering if I have messed with the baseball gods just a little.  An unwitting break in tradition that I hope doesn't disrupt the universe.

As a long time seat holder with both the New York Mets and now the Los Angeles Dodgers, I have had a bizarre little ritual at the end of the last game I will attend.  I usually turn my back to the field and, just before leaving, I tap the back of my seat three times.  Sort of a pat on the back for this furniture serving me so well for yet another baseball season.  

I remember back to my Saturdays at Shea Stadium.  Even my seat buddy and high school best friend Danny would do the same.  Of course, with the annual mess at Flushing Meadows, you always knew that the last game was indeed the last game.  And, in the happenstance they did make the postseason, I never wound up in my own seats anyway.

I transferred this little love tap to Dodger Stadium as well.  Except, this year, I screwed up.  

At the end of the League Championship Game #5 last Wednesday, I simply left the ballpark.  I actually thought about this when I was out in the parking lot.  I had forgotten to say goodbye to my seats.

Of course, this bothers me even more now.  And I wonder if this tradition, now disrupted, will have dire consequences.

Or maybe it's just the misstep that's needed to alter the Earth's axis.  If the Dodgers indeed win the World Series, I might have contributed to the solution.

Or created a bigger problem.  Yes, gang, this is what a fan does in the winter when there's no baseball every night.

Dinner last night:  Ziti and meatballs.



Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Morning Video Laugh - October 21, 2013

From the marvelous "League of Their Own."  No crying please.


 Dinner last night:  Roast beef dinner.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - The Young Sports Announcer

This is a great vintage shot of the legendary Vin Scully.  85 years young and planning to be the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers next season.  That would be his 65th year with the club.

This is the guy that taught baseball to Southern California when the Dodgers moved there in 1958.  The city would have been lost without Vin.

As for me 3000 miles away, I didn't know who he was.  Oh, sure, I probably knew he worked for the Dodgers.  But the only time I actually saw the guy was whenever he would host a TV game show.

Nope, my radio and TV links to baseball were the Mets broadcast crew.  Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy.
I probably spent more time listening to them than I did my own parents.  They were my connection to an obsession.  The Mets.  And, as I lived my young life, I often emulated them.  I wanted to be an announcer for this team.  How cool would that be?  Traveling with the team.  Seeing games every day for nothing.  No, actually getting paid to watch games.  At Shea Stadium where I wanted to move my bed.

When you're a kid and all baseball all the time, you start to sound like your team's announcers.   In my Yankee-centric neighborhood which was also mostly Italian, it was a natural to idolize Phil Rizzuto and his "Holy Cow."  Of course, I was a loner when it came to my guys in the broadcast booth.  So I had to repeat their speech patterns in my own way.

In those crazy baseball games I played all by myself in the backyard. 

In our yard, there was a brick staircase into my grandmother's kitchen.  We called it "the stoop."  The bricks served as my backstop against which I would throw my rubberball for strikes.  In my little world, there was much more to this all than the game I was concocting in my mind.  Nope, I needed all the pomp and circumstance that I would see at Shea Stadium.

First, in my best ten-year-old public address announcer's voice, I would announce the line-ups.  First, the opposition, then the Mets.  This would be following by my singing of "Meet the Mets."  It took me ten minutes to get through all this nonsense.

Once the game began, I'd throw my pitches.  One after another.  If I missed the brick stoop, I'd hit the house.  Quickly, a kitchen curtain would part and Grandma would peek outside.

All the while, there is my expert play-by-play.  Switching over from Lindsey Nelson's voice to Bob Murphy's traditional call for a "happy recap."

"Galen Cisco on the mound with two strikes to Willie Mays.  Ball one."

Another hit to the house.

"Ball two."

One right into my grandmother's rose garden.

"Ball three."

The self-involvement was so intense that I was exhausted quite quickly.  No game lasted more than two innings.  I couldn't talk anymore.  Or, sometimes, my game was cancelled due to...Grandma.  She had enough of my endless play-by-play rambling.  The kitchen window would open.

"Shaddap already."

Not a fan of any baseball announcer.

While pursuing traditional career paths throughout high school, I still fantasized a bit about being a baseball announcer.  I would often take a tape recorder into the living room when a Met game was on.  I turn down the sound and offer my own play-by-play.  I would yammer on incessantly.  After three innings or so, one of my parents was done.

"Shaddap already."

I couldn't win.

In high school, I became friends with another kid who had similar aspirations but was really working at his talent.  Obviously, nobody had told him to shut up.  He'd do pretend play-by-play for hockey games and was quite proficient at it.  He'd ultimately make a decent career out of it all.  But, back in those still-learning days, he wanted to go to the college where sports announcers, including Vin Scully, were born.

Fordham University and its WFUV-FM.  

It wasn't the only reason I opted to enroll there.  But the college radio station was an attraction, no doubt about it.  Of course, I followed my friend into those hallowed halls as a freshman.  And was startled to find there was a lot of me around.  Would-be sports announcers from all over the metropolitan area.   And, crap, they were all better at it than I was.

As inferior as I felt, most of them became good friends of mine.  

And I joined the WFUV Sports Department, which did the radio broadcasts for all the Fordham team games.  But, as I looked around and listened to them all, I knew I was sunk.  

I had left all my good work in the backyard with Grandma's stoop.

There was a lot involved in doing game broadcasts and not all of it was on the air.  Kids produced.  Kids handled half time interviews.  And, when there were Fordham football games, kids did the spotting.  That was my very first assignment.

What the hell is a spotter?

Well, you watch the plays as they unfold and then point to a roster sheet and let the announcer know who made the run and who made the tackle.

I was horrible at it.  The wrong guy always had the ball and was ultimately tackled by another wrong guy.  

I already had one foot out the press box door.  The good news is that I must have had a fun personality because the sports guys/my friends kept me around for comic relief.

In an interesting sidelight, hanging around the Fordham/WFUV broadcast booth did provide me with an amusing brush with greatness.  It was the Saturday that the late and famed Yankee public address announcer Bob Sheppard's path crossed directly with mine. 
 
Along with his duties at the Stadium for Yankee and Giant football games, Bob Sheppard was apparently a renowned speech professor. And one of his gigs was at St. John's University. This then morphed into Sheppard doing the PA at that school's football games. Okay, we're not talking the Big Ten here, folks. But, there he was. A booming voice covering every inch of a pretty chintzy football field.

Well, as luck would have it, Fordham was playing St. John's one crisp October Saturday afternoon. Perhaps 150 people were in attendance. Part of that throng was the WFUV-FM broadcast crew covering the game for Fordham. As I mentioned  earlier, my good humor always allowed to go along for the ride.  With a rather spotty career as a spotter, my entire purpose at this football game was to stand quietly and out-of-the-way in the back of the tiny press box. 

In the booth next to us sat Bob Sheppard calling the results of each football play.

Now, there was a kid by the name of Steve on the Fordham Ram football team with a very long and convoluted Polish last name. The good news is that this running back didn't get into the game very often. But, when he did, our WFUV announcers got his last name dead-on. Why? Because I was an insider. 

Steve and I had been in French together the year before and were even study partners, so we were "class friends." More importantly, it made me a complete and thorough expert in the pronunciation of his last name which I dutifully shared with my broadcast cohorts. Hell, I had to bring something to the party.

Around the fourth quarter that day, my language lesson buddy gets into the game at last. And even carries the ball for a couple of yards. Forward motion that is immediately reported over the loudspeaker by Mr. Sheppard.

"FORD-HAM FOUR YARD RUN BY STEVE........(totally butchered pronunciation of last name)."

Don't ask me why I did this. Perhaps I felt that I was the official spokesperson for this kid. But, that screw-up of his last name didn't sit well with me. I needed to step in. I yelled into Sheppard's booth the correct pronunciation. What the hell was I doing?

There was a ten second pause of eternal proportions. And then...

"COR-REC-TION. FORD-HAM FOUR YARD RUN BY STEVE...(totally correct pronunication of last name.)"

So there. 

If nothing else, my childhood work emulating Lindsey, Ralph, and Bob almost always involved the correct way to say the players' names.

Meanwhile, back at the microphone, I wasn't.  I was getting ready to call it a play-by-play career.  But, it was springtime and Fordham baseball season was upon us.   There were lots and lots of games to broadcast and the WFUV Sports Department worked hard to cover them all.  There were plenty of announcer spots open.  

I was picked to do the middle three innings of one game.

Audible scream.

I did my homework for this game as if my life depended upon it.  This was going to be the very earliest fulfillment of a bucket list item.  I studied the players and the stats.  I was going to be ready.

As I slid behind the play-by-play mike in the fourth inning, I thought about this momentous day in my life.  I was speechless.

Literally.

Mouth open.  No words came out.  And, in another attack of flop sweat, I suddenly discovered that I couldn't tell the difference between a fast ball and a curve ball.

It was the longest hour of my life.  As I finished up my stint, I believe you could hear the faint sound of applause all across the Bronx.

Yep, I was done.  At that very moment, I made the play-by-play call for myself.

"Well, maybe I should be a writer."

Years and years later, I got to be the charity participant for two straight years on post-game "Dodger Talk" when it was on KABC.  My first year's participation was so-so, but, by the next season, I was able to command a whole fifteen minute segment with the able assistance of the then-"Dodger Talk" guys Joe Block and Josh Suchon.  I made a contribution to the show and even sounded coherent.  

I also got to meet fellow WFUV-er Vin Scully and, of course, we talked about what we had in common. Later on, I was wandering around the press box during the seventh inning stretch when Vin walks around for his own limbering.  He saw me again and remembered my name.

"Hiya, Len."

Two hours later and I was still on the top of his mind.  But, then again, that's how you stay in one job for 65 years.  As for me, I moved on to other hopes and aspirations.

The one hold-over from my career as a sports announcer.  I still remember how to pronounce Fordham running back Steve's last name.

Dinner last night:  Pepperoni and sausage pizza at Victorio's in North Hollywood.

  

 
 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - October 2013

One of the goofiest baseball movies ever made.

Dinner last night:  Bratburger and vegetables.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Your Weekend Movie Guide for October 2013

Fifty years ago next month, the fabled Cinerama Dome in Hollywood opened its doors with the star-studded premiere of "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."  Crap.  Look at that guest list.  A wonderful night for burglars to go through Bel Air.  

Meanwhile, fifty years later this month, the multiplexes tell us that it's a bad, bad, bad, bad world.  Even though we've have an uptick of decent films this fall, you can always count on Hollywood to give us a lot of stickers.  Which always makes me mad, mad, mad, mad.

You know the drill, gang.  I'll sift through the Los Angeles Times movie pages and give you my knee-jerk gut reaction on the junk cluttering our eyeballs this weekend.

Well, there's always the DVD of "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."  But I doubt all those premiere guests would fit onto my sofa.  

Baggage Claim:  An urban chick flick.   Does it star Katherine Heigl in blackface?

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane:  A high school party on a secluded ranch.  Apparently, Mandy Lane wears a saddle.

Carrie: The remake of the old Brian DiPalma horror flick.  As if the first time wasn't bad enough.

Birth of the Living Dead:   A documentary on filmmaker George Romero who gave us the Living Dead franchise.  Not a fan of the latter, so I am unlikely to see the former.

Big Ass Spider:   A venomous creature terrorizes Los Angeles.  Probably held over from the Mayor Villaraigosa era.

12 Years a Slave:  One more reminder that there was once slavery in this country.   Some people won't be happy until I myself am in chains.

All is Lost:  Robert Redford is stranded alone at sea.  Well, that's one way to duck the paparazzi.

Enough Said:   Reviewed here recently.   With a cast like this, I was thoroughly disappointed.

Don Jon:  Joseph Gordon Levitt is a porno addict and trying to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend.  I like the actor a lot, but it's playing in about two theaters.  My guess is that it's got no buzz.

Captain Phillips:  Tom Hanks is captured by Somali pirates.  I wish.

Parkland:   The people that were on the periphery of the JFK assassination.  Reviewed here the other day.  A winner but practically gone from theaters in one week.  That's a shame.

 I Used to Be Darker:   The John Boehner story?

Rush:  Ron Howard's latest and I saw it.  Even though I know little about auto racing, it's an exhilerating story.  The focus on the lesser of the two drivers is fascinating.  

Romeo and Juliet:  The umpteenth rendition of this.  At some point, they will do with Miley Cyrus as one of the leads.  If she plays Romeo, I may have to check it out.

Machete Kills:  Another blood and gore effort from director Robert Rodriguez.  Charlie Sheen plays the President of the United States.  I saw that as an upgrade.

Insidious - Chapter 2:  I am officially two chapters behind.

Muscle Shoals:  A documentary about the Alabama town that became a music mecca.  I'll take their word for it.

Linsanity:  A documentary about pro basketball sensation Jeremy Lin.  I know just a little more about pro hoops than I do of auto racing, but this could draw my attention.

Ihe Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete:  Two kids have to fend for themselves in the Brooklyn projects.  So they tore down Ebbets Field for this???

I Will Follow You into the Dark:  A documentary about anybody who watches MSNBC regularly.

Kill Your Darlings:  A drama about Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac and other beatniks of the era.  I see Daniel Radcliffe's name in the cast, but no mention of Maynard G. Krebs.

2 Jacks:  A lecherous filmmaker and his son later follows in his footsteps.  2 Jacks?  Who are the Jills?

The Fifth Estate:  A drama about that Wikileaks screwball Julian Assange.  Talk about speedwriting a script.  Didn't this just happen about a year ago?

Escape Plan:  Action adventure with Sylvester Stallone and, back from the state capitol, Arnold.  I don't need an escape plan.  I'm not entering the theater in the first place.

God Loves Uganda:  I seriously doubt it.

Hellbenders 3D:  Not even considering Hellbenders 2D.

Gravity:  The big moneymaker right now and it is quite impressive to look at.  But the hokey dialogue makes me want to send the filmmakers to the moon.  

Lost for Words: A Marine in Hong Kong falls in love with a dancer.  Or simply wait for "The World of Suzie Wong" to show up on TCM.

I'm In Love with a Church Girl:  Ja Rule as a high powered drug trafficker.  So the title is what they call "ironic?"

Prisoners:  Reviewed here previously.  A way too long episode of "Without a Trace."  

Inequality for All:  A documentary on that nutso, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who won't be happy until all your money is in some poor slob's wallet.

Bridegroom:  A documentary about a gay man who lost his boyfriend from...oddly enough....writer/director Linda Bloodworth.  Perhaps it should be retitled "Designing Men."

A.C.O.D.:  That means "Adult Child of Divorce."  Just in case you thought you had missed a new illness in the headlines.

The Summit:  A documentary about some dead mountain climbers.  I'm guessing they never reached the title of this movie.

Paradise:  From Diablo Cody who did "Juno."  A young, conservative girl goes to Vegas to let go of her inhibitions.  And then you end up like the character in Cody's first movie.

The Paw Project:  Yet another documentary.  This one is about a vegetarian trying to ban the declawing of cats.   I can't think of a worse way to spend 90 minutes.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2:  My forecast is unlikely with a side of roasted potatoes.

Grace Unplugged:  Grace Trey is the ideal Christian teen who is also a phenomenal singer. But at the tender age of eighteen, after she gets the music break of a lifetime and is thrust into the "real world" - her faith is put to the test.  God help me.

Runner Runner:   When a poor college student who cracks an online poker game goes bust, he arranges a face-to-face with the man he thinks cheated him, a sly offshore entrepreneur.  It stars Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck, so consider this your first and only warning.

Sweetwater:   In the late 1800s, a fanatical religious leader, a renegade Sheriff, and a former prostitute collide in a blood triangle on the rugged plains of the New Mexico Territory.  Starring Ed Harris and January Jones in the remote chance that you're even considering this.

Escape from Tomorrow:  In a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents, an epic battle begins when an unemployed father's sanity is challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday in a famous amusement park.  Disney lawyers meeting on Skype as we speak.

Dinner last night:  Sauted chicken breast.