Posted in Baseball, Brain Bits, Movie Reviews, Observations

Brain Bits for Late August

While the weather is spectacular and the sunlight has already turned that lovely golden color marking late summer, I’m all a-whimper watching the Mets get decimated by the Detroit Tigers. It’s like the mini-spacemen encountering Agnes Moorhead in that classic “Twilight Zone” episode—“They’re an incredible race of giants!” What a line-up, and with pitching to burn. I’d love to see Detroit cop it all in the post-season.

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Beats Me, Too
Beats me, too

And while we’re on the subject of baseball, I don’t know how much Ryan Braun pays his attorneys and public relations people, but the mea culpa that was cranked out this week on his behalf sure says he isn’t getting value for his money.

Braun’s lengthy statement begs so many questions, it’s hard to know where to begin. If he took PEDs simply to recover from an injury, why didn’t he just man up, admit what he did and take a 50-game suspension two years ago? Instead, with manufactured outrage, he acted like a man with something major to hide, i.e,, long-term PED use. So he gambled that the specimen collector’s failure to return the sample in timely fashion would resonate with the arbitrator, and evidently hoped that once he beat the rap, everything would just go away. That’s either the magical thinking of a six year-old, or the game plan of an ace manipulator. Or acting like Richard Nixon.

And this section of his statement stuck out like a sore thumb: “I sincerely apologize to everybody involved in the arbitration process, including the collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr.” Son, if you really want to make amends, why didn’t that read: “….especially the collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr.” Given Braun’s past remarks about Laurenzi and his more recent accusations that the collector was both anti-Semitic and a Cubs fan, he should have done far more for the man whose reputation he so cynically impugned.

What a guy.

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“The crew is on instruments!”

HBO is showing “Airplane!” this month, which is not only cause for celebration but an excellent excuse to pop a beer, flake out in front of the tube and howl like a banshee.  For a comedy released in 1980, it holds up spectacularly—only one or two topical references (to Gerald Ford and a particular coffee commercial) may be lost on younger viewers.

But what a great, hysterical riot it still is. Even the sight of “Zero Hour,”its source material, on Turner Classic Movies, is enough to induce a major case of the giggles (This 1957 drama starring Dana Andrews, who plays a pilot named—yes—Ted Stryker, is so bad it’s already a parody).  “Airplane!” just never stops:

“Don’t call me Shirley!”

“Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

“Stewardess, I speak Jive”

“Auntie Em, it’s a twister!”

Not to mention the battling Girls Scouts, the X-rated seat-back signs, and what happens to the kid’s IV during the communal sing-along (best faces of all time). But I have to say the following is my favorite bit. It’s the departing slap from Leslie Nielsen that just seals the deal:

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01N/07/ARVE/G2594/068

For people of my generation and older, the passing of Julie Harris is particularly poignant. Although she gave wonderful performances in now-classic films like “East of Eden” and “The Haunting,” for us her name was synonymous with “theater.”

I would have loved to have seen her on stage during the 1950’s, when she starred in “The Member of the Wedding.” “I am a Camera,” “The Lark,” and “The Country Wife,” among others. Fortunately some of her best work appeared on television—“Little Moon of Alban,” “A Doll’s House,” “The Belle of Amherst.” Her unique voice, which served her so well, made her perfectly cast as Mary Chestnut, one of the narrators in Ken Burns’ documentary series “The Civil War.”

I only saw her on stage once, in the comedy “Forty Carats,” when I was a teenager. The wonderful Murray Hamilton played her ex-husband, and even though this was the epitome of lightweight comedy, these two pros gave a virtual seminar on stage craft. Her comic timing and his ability to get the best out of a thrown away line turned a really brainless play into a memorable event.

A true artist. May she rest in peace.

Posted in Baseball, Brain Bits, Observations, Television

Brain Bits for the End of July

It’s nearly 4:00 p.m. on Sunday as I write this, with aching back and Bar Keeper’s Friend Cleanser streaked over my nose. Why, you may ask? Well, three days ago I had new windows installed in my condo, and I’ve just spent several hours trying to determine what is just goop on the panes as opposed to what are cracks which would necessitate replacement sashes. Get this: out of eight new windows installed, three are damaged. And that’s just what I can see from the inside; the installer is returning next week to check the outside. Can’t anything ever be done right the first time?

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© The New Yorker
© The New Yorker

It’s been a great couple of weeks for lying and self-delusion, hasn’t it? First up was Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers star outfielder, who beat the steroid rap last year only to meekly cut a deal with Major League Baseball over the Biogenesis mess. Then there’s Eliot Spitzer, forced out as Governor of New York when his connoisseuership of call girls came to light, now running for Comptroller of New York City. And best of all, ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner, Mr. Show-Off himself, running for Mayor of New York, but once again caught displaying his assets on social media long after his resignation from office.

Let’s dissect these one by one, OK?

Braun irks me the most because I defended the guy last year when his 50-game suspension for failing a drug test was overturned on appeal. People were screaming that he got off on a technicality, but I stuck up for him. As an attorney I believe in due process, and it bothered me that so many thought Major League Baseball should get a pass for not following its own rules regarding the collection and transmission of test samples. Of course there’s a concept called “harmless error,” but Arbitrator Shyam Das rightly didn’t buy it (My guess is Braun’s sample wasn’t the first that MLB ever mishandled, and Das may have just been fed up with Big Boss arrogance).

But Braun’s behavior in the ensuing months caused more than a few eyebrows, including mine, to be raised. Verbally tarring and feathering Dino Laurenzi, the urine sample collector, for one. Playing the martyr for another. And then the inclusion of his name in Biogenesis’ records comes to light. With no way out, Braun cut himself what seems to be a sweet deal with MLB: a 65-game suspension which ends his 2013 season so that he can report to Spring Training all refreshed and ready to play ball. But of course the stain is now permanent, his credibility with his teammates, friends and fans is shot, and no matter how well he plays for the remainder of his career, he’ll never make Cooperstown. Some say he should be stripped of his 2011 Most Valuable Player Award. They may be right.

I wasn’t planning on wasting my time on Eliot Spitzer—after all, I live in New Jersey and he’s New York City’s headache—but one of his TV ads nearly caused me to blow a gasket. Get this for arrogance: after relating several examples of how he stuck up for the Little Guy, he says “Everybody should get a fair shake. I would hope that New York City voters would do the same for me.” Hello? You got your fair shake when you were elected Governor. The fact that you blew $80,000 on call girls and were forced to resign is on you, not the voters. But you know what? I bet he wins in a walk—dumbed-down electorates exist everywhere these days.

And last but not least, we have Anthony Weiner, former Congressman, who literally can not keep it in his pants. His candidacy for New York City Mayor is now a sarcastic joke. It’s hard to believe that after this week’s revelations there are still people who are saying his sex life is a private matter. You’ve got to be kidding. What privacy? This is a guy who didn’t engage in one affair that became public—he let it all hang out on social media with several women (the number of recipients he “may have” texted is increasing daily). Yet he entered the race, knowing damn well that any one of the women he solicited long after he resigned could come forward during the campaign, or worse, after his election to office. And let’s not forget the nature of his behavior, which is basically a high-tech version of the old perv in a raincoat flashing women on the street. What a great face for the City of New York. Today the news broke that his campaign manager has resigned. Let’s hope that Weiner follows his example and exits the race this week.

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The Fosters
The Fosters

Summer’s a great time to enjoy new TV shows and catch up on what you’ve missed during the previous months. So far I’ve seen two winners and one outright disappointment. Let’s dispose of the latter first: “Top of the Lake,” the Sundance Channel mini-series starring Elisabeth Moss as a police detective. Yes, she’s wonderful, the actors are great and the New Zealand scenery is breathtaking, BUT: (a) it should have been six episodes, not seven; (b) Ms. Moss’s character becomes unaccountably stupid as the series progresses (c) there’s a screamingly large plot-hole in the mystery and (d) you’d have to be unconscious not to get who the bad guy is, which I absolutely hate. It’s hard to believe this was Jane Campion’s creation. Spend your time elsewhere.

The two winners are “Orange is the New Black,” the Netflix series which is almost as good as the raves it’s getting (Taylor Schilling, as New Prisoner Piper Chapman, is superb), and surprisingly, “The Fosters,” which has its season-ender tomorrow night on the ABC Family Channel.  This one’s gotten some press because it involves a lesbian couple whose family includes adopted and foster children. Its appeal, aside from some excellent acting by adults and kids alike, lies in being so refreshingly free of cliché and After-School Special preaching. Yes, it’s got heart, but there’s a brain to go with it. Here’s hoping “The Fosters” get to stick around for another season.