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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I went to the show Monday and saw Moneyball. It was a profitable experience as while sitting and waiting for the 11:00 showing at my neighborhood Harkin’s theater, technical problems occurred and the movie couldn’t be shone. Luckily, the theater had another screen where we could see the show at 1:00 so my wife and I packed up our Milk Duds, the free passes the management gave us for our inconvenience, and saw the show a little later.

That experience got us off on the right foot and it only got better with the showing of Moneyball. I think it is a fine film but I want to issue a couple of warnings to those who may not be familiar with what this is about: It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you; this is a baseball movie that stars Brad Pitt. Other than fine support from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill (Cyrus), you probably will not recognize any supporting players.

The film runs 2:06 which is normally about twenty minutes longer than I prefer but it is worth it. There are no romantic scenes. It is the story of a major league baseball general manager named Billy Beane (Pitt) and how he goes about building a team (The Oakland A’s) via computer printouts on player performances rather than offering outlandish contracts to superstars. Pitt and Hill are outstanding as Beane and his computer nerd buddy Peter Brand.
Moneyball , the book, by Michael Lewis was published in 2003. I enjoyed it and being a baseball fan I liked the way Beane was able to create a major league baseball team on a short budget via using aggregate statistics of two to three lower priced played to equal the output of expensive superstars. Pitt plays Beane to the hilt and is in basically every scene.

Unless your girlfriend or boyfriend is a baseball fan, this is not a “date movie.” Pitt is great looking as usual and if that is all you care about, Moneyball is for you. He laughs, he yells, he smiles, and he owns the movie: all the things people like to see him do. Hoffman is good as manager Art Howe who is in total disagreement with Beane 99% of the time.

In its first weekend, Moneyball took in $19.5 million, not bad for a specialized movie. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 94% on the tomatometer and the audience reaction is 92% liked it. IMDB gives it 8.3 out of 10. It has humor, drama, good acting and, of course, the still handsome Brad Pitt at age 47 and in terrific shape and luckily without Angelina in this one.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Classic Sayings

I love expressions and items from the past, especially the ones we see in classic films. These items were once applied universally to our lifestyles and the technology of the time but most have become a bit out of date. For those of a certain age, you will understand them. For the younger crowd, maybe not. Either way I’ll give a short explanation on each.

Asleep at the switch. I still hear this occasionally as a description of someone who is not giving full attention to something. However, it originated from the days when railroads had humans doing a lot of work that is automated now. If a guy didn’t change the tracks for a train going to Chicago and it wound up in Cleveland, he definitely was asleep at the switch.

That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee. Yes, there was a time when coffee was a nickel a cup. I saw a sign in a diner when I was a kid that read "cup of coffee, cigarette, and a toothpick: 7 cents." Throw a nickel on the counter at Starbucks and see what you get.

Came in over the transom. Does anyone remember transoms? They were windows above the door that many old hotels and houses had to allow for better ventilation. In some comedy movies with stars like The Three Stooges, you may see them going through the transom.

Put through the wringer. If someone was working too hard, they may have said they were “put through the wringer.” Many years ago the wringer was used to squeeze the water out of washed clothes before they were hung in the backyard to dry on the “line”. The “line” was a piece of rope the clothes were hung on to dry. The clothes were held on the line by “clothes’ pins”. Wringers were replaced long ago by the spin cycle in modern washing machines.

Best thing since sliced bread. Sliced bread was quite an invention at one time and anything that was also newly invented and convenient could be referred to being the best thing since sliced bread.

Film at 11. That was the tease for TV news in the days long before live reporting.

Beam me up Scotty. "Star Trek" technology from the 60s and an expression you may still hear occasionally.

Let’s get cranking. Popular in the days when cars had cranks to start them, no ignition switches and starters then.

Dial her up. This comes from the days when if you called a girl you liked; it would be on a rotary dial phone. No push buttons in those days. No caller ID or call waiting either.

Here is one of my favorites. In the great crime film from 1931, "The Public Enemy", James Cagney is a wise guy crook driving a new stick shift fancy roadster. The stick shift (or synchromesh transmission) was a new item at that time and when a valet at a fancy club goes to park Cagney’s car, he grinds the gears. Cagney shouts, "Hey, stupid, be careful! That thing’s got gears. That ain’t no Ford!"

Cagney was referring to the Model T Fords of that era which, as he said, didn’t have gears.

Here is a quiz: In the mid 1930’s, Warren William played Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer Perry Mason in a series of films. The Perry of that era was a lot different from Raymond Burr. William played him as a playboy drunk. In one film Perry is returning to his office after a night on the town when a friend describes him as “so drunk that as the elevator went up he began doing the rumba to the starter’s castanets.” Can you explain what his friend meant?

If you know the answer, you are a true classic movie expert.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Having a beer, seeing a film

Whether we call it suds, a cold one, a draw, a brewski, a dime draft or whatever, most of us will admit that there is not a better beverage than beer. It’s the world’s most highly consumed alcoholic beverage and third overall behind water and tea. That’s not bad considering that technically it is illegal in most places to drink the foamy stuff if you are under the age of 21.

I used to go to town on weekends with my buddies during my Air Force days to get sloshed in a hurry as there were two reasons we were there: Find a good bar with a band and meet girls. Our standard procedure was to eat a few 15 cent McDonald’s burgers, drink a few shots and follow them down with some beers. My standard order was three or four bottles of Schlitz and a couple shots of Southern Comfort. Needless to say, it created a nice buzz and occasionally I would actually meet girls if I didn’t throw up first. I still wonder how many times I danced the Twist and the Limbo in those days.

That’s enough about my immature past. Here is a question: What are your favorite beer movies? I have three: "Strange Brew" (1983), "Animal House" (1978), and "Revenge of the Nerds". (1984)

In "Strange Brew", those two beer guzzling clowns from SCTV, (Bob and Doug McKenzie) get mixed up with evil scientist Max von Sydow who is trying to take over the world by adding a chemical to beer. Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis star as the brothers. Anyone who doesn’t like this film is a true “hoser”.

What more can be said about "Animal House"? It’s one of the best gross out films ever made. How could it not be with John Belushi as the star? Did you ever hear of a toga party before this film? Did you ever believe that that much beer could be consumed?

"Revenge of the Nerds" is a good film because it shows how a bunch of misfit underdogs can beat out the self centered jerk “popular kids”. It’s worth the price of admission just to see Booger (Curtis Armstrong) win the belching contest with the loudest beer burp.

Here is some stuff relating to beer that you may not know but will know within the next minute. We’ve all used the terms “Rule of thumb”, “Wet your whistle”, and Mind your P’s and Q’s”. “Rule of thumb” comes from the days before the thermometer was invented to test the temperature of beer. The brew masters would simply dip their thumb in the foamy stuff to determine if it was too hot or cold to add the yeast. The yea or nay determination was called the “Rule of thumb”.

“Wet you whistle” comes from the days when English pub drinkers had a whistle on the rim of their mugs so all they had to do was blow the whistle to get a refill.

Also in the English pubs, the order sizes were pints and quarts. If the barkeep decided that someone was getting unruly from being snockered, he would tell them to “mind their P’s and Qs.”

That is today’s lesson so let’s review: You have learned some interesting information about beer and beer terminology, read about my three favorite beer movies, and heard probably more than you want to know about my immature 1960s lifestyle.

Since that is settled, let’s go have a cold one!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

NAT AND LENA; BORN TOO SOON

“Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark”………Nat “King” Cole, 1957.

When I was a kid, Nat “King” Cole was one of my favorite singers; especially before Rock and Roll took off in the 1950s. His string of hits earned him a 15 minute TV show on NBC in November of 1956, the same type of show as headliners like Perry Como (Chesterfield Supper Club) and Eddie Fisher (Coke Time) had.

Since a 15 minute format only allowed a couple songs to be sung, Nat’s show stayed on until July of 1957 when NBC decided to move it to Tuesdays and put it in a 30 minute format. This allowed Nat to have more guests and variety which at the time made perfect sense: Nat Cole had a string of popular songs, had a smooth and likable personality, and wasn’t the least bit offensive. Surely his show would be a hit.

Unfortunately, the show had problems from the start. Remember: I’m talking about 1957 and Nat Cole was the first black entertainer to headline a network musical variety program on national TV. Apparently, being a successful recording artist was not enough to draw a large audience on TV which meant that notable sponsors weren’t interested. During 1956-1957 he only averaged 19 percent of the viewing audience compared to 50 percent who were watching Robin Hood at the same time on CBS.

Nat "King" Cole, 1919-1965

NBC tried its best to keep the show on the air but by December of 1957, Nat canceled it before they did. Many great guest stars from the black community like Count Basie, Pearl Bailey, Billy Eckstein, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald had appeared for gratis or minimum fees. The same applied to white stars like Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Tony Martin and Peggy Lee. It was to no avail as the audience just wasn’t there.

Nat “King” Cole’s experience was a sad one but he wasn’t alone in his rejection. Black stars like Lena Horne faced similar treatment. Lena was a beautiful woman who was forced into “insert parts” in some major MGM films like “The Duchess of Idaho” (1950). By inserting her doing a number which had nothing to do with the story, MGM could edit her out of showings in the South because of her being considered black.

The beautiful Lena Horne

It was a different world then even though slavery had been abolished almost 100 years previously. That didn’t mean that black stars like Cole were singled out for failure as Frank Sinatra and Julie Andrews, among many other white stars, also had failed with variety shows. It also didn’t help him any.

Nat Cole died in 1965 at the age of 45 from lung cancer probably not knowing that Bill Cosby would soon break the color barrier on TV with a starring role in the “I Spy” series which ran from 1965 to 1968. The ice was broken and the late 60s became known as the golden age of blacks in television. That era saw more than two dozen shows with black actors starring as leading characters or in prominent leading supporting roles. In 1970 comedian Flip Wilson became the first black entertainer to have a successful variety show. It ran from 1970-1974.

Nat had a lot of success but also had the misfortune of being a talented black entertainer who was probably born about ten years too soon.