Sad News from Temple Sinai Pittsburgh

Posted in Info, Pittsburgh with tags on October 19, 2016 by ThommyMac

It was with numbing horror I read this in my emails:

Dear Friends,

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I am writing to let you know that Rabbi Gibson’s father, Larry Gibson, passed away last night, as a result of injuries he sustained when he was struck by a car earlier this week.  On behalf of the congregation and staff, we extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Gibson family.  Rabbi Gibson’s parents visited Pittsburgh and attended our services on many occasions over the years; I’m sure we all feel we know Larry Gibson from the stories that are a regular feature of Rabbi Gibson’s sermons. 

Naturally, we want to comfort Rabbi Gibson as a community, as he has comforted so many of us individually. 

As a community, we mourn the passing of Larry Gibson

Father of Rabbi James A. (Barbara) Gibson

Grandfather of Micah (Catherine) Gibson, Avi and David Gibson

Great-grandfather of Noa

For those who would like to make a donation in Larry Gibson’s memory, donations may be made to Temple Sinai or the Gibson Education Fund at Temple Israel, Minneapolis.

Our deepest condolences to the entire Gibson family.

Sincerely,

Nancy E. Gale

President, Temple Sinai

 

Rabbi Gibson has been a HUGE influence in my road to becoming a truly practicing and contributing adult in the Jewish Community. It’s been 3 decades since my own father passed away and it STILL can sneak up on me and reduce me to tears. I sincerely wish the Gibson family comfort in their time of grief.

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Movies I Almost Missed … Dark Planet 1997

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , on October 19, 2016 by ThommyMac

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The IMDB short descriptions is “Two sides, one known as the Alphas and the other the Rebels, struggle in a brutal war on Earth and in outer space… (99 mins.)”

Director: Albert Magnoli Stars: Paul Mercurio, Harley Jane Kozak, Michael York, Maria Ford

Tagline: There wasn’t one listed but the poster said “One Final Step For Mankind.”

Like so many of the gems covered here, I caught this on Netflix.  I could tell that most of this flick would take place on a spaceship. Well, it didn’t have the best budget BUT it had very good acting, and a good story. I also liked the World War VI angle. That gives so much leeway towards the technology. A couple dark ages and a theocracy or two could really limit things to day to day technology being 1950s with space flight or whatever. York is so underrated, no kidding. He needs a “Private Ryan” level role so he can bow out with an Oscar. For this flick he is very believable, as are the two chicks. The main character’s portrayal by solid acting is what makes this work. Indeed, the acting is how it crosses over from potentially MST3K fodder to a movie worth watching, especially SciFi fans. The rest of the cast goes from above average to very good. Definitely worth a watch. Sometimes sophomore actors supporting some masters gets everyone in character and then a clever director goes from there.  Another example of talent overcoming budget constraints.

Seven stars for Waterloo (1970) ? SEVEN?

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opinion with tags , , , , on October 17, 2016 by ThommyMac

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Tagline: One incredible afternoon Napoleon met Wellington . . . at Waterloo.

Waterloo 1971  Director: Sergey Bondarchuk

Starring Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, plus many others, and thousands of Soviet soldiers.

**shakes head in mixture of disbelief and sadness** Fan boys and shills inflating IMDB’s ratings system would be my guess. Then again, members of the TCM forum react to this film much like People magazine’s average coverage of JFK Jr. , so you got me. Now, if this were a very expensive comedy, Rod’s portrayal of Napoleon would be BRILLIANT. Rod Steiger, per usual, playing to the rafters should not be a surprise to anyone. His Napoleon? Think Bugs Bunny, hand on stomach while sporting Nappy’s infamous chapeau and you’re close to the delivery. To be fair, Bugs’ director probably explained the character a little better. Plus rumour has it that Bugs was infamously easy to work with. Chris Plummer, whose in more bombs than most folks realize, is not going to have some Yank out do him. Not quite as bad as say fellow Canadian big Billy S. but he does slap some glazing on. Him and Rod’s declarations on the battle field had me feeling like I broke the Kosher dietary law regarding ham. Using that clever bit of foreshadowing, the battle scenes are the main reasons to watch this.  Those scenes were incredible and would be well nigh impossible to create in this era of CGI cut n paste.

For friends who are not that big into 19th century European history, one of the most infamous bad calls using one’s cavalry occurred at Waterloo. Nappy thought he had Wellington on the ropes, mistaking him pulling back to tighten his line for THE retreat he was hoping for, so he sends out the Emperor’s reserves. I know this is a movie review but bear with me for a second. General de Brigade (Brigadier General if you ain’t already figured that out) Pierre Farine du Creux, of the 14th Cavalry Division was told to prepare his brigade, and six squadrons of the 5th and 10th Cuirassier Regiments, to charge the ridge in the center of Wellington’s position. His superior Charles, Count Lefebvre-Desnoettes gets wind of this and begins a urinating contest too complicated to get into right now. You’d probably have to be a fellow combat arms vet to get it, anyhow.  The bottom line is Boneyard’s cavalry were squandered in a move more like the Chicago stockyards than a battle.  That is all included in a combination of helicopter and dolly shots that have to be seen to be believed. I would give up many things to have seen this at the theatre with a new 70mm print.  The incredible amount of extras with a skill set are due to Dino De Laurentis’ always creative financing.

To get more dough and cut down costs Dino went to good ol’ Mosfilms. If you weren’t a teenager during the Cold War, that is most likely only gonna elicit a shrug. Mosfilms was the Soviet Union’s state owned and operated film industry. Your folks probably better remember it as the evil empire’s propaganda machine. Having a Russian mom, I grew up hiding that fact. Institutionalized racism against Russians in the guise of “Anti-Communism” was the order of the day for 40-some years. I could name some US propaganda flicks of my own but that’s beyond the scope here. Let’s just agree Dino going to Mosfilm with hat in hand was unique and VERY uhhhh ballsy at the time. That unlikely marriage led to the following end credit:

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Having watched this 3 more times to correct the review, it is definitely worth watching. The aforementioned battle scenes are inimitable and using the Red Army for extras gives it a depth and realism that would be close to impossible to film today.

“Waterloo” stirred up some deep nostalgia for me. The first time I watched it I was 12 and it was with my dearly departed Dad. A little black and white with aluminum foil attached to the rabbit ears. This was a noble, if doomed, attempt to overcome Jones & Laughlin’s steel mill. That mill was between us and WTAE Pittsburgh until my 1st year in the Army. Again, I can only dream of what it looked like in Panavision with a screen with the proper ratio. It also reminded me of the hours and hours of playing Stratego with one of my favourite persons on the planet, Mike Janesko. Goodness, we could spend an entire rainy day playing it.

Then again, the 2011 farce “No Strings Attached” got 6 stars so I really oughta chill on Waterloo getting 7. Like any old man, I just don’t deal with inflation too well.

But if 5 is middling, 7 ain’t too bad at all. On examination, 7 stars is fine.

-Thom MacIntyre

Movies I Almost Missed…

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opinion with tags , , , on October 4, 2016 by ThommyMac

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Let Us Prey (2014)

There are so many GEMS out there, for many reasons, I almost didn’t see. A fair chunk I had passed by because of who the “stars” were. As I mature in my movie enjoyment, I have quit "not seeing" movies because someone I consider a dud is in it. These entries come from a list I had created over at the inimitable IMDB.com. The list was getting long enough to where a movie’s numerical place doesn’t mean much of anything. Sometimes forced to watch it for social reasons, I have been surprised by all of the flicks I would like to cover. I want to give credit where credit is due. Not all of the films I want to cover are great but I feel ALL are worth watching. The short descriptions are courtesy of the aforementioned IMDB and are no doubt copyrighted. As you have probably guessed, the accompanying critique is courtesy of yours truly. I will try to post a new one weekly before or immediately after Shabbat. It will depend on the time Shuls starts and when I get to the synagogue. I have to revamp\re-write so as to never have any spoilers, even if the movie being discussed is 50 years old. If I ever do slip, write me at raran2099@outlook.com

IMDB says “Held in a remote police station, a mysterious stranger takes over the minds and souls of everyone inside.” (92 mins.) with the tagline “Darkness shall rise.”

Director: Brian O’Malley Stars: Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge

This is a very clever film, if a bit on the disturbing side. It has great dialogue, above average acting, and is definitely a movie worth the hour and a half it takes out of our finite time in this thing we call life. It shows how great writing, solid acting, and a talented crew can make the very most out of a budget. That is starting to be a theme with me, I think. It’s hard to discuss this one without giving anything away. OK, being a wannabe writer all my life, I ended up hanging out with the bohemian crowd most of my post-Army life. I don’t wanna sound like a politician but I do want to get a couple things out of the way. A HUGE chunk of the bohemian crowd is gay so it stands to reason a healthy of my friends is gay. You’ll notice I didn’t say “Gay friends” because a person’s sexuality is so off the radar with me but I don’t want to catch any heat for honest observations. The same goes for blacks. I grew up in a black part of Pittsburgh so a large percentage of my friends are black. Growing up that way didn’t make me talk like Justin Timberlake but it did open up this metal head to some awesome Motown as well as R&B stuff. Notice I didn’t say “African-American” because all my black friends HATE that term. OK, I just wanted to get that stuff out of the way early in what I hope turns out to be a series.

Guess what? There WAS a reason why I brought that up. I have to stress to any gay writers out there, realistic hetero pillow talk sounds NOTHING like what you read in Penthouse. I’m not into talking about sex with anyone but my partner but I imagine hetero pillow talk and gay pillow talk is very similar, depending on what’s your bag as a couple. So, friends who end up watching this, the scene with the couple having sex early in the flic actually does establish some stuff and is not indicative of the conversations ahead. Those all seemed very believable. Well, I found them believable given the circumstances. SO its pretty much a clever script and solid acting overcoming a tight budget. Good direction and cinematography as well. There are some really disturbing moment but these moments are earned, not just simple gross out like, I dunno, “Cannibal Holocaust” or something. So check it out. I watched it on Netflix. As thrilled as I am to get notes from readers, do not point out how few stars anything I review has garnered. Pieces of sh1t like “No Strings Attached” gets more stars than whatever? Pfft.

Yeah, baby, yeah!!!!

Posted in Current Events, Info, Opinion, Pittsburgh with tags , , on September 25, 2016 by ThommyMac

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It is no surprise to me BUT the ‘Burgh was mentioned in MSN travel today:

America’s Most Underrated Cities!

Most folks who know me know that deep down I love my hometown, especially now that I am back in the Squirrel Hill area. Absolutely EVERY ‘Out of Towner’ I have talked to is floored at how nice the city is, especially its appearance and people. I am pretty widely travelled and I can only think of 2 cities where strangers at the bus stop routinely strike up a conversation. Here (Pittsburgh, PA USA) and Nashville TN. A sunny day in London, UK can make it quite friendly but the ‘Burgh is friendly pretty near all the time. And the amazing or charming thing is how that little bit of conversation transcends. Gay folks, black folks, punk rockers, hipsters, wannabes, even city hicks will all talk a little waiting for the bus. THAT can’t be quantified but is pretty darn cool. It can even be life changing if not actually life saving. I’ll share an example that I have only shared with close friends until now. It is so hard to believe this happened over 30 years ago. I was 1/2 drunk and waiting for a bus. My dad had taken his own life 18 hours before and I was NUTS. An older black fellow in a housekeeping uniform saw the tears streaming down my face. They wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried to stop or hide them. He asked me what was wrong and I told him. He hugged me long and hard and tried to give me $20. I said no thanks and he said “let a brother buy a nephew a drink”. I took the 20 and bought a case. This was the mid 1980s and $20 could get you a case of Genny Cream and a couple packs of name brand smokes. He never did say his name but I never forgot that guy. Think that would happen in, ohhhh, say Philly? Asking someone the time there could lead to a fist fight. I can say it without apology, I love Pittsburgh, PA. Maybe that is what kept me around the 4 times I had a chance at a good gig far away.

-T

On Your Way to a Casino? Food For Thought

Posted in Gaming, Math, Opinion with tags , , , on September 25, 2016 by ThommyMac

Many think card games are easily beatable by card counting. This is reinforced by the movie “21” and the ‘fact’ that there are only 52 cards in a deck. Make no mistake, when the winning results are based solely on a total, the odds drop. When winning can be based on a total, a sequential order, or any combo therein, it gets complicated FAST.  The thing to really wrap your head around first is each card has a different value that is static. Even without rigging the game, the house always wins. Why? The key is each card being truly unique and  how many combinations that can be produced by 52 cards. That makes 52 (well, duh) factorial combinations. If you didn’t pay attention in your senior year of math, do a search on 52! (keeping the exclamation point) or just search on factorial properties. That will clear up any doubts that those 52 cards produce a truly unimaginable 80658175170943878571660636856403766975289505440883277824000000000000 possible combinations. Look or even stare at that number for a minute. If you use a hand cranked shuffler your Gramma used for Pokeno or diligently shuffle a deck a couple times, that combo in your hand has never come about before and probably never will again. That alternately comforts me or bums me out on depressing Sunday mornings thinking about the nature of life and if any Higher Power really cares about me or us. Then there is the old joke about the mathematician who gets financially clobbered in Vegas. Believing his supposedly superior intellect and post-grad degree would carry him over the odds, he takes his life savings out west and loses it all.  He cries to another tearful loser “Bernoulli’s principle should of carried the day!” in the parking lot of some casino. Having just gambled away his hardware store in Batavia, NY the man next to him is in no mood to listen to a guy in a tweed jacket with fuzzy elbow patches sing the blues. The man gives him a hard look and says “Mister, mob or not, them cards ain’t never heard of no Bernoulli!”

-T

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Yes, I ‘updated’ the joke a bit. Kids grow up so fast. I was born the year the original “Spy Who Came In From the Cold” was filmed and it looks like a hundred years ago. **sigh** Anyhow …

Movies I Almost Missed…

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , on September 17, 2016 by ThommyMac

 

There are so many GEMS out there, for many reasons, I almost didn’t see. A fair chunk I had passed by because of who the “stars” were. As I mature in my movie enjoyment, I have quit “not seeing” movies because someone I consider a dud is in it. These entries, hopefully the 1st of many, come from a list I had created over at the inimitable IMDB.com. The list is getting long enough to where a movie’s numerical place doesn’t mean much. Sometimes forced to watch it for social reasons, I have been surprised by some. Not often, but credit where due. Well, not all are great BUT ALL are worth watching, anyhow. Short descriptions are courtesy of the aforementioned IMDB and are no doubt copyrighted. As you have probably guessed, the accompanying critique is courtesy of yours truly. I will try to post a new one weekly before or immediately after Shabbat. It will depend on the time Shuls starts and when I get to the synagogue.

OK, the first one will be one I just finished watching the other day on Netflix. It is the sadly under rated

Robot Overlords (2014)

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IMDB says “Earth has been conquered by robots from a distant galaxy. Survivors are confined to their houses and must wear electronic implants, risking incineration by robot sentries if they venture outside.” With the tagline “Robots Never Lie”

Even though no one ever went broke underestimating the American public, the success of the “Transformers” franchise mystifies me. I mean, I understand spectacles and bombast in a big theater with a 40,000 watt sound system, but come on. What about writing, story, acting, talent? I hate to sound like some milquetoast from the Village or someone whining but I really sympathize. I mean, dismissing the silliness and bad science, Independence Day was a BLAST. Great cast, no winking at the camera, pacing, and the telling of the story was 1st rate. I use that example to show I am not turning my nose up at anything that is successful nor do I have the pretentious “I only watch indies, or foreign films” attitude. Geez, I don’t want to use up what few good sentences I come up with on one film. I mean, I wish I had talent like Stephen King or James Clavell to illustrate a mental image clearly but with wit.

So we start off with some exposition. Not a crawl that lasts as long as some bad Biblical epic, just a couple sentences to establish where we are. I’ve always been partial to the school of thought that the secret of a compelling science fiction or fantasy story is the characters, not the back story\universe it exists in. The back story\universe can be compelling and make it unique but it’s our connections with the characters that drive a story home. The dad freaking, the reaction of the powers that be, and what it does to the kid held the interest that had been grabbed by the premise.

It’s kind of obvious that the budget was balanced between Sir Kingsely, the hottie from the X-files who is aging exquisitely, and then the CGI. This turned out to be a wise decision that works all the way through the flick. As long as Gillian Anderson stays away from any plastic surgery (or sticks to minimal EXPENSIVE stuff) she’s going to age like the still jaw-dropping Jessica Lange. Some unsolicited advice from a very hot blooded guy in his early 50s, don’t try to compete with the teeny boppers. The only ones who find them sexy are their age group and creeps. I filed this flick under substance over style, I just wish I had learned more about the mediators.

OK, I will say it. I, for one, would like to welcome our robot overlords. -T