Monday, May 31, 2004

SPORTS: The butler did it!

A backup in basketball is often called the butler. Less so when a second-year player after enduring rookie requirements to go-fer just about anything a veteran wants. But still a butler.

Tonight the butler did in Minnesota. Ex-Raptor draft choice Kareem Rush (I understand the money-saving trade for Lindsay Hunter two years ago, but this rates as one of Glen Grunwald's bigger gaffes) teamed up with Shaq's backup buddy Slava Medvedenko to bury the T-Wolves.

A sequence late in the fourth quarter right after Shaq got away with what should have been a disqualifying push-off against Mark Madsen, saw Rush hit a three and then Medvendko drain a base-line jumper when challenged to an open shot. Those baskets broke Minnesota.

That said, this was a tired team that lost tonight when the Lakers were quite willing to lose. Kevin Garnett just plain lost it in the fourth, fouling offensively more than scoring. The CAFKAS played a whale of a game until the final dozen minutes and nobody else stepped up. In the end, Sam Cassell's absence decided the series in favour of the Lakers.

Oh well. Hard to totally disapprove of Shaq, Fisher and the MailMan having some success.

MOVIE/BOOKS: The Potter Kids

Had a chance to catch the taped ABC presentation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone from a couple of weeks back. The movie had inserts with interviews and sneak previews of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, coming out Friday. I'm looking forward to it with a bit of trepidation.

Early reports has Alphonso Cuaron's flick being a cracker effort, scarier and funnier at the same time. In other words, the big kid in me is looking forward to seeing it at least twice. One section of the Movie Mob will be going Sunday and the rest the following weekend, due to a Scouts/Brownies outing this weekend.

If I have any problem with Harry Potter being darker, it is that I've found the books darker with each volume and less fun with each book. I hesitate to think just how dark the series can get without it turning into a true horror series. I did NOT enjoy the fifth book, which I thought felt like an over-long Summer interlude with the Dursley's. It was just depressing.

Aside: If you want something as magical as Harry Potter but one that presents a consistent quality and joie de vivre, then try the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer. Their quality, all of them, sits somewhere between the first and second Potter books.

The other thing that's hard not to notice is that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are growing up. It's hard to see them playing Harry, Ron and Hermione through to the seventh book's cinematic translation. Already, Rupert's shot up to the point where it looks like Daniel is HIS sidekick, not the reverse.

I understand the fourth and fifth movies are being shot back to back a la The Lord of The Rings concept. It probably enables the producers to hang on to the three delightful youngsters. But would YOU take a bet on any of them looking young enough to play a teenager for the sixth movie at least three years from now?

Maybe movie magic will save them. In the meantime, not to worry. The concern is this weekend and the delights that await.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

SPORTS: Playoffs ... YESSSSSS!

Both playoff games tonight were entertaining, if decided long before their conclusion. And the right teams won.

Calgary has earned Canuck Hero status for being what every Canadian wants in a team: all for one, humble AND victorious!! I can see Calgary winning each odd game in this series. It still a long way from over, but it appears that the team with the control on what happens if it plays its game is the Flames. Good for them. Bad for the teams I had in the pool that fell by the wayside before the firestorm.

Is it possible Minnesota might come back against the Lakers? The first step, minus Sam Cassell, came tonight with a gritty effort from the Choke Artist Formerly Known as Sprewell and an MVP-proving performance by PF-PG Kevin Garnett. It was fabulous to watch. This whole series is at this point cuz Cassell's been out with the bad back. He swings 20 points with his performance. That's a plus ten when he's been feeling it and a minus ten when he's been feeling the back more than the urge.

While I'd like to see Shaq, the MailMan and Derek Fisher get some champagne to sip on, it bothers me no end when The Adulterer keeps finding ways to elevate basketball over jurisprudence. He's obviously talented and, on some levels, no more a lesser man than CAFKAS, but the adulation he gets for "sucking it up" causes some previously digested food to come up MY gorge. And wouldn't him losing to Garnett, Cassell and Fred Hoiberg make for a REAL feel-good story? Would in this quarter.

Friday, May 28, 2004

SPORTS: Alexis Rios is the Real Thing

It's a shame Alexis Rios made his major league debut Thursday night in those gawd-awful Toronto Blue Jay uniforms with the hideous logo, the muddy colours and the annoying numbers. But watching Rios play against Anaheim in his debut and against Texas tonight and it's easy to see what the hullabaloo is all about.

He looks about 18 and he surely must look seven tall to the pitchers. Think early Dave Winfield. A couple of hits and another two stung balls in seven plate appearances suggest he's not fearful of the major league pitching he's seen so far. And he covers a mile and a quarter in eye-blink speed, using that speed to catch a foul ball tonight that was boringly brilliant.

Rios will be headed back to Syracuse and a slightly disappointing International League season when Frank Catalanotto gets off the injured list. But two nights of watching him patrol an outfield that includes Vernon Wells and Reed Johnson in what might be the AL's best defensively, makes me wonder what Frank the Cat would get in trade value.

Watch for Alexis Rios at a ballpark near you. He's a star in the forming.

MOVIES: Shrek 2 [YES] Matchstick Men [YES]

Is there a critic anywhere in North America who's panned Shrek 2? If so, off with his or her head.

Being a grumpy old man who's oft-mistaken for an ogre, I'm tough to make laugh at the movie theatre. I've watched whole Jim Carrey movies without much more than a yawn. I actually laughed out loud three times at Shrek 2, a much better movie than its predecessor. It's better for adults AND children and the animation is jaw-dropping great! Amongst my laughs was a moment all dog lovers will hate to admit THEY laughed at too. I hate cats and love mutts, but seeing the little white shammy of a dog seeing Shrek coming its way ...

It's a five-star movie, as good as last year's treasure mine of enjoyment, Finding Nemo. Better I think.

Still, such saccharine does really require an antidote once you get home. Such a movie is Matchstick Men from last year that starred Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill and Sheila Kelley.

It came out around the same time as Lost in Translation, which kept getting deserved accolades the rest of the year. But for me, Matchstick Men was a better movie. It's a con man come-uppance movie which features a VERY strong perfomance from 23 year-old Lohman, playing the part of Cage's daughter. When it comes time for her final scenes, I guarantee you will really think she's got a future in show biz. Cage's tic-affected Roy is annoying to begin with but grows on you by the end. And by then, you feel a LOT of sympathy and maybe even some fondness for a man who's ongoing business is separating people from their hard-earned loot.

The last reel takes you to places you have to be a cynic in the extreme to think you were going. The last shot is predictable, but up until then, it's a great ride.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

TV: American Idol? Really?!?

Reality TV is a blight that should be stomped on. These 'scripted so badly we have to claim they are unscripted' shows are ALL about public humiliation and it's beneath the dignity of the viewer to watch MOST of the crap that is popular. Yet, I WILL watch the final ten or so episodes of American Idol despite the goodbye scene every Wednesday. I think of it as more of a talent show than a reality show.

Like most, I rated the final dozen and predicted a Fantasia victory over George Huff in the final, although it was easy to see LaToya was the singer in the group. But now that it's all over, we have a replay of last year.

Fantasia is Reuben shoved through the Looking Glass and turned opposite in each way. And she's going to have about the same success. In other words, I'll never hear from her again except in future American Idol versions. Her toned-down Eartha Kitt riff has no appeal for me whatsoever.

Diana is Clay redux. She needs a makeover ... or just maturation. Losing a little baby fat will be a natural result of getting older. I assume trainers are already lined up to turn her into the latest hard-bodied jail-bait belter. She has all of the moves down, she just needs some serious dedication to learning to dance. Of course, a stylist is a given. A bit of vocal coaching and she's the natural follow-up to Britney and Christina (at least the once-blonde Christina). My guess is that my niece Angela will be stomping for Diana's album 18 months from now.

Diana can start with Don't Cry Out Loud, the single best song sung during this year's competition.

SPORTS: Do the Raptors have a clue?

The Toronto Raptors are to the NBA Draft Lottery as current North American leaders are to good politicians. In other words, lousy participants.

Unless the Raptors have a Phil Jackson signing to announce a month from now (as President/GM/Coach), then I despair over what is going to be a missed chance. We all know Bernie Bickerstaff is anxious about trading the fourth overall pick, although most of the conversation is about moving up right now. The Raptors don't have ANYBODY to talk to Bernie about a trade. And if they did, would they have the guts to trade Vince Carter in a convoluted expansion draft deal that would net the Raptors much cap relief and another top eight draft pick?

Here's the way the dream plays out. The Bobcats draft Jalen Rose on Expansion Draft Day and then deal Rose AND the fourth overall pick right back to Toronto for Vince Carter and Lamond Murray. There's 40 per cent of the opening night Bobcat line-up and Charlotte gets a (relatively) local son who's still leading All-Star voting annually to put a face on the roster. Wouldn't that look better than waiting for some high-schooler to learn enough basketball to contribute three years hence?

What do the Raptors get? Picks four and eight could land a startling booty. The way the draft breaks right now, there's no guarantee that Dwight Howard goes any HIGHER than fourth, given the unlikely drafting of a young front-courter by either Chicago or the Clippers. Trades could happen (and will happen in all likelyhood) but the Raptors could sit there fourth and grab Chris Bosh's running mate for the next decade. Or ... if Howard DOES go earlier, than assuredly Bosh gets the hulking Russian Andris Biedrins to actually play centre. Then, with the eighth pick, the Raptors take Devin Harris out of Wisconsin or Ben Gordon from UConn.

This is only part of the Toronto transformation since unburdening the team of Murray's stipend and Carter's max contract means enough in the kitty to really go shopping. The first instinct is offer Steve Nash the max and appeal to him to save basketball in Canada. Nash and Harris/Gordon team up with combo guards Rose and Alvin Williams to offer up a combination of abilities and experience that should work quite nicely. But, if you are going to commit to a young gun at the throttle, then you go shopping for shooting guards and small forwards. And there's PLENTY of them available out there. Whether trades or free-agent signings, the easiest position in the NBA to fill right now is an athletic wing. The shooters are a little harder to find, especially if you like them to play defence the odd time or two. But it's a buyer's market.

And there should be enough in the kitty to go get an Adonal Foyle type to pair with Biedrins, Bosh and Donyell Marshall. Can that group contend in the hardly awesome new East Division? You betchum Red Ryder!!!

But the Raptors don't have the man in charge to make the deal. I wonder if they are still accepting resumes?