Saturday, June 26, 2004

VIDEO: Waking Ned Devine

It's been an up and down week. Besides concentrating on the two sports drafts and a little work besides, I had a chance to catch three DVD's. The best of the lot, by far, was Waking Ned Devine.

Earlier in the weekend I'd seen two pretty forgettable movies. Identity is an atmospheric up-scale slasher movie with John Cusack, Ray Liotta and Amanda Peet. Cusack rarely does anything unwatchable and Peet is VERY watchable (although, strangely, fully-clothed throughout the movie), but slasher flicks, even one like this that elegantly avoid showing the actual blood-letting, just don't interest me. I counter-pointed Identity with Dawg. Dawg starts Dennis Leary, a funny one-note actor (cocky and angry), and gorgeous Elizabeth Hurley. She's the pretty one with no acting ability beyond her god-given Brit accent. Leary is Leary, Hurley is Hurley, the plot's meaningless and you end up asking yourself why you bought the movie in the previously-viewed bin. Five bucks if you were thinking of asking.

Not wanting to end the week on such a weak viewing double-header, I pulled out Waking Ned Devine. I'm not a fan of British humour, yet some of my favourite movies of all time are little British efforts, usually ones that tweak the nose of the high and mighty. Brit Grit nor Monty Python I don't need. Just gentle laughter.

This movie is no Local Hero, second on my list of favourite movies behind North to Alaska. If that hasn't scared you, and some might STILL be recoiling at naming a John Wayne flick the most enjoyable of all time, let me tell you that you WILL enjoy Waking Ned Devine.

The main artifice in this movie is a winning lottery ticket held by a dead man. That prompts more than one romp over the roads while riding starkers on a motor-bike, a plot to defraud the Irish Lotto authority of close to seven million pounds, and a delicious come-uppance for a nasty witch of a lady courtesy of a returning vicar ... thus tacitly gaining heavenly approval for knocking the old battle-axe off. In fact, the whole movie is about lies with more noble purposes.

There's also a love story between Maggie and Pig Flynn for the romantic at heart and a worldly youngster offering advice to the town's substitute vicar. Cute. Precocious. Yeah. But fun anyway.

The movie ends somewhat abruptly. I was awaiting Maggie's spurned love stepping in where the witch was headed, but I guess like a lot of good movies, it left me wanting more.

Now remember, this isn't a great movie. But it will bring more than the odd smile to your face.

SPORTS: Drafty out there

The NBA and NHL drafts have come and gone and I have mixed feelings for 'my' teams.

The Toronto Raptors took a chance on Thursday taking Rafael Araujo with the eighth pick instead of my prefered choice of Andris Biedrins. As I posted earlier, Biedrins was a chancy pick with a very good up-side and a development time of two to four years. In other words, I wasn't expecting the Latvian to come in here and turn the team around. The Raptors are NOT a single guy away from winning the Eastern Division next season. In fact, if the team doesn't break its three-year injury hex, it isn't even a playoff team next season. So, I was worried when Rob Babcock went for a player he thinks is most ready to help his team next season.

But over the last few days, I've started warming up to the idea of Araujo, the Brazilian national with a blue-collar mentality. I was hoping to see some film that showed me what Babcock saw, but I couldn't. But I like what I am hearing and the more that I think about it, the more I could see Araujo being the piece of the puzzle that Babcock thinks he is. There's no lack of shooters in Raptors' uniforms (well, maybe chuckers would be a better term). If Araujo can come in and do the dirty work, including laying out those players that take liberties with Bosh and Carter), then what more could I ask? A rotation of Araujo, Bosh and Donyell Marshall could be a decent power trio. And Marshall's trade bait with talent and a great contract, come spring. Who knows, if Sam Mitchell, the reputed new Raptor coach, can find Jerome Moiso's on/off switch, then the Raptors might have cured half the glaring problems the team had last year.

Before you think I've gone completely soft on Babcock for no apparent reason, let me complain about the second-round shenanigans. The Raptors almost always have squandered second-round picks in the past, trading them away or taking out-of-the-blue busts. This year, Babcock tabs Albert Miralles, a perfect pick. A Euro, who can stay over there and mature, Miralles was atop many a sleeper list. Good for Babcock. Bad for Babcock, who trades Miralles' rights to Miami for Pape Sow's rights and a second-round Miami choice in the future. Hunh? Sow's the same kind of suspect Toronto normally drafts and the vig for making the trade is probably a pick in the 50's next season. Double Hunh? This one has Mehmet Okur written ALL over it again.

Moving to the NHL where the greatest team in sporting history, Les Canadiens de Montreal, made a quality character pick, too. Kyle Chipchura is somebody who makes the Habs a better team. Whether he adds a little, like Jason Ward, or a lot, like a taller Saku Koivu, this is a guy who helps the franchise. He can score a little, which is always welcome is goal-challenged Montreal. In all, I'm a happy Habs' fan.

Doesn't hurt that the Canadiens also grabbed Radek Bonk in a three-cornered trade that also netted them perfect backup goalie Cristobel Huet for mouldering asset Mathieu Garon. Some draft choices were involved too. Does Bonk have a downside? Sure. Enigmatic as all get out. But even when he's mystifyingly uninvolved, he's a size-plus scoring centre. That's a pretty rare breed in Montreal these days.

The lotteries: winning numbers still to be announced!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

SPORTS: Trading, Drafting, Hoping ...

There's an old rock and roll love song that has a chorus of "Hoping and praying and ..." that keeps playing in my head as I contemplate what changes in the NBA this week will wrought. I can't remember the title, nor do I pretend to know what will happen this week. But what COULD happen, boggles the mind!

The first crack in the dam came with tonight's announcement that the Bobcats did move up in the draft. Then, Jim Grey, a newshound no matter how you feel about him, breaks the McGrady-Francis trade ... providing the Bobcats don't scotch the deal by taking one of the players. First, let's laugh at the predicament the Magic finds itself in. They walked the BMOC walk three years ago and have nothing but the truth-challenged McGrady and LOTS of losses to show for it. Serves 'em right. Now, they have a chance to swap the last McGrady season for Francis and Mobley and a good guy in Cato. And the Bobcats hold the deal in the short-hairs. Delicious. Hope Bernie Bickerstaff gets AT LEAST a second-rounder for saying pass on all the players from Houston and Orlando.

But, the trade that occupies the imagination is the getting out of Dodge for Shaquille O'Neal. First blush when I heard of the turn of events was that it wasn't possible. Who could afford the talent and the contract? Turns out, several teams. Dallas is willing and waiting with its truckload of max contracts. A Portland deal is possible and who wouldn't like an O'Neal-O'Neal trade that makes Shaq an Easterner Pace-setter?(Answer: Everybody else). However, it says here that LA sends Shaq north to Golden State for a load of contracts that includes a signed Erick Dampier and wacko ex-Laker Nick Van Excel. It almost makes sense from all points. Wilt Chamberlain redux! Just so that you are paying attention, the teams trading away Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went from real good to good ... or worse.

The expansion draft might cost the Raptors a player. Alvin Williams when unhealthy, is vastly over-paid. When healthy ... and that's a HUGE if, he's the kind of Chauncey Billups final piece that can fill in a spot on a contending team. It's not hard seeing the Bobcats take Alvin and swap him to, say, San Antonio or even Utah, with draft picks paying off the swing team. It would hurt to see Williams exit town. My favourite Raptor.

Chalk up dumb reporters to pass along the Vince Carter/Allan Iverson trade rumours. Carter, a genuinely nice man lacking a competitive backbone, is at least productive when healthy. Iverson is a VERY old young man, beaten to a pulp wayyyyy to often to have much life left. And his thug act won't play here. Iverson's loyalty to his child-hood gang of gangsta's is admirable in a way. But his act isn't a whole lot different than Jayson Williams. It wears thin. The Raptors have been down the path of paying stars on the way out. See Olajuwon, Hakeem.

The top of the draft now looks locked in as Okafor and Howard in some order. Chicago is apparently all over Deng. And the Clippers apparently like Gordon to lead them out of the shadows of The Adulterer. Washington has some sort of morbid fascination with uber-athlete Iguodala, completing the top five. The Raptors then watch schoolboy Livingston and Harris slip out from under their noses and start cursing the fates. This is last year all over again, when the bouncing ball made Carmelo Anthony a Nugget.

How do the Raptors recover? Jameer Nelson could help. He could help by being soooo irresistable to the Suns that they pass on Harris to take him. But Nelson's workouts with Phoenix seem the only ones that have tongues wagging. It says here that the Raptors pass on Nelson and give Bosh a running mate in Andris Biedrins. A safe pick? Not even close. Biedrins is another touted Euro without the game to match the rep. But it's either that, take chance on tiny Nelson or giant project Podkolzine or draft one of an army of wing players. In a conference that only has Wallace, Magloire and the 'other' O'Neal, Biedrins has a chance to be a plus position player.

The Raptors have some suspects to think about in the second round. Chris Duhon isn't one of them. He's been exposed as a poor man's Dan Dickau. One mock draft I saw has Arthur Johnson on tap. Not a horrible pick, but not exciting. Another draft had wing player Bryant Matthews. He seems suited to play the wild-ace wing position in the same bewildering manner as current holder Morris Peterson. But neither Johnson nor Matthews makes me itch to call the season-ticket line. Christian Dreijer, on the other hand, is interesting. As ethically-suspect as McGrady (He quit Florida mid-season to sign pro overseas), he's got a game. However, maybe the planets align themselves just so and the Raptors end up with Beno Udrih. Yeah, he's a LOT like good old Alvin Williams. That's why he'd be a great pick.

And the chorus continues, "hoping and praying and ....."

Sunday, June 20, 2004

VIDEO: The Cooler

William Macy is one of my favourite actors and I enjoy his visits to late-night talk shows about as much as any guest short of Billy Connelly. An old taped episode of Leno that finally surfaced in my watch pile, prompted me to go out and grab a copy of The Cooler, now out in DVD.

Macy's Bernie is a loser. So much of a loser, that if Al Capp were alive he'd have named his jinxed loser "BERNIE Btfsplk." He makes his living, such that it is, by merely coming in contact with lucky people. That turns them from winners to losers.

In this "for grown-ups" movie, Bernie works for a casino. More specifically, a casino boss played with Oscar-worthy relish by Alec Baldwin. He's foul-mouthed, old-fashioned and violent. And he believes in luck and Bernie's ability to change it. As the movie starts, we find out Bernie's retiring from the bad luck game in less than a week.

In that week, things happen to turn Bernie from loser to winner. Her name is Natalie, a waitress at the Golden Shangri-La. She's just as damaged as Bernie. Maybe more so. Knockout Maria Bello plays Natalie just a little ragged around the edges.

At first glance, it seems unlikely that the May-September love-birds could find each other, let alone survive. And obstacles DO get thrown into their way. But by movie's end you believe the beautiful young woman and the old coot do love each other. And that luck, so long absent in their lives, has started making up for lost time.

I liked this movie a lot. I like that the DVD dispensed with coming attractions and got right to the movie menu. What I didn't like is confined to the ridiculously small number of extras. But you should watch the Sundance Channel's Making of A Scene feature. You'll have an even deeper appreciation of the movie afterwards.

VIDEO: Whale Rider

Slow I am. Whale Rider was an Oscar nominee this spring through the auspices of Keisha Castle-Hughes. It came out early last year and has been out on video for quite awhile. I gave it to Krystal and Sarah from the Movie Mob and they enjoyed it immensely. But I didn't catch it until today. Well, yesterday actually, but I'm still in the same sleep-deprived period.

At any rate, this is a good movie and one that tweeners and up should enjoy. The harsh attitudes of Papa towards Pi might scare younger kids, so be warned.

Castle-Hughes, who could pass for Jennifer Beals' younger sister, is a plucky young Maori lady with a leader's soul. At birth, she loses a twin brother and a mother and it's not long before her father runs off to Germany. She's left with a loving GrandMa and a chieftan of a Grandfather who was counting on a son to continue the family line of leaders.

She has a warrior's heart, which all but Papa seem to understand as the gruff old man only melts occasionally and not too far. The speech scene where Pi talks about everyone being a leader and struggles to get through it while her guest of honour, her grandfather, is absent, is heart-wrenching even for an old grouch like me.

Turns out Papa is missing the event because whales have beached themselves, launching a rescue process that involves heroic effort and mystical aid. Grandly shot and with a minimum of words, it's very affecting.

I normally have nits to pick with most movies. It's hard to be picky with this wonderful effort. My only quibble? It's hard to believe ANY grandparent, now matter how dogmatic, wouldn't surrender to the little girl warrior that is Pi, WAAAAY before this curmudgeon did.

Friday, June 18, 2004

VIDEO: Love Actually ... is, all around, Pretty Good

This is the time of the year when I catch up on videos due to the absence of anything approaching decent original TV to watch.

Last Christmas was really a case of Lord of the Rings and nothing else. Certainly it was a bad kiddie season. As I remember it, the Movie Mob took in a video of Miyazaki's Spirited Away for the annual Christmas Tree-Decorating Night rather than shoehorn in any of the movies that were playing at the local multiplexes. So, I didn't spend much time staring at movie one-sheets then. I DID hear Love Actually was a pretty good movie ... but was unsuitable for children. Soooo, I missed it.

Thank god for DVD. It's a wonderful little movie with all the sickly sweet romance that makes for a great holiday movie still viable and enjoyable here in the humid depths of summer.

Admittedly, there was a scene I'd seen in the previews that I wanted to see again. No, not the staircase dance scene for Laura Linney. There is a look of happiness on a young ladies' face looking back over her left shoulder that is in this movie with the impressive Keira Knightley. This scene hits about 55 minutes in. Unless you'd seen it in real life a few times, you'll probably be mystified about what I'm talking about. But that was my original reason for watching the movie.

Almost all the guys in the movie are clueless and slowly catch on during the movie that something good is right in their lap. And we are talking REALLY good. The age span is impressive, with Olivia Olson for the tweeners, Knightley for the teenagers, Lucia Moniz and Martine McCutcheon for the young men out there and Emma Thompson for the discriminating man. I was going to label Thompson incomparable, but I think of her as the British Kathleen Turner, an earthy complete package of LADY.

Despite the sweet little crush young Sam has for the Olson-played Joanna, the movie certainly is for grown-ups. I could have done without the language, but the scenes involving the X-Rated movie's body doubles are as good as the movie gets.

The DVD has some really great extras involving writer/director Richard Curtis. Gotta admit, I really wished they'd kept the first extended 8-minute scene they cut most out of in the final version of the movie. Would have explained the Leo/Kate /Titanic reference later in the movie. Some good background on the music in the movie, albeit without talking about the running gag of turning Love Is All Around into a Christmas tune.

Why WASN'T this movie a huge hit here in North America? TOO many stories and a weak ending. I could have spent time with virtually ALL of the people, but the little bits made several stories too watered down to enjoy to the max. The young Brit's trip to Wisconsin could have been more or less, but was unsatisfying at the length it was. And a movie that starts so strongly about the Knightley triangle, pays off only in a cute Christmas caroling scene. Again, more or less would have been better. And Linney's Sarah, star of the only tragic storyline, could have been less.

I was surprised we didn't actually see more of McCutcheon and Hugh Grant, playing the British PM. And Thompson and Alan Rickman could have had a whole movie to themselves, as could Liam Neeson playing the just widowed step-father to Sam, played with earnest seriousness by Thomas Sangster.

When a movie leaves you smiling, prompts the odd out-loud chuckle and plenty of grins, and ends with you wanting more, it has to be a pretty good movie.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

SPORTS: There IS a dark side you know

It seems unlikely but the Lakers are a single win from regaining home court advantage in the NBA final. Yep, if they can win tonight, something they haven't seemed capable of doing since the halcyon days of victory over Minnesota, then the Lakers merely have to hold home court advantage to win the title.

In other words, the Detroit Pistons better make history tonight in order to avoid becoming history in more ways than one. The historical precedent the Pistons would set tonight is becoming the first team to win the middle three games at home in an NBA final. Never has been done. Should be done tonight, if only to avoid the Smirk Waiting for A Camera to Happen having yet another night to show off his juvenilia. Let's hope a jury in Colorado wipes that smirk off The Adulterer's face permanently.

BUT, if the Lakers pay heed to Shaquille O'Neal's warnings tonight and decide to force-feed the Pistons a dose of Shaq-Fu and keep doing it until Detroit screams Uncle Larry, the Lakers could win. And one win could beget another and then ... well, can anybody say "Tampa Bay Lightning?" It would be an historical first for a team to cough up a 3-1 furball, but it worries me that women still find Jack Nicholson sexy. There's something ominous around the Lakers.

Enough with the paranoia. Pistons in five. Just like I told ya'. Yeah, right!

Friday, June 11, 2004

MOVIES: The Chronicles of Riddick


Surely, that will be your immediate response as the credits roll on The Chronicles of Riddick. If not sooner.

In a series of seemingly unrelated video clips, the auteurs of this movie have created an interesting-looking mess. It's really just a spaceships and rayguns version of Conan the Barbarian with Vin Diesel playing the Gov's role. Diesel's Riddick is a likeable rogue, with a cute line or two and a penchant for stepping in when the children look to get hurt. But the over-the-top graphics and Diesel's charm hardly makes up for an incoherent script.

Riddick is a carry-over character from Pitch Black, a movie which played recently on TV here as a prelude to the release of the hardly-connected sequel. The other two survivors of Pitch Black, the Imam and young Jack the girl (if that confuses you, rent the DVD. Sorry about the spoiler) also appear in this flick.

The Imam renews ascquaintances with Riddick by helping put a bounty on his head and telling the mercs where to go to find him. Shortly after the unhappy reunion, the Imam's dead (saving his family) and Riddick's alone against the universe. Despite the plea to save the universe, Riddick decides its time to look up Jack after these long five years apart. According to MY math, that would make Jack 17 now.

Riddick finds Jack, now called Kira and looking all girly, on a prison planet where she's still trying to be a minor-league Riddick: nasty and a loner. Although she fights a good fight, in the end, she becomes the damsel in distress to lure Riddick into the final fight sequence where he tangles with the Big Nasty.

Any guess who sits on the throne in the movie's final shot? Sheesh, you TOO could be a screenwriter with THAT kind of insight into movie-making!

In some ways, this is a movie a lot like the first Lord of the Rings flick. It was great to look at in a movie theatre and somewhat diminished on a TV screen, so I recommended people go see it there. But like LOTR#1, the plot holes and faulty logic will set your teeth ajar.

Last comment about the eye candy. Look up slinky in the dictionary. There will be a picture of Thandie Newton from this movie. She plays the scheming wife of a would-be usurper with a litheness that makes dresses disappear.

SPORTS: Is it, could it, really can it possibly be ...

Having had a half-day to comtemplate it, I now believe the Detroit Pistons can beat the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA title. I do not BELIEVE they will win, but I'm willing to contenance the possibility.

My fear is that the Big Laker in the Sky will enjoy the cockiness of the Motown Momentum and then pull the rug out from under our very stances of confidence. It would irk me no end to see the MVP Adulterer smirking til the end.

So, I softly express my belief in things good getting done.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

SPORTS: So the deity upstairs is a Lakers fan

Whoever's running the show 'up there' just HAS to be a Lakers fan. Otherwise, how to explain Larry Brown NOT telling his players to foul the Lakers at the end of regulation time? Maybe he couldn't imagine the Lakers letting Shaq O'Neal touch the ball, but it shouldn't have mattered.

The defensive demon Detroit Pistons should have fallen on Shaq like a bunch of rabid dogs as soon as he touched the ball. And failing that, Rip Hamilton didn't bearhug The Adulterer as the seconds ticked away, playing off him like a drive was a distinct possibility. What an incredible group brain cramp. The resulting OT was just as predictable as tomorrow's sunrise.

When you add the mental malaise to the Sam Cassell injury and Derek Fisher's Horry-clone performance against San Antonio, it's beginning to look like SOMEBODY with a higher power is just itching to make Smiling Jack a happy man.

The shenanigans Tuesday night brought an end to the best four day stretch ANY pro sports owner might have enjoyed ... ever! William Davidson had his pro franchises win the last two games of the Stanley Cup, sandwiched around an NBA Finals opening road victory. And it looked like it was going to be two in a row for the Pistons and an historically-perfect death-hold on the series. Then, Larry Brown called a timeout and told his guys something THEY translated as "Play this straight up!"

All of that said, the Lakers certainly didn't TURN IT ON and ride roughshod over the Pistons. The MailMan looks close to pooped out, playing on wiles alone at this point. Gary Payton looks all talked out too. Only the unexpected contributions of Billy's boy, Luke Walton, kept the Lakers in THIS game. Could it be I'm waffling on my Lakers Win prediction?

Nah. But I'm worried I'll be happily wrong.

Monday, June 07, 2004

SPORTS: Missed it by THAT much!

Tonight was a work night which meant I mostly missed the first two periods of the Stanley Cup's seventh-game finale to the NHL season. I heard, rather than watched the game, depending on Bob Cole's voice to let me know when it got interesting.

And to the Calgary Flames' credit, it got REAL interesting in the third period. But even MORE credit to Nik Khabibulin and the Tampa Bay Lightning, this year's Stanley Cup champions. Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards chipped in with his assist on one of two Ruslan Fedotenko goals that had the home side leading two-zip heading into the third.

But it was the Bhulin Wall that denied Canada a return of the hardware to the country from whence it came. Khabibulin's robbery of Jordan Leopold's would-be game-tier late in the game was the brilliant end-game picture that is this year's equivalent of Bobby Orr jumping through the air after scoring his Stanley Cup winning goal back in the sixties. Leopold could have tried roofing it, but why bother? Khabibulin was over the other side of the net stopping the original shot.

Full value for a season of entertainment from the Lightning. They played hockey the way it should be played from October to June. Maybe, when the ice-meisters reconvene from their upcoming sabbatical, the other teams might try emulating the Lightning.

And let's give credit to Jarome Iginla and the Flames. Calgary goalie Mikka Kiprusoff had his OWN might-have-been moment, stopping Vinnie Lecavalier on a breakaway who used the Forsberg Manoeuvre to almost put the game away. But the revelation to those that don't follow hockey ardently was Iginla's emergence as possibly the best player in hockey. (Disclaimer: I have had Iginla two of the last three years in our roto league, the two REALLY GOOD years [G]).

All in all, it's a shame there's no more hockey, save for the World Cup in August, for a LOOOOONNNNNGGGG time. This snapshot will have to make do, maybe until January 2006. Thankfully, it's a worthwhile picture to take into the long hockey night.

MOVIES: Harry Potter 3 More of a FIVE

It was odd exiting the theatre Sunday to hear my buddy Patrick complain bitterly about the very good movie I had just seen. "That wasn't the book," he mourned forlornly.

Yeah, so what?

This was the movie where the Chris Columbus-driven decision to be faithful to the book for the first two movies had to be cast aside. Alfonso Cuaron took the book in hand and chopped out the most visually appealing section, the Quidditch play and the multiple visits to Hogsmeade, and gave us the rest of the story. In muted tones and lacking MUCH of the reputed humour, but with a deft touch for the drama and excitement that makes Harry Potter a treat for child and adult.

The movie is not totally without humour. Hermione seemed to be at the core of any humour in the movie, which she plays straighter than straight. Ron moments, if there are any, were quite forgetful. So, there wasn't much to laugh at in this movie. I discount the opening Dursley scene as I find all Dursley material distasteful, whether in print or on film.

What there WAS in this movie was a pretty hectic pace to the dicey moments. It's hard to really put our intrepid group of adventurers into convincing danger, since we know there's four more movies in the offing. But I was on the edge of the seat for much of the last act. The animation was top-rate, especially the Hippogriff. And the Dementors were properly unsettling.

The movie did NOT conclude with the school year House Champions dinner, nor did Dumbledore explain anything about the setup for the final rescues. I think it made for a better movie.

All in all, I'm hoping Cuaron comes back for a second entry. Not only do I appreciate what he puts on the screen, but what he decides not to film.

NOTE: Some of the kids were quite noticeably older since we last congregated at Hogwarts. Draco Malfoy and ill-fated Cyril Longbottom will likely have other actors in those roles before the series end. The three main actors played 13 looking a couple of years older than that. Yet all three were SO strong, I fear a change would not work (despite Michael Gambon's take on Richard Harris' Dumbledore). One missing character from this movie, even in a cameo, was Cho.

SPORTS: It's On!

I was wrong. I thought the Lakers could not be headed in their march to Phil's one for remaining digit. Now, I STILL think the Lakers are title material. But the Pistons proved Sunday night that Los Angeles can be beat.

In fact, if the Lakers hadn't pulled this rope-a-dope routine before in these playoffs, I'd be thinking Bill Davidson is going to have a fine 2004. The Pistons deserved to win and they did it with little bits and pieces of the engine not sparking at maximum levels. Imagine a night when Rip Hamilton proves he's the league's best under-appreciated star. Or a night when the chief cement-head Rasheed Wallace places like the all-star he can be. And we've all seen Ben Wallace surprise us with big scoring nights. None of those imaginary threats realized themselves and Detroit STILL put a double-digit hurt on the Lakers.

Soooo, why shouldn't Motown fans start lighting up the parked cars? Cuz the Lakers get lazy in first games of series these days. Comes from knowing they can turn things on at will. The Adulterer had a lousy night for a 20 plus scorer and the team still manages to ignore O'Neill in favour of wilder shots late in the clock. On a night where O'Neill wasn't an embarrassment from the charity stripe, the Lakers AND the Pistons both left him alone to toss in the odd dunk and short jumper. What's the rule? If it works, keep doing it until the other team proves it can stop it. Meet the Lakers, where no success shall ever be repeated.

Given my pessimism about the Pistons, nothing would make me happier than to be wrong yet again. Corliss Williamson is one of the good people (The Big Nasty? Puh-lease. The guy's a pussycat off the floor). And Chauncey Billups is one of the cadre of shooting PG's I've championed over the years. I didn't get to know Billups during his pass-through of the Raptors, but the rep was good from people who I trust.

Friday, June 04, 2004

SPORTS: Great Pictures

Tonight was a great night for attention-rivetting pictures within moments of each other. The hockey game ended with an unhelmetted Jarome Iginla setting up Oleg Saprykin's overtime winner as Calgary beat Tampa Bay in the fifth game of the Stanley Cup. Just as my hurrah was finished echoing off the walls of the room, I turned to the other TV and watched a shot of Marco Scutaro of the Oakland A's sliding back into first base during a pickoff attempt by Miguel Batista. The great shot was a close-up of Scutaro injuring his pinkie and then YANKING it back into place. It was fabulous.

And doesn't Scutaro (SKOOT a row) have one of the best sounding names in baseball?

The Flames' victory in Tampa Bay was a triumph of hard work as it's painfully obvious that Iginla IS the offense for the Flames. He scored the second goal and his indefatigable work on the winner was something to behold. On the other hand, if the refs didn't swallow their whistle's half-way through the third, the winning opportunity would never have occured. Never have figured out the rationale for this changing of the rules of the game as soon as the beards start growing, but everybody else seems willing to live with it.

The other point of interest in the game was the incredibly bad ice, prompting more than a few skating opportunities for the comely skating lasses who haul ice chips during breaks. I think I'd still be a sports reporter covering hockey if they had that kind of pulchritude in my era.

Cheer up Lightning fans. There WILL be another game down in the Deep South. Mind you, I still think Calgary wins the odd game(s).

The Blue Jay game was another extra-time affair, although the bad guys won this one. The other point of interest in THAT game was the continuing detoriation of my opinion of Alexis Rios. Yes he has speed and yes, he looks like a major leaguer at bat. But his defence is not up to snuff. And if he makes ONE more sun-caused mistake in the outfield while wearing the sunglasses ON his hat rather than on his nose, I'll picket the team offices until he's benched or sent to the minors.

One last note in this melange of a report: Congratulations on the nuptials Sunday of one of the best sports reporters in Canada, Deb Matejicka. And condolences to Tom Cheek who lost his father Thursday and ended his consecutive Blue Jay broadcast streak at 4306. He'd broadcast EVERY regular and post-season game the Blue Jays ever played. EVERY game. Twenty-seven plus years. There's lots to admire in that number and in the man.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

SPORTS: A great player is done

Pat Hentgen is one of those baseball players that defines what a professional athlete is.

But Hentgen is done. He can hit the spots he wants to hit, but he brings nothing to the plate, neither blinding speed, nor tailing action on his pitches. As a result, his teammates get lots of fielding practice. Tonight's episode of watching the struggling Seattle Mariners look like the '27 Bronx Bombers against Hentgen was painful to watch.

I have no doubt that Hentgen will retire before the season's end. Only a plea from the club to hang on and let the crop of farm-grown hurlers germinate a little longer without having them brought up into the major league hot house will keep him going out there for the rest of the season. HE knows he's a fifth starter in reputation only.

Putting the team before his own interests has always been Hentgen's way. Stepping in for a sucking-out Roger Clemens in Boston is just one of the instances where he was willing to put it on the line whenever asked. Even when it shouldn't have been. He never blamed a teammate for something that went wrong out on the field. "I threw the pitch, didn't I?" He'd ask by way of taking the blame. He always stood up and took blame and shrunk into the background when credit was being tossed around.

Pat Hentgen is a good man. Good enough to be a Canadian. But he's done.