RACIST IN THE FOX HOLE

IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW IT BEFORE, FOX NEWS COVERAGE OF THE FERGUSON PROTESTS REVEALS HOW DEEP THE “FAIR AND BALANCED” NETWORK’S RACISM RUNS

Remember Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who defied the American government a few months back and staged an “armed resistance” against the American Bureau of Land Management when they came to collect cattle trespassing on federally owned public land? If you remember, the 67 year rancher wasn’t alone in his “stand,” thanks to social media, legions of far right, government hating militia types with cool nicknames and homemade uniforms and lots and lots of guns (like, A LOT) flocked to his cause and were fully prepared to shoot it out with the handful of federal agents that came to gather Bundy’s trespassing cattle. You may remember hearing Richard Mack, head of the ranch security (and a former sheriff), sharing the strategy to put women and children in the front lines if shooting started, so the media could capture images of the feds killing the human shield Bundy’s troops were hiding behind (we were obviously dealing with some stand up guys here). Remember who Bundy’s biggest friend was in those days? None other then FOX News host Sean Hannity, who praised Bundy and his gang after they pointed guns at the feds, calling them “heroes” and “Patriots.” In those days, FOX gave Bundy so much positive press that they were practically his media sponsors, at least until Cliven shared his views on race relations in the United States and sent Sean and co. running the other way as fast as they could.

Well Sean and FOX have been in the news again, this time with their coverage of the Ferguson demonstrations that have been going on the past two weeks following the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. And as you can imagine, Hannity and FOX (as well as the rest of the far-right American media and have-been celebrities no one cares about any more like Kevin Sorbo) have been extremely . . . critical of the protestors, calling them thugs and criminals and feral animals. They’ve defended the officer who shot Brown (up to nine times in a possible execution style after the teen may have raised his hands in surrender during what may have been a jay walking stop) and have enthusiastically participated in the media’s smear campaign of the victim. Hell, they’ve pretty much lead the charge on putting the slain Brown on trial for his own death (the subtext being that he had it coming). So how, you may ask, can a “news” organization defend a rancher pointing guns at federal agents who have come to make good on a 20 year old debt but reflexively condemn protesters furious over the death of an unarmed teenager? Simple. Cliven was white while Brown and the majority of the protesters are black, and FOX’s “fair and balanced” approach to news is very, how shall we say, colour sensitive.

Back in April, Cliven Bundy was notified by the BLM they were coming to collect cattle illegally grazing on public land in the latest chapter of a long, million dollar dispute between the feds and the disgruntled rancher (Bundy had refused to pay grazing fees for over twenty years despite numerous court orders he comply). What it boiled down to is that Bundy stubbornly refused to obey a law he disagreed with Bundy made very dubious claims that his family had settled in the area before the particular legislation went into effect, somehow making him immune to the law). When it looked like the feds meant business, Cliven sent the flag up the social media pole asking for help and no shortage of heavily armed “patriots” flocked to his side chomping at the bit to shoot themselves some civil servants and get their kids and wives shot up on the front lines. Cliven was a watered down version of Timothy McVeigh in a cowboy hat. And FOX loved him, because he was standing up to an American government (lead by a black Democrat) and pointing weapons at government agents made them giddy with delight.

If you haven’t head of Ferguson over the past few weeks, you’ve probably been in a cave. To recap, white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown during what was “an impeding traffic” stop (Browne may have been a suspect in a cigar store robbery, but Ferguson Police have admitted that Wilson never knew of the alleged theft and the store owner claims he never even called the police to report the incident). Several eye witnesses (most of whom were never interviewed by investigators) claim that Brown was killed at a distance that could have been up to 35 feet, some claiming he was shot in the back and with his arms raised. Wilson claims that he and Brown struggled for his gun and he shot the teenager in self-defence, but the autopsy, revealing that Brown had been shot between six to nine times (including twice in the face and once in the top of the head) has cast some doubt on his claim (though does not conclusively prove it false, either). Brown’s body was left uncovered in the street for over four hours before being removed. Ferguson’s population is roughly 70% black and all but three members of its police force are white, and not only has the resulting weeks of protest and strife revealed the institutionalized racism that still governs police interaction in the United States, but also the Ferguson PD’s lengthy history of racism (in 2009, Henry Davis, who was later exonerated of the crime he was arrested for, was beaten by four officers while he was in custody-and handcuffs-and was later charged with destroying police property for bleeding on their uniforms while he was being beaten) and the growing problems of police militarization (during the initial protests, when there was some looting and violence, the police not only broke out their riot gear, but also their fully automatic weapons and APCs). Dozens of protesters, a handful of journalists and a ninety-year old Holocaust survivor have been arrested (and some allegedly assaulted) while some officers have been caught on tape pointing loaded assault weapons at unarmed citizens, threatening to kill protesters and journalists alike and making increasingly racist remarks. Some officers have some very nasty skeletons exposed from their closets (past brutality, far right wing memberships, etc.).

What it boils down to is FOX News called white ranchers who pointed their weapons at federal law enforcement officers doing their job and following the law “patriots,” while calling the mostly black, mostly peaceful protesters in Ferguson criminals and animals for protesting the killing of an unarmed teenager in a city with a long history of racially motivated violence and thinly veiled segregation. Hannity drew a heap of criticism for his condescending and uninformed interview with Democratic committee woman Patricia Bynes last week (which drew a priceless look from Bynes) and FOX show host Janine Pirro threw two lawyers disagreeing with her regarding Ferguson off her show. Fox has even continued to include debunked “evidence” as part of their talking points, such as the fictional injuries Wilson is said to have suffered (including a broken orbital bone, which was proven to be false about sixteen seconds after it hit the new-sphere). If you still aren’t convinced, ask yourself, what if the protesters in Ferguson decided to exercise their Second Amendment rights to bear arms while they protested, just like many of Bundy’s supporters? You already know the answer. “Fair and Balanced” apparently only applies when you have the right colour of skin.

Shayne Kempton

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SLAP SHOT ON THE WRIST

WHEN TODD BERTUZZI VIOLENTLY ENDED STEVE MOORE’S CAREER, THE NHL FAILED TO DISPENSE ANYTHING RESEMBLING JUSTICE. THE CIVIL SETTLEMENT A DECADE LATER SHOULD REMIND EVERYONE OF THAT FAILURE

So after more than ten years, it looks as though a settlement may have been reached in the infamous Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore civil case (or maybe not, not all sides have confirmed the apparently confidential agreement). Even if you’re not a hockey fan, those names probably sound familiar. In March of 2004, the two made headlines when Bertuzzi, then a Vancouver Canuck, attacked Moore from behind, punching him in the back of the neck and tackling him to the ice. Moore suffered a concussion, three broken vertebrae and facial lacerations, and Bertuzzi’s attack ended his career during his rookie season (he was a member of the rival Colorado Avalanche) and launched a debate about the culture of violence in hockey.

Bertuzzi’s attack was the conclusion of months of acrimony and bitterness over a body check Moore leveled on Markus Naslund (Vancouver’s captain and the League’s leading scorer at the time) in a game the previous February. Opinion was polarized around the cleanliness of Moore’s hit, but while Naslund was sidelined for 3 games as a result, the hit went unpenalized by the referees and was deemed legal upon further review by NHL brass. The Canucks were incensed, screaming to the heavens that it was a cheap shot and the absence of a penalty or suspension was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice the 21st century had ever seen. There was plenty of talk about retribution, and on March 8th, in the dying moments of a game where the Canucks found themselves on the wrong side of a 9-2 score and where Moore had already dropped the gloves with notorious cheap shot artist Matt Cooke, Bertuzzi figured to balance the scales of hockey justice by breaking Moore’s neck and ending his career (and came dangerously close to ending his life-as you can see in the TSN video, the 6’3, 230 pound plus Bertuzzi has his fist primed to rain another angry punch on Moore’s already concussed head until Avs winger Andrei Nikolishin interfered). Bertuzzi was given an indefinite suspension charges laid against him by Vancouver police that June resulted in a single year of probation and eighty hours of community service following a guilty plea of assault with intent to injure. The Canucks organization was fined $250,000 and the IIHF suspended Bertuzzi from playing in Europe or from participating in any international tournaments for a year (though Big Bert wore the Maple Leaf for Canada at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin).

Bertuzzi, who had a long history of violence and was suspended at every level he played at (including a 10 game suspension in 2001), got away with a mere slap on the wrist. Including the Canucks brief appearance in the 2004 playoffs, Bertuzzi’s indefinite suspension amounted to all of 20 games (which didn’t even rank it among the top seven suspensions in NHL history), and while many defend his “punishment” by pointing out he wasn’t reinstated until the opening of the 2005-06 season, Bertuzzi apologists conveniently omit the fact that the entire 2004-05 campaign was wiped out by a lockout, costing all NHLers a season. Steve Moore never stepped skate on NHL ice ever again and never earned another dollar from the game of hockey, while the man who cost him his career has played nine seasons of hockey since that night, making more than 30 million dollars in the process (though it looks as though his career has wound down as the 39 year-old forward remains a free agent that’s currently attracting zero interest from any NHL team). Moore has experienced extensive health problems as a result of Bertuzzi’s attack in the decade since, dramatically complicating his post-NHL life and ability to earn a living. The NHL failed on an epic level.

The ten-year anniversary of the whole debacle as well as the possible settlement between the two camps (seriously, it took ten years to get to court?) has reminded me of how irate the whole thing made me, and if I’d been the NHL’s sheriff at the time, here’s the punishment I would have dealt out.

Todd Bertuzzi would have been gone. Forever. No ifs ands or buts. A lifetime suspension, and not just from playing for any NHL team, but from holding any coaching, managing, training, scouting or other position with any franchise. He wouldn’t even have been allowed to be a stick boy. Next up, Marc Crawford would have been the one gone for the rest of the 2004 season (Bertuzzi had Crawford briefly named as a co-defendant in the civil case, claiming he was contractually obligated to follow his coach’s orders, implying what everyone already suspected, that Crawford ordered the attack) and not just for his role in the attack but also for that little pedophile-like smirk he was wearing when Moore was laying broken and prone on the ice. Crawford, as it turns out, would be fired by the Canucks in April of 2006 and would bounce around, being fired by both Los Angeles and Dallas after failing to guide those teams into the post season (he’s been coaching in Europe since 2012). And as for Mr. “yeah-there’s-a-bounty-on-his-head” Brad May, who spent the rest of his NHL days bouncing from team to team in third and fourth line roles until demand for his limited skills dried up, I’d shelf him for the remainder of the 2004 season as well. The Canucks wouldn’t escape punishment either, as I’d have Vancouver continue to pay Bertuzzi’s nearly seven million dollar a year salary to Steve Moore until the expiration of the contract (I’d spare the Canucks having to include the settlement against their cap following the 2005 lockout, but wouldn’t force the 24% rollback on it either). The cherry on the top would be the NHL’s full co-operation with law enforcement should they choose to pursue charges (which they did, although the sentence was more of a joke then the NHL’s). In exchange Moore would agree not to pursue civil action against the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks or Bertuzzi (after all, he’d already be getting the rest of Big Bert’s cash).

It never would have happened, neither the owners nor the NHLPA would have allowed it (the NHLPA, who stands united when it comes to protecting their pay cheques but consistently rally around the hammer instead of the nail when its members try to kill one another) but it would have at least been some justice. Once in a while, I wish the lady with the scales wasn’t wearing the blindfold.

Shayne Kempton

FAREWELL TO AN ICON

MANY OF THE WORDS USED TO DESCRIBE ROBIN WILLIAMS SINCE HIS TRAGIC SUICIDE HAVE BEEN LOVING AND WELL MEANING, YET NONE TRULY DESCRIBE THE ICONIC PERFORMER AND THE INCREDIBLE HUMAN BEING HE ACTUALLY WAS

Last Monday it felt like the entire world had been sucker punched. As news of Robin Williams death spread like wildfire across the globe I have to admit that it took the wind out of personal my sails far more then I would have expected it too, and I’ve had a tough time of it since. There was no shortage of tears, fond remembrances and cold, stunned shock to greet the terribly morbid news, especially after it was learned Williams committed suicide, poisoning the tragic wound even further. Social media was flooded with well wishes and tributes and some of the more memorable clips from his huge body of work. As I spent the better part of the evening and night combing through Twitter and Facebook and the rest of the Internet, I realized that there was absolutely no one who hadn’t been touched by Williams and his brand of ingenious humour or his infectious, energetic spirit. As I continued to read nothing but pure, genuine adoration from comedians and celebrities, it dawned on me that Williams had truly shaped an entire generation, and that words like “legend” and “genius” failed to do him justice. He was bigger. Robin Williams was an icon and life seemed brighter in the far-reaching shadow he cast then beneath the unforgiving sun. The harsh truth of the matter is that world’s already fragile smile faltered a little when we lost him and entire generations will miss his frantic spirit.

Williams was a showbiz renaissance man, jumping from stand-up to television to film and his star even shone on the stage as he co-starred in a number of off Broadway productions (including Waiting for Godot with Steve Martin in 1988 and a one man show in 2002). And comedy wasn’t his only muse as he successfully covered a wide range of roles, from a mentally challenged homeless man to a grown up Peter Pan to a disenchanted psychiatrist (his role as a therapist in Good Will Hunting earned Williams the 1998 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor). Williams even explored some darker creatures during his career, including murderers and stalkers. In fact, many of his memorable comedic roles held a dose of pathos, which he pulled off with ease. All told, Williams won an Oscar (after earning four nominations), two Emmys, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, four Golden Globes and five Grammys. At the end of the day he boasted a more incredibly diverse and successful resume then most “serious” actors.

And he was no stranger to helping those in need. In 1986 Williams teamed up with fellow comics Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg to launch Comic Relief to aid the homeless. He and his second wife, Marcia Garces, launched the Windfall Foundation to support a number of charities and he performed on the USO tour to entertain American troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010 he donated all the proceeds from the Christchurch stop of his Weapons of Self Destruction tour to relief and reconstruction efforts for the New Zealand town following the record earthquake that nearly destroyed it and he supported St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital for years.

But it isn’t the awards or the great movies or the extensive charitable work that has so many feeling so lost following his death. Williams couldn’t be contained by a single generation, the joy he shared with the world defied age and demographics. If you enjoyed your formative years during the late 70’s or early 80’s, he probably made you laugh with the sitcom Mork and Mindy, where screenwriters saved time by letting him improve a lot his stuff. If you were a child of the 80’s you were treated to Survivors and Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. The 90’s? Well then you were spoiled with The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Disney’s Aladdin (where, as it turns out, most of his stuff was once again the result of improv), Jumanji, Jack and Good Will Hunting among many others. The outpouring of grief and sympathy crossed generational lines because he belonged to every generation. No matter how old you are, Robin Williams made you laugh at least once in your life. Reading the comments by a wide range of comedians was just as telling. There were just as many performers in their sixties as there were in their twenties who expressed how much he had influenced and inspired them. An entire generation of comedians and actors were moved by and admired Williams. Perhaps the most revealing contribution was from The Office’s Mindy Kaling, who tweeted that her parents had chosen her name from Mork and Mindy because of their love for both the show and Williams, a show the thirty-five year old’s parents first saw before they left Africa. That’s how far William’s reach of laughter and smiles extended, and that’s why we all feel so deflated and depressed, because so many of us, despite differences in age, lost someone who brought us so much joy and laughter both as children and as adults. It’s like losing a favoured member of the family.

But for me personally, it isn’t just about losing someone who made me laugh so much, through my childhood and adolescence and into adulthood, that’s making this so tough to deal with. But from everything I’ve seen and read and heard, Williams was as authentic and caring and generous as they come, and the laughter he spread was both an extension and expression of the enormous warmth the man possessed. I spent most of the night watching clips from movies and old interviews from late night shows, and in between the laughs a tear or two tear may have found their way into my eye. The idea that such a kind man who inspired so much joy and happiness may have been conquered by his relentless, personal demons is a bitter pill, and one I’d rather never have to swallow.

So farewell Mr. Williams. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all the laughs and the tender moments and the good memories. You were the real deal, and I fear too many of us took you for granted, ignorant to how much we were blessed until we lost you. You were indeed a giant and entire generations both stand upon your shoulders and owe you a debt of gratitude. I am going to miss your humour, whether it was your biting, edgy brand I appreciated as an adult or the childish zaniness I’ve always loved, and your warmth as a human being. Rest well.

Shayne Kempton

THE TRADE

LAST SATURDAY MARKED THE 26TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WAYNE GRETZKY TRADE. THIS IS A REVISED EDITION OF THE STORY WE RAN FOR THE QUARTER CENTURY ANNIVERSARY LAST SUMMER

It was one of those “where were you” moments that happen a handful of times in a generation. The kind you’ll be able to tell your children and grandchildren one day exactly what you doing when history hit the fan and the world stopped making sense. The beginning or end of a war; a president, civil rights leader or celebrity being assassinated; a space shuttle exploding without warning as it touched the heavens. For most of the world, August 9th, 1988 passed like any other, but in Canada, people from coast to coast to coast spent most of it glued to their television sets, sitting transfixed and unbelieving as they witnessed our National Passion (a National Obsession for many) became an export, a commodity shipped south of the border to a ravenous American empire, changing our game and indeed our very identity as a country forever.

Sounds a little much, right? Normally you’d be right and you’d be forgiven if you dismissed the previous paragraph as an extra-large serving of hyperbole tossed in a blender with a generous amount of fresh cow manure; a BS shake, so to speak. Many would find it justifiably offensive to lump the day the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in with Pearl Harbor or the space shuttle Atlantis Disaster. And normally I’d agree with you, but the fact is when Gretzky, along with teammates Marty McSorley and Mike Krushylniski, became Los Angeles Kings, Canada’s entire landscape shifted forever.

You have to be able to grasp hockey’s importance to Canada at the time to truly understand the relevance of this date. Gretzky himself summed up the relationship perfectly. “In Canada,” he once remarked, “you go to church and you play hockey.” The fact is that it’s impossible to find a metaphor that accurately describes how important hockey is to the Great White North. Nothing is so distinctly Canadian, nothing is bound so tightly with our national sense of self as the sport of hockey is. During the Super Series against the Soviet Union in 1972, the day of the final game was an unofficial holiday north of the border, businesses closed up shop and teachers wheeled television sets into classrooms so their students could watch. When Canada and the United States clashed for the gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics, CBC reported ratings somewhere in the upper stratosphere. And when the NHL returned from a year-long lockout in 2005, Canada’s public broadcaster tossed all of their previous records out the window as Canadian viewers rushed back to Hockey Night in Canada with savage enthusiasm. While less than a quarter of the NHL’s teams currently call Canada home, we supply the league with nearly half its revenue and over half its talent. And those numbers barely scratch the surface of how important the game is to us Canucks. Hockey is imprinted on our DNA like few other things, which is why the Gretzky trade rattled us so deeply.

Gretzky wasn’t the only future legend the Oilers boasted in the 1980’s, and while number 99 was a once in a lifetime player, he was the centerpiece of a once in a lifetime collection of talent. They were known as the Boys on the Bus and they were responsible for more nightmares among NHL goalies than the worst kind of bogey man. But if Edmonton was a symphony of divine talent, Gretzky was the maestro, conducting the Oilers with surgical brilliance. The Great One was often knocked for his lack of size (in the days before personal trainers and home gyms) and his skating was often criticized as average at best, but Gretzky’s true gift was his uncanny timing, his innate awareness of where everyone was on the ice at any given moment. He once said that the secret to his success wasn’t knowing where the puck was, but knowing where it was going to be. He thought the game at a higher level, the way a grandmaster thinks chess miles beyond his opponents. Gretzky made a habit out of winning Stanley Cups and re-writing the record book, and he made it look easy.

To add a little extra context to the tale, Canada was in the middle of the fierce Free Trade debate at the time, with millions of Canadians genuinely afraid that the trade agreement with the United States threatened Canada’s economic and cultural sovereignty. Having fifteen million American greenbacks coming back to Edmonton as part of the return for the Great One ramped up the conspiracy whispers that Gretzky had simply been auctioned off to Big American Business and that the rest of Canada’s national treasures would soon follow. The trade dominated the headlines of Canadian papers for weeks afterwards and Kings owner Bruce McNall and Gretzky’s new bride, Janet Jackson, became public enemies number one nationwide, their names cursed in editorials and on radio call in shows. Fans held protests outside Northlands Coliseum and then Oilers owner Peter Pocklington was burned in effigy. NDP House Leader Nelson Riis even demanded that the Canadian government declare Gretzky a national symbol and block the trade.

It wasn’t the biggest trade in NHL history (that honour would go to the Eric Lindros deal that went down between the Quebec Nordiques and the Philadelphia Flyers just a few years later), but it is without question the most important. Up until that time, Gretzky was promoting the NHL from Alberta’s frozen northern tundra, but now that he was in L.A. and playing in the shadow of Hollywood, the game’s American popularity exploded like a dying sun. Celebrity spotting became a new past time at Kings games and hockey had become the new cool thing among Tinseltown’s trendsetters seemingly overnight. When Gretzky was traded in 1988, the NHL boasted 14 American clubs; twenty-six years later, through expansion and relocation, 23 teams now reside in American zip codes, including two more clubs in California, two in Florida and teams in Arizona, Dallas, Nashville and Carolina, markets the NHL never dreamt of penetrating before The Trade. And in the wake of Gretzky’s tearful migration south, the United States various amateur hockey programs have improved so much that Canada’s southern neighbours now challenge the Great White North’s previously unquestioned dominance on a regular basis. None of that could have happened unless Wayne Gretzky had worn a Kings jersey.

Edmonton still managed to win another Stanley Cup despite trading the Great One, capturing Lord Stanley’s coveted chalice in 1990. But since then it’s been pretty grim for the Oilers and their fans. They’ve only qualified for the playoffs seven times in the last 22 seasons, and while they were the NHL’s Cinderella story the last time they did make the post-season, advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, they currently own the longest active playoff drought in the League, missing the playoffs the last eight seasons in a row. The closest Gretzky came to Stanley Cup glory after the Trade was leading the Kings to the Cup finals in 1993, where they were embarrassed by Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens in five games. When he retired in 1999, the four Stanley Cup rings in his trophy case were all won as a member of the Oilers. The Great One captured Canada’s collective heart once again in 2002 when he was the most public architect of Canada’s gold-medal winning Olympic hockey team in Salt Lake City (ending over half a century without Olympic gold), but being an owner and NHL head coach didn’t work out too well in his post-retirement days and the Great One has been pretty silent hockeywise the last few years. He leaves behind a legacy of untouchable records though, and remains the biggest reason why hockey was able to plant roots and grow in the United States.

Volumes have been written about the deal that sent Gretzky and company to L.A., and whenever the Trade celebrates a significant anniversary, magazines, newspapers and sports shows run lengthy pieces commemorating it and examining the impact it had. The question of which team won the deal has been asked until the question has lost meaning, but the truth is the real winner was the game of hockey. It’s true that August 9th symbolized the end of one era and the beginning of another, when hockey stopped being just a game and became big business. It also marked the beginning of the game’s explosion of growth in the United States and what it all boils down to is that if, for whatever rhyme or reason, the Edmonton Oilers hadn’t traded Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings over a quarter of a century ago, the game as we know it today-a multi billion dollar entertainment empire that spans entire continents and stretches across generations-wouldn’t exist. Make no mistake, the game would still be here, but you can bet all the money in your mattress that the financial pie the owners and players find themselves squabbling over every seven years or so would be a lot smaller and the game would have to settle for a much smaller stage.

In the end, Canada shed a lot of tears with Wayne that steamy August day in 1988 (“I promised Mess I wasn’t going to do this,”), but Canada survived and hockey in the Proud North is doing just fine (as evidenced by gold medals in the 2014 and 2010 Winter Olympics). And the Trade laid the groundwork that allowed hockey to spread and reach new heights of success and popularity. There have been plenty of bumps along the way, but it was this deal that built the road in the first place. And the purists can rest easy, the game of hockey still bears one, undeniable label. It reads Made in Canada, and no trade will ever change that.

Shayne Kempton

RESURRECTED HEROES IN A HALF SHELL

HOLLYWOOD FINALLY DOES JUSTICE TO A CHERISHED CHILDHOOD PROPERTY WITH A FUN MOVIE THAT BLENDS NOSTALGIA WITH SOME FRESH IDEAS

Director: Jonathan Liebsman

Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub and Whoopi Goldberg

Studio: Paramount Studios

Rated: PG-13

Length: 1 Hr, 41 Mins

From the late 80’s until the early 90’s, the Teenage Mutant Teenage Turtles were a juggernaut. Originally an independent comic book that was toned down and kiddified, the quartet of mutated turtle warriors named after renaissance artists could be seen on after school and Saturday morning cartoons, best selling video games, a popular line of toys and just about anything else their faces could be slapped on and sold for a buck. There was even a pair of live action movies. During their heyday, the Turtles ruled the heap of childhood cool, so fans of the heroes in a half shell were understandably nervous about the new movie adaptation (Hollywood doesn’t exactly have a sterling record when it comes to adapting cherished childhood properties to film). Concerns and doubts deepened even further when it was revealed that Michael Bay was producing the new movie, and when rumours began circulating that he was planning on dramatically changing their backstory, there was a virtual tsunami off online pushback (and casting Megan Fox as news reporter April O’Neil didn’t win many converts either). Turns out fans didn’t have to worry.

New York City is under siege from a mysterious criminal syndicate known as the Foot Clan. The police and government are powerless to stop them and the Foot rule both the streets and the shadows. April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is an ambitious young reporter stuck covering “fluff and froth” stories for the local news until she stumbles on the existence of a vigilante that’s begun opposing the Foot. Pursuing the story further, she learns that there are four vigilantes protecting New York, and they’re anything but human. She soon learns that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and their father/sensei Splinter, a mutated rat) are entwined with her own tragic past, and they soon find themselves co-operating to fight an enemy that threatens everyone in New York.

TMNT is a fun movie that will appeal to the kid inside you while entertaining the actual kids beside you. A summer popcorn movie that never comes close to taking itself seriously (it is a movie about giant talking turtles skilled in nin-jitsu, after all) it’s pure, lighthearted entertainment. The plot is as straight forward as you can get, moving briskly from scene to scene almost like a comic book, never lingering too long on any particular detail, and director Jonathan Liebsman maintains a healthy blend of action and comedy. Like Transformers, the humans are mere set pieces and relegated to supporting roles while the movie centres on the turtles and their introduction to the world. As a kid, my favourite turtle was Raphael, the sarcastic smart ass (go figure), but here’s he a brash, hard headed, reckless loner and the movie provides surprising depth between him and his brother turtles. The special effects are slick and seamless and the action scenes are fresh and captivating (in previous movie versions, the turtles were played by actors in prosthetic body suits but this new incarnation uses body capture and CGI technology perfected in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes movies). This version of TMNT also arguably offers the most intimidating Shredder outside of the comic book pages, an ominous, unstoppable presence that looks like he could go a few rounds with the Man of Steel. While some liberties are taken with the characters’ story (the first black and white comic book appeared on store shelves over 30 years ago), the movie is filled with Easter eggs and nods aimed at purists and hardcore fans.

Is this the launch of a new franchise? Paramount may hope so, but that depends on this one’s box office performance. And guaranteed there will be some long time turtle fans upset or offended by the movie (there’s already an online community devoted to hating the turtles nostrils), but TMNT is a simple movie that takes little effort to enjoy. If you were a fan of the 80’s cartoon (or movies), or are still on speaking terms with your inner child, Turtles will provide you a nice window back into your childhood.

Shayne Kempton

SURPRISE SURPRISE

SUNDAY I LISTED THE 5 NHL TEAMS I THOUGHT WERE THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS LAST SEASON. TODAY I THOUGHT I’D SHARE THE 5 I THOUGHT WERE THE MOST SURPRISING

5. NEW JERSEY DEVILS

After bleeding high profile free agents the past few seasons (Zach Parise in 2012, David Clarkson last summer) and the “retirement” of Ilya Kovalchuk, no one outside of the most optimistic Devils fan thought New Jersey had a shot at the post season. Most observers, myself included, thought the Devils would have been in the running for the first overall selection in last June’s entry draft if the NHL hadn’t stripped them of their first round pick for trying to circumvent the salary cap with, you guessed it, Ilya Kovalchuck’s contract (the NHL would ease the penalty, awarding New Jersey the 30th overall selection). But while New Jersey was never really in the playoff conversation last season, they were never out of it either, finishing 10th in the Eastern conference and surprisingly only missing the post season dance by five lonely little points. In fact, GM Lou Lamoriello was able to leverage last season’s surprising success to convince Jaromir Jagr to return for another season, lock up their current top blue liner Mike Greene for another four years and lure Mike Cammilleri away from the Calgary Flames as a free agent. Not bad for a team a lot of people wrote off last summer.

4. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

While I didn’t think the Bolts would finish as low as they did in 2013 (finishing higher then only Florida in the East and drafting third overall), I didn’t think they were playoff material either, especially after they bought out Vincent Lecavalier, the former face of the franchise. But Tampa Bay started the season by winning games. A lot of games. When Steve Stamkos broke his leg in November, sidelining him for three months and costing him a spot on Canada’s Olympic team, most people wrote them off. But they kept winning. Just after the Olympics, when long time sniper and future Hall of Famer Martin St.-Louis demanded a trade because he felt snubbed by Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman for initially being left off Canada’s Olympic roster (Stevie Y wasted little time tapping St.-Louis to replace the injured Stamkos), many observers felt that would disrupt Tampa’s chemistry more then enough to crash their season. But they kept winning (and managed to get an excellent return for the disgruntled St.-Louis). Buoyed by a Vezina caliber season from goalie Ben Bishop and carried by a collection of young forwards that Yzerman had quietly assembled, the Lightning soared from second last in the East in 2013 to the top of their division in only a single season.

3. COLORADO AVALANCHE

Like the Lightning, I didn’t think Colorado was going to do as poorly in 2014 as they did in 2013, when they finished dead last in the West and owned the second worst record in the league. But I hardly expected them to go from the basement to the top of their division (arguably the toughest in the NHL) either. But rookie coach Patrick Roy coaxed an outstanding season from goalie Semyon Varlamov and guided a dynamic collection of young forwards to the Pacific Division title, bringing respectability back to a once mighty franchise that had fallen on desperate times in recent years. Varlamov was nominated for the Vezina as the NHL’s top goalie, 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, Matt Duchesne enjoyed a breakout season that saw him named to Canada’s Olympic roster over the likes of Taylor Hall and Claude Giroux, Ryan O’Reilly proved why he was so coveted as a restricted free agent the previous year, power forward Gabriel Landeskog proved why he was named the youngest captain in team history (and represented his native Sweden in Sochi) and Paul Stastny regained his former glory. Throw in vets Alex Tanguay and P.A. Parenteau and after suffering through years where Colorado couldn’t buy a goal, the Avs terrorized opposing goalies with one of the deadliest attacks in the NHL last season.

2. MONTREAL CANADIENS

Be honest, did you really think the Habs would be the only team from north of the border to qualify for the NHL post season? And did you honestly expect them to get all the way to the third round? I didn’t, particularly when they ran up against their long time rivals from Beantown in the second round. In a lot of people’s eyes, Boston was destined for a second consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup final, and the 2011 Stanley Cup champs were also the 2014 Presidents Cup winners, dominating the NHL during the regular season. And when the Bruins went up 3-2 in the series, a lot of people were ready to throw in the towel on the Habs. Including yours truly. But with Carey Price saving more rubber then a recycling plant in the Habs net and defenseman P.K. Subban becoming a more unstoppable force of nature with every game, the Habs proved to be the real deal. And had Price not been injured in the opening game of the Habs third round series against the New York Rangers, you could very well have seen the Bleu et Blanc facing off against the L.A. Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals. And speaking of New York . . .

1. NEW YORK RANGERS

The Rangers were by far the most surprising team this past season. New York enjoyed a decent regular season, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference and twelve overall, but weren’t exactly the sexiest pick to represent the East in the Stanley Cup finals. Even the trade deadline acquisition of Martin St-Louis drew little attention. After all, it was hardly a secret that St.-Louis, who demanded a trade out of Tampa Bay following the Sochi Olympics, would only waive his no trade clause for the Rangers, And while they raised a few eyebrows when they knocked the Philadelphia Flyers out of the playoffs in the opening round, it wasn’t until the second round that the blue shirts started to make some real noise. When the Rangers found themselves on the wrong side of a 3-1 deficit during their second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, most fans gave them up for dead. But the Rangers roared back, sending Sidney Crosby, Evengi Malkin and company packing, winning the first game of their comeback without St.-Louis, who was attending his mother’s funeral. And for an encore, the Rangers knocked the red-hot P.K. Subban and Montreal Canadiens out next, clawing and fighting their way to the Final. True, the Rangers benefitted from a weaker Eastern Conference (the east looks like it’s completely up for grabs next season), but they displayed no shortage of tenacity in their unlikely trek to their date with Los Angeles.

Shayne Kempton

 

SEASONAL DISAPPOINTMENT

IT’S THE DEAD OF SUMMER, SO WHAT BETTER TIME TO SHARE MY 5 MOST DISAPPOINTING NHL TEAMS FROM LAST SEASON

So here we are, in the dreary dog days of summer. For hockey fans, this is a painful time of year. The dust settled from the frantic activity of the entry draft and the free agent frenzy weeks ago while training camps don’t open for another month and a half. All the big free agents are gone, the big trades have been made and the closest thing we have resembling news is the rare morsel regarding contract negotiations and arbitration hearings. What better time to list the five NHL teams I thought were the biggest disappointments in the recently finished 2013-14 campaign.

5. WASHINGTON CAPITALS

While I can’t say that I expected a lot from the Caps last season, I can say that I didn’t expect them to miss the post season. Even though three time Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin lead the NHL with 51 goals, winning his second consecutive and fourth career Maurice Richard Trophy, Washington missed the post season by three points. The Caps weren’t without other controversies last season either, as goalie Michael Neuvirth demanded a trade out of town, the guy he was traded for, Jaroslav Halak, was quickly alienated by then Caps head coach Adam Oates and Ovechkin drew criticism for his -35 rating. Oates lost his job at season’s end to Barry Trotz and General Manager George McPhee, whose tenure with the lasted a jaw-dropping team seventeen seasons, was also let go.

4. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Last September I wrote that the Leafs team who ended their playoff drought in 2013 and came one painful game away from upsetting the highly favoured Boston Bruins in the first round of that spring’s playoffs was Brian Burke’s, even though Toronto had fired the combative GM months previous. Dave Nonis wasted little time putting his own fingerprints on the Buds following season’s end though, trading for goalie Johnathan Bernier and forward Dave Bolland and winning a bidding war with the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers to land the summer’s top free agent, David Clarkson. On paper they should have been a playoff team, and things were going great until the NHL resumed operations following the Sochi Olympic games. The wheels didn’t just fall off the Leafs wagon during the last six weeks of the season; they were blown off by a tactical nuke. Clarkson was a bust from day one and Bolland spent over half the season on the IR, but Bernier kept the Leafs in things despite the fact that Toronto was consistently outshot by its opponents. When Bernier went down with an injury though, the Leafs went into full-blown meltdown mode, plummeting from a potential home ice playoff berth to 12th in the East, missing the post season for the eighth time in nine seasons. Some Leafs fans decided to vent their frustrations by harassing goalie James Reimer’s wife on Twitter and just to add insult to long suffering Leaf Nation’s injury, Nonis rewarded head coach Randy Carlyle, who failed to reverse the Leafs death spiral even after Bernier returned to the lineup, with a two year extension following the Leafs collapse.

3. VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Did anyone actually expect the John Tortorella experiment to work in Vancouver last season? Everyone outside of the Canucks head office knew putting the highly combustible Tortorella behind the Canucks bench after Mike Gillis had bungled Vancouver’s goaltending situation and the team continued to lean heavily on a pair of highly skilled European stars was a bad idea. Really bad. How bad became apparent when Tortorella tried to single handedly storm the Calgary Flames dressing room during a January game to attack Flames head coach Bob Hartley (Torts was irate that Hartley had instigated a line brawl by dressing his goon squad and icing them at the top of the game). Only three seasons removed from reaching the Stanley Cup final, the Canucks missed the playoffs, wound up finally trading Roberto Luongo after insulting him again, and in a move that surprised no one, fired Tortorella (shortly after sending Mike Gillis, widely considered the worst GM in the NHL at the time of his firing, packing). Was it little wonder Ryan Kesler wanted out?

 

2. OTTAWA SENATORS

Last September I wrote that the Sens had the potential to be an offensive juggernaut. After making the 2013 playoffs (and ousting the Montreal Canadiens) despite a biblical rash of lengthy injuries to their top players, the Sens were prepped to take a huge step forward. Losing Daniel Alfredsson was a huge blow, but adding Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur to a team that already boasted the likes of Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris and Milan Michalek had awesome written all over it. Factor in that they were starting the season with Cory Conacher (who’d been a big part of 2013’s Calder trophy conversation) and the hope that young forward Mika Zibanejad was ready to take a big step forward in his development and there was no reason to doubt that the Sens were prepped to make a serious Cup run. Instead the Sens tripped right out of the gate and never recovered. They struggled with consistency and found themselves chasing the final playoff spot in the East most of the season, missing the post season for the first time since 2011. Even though Ryan had a lackluster first season in Ottawa and Conacher was invisible enough that the Sens gave him to divisional rival Buffalo at the trade deadline for nothing in return (who then let him leave as a free agent a few months later), Ottawa managed to finish 11th in league scoring (career seasons from Turris and MacArthur helped). But the loss of Alfredsson’s leadership was more then the team could overcome and the goaltending and defensive play that they relied on so heavily in 2013 let them down night after night. As a result, the Sens exiled long time number one centre and current team captain Jason Spezza to Dallas for little in return. Worse yet, as the season progressed, somber details about Sens owner Eugene Melnyk’s finances and their negative impact on Ottawa’s on ice product became more apparent, casting a long shadow over the team’s future hopes.

1. EDMONTON OILERS

This was the year my fellow Oiler fans and I were supposed to be rewarded for our exhausted loyalty and battered faith. The team made strides in 2013, NOT finishing dead last for a change, we had a young new coach in Dallas Eakins (who’d been courted by a handful of other organizations) and a new GM in Craig MacTavish, who backed up his talk of bold moves with a handful of solid additions. We weren’t a lock for the playoffs by any means, but we were ready to transcend the status of being the NHL’s punching bag and punch line and at least be competitive. Instead we were out of the playoff conversation by Halloween, missing the post season for the eighth season in a row and the ninth time in the past ten. Only a record horrible season from the Buffalo Sabres and a last minute swoon by the Florida Panthers (which let Edmonton move ahead of the Cats by a single point on the very last day of the season) prevented Edmonton from finishing dead last (again). Goaltender Devan Dubnyk made a habit of letting goals in from centre ice while veteran Jason Labarbera, who’d been brought in to help mentor the young Dubnyk, resembled a block of Swiss cheese more then an actual NHL goaltender. All told, Edmonton employed the services of six net minders in their crease last season, sending three of them packing via trade at various points in the season (including both Dubnyk and Labarbera). The blue line was a mess (AGAIN), 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov came down with the worst case of the sophomore jinx in recorded history and if Eakins had this team playing anything resembling a system, I couldn’t tell. Fan frustration got so bad that Oilers jerseys were thrown on the ice twice during nationally televised Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts and people were renting signs and flocking to social media to demand the team fire President (and occasional fan insulter) Kevin Lowe. Just goes to show that no matter how bad you think things are, the true bottom of the barrel is always waiting to smack you in the head just when you thought things were looking up.

Shayne Kempton