Tuesday, September 28, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Despite Sitting Out First Quarter, Edwards Key to Jets Win in Miami

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Despite Sitting Out First Quarter, Edwards Key to Jets Win in Miami on Blogcritics.

If you were writing the script for the Jets 31-23 win over the Dolphins in Miami, you would probably not have conjured up as good a twist as what happened in reality: Braylon Edwards - the guy who got in trouble with a DWI last week - turned in the key performance that helped push the Jets to victory. Instead of sipping an alcoholic beverage through a straw and landing himself in the pokey,

Braylon Edwards was the straw that stirred the drink in the Jets win.
Should the Jets and their fans be happy they got out of Miami with a victory? You bet your bottom dollar. There is the other side of the story though, the thing that got away from everyone in the euphoria of victory: Edwards still was caught and arrested for drinking and driving last week with a blood alcohol count of 0.16. How he could even drive like that is beyond imagination, and the fact that no one was seriously hurt or killed is amazing, but there is still the notion of the disciplinary action taken or the lack thereof in last night's game.

Edwards sat for the first quarter. This is head coach Rex Ryan and team owner Woody Johnson's version of tough love. You can call it a slap on the wrist, but it's more like a tap on the finger. What did Edwards learn from his benching last night? More importantly, what the heck did his teammates and all the Jets fans (especially the kids) get out of the whole thing? You go out and get drunk, even get arrested, and we'll let you sit out for a spell before putting you back in the game. That's what they got.

That reminds me of my school days when the nuns made us stand against the wall and watch the other kids play as punishment during recess. What did we do? It didn't matter; that was the blanket punishment. When the five minutes were up, a flick of the wrist told us we could play, and we'd race off into the schoolyard and forget all about our little transgressions and just have fun.

The problem is that Edwards didn't have a little trangression. He was driving while drunk, but that was all forgotten last night after his brief benching. Edwards went out and had lots of fun as he was involved in three crucial plays in the game:  a sixty-seven-yard touchdown, a twenty-yard catch, and he inspired an end-zone pass interference call on Jason Allen, which was followed by LaDainian Tomlinson's short TD run that put the Jets ahead for good. A big night for the big man indeed!

Could the Jets have won without him? Perhaps not, and maybe that's the whole point to the light penalty of one quarter on the bench. It's a case of the Jets wanting to do the right thing in a bad situation, but they didn't want to give away the game either. Still, you can win the battle and lose the war, and I am sort of wondering if that is the price the Jets will have to pay later this season.

With their defense depleted by injuries to Darrelle Revis, Calvin Pace, and Kris Jenkins, Ryan and company probably had big fears going into this game. If they lost lost the game because Edwards was out the whole way, they would hear neverending complaints about a lack of leniency and taking the DWI thing too seriously. But now that they have won the game, with Edwards being an integral part of the victory, there will be others who argue that the Jets put winning before doing what was right. And, of course, they would be totally correct.

A lot of good things happened in last night's game. QB Mark Sanchez looked great again; the defense didn't fall apart against the Dolphins, and Edwards made it look like he was indispensible. The problem is that all those good things don't erase the DWI. It is going to be an albatross hanging around Rex Ryan's neck for the rest of the season. The question is will he be like the Ancient Mariner and forced to keep telling a story of woe? That would be a losing cause in the long run, but hopefully Ryan will find a way to remove that albatross before it ends up defeating him.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Total Drama on Revis Island

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Total Drama on Revis Island on Blogcritics.

My father always said, "You can't have it both ways." This usually meant I was being taught a lesson about something. This happens all the time with teenagers. They want money, but they don't want to work for it. They want a car, but they don't want to pay for it. They want privileges, but they don't want the responsibility that comes with them. You get the idea.
Well, the same can be said of the New York Jets and their head coach Rex Ryan these days. Rex likes to come off as the cocky leader of a swaggering bunch of pirates that may be scallywags, but it's supposed to be okay because they have their eyes on the prize: not a buried treasure but instead the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Anyone who watched the HBO series Hard Knocks knows what I am talking about.
Well Rex can't have it both ways: he can't come out and say he's "embarassed" for the organization and its owners and all this other stuff when one of his players does something bad, because in fact he encourages the rogue mentality in that clubhouse. He may not see that or understand it, but it's clear that his players think their coach believes it's good to be bad.
Ryan might as well go around the clubhouse singing that theme song from the TV show Cops. "Bad boys, bad boys/What you gonna do/What you gonna do/When they come for you?" Sadly, the way things are going, no one is coming and no is doing anything about it either, so it seems like nothing more than a joke, but on whom?
The latest drama in the soap opera As Gang Green Turns has to do with Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was arrested for driving while intoxicated. There seems to be little disciplinary action on the team's (or NFL's) part, except to say that Edwards will sit this week's game out: That's a bad decision for Edwards; worse for the Jets and their fans. If Edwards is there in uniform, he should play. If he's not going to play, don't let him suit up. He shouldn't be anywhere even close to Miami. Making him sit on his hands and watch the game from the bench teaches him nothing and his fans nothing as well.
I am not suggesting Edwards should go unpunished: he most definitely should be. He will get his day in court and hopefully he'll feel some kind of pain. It is only fitting because there are too many people in wheelchairs and in graves because of drunk drivers. He can't just get away with it because no drunk driver should get away with - even if they are first offenders like Edwards. It is an affront to the victims of drunk drivers and their suffering families.
The thing is that the NFL does not do what it should do in these cases: fine the transgressors. Hit them in the wallet where it hurts. Whatever Edwards gets paid for one game: fine him and give that money to some organization that helps victims of drunk drivers. Every game he sits he should forfeit his money. Plain and simple. If he goes to jail eventually and misses more games, fine him again and again. Maybe that will teach someone a lesson.
To add to the total drama here, Darrelle (No Man Is an Island) Revis came out and condemned his teammate's behavior and questioned the way the team is handling the situation. That's just what we need from Revis, the guy, who because of a contract dispute, held out so long that he missed training camp, got out of condition, and then came back and hurt himself. He should stick to getting himself better and back on the field. Maybe he can talk more when he's proved something, considering how he let his team and their fans down.
Ryan, who never worries about the size of the shoe sticking out of his mouth, should try to defuse the situation, not bring more attention to the problem. Yes, the whole thing is embarrasing to the organization, but the buck stops - or at least it should - on Ryan's desk. Like Harry Truman, he better take responsibility for the actions of his players. He should shut the clubhouse door and set his club straight. He had better do it quickly, or this 2010 season is going to unravel quicker than a fishing line stuck in a Great White shark's jaws.
Great white sharks? Circling Revis Island? Edwards goes in for a swim. Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun: dun-dun-dun! Rex, I think you're going to need a bigger boat.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Jets Survive Loss of Revis and Beat Patriots

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets Survive Loss of Revis and Beat Patriots on Blogcritics.

If you are a New York Jets fan, you probably closed your eyes when you saw Darrelle Revis go out of the game and said a little prayer. I know I did. "Please, let him get back in." Unfortunately, that left hamstring kept him out the rest of the way, but the Jets D found their mojo and shut the New England Patriots down in the second half, resulting in a 28-14 win that gave Gang Green a much needed victory.

After last week's terrible 10-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Jets needed this one on their home turf against the Pats. During training camp, QB Tom Brady when asked about the TV show Hard Knocks, said that he didn't watch the show and hated the Jets. Thanks, Tom, that really helped Gang Green get themselves revved up for you. Of course, it didn't hurt that Sanchez found his sea legs and the offense really took off in this game.

The story could easily have been a disaster. In the second quarter when Randy Moss beat Revis for that touchdown, it just seemed like Revis was not himself but, when Revis reached for that left leg, it was a bad omen that made it feel like Gang Green would be demolished the rest of the way. After the game head coach Rex Ryan admitted that when he heard Revis pulled his "hamstring," he was ready to shed a few tears. That Rex - always Mr. Sensitive, but most Jets fans probably felt the same way.

With Revis gone and the score 14-10 in favor of the Pats at the half, it was not a pleasant intermission for Jets Nation. As we wondered how bad it would be in the second half without Revis, something must have happened in that Jets' locker room. Maybe Ryan gave a pep talk while drinking a veggie shake and twirling a hula hoop. Whatever happened, the Jets came out and their D shut down big mouth Brady without Revis. Antonio Cromartie must have had a bowl of Wheaties, because he stopped Moss cold.

On what may have been the most important play of the night, Brady threw a long pass to Moss, but Cromartie and Brodney Pool were on him. The ball bounced off Cromartie and into Pool's waiting arms, but the officials said he was out of bounds. The Jets challenged, and replays clearly showed Pool's both feet were in bounds and that he had control of the ball. That play was basically the end for Brady and the Pats.

While I've been pretty tough on Sanchez all during the preseason and again last week, I have to give him a standing ovation for the way he played in this one. Not only did he complete 21 of 30 passes for 220 yards, but he also notched a career high three touchdowns. LaDainian Tomilson, Jerricho Cotchery, and Braylon Edwards all contributed as the offense really shined in this game.

Of course, it wouldn't be Gang Green if they weren't some drama. All-Pro center Nick Mangold suffered an injury and also left the game. Will he be available next week? And though no man is an island, will Revis be banished to the disabled list? Will Ryan then cry himself a river of tears? Tune in next week as the never ending saga of As Gang Green Turns continues.

Rafael Nadal: A Great Tennis Player and a Very Good Sport

Article first published as Rafael Nadal: A Great Tennis Player and a Very Good Sport on Blogcritics.

I don't know about you, but I am sick of poor sportsmanship. I am really tired of all the players in different sports who don't adhere to the motto, "It's not if you win or lose but how you play the game." Sadly, in today's climate of sports becoming more and more like a business instead of it being purely a well-played game, the unsportsman-like conduct of players is overlooked in favor of the big bucks they generate.

When I look at sports players today, I see some good guys like Derek Jeter and David Wright, but then we get a story like the one about how some of the NY Jets players harassed a female reporter, and it seems like the good guys are an exception to the rule. There are more guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Plaxico Burress in the news than not. How sad for sports and all the kids who are watching.

That is why the story of Rafael Nadal is such a great one. While there are already people talking about him being the greatest player of all time, or being the biggest money-making brand in sports, the thing about Nadal is that he is the ultimate good sportsman. He is a genuinely nice fellow, just 24 years old, but he has a wisdom way beyond his years. He also carries himself like a gentleman, and that is a thing sorely lacking in sports for the most part.

Make no mistake, on the court he is a cunning and powerful opponent. No matter how much he likes Roger Federer, he knows how to take him apart and win a match. Nadal takes no prisoners, and that is as commendable as is his off the court behavior. Still, when the playing part is done, Nadal talks the talk of a good sport.

After winning the U.S. Open, Nadal was asked if he was now the greatest player in the game. It was one of those qualifying moments, those eerie silent seconds when the water dripping in the bathroom sounds like a geyser, but Nadal was ready with the perfect answer. He said that he had a long way to go for that, a long way to be as good as Roger Federer. There was applause, and his friend Federer smiled graciously on the sidelines. It was an ultimate sports moment handled with aplomb by Nadal. This is indeed what good sportsmanship is all about.

Long ago I had a baseball coach who said, "It easy to be a good sport, a good loser; the hardest thing to be is a good winner." Although I have forgotten that coach's name I have never forgotten those words. Never.

It is a shame that tennis is not a more kid-friendly sport. I wish more kids watched it because they would see in Rafael Nadal someone who is a good role model. He is a really great player, perhaps the greatest ever in his sport, but what makes him stand out is his ability to be a good winner.

These days to be gracious and humble in defeat is always a good thing, but to be so in victory elevates one to a higher level, a nobility that is truly fitting in the concept of good sportsmanship. After the U.S. Open Rafael Nadal proved that, even though he is the King of Tennis, he has the common touch. It would be a good idea for people involved in all other sports to take a page from his book.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Joe Torre To Leave Dodgers: Will He Return to Manage the Mets?

Article first published as Joe Torre To Leave Dodgers: Will He Return to Manage the Mets? on Blogcritics.

As it was announced yesterday, LA Dodgers manager Joe Torre will leave the Dodgers at the end of the season to be replaced by hitting coach Don Mattingly. This may come as a surprise to some people, but those who know Torre are not so surprised by the news at all. The question is this: does Joe miss home or is he just tired of La-La Land?

The truth is that Joe looked good in Dodger blue, but he would look even better in orange and blue, the colors he once wore as manager of the New York Mets. During his first managerial job that covered four seasons, Joe didn't do much winning, but he was well liked and handled those tough down years for the Mets with his characteristic good grace and humor.

Though a report in the NY Daily News claims that Torre would never come back to New York to work in "the shadow of the Yankees," I have a feeling that Joe is not done at seventy years old by any means. Since that other Joe is over in the Bronx managing the Bombers, it seems that it would be fitting to have the old Joe back in a Mets uniform.

What better way to slap some sense into the Mets players than to bring in an icon, one with a Mets pedigree to boot? Torre brings with him instant credibility, a New York savvy, and the legacy of being a winner.

It seems to me that the Mets have nothing to lose by bringing back Torre and everything to gain. Besides, his sister is a nun, and the Mets, who haven't had a prayer in recent years, could use all the help they can get.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: 10-9 Loss to the Ravens Only Part of the Problem

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: 10-9 Loss to the Ravens Only Part of the Problem on Blogcritics.

Hanging my head quietly after the Jets slumped off the field in defeat at the New Meadowlands Stadium, I had one question: what did the Jets in more? The rucus with TV news reporter Ines Sainz or the way they gave away the store on the HBO series Hard Knocks?

One question is harder to deal with than the other, but in the ever churning soap opera that is Gang Green, no drama goes unnoticed. The Jets have been accused by Ms. Sainz of sexual harassment. She was on the field, trying to do her job and interview players, including QB Mark Sanchez, but some players got more than a little crazy. Maybe an attractive woman still causes that kind of thing, but truthfully it is as unacceptable on the gridiron as it in the boardroom.

The other part of that question is just as salient: did the Jets reveal too much on Hard Knocks? We know head Coach Rex Ryan certainly opened his mouth way too much - ask the Ravens' Ray Lewis who has the last laugh right now - and this caused players on other teams, coaches, and everyone else to wonder why the Ryan and the Jets would ever expose themselves this way. Good publicity? Perhaps. It was also an easy way to build resentment that had already been there into a tidal wave of anger and a desire for payback.

I am not sure we can blame the reporter or the TV show for what happened last night. The Jets defense almost looked as bad as the offense. The D got penalties it should not get, gave Ravens' QB Flacco more time than he should ever have had; and while Darrelle Revis looked good, he couldn't make up for Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson's transgressions all by himself.

As for the offense, you probably are sitting there shaking your heads and thinking, "What offense?" All the worries we had about King Rex's horses and his men seemed justified last night. Sanchez got humpty-dumptied by the Ravens' defense and is lucky they could put him together again.

This was less than an auspicious start for our Gang Green. They have to learn that a pretty woman on the field is no excuse for acting like teenagers at the mall. They also have to learn that the opposing team on the field has watched their TV show, taken lots of notes, and are more than ready for them.

Who beat Gang Green on September 13th? They all only have to look into the mirror to find the answer to that question.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Ninth Anniversary of 9/11: The Lost Never Go Away

Article first published as The Ninth Anniversary of 9/11: The Lost Never Go Away on Blogcritics.

People will always ask, "Where were you?" when talking about 9/11. Some of us remember all too well; some of us were not even born. The question echoes across time and space, as it did for people long ago when Lincoln was assassinated, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and when Kennedy was also assassinated. Those events are locked into history and qualify a moment in our collective memory, as does 9/11. On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, there is one unrelenting truth: the lost never go away.

As I sat there this morning, transfixed by the televised images of people in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park marking the anniversary by reading the names of those lost, I waited. I waited to hear his name as the tears welled, my son in the playpen too young to know anything about why his father wept. His sister knows why, but she had been only a baby when she lost her uncle; no memory of him is possible for her, except that which is kept alive by stories and photographs and moments like this.

The name was read, a picture was shown, brief details of his age and hometown were listed, and those reading the long list of those lost went on, reading other names, a litany of pain and suffering for those the lost had left behind. The day was impeccably beautiful, as it was nine years ago: a cloudless blue sky, clear all the way to heaven it seemed then as it seems now. We all remember on this anniversary, but for many of us the memory is there as a shadowy part of everyday life.

Sometimes I am reminded of 9/11 by something small, perhaps a bolt of unforgiving sunshine through a window. Other times it is the sound of a revving jet engine, or the screams of people on the beach as big waves prepare to crash. I can see my son standing in the park staring up at leaves on a tree, and his look of wonder reminds me of an innocence lost. The daunting heft of 9/11 weighs on some of us more than others, but it is like that with things that some don't want to remember but others can never forget.

9/11 is a daily thought for anyone who lost someone. Sometimes it is magnified by things said or done; other times it is a flash in the waking mind, or part of some dark nightmare that revisits without warning. The people we loved and the people we lost were not destroyed on 9/11, not in the sense of their hold on memory and emotion. The physical loss of them not withstanding, the fallen are always there, the evanescent touch of their presence all around us.

For them there is no argument about a so-called "Ground Zero mosque." They don't care about tea parties and protesters and the people who wish to denigrate their memory. Terrorists, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the financial crisis are worldly concerns, not theirs. They are beyond the pedestrian squawking of mortals who exploit their memory for their own designs. The lost have risen to a new place and are free of the minutia that some people seem to worry about more than they should, but the lost are still concerned with those they love in this world, and in their ethereal domain they wish that peace will come to those they left behind.

9/11 must always be a day to be remembered for only one reason: to honor the memory of those lost. It is also necessary and compelling for those who were left behind and all other Americans and citizens of the world who mourn their passing. In honoring the lost well and consistently, we show that the best of America is found in such memorials and has nothing to do with book burning, intolerance, or hatred. Those things are what brought down the Twin Towers and have no place in this country.

We will never forget 9/11 or the persons that were lost that day. Some of us knew them, broke bread with them, and laughed with them. They were our family members and our friends. Many people never met those lost, but their connection to them is palpable just the same. It is an emotional and spiritual connection, and in that we are united on this day each year and forevermore.

Monday, September 6, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Rex on the Beach

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Rex on the Beach on Blogcritics.

The ever-changing saga of the New York Jets had a new twist this holiday weekend: Rex Ryan flew down to Florida to have a pow-wow with his star cornerback Darrelle Revis. In the report first revealed by the New York Daily News, Ryan went to speak to Revis about getting something done before the first game of the season next Monday night against the tough Baltimore Ravens.

Can you imagine how this meeting took place? As previously reported in this column early in the preseason, Ryan was lamenting the absence of Revis in training camp. He even suggested that Revis would be kissed on the lips if he ever walked through the door. Since Revis wouldn't come to the mountain, the mountain obviously came to him.

I can picture Rex running along the beach, the wind in his hair, his arms outstretched longingly. Revis is running in the other direction, using his skills to escape Rex's embrace, but even the best defensive back in football can't evade a determined Rex on the beach.

Once reunited, they talk small talk. Rex tells him how much he needs him. Darrelle counters with the fact that he doesn't feel the love. Rex reminds him about the kiss comment, and Revis breaks down. They get on the cell phone, call Jets general manager Mike Tannebaum, and all is forgiven. A four-year, $46 million dollar deal is all the love Revis has ever wanted. For now anyway.

Rex and Darrelle walk along the surf, kick a few shells, and they are back in business. Rex hums a few bars of John Denver's "I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane." Revis says, "I'll be right behind you, man."

The contract will be signed today as Revis comes to New Jersey; disaster has been averted. The Jets and their fans no longer have to worry about Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson filling the Revis void. With Revis back in the fold, look for the Jets D to be number one again this year, and that means everything with the shaky preseason Mark Sanchez and the offense have had thus far.

Has the drama ended? Probably not because As Gang Green Turns is the best soap opera in all of sports, but for now Rex Ryan can be seen as the guy who saved the season by sweet talking Revis into signing a deal. Who needs Brad Pitt when Rex Ryan is your leading man?


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day: Celebrating Work and Life

Article first published as Labor Day: Celebrating Work and Life on Blogcritics.

I have written two articles about Labor Day in recent years, so I was wondering if I should write another, and then the truth about "work" hit me: this day needs to be recognized, and all those who "labor" certainly earn an annual tip of the cap. Work should be appreciated as an integral part of the way we live and respected by those who serve and are served.

In one of those previous articles I posed the question "Do you live to work or work to live?" In and of itself, that query holds so much fuel for introspection and examination. Does what we do matter? How so? Or do we go through the machinations in order to just attain that paycheck, not caring if we make a difference because in the end our payment is all that matters?

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle said, "All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind." If we think about that, then most everyone out there is being paid to degenerate mentally and - if not descending to the point of extinction - get so low as to not care anymore. Have you seen workers that seem lost like that? Sometimes I have, and I walk out of that store or place of business and wish they could find something else to do not just to make money but to be happy.

The problem is most of us have to make money. It is not a choice but a requirement. That brings back the old "work to live" idea. We go from paycheck to paycheck. Shoulder against the wheel. Turn, turn, turn! Ad infinitum.

The great poet Edwin Arlington Robinson wrote of such malaise in labor in the brilliant "Richard Cory" :

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

In this poem the poor people of the local town look up to a wealthy man named Cory, who seems like a king but is gracious and kind. They know nothing else about him, except that they wish that they were in his place. One night he goes home and ends all the speculation about how great it is to be him: he commits suicide. The message is loud and clear: be careful what you wish for and then some.

Whether we are wealthy or not, we all long for something meaningful in life. Work is an extremely important part of that. If we have found something to do that brings joy to our lives, we are doubly blessed. If, like Richard Cory, we have everything monetarily but nothing that counts, then we descend to a dark place where wealth is nothing but a burden, and some face annihilation rather than realize the truth that there is more to life than money. Much more.

Over the course of my working life as an educator, some of the most meaningful and important work I have witnessed being done is by people who don't get paid a penny: volunteers. I have seen volunteers who work so tirelessly and dedicatedly, you'd want to pay them if you could, but that is the beauty of it: they are there because of something that transcends a weekly paycheck: they reap the benefits of doing work that they love, and their reward is far more glorious than anything with a dollar sign next to it.

There are many people out there who are working to live and some who are living to work. Some must support their families; others a lifestyle. There are those lucky ones who would never call what they do labor: it is done for love and reward beyond anything tangible. There are also those volunteers, the selfless ones who go out of their way to do something for the sake of others without recompense. We celebrate all of these people on Labor Day because what they do matters, no matter how small or big their role is in life.

I learned a good deal from observing my father - a man who ran his own successful business for many years - and this is especially true in relation to ordinary people that he saw working. No matter where we were, he never ceased to thank someone who served him and compliment those who did an outstanding job. He would go out of his way to thank the cashier and the waitress in a diner. If we went into a building where a janitor was mopping the lobby, he would try to walk around the wet area and excuse himself saying something like, "Sorry to step on your floor. You're doing such a wonderful job there." He would stop and watch a gardener pruning some hedges, and then tell him, "You've done such a great job." It only took a few seconds, but I imagine those people never forgot what Dad had said to them.

I grew up and followed my father's example over the years. I have thanked those who do the jobs that many of us would not want to do. I've thanked anyone who provides a service for me, and give compliments when I believe they are warranted. I did this with the guy who pumps my gas everyday, thanking him for being so quick when I pulled into the station. Guess what? After a time, he started cleaning my windows without my asking him to do it, and he even refused a tip from me (which I would eventually insist that he take). The point is that all work is meaningful to someone, even if it's not the person doing it.

In Mark 10:42 Jesus said, "But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all." We can remember that as we go about our days. We can, by showing appreciation, let working people know that we see what they're doing, admire how it is being done, and thank them with a smile or a handshake. It's the least we can do on Labor Day, and any other day of the year for that matter.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

TV Review: Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam - A Sweet Treat for All

Article first published as TV Review: Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam - A Sweet Treat for All on Blogcritics.

I have heard this being called the Summer of Sequels by various TV and radio entertainment people, and it is true that many films came out that fit into that category: Toy Story 3, Sex and the City 2, Iron Man 2, Predators, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, and Shrek Forever After. While these were all seen in movie theaters, the sequel that had the most buzz (at least in my family) was Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam. After watching it on Disney Channel last night with my daughter, I can say it was worth the wait indeed!

The cast is led by the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato as it was last time, but this time there is a new romance, plenty of new tunes, and a challenge from another camp that spice up the story. It seems the Jo Bros and Demi are more than up for the challenge, with Demi as the once shy Mitchie Torres shining brightly again, and Joe Jonas as Shane Gray coming through with a strong performance.

In the first film the conflict was Mitchie hiding her true identity as daughter of Connie, the camp cook (Maria Canals-Barrera). This time a decidedly more confident and popular Mitchie returns to enthusiastic greetings from former friends. She also does not have to win Shane's affection; rather, he is trying to make this a special summer for them as a couple, but other conflicts await to throw a monkey wrench into the works.

This year there is a new rival for Mitchie and company: Camp Star. Since this camp has challenged Camp Rock to a musical smack down, Mitchie becomes so all consumed in preparing for the event that she doesn't make time for Shane. Meanwhile, Nate (Nick Jonas) falls for Dana (Chloe Bridges), a girl from the rival camp setting up a Romeo and Juliet type of scenario, with Nate even wooing her with guitar - but she forgoes the balcony scene and stands right in front of him.

I know my daughter liked this movie better than the first film, and probably more than any other reason it is because the Jo Bros are front and center in this one (in the first film Nick and Kevin were merely window dressing). Also, little brother Frankie even gets into the act here as a camper, so it is more Jonas Brothers all the way.

Camp Rock 2 does all things the right - and obviously the Disney - way, and that means that its got the target audience right where it wants them. Kids like my daughter and all the other tweens out there get to see Nate pine longingly for the girl, Shane and Mitchie disagree about things (and yet we know they're never going to break up) and even former bad girl Tess Tyler (Meaghan Martin) reverts to the dark side, but the kids know that all will be right again in the end by the final number.

The final showdown pits Camp Rock against Camp Star in a televised competition that allows audience members to text in their votes for the winners. There are two huge showstoppers that seem like the Opening Ceremony to the Olympic Games more than anything else, but that follows the tradition of High School Musical 2 where more - much, much more - seems like a compromise and even less than as good as in the original.

That small nit aside, Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam is sure to be a hit with kids and their parents. I know my daughter plans to watch it again tonight - Disney inevitably broadcasts its original movies for three nights in a row on the premiere weekend - and no doubt many other kids will follow suit. Parents should also prepare to acquire the soundtrack - or wait for Christmas because I have been already warned that it will be on Santa's list this year. The songs are all energetic with easy to remember lyrics. By the end of the show, my daughter was singing along like she had heard them all before - and she had when she saw the Jonas Brothers live this summer. Is that shrewd marketing or what?

One thing to note is that the ending makes it clear that there is almost definitely going to be a Camp Rock 3, so the only question is will Disney take the same path it did with High School Musical 3 and release it in theaters first? Otherwise, we can rest assured that the Demi and the Jo Bros will be back for more camping and rocking and jamming. Who could ask for anything more?