Sunday, June 22, 2008

Morristown Woman Seeks To Help Kids In Newark

Being of Dutch origin, Maria de Mos has an extravagant garden on her front lawn which she takes great pride in.

“All Dutch people have gardens,” she says cheerfully as she steps out of her house, the sun splashing down on her purple perennials.

Being of the World War II generation and once kept in an internment camp in Indonesia by the Japanese, Ms. de Mos has a lot to smile about today. Especially now that another successful year of the Suburban Cultural Educational Enrichment Program (SCEEP) that she’s a tutor for has again reached its completion date.

“I’ve been working with SCEEP as a tutor for the past 30 years,” says Maria, who hasn’t missed a day since she started working with her Presbyterian Church in Morristown ever since it originally began working with SCEEP many years ago. “There is one child who I know went to college who used to be in the program, and when you hear something like that, it makes you feel damn good.”

A widow but living with her son, Mark, who’s an artist much like herself (it’s one of her many talents), she fits her artwork in with her work with the kids.

“I do it for fun and I also sell it,” she says, regarding her artwork, which layers her walls and hallways, along with her son’s, “I like to do abstract and landscapes, too.”

The purpose of SCEEP is to provide face-to-face tutoring to kids who attend Newark elementary schools, with the ultimate goal of improving their academics, giving them more self-esteem, and keeping them from dropping out of school. A bus picks the kids up after their bell rings and brings them over to one of the host sites so they can learn a multitude of studies, including reading, writing, and art. Once they’re done for the day, they’re bussed back to Newark.

The Presbyterian Church in Morristown isn’t the only group to participate with SCEEP, though, as fifteen churches, six corporations, one university, one private school, a synagogue and fifteen Newark Public Schools around New Jersey are also deeply involved with the program. Included in this roster are the Union Congregational Church, Bloomfield College, and the United Methodist Church in Madison, just to name a few. It’s a program that offers close to 500 children after school tutoring each week. It’s also the largest one-on-one tutoring program in New Jersey and is privately funded by churches, synagogues, universities, private schools, and
Protestant Community Center Inc. (PCCI)

Each location has multiple members and tutors that number around 500 volunteers around New Jersey who provide close to a million hours of service each year. This particular SCEEP in Morristown that de Mos is a part of has about 28 tutors and activity volunteers including a multitude of cooks that provide food for the kids.

“We work with 3rd, 4th, and 5th, graders,” de Mos says, “and if you can read, you can help.” The kids are taught and given time to play for all three years, one day a week, two hours a day, and the program acts as a form of extra help during the regular school year.

Ms. de Mos is personally no stranger to helping out others and being helped herself, as three years of her youth were spent living with the grudge of being held in an internment camp with little food or comfort. “My father was a civil engineer,” Ms. de Mos says with a smile creeping up on her face, “and he brought to the camp running water and toilets.”

Asked as to why her father did such a thing, she responds rather matter-of-factly, “He just thought it was the right thing to do.”

And that’s similar as to why Ms. de Mos helps out with SCEEP in the first place—she just thinks it’s the right thing to do.

“Indonesia had free hospitals and free education,” de Mos says as she gives one final look at her garden before she steps back into her house.

It’s a look that’s very proud of both the growth of her garden, and also the growth of all the young minds she’s helped over these past thirty years of her life.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Semi-Pro Review

Rich Knight
91 Mins
No Rate
Starring: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Will Arnett, David Koelchner
Produced by: Jimmy Miller
Written by: Scott Armstrong
Directed by: Kent Alterman
New Line Cinema

Unfortunately for Will Ferrell, Semi-Pro will probably go down in history as “That basketball movie with Will Ferrell wearing an afro,” or, “That movie where that poor stunt double got mauled by a bear.” Either way you put it, though, both of these unfiltered quotes could probably be combined to sum up the movie as a whole: Will Ferrell playing basketball with an afro and getting mauled by a bear. There really isn’t much more to this lackluster, sport-themed comedy.

The Movie: 1 star

Will Ferrell, like Shaq at the free throw line, is entirely undpredicatably when it comes to making movies. Sometimes, he can land a slam dunk and elevate himself to comic god-like status with movies like Old School and Talladega Nights. Other times, he misses both shots entirely at the free throw line and brings down the whole damn team with atrocities like Kicking and Screaming and Bewitched. Well, taking that whole basketball analogy a bit further, Will Ferrell’s latest entry to the sports world, Semi-Pro is a missed basket that winds up costing the whole team the last game of the finals. This ultimately makes it a horrible decision for anybody and everybody involved.

The worst part of all this, though, is that all this could have actually been avoided if the cast had had a better script on hand. Instead, plain sight lead in jokes often stumble, action scenes clunker along, and Will Ferrell is just left to stand around and scream his head off. In the end, it’s easy to see that the star is using whatever moxie he can to try and not look bored in this unabashedly terrible movie.

Given how bad this movie is, though, it’s all the more a shame to find that the story actually had potential. It’s the follow-up lay-up, though, that’s the problem, and that’s what ultimately jumbles the whole movie. Will Ferrell stars as Jackie Moon, a disco star in the late 70s whose rise to fame is spearheaded by a ludicrously explicit disco song called, “Love Me Sexy.” It was this song that made him rich enough to purchase the fictitious Flint Michigan Tropics for reasons that are never quite explained throughout the entirety of the movie.

The problem is, though, as the current coach, promoter, and even player for the team, he’s also responsible for the team’s future, which is put in jeoprody when the NBA threatens to buy out the ABA in a merger that could possibly close the Tropic’s franchise forever. It’s up to Will Ferrell to get his losing team to winning status if he wants to save them from impending doom and the inevitable closing of their doors. It’s a story that definitely could have worked in the right hands. I mean, Dodgeball worked, and that’s almost the exact same story: Underdogs looking to lose their territory fight back to hilarious results. Seriously, what could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, everthing though, as Semi-Pro quickly shows in the very first few scenes of the movie. Will Arnett playing a smarmy announcer donning a very 70s’ style mustache should work in theory, so why doesn’t it?

And Andre Benjamin, who’s great in everything he does, also seems to just hang around and do nothing, as his character, Clarence Withers/Coffee Black/and other names that are equally un-funny, doesn’t have a single smile worthy moment in the entire film. Not a signle one. Hey ya, Hollywood, what are you doing? Andre Benjamin pretty much epitomizes the entire concept of the word fun, so how could you possibly render the Outkast star charmless?

And then there’s Woody Harrelson, playing the role of a washed up, love-sick former basketball champion who comes to the aid of the Tropics in their dire time of need. As soon as Woody Harrelson gives his, I-hate-my-current-life scowl and starts kicking in cop car windows, you wonder if anybody on the set actually told him to loosen up as he looks like he just stepped off the wrong sound stage. This is a shame, too, as Harrelson has already proven that he could do basketball dramedy in White Men Can’t Jump, but that’s also a huge problem with Semi-Pro—you really can’t tell which direction this film is heading in.

Of course, if it has Will Ferrell screaming and making a lot of noise, it has to be a comedy, right? But there are just too many dour moments in the film that completely sour the deal. With Woody Harrelson’s depressed character, it’s obvious that we’re not going to get any memorable catch-phrases from him, but with Will Ferrell, we expect more; much more. At times, though, Will Ferrell’s character seems just as pathetic and yearning for something more as Harrelson’s character, and not to comedic effect as you’d see in other over-the-top Will Ferrell movies that have just the right touch of heart and character to make them classics.

Overall, it’s the lack of laughs, good characters, and famous Ferrell-isms, that ultimately hamper this misguided movie. Semi-Pro is one missed jump shot too many in a stream of questionable Will Ferrell films that don’t quite live up to the hype of the name on the marquee poster.

The Disc: 2 stars

I applaud New Line Cinema for sticking two different versions of the film, an unrated, slightly raunchier version, and the original, theatrical one, on the disc, but the differences are so minimal that you barely even realize that there are differences between the two at all. So minimal are these differences, in fact, that I’m not even really sure if there are any differences between the two versions besides an added F bomb here, and a little more nudity there. In the end, you feel cheated for watching both versions of the movie, especially when the movie is as atrocious as it is and doesn’t warrant being watched a second time through.

The biggest problem with the disc though is that the added unrated version is the only real special feature on the entire disc. Seriously, where are the deleted scenes, where are the television promos, and where is the much needed, audio commentary? I mean, even for a terrible movie like Semi-Pro, I expect some kind of special features for its big time release. Instead, we’re left with the ability to turn on subtitles or check out new movies that are coming out soon for DVD and Blu Ray. Come on, New Line, don’t people who shilled out money for this movie deserve more than just an unrated version that might as well just be the regular version? Is that all you’re really have to offer us, guys? Unfortanely, this lack of special features looks to be a trend in a lot of DVD’s these days, and not just for an outrightly bad Will Ferrell movie that can’t land a comic alley oop to save its life.

Monday, June 2, 2008

So, Wait. Is Killer Instinct 3 Coming Out Or Not?

In a recent article from, EGM’s surreptitious scuttlebutt scavenger, Quartermann, seems to have uncovered news that Rare is hard at work on a new Killer Instinct game goofily titled, Killer Instinct 3D: Death, Destruction, and Doom. For an immense fan of the series like myself, this couldn’t be better news. Well, it actually could be better news—Silicone Knights could announce that they were hard at work on Eternal Darkness 2: Even Darker—but I guess beggers can’t be choosy, and I’ve definitely been begging for a KI sequel for like, ever, now.

Little is known about the game, or even if the game actually exists, but if Quartermann says it’s true, then I’m going to have to choose to believe it. More often than not, that mysterious mole seems to be right on the money with his rumors, so I’ll take it as fact for the time being. Until, that is, Rare breaks my heart again and says that Banjo-Kazooie is full steam ahead, while Killer Instinct is just a KI fan’s pipe dream.

But what a pipe dream that would be, right? Memories of Jago, Fulgore, and TJ Combo are already making my fingers and wrists pamptomine incidents in the arcade where a greasy joystick and busted buttons were the only things I was touching. Seriously, what the hell has Rare been doing all this time that warrants them not making a sequel for this game already?

We shall soon see if the X-Box360 produces another hit with the KI name attached to it. In the meantime, though, would it be too much to ask to see either the original KI or the slightly lacking KI2 on X-Box 360’s live arcade? It’s been too long since I’ve heard a well derserved, ULTRA, ULTra, Ultra…rigning in my eardrums on a hot summer day.