I hope everyone enjoyed their recent Memorial Day weekend. Many Louisianans were vacationing over the long holiday or enjoying a cookout with family and friends. Many stores held sales advertising for us to have a “Happy Memorial Day.” All well and good, but what about the real purpose of this special day?
Many of us don’t even know the difference between Memorial Day (honoring those who died defending our country) and Veterans Day (honoring all service men and women). Only 5% of Americans attended local military events or parades. I joined a sparsely attended gathering Memorial Day at the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge. Is it enough to holler USA at sporting events, or to say “Thank you for your service” when you see a service man or women in uniform? Should Americans be required to do more?
In 1967, I was 27 years old and newly married with my first child on the way. So I was draft exempt, with no legal requirement to join the service. Maybe I did not have a legal obligation, but what about a moral responsibility to serve my country in the time of war?
I come from a long line of distinguished military officers who never hesitated to serve their country. They did not try to find ways to sidestep such service like so many others, including most of our politicians today as well as several recent presidents.
Relatives on both sides of my family served their country with honor and distinction. My first father-in-law Dick Campbell who was an ace fighter pilot, rose to the rank of full colonel in the Army, and twice escaped from German prison camps. My Dad stayed stateside coordinating military transportation coast to coast for the Army. Second father-in-law Teddy Solomon was sent by the Army to the South Pacific. My younger brother Jack volunteered and joined the National Guard for a six-year hitch.
My mother’s brother had quite a navel military career. In the final months of World War II, Commander Jack Gentry was flying a reconnaissance mission over the Pacific when his flight cameras captured photos of the Japanese flotilla. He made the cover of Life Magazine as his pictures allowed a direct attack on the enemy fleet that sped up the ending of the war with Japan. He went on to command the battleship USS Enterprise until his retirement from the Navy in the 1960s.
With this strong family military background, I felt an obligation to continue the service to my country. I make no bones about the fact that I feel every American should either serve in the military or perform voluntary service in the city or state where they live. The American flag flies outside my home 365 days a year. I wear my military dog tags while I broadcast my syndicated radio program each week (NG25520050).
This is not an effort to pat myself on my back. Like so many other young men and women who love their country, it was something I felt a strong obligation to do. So despite the fact that I was draft exempt, I signed up for service in the Army, then stayed for ten additional years in the Louisiana National Guard.
Our nation has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan going on two decades. Yet many Americans look on war as a spectator sport. So few have any real skin in the game.
I recently read a book by military scholar George Wilson called “The Mud Soldiers,” where he laments over the problems with an all-volunteer army. He quotes Vietnam veteran Col. Steve Siegfried who states: “Armies don’t fight wars. Countries fight wars….. Yes a country fights a war. If it doesn’t, then we shouldn’t send an army.
War should be every citizen’s business. We should all perform some volunteer service, military or otherwise. This should be an easy decision if we love our country and care about our freedom.
For those of us comic book buffs, we might have had to take a deep breath before explaining to non buffs what just happened this year, with both Captain Marvel and Shazam hitting the theaters when they are technically the same person.
In the late 30’s Captain Marvel made his debut and was owned by Whiz Comics and Fawcett Publications. It was a competitor’s response to Superman and the comics did very well.
According to Wikipedia:
But after a series of disputes and lawsuits, Captain Marvel was semi-retired until DC Comics/National in the 1970s licensed Captain Marvel and then purchased him in the 1990s.
Marvel Comics, however, was able to secure the trademark of Captain Marvel, so DC Comics couldn’t use the Captain Marvel name anymore. So in renaming the superhero, DC Comics combined the electrical powers of Captain Marvel with the word used by the wizard’s spell, Shazam!
So rather than Billy Batson becoming Captain Marvel when he cries “Shazam”, he simply becomes, Shazam.
Shazam hits theaters April 5, 2019.
This year’s Oscar nominations are locked in. As someone who worked on and off in film, video and TV production for 20+ years and has “starred” five thousand movies on Netflix, I usually have plenty to bemoan about after reading said nominations. This year surprises me. This year I’m more like, “Yeah, I guess that mostly looks okay to me and my snotty ass opinion.” Although, I must say that it is certainly an odd choice (at least, so far) to go without a host this year. We’ll see how well that goes. Hopefully, better than the last time the Oscars went without a host (back in 1989.)
This year (like every other year) offers a series of fun “firsts.” As in, first time a superhero movie has been nominated for Best Picture (Black Panther), first time Spike Lee has been nominated for Best Director (BlacKkKlansman), first time Sam Elliott received an Academy Award nomination for acting (A Star is Born).
It’s that last one that made me actually go, “Wait. What? Really?”
Yes, really! After 50 years in the industry and having acted in about 100 films and TV shows we will now see the (kind of annoying) Academy Award Nominee (or, probably - winner) moniker in front of Sam Elliott’s name, too. I really do love him as an actor. And I love him even more for the fact that, when Elliott first learned of his nomination he jokingly said, “It’s about fucking time.”
Indeed it is. (And he’s probably going to win).
All that interesting stuff being said, it really does seem like a typical Oscar year with some obvious front runners. A Star is Born is going to win a lot when the awards should probably go to Roma. Although, in terms of A Star is Born, which I liked just fine (but do NOT buy the ending, like - at all!), how a movie can have three best actor nominations, a best screenplay nomination AND be nominated for Best Picture without having a Best Directing nod is, frankly, absurd.
But, whatever. It’s not like they need to check with my snotty ass opinion before they make their list of potential nominees. (But, they totally should).
Aside from that, I’m really hoping that “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” pulls out a win against the (Pretty Much Always The Winner!) Pixar film. If you have not yet seen the new animated Spider-Man flick, you should. It really is a charming and delightful “for the entire family,” kind of movie.
Oh yeah, and another first - First Time Meryl Streep has NOT been nominated for Best Actress. (Okay, that’s not actually true, but still - you all know what I’m talking about).
But, for the record, Trump is wrong. She is NOT way overrated. She’s, bloody, great! And she probably should have like, ten Oscars by now. But whatever, Again, they don’t ask for my opinion.
But, again - they totally should. =)
Full list of this years nominations:
“A Star Is Born”
Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”
Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”
Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”
Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Adam McKay, “Vice”
“Incredibles 2,” Brad Bird
“Isle of Dogs,” Wes Anderson
“Mirai,” Mamoru Hosoda
“Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
“Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine
“Bao,” Domee Shi
“Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall
“One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
“The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
“First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice,” Adam McKay
“Cold War,” Lukasz Zal
“The Favourite,” Robbie Ryan
“Never Look Away,” Caleb Deschanel
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique
Best Documentary Feature:
“Free Solo,” Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” RaMell Ross
“Minding the Gap,” Bing Liu
“Of Fathers and Sons,” Talal Derki
“RBG,” Betsy West, Julie Cohen
Best Documentary Short Subject:
“Black Sheep,” Ed Perkins
“End Game,” Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
“Lifeboat,” Skye Fitzgerald
“A Night at the Garden,” Marshall Curry
“Period. End of Sentence.,” Rayka Zehtabchi
Best Live Action Short Film:
“Detainment,” Vincent Lambe
“Fauve,” Jeremy Comte
“Marguerite,” Marianne Farley
“Mother,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen
“Skin,” Guy Nattiv
Best Foreign Language Film:
“Cold War” (Poland)
“Never Look Away” (Germany)
“BlacKkKlansman,” Barry Alexander Brown
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman
“Green Book,” Patrick J. Don Vito
“The Favourite,” Yorgos Mavropsaridis
“Vice,” Hank Corwin
“Black Panther,” Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Warhurst
“First Man,” Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
“Roma,” Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay
“A Star Is Born”
“Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler
“First Man,” Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
“The Favourite,” Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
“Mary Poppins Returns,” John Myhre, Gordon Sim
“Roma,” Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez
“BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard
“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch
Makeup and Hair:
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Mary Zophres
“Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter
“The Favourite,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Queen of Scots,” Alexandra Byrne
“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”
Before bearing witness to the brilliant magic of Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh reboot, Christopher Robin, I was given goosebumps by the trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of Dumbo. If you thought Disney was going to make money with its purchase of Fox’s Marvel Cinematic Universe or UFC, consider the money to made by remaking every classic Disney, cartoon movie.
Christopher Robin wasn’t just good. It was funny and heartwarming and transported me to another time and place like the tree transported Christopher Robin to the Hundred Acre Wood.
You can’t go wrong with Pooh. I’ve maintained that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and Robin retains that humor by keeping Pooh’s character, and all the characters of Hundred Acre Wood, consistently classic. All great reboots and remakes appeal to their longtime fans’ affinity for nostalgia by preserving the characters they grew up loving. I wrote about Solo doing so, and Robin is no exception.
Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger might have shed their cartoon bodies for live-action “stuff and fluff,” but they are otherwise unchanged and equally enchanting--if not more so. I actually felt as childish watching the grown-up Christopher Robin as Ewan McGregor looked playing with his friends upon his return to Hundred Acre Wood. That feeling was mutual for much of the United Kingdom’s moviegoers over the Labor Day weekend, as Robin topped BlacKkKlansman at the U.K. box office. It was sixth despite being in its fifth week in the states.
Robin has recouped its $75 million budget and has nearly made as much on top of that as of this writing. The live-action remake of The Jungle Book made almost a billion dollars on its $175-million budget back in 2016. It stands to reason that Disney could use the same template to turn its longtime, cartoon assets into revenue generators once again, and they are. Not only did I see the trailer for the live-action Dumbo remake, but the rebooted Mary Poppins Returns also made an appearance, and while the original was a live-action film, it is indicative of Disney adding some cars to the seemingly endless train of Hollywood reboots and remakes.
In May 2019, a live-action version of Aladdin directed by Guy Ritchie will hit theaters, followed by John Favreau’s The Lion King in July and Milan in March of 2020. There is a score of reboots and remakes reportedly in the works at Disney, which should buoy its books well above water for a very long time. Imagine, a live-action reboot of The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under or, as I pitched to my sister during the trailers prior to Robin, a live-action remake of The Great Mouse Detective. Disney’s options are vast given the improved technology around visual effects, so it doesn’t have to rely on comic book movies to make its money in theaters.
The NBA Draft is a night every NBA fan has reason for hope – or two reasons for hope – or three, or in the case of the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers this year, four reasons for hope. Here are the reasons fans of every NBA team should have hope following the 2018 NBA Draft.
The Suns got a lot better through the draft, and while they might have passed on the best player available, they did so for locally-grown talent like the Minnesota Twins did in drafting Joe Mauer over Mark Prior. While DeAndre Ayton is from the Bahamas, he played high school basketball in Phoenix, and a year of college ball at Arizona. Suns scouts probably saw more than enough of Ayton to be comfortable in making him the number one overall pick.
The Suns also acquired Mikal Bridges, who seems to be a can’t miss kid. He was the best value pick near the top of the draft according to the ESPN Stats & Info model. Bridges will likely be more prepared to play meaningful minutes in the NBA than the athletic Zhaire Smith, who the Suns shipped to Philadelphia along with a 2021 first-round pick that originally belonged to Miami. The Suns’ starting lineup likely got two potential upgrades in Ayton and Bridges, and Phoenix used the second round to draft project prospects with potential.
The Suns also scored the 20th overall player in point guard Elie Okobo out of France with the 31st pick. And even after moving their second-round pick to Orlando for point guard Elfrid Payton, the Suns used Toronto’s 59th overall pick to draft an accomplished defender with potential in George King. The Suns went from bad to better in one day.
The Kings passed on putting a pair of Duke University one-and-dones on their roster. After drafting Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick, the Kings traded the rights to point guard Gary Trent Jr. to Portland for two future second-round picks and cash. But Bagley is Kings fans’ reason for hope. I’m a little jealous because fans in Sacramento are going to enjoy watching Bagley dunk, which he does whenever possible and leaves no doubt as to whether the ball went through the basket. He’s also a great rebounder whose second and third jump is quicker and higher than any center I’ve seen in college. Jay Bilas said the same on draft night and he’s seen a hell of a lot more college basketball players than me. Bagley runs the floor really well, has a complete repertoire of low-post moves, can handle the ball, is a strong finisher at the rim and will pull up and hit from three-point range. Kings’ coach Dave Joerger’s task will be teaching him how to play defense, which could take awhile.
The Mavericks got the best player available in Luka Doncic, giving up their protected first-round pick in 2019 to move up two spots in 2018. He’s a perfect fit for Dallas, where international star Dirk Nowitzki’s career is coming to an end. Doncic is the new Dirk and will probably be worth the first-rounder Dallas dumped to get him. The Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr. and Doncic should run the floor well together.
The Mavericks filled out their bench with point guard Jalen Brunson of the NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats and acquired from Philadelphia the 56th overall pick in Ray Spalding – a long, pick-and-roll player who can flush the lob – and the final player drafted, Kostas Antetokounmpo – brother of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is reason enough to draft him. But Mavericks fans’ reason for hope is Doncic – the youngest player to ever win EuroLeague MVP. He’s not even old enough to drink yet.
The Grizzlies drafted the top-ranked power forward in the 2018 NBA Draft at fourth overall. Jaren Jackson Jr. will fit nicely with or without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. He can guard all five positions and defends the rim with the best of them. He also dishes out the fouls, which should be appreciated by Grindhouse fans.
Also contributing the the Grizzlies’ Grindhouse atmosphere will be point guard Jevon Carter, who was one of the best defenders on one of the best defensive college basketball teams for what seems like forever in West Virginia. His struggle scoring shouldn’t be a problem playing next to MarShon Brooks, who averaged 20 points per game over just seven games played last year. ESPN’s analytics model ranked Carter 17th overall, so Memphis might have scored a steal in Carter, selected 32nd overall.
The Hawks didn’t lose the trade with Dallas for Doncic. It was a fair deal. They got a protected first-round pick in next year’s draft for moving down two spots in the 2018 NBA Draft and got the sensationally shooting and assisting Trae Young to run their offense that exploits Taurean Prince’s ability to hit the right corner three-pointer.
The Hawks added even more shooting ability in shooting guard Kevin Huerter with the 19th overall pick, who will further stretch defenses, along with stretch big man Omari Spellman out of Villanova to conclude the 2018 NBA Draft’s first round. The addition of Young and Huerter will undoubtedly increase the number of three-pointers attempted by the Hawks, who were seventh in the NBA in that category last season.
Then the Hawks scored two future second-round picks for sending point guard Devonte’ Graham to Charlotte, so regardless of what the Hawks do this season, they could end up with three lottery picks in next year’s draft and another six picks in the second round next year.
The Magic got even longer by drafting Mohamed Bamba, whose 7-foot-nine-inch wingspan will be the longest in the NBA. Defensively, the Magic are going to alter shots like no other team in the league, especially after adding perimeter defender Melvin Frazier of Tulane. Orlando went all in on defense, trading Jarred Vanderbilt to Denver for Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. The Magic’s 19th-ranked defensive rating got a whole lot better in a hurry.
With the addition of Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, the Bulls’ rebuild is almost over already. Carter can play both frontcourt positions, so he can give Lauri Markkanen a blow when needed and could probably start over Robin Lopez at center. The Bulls were hoping Hutchison would fall to them at 22 overall, and he did. He’ll fit in nicely as a versatile wing coming off the bench. It didn’t take long for the Bulls to become relevant again. The trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves that netted Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Markkanen seems much less lopsided now than when it was made on draft day in 2017, especially with the Timberwolves’ lone draft pick acquired in the trade playing four minutes all of last season.
Whether LeBron James stays or goes, the Cavaliers have been in dire need of another scorer to complement James since trading Kyrie Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the very draft pick that ended up being point guard Collin Sexton. Now they might need to replace the scoring James provides, and Sexton is a score-first point guard who runs the floor well. While he might not be a fit with James given LeBron’s affinity for handling the ball, he compliments Kevin Love’s spot-up shooting ability with his drive-and-dish game. He’s also healthy and can play right now, which is a message Cleveland needed to send James. Drafting a question mark coming off an injury like Michael Porter Jr. or a high-ceiling project who will take years to develop wouldn’t give James much reason to stay in Cleveland.
Knicks fans who attended the 2018 NBA Draft didn’t like the Knox selection, but they didn’t like the selection of Kristaps Porzingis, either. Porzingis offered some advice to Knox after he was booed at the draft, but Knicks fans should actually be happy with this pick. Knox will get plenty of playing time in the absence of Porzingis, who could miss the entire 2018-19 season. Knox has plenty of areas to improve, especially on defense. Throwing him into the fire that is the NBA will give him an opportunity to realize his potential sooner, so when Porzingis returns, he’s a competitive, complimentary big man to the bigger man.
The Knicks also got a shot-blocker to stand in for Porzingis in Mitchell Robinson, the third-best center in the draft according to ESPN and 28th-ranked player overall, but the 16th-best player according to ESPN’s analytics model. The Knicks selected him with the 36th pick, and while Robinson fell in the draft due to off-court concerns, the Knicks could benefit greatly from the cautiousness of other NBA teams.
After giving us the feel-good story of the draft by selecting the son of their human resources vice president, the Sixers dealt him to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith to save a million dollars, according to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. Coming along with Smith is the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick from Phoenix, which the Spurs could find valuable in a potential Kawhi Leonard trade. Not to be overlooked is Smith’s athleticism and potential to be the best defender in this draft.
Oh yeah, and Philadelphia scored Shake Milton from Dallas for two of the final five picks in the 2018 draft. Milton is a six-foot-six-inch point guard who averaged 18 points per game for SMU and shot 43 percent from three-point range. Milton’s combine performance left a lot to be desired, but the 76ers can afford to be patient with Milton because they have Ben Simmons.
The Sixers also selected Isaac Bonga, an 18-year-old, point-forward project out of Germany. He was the 61st-ranked player overall according to ESPN, so Philadelphia saw something they really liked in the kid. They continue to “Trust the Process” without much concern for criticism despite their general manager Bryan Colangelo resigning in disgrace days before his biggest day on the job.
The Hornets traded down one spot in the 2018 NBA Draft to add two players who can contribute immediately. Charlotte acquired two future second-round picks from the Clippers for trading the 11th pick for the 12th pick to get Miles Bridges, who fills an immediate need, instead of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who does not. The Hornets then flipped those future second-rounders to Atlanta for 23-year-old point guard Devonte’ Graham, who can play meaningful minutes and provide some healthy competition for Michael Carter-Williams.
The Clippers passed on filling an immediate need with Bridges and chose instead to build a modern NBA backcourt around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. This was clearly the Clippers’ “Plan A” because selecting Robinson with the 13th pick was the biggest reach of the first round according to ESPN’s Stats & Info model, which ranked Robinson 59th overall with a 44-percent chance of being a bust.
Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson complement each other perfectly. What Robinson lacks in length defensively, Gilgeous-Alexander has in spades. What Gilgeous-Alexander lacks in spot-up shooting ability, Robinson has in spades. Both will be effective in pick-and-roll play and force defenders to switch, allowing them both to play around their weaknesses by forcing mismatches that play to their strengths. Whether it’s DeAndre Jordan or Montrezl Harrell setting screens for the new Clippers’ backcourt, they’re likely to be the beneficiary of lobs fit for flushing.
The Nuggets struck gold with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, or is it fool’s gold? Medical reports regarding Michael Porter Jr.’s surgically repaired back spooked Cleveland, so Denver took advantage of its current roster situation and draft position. With 11 players returning to a roster that was seven points from beating the Timberwolves and making the playoffs, the Nuggets can afford to bring Porter Jr. along at his preferred pace, like the Sixers did with Simmons last season.
At the small forward position, Wilson Chandler was better than a replacement player last season with a 0.6 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) while playing nearly 32 minutes per game for Denver. And while the Nuggets don’t have the cap space to re-sign unrestricted free agent Richard Jefferson, Torrey Craig was serviceable (-0.1 VORP) in his first NBA season, averaging 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game. If Porter Jr. is healthy, the Nuggets are probably a playoff team in 2018-19. If he’s not, the Nuggets could still be a playoff team despite redshirting their top draft pick for a season.
Denver also acquired power forward Jarred Vanderbilt, the 41st overall pick, from Orlando for Justin Jackson, the 43rd overall pick, and a future second-round pick. The Nuggets are getting a long defender in Vanderbilt, who has to increase his lower body strength and offensive game in the half-court.
Seven-foot center Thomas Welsh out of UCLA provides some G-League depth behind Mason Plumlee and Nikola Jokic, whose agent advised Denver to decline Jokic’s team option to avoid losing him as an unrestricted free agent after next season. Jokic would become a restricted free agent this offseason if the Nuggets were to decline his team option, but Denver would be able to match offers made to their star regardless of their absent salary cap space.
The Wizards used the 15th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft to fill an immediate need – backcourt bench depth. They got it in Oregon’s Troy Brown, who can play four positions on both sides of the ball, but might need some seasoning in the G-League. He’s only 18 years old – the third-youngest player projected to be drafted. So with Brown, the Wizards not only got someone to give John Wall and Bradley Beal breaks, but can spell Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre, too. And his young legs should allow him to provide quality minutes regardless of his position on the floor when his offensive game is ready for the NBA. His defense should already play.
The Wizards weren’t through selecting youth. They also selected the second-youngest player expected to be drafted in point guard Issuf Sanon of Ukraine. Like Brown, Sanon’s defensive ability is ahead of his offensive prowess, and even more so than Brown’s. Sanon will take a few years to develop, but Washington hopes it has a sleeper in Sanon who could eventually join Brown as a potential replacement for Beal in 2021 and Wall in 2023 if they aren’t retained.
The Bucks got just what they needed in Donte DiVincenzo. The point guard whose name just begs to be spoken aloud, which it was often during the NCAA championship game he helped win. DiVincenzo will serve as a combo-guard in Milwaukee, which suits the 40-percent three-point shooter just fine. DiVincenzo wasn’t shy about shooting from NBA distance last year, either. His shot plays in the NBA, but his six-foot-six-inch wingspan might make guarding taller players on the wings a challenge. What he’ll give up against taller wings, though, he’ll get back guarding point guards and shooting over them. DiVincenzo also provides Milwaukee some insurance with point guard Eric Bledsoe becoming an unrestricted free agent after next season.
After DiVincenzo was selected by Milwaukee, I immediately hoped Lonnie Walker would fall to the Timberwolves at 20th overall. I should have known better, because San Antonio didn’t hesitate to select the player I and ESPN’s Jonathan Givony think could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.
Immediately upon seeing Walker’s haircut on draft night, I flashed back to the game I watched him play against Duke in January. He led Miami with 19 points in 33 minutes, but I distinctly remember him being uncharacteristically hot from three-point range and causing all kinds of problems for the Blue Devils on defense. He was five of eight from three-point range and had four steals, and if it weren’t for Gary Trent Jr. going off for 30 points on six-of-nine shooting from beyond the arc, Walker might have led the 25th-ranked Hurricanes to an upset over the fifth-ranked Blue Devils.
You might think this example contradicts my claim that Walker could be the biggest steal of the draft because he’s not even as good as Trent, who went 37th overall. He probably isn’t as good as Trent – yet – simply because Trent’s best skill is the most sought-after skill in the NBA right now.
Trent shoots it better from long-range than Walker (40.2 percent to 34.6 percent last season), but Walker’s length and athleticism make him a better inside the arc than Trent (48.7 percent to 43.0 percent on two-point attempts). Walker is also the better facilitator, dishing 61 assists per 37 turnovers last season. Trent managed just 52 assists and turned it over 38 times. So Walker, now having at his disposal the best player development team in the NBA, can focus on improving the one skill he’s missing while Trent attempts to improve all the skills Walker already possesses.
The Spurs also drafted seven-foot center Chimezi Metu from USC. Like Walker, Metu has a lot of natural ability, but is more of a project given the defensive improvements he needs to make while also finding consistency with his jump shot.
The Timberwolves still have Jimmy Butler, and as long as that’s the case, Timberwolves fans have reason for hope. Even with coach and president Tom Thibodeau being the alleged source of a split in the locker room between old Bulls and young Wolves, Butler gives Minnesota a chance to contend – and not just for a playoff spot. They finally beat Houston in the playoffs after failing to do so in the regular season, but probably should have won Game 1 in Houston, too.
The Timberwolves are really good one through six, with Tyus Jones being the sixth man after Jamal Crawford opted out of his contract. The rest of the bench leaves a lot to be desired, though. So much so not even Thibodeau could hide its collective ineptitude, and if he can’t do it, no one can. He was the only coach to have three players finish in the top 15 in minutes played last season, and it would have been four had Jimmy Butler not torn his meniscus. It makes you wonder if Taj Gibson’s defensive rating last season (112 points allowed per 100 possessions) would have been closer to his career rating (104) had he been playing the 26 minutes per game he’s averaged throughout his career instead of the 33 minutes he averaged per game last year. But that’s a topic for another piece.
The Timberwolves didn’t get an offer they liked enough to trade down and pass on shooting guard Josh Okogie. With the three selections made prior to the Timberwolves being shooting guards, and five of the previous six being guards, it was a safe assumption that trend would continue, leaving few shooters left in the draft to fill Minnesota’s biggest immediate need.
In fact, trading down could have been devastating for Thibodeau and the Wolves, as shooting guards were selected with three of the four picks immediately following the Wolves’ selection at 20th overall, and guards were selected with five of the six picks behind Minnesota. The run on guards spanned eight consecutive picks, so moving down from 20th to just 24th could have left the Wolves with the 10th-ranked shooting guard, Anfernee Simons, instead of the fifth-ranked shooting guard in Okogie. The 12th-ranked shooting guard also came off the board in that short span, so Thibodeau made the right move not making a move.
It couldn’t have taken much convincing for Thibodeau to draft Okogie, though. He’s a defender first and has the length for which coaches long. His offensive efficiency in college was adversely affected by carrying the scoring load for a bad Georgia Tech team, but he still hit 38 percent of this threes and was in the 93rd percentile on 62 catch-and-shoot jumpers. Too bad the Wolves don’t see many open, catch-and-shoot jumpers. Minnesota took more contested shots and the second-fewest wide open shots in the NBA last season, so Okogie better find ways to create open looks, because they’re not being created for him or anyone else in a Wolves uniform.
That said, MIke Schmitz’s scouting report on Okogie for ESPN reads: “Extremely rigid ball handler. Shouldn't be tasked with shot-creation duties in the half court.” I guess Thibodeau better start drawing up offensive plays, or better yet, hire someone to do so. Again, Timberwolves fans’ biggest reason for hope is Jimmy Butler, but the bench won’t be as abysmal in 2018-19.
Thibodeau filled another immediate need by drafting small forward Keita Bates-Diop with the 48th overall pick. Bates-Diop was the second-oldest player projected to go in the first round, so Thibodeau grabbing him with the 18th pick of the second round makes this at least look like a high-value selection. Some evidence to support that high value was provided by ESPN’s analytics model, which ranked Bates-Diop 15th overall, which would make him the second-best steal of the second round. Bates-Diop did drain almost two three-pointers per game his senior season and averaged 19.8 points per game. He likely dropped in the draft due to teams’ concerns with his underwhelming performances in his first three years at Ohio State and a foot injury that kept him out most of the 2016-17 season. But if Bates-Diop doesn’t end up healthy, at least the Wolves will finally get some meaningful minutes from their lone draft pick from 2018, Justin Patton, right?
Again, Jimmy Butler is Wolves fans’ biggest reason for hope.
After DiVincenzo and Walker were off the board, I wanted Thibodeau to select Grayson Allen. Pairing him with former teammate and fellow national champion Tyus Jones would have given this Duke fan great pleasure. Instead, I long for Utah’s roster and salary cap situation.
The Jazz got one of the best shooters in the 2018 NBA Draft, and they got him with the 21st overall pick. Allen has NBA shooting range. He can shoot off the dribble just about as well as he catches and shoots. He can jump, and he can dunk. He runs the floor and plays with a now-controlled intensity that was downright dirty in his youth. But he’s never going to be a great defender. In fact, he might never be an above average defender, and not because of a lack of effort. But if the Jazz focus his attention on defending against perimeter shots and cheating help to his backside, at worst, he’ll be giving up tough twos and scoring threes.
With uber-assister Ricky Rubio and Allen on the court together (both of whom could be Timberwolves this very moment), the Jazz have a recipe to hang with the three-point exploiters like Houston and Golden State – if Donovan Mitchell is healthy.
Both Darren Collison and Cory Joseph become unrestricted free agents after this season, so the Pacers filled a potentially empty position on the floor in 2019-20 by selecting Aaron Holiday 23rd overall. He was the fifth-ranked point guard in the 2018 NBA Draft and gives Indiana and Indiana fans plenty of reasons for hope.
Holiday’s long wingspan for a guard should help quiet any concerns over his height and assist him on defense, where he’s already NBA-ready. He can score, especially when he catches and shoots, and even with a hand in his face. He can hit the three, draining almost three per game and 42 percent of his attempts his junior year. The Pacers may very well have found their starting point guard of the future.
With the 50th pick, the Pacers filled another need at power forward by drafting Alize Johnson out of Missouri State. Thaddeus Young is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and Domantas Sabonis and TJ Leaf have club options the Pacers could reject next year. So, like Holiday, Johnson has an opportunity to slide into a starting role if his NBA game comes together quickly. Regardless, the Pacers could have almost $77 million in cap space entering the 2019-20 season, which is reason enough for hope.
The Blazers were eleventh in the NBA with a 36.6-percent three-point percentage last season, but were just 16th in three-pointers made because they were 19th in three-pointers attempted. Gary Trent Jr. will improve all of those rankings. As I stated previously, Trent’s best skill is making threes, which will pay dividends for Portland right now. The Blazers will learn how to accommodate their rookie on the defensive end and shake off the turnovers if he’s hitting threes. Acquiring Trent from Sacramento for two future second-rounders and cash is a good deal for the Blazers, who had already drafted their guy.
The Blazers really liked Anfernee Simons, the least-experienced player in the draft. They liked him enough to use their first-round pick at 24th overall to draft the 34th-ranked player in the draft. Simons is coming straight out of high school. He spent a year playing against questionable competition with IMG Academy in Florida, and is at least two years from competing with NBA players, according to Givony. But if he develops as Portland and many others expect, Portland fans will be forever grateful. But right now, Trent is Portland’s immediate reason for hope.
Seven-footer Moritz Wagner is a fine pick at 25th overall to replace Brook Lopez when his contract expires at the end of this season, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the Lakers’ 47th pick, can shoot it. But the real reason Lakers fans have hope is because of almost $62 million in cap space to offer LeBron James and/or others, and/or, perhaps pay Kawhi Leonard if the Spurs feel the Lakers have the pieces to make an acceptable deal.
My cousin and I both texted “Great pick” simultaneously after Boston filled an immediate need by selecting power forward and 12th-ranked player in the draft, Robert Williams III, at 27th overall. Concerns over Williams’ knee precipitated his fall to Boston, but there probably isn’t a better place for him to land. He’s already a great shot blocker, but Brad Stevens will get the most out of him defensively, as he does everyone. Williams can already come off the bench to spell Al Horford without being a liability given his pick-and-roll potential and passing ability.
You might think Warriors fans don’t need reason for hope, but you’re wrong. This championship Warriors squad was almost done-in by its lack of depth. Golden State addressed that lack of depth with Jacob Evans, who fits perfectly in the Warriors’ positionless basketball lifestyle. He’s played point guard, shoots it well, and dished dimes twice as often as he turned it over in three college seasons at Cincinnati. He’s seasoned, so he should see minutes right away.
Yes, Nets fans have reason for hope, and his name is Dzanan Musa. Despite Brooklyn’s pick from Toronto being at the end of the first round, Brooklyn still ended up with one of the draft’s better scorers, who fell to the Nets because he refused to allow NBA teams to stash him on a professional team overseas. He wants to play in the NBA as soon as possible, which could be very soon given his 22-points-per-game average per 40 minutes against top European competition at the tender age of 18. He’s no Doncic, but he can and will undoubtedly score in streaks and can and will give Nets reason for hope and reasons to cheer.
The Nets used their second-round picks to select high-risk, high-reward talents in small forward Rodions Kurucs and shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, who they traded to Oklahoma City. Kurucs, of Latvia, struggled to stay on the floor with Barcelona, battling injuries and ultimately playing sparingly with the second team. Kuruc became a legitimate option for Brooklyn thanks to negotiations that lowered his buyout with Barcelona. Before his injuries, Kurucs was considered a lottery pick, so there’s plenty of potential there.
Bruce Brown was the only selection the Pistons made in the 2018 NBA Draft at 42nd overall. Brown was Miami’s elite defender and one of the best available in the draft, but before his sophomore season was interrupted by injuries, he was as close to a lottery pick lock as they come, displaying uncanny scoring and shooting ability that he has since struggled to summon. While he’s almost 22, Brown’s lost scoring and shooting abilities don’t need to be found for him to contribute to the Pistons in 2018-19, but his career as a role player will require him to knock down shots eventually.
If you thought Houston had plenty of open looks last season, just wait until point guard De’Anthony Melton comes off the bench for Chris Paul or James Harden this season. Melton had a knack for finding the open man at USC, averaging 5.1 assists and just 2.6 turnovers per 40 minutes as a freshman. He can also defend multiple positions, forces turnovers and rebounds the basketball like a power forward. According to ESPN’s analytics model, Melton was ranked 13th overall. He was selected 46th overall.
Penn State point guard Tony Carr, the Pelicans 51st overall draft pick, isn’t going to lift New Orleans over Golden State and Houston with his defensive ability. But judging from the Pelicans’ play without DeMarcus Cousins, lost to an Achilles injury, New Orleans is better off without Boogie. That’s not a knock on Cousins’ game; it’s just a fact. The Pelicans were better defensively on the perimeter, and Anthony Davis is better when he’s running the show, especially with a long shooter like Nikola Mirotic to whom to dish on his dribble drives. The Pelicans were better on both ends of the floor without Boogie, so offering him a five-year, max deal coming off the most threatening injury to a basketball career would be a poor business decision. The Pelicans should feel no shame for telling Boogie to begone. It’s what’s best for the team, and he’ll have no problem finding work. I hear Dallas is interested.
The Thunder drafted two players Thursday night, but neither is as important as Paul George is to Oklahoma City. Word is George could stay in OKC because he likes Russell Westbrook’s character. Westbrook went to bat for George after he was snubbed by coaches when deciding All-Star Team reserves, and that meant a lot to George. But the Thunder need more than just George to improve upon last season’s first-round exit to a soundtrack performed by the Utah Jazz orchestra led by maestro Ricky Rubio and carried by young soloist Donovan Mitchell. If the Thunder hope to drown out that music and compete with the West’s best, their big three has to be a big three, not a big two. I’m obviously talking to you, Carmelo.
In two seasons, Anthony has gone from a 2.9 VORP to a -1.1 VORP. It was the first season Anthony was less valuable than a replacement player, and some of that is likely due to changing teams and going from first option to third option. But this has not been a sudden fall for Carmelo. His final season in New York resulted in just a 0.8 VORP despite being the go-to guy. Anthony’s defense was the problem in 2016-17 and has been progressively regressing as you’d expect from a man who’s played 16 seasons. Playing two fewer minutes per game lifted Anthony’s defensive rating last season, but he had the worst season shooting the ball in his career. Carmelo’s effective field goal percentage was right on his career average, and his three-point shooting percentage was actually better than his career average. But his straight field goal percentage was 22 points lower than that of his rookie year, and his 76.7-percent shooting from the charity stripe last season was 10 points lower than that of his rookie year. Both were career lows. Somewhere between New York and Oklahoma City, Carmelo lost his legendary mid-range game and free-throw stroke.
Help is on the way, though, and the best help always comes on the defensive end, where Virginia’s Devon Hall shines. He was one of the best defensive guards in college basketball and the best one on the best defensive team in the country. Regardless of whether his offensive efficiency in his surprising senior season was skewed by Virginia’s scheme, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan is going to love subbing Hall for Westbrook when he needs a breather. Hall hit threes at a 43-percent clip and dished three assists per turnover in his senior season. No scheme makes the ball go in the basket, and schemes don’t turn the ball over, making Hall a good replacement for unrestricted free agent Raymond Felton, especially at 53rd overall.
Joining OKC’s rookie class is small forward Kevin Hervey, selected four picks after Hall. Hervey was whispered as a potential lottery pick if not for tearing both of his ACLs. He’s big enough to play strong forward, but can hit spot-up threes, too, and he rebounds the ball really well, averaging 11.6 per 40 minutes over four years at UT-Arlington. That’s likely what the Thunder are after. While Oklahoma City led the league in offensive rebounds per game, they were 26th on the defensive boards. Hervey should help OKC climb out of the bottom third in that category and serve as a serviceable stretch four coming off the bench for Patrick Patterson.
After the draft concluded, OKC acquired Hamidou Diallo, the 45th overall pick, from Brooklyn, in a deal that can’t be completed until July 6, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Diallo is dedicated to his craft and fits the physical mold of an ideal wing, with a seven-foot wingspan and good shooting mechanics. He struggled mightily at Kentucky last year, but he’s only 19 years old, so there’s plenty of time for the Thunder to mold Diallo’s NBA game.
The Heat didn’t have a pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but they and their fans probably have the best reason for hope: living in Miami, which LeBron also loves. But Miami doesn’t have the cap space to add LeBron in free agency. In fact, the Heat are $19 million and change over the cap, according to Sportrac.
The Heat might not have the pieces to acquire LeBron in a sign-and-trade deal either, since Hassan Whiteside’s value plunged in the playoffs and since the Heat would have to dump salary to add what is likely to be the largest contract in NBA history – $205 million over five years. The Heat do have first-round picks in 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025 to sweeten a trade proposal. They have just two second-round picks with which to work in 2022 and 2025, however. That should be enough to get Dan Gilbert salivating, but the money has to match, and neither team can take on salary, which complicates things thoroughly.
So despite two teams having no cap space and very short lists of valuable prospects to offer in a trade, here we are once again speculating that LeBron James will move to Miami. Why? Because it’s Miami, and anything can happen on South Beach. “Don't get me wrong, Chi-town got it goin' on, and New York is the city that we know don't sleep. And we all know that L.A. and Philly stay jiggy, but on the sneak, Miami bringin' heat for real.” Even though the Heat don’t have the money and might not have the prospects to acquire LeBron, they have two things working for them.
First, the City of Miami is “bringin’ heat for real,” as Will Smith so eloquently uttered. That heat scalds the eyes of those unfamiliar with the steamy sights of South Beach. “Ladies half-dressed, fully equipped,” screaming out “LeBron, we loved your last ‘ship.” That white-hot heat burns the nose like pure cocaine and brings tears to bloodshot, sunglassed eyes. “Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day, no work all play, okay?” The heat Miami’s bringing is so hot you’ll forget you’re at work, regardless of occupation. The heat Miami is sending LeBron in Cleveland is too hot to merely be a warm front. The heat emanating from the City of Miami is so hot, Pat Riley doesn’t even have to sell the City of Miami, or the Heat, to anyone. Just visit once and you’ll never want to leave. “Everytime I come I always wind up stayin’.” Miami sells itself, and the heat has LeBron reminiscing, but he isn’t sweating, because he’s in control, which is the second thing the Heat have going for them.
Dan Gilbert will try to accomodate LeBron, not because he feels he owes it to him after how he handled LeBron’s first departure from Cleveland, but because it’s in the best interest of the Cavaliers. If LeBron wants to leave he’s going to leave, but if the Cavs can get something, anything, instead of losing LeBron via free agency for nothing, Gilbert will take it. If James wants out of Cleveland but wants to go to a team without the cap space to sign him in free agency, the Cavaliers will get whatever they can to accommodate the Angel from Akron, Blocker of Shots and Courier of Cleveland Rings. He’s already made the impossible happen, so there’s no reason why LeBron can’t make something like the biggest blockbuster trade in sports history happen. James would be doing Gilbert a favor by agreeing to a sign-and-trade.
First, we must rid ourselves of all assumptions. Nothing is off the table, no player untouchable. We can’t assume Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman isn’t willing to take on Whiteside and his massive contract spanning this year and next. Not too long ago general managers all over the league would have welcomed Whiteside and his contract. But more importantly and perhaps more interesting, we can’t assume LeBron doesn’t want to play with Whiteside. Quite the opposite could be true.
What LeBron sees in Whiteside might be a personal challenge for himself to mentor a player and silence the critics who say James doesn’t make his teammates better like Michael Jordan did. LeBron might see a solid rim-protector and pick-and-roll, alley-oop partner who’s gotten a bad rep for speaking his mind rather than biting his tongue, the latter of which I’ve been told by licensed therapists to be unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Maybe Whiteside finds comfort or relief in expressing his thoughts. Getting it off his chest could put him at ease. Maybe his struggles on the court stem from his struggle to contain his thoughts and emotions at the behest of the organization. Simply put, we don’t know and can’t assume what LeBron or the Cavaliers or the Heat are willing to do, but we can venture a guess as to the names Cleveland would have at the top of their wishlist.
Rebuilds begin with youth, and Justise Winslow, 21, and Bam Adebayo, 20, are the Heat’s youngest studs. Winslow could replace James in Cleveland’s starting lineup and benefit from playing more minutes, but Adebayo’s offensive rating of 116 was tops on the team amongst players logging more than 300 minutes. He’s especially attractive because he comes with three years of team control. The problem is neither of them make much money, which necessitates the trade of Whiteside just to make the money work. His $25.5 million salary paired with Winslow’s $3.5 million and Adebayo’s $3 million gets us to just $32 million, and we haven’t even taken on any salary from Cleveland yet. So, Cleveland would likely be forced to choose between Winslow and Adebayo, taking Adebayo to pair with Whiteside. That’s $28.5 million, so the Heat need to dump another considerable contract to make the money work. Enter the Johnsons.
Tyler and James Johnson are statistical twins playing different positions. James is slightly better defensively, but Tyler scores a bit more. James is the better shooter inside the arc, and Tyler is better from outside. Cleveland will likely decide between the two based on age. Tyler is 25 and James is 30, so to Cleveland Tyler goes, taking his $19 million contract with him. That gets us over the money hump with $6.5 million for Miami to spread across two players from Cleveland.
Larry Nance Jr. would make sense given Miami’s loss of Adebayo at power forward. Nance makes just over $2 million. A center to replace Whiteside would also make sense, so welcome to Miami, Ante Zizic, and bring your $2 million contract.
Cleveland will no doubt want a first-round pick in the immediate future, because regardless of Nance and Zizic, LeBron is worth more than Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Johnson – much more. So the Heat will send over their 2019 first-round pick, and they’ll have to get something back that doesn’t bust the cap as per NBA trade rules.
The only player left in Cleveland with a salary small enough for Miami to absorb is small forward Okaro White. So Miami absorbs $46,770,104 and sheds $47,635,473. LeBron takes his talents to South Beach, but this time brings Nance, Zizic and White with him. That can’t be right. LeBron is going to demand something. There’s one player he wants to bring with him whose gravity leaves James open despite being grounded and stationary. He knows his Miami teammates would benefit from that gravity, too. That gravity belongs to Kyle Korver, the man whose very presence on the floor improves his team more so than any other player in basketball – LeBron included. No reason to struggle when you can get open shots standing still.
If LeBron James is the Sun, Kyle Korver is Earth’s Gravity, subtly manipulating the orbit of the Sun’s opponents, the defenders of the Outer Rim, to allow the sun to shine through limited traffic, basking Earth with superstar rays of light that literally brighten the days of everyone and everything on Earth, except Gravity. And while Gravity never catches nor reflects the Sun’s spotlight, Gravity prefers to remain in the shadows, unnoticed, grounded, taking silent pleasure in his work regardless of whom the Sun allows to shine brightest that day, because he knows without him, they would all fall off the Earth to be lost in space, where the Sun can’t even save them. But Gravity would never do such a thing because he’s a team player...and because the Sun scares the hell out of him.
There are a few ways Korver can come along with LeBron to Miami. The easiest way would be for James to take a pay cut in the amount of Korver’s $7.56 million contract, basically paying Korver out of his own pocket this season, which might be worth it to LeBron given Korver’s Gravity. I only know what I see on TV, and Korver seems to be LeBron’s favorite teammate, but James isn’t gifting one of these homes to Korver.
LeBron could also take a paycut in the amount necessary to make the money work for both sides. So if Miami needs to dump $5 million in salary to make the deal work, LeBron takes a $5-million pay cut. Simple, except all of these trade details would have to be negotiated before LeBron negotiates his contract. If you don’t think LeBron has people working on the exact “what-if” scenarios similar to what I’m investigating, you don’t know LeBron. He prepares, and he’ll hand-deliver his trade request(s) to Altman and Gilbert, complete with perfect arithmetic and adhering to NBA rules.
So what about the hard way? LeBron’s and Korver’s contracts total $48,560,000, which again necessitates the trade of Whiteside’s salary. And if Cleveland won’t budge on Adebayo, and they shouldn’t, the Heat have to really focus on sending ugly salaries Cleveland’s way instead of the quality players the Cavaliers might value.
Whiteside’s and Adebayo’s contracts total $25,434,263, and Tyler Johnson brings the total to $44,679,633. With about $4 million to go and contracts yet to absorb, the Heat could send Josh Richardson packing for Cleveland. That brings Miami’s total salaries traded to $54,046,833, leaving the Heat $5,486,833 to spread across two players. Again, Nance and Zizic make the most sense, totalling $4,225,151.
With $1,261,682 in cap space to spare, Miami gets LeBron, Korver, Nance and Zizic for Whiteside, Adebayo, Tyler Johnson and Richardson. If Cleveland requires a first-round pick to complete the trade, which it definitely should, Miami can only absorb part of White’s contract in exchange, so swapping draft picks would be necessary. It’ll be awhile before Pat Riley can actually use whatever pick the Heat get in return because Cleveland only has second-round picks in 2023 and 2025. When it comes to draft picks, Riley just needs to do what it takes. You know what you’re getting with LeBron James; you don’t with any draft pick. Miami’s first-rounders in 2019 and 2022 for Cleveland’s second-rounders in 2023 and 2025 should do it.
The only issue with this trade is Cleveland taking on $1,261,682 in salary while already $16.5 million over the luxury tax cap. While it’s a modest amount, I’m not sure if it would fly with the Commissioner’s Office. I am sure Miami would happily send over the difference, but the rules would require them to get something of value back. Gilbert would no doubt like to dump contracts himself, but his contracts are even worse than Miami’s.
If Gilbert wants to get under the luxury tax cap, a third team with cap space will be required. Teams with the cap space to take on the $16,521,661 Cleveland would have to dump in order to avoid paying the luxury tax are Atlanta (who would probably require the acquisition of Dennis Schroder), Chicago (probably more interested in making a run at free agents), Dallas (might use cap space to get DeMarcus Cousins), Houston (dedicated to free agency), Los Angeles Lakers (dedicated to free agency), Philadelphia (dedicated to free agency), Phoenix (perhaps) and Sacramento (perhaps). Let’s investigate.
Sacramento might be willing to take on Tristan Thompson’s two-year, $36 million contract with Kosta Koufos an unrestricted free agent after the season and Willie Cauley-Stein a restricted free agent at the end of the season. The Kings have a familiar face to LeBron in shooting guard Iman Shumpert, but he’s only under contract for one year. That might be the deal Gilbert and Altman have to swallow to avoid paying the luxury tax and Thompson’s contract. Buddy Hield is also stashed on the Kings’ roster and comes with two years of team control before becoming a restricted free agent, but the Cavaliers would probably have to sweeten that deal a bit, and they’re low on sweeteners.
Phoenix could also accommodate Tristan Thompson, as center Alex Len is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The same goes for Tyson Chandler after this season. As far as players the Suns could send back to Cleveland, both the Cavaliers and Heat would probably take Devin Booker, but they might not be able to coax Phoenix out of its best player last year. If so, it’s going to take a lot more than Tristan Thompson. Sacramento seems to be the one to invite into the bedroom, and Shumpert might be the one Cleveland lets under the covers. They’re at least familiar with each other, so it shouldn’t get weird. Cleveland doesn’t have to trade Shumpert to Miami, though. He could replace Korver to give Cleveland three shooting guards, and Miami would roll with Korver, Dion Waiters and Rodney McGruder. If the Kings don't feel they're getting enough to absorb Thompson's contract, Miami could swap draft picks with the Kings or send a pick in exchange for cash.
Is there a fair deal involving LeBron James? Of course. Is this it? Probably not, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it will be for LeBron to make the maximum amount of money and leave Cleveland for Miami. I imagine it’s hard for Gilbert to say no to a man who single-handedly, quite literally, delivered his franchise’s first ever championship and more than doubled the value of the franchise. And he did all this after Gilbert publicly berated him as selfish for doing nothing more than exercising a right he earned to become a free agent and choose where he wanted to live and work. Golden State needed four stars to triple the Warriors’ value.
If Gilbert is in it for the money, the time to sell is before LeBron leaves. I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron’s plan is to leave Cleveland, wait for the Cavaliers’ value to fall in his absence before buying the franchise and becoming the first owner/player in professional sports. Then he can reap the rewards Gilbert enjoyed off his name being attached to the franchise, and King James could finish his reign at home. For now, all we can do is speculate while we wait for The Decision: Part III.
Disney/Pixar may now include a warning for viewers that some scenes in their latest hit, Incredibles 2, may induce seizures at the request of the National Epilepsy Foundation. Some viewers found the strobe and flashing light scenes to be potential seizure triggers.
Veronica Lewis tweeted the following:
HEALTH ALERT I haven’t seen this mentioned in a lot of places, but the new Incredibles 2 movie (#incredibles2) is filled with tons of strobe/flashing lights that can cause issues for people with epilepsy, migraines, and chronic illness.
A seizure occurs when there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain. If the electricity doesn’t conduct properly, brain function gets disrupted. This could lead to convulsions (involuntary jerking movements), loss of muscle tone, changes in senses such as vision, hearing and smell, loss of bladder control, loss of consciousness and sometimes stroke, brain damage and death.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which a person has recurrent, unprovoked seizures.
Photosensitive epilepsy, in which visual triggers can induce a seizure, occurs in 1 in 4000 of the population.
In December of 1997, a Pokemon cartoon aired in Japan resulting in over 700 children to the hospital with ailments ranging from dizziness to epilepsy. It was determined that the rapidly strobing flashes of red and blue lights induced this “Pokemon Shock.”
A study from Prasad et al in 2012 found no increase risk of seizures with 3D movies than conventional television. They explain why seizures are induced here:
The mechanism in which TV and cinema movies trigger seizures in patients with photosensitive epilepsy is related to several factors including the light intensity, the environment and the frequency of picture frames per second. Normal 2D movies have a frame rate of 24 per second, which may pose a risk for patients with photosensitive epilepsy, but the light intensity in the cinema is very low and there are relatively a few reports of seizures precipitated in cinemas. In contrast, 3D movies project images at 48 frames per second aimed, by the use of colored or polarizing filters, at different eyes and resulting in 24 frames per second per eye. The polarizing effect of 3D films may reduce the light output by around fifty percent leading to a reduced risk to trigger a seizure to people with photosensitive epilepsy. Therefore, the risk of 3D movies to trigger a seizure is around fifty percent less than with conventional 2D movies. However if provocative material such as flashing light is presented the risk can be as high as that for normal 2D movies.
Although there is “insufficient evidence” to connect 3D movies to epilepsy, researchers agree with the need for more study.
Which makes us rely on anecdotal, or testimonial evidence such as the tweet from Veronica Lewis.
The following have been suggested on moviehealthcommunity.tumblr.com to have strobe effects or flashing lights that may affect one’s photosensitivity risk of inducing a seizure:
Although one of my favorite franchises, some of my listeners found the Transformer movies to have similar issues with high speed movements and strobe lights.
Many more movies are listed but the common thread are those with high action, high-speed, strobe lighting, storms, horror, and fast-moving race or fall scenes.
More can be found at moviehealthcommunity.tumblr.com.
Solo: A Star Wars Story opened to fine reviews but performed well below expectations at the box office, even for a non-episodic Star Wars Story. But that shouldn’t deter you from seeing it, and it shouldn’t deter Disney from making another.
A lot of things go into a film’s box office performance besides the quality of the film. I can assure you, Solo is just fine, and while fine might not be good enough for some, it’s a whole lot better than the atrocities that are Episodes I, II and III, and those performed very well at the box office.
Before seeing the film, I was excited for Solo to finally introduce Chewbacca as a main character and develop his relationship with Han, portrayed as well as could be expected by Alden Ehrenreich (although I think those casting the film could have sacrificed looks for performance potential). I wanted Solo to be a bromantic comedy of sorts, and it is, in a less-funny, Dude-Walter Sobchak kind of way.
When Chewie first sits in the Millennium Falcon’s copilot seat, I got goosebumps, and while nostalgia was the source of most of the joy I derived from the film, and most of the its best parts are in the trailer, the movie was worth seeing in theaters. You’ll want to see and hear Solo’s action-packed moments in a movie theater. There are some deep blacks displayed during moments of action that your television at home might not display very well. Despite Solo paling in comparison to Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, it’s a solid movie that’s probably a tish too long and falls short of its unfair expectations. I don’t even know if I liked it as much as Tomb Raider, but I’ll probably see it in theaters again regardless.
Solo released two weeks after a Deadpool sequel that except for the first 15 minutes, might be better than the original. And young Han still has Avengers: Infinity War with which to contend. Oh, and box office returns were at record lows last summer and are only getting worse, with U.S. theater attendance the lowest it’s been in 23 years and home entertainment spending up 11 percent. It’s a very competitive movie market and one that’s most friendly to a select few blockbusters -- generally the ones with the biggest budgets.
Jon Cazares wrote about how Solo was a sinking ship from the start. The two original directors, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, had reportedly shot 80 percent of the film and were fired for allegedly over-spending. Then the hiring of Ron Howard, who reshot much of the movie despite saying much of what Miller and Lord had shot was usable, probably doubled the budget. While Solo ended up a big-budget blockbuster, it wasn’t meant to. In fact, had Solo stayed on budget, it would have been the cheapest Star Wars film produced by Disney and cheaper than all but the original trilogy at $125 million, making its $104-million opening weekend look a whole lot better.
So while Solo is already considered a flop by the entertainment media, don’t let that be the reason you don’t see it in theaters. Think for yourself. Don’t let the mass media dictate your consumption. And if you’re looking to give your air conditioner a break for a few hours, hit a matinee and enjoy a Star Wars film that challenges the norm more so than any before it.
Holy wow, Batman! “This is America” is sophisticated, genius art!
But I’ll get back to that.
First I just want to say that, oftentimes music and movies are too quickly labeled “genius” or “art,” simply because they are created. And if something is created it must be - art. Especially if it’s created by someone we adore! Well - maybe. But not all movies are art, nor do they try to be. The same, I think it could be said, is true for music.
And then there is the much maligned “music video.” A truly lost form of expression. Well, not “lost” exactly but certainly ramped way down from the 90’s heydays where music companies paid to produce music videos because, “If you don’t have a video - you don’t have a hit!”
Remember, MTV used to have two full channels dedicated to music video. Not so much any longer. Nowadays, rich musicians use their own money to finance their own music videos and take the loss in hopes that increased publicity from said video, will lead to higher sales and more clicks on YouTube (or similar stream channels,) which also brings in the bacon.
And then we come to Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” For those that don’t know, Childish Gambino is the musical stage name for freakishly talented Donald Glover - actor, writer, producer (no relation to actor Danny Glover). Gambino actually has several music videos out, most of them cleverly written with semi humorous, semi serious tones. And, for my taste - with mixed results.
So, this weekend, when I heard the crushing throng of folks talking about Gambino's “This is America,” I was skeptical. I mean, Glover’s talent is self evident. His writing is fantastic, his comedic timing is spot on, he’s going to be BADASS as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Star Wars Solo film. (But that’s just a prediction. That will totally become truth!)
Anyway. Again, I was a bit skeptical because - as much a fan of Glover’s as I am in regard to his writing and acting, I am lukewarm on his music.
And then I watched “This is America.” Dear Bloody God was my skepticism misplaced!
As a song - “This is America” has choir melodies and trap rhythms that blend incredibly well together. The writing is blistering social critique from all angles of race. But as a video - it’s a work of genius art.
Movies, and music video are a world of images and imagery. “Show, don’t tell” is the most commonly used phrase told to young directors - “Show your audience what is happening - don’t have characters tell the audience what happened or is happening!” Show your visuals. Show your imagery. This is, after all, a visual medium.
And “This is America” drips with important imagery beginning with (but certainly not limited to) Gambino’s Jim Crow comparison. The NY Times has a nice collection of writers from all over the country commenting on the video’s imagery. And since the imagery is critical to understanding the video, I urge viewers to read into some alternate theories into the “meaning” behind Gambino’s “This is America.”
“You never know what’s in the head of an artist unless they tell you. So we have to interpret and sometimes we get it right. I did go out and read some of the critiques from various people and they’re just all over the place. I like it. I like it because, quite frankly, I like any art that pushes intelligent discussions about racism. Any art that pushes that is good for this country.”
In all his points here, I agree wholeheartedly. I would also add that in order to be “great art”, it has to have the capacity to scare people. And “This is America” is doing just that - angering & scaring folks of all races, all over the country. That being said, the positive praise far outweighs the negative. The video has a crushing amount of fervent supporters. Count myself among the supporters.
But if you watch the video and you “just don’t get it” or even if you hate it - that’s okay too. Great art, such as this, can handle the criticism. I would urge you to read up more on the history of the imagery Then watch the video again, watch the sharply directed & choreographed obfuscations in the foreground and the background and take note of the loving treatment guns receive juxtaposed with the cold indifference of dead black bodies.
“This is America” is a really great, and important work.
I am certainly not alone in my thoughts. In less than one week, “This is America” has racked up more than 65 million hits on YouTube alone. And so, like this upcoming fact I am about to drop, or not but - “This is America” will go down as one of the greatest music videos ever produced.
Maybe even the greatest.
And that title will be well deserved.
As a long time Star Wars lover I honestly believe there are only two terrible Star Wars films. The first: The Star Wars Christmas Special, which remains the holocaust of television. It’s technically not part of canon but it’s so bad I have to mention it.
I’m ignoring the Ewok films because they are not canon. Besides, I've only seen them once and I was a kid so I remember nothing about them.
The Clone War animated series is technically canon Star Wars but it's five seasons long. Perhaps one day I will get around to watching them. Today is not that day.
So it really just comes down to the other Star Wars movie that I think is terrible. A film so awful I will go out on a limb and proclaim it to be one of the worst ever made, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Aside from that one film, most Star Wars movies are -- well, mediocre. Which means I am splitting hairs deciding that one mediocre film is better than another. You know what, I’ll assign letter grades to help with the process. I mean, we all understand that a C + is better than a C, which is better than a C -, despite the fact they are all average. This also means that my opinion of them is so close that I could easily shuffle a lot of those C movies around, but for today, here's where they stand.
But how can I claim to love Star Wars and then say the majority of the movies are -- "Meh, they're okay." It all about the execution, man! So, the SW universe continues to enchants me. When they're good, they're great. When they're mediocre, they're still - set in the SW universe (and they probably feature light sabers!) =)
To be fair there is plenty to like and dislike in most Star Wars films. And while going to the movie theater can be an experience it's sometimes hard to separate that experience, from the movie itself. I mean, seeing Star Wars in the theater when you are five years old is AN EVENT. And from there it's hard to create an objective analysis of what works and / or does not work in the movie itself.
But I’ll try. Though, Luke is probably right -- “This will not work out that way you think.”
As a final note, I am fascinated with the Star Wars Ring Theory and, if it’s one hundred percent accurate, it means that the directing sophistication of all six of Lucas’ SW films are staggering to comprehend. If the Ring Theory is not one hundred percent accurate then, well -- George Lucas still remains an incredible producer and a very skilled director. Regardless, neither one of those things make Lucas a better writer. And that's always been the pratfall of the execution of Star Wars films. I honestly believe that George Lucas creates great stories. But when it comes to transforming his broad story into a day to day detail of what characters say and do -- well ...
Take Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope (which I will henceforth refer to as, “Star Wars”). A lot of George’s dialogue is clunky and hamfisted and it’s a testament to the skill of the actors that they pull it off with any sort of believability. Harrison Ford is famously known for making fun of George Lucas’ dialogue, he shared this story in a GQ interview while promoting The Force Awakens:
“George usually sits near a monitor, far removed, so I had to convey my impression…or my feelings…about the dialogue across a great space," the actor recalled. "So I did shout it. ‘George! You can type this shit, but you sure can't say it! Move your mouth when you're typing!’”
Later, Ford was asked if he thought he offended George by making fun of the dialogue and Harrison replied, "He sold the company for, you know, $4 billion. He doesn't give a shit what I think."
Maybe. But it is true that Star Wars has always had ham fisted dialogue. And when you cast well, your actors can absorb it and make it believable as Ford, Fisher, Liam Neeson, Peter Cushing, and Alec Guiness did. If you do not cast well and / or end up with child actors, like Jake Lloyd and CW-esq. over emoter Hayden Christensen -- then dialogue issues become exacerbated.
And that’s it. Dialogue. Acting. Adventure. Entertainment. Tone. That’s Star Wars for me. That's what I watch for - though, not necessarily in that order. And finally, if you’re going to make a SW film -- it better have a lightsaber in it. Just sayin.
My Star Wars Feature Film List Ranked Worst to First:
WORST: Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. Director: George Lucas. Writers: George Lucas & Jonathan Hales (w/ rumored uncredited script “doctoring” by Carrie Fisher and Tom Stoppard). It’s very easy to trash bad movies, but Episode 2 is so staggeringly bad it defies -- well -- it kind of defies words. Attack of the Clones is, frankly - completely incompetent. The poor actors in Clones are saddled with a specifically brutal level of hamfisted sentences and each and every one of those inglorious lines are mangled beyond acting comprehension by Hayden “fucking” Christensen. Natalie Portman suffers with the same dialogue that Christensen does, but she is clearly the more talented actor of the two and is at least tolerable to watch on screen. Christiansen is so bad in every scene I can’t actually blame the actor. It’s the director's exact responsibility to notice when an actor needs help finding acting choices that work. Lucas clearly just couldn’t do it. Lucas uses the same two directing phrases over and over, “Say the lines faster (or slower)” and “Yes, but better next time.” If you’re Liam Neeson, you can work with that level of non-direction. Hayden Christensen is not Liam Neeson. Nothing about Clones works; from the ridiculous over the top droid factory scene, the soul crushing amount of actors trapped in CGI hell (as in, an actor “acting” to an empty green room which does nothing but create wooden performances) and / or Hayden Christensen just flat out ruining scene after scene with the mind numbing dialogue. Can you imagine all the other humiliated actors who read for teenage Anakin Skywalker and did not get the part? I wonder if each and every one of them saw Attack of the Clones and thought, “Wait, Lucasfilm casting department thought THIS GUY was better than me? I should probably go kill myself now!” I honestly believe if Attack of the Clones was not a Star Wars film it would be widely regarded as a Battlefield Earth-esq disaster of a movie. Sadly, the SW moniker creates too many apologists. Episode 2: Attack of the Clones: F
Epispode. 3: Revenge of the Sith. Writer / director: George Lucas. And here begins the run of mediocrity. There is not much to hate in Sith. Instead it's is more like a film of giant missed opportunities. Nothing in Episode 3 is as good as it should be, no moment as satisfying as it could be. Much like the action sequences in Clones, they are equally over produced. The drama plays exactly as you expect it to. Christiansen, a bit older, isn’t as awful as his blisteringly bad Ep. 2 performance. To be fair, Christiansen evilly hams it up to the degree Lucas probably directed him too. Ewan McGregor remains the minimal heart and soul of the film, in that - he’s fine. He’s no Luke Skywalker or Han Solo or Princess Leia but his Obi Wan is -- well, fine. He’s a little too bitchy and harsh in Ep. 2 and I never warmed up to him as a lead in Ep. 3 I think as written, Kenobi is flat and hollow and McGregor doesn’t do much to wake the character up. I certainly take issue with a few questionable script choices; the Darth Vader -- “Nooooooo!” probably could have been handled better. Or that fact that, once again, the Jedi totally forget they have powers that they have actively demonstrated to possess - over and over again. I’m specifically thinking of the opening space battle over Coruscant where Ani and Kenobi should both just use the bloody Force to knock the buzz droids off each other’s ships instead of the ridiculous and dangerous flight stunts they perform. It’s just one of those moments where “the screenplay says it happens this way” despite the fact it ignores all of the rules SW has created in the previous five films. Revenge of the Sith, much like Ep. 2 completely abandons the oft used “less is usually more” rule, Lucas directs scenes of lifeless, mediocre action & emotionless, predictable drama. Finally, I know this actor was in the previous two movies but Sam Jackson is totally miscast and should not be in the SW prequels. Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith: C -
A Star Wars Story: Rogue One. Director: Gareth Edwards. Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. This film, I suspect, many of my SW loving friends and allies will put much higher on their list. Fair enough. I just don’t understand the love. Rogue One wants to be a war film first, a SW film second. You already lost my support. There are plenty of options for filmmakers to create dark and cynical movies with war themes that focus heavily on believable trauma and the horrific toll created by war. But SW has a well established tone and Rogue One wants it both ways. The film wants to be about war, and trauma, and sacrifice but it also wants dopey SW humor & push cuts which creates a massive tone clash. I mean, what’s next? A Superman film that turns Kal-el into a bitter, brooding, cynical jackass who murders people to solve his problems? Because no one would do that! (Suck it Man of Steel). I haven’t even mentioned the fact the Rogue One has like, thirty lead characters. Who are all these poorly drawn characters and why should I care about any of them? Well, I don’t. As a matter of fact most folks who love Rogue One can’t answer this basic question, “Name one of the characters in Rogue One?” I usually get sputtering, “Ummmm” response and of the one or two folk who can name the lead female protagonist, I have yet to meet someone who can name a second character from Rogue One. That is certainly suggestive of something. Even the drama of Rogue One is suspect - The protagonist party goes to a planet. The Empire, coincidentally, happens to be there. Huge fight -- this repeats for two hours. Not exactly the stuff of dramatic legend. For some reason Forest Whitaker and his bulbous mind reading alien have worthless cameos. Ben Mendelsohn who is so, so mesmerizing in Bloodline plays Adequate Evil Villain One and spends the entire movie desperately trying to suppress his southern drawl. Tarkin is CGI thrown in, because the producers want to show us what they can accomplish -- a five minute rewrite could (and should) have taken Tarken out of the film entirely. And Darth Vader should not be in the movie at all! I really like that the cast is super racially diverse but what a wasted opportunity to have thirty poorly realized lead diverse characters with -- um -- well, no chance of a sequel. Finally: no fucking light sabers! A Star Wars Story: Rogue One: C -
Episode 6: Return of the Jedi. Director: Richard Marquand. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas. I did love this movie as a kid because, well, what else did I have to compare it too? Return of the Jedi has not aged well and I lay blame on the shoulders of its strange choice of a director - Richard Marquand. He had mainly done TV until Jedi. Sadly, it shows. Action sequences are blocked awkwardly - as if Marquand didn’t understand a widescreen format. He does not have an eye for the camera and shoots scenes with seemingly very little concept of how dramatic motion moves forward. Marquand certainly has no idea what to do with puppets, framing each of them perfectly on for the camera, as one would do for TV, which just highlights their fakeness. Compare the cantina scene in Star Wars to Jabba’s palace in Jedi. Jedi has several years of additional technology but looks amateurish compared to the original cantina scene. Marquand is just the wrong guy to be directing. Plus - Ewoks. Okay, I get it. SW is a family friendly adventure movie and kids love Ewoks (despite the fact that Ewoks were totally going to burn Han and Luke alive and then probably eat them!). I was eleven when Jedi came out and therefor too old to like Ewoks but still a bit too young to hate them. At the time I remember thinking they were kind of cute. Later in life I was able to see the obvious primitive technology vs. advanced technology story trope and that Ewoks were clearly designed to sell toys. Jedi is the first SW movie that made story choice less important than marketing, a sad trend that continues through the prequels. Jedi is universally considered the weakest of the original trilogy for good reason but still there things to like, but mostly a lot to - “meh.” None of the character work plays out as well as it should. Ford hams it up too much. But the final Jedi duel between Luke, Vader, the Emperor is very emotionally satisfying and intercut with, probably the best of all the SW space battles but then cut back to - stupid Ewoks fighting on the moon of Endor. Return of the Jedi should have been much better than it was. And to prove there was a calculated, giant marketing strategy to sell Ewok toys to kids, think of this -- in Return of the Jedi, how many times is the word,“Ewok” used? You probably just guessed it -- not one single time! And every kid and their best friend knew what an Ewok was a month before the movie came out because of - stupid marketing. Episode 6: Return of the Jedi: C
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Writer / director: George Lucas. I know, I know. Midichlorians, trade agreements and something about space taxation, blockades and the fact that the drama plays out as a series of meetings (seriously, the Jedi have a meeting with one person, then the next, then the next, then the next…) and finally -- Jar Jar Binks. I hear you. I dislike large portions of Phantom Menace. I will offer only this in its defense -- Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn. I posit that Neeson’s Qui-Gon single handedly picks up The Phantom Menace and carries the entire film on his acting genius shoulders. I am not suggesting Qui-Gon is Neeson’s greatest acting achievement. Neeson, much like actors from the previous trilogy, takes the gobbledygook SW dialogue and makes it believable. In fact, he makes it look easy. Neeson creates the only consistently great and likable character in the prequels. Qui-Gon is the Jedi we’ve always wanted to see in SW. He’s a great combination of Solo and Luke - honorable, wise, heroic and roguish. Qui-Gon breaks the rules when the rules aren’t just. He disobeys orders and, despite having an apprentice -- he’s a solo rogue. But he’s also a good guy. He’s pretty much everything we love in SW characters. Also, he’s played by Liam Neeson! If I haven’t convinced you that Qui-Gon is the best character in the prequels and arguably the best character in the SW film universe, then I haven’t. But The Phantom Menace is eminently watchable because of Qui-Gon. Not only that, but PM gives us the most physically imposing, unexpectedly charismatic and acrobatically dangerous SW villain in Darth Maul. Maul only gets a handful of lines but immediately after his introduction his presence is felt for the rest of the movie - just like all great villains. Yes, there is much to dislike in Phantom Menace, and as it was the first SW movie in almost two decades, it's an easy target and is far from being a perfect movie. Poor Jake Lloyd needed a lot of actorly help and Lucas was not able to deliver. Lloyd is universally hated in the role of young Anakin, his performance mocked as “Mannequin Skywalker.” Fair enough. He’s a kid actor. Most of them suck. Lawrence Kasdan tried to get Lucas to cast older in order to avoid just this problem. Lucas ignored Kasdan. The rest is history. Other things about PM - Padme should have been a stronger character, Jar Jar is half awful - and I will only say he is half awful - because Jar Jar Binks is written to entertain children. And children LOVE Jar Jar Binks (adults -- not so much.) Another thing I dislike about Ep. 1 is that it’s the beginning of “Jedi forget they have Jedi powers” in order to create artificial drama. The main example -- at the beginning of PM the Jedi use the Force to run super fast to avoid battle droids. At the end of film when Qui-Gon is in danger, Obi Wan runs to the aid of his master and forgets to use his super fast Force running power -- because the screenplay didn’t want him to get there in time to save Jinn. Argh! That being said, of all the prequels, PM remains the only one that has exciting action sequences. The pod race is fantastic and has an exquisite sound design. The Duel of the Fates combat between Qui-Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul remains the most physically beautifully choreographed of all the SW lightsaber fights, though -- ultimately that final battle between the three doesn’t have much dramatic weight (but that’s another story). Which leads me to, what a shock -- the moment the prequel trilogy kills off its single great compelling character -- it’s all downhill from there. Episode 1: The Phantom Menace: C +
Episode 7: The Force Awakens. Director: JJ Abrams. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, Michael Arndt. The Force Awakens feels like two separate movies. Movie one: the entertaining story of Rey and Finn. Movie two: all that poorly conceived Han Solo garbage. Now, before you say anything -- I adore the character of Han Solo but his return was a mixed bag for me. Who doesn't want to see Solo back to his old shenanigans? But most of the Solo portion of the film doesn’t feel quite right. Characters make choices because the screenplay demands them to make that exact choice in order for the story to continue. Nothing feels organic. The entire scene with Solo, Chewie, Rey and Finn encountering each other on the Falcon was undercut by the dopey gang that tries to kill them all. Then, someone thought it would a grand idea to thrown in silly, rolling tentacled aliens. Because -- funny. The reunion between Solo and Leia wasn’t given enough time to develop. In fact, the Force Awakens does a huge disservice to the character of Leia. Princess Leia, the woman who led the defense of Hoth, and oversaw the destruction of Death Star I, the women who, by herself, strangles Jabba the Hutt to death. In Force Awakens she’s nothing more than background fluff who, when she finds out Solo is killed -- runs to comfort Rey! Rey?!?!? A kid that Leia has known for like five minutes -- instead of going to comfort Chewbacca! (Abrams has gone on record to say this was a huge mistake on his part). And that’s the problem with Force Awakens. For each new scene involving the two young, very compelling characters of Finn and Rey we are subjected to really strange (and sometimes stupid) character choices by the old guns. I adore Rey and Finn and want to see more about them. Solo’s scenes deserve better than what FA offers. Leia is under utilized. And for a film about “the search for Skywalker” the characters don’t seem to make a lot of active choices to, you know -- look for Skywalker. And as for resident villains Snoke and Kylo Ren. Well, Snoke (a terrible name) has secrets to be revealed I’m sure, but as presented in Force Awakens he’s just an Emperor knock off. But Kylo Ren, well, I found him more compelling then I expected. A rich, white, privileged young man who has it all handed to him on a silver platter is then tempted with power and wants more and more and more. Seems legit (and kind of scary). Anyway. Of all the SW films this is the one I am most conflicted about. I adore and loathe portions of it in an equal 50/50 mix. Episode 7: The Force Awakens: C +
Episode 8. The Last Jedi. Writer / director: Rian Johnson. It’s certainly a far more complex movie than its predecessor, Force Awakens. Vast portions of Johnson’s SW deconstruction film are rich, beautiful and deeply satisfying - if not slightly heavy handed. Rian's use of color metaphor works well as he stages one grand action sequence (in the throne room) bathing it in front of blood red walls with the heroes fighting red armored warriors and a second decent sequence (the final fight) bathing it in red salt rock powder; mimicking extreme violence, loss of life and blood shed without resorting to showing a drop of gore. The heavy handed deconstruction continues with Skywalker’s off putting “get the fuck off my lawn” attitude. Rey and Ren come off the best as all their scenes are well written and play out far more sophisticated than the trailer suggests. Adam Driver is particularly good as Ren and the film wisely takes his helmet off as an actor's face is way more interesting than costuming or special effects. Carrie Fisher is, again, just like in Force Awakens, underused. And sadly, due to Fisher's untimely death she will continue to remain so in the trilogy end (which is too bad because there is a scene in the movie involving her that begs further exploration) Alas. Finally, all that being said, as much as there is to admire and as much as there is to love -- there are things that I can’t stand. I strongly rebelled against the shocking large amount of really, really awful, dopey “humor.” And I don’t mean, “Jar Jar Binks trying to make the kids laugh” humor. I mean the sheer unbelievable extended jokiness of characters in dramatic situations. The opening sequence with Poe facing off against the First Order is terrible. It is so bad it deserves to be in Ep. 2. As the first ten minutes of the movie played out I literally thought, “I am going to rage hate this entire movie.” I mention above that I can’t wait to see more about Rey and Finn. I will amend that. I can’t wait to see more about Rey. In Last Jedi we get multiple scenes of Finn bumbling around with his new partner Rose both continuously saved via coincidence in the film’s most grating story arc (designed to teach Finn his lesson - which is what this whole dam film is about - failure and then learning your lesson - you bloody child!). Yes, yes. We get it. But now I hope to see much less of Finn in the final film. And don't get me wrong - SW needs comedic relief. I mean, I thought the best part of Rogue One was the prickly comic relief droid. Maybe LJ just doesn’t have my kind of comic relief. I suppose Johnson’s writing / directing track record could have told me what I was going to like / dislike in LJ. His best film, Brick, is filled with fantastic characters and drips with beautiful noir drama. His worst film, The Brothers Bloom, desperately tries for chaotic, quirky charm and falls flat on its face more often than not. The Brothers Bloom reminds me a lot of the Finn sequences in Last Jedi. But, as for The Last Jedi - when it’s good, it’s really good - the throne sequence might be my favorite thing in all of SW. When it’s not so good … Finn is probably involved. Episode 8: The Last Jedi: C+
Episode 4: Star Wars (I still refuse to call it A New Hope). Writer / director: George Lucas. To be honest I go back and forth with my preference between Star Wars and Empire. But for now Star Wars is where it is. Also, I have been working on a very long piece about Marcia Lucas, one of the film’s main editors and how she, basically, saves Star Wars from being as dull as THX 1138 (but that’s a different story). Much has been written about this film, I won’t elaborate too much. Perfectly cast, well paced, well acted - well for the most part. Both Hamill and Fisher are very young and inexperienced. Fisher comes over better than Hamill but honestly, we can forgive one performance moment where a certain beloved character whines about power converters, right? Anyway, SW is revolutionary and mind blowing (for its time). Multiple Academy Award nominations. Multiple wins. Adored by hundreds of millions. The movie that introduces lightsabers to the world. The names! Oh the names - Millennium Falcon. Darth Vader. Han Solo. Chewbacca. Luke Skywalker. Princess Leia. Those are names! Hero names. Villain names! I can’t accurately describe to you what it was like being a five year old and being in a theater watching Star Wars for the first time. Perhaps modern day kids feel the same way being five and seeing Harry Potter. As for my five year old self, I remember the day. I sat in that theater and the opening music hit, the text crawls by and then a ship appears and it goes on and on and it keeps coming and coming and coming. You know what I’m talking about. And all I could think of was, “I’m in love.” Now and forever I am in love. Episode 4: Star Wars: A
FIRST: Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back. Director: Irvin Kershner. Writers: Leigh Bracket, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas. I know Empire is universally viewed as the best of all the Star Wars films and I can’t find a single reason to disagree. First off, listing Leigh Bracket as a writer isn’t entirely fair. She did turn in the first draft of the screenplay but Lucas universally hated everything about it. And then Miss Bracket died. So Lucas decided that, even though he and Kasdan rewrote the entire script, he would forever keep her name on the film. But who’s to say her influence doesn’t remain somewhere in Empire - I don’t know the exact answer to that. The addition of Kasdan as writer seems to, for the most part, clear up a lot of the clunky dialogue bits that plague Star Wars. Any minor quibble I might have is drowned out by the flood of greatness. The directing, the strong character work and the incredible action sequences all flow together. Hamill is a much better actor than he was in SW. Also, the character of Yoda was never better. I watched Empire many times as a kid but then went about fifteen years without seeing it. As an adult I watched it and was not prepared for how delightful those early Dagobah / Yoda scenes are. It made me a bit sad to know he turns into CGI boring old wise wizard Yoda (although Johnson’s LJ remembers what I am talking about). Yoda is a perfect character in Empire. Beyond Empire he becomes more of a storytelling device used mainly to dish out cryptic sounding wisdom. Empire has, arguably the two greatest action sequences in all of Star Wars canon - the Hoth invasion and the Cloud City lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. The stakes are never higher than that Luke / Vader battle leading up to the great story reveal. And finally, Empire introduces the first non white character in the SW universe -- I love Lando! Plus, ugnaughts are way better than ewoks and Lobot is super cool. And, finally -- what a hell of a cliff hanger! Even the silly space asteroid monster that almost eats the Falcon doesn't dethrone the SW big boy on the block. The Empire Strikes Back remains the greatest of the SW films and one of, if not the best space opera movies in cinema history. Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back: A
JJ Abrams taking over writing and directing duties on Episode IX from ousted helmsman Colin Trevorrow is not exactly surprising. Citing, “creative differences” Lucasfilm sent Trevorrow packing, which makes him the fourth time Disney has hired a director -- had said director work on their Star Wars project (for years!) and then fired said director. That’s six feature films, four fired directors and two fired screenwriters.
To be honest, the removal of a screenwriter is nothing new; however, the removal of a director is rare and the removal of a director after shooting some, if not most of the production -- is unheard of.
Unless, apparently, you work at Disney Lucasfilm. Where it happens all the time.
So what’s going on over at Disney Lucasfilm?
The simple answer: They keep hiring indie directors who are used to having enormous creative control. Those directors don’t do well when under the microscope of a colossal tent pole franchise construction where everyone wants a piece of the pie.
That being said -- four director replacements in six movies? Are we talking gross management incompetence or are all these changes justified? Or is it both?
Let’s take a look at the hit list:
Screenwriter -- Academy Award Winner Michael Arndt. Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Screenwriter Michael Arndt, (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3), was brought on to Star Wars way back in 2012, and he toiled on the screenplay for almost a year and a half -- and never produced a single complete draft.
By the end of 2013, JJ Abrams had had enough, stepped in as writer but also hired screenwriter and Star Wars vet -- Lawrence Kasdan (writer: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark). Arndt was out and Abrams and Kasdan hacked out a first draft by January 2014.
It should be noted that Abrams has gone on record to say that while it’s true Arndt never finished a completed draft but Arndt did turn in plenty of notes, treatments & outlines and offered plenty of ideas and input that made it into the final Abrams / Kasdan screenplay.
Arndt discusses with Entertainment Weekly, some of his story problems and the ideas that did not make it into the final draft:
“Early on I tried to write versions of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke. And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass, It just never worked and I struggled with this. This was back in 2012. It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over. Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character [Rey] anymore because, ‘Oh fuck, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’”
Fair enough. But still. If you work on a screenplay for a year and a half and don’t turn in a single complete draft -- you get fired.
I call this firing: Completely reasonable.
Director -- Josh Trank. Movie: Untitled Boba Fett feature film.
During the 2015 Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, CA, Lucasfilm set up a panel for directors Gareth Edwards of Rogue One, Monster and Godzilla (2014) and Josh Trank of Untitled Boba Fett feature film, Chronicle and Fantastic Four (2015) to discuss their upcoming Star Wars projects. Mysteriously, Trank no showed. Edwards pushed forward alone. Soon there after we found out that Trank pulled out of the event a two days before when he realized he was getting removed from the Boba Fett film. And, sure enough, a week after the Anaheim celebration, Trank was fired from the Boba Fett feature film.
Trank’s statement at the time:
“After a year of having the incredible honor of developing with the wonderful and talented people at Lucasfilm, I’m making a personal decision to move forward on a different path. I’ve put a tremendous amount of thought into this, and I know deep down in my heart that I want to pursue some original creative opportunities. That said, the Star Wars universe has always been one of my biggest influences, and I couldn’t be more excited to witness its future alongside my millions of fellow Star Wars fans. I want to thank my friends Kathleen Kennedy, Kiri Hart, Simon Kinberg, and everyone at Lucasfilm and Disney for the amazing opportunity to have been a part of this. May the Force be with you all.”
Very polite. But the firing was not surprising. Do a quick Google search on Trank and Fantastic Four and you will find a slew of articles that detail Trank’s erratic behavior on the set of the much maligned F.F. film. It really was no shock to hear he had been fired. In fact, his juvenile antics, his chronic tardiness and absenteeism and, according to many cast and crew members, his unprofessional behavior on the set of the Fant4stic has all but effectively ruined his film career. Trank has had no major studio work since the F.F. and nothing mapped out for him on future charts.
With the horrible stories coming off the F.F. set, it’s not surprising that Disney had cold feet about the young director. The Boba Fett film died with Trank’s departure.
Okay, so -- several months of crazy, bad behavior by immature director and no one wants to work with him ever again?
I call this firing: Completely reasonable.
Directors -- Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. Movie: Untitled Han Solo feature film.
The co-directors behind the new Han Solo film were replaced after shooting, reportedly, almost eighty percent of the film. This is totally unheard of.
According to the Hollywood Reporter:
“Several sources close to the movie and others close to the directors tell EW that ever since filming began back in February, Lord and Miller, who are known primarily for wry, self-referential comedies like 21 Jump Street and the pilot episodes for Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth, began steering the Han Solo movie more into the genre of laughs than space fantasy.
According to some sources, the split was a subtle one that became magnified over time: Lucasfilm and producer Kennedy believed Lord and Miller were hired to add a comedic touch; Lord and Miller believed they were hired to make a comedy.”
For a more detailed view, I wrote about it a few months ago. But, basically, the directors ignored the required tone of the film and began to make a screwball comedy. Some of the actors complained to execs and producers. Director were fired. Ron Howard was hired to finish the film.
Now, the director, not anyone else -- creates the tone of the film. UNLESS -- you are making a franchise picture with decades and decades of backstory and baggage. Then the tone is probably set in stone and with that in mind you do what the studio tells you too. On the other hand, the duo directors were well known for their highly improvisational film sets (both the modern 21 Jump Street films). It’s hard for me to fathom someone hiring directors that are known for improvising vast portions of their film and then -- fire them for improvising vast portions of your film.
I call this one: Partially reasonable.
Director: Gareth Edwards. Movie: Rogue One
Technically, Edwards was not fired from the set of Rogue One but he certainly wasn’t in charge of the reshoots -- of the film he directed. Instead, Tony Gilroy (writer/ director: Michael Clayton, screenwriter: The Bourne Trilogy) was assigned to retask Rogue One to make it less grim and give it an entirely new ending. There are enough stories leaked from the set and the editing studio to suggest that a full thirty percent of the film was rewritten and reshot, with the majority of the film’s storyline being rearranged in the final edit.
Disney never confirmed much regarding the hiring of Gilroy and on the movie's changes other than a generic, “All movies have reshoots,” but -- why would you not let the director of your film -- direct the reshoots? Of the film he directed?
There really is only one answer -- Disney was not confident Edwards was the right director for the job (or, perhaps, in the first place).
Word on the interwebs is that Edwards just went too far in making his gritty, realistic space war movie and ignored the principal reason he was there -- to make a Star Wars movie. So Disney brought in someone else to do it "right."
Edwards worked on this film for three years. I find it unlikely that, suddenly, at the very end of principal photography, execs at Lucasfilm were like, “Wait-a-minute! This isn’t what we wanted.” How the hell did it take execs two years of pre production, an entire year of principal photography and then multiple edits in order to figure this out? Besides, Edwards delivered the film -- he always told Disney he was going to deliver! From day one Edwards called it a “gritty, realistic space war film.” And then he gave Disney just that.
And then they gave his job to someone else.
I call this one: A mixed bag but probably; partially reasonable.
Director -- Colin Trevorrow, Writer -- Jack Thorne. Movie: Star Wars Episode IX.
Back full circle. Another director fired. Another screenwriter fired. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World) turned in multiple drafts but no one at Disney was satisfied with the work.
So they brought in another writer, English playwright and TV scriptwriter, Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Skins, Shameless). When Disney decided to let Trevorrow go for “creative differences,” Abrams stepped in and teamed with screenwriter Chris Terrio (writer: Argo, Batman vs. Superman and Justice League), which means Thorne was let go.
Disney is being very tight lipped about all the changes up to and including the recent Star Wars Episode IX shake up. No one knows, yet, if any work from the Trevorrow / Thorne drafts will be kept or if everything will be trashed and Abrams / Terrio will start from scratch.
Another Disney-Lucasfilm dust up. To be honest, I'm sure there will be many more to come.
I call this one: Not enough information to judge. Yet.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi will be released December 15th, 2017.
Star Wars: Episode IX will be released December 20th, 2019.