Who is this guy?

The true enemy won’t wait out the storm. He brings the storm.

–Jon Snow

The Night King is the chief and foremost of the white walkers, produced by the children of the forest to defeat the first men thousands of years ago. In a Bran-vision, we learn he became blue-eyed with a shard of dragonglass to the chest by Leaf, transformed forever into the Night King, and ultimately turning on those who created him. In my opinion, he was probably one of the first men himself, before being captured and morphed. And I’d be holding a grudge too.

But that’s about all we know. Since his first appearance in season four, the Night King has been murky and mythical. Except there isn’t much of a myth.

It’s very easy to give the Night King zombie-like features and have us all assume he’s the most evil thing ever. But for him to be a believable villain, I need to know what he believes. Unlike Cersai, the Night King is a largely undeveloped and a frankly uninteresting player in Westeros. So if he is to be our primary bad guy moving forward, the show better get to work.

The Night King and Bran are irrevocably connected. He regularly sees Bran in his visions and even scratched him once, leading to Hodor doing what he does best. There is a hot rumor going around that Bran is the Night King, and while I have no idea how this is possible, it’s entirely possible.

I hope the Night King becomes a fully realized character, because there is a goldmine of possibility. Is he a vengeful man, forever marching against the forces which created him? And why are the white walkers marching now, after all this time?

It’s easy to ignore these questions and accept the Night King as an all encompassing malevolence. But his lack of character development seems like a real departure from George Martin’s novels.

So here’s to the Night King. I’m pulling for you man.

The Dimes and Duds of NBA Free Agency

The NBA has become a year long event. And its’ summer transaction period may be more exciting than actual games. The draft brings in the latest crop of talent, and the free agent signings and trades of July are national news. Summer 2017 has been especially active, so we have a point-counterpoint discussion at the winners and losers thus far in this year’s busy offseason.

The Dimes

Will Maloney: Gordon Hayward signs with the Boston Celtics

Hayward was the cornerstone of the Utah Jazz. But while improving and playoff bound, the Jazz were limited in the stacked Western Conference. It’s NBA Finals or nothing for a player in his prime like Hayward. And while the Warriors will rule the West for years to come, the East is up in the air. With the addition of Hayward, Boston becomes a serious contender.

Shar Bahmani: Everything the Minnesota Timberwolves have done

Hayward? I find myself on the other end there. More on this later. For now, let’s discuss the fan base that should be the most excited by the changes its franchise made this offseason. Minnesota. Minnesota? That’s right, Minnesota. The Jimmy Butler draft night trade was an A+ for Minnesota, giving it a legitimate top tier player to pair with developing star Karl Anthony Towns. I’m not as high on Andrew Wiggins as most, however, I believe you can absolutely win a championship with Wiggins as your third best player. The Butler trade wasn’t the only move the Timberwolves made. Bringing in solid veterans like Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamaal Crawford (who can still ball) are the type of solid moves that championship franchises make. This Minnesota team really has a chance to be special next year and barring injury, I believe they just punched their tickets to the playoffs with these moves.

WM: Paul George traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook is a tough guy to pair with. However, if there is one player tailor-made for Westbrook’s game, it’s Paul George. He likes to play off the ball, within the flow of the game without needing to be ball dominant. Westbrook is the opposite, known for driving and dishing to shooters. Exactly how Paul George likes to be set up. Let’s hope this duo stay on the same page.

SB: Nuggets sign Paul Milsap and allow Danilo Galinari to leave

I couldn’t agree more regarding Paul George. He is absolutely the perfect player to pair with Russell Westbrook.

I’m a big fan of Paul Milsap. He’s the perfect power forward for the modern NBA that emphasizes speed over size and versatility. Milsap, initially a bruiser in Utah, has added an outside shot to his arsenal and has slimmed down quite a bit. Galinari on the other hand is someone who I want to be a fan of. The dude sounds perfect on paper. But he’s too injured and too inconsistent when he’s not. Even when he was on the court last year, I found myself thinking Wilson Chandler was the Nuggest best small forward, if not their best player last year. Letting Gallo go to hopefully free up time for Chandler to play alongside Milsap and Nikola Jokic provides the Nuggets with an interesting frontcourt. If second year player Jamall Murray finds more court time and continues to grow, the Nuggets could be one of NBA League Pass’ must-watch teams next year and a team fighting for the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

The Duds

 WM: Blake Griffin re-signs with Clippers for 5 years, $173 Million

Since missing an entire rookie season with a stress fracture in his left knee, Blake Griffin has missed nearly two more full seasons with injuries including a broken kneecap, meniscus tear, torn quadriceps, knee bone bruise, sprained knee, and broken right hand. And he’s twenty-eight years old, around when most big men start their decline. And it usually happens fast, take Amare Stoudemire or Dwight Howard for example. With Chris Paul gone to Houston, now Griffin will be asked to carry the weight of the team. Adding mileage to an already fragile player.

SB:      The Celtics’ moves

I’ve been telling you for quite some time that Lonzo Ball was the best player in the draft and it’s not even close. The Celtics had a golden opportunity to not only draft the best player in the draft with the number 1 pick, but also throw it in the face of their age-old rival in the process. To heck with what Lavar Ball wanted, I would have taken Lonzo with the number 1. Make no mistake, the Celtics trading down for a future potential lottery pick and Jayson Tatum was a solid option B, but nonetheless it was option B. They haven’t done much better in free agency. Hayward is a nice addition. However, he’s the third best small forward to change teams this offseason. Given the pile of poop that Indiana and Chicago accepted for Paul George and Jimmy Butler, its perplexing how the Celtics couldn’t have parlayed their array of picks and other assets into one of those two players. The move is particularly perplexing when the Celtics last two lottery picks both play the same position. Butler, who can also play the 2-guard would have been more of a natural fit. Additionally, the move forced the team to trade locker room presence Avery Bradley and allow Game 7 hero Kelly Olynyk to go.

I like Hayward as a player. But Boston should have done MUCH better given the amazing position it found itself in heading into the offseason.

WM: Chris Paul traded to the Houston Rockets

Chris Paul needs the ball in his hands. So a pairing with James Harden, already playing the point in Houston, seems strange. While Paul is hailed as one of the games’ best, his career tells a different story. He’s never taken a team past the second round, and doesn’t make any of his teammates particularly better. Though Paul collects assists, everything seems to be about him rather than the men he’s passing too. And in Houston, he could be poison.

SB: The Pacers’ front office sniffing glue

I’m not even going to dive into this because it would be insulting your intelligence. That’s how bad the Paul George trade was.

Ok, I’ll say one thing. Victor Oladipo – by all accounts a solid player, but in no way a superstar – is grossly overpaid. He is so overpaid that every talking head, so-called expert, NBA executive, and human whose brain hasn’t been fried yet expected Oklahoma City to have to give something up merely to dump Oladipo’s contract. Instead, Indiana was willing to take on the Oladipo mess of a contract and give up arguably this year’s top free agent with time still left on his contract. This trade is inexplicably insane.

 

Chris Paul Wins

As president of the NBA player’s union, Chris Paul helped negotiate the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the union and the league. Under the new CBA, 10-year veterans can be offered a max contract of five years and $205 million with their existing teams. But if that same player decides to sign with a new team, the max offer is $150 million and four years. The provision was to benefit aging superstars like Chris Paul and Lebron, making them rich while keeping them in one city.

Except Chris Paul wanted to have his cake and eat it too.

This past season was Paul’s fourth of a four-year contract, with a fifth-year option. When Paul informed the Clippers he would not be signing the option, he added that he would be signing with Houston instead. But the Rockets didn’t have enough cap space to take on Paul and LA didn’t want to lose him for nothing in return. And so Houston traded players to LA, and can now sign Paul to the fifth-year option from his Clipper contract. Making Paul eligible for a $205 million pay bump next summer.

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This trade was a remarkable achievement by Chris Paul. He allowed himself to receive all the CBA benefits, which he had created to protect against just this. For their next act, the Clippers need to part ways with Doc Rivers. The man who pushed Chris Paul out of LA.

According to Sportscenter anchor Michael Eaves, the tension between Paul and Rivers peaked during a proposed trade involving Carmelo Anthony last season. New York offered Anthony and Sasha Vujacic to the Clippers in exchange for Austin Rivers, Paul Pierce, and Jamal Crawford. But Doc Rivers, coach and team president, said no. The whole thing reaped of nepotism by Doc, towards his own son, and pushed Chris Paul further away.

Doc denies the trade was proposed, but it seems like a strange thing to make up. Even before the trade, Austin Rivers didn’t fit in, and was seen as his father’s son. In his time as a Clipper, Austin has improved from a bad player to an average player; exactly the guy you trade. And if Doc Rivers made that mistake of saying no, it should be the last mistake he’s allowed to make.

Not agreeing to the Carmelo Anthony trade may have been the final straw for Chris Paul, but negligence and bias is only the latest chapter in the overrated coaching career of Doc Rivers.

In five seasons with Orlando, Rivers had a .504 win percentage and lost in the first round of the playoffs three times. Nine seasons in Boston equated to a .577 winning percentage, with a championship in 2008 and loss to the Lakers in 2010. The championship followed a disastrous 24-58 campaign, and the Celtics traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. But after the departure of Garnett and Allen alongside Paul Pierce, the Celtics quickly sunk to .506. Rivers was then traded to the Clippers, the only coach to have been acquired that way. In four troubled seasons in LA, he has failed to take his team past the second round of the playoffs once.

The future in Clipperland will largely depend on the decision of free agent Blake Griffin. Should he return, the Clippers stay in playoff contention, and nothing more. But Griffin knows that time is ticking, and while being the main attraction may cause him to stay, it’s entirely possible he re-locates in the name of winning.

It’s time to re-build in LA, and the departure of Chris Paul is the beginning of the end.

Best. Pilot. Ever.

Tom Hanks once again reminds us why he continues to be Hollywood’s personification of the all-American everyman. No other actor is so natural at capturing commitment, pride in a job well done, and doing your duty no matter the cost.

I came into Sully with a basic familiarity of 2009’s Miracle on the Hudson, but blind to how complex and dramatic the events actually were. And Sully wastes no time  getting down to business. Soaked with blockbuster special effects, director Clint Eastwood proves that CGI can be used in service of re-creating history, not just super heroes.

Except Sully does more than just nail its’ electrifying depiction of 2009’s events, it puts the audience into the pilot’s seat. After a Charlotte bound flight takes off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, the engine is destroyed by an unlucky flock of birds, and the Captain Chesley Sullenberger makes the decision to land in the Hudson River. Remarkably saving all 155 passengers on board.

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The plot of Sully concerns the aftermath. Airplanes are mega expensive, and when one goes down, culpability is a cardinal concern. Now Sully finds himself pitted against the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), intent on proving the plane could have returned to LaGuardia safely. Unwilling to agree, Sully is steadfast that his decision was the only decision. And for the better part of ninety-six minutes, Sully and the NTSB engage in a powerful debate.

Sully’s methodical interrogation is contrasted by the overabundance of people calling him a hero. In the bars of New York they name drinks after him, and in the streets he receives kisses and hugs from strangers. But in the conference room of the Courtyard Marriot, the NTSB is dead set of taking his wings.

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Sully isn’t only an intelligent thriller; it’s an immersive experience. Adding depth and new dimensions by simulating what it’s like to be on an airplane going down. Never before have I been on the edge of my seat like the passengers on board Sully’s flight. Terrified and wondering what I’d do in my last moments. Saved only by the captain who was willing to follow his instincts.

Intoxicating and hugely entertaining, Sully is historical drama at it’s best. While epic and electric on one level, it’s highly personal on another. Sully is a terrific piece of cinema that uncovers the rich depth of a near tragedy like never seen before.

 

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Not Your Grandpa’s Western

Normally, I hate westerns. Stale and dry like the desert, the genre has become a vehicle for bad acting, weak scripts, and repetitive dialogue. Minus a few exceptions, I’m weary of cowboys chasing outlaws and whore filled whisky saloons.

The formula feels outdated and out of fashion because it is. Traditionally set in the late 19th century, westerns routinely succeed in creating a world no modern American could ever relate to. But it’s this departure from tradition that elevates Hell or Highwater into a league of it’s own.

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Hell or Highwater is the story of Toby and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster, Chris Pine), two brothers dead set on robbing every branch of the Texas Midlands Bank. Hot on their trail is Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), on the eve of his own retirement, with one last case to solve.

The movie succeeds straightaway by setting itself in 2016, not 1896. The Howard boys fire automatic weapons, not pocket pistols. They ride F-150s, not horses, and go to indian casinos. But alas, indian casinos have whores and whiskey too.

Linguistically ambitious and provocative, the off-color dialogue only adds to the authenticity of Hell or Highwater. Allowing little for the imagination, never does the film stray from good ol’ racism, sexism, or any other ism. And boy does it feel like you are in West Texas. Every scene makes the small town sphere of Hell or Highwater appear both charming and ghostly. As if everyone has a secret to protect. This is Friday Night Lights once football season ends.

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Written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), Hell or Highwater is smart, layered, and terrifically acted. Ben Foster steals the show at first, playing a confident, captivating lunatic. Then it’s Jeff Bridges, depicting the inscrutable but conflicted face of justice. But when it’s all said and done, this is Chris Pine’s movie. Remarkable in every scene; Pine demonstrates a picture of frailty. The benevolent brother loyal to his psychotic bloodline. Never wavering, Pine is the yin to Foster’s yang.

So turn off the TV and go see Hell or Highwater. It’s a diamond amidst a rough summer of movies.

 

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The Dogs of War

Being likeable is overrated, and so is political correctness. Sadly for a character to even attain this hallowed ground, created by the cinematically sensitive, they must sacrifice everything that makes them interesting. In Todd Phillips’ War Dogs anti-political correctness is rife, with just enough levity to keep his fans smiling. And despite every character being flawed with marvelous greed; War Dogs may be the best buddy movie of 2016.

But to call War Dogs a buddy film would be unfair to actual friendships.

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War Dogs starts in the fascinating, disturbing America of 2005 after the first Iraqi invasion. Dick Cheney is in deep water for awarding all major defense contracts to his friends, so the government is now required to post all contracts online, awarding as many to small businesses as to major contractors. Step in Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who buys used weapons at police auctions and resells them to the military. After reconnecting with old friend David Packouz (Miles Teller) at a funeral, the two become partners in the high-risk real world of gun-running. And soon after getting involved with veteran arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), Diveroli and Packouz realize how thin their friendship actually is.

Keep in mind, these guys are just twenty-one years old.

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What makes any movie “good” has nothing to do with awards or box office, but everything to do with re-watchability. Re-watchable movies hit that magic point where entertainment meets education. Like Goodfellas or The Wolf of Wall Street, War Dogs allows us entry into a shadowy organization through the eyes of the brazen few that live it. War Dogs entertains with an animated slew of characters who educate themselves with every word. And don’t be fooled by the comedic chops of the cast; War Dogs is high drama only elevated by the occasional punch line.

8/10

Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Old School)

Starring Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, and Bradley Cooper

1 hr. 54 mins.

 

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It’s a Slow Summer for Movies, So Stream with Me

This summer has been sluggish for movies. Stories that qualify as original have been few and far between, in favor of re-booted comic books and animated fish. Unable to take the abundance of happy meal fanfare, I increasingly rely on Netflix and iTunes.

So here are five movies you probably missed in the theatre, but still can stream.

No Escape 

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No Escape is the most underappreciated action movie of the past year. With blockbuster potential, it’s incredible that it came and went without much notice.

Owen Wilson and family are trapped in Southeast Asia during a violent uprising. After their hotel is seized, Wilson leads his brood on the escape of a lifetime. It’s a chase through hell, leaving Wilson no option but to kick some serious ass. And guess what? Pierce Brosnan plays along too, returning to James Bond form.

No Escape is a reminder that being an American abroad isn’t always a good thing. But it’s damn fun to watch.

Watch the Trailer Here

The Gift

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The Gift, starring and directed by Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Black Mass), asks a question many have wondered – what if you ran into an old bully? What if they were more successful than you? Had a more beautiful spouse? Would you want revenge?

These are the circumstances in The Gift, with Joel Edgerton playing the adult version of a young man who was bullied in high school by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Horrible Bosses). Now mid-forties and struggling, Edgerton “coincidentally” runs into Bateman and his wife, and keeps us wondering who the real bully is.

The Gift is an enigmatic, psychological thrill ride that never fails to entertain. Moving with a swift pace without being break neck, The Gift has you rooting for a different character every fifteen minutes. Posing the question, who is the victim and who is the perpetrator?

Watch the Trailer Here

Victoria

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Shot over one the course of a wild night in Berlin, Victoria is a gimmick of the best kind. Demonstrating an insane desire for difficult camera work, Victoria was shot as a single take, without even one edit. It’s tough to believe director Sebastian Schipper actually pulls this off, but for 138 minutes Victoria operates in real time.

The style would be nothing without a fast paced story. The troubled Victoria, a Spanish woman living in Berlin, becomes quick friends with four guys she meets at a nightclub. Leaving with them, Victoria becomes wrapped up in plot to repay a debt owed to a gang of violent criminals.

Victoria won best picture at the 2015 Lola Awards, Germany’s Oscars.

Watch the Trailer Here

99 Homes

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There is nothing quite like a good old tale of life in the Sunshine State, and 99 Homes is a colorful Floridian tragedy.

Starring Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Superman), 99 Homes focuses on a conniving, gun-touting real estate enforcer, dead set on removing victims of the recession from their homes. Things get going when Shannon promises one of his evictees he may keep his house if he becomes an enforcer too.

99 Homes is a time capsule of the recession’s most grassroots effects, shocking but captivating. That said, it’s a really fun ride. And Shannon’s thuggish enforcer is a thing of beauty.

Watch the Trailer Here

The Overnight

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Ever been to a swinger’s party? Well neither had Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) nor Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) before The Overnight.

Scott and Schilling are new parents, taking their young son to the park for a day of slides and swings. After he starts to play with another child, the father of that boy, Jason Schwartzman (The Grand Budapest Hotel), invites Scott and Schilling to a pizza party at the home of he and his wife. After the party runs late, the two boys fall asleep and it becomes a party of a different kind.

Demonstrating restraint until the final scene, The Overnight mounts sexual tension in a smart, upbeat, and clever way. Witty dialogue drives a provocative story and offers date-night charm.

Make some time this overnight.

Watch the Trailer Here

 

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Netflix Pick – The Invitation

Most of us have wondered; what would it be like to see an ex? Well how about if they invited you to a dinner party? How about if their new partner was at dinner too? Those are our circumstances in The Invitation, directed by Karen Kasuma (Girlfight, Aeon Flux).

Will is a divorcee who has been invited to a dinner party by ex-wife Eden. Both Will and Eden are in new relationships, but we soon discover the death of a child is what caused their breakup. Though Eden has apparently healed with a charming new man, her happiness seems paper-thin. But Will is more obviously tormented, and stepping into his old house brings the nightmares which made him leave in the first place. Suddenly this dinner party turns weird when Eden reveals she and new beau David have joined a cult, and want to spread the good word to their guests.

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The film becomes a stirring back and forth, with the story told through Will’s point of view. Wondering whether or not there is a dangerous subplot to Eden’s cult, or if her newfound happiness is real. Will is in a constant back and forth with himself, and for its’ 100 minute run time The Invitation will have you guessing at every turn.

Starring underrated leading man Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, 24); The Invitation walks the fine line between thriller and horror, never committing to either, and every bit more riveting for it. It’s a thoroughly gripping LA story, elevated by its’ subtly elegant style, with characters that represent the many faces of Los Angeles. Rich, self-obsessed, and spiritually open-minded to a fault, the cast offer wickedly engrossing performances. Slow pacing is utilized to maximize tension, and The Invitation throws a wide enough net for broad appeal.

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Shot in a single location, and produced for under a million dollars, The Invitation is independent cinema at its finest. It will satisfy a wide range of audiences by tying in an adult drama with the unsettling tempo of a thriller. Not until the final ten minutes of The Invitation are the story’s intentions made clear, and the underlying question answered.

Is Will a paranoid ex or a justified hero?