Gone Girl – Film Review

I have had a few days now to let my thoughts on Gone Girl ruminate in my mind, and the more I think about it, the more the film seeps under my skin, and yet despite that, it is still a deeply problematic film.

The film centers around the disappearance of Amy Elliot Dunne with the film’s carefully constructed script (written by author of the novel, Gillian Flynn) slowly dissecting and unpacking the motivations of the various individuals linked to her disappearance, by combining a use of flashbacks and narration from Rosamund Pike and scenes from the present day, shot through the perspective of Nick Dunne – Amy’s husband, whose actions become more and more questionable as the film delves deeper into the rationale behind his action’s.

It all amounts to something that for its entire duration (roughly two and a half hours) remains a completely immersive experience with Fincher bringing his typically slick precision to the film. And yet the film – at least tries to be – so much more than a simple whodunnit. The film certainly contains a lot of interesting ideas and the story allows for Fincher to analyze the extent that media and public perception is able to influence the investigation, it allows for an exploration of marriage and class struggle however the film is mostly ineffective in its pursuit of these deeper ideas. At times a satire of modern marriage, at times a physiological thriller, it never appears as though Fincher captures the correct balance and what it results in is a tonally inconsistent film with Flynn’s script never seeming to find the required depth to provide anything new or interesting to say on the themes it attempts to address.

After a few days to think on the film, I found Gone Girl to ultimately be a film that leaves me cold (which I acknowledge is at least partly the film’s intention) and yet still completely appreciative. Whether or not Fincher actually achieves the goals he set out with this film is likely to be divisive, but I at the very least admire his intentions. This is a deeply uncomfortable, at times excruciating, watch and the film never shies away from that. The film presents these severely troubled characters, it never attempts to make them particularly sympathetic or “likeable” but it does intend to make you understand them. Take the character of Amy for example, in the hands of anyone else, she could have easily devolved into a cariacture, but Fincher and Rosamund Pike should be commended for not only finding incredible nuance in the role but also for making us understand why a character may go to the lengths that she does in order to achieve her objective. And I think that is really the key to this entire film, we may not necessarily ever sympathize with pretty much any of these characters but the film does a great job of diving into the psychology of these incredibly messed up individuals, and making us understand why they might behave like they do.

The rest of the ensemble is also perfectly cast. Ben Affleck does some of the best work of his career, reminding us that when he wants to, he really can be a great actor. Carrie Coon, who continues her phenomenal breakout year which started with ‘The Leftovers’, is the standout of the supporting cast as Nick’s twin sister Margo who by the end emerges as the beating heart of the film, and the rest of the cast is uniformly excellent as well. Whether it be Scoot McNairy’s incredibly minor role or Kim Dickens, as the detective hired to look into Amy’s disappearance, whose beliefs are in a constant state of conflict as the plot’s mystery slowly unravels, they all deliver exactly what is required of them. But it is Pike who is clearly the star here and if all that we eventually get out of this film is Rosamund Pike, then it will have been worth it. She has been promising a performance like this for some time, so of course it would be a David Fincher film that ultimately extracts that performance out of her.

The ending – long-rumored to have been changed for the film adaptation – remains intact from the book, and without delving into spoiler territory, I will say that whilst I know it was divisive amongst book readers, as someone who has not read the book, it felt like the perfect ending to this story. I am not sure there is any version of the ending to this film which finds resolution for all of its characters which would feel right. The film is a deeply uncomfortable watch and the ending is a reflection of that and ultimately, it felt like the exact ending this film was building towards from the very beginning. I may not have totally fallen for this film but it is also readily apparent to me that Gone Girl is made by a filmmaker with a distinct vision and it never moves away from that, and I don’t really know if you can ask for much more than that.

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Masters of Sex – Season Two Review

The season finale of Masters of Sex, entitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, was largely a reflection of the season as a whole – uneven but with a lot of great individual scenes and moments, most of which pertained in some way to Bill and Virginia. Throughout the entire season, the one welcome constant has been the fascinating evolution of the relationship between Bill and Virginia and here it is no different as their search for a cure of sexual dysfunctional, Virginia’s custody battles and the pair’s battle to keep their study relevant when faced with competition from a rival study, provide a deeply satisfying conclusion to the season.

Yet, at the same time, the finale also continued to explore the baffling sub-plot involving Langham’s ventures with cal-o-metric and his relationship with Flo. At times, the show can struggle to manage the various sub-plots which don’t necessarily have an exact correlation to Bill and Virginia or the study, but ultimately story lines such as Barbara and Lester’s work because they feel like they are servicing the larger story of the show. Even if they spend a long period of time without ever interacting with the two main protagonists, the pair pursuing a relationship without sex not only provides a few very sweet scenes involving Lester and Barbara within the episode  but it also allows for an interesting commentary on what it means to be in a relationship and the importance of sex and intimacy within that relationship – which is one of the show’s main themes – as they struggle to define what it means to be in a relationship with no sex. The writer’s also did a nice job of bringing the arc full circle and tying it back in with the study, as judging from the final scene, it appears as though Bill and Virginia’s attempts at curing sexual dysfunction will now extend to Barbara and Lester as well.

However that was not the case with Austin, whose continued involvement throughout the season went from a slight annoyance, to something that made me legitimately angry. The show has shown that it is willing to move on from certain character’s when they no longer remain relevant – just look at the large turnover in the cast this season – so the fact that the show kept Langham around for no apparent reason, in a story line which felt like it belonged on a completely different show with only a very tenuous thematic link to the show as a whole, makes it one character arc that is completely indefensible.

One of the shows other major problems this season was the arc concerning Libby and her time at CORE office however here the writer’s did a much better job in the final two episodes.  Part of why the story proved so problematic for the first ten episodes was the fact that we really had no insight as to why Libby was behaving so uncharacteristically as this borderline racist, however Libby’s final scene in Episode 11 went a long way in redeeming that arc this year, and Caitlin Fitzgerald does a wonderful job of selling that justification, as the idea that Libby would be seeking some sort of companionship considering the state of her relationship with Bill, makes a lot of sense. And that continued in the finale, as in a nice moment shared between Libby and Robert, it is revealed that Libby knows about Bill’s affair with Virginia. This was an important step for the show and it’s nice to know that Libby has not been completely oblivious to what has been going on between Bill and Virginia for the past three years or so, and it leaves me excited for where the show will take the relationship between the three of them in the future. Once again, I am glad where the character of Libby has ended up this season, I’m just not sure entirely sure the circuitous journey to get to that point was entirely worth it, especially when you consider that it came at the expense of possibly spending more time with Bill and Virginia.

And that is ultimately the biggest question when evaluating this second season. Are you here for the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between Bill and Virginia or are you equally compelled by the various narratives which weave in and out of Bill and Virginia’s story? If it’s the latter, then I imagine you enjoyed Season 1 a lot more as Allison Janney and Beau Bridges were both featured prominently, however if you find yourself leaning towards the former (like myself), then you will have probably found Season 2 deeply rewarding. The show thrives when the focus is firmly on the study and the incredibly complicated relationship between Bill and Virginia, and Season 2 only enhanced that further with episodes such as “Fight”, which was one of the best episodes of television you will see anywhere this year.

At this point, I would be doing an injustice to the show if I did not mention the outstanding work done by both Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan who continue to find hidden layers to the characters of William Masters and Virginia Masters. Sheen may have received the better material this season, but in the finale it is Caplan who shines. Notice the cracks in her voice as she tries to convince herself and Bill that giving up custody of her children is the right thing to do. Notice the subtleties on her face when Virginia realizes how little the children seem to care that they will be spending less time with their mother, or when she finally begins to break down on the phone with Bill, before she finally reaches her bursting point as she realizes that the CBS video – which was the reason in the first place for her giving up custody – has been pulled, even if she does not know that it was Bill that orchestrated the entire thing. Lizzy Caplan has been fantastic throughout the show’s entire run, but this may have been the best performance she has given to date.

Ultimately, the more I think about it, the more I see the similarities between this show’s second season and the second season of Game of Thrones. Both are based on source material and it has become increasingly apparent that both shows were at a point in their respective stories which were not particularly interesting, almost like it was necessary for the show’s to get past this point so that it can get to the richer material in future seasons. Yet despite that, both show’s managed to deliver what are largely considered to be the series’ best episodes to date with “Fight” for Masters of Sex and “Blackwater” for Game of Thrones, which also both happen to be episodes that revolve around one particular location for the entire episode in a season when both shows drew criticism for having various sub-plots which felt completely unrelated to the overarching storyline of the season.

Now having said that, I really liked this finale, and I thought this season actually probably did a better job than Game of Thrones’ second season, because no matter what else is going on in the show, it’s main focus is and always will be on Bill and Virginia, and for pretty much the entire duration of the second second, no matter what was going on with Austin you knew you were guaranteed at least two or three great moments between Bill and Virginia in each episode. And that is ultimately why I find Masters of Sex to still be among the very best shows on television. Everything else can be fixed but the fact that the core relationship is still as fascinating as ever leaves me completely at ease with where the show is currently at. Bill Masters and Virginia remain two of the most fascinating characters on television, and when a show can deliver episodes as good as “Fight” it is very hard to complain about anything else.
Episode Grade: A-
Season Grade: A-

I’m Back! – Need a new Blog Name

Hi guys, i’ve been away for about a year but studies got in the way. Good news is, I’m now through my first year of university so I figured now was the right time to hop back in.

Just a few things on the future of the blog – I’m looking for a new name and any suggestions are always welcome. The blog was originally created to mainly be about sports with some pop culture stuff thrown in, but I think now that i’ve got slightly more time on my hands, I will probably provide as much content on television and film as I do sports. So in the next few days you should see reviews up for Masters of Sex season two, the first season of Transparent, hopefully some thoughts on The Good Wife and then a review of Gone Girl as well, and then I’ll try get an NBA season preview post done as well as some thoughts on the NFL season so far.

Glad to be back and any blog name suggestions are appreciated :)

Back In A Bit

Off on Holiday for a few weeks, so won’t be updating the blog for a while. Hopefully I’ll be back posting by early August!

NCAA Football 13 Review

I moan about games being produced annually,  on a fairly consistent basis. Obviously, there is not much you can do with sports franchises, as leave it one year, and your game is already out of date, with the latest set of licensing and the influx of new players. However, that shouldn’t be enough to warrant a $60 or a £40 purchase every year. If a developer wants me to keep coming back every year, they have to show they have put in the time and effort, that would warrant the investment. Is NCAA Football 13 worth it? Not Really.

Starting off with the main aspect off the game, which is Dynasty mode. The game has already added a fair few layers to the mode this year, so any improvements made this year were obviously not going to be revolutionary. However, there are quite a few nice additions that add even further depth, to a franchise mode which in my opinion, was already superior to its sister franchise, Madden. Dynamic Ratings have finally been introduced, meaning as your team progresses or declines up the BCS ladder, certain ratings will be impacted by that change. There is a set of circumstances, in which each rating can be altered over time, and is a nice little feature, to motivate you to keep going with your dynasty.  On top of that, the recruiting has been made much slicker, with the new-scouting system which works very effectively as a new enhancement for the mode whilst the actual pitches themselves have finally been altered, now enabling you to choose which topics you wish to pursue with a certain prospect. As I said, there was never going to be anything revolutionary with dynasty this year, but all of these new features go a long way, in enhancing the college football experience.

Heisman Mode is the only completely new game mode for NCAA Football, this year and it’s relatively lacklustre. The idea behind it, being that you get to take control of previous heisman winners with whichever team you wanted.. That is literally it. It is a poor attempt by EA to extract some more money from their consumers (yes you have to pay for some of the Heisman “challenges”). My advice? Go find your old NCAA games, and actually PLAY WITH THE PLAYERS ON THAT GAME. There is literally no difference, apart from the obvious gameplay improvements that have transcended over time. Seriously, don’t bother with this.

As with every year, NCAA Football 13 brings with it a host of new presentation improvements. Yeah you get the odd new mascot or whatever, but the main feature this year, links in with the dynasty mode. Now, the game utilises broadcaster Rece Davis to bring studio updates, whilst you are playing your game. That is not the end of it either, as the ESPN ticker will be a prominent feature in the bottom of your television screen, as it constantly gives updates on any upsets or ‘priority games’ that are currently occurring at the same time as your game. On paper, it is a really cool idea in creating an even more immersive experience but unfortunately, the execution isn’t fantastic. The studio updates lack content, and the ESPN ticker at the bottom of the screen, is quite frankly, a distraction. If this can be improved for NCAA Football 14 however, then this is definitely a worthwhile feature to have implemented in the game. But for now? Fairly poor execution hinders the overall experience, rather than enhancing it.

But no matter how well done the previously referenced aspects of the game this year are, it is ultimately gameplay that will be the defining  factor in determining whether or not NCAA Football 13 is worth the money. The new improvements this year, are the inclusion of 20+ new passing trajectories, ensuring superman linebackers will no longer be swatting the ball whenever you try and pass over the middle, and a read-and-react mechanic, which ensures defenders and recievers alike, must be making eye contact with the ball before making a play. Both are fundamentally sound ideas, and both are executed fairly efficiently but where the features falter, is unfortunately, by making these improvements the balance of the game has been fairly dramatically changed. The offensive side of the ball, is simply, far too easy now with defenders biting far too easily on play action and pump fakes, meaning the deep ball is always far too easy to complete.  In one game, my QB had 10-30 completed passes for over 400 yards, that is how much the balance of the game has been distorted.

Overall, this is still a fairly solid outing by the NCAA franchise. You can tell, they have put in the effort with numerous new enhances, which in principal should be fantastic. Unfortunately, the execution lacks, meaning the overall experience is slightly tainted. Still, if you have never played an NCAA game before, go and buy it, it’s definitley worth your money. As for returning players from NCAA 12? Well, if your willing to spend the money on some admittedly fantastic improvements to the recruiting mechanic and new rosters, then go for it. My advice? Don’t bother.

Game Modes – Dynasty is improved with the new recruiting system but Road to Glory sees very little improvement. As for Heisman Mode? Don’t Bother. 7.5/10

Gameplay – Markedly worse than last years iteration, with the offensive side of the ball being far too easy. 7/10

Presentation – The game has made some fantastic additions, unfortunately the execution in some instances, lets it down. 8/10

Total Value – Some nice improvements, but not enough to warrant the price tag. 6.5/10

OVERALL – 7.3

Spec Ops: The Line Review

‘The Line’ may borrow the title ‘Spec Ops’ but when looking at its predecessors, they bear no semblance of similarity, and that’s a good thing. ‘

The Line’ is a third-person shooter set in post-catastrophe Dubai. You play as Captain Walker, the man sent in along with an elite delta force team, to aid the ‘evacuation’. Obviously, things aren’t going to be that simple. As the game progresses, you and your squad are going to be placed under increasingly desperate circumstances. Choices such as having to decide which man hanging from a bridge to kill, may not have a direct impact on the end of the game, but it does go a long way in defining your character and his squad-mates. Lugo, a soldier who at the start of the game, is your typical fun-loving guy, becomes more and more serious as the story develops. Conflicts on the battlefield, lead to conflicts between squad-mates and the overall tone of the game is directly impacted by the severity of the circumstances your squad is placed under.

This is not your typical third-person shooter. If your a fan of Michael Bay-esque games like Call of Duty, this probably isn’t for you. In Spec Ops, the narrative takes precedence, and what you are presented with, is a wonderfully told story.

The gameplay itself, isn’t the most enjoyable. It uses tried and tested methods, that are possibly ten years out of date with a fairly clunky cover system, that can be infuriating at times. But there are aspects which extract some pleasure. The one gameplay feature that seperates Spec Ops from it’s counter-parts, is the use of the environment. Destructible environments are prevalent, with the sand itself playing a major role. If you see a group of enemies underneath a roof covered in sand, you can shoot at that roof, so that the sand engulfs your enemies. The sand itself, also adds unpredictability to the gameplay, as at any point, during the campaign, your mission may be halted by an inadvertent sandstorm. This completely changes the dynamic of the gameplay, as soldiers become silhouettes and your vision is distorted.

Along with that, your squad members WILL ACTUALLY KILL PEOPLE! Yes it is pretty unbelievable that this is a plus point in a next-gen title, but still to this day, I play far too many games where your squad members do essentially nothing on the battlefield. But in Spec Ops, you are able to order your squad members to take out certain targets, it may not be on the level of Operation Flashpoint, but it still provides a different perspective on the battlefield.

The AI itself, can be quite challenging, but gameplay feels stagnant and repetitive. The main ‘boss’ on every mission will be the same ‘heavy’ that takes about twice as many bullets to kill. You do get the odd variation, with enemies running at you, knife in hand, providing you with a different type of enemy to worry about, but essentially, every single Spec Ops mission consists of the same formula; Soldiers, tons of grenades, heavies and Turrets. That’s it. But as I referred to earlier, if your playing Spec Ops, it’s not going to be because of the gameplay.

As for the multiplayer, I think limited would be the best way to define it, with four fairly standard game modes, that whilst enjoyable, don’t really do much to enhance the game’s lasting appeal. If that wasn’t bad enough, people seem to have already deserted the servers, as it is virtually impossible to find a game with more than 4 people online at once… That’s a problem.

Overall, this a fantastic game. The gameplay? Average at best. The Multiplayer? Virtually, non-existent. But the story, the story is what sets this game apart. This is, as compelling a narrative as I have ever played in a video game, and with multiple endings, you can decide the way you want YOUR character to end the game. Spec Ops: The Line, is worth the wait.

Story 10/10

Gameplay 7/10

Presentation 9.5/10

Total Value 7/10

OVERALL : 8.5

NBA Off-Season Part 1: Playing Matchmaker – Top 20 Free Agents

When a player finds himself in Free Agency, he usually lies somewhere within three distinct categories.

Category A: The ‘Marquee’ Player, the Game-Changer, the Franchise savior.. I think you get the point.

Category B: The instant starter, who along with a few other pieces, can go a long way in transforming a franchise. This player could also have the potential to one day become a ‘Marquee’ guy. Also 6th men who would start on most teams in the league, think James Harden.

Category C: The Role Player. The player who puts a team ‘over the edge’. A player who is a nice piece to possess coming off the bench but isn’t necessarily going to transform your franchise, and should by no means be a starter, and thus should by no means be recieving a starter pay-cheque.

Whatever the Category, free agency is a time for teams to find solutions to needs that were not addressed in the draft. Free Agency is a time for teams to take that next step, be it from a lottery to a playoff team, or a playoff team to a Championship contender. They might  secure multiple pieces, or they may look to go after that marquee guy who is able to transform their franchise. Sometimes, teams won’t be active at all in free agency, they might already be content with the team they have or they may simply lack the finances or allure to attract high-calibre free agents.

Whatever the strategy, free agency will ultimately decide where the balance of power in the league will shift. It will indicate which teams have managed their salary cap effectively and which teams have been quite frankly, idiotic. Will parity be restored? Or will the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer? This years Free Agents class doesn’t possess many ‘game-changers’ but the next few weeks will go a long way in giving us a brief preview of the landscape of the NBA for the upcoming season. So lets preview this years free agency, and take a look at the Top 20 free agents for 2012. Who will become immediate title contenders? And who will become the next Charlotte Bobcats (Ok I slightly over-exaggerated)? Lets find out.

1. Deron Williams (UFA)

Category: A

Potential Destinations: Nets, Mavericks.

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: The top name in Free Agency this year, and if he had any sense, he would have already signed for the Mavericks by now. You know, that classy franchise that actually know what they are doing. Unfortunately it looks inevitable that he ends up staying in Brooklyn along with his buddy Dwight Howard (via trade).

2. Steve Nash (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Possibly the most compelling storyline from Free Agency this year, as for the first time since joining the Suns, Steve Nash finally looks set to move on. The Heat, Knicks and Raptors are all possible destinations, all would make a ton of sense and all would be incredibly fun options. Steve Nash with Lebron and Wade? Fun. Steve Nash playing mentor to Jeremy Lin whilst trying to bring the Knicks back to relevancy? Fun. And Steve Nash returning to Canada? Very Very Fun. All fit, I said the best fit was the Knicks, but ultimately I see him taking his talents… to Toronto, who will wind up bidding the other teams out of the water.

3. Eric Gordon (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Hornets.

Summary: This would have been a lot more debatable if the Draft had not been fixed granted the Hornets the Number 1 pick, Anthony Davis. But unfortunately, the draft has been fixed granted the Hornets Number 1 pick, so New Orleans (just two years after Chris Paul’s departure) should be ready for another run with a solid foundation in Gordon, Rivers and Davis.

4. Roy Hibbert (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers.

Summary: The man who has been attracting the most attention in Free Agency so far, with the Blazers and Pacers both offering Hibbert max deals. It is quite clear, the Pacers are not willing to let Hibbert go and with him being a restricted free agents, I see nothing preventing this from occuring.

5. Tim Duncan (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Spurs.

Summary: The only way Tim Duncan is not performing in a Spurs jersey next year, is if he has decided he’s done wearing jerseys.. I have now realised how bad this sounds.. Lets move on.

6. Brook Lopez (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Trade to the Orlando Magic.

Summary: Dwight Howard.

7. Kevin Garnett (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: This has already been confirmed. Much like Tim Duncan, there was no way Kevin Garnett was going to be seen in any other Jersey, than a Celtics one (I think I phrased it better that time).

8. Lou Williams (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: 76ers

Summary: The fact Lou Williams a) opted-out of his contract and b) wants to be a starting Point Guard wherever he ends up, makes me think he doesn’t end up in Philadelphia at the start of the season. Lou Williams fits perfectly into Category B, he is a fantastic asset to possess, for a team looking to take that next step. He is first and foremost a scorer who can ignite an offense, be it coming off the bench or being a starter, and wherever he ends up, I see nothing preventing him from being very productive.

9. OJ Mayo (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: Ray Allen looked all but gone when I started writing this. Who better to replace him than OJ Mayo, one of the best 6th men (Is that how you say it, or is it ‘6th Mans’?) in the league.

10. Goran Dragic (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Rockets.

Summary: Another player who replicates the scenario of Lou Williams. A young, talented scoring point guard who hustles, who will immediately improve any team he is on. Unlike Lou Williams however, I see the best fit actually coming to fruition. Why? Because the Rockets are going to make at least one trade before this season begins. It is simply, inevitable. Does that mean Dragic himself could wind up being traded? Maybe. But it’s just as plausible that Kyle Lowry gets traded, and Dragic gets the starting gig. I see him staying in Houston.

11. Ersan Ilyasova (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nets.

Summary: I have already stated that I believe Dwight Howard will be a Brookyln Net this season. That almost certainly means Humphries and Lopez are gone, so who better to pair with Howard than Ilyasova? A guy who consistently averages a double double, hustles, crashes the board and is generally a nightmare. You put him in a starting lineup with D-Will, Gerald Wallace and Dwight Howard, and all of a sudden this team looks capable of competing in the East. I don’t see a scenario where this doesn’t happen. Double-negative aside, I have never been this confident making this many assumptions for one NBA team.. ever.

12. Ray Allen (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Doesn’t this just make perfect sense? We saw it in the Finals, with the Lebron/Wade pick and roll, driving to the basket, the Heat relied heavily on perimiter shooting from guys like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. With Ray Allen, you get a guy, who gives you Miller’s Game 5 production, on a consistent basis. In Boston, Ray Allen had to work for his looks. In Miami, with Lebron and Wade, he will be shooting Wide Open looks almost all of the time. The Celtics have reportedly doubled the Heat’s offer, now it comes down to whether Allen wants the pay-cheque or the Championships.

13. Jeff Green (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: David Faulk, who coincedentally is Jeff Green’s agent, stated that Jeff Green was the 2nd best free agent on the market. Obviously that is not true, especially coming off Heart-surgery, but he is still a valuable nonetheless. I see him returning to the Celtics, who if healthy can add another component to a team whose lack of depth was evident in the post-season.

14. Brandon Bass (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: Brandon Bass was a revelation for the Celtics this past season. The combination in the front court, between him and Garnett should prosper again this season. As referred to in the Jeff Green summary, the Celtics severely lacked depth last season, so if they can ensure that Bass, Garnett, Allen and Green all return this season, they should be contending again.

15. Chris Kaman (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Can the Heat afford him? Maybe not, but there is no disputing that this is the best fit. Chris Kaman, contract aside, is severely underrated. Any guy that produces a double-double is valuable to a team, especially one that lacks a true center. This makes a ton of sense, unfortunately it is very unlikely that the Heat have the cap space to turn this into a reality.

16. Jeremy Lin (RFA)

Category: B 

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Linsanity was a great story last year, and there is no disputing his potential. Even without all of the conjecture from the media, Lin proved he was a top 15 point guard, worthy of a starting job. He should return to the team, that (sort of) helped establish himself. After all, who wouldn’t want to play with Carmelo and Amare? Now that they are all healthy.. ermm, I’m struggling to make anything of this, er… lets just move on.

17. George Hill (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers

Summary: A combo guard who, much like Lou Williams, isn’t your typical point guard. He can play the 1 or 2, he can score and can consistently be the 3rd best scorer on a team. The Pacers have obviously been focusing most of their attention so far on trying to re-sign Hibbert, but they have also expressed an interest in Hill. He should end up re-signing.

18. Jason Terry (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: Jason Terry is the perfect, if you can’t get Ray Allen, option. He is a fantastic 6th man, who can explode at any point and re-energize a stagnant offence. If Allen ends up going back to Boston, then the scenario I just made reference to, could surface, but ultimately I see Allen in Miami, OJ Mayo in Boston and Terry returning to Dallas.

19. Brandon Roy  (UFA)

Category: Dammit, he ruined my category theory!

Best Fit: Timberwolves

Summary: Brandon Roy has had a tough time of it. A 3 time all star, forced to retire through injury. However, he claims his injury has been given the all-clear and he has returned to give it another shot. I repeat, this man is a 3-time all star, he isn’t some scrub. If he can come back half the player he once was then your happy. Minnesota with Ricky Rubio as the Point Guard, is the perfect fit for him and with it being a small-market team, can return without the pressure of say.. Chicago (who are also interested). This move makes almost too much sense.

20. JaVale McGee (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nuggets

Summary: Three words can summarise JaVale Mcgee’s career so far. Incredible talent, disruptive. Sure he entered the league early, but by now he shoud have matured. I see him returning to Denver, where at times he showed flashes of that incredible talent.

Let’s just put that into perspective. This Free Agent Class posesses just the 1 Marquee player, 16 Category B player, 2 Category C players and 1 “Dammit, he ruined my category theory”… category. In short, this Free Agent Class isn’t spectacular. We are not going to get anything that rivals The Decision, what we are getting are a lot of solid players who will make immediate contributions. It isn’t exciting, but a lot of teams, are all going to slightly improve, and if the NBA can replicate anything near to the NFL’s parity, then we can be satisfied going into this upcoming season. We are after all, getting another off-season of Dwight Howard telling people where he wants to go before he ends up staying in Orlando… Excited? Yeah, me too.

‘The Newsroom’ Pilot – A (Positive) Review

I am not a Television critic. I may aspire to be one by watching an inordinate amount of television, I may even become one someday, but for now,  I am not a Television critic.

And with not being a television critic, I do not possess certain privileges that all critics gain access to. I do not get screeners early and I do not get early copies to a bulk of episodes. I am, for the most part, your regular television viewer.

So when I sat down to watch ‘The Newsroom’ on Sunday evening, like the majority of American television viewers, I was expecting to utterly detest the show that was laid before me, a show which has emerged as one of the most critically disdained television shows on HBO in a very long time. But to my (pleasant) surprise, the show extracted the complete opposite feeling.

‘The Newsroom’ is Aaron Sorkin’s (founder of shows ‘The West Wing’ and Sports Night), latest creation depicts Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, an anchor for Atlantic Cable News (ACN), who along with a very strong ensemble cast, aim to deliver a news show “in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles and their own personal entanglements”.  It is set in 2010, as to allow the writers to refer to real life events, this week it was the BP oil spill. It’s a bold angle to take, and the ideology of the show is one that seems to have extracted controversy within the American Media, the same American Media that the show is openly criticising.

It may at times, not be the most realistic depiction of The Newsroom, but ignore that for one moment. Ignore whatever criticisms you may have of Sorkin’s work, because ‘The Newsroom’ is simply the latest example of Sorkin’s mastery of dialogue. It is fast paced, funny and maybe sometimes goes over the top, but who the hell cares? This is the way television was meant to be written. When ‘The Newsroom’ ended, it felt like it had been barely half an hour, and that certainly doesn’t indicate a lack of content. The Walking Dead feels much longer, and hardly anything eventful happens unless an action sequence occurs. If an episode of television feels like a fully fledged movie, you know it has been an hour well spent. And that is exactly how I felt about ‘The Newsroom’.

The Pilot also does a great job of establishing the main characters. Within the first 7 minutes, Daniels had already captivated my attention as he attempts to summarise why America is the “greatest show in the world”. “It’s not” he replies, before delivering a stirring rant on everything that is wrong with society today. The moments preceding that were full of witty remarks, humour and everything seemed fantastic. ‘This McAvoy fella’ seems nice doesn’t he’, was my inital reaction. Within five minutes, Daniels had completely transformed his character, displaying a breadth of delivery, sometimes unseen in a character throughout an entire season. And it doesn’t stop there. We also witness strong interactions between McAvoy and his boss Charlie Skinner, complying more to the humourous side of the show, as we are introudced to the eccentric nature of Skinner, whilst also hinting at the background between McKenzie and Will, which would only further emphasise the tension (awkwardness) of their initial meeting later in the episode.

Sometimes the show sacrifices that dialogue in order to serve the extended ideological monologues that occur quite frequently during the pilot, but I can deal with two or three “we can make a difference” speeches, if the rest of the hour is spent with this cast interacting, which is ultimately where this television show excels.

And whilst Sorkin’s writing is undoubtedly an essential component, the fantastic ensemble cast  assembled, certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Jeff Daniels, whose career has certainly been hit and miss to say the least, looks re-energised as Will McAvoy, Emily Mortimer does a fantastic job playing the counter-part to McAvoy’s narcissistic mannerisms, Sam Waterson delivers a typically reliable performance as McAvoy’s boss and contributions from Dev Patel (star of Slumdog Millionnaire), John Gallagher and Alison Pill are ‘the icing on the cake’ (to use a cliche that can sometimes find it’s way into the show’s dialogue).

At this point, I am struggling to fully comprehend the contempt that this show has received within the media. The reaction from the general public appears to be generally, very positive and with the pilot delivering HBO’s 2nd strongest ratings for a pilot ever, behind Boardwalk Empire, it will be interesting to see if there is a significant drop-off in those figures next week.

Does the contempt arise from the fact that this show openly criticises the television critic’s very profession? I sincerely doubt it. Even if you are offended by the show’s ideological thinking, you can still appreciate it as a good television show (which in my opinion, it is).

So, as I made reference to earlier, it must be something to do with the upcoming episodes, which in general, tend to be the weakest in a television series anyway. The Pilot is typically quite strong as a lot of time is devoted to it, and then it takes a few episodes for a show to establish it’s identity and structure. So even if the show falters in the next few episodes, I am still going to continue until the end of the season.

So for the most part, I am feeling somewhat optimistic about this show. ‘The Newsroom’ delivers a sharp, fast-paced, somewhat tense thriller of a pilot in which the slight hiccups can be forgiven because well… it’s a pilot.

As for the upcoming three or four episodes, lets just see what happens.

Why The Heat Won: Evaluating The 5 Keys

With over a minute to go in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a smile stretched across Lebron James’ face. A smile we rarely ever see from Lebron James. Was it relief? Was it just sheer joy? It doesn’t really matter. We can debate all we want. We can criticise him all we want. We can question whether he has the ‘clutch’ gene. But ultimately, Lebron James was clutch for 23 games, for over 900 minutes, in some of the most high press circumstances we have seen a superstar placed under, during this current generation.

Now Lebron James has a ring. The pressure SHOULD ease slightly. The criticism SHOULD cease to exist. Sure, we will still get the haters, but that’s just part of the world we now live in. Lebron James proved he has what it takes to be a champion, and after two years, it’s time to forget about ‘The Decision’, it’s time to forget about “not 1, not 2, not 3…” (even though that is looking a distinct possibility now), and it is time to embrace Lebron James.

So Why did the Heat win? Let’s evaluate the 5 keys that I made reference to a week ago.

Russell Westbrook’s Decision Making

This was a prominent feature during the remaining three games of the series, prominently… a problem. Yes we are sometimes unfair to Russell. In Game 4, he had his best game ever, scoring 43 points, but we will remember it for the unnecessary foul with 10 seconds left in the game, because that is the world we live in now. Much like Lebron for a time, Can we not accept Russell Westbrook for who he is? He is going to give you fantastic production, probably put up 25+ a night, but you can also expect him to make one incredibly irrational decision. Lebron James for a while was percieved to not possess a ‘clutch gene’. So if that was the case, why couldn’t we accept him as the guy that consistently dominated for 46 minutes, and put that team in a position to succeed? Why must a guy have a flawless game, or hit the game-winner to somehow validate his legacy?

But ultimately, this was a deciding factor. Yes the Thunder may have still lost if Russell hadn’t made those poor decisions, but we can never be sure. This part of Russell Westbrook’s game has been far too prevalent for far too long, and if Russell wants to take the next step, it needs to be addressed. Maybe, it’s just because he’s young. Maybe, just like the Thunder, they need one more year.

Advantage: Heat

Dwayne Wade’s Continued Production

What had become abundantly clear by the time the NBA Finals had come around, was that this was now Lebron James’ team. Whether or not Dwayne Wade believed it, he admirably played the sidekick, and he did a pretty good job of it. What is sometimes overlooked by the Heat, is their ability to play team ball. But with ALL of the Big 3 making big contributions, that was particularly evident in the finals. There were questions about whether or not Wade and Lebron on the same team would be a good ‘fit’ but when you see these two driving to the basket, kicking it out to the perimiter, running the pick and roll, it is a joy to watch, and is virtually unstoppable.

And that would be impossible if it were not for Dwayne Wade’s  continued production after his admittedly poor play-off run.  Dwayne Wade is an essential part of this team. And whilst he may not be ‘the guy’ anymore. he still finds a way to make contributions. He still gets his fair share of the ball, driving to the basket on a consistent basis. But it’s the hustle plays that are sometimes overlooked. Now more than ever, he is chasing down loose balls, crashing the boards and producing blocked shots, as he knows that he doesn’t need to be the guy that puts up 40 points anymore. And that is crucial, because now with a team possessing an identity, with the quality of players like the Heat have, it really is a scary to consider what the next stage of the evolution process is for this team. Whatever it is, it can’t be anything good for the other 29 teams in the NBA.

Advantage: Heat

Battle of The Coaches

And what was previously mentioned also links in to the role Erik Spoelstra played in the Heat’s Championship success. He had been more criticised than any other coach in the league. Can he make adjustments? Why hasn’t he perfected the rotation yet? Why is it this team still lacks an identity? These were all frequently asked by people questioning Spoelstra’s coaching ability. But with one series, all of those questions were put to rest. He made all of the right adjustments; playing small ball whenever necessary and giving Lebron a much-needed rest whenever it looked necessary are just two of the examples. The fact of the matter is, Spoelstra made fantastic adjustments at opportune moments.

With the return of Chris Bosh, the second question was also answered. Spoelstra finally found a way to utilise Chris Bosh at the center position, and with his superior athleticism at the position, and his ability to spread the floor, everything else fell into place. Now Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and even Mario Chalmers could drive to the basket at will, whilst also obtaining the ability to kick it out to the perimeter to players like Shane Battier or even Chris Bosh to hit open 3’s. And with that, Spoelstra manged to perfect his 8-man rotation.

This all enabled the Heat, to establish an identity on offense. Pick and roll, drive to the basket, kick the ball out to the perimeter, ball movement. That is the process behind the Heat’s offense. And in most of those categories, the Heat were far superior to the Thunder. The pick and roll between Lebron and Wade was unstoppable. Wade, Lebron and Chalmers driving to the basket with Bosh’s ability to spread the floor, was unstoppable. The Heat’s 3 point shooting, was unstoppable. And the ball movement.. oh the ball movement. Is it ok to label the Heat the best passing team in the league? I would guess so.

And with all the positives that Spoelstra’s coaching had brought to the Heat, I almost completely forgot about Scott Brooks. I am not going to be too critical as it became abundatly clear by the end of Game 4, that the Thunder just weren’t ready yet. But at times he did make costly decisions, with the most evident being when he chose to rest both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when up by 10 at the end of the third quarter… That lead soon evaporated. But this was ultimately a very well-coached series. A series in which everything clicked into place for Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat.

Advantage: Heat

Battle Of The Role Players

This one is fairly self-explanatory. The heat established a game plan that was virtually unstoppable, and it allowed the Heat’s role players to thrive. Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and (In game 5) Mike Miller all caught fire, whilst James Harden went cold turkey. A major question going into the Finals, was how the Heat were going to compete with a team with far-superior depth. Ultimately, by the end of the series, we were questioning where the points were going to come from the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both clearly had great statistical series, but so did Wade and Lebron. It would come down to who’s role players could produce the remainder of those points. Unfortunately for the Thunder when you start a game with 3 defence-first players, there is always going to be a lack of scoring options. It just so happens that during this series, those flaws were highlighted by a Heat Bench that exploded.

Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

The marquee match-up of the series. The two best players in the world, playing the same position, competing in a finals series that most of us thought would be decided by the outcome of this match-up.  And Lebron James decided, that the outcome would favour the Heat. Sure, Kevin Durant put up his 30 points a night but he ultimately just didn’t do enough. For a guy with his length, why isn’t he rebounding more? Why isn’t he contributing more on defence? Yes he’s still very young, and has plenty of time to mature, and develop his game. Lebron after all, only just figured everything out and he is 27. Kevin Durant will get his time, if the Heat let him.

Advantage: Heat

5 keys, all of which were dominated by the Heat, and all of which would be necessary components in the Heat’s eventual success. As much as this series will be remembered as the series where Lebron ‘figured it out’, the Heat needed every single component to secure victory. The role players, Dwayne Wade, Erik Spoelstra AND Lebron James were all needed for the Heat to secure that ring. Because where would Lebron and Wade be if they kicked the ball  out to perimeter players who couldn’t shoot? And what would those role players do, if their two superstars didn’t rip apart a defence by driving to the basket, obtaining open looks on the perimeter in the process?

The decision was two years ago, it is time to move on. Because this TEAM is everything you could hope for. This is a TEAM who enjoy playing team ball. A TEAM with an unselfish Star who enjoys playing team ball. A TEAM with 12 players, and one very talented coach, who pride themselves, on team ball. Lets embrace the Heat, because I have a feeling they might be around for a while.

NBA Finals – Heat vs Thunder: 5 Keys to the Series

It’s not often in an NBA finals where the two greatest players in the world are playing on opposing teams let alone playing the same position, but that’s what we have been gifted with this years finals, as the Scoring machine Kevin Durant and his Thunder team match up with the ‘Freight train’ Lebron James and the Heat. It’s a salivating prospect, and with both of these teams stars, still very much in their prime, we could be getting treated to this series for the next decade. Here are the 5 keys to the remainder of the series.

1. Russell Westbrook’s decision making

Let me just make something abundantly clear, Russell Westbrook is a fantastic point guard. My criticism doesn’t occur because he’s a terrible player who needs to dramatically improve, this is just one aspect of his game that needs to be slightly improved to ensure that he can maximise his contribution for Oklahoma City.

Let me hit you with some stats. In game 1 Russell Westbrook went 10-24 for 27 points with 11 assists. In game 2 he went 10-26 for 27 points with 7 assists. Now if you were to analyse both of those stat-lines without any contextual knowledge, you would find very little disparity between the two games. And yet he only draws criticism from Game 2, the game in which his team was defeated, even though his performances were essentially identical apart from slightly fewer assists. Now this isn’t me defending Westbrook, this is me saying, that this has been a problem with Russell Westbrook for far too long now. So Why must it take a Thunder loss, to make people realise that, that is the case?

And that’s not even the worst part about this. In both games, Westbrook took more shots than Kevin Durant, who has only taken 20 shots per game, at a much higher field goal percentage. Kevin Durant, You know, that scoring machine who has been essentially unstoppable in the play-offs so far. Come on Russell, you are a very talented point guard who is at his best when you are using your athleticism to drive to the basket, not pulling up to take Jumpers. Drive to the basket, if the rim is being defended, kick it out to a Kevin Durant or whoever, on the wing. If he does that, the Thunder instantly get a significant increase in production from not only the point guard position but also their entire team.

2. Dwayne Wade’s continued Production

When Lebron James joined the Miami Heat, it was for one reason only, to win championships. He knew during the 08 Celtics series that he couldn’t carry a team on his own, he would need numerous pieces in place to help him achieve his main goal. So when he joined up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, that was exactly what he was expecting. Unfortunately, Chris Bosh has been injured for almost the entire playoffs and Dwayne Wade’s production has been rapidly declining, thus Leaving Lebron to carry a Heat team that he joined in the first place, to avoid that exact scenario.

But now Chris Bosh has returned and has almost instantaneously emerged as his All-Star self and Dwayne Wade finally had a big game, in Game 2. Guess what? The Heat won. Now it’s time for Dwayne Wade to continue that production level, because if that continues and Lebron continues to put up 30 points per night and SHANE BATTIER is shooting 70% from 3-point range, the Heat are almost unstoppable.

3. Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

THE story of Game 2, was Kevin Durant getting into foul trouble, and that was for one reason alone, Lebron James. A lot of people have been anticipating this finals series because of this very-matchup and if a theme has been established from the first two games, it’s that whoever gets the better of this matchup generally secures the victory for his team.

In Game 1, Durant blew Lebron out of the water in the 4th quarter, and in Game 2 Lebron returned the favour. In game 2, Lebron took it upon himself to guard Durant, and his incresed aggression ensured that Durant got into very early foul trouble. Did it ultimately affect the outcome of the game? Maybe not, as Durant was very sensible with the way in which he handled playing almost the entire 4th quarter with 5 fouls, but it must have been in the back of his mind.

And even the defining shot of the game with 10 seconds left on the clock was defined by this crucial match-up. Durant seemingly had the advantage over Lebron who seemingly fouled Durant, before Durant missed the easy shot. Yes it should have been a foul, but Durant still should have made the bucket. Then with 5 seconds left on the clock, Lebron hit two CLUTCH free-throws to secure the victory for his team. In Game 3, I expect another game that replicates the close nature of this one. Ultimately it is going to come down to which one of these two superstars gets the better of his rival. Everything so far has been pointing towards a series decided by a Game 7, and if we get to see these two go at it for four more games, then count me in.

4. The Battle of The Role Players

I feel like I am being highly disrespectful by referring to James Harden as a role player, but for the purpose of this point, I am going to go along with it. Usually when James Harden comes off the bench and ignites his offense, The Thunder win the game. In Game 2 James Harden put up 21 points, so you would expect the Thunder to win right? But they didn’t. And that’s because the Heat role players managed to match the performance of James Harden. Shane Battier continued his unbelievable resurgence with 17 points, shooting 5-7 from 3-point range, and the Heat won the game.

Shane Battier scored 17 points in Game 1 aswell, so Why did that not play a contributing factor to a Heat Win? Because the Thunder ‘bigs’ showed up in a major way. Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison combined for 23 rebounds and 8 offensive rebounds most of which came off the bench with Nick Collison having a massive impact. He had 5 of the offensive rebounds, and unsurprisingly the Thunder’s ability to crash the board was one of the main reasons why the Thunder came away with the victory.

Expect the same to happen for the rest of the series. Both team’s role players are going to have to step up because whoever gains the advantage, is more than likely going to contribute to a victory for their team.

5. The Coaches

This has been a very well-coached series so far. BUT CHRIS, ERIC SPOELSTRA IS COACHING, YOU HATE THAT GUY!!” I have admittedly, been very harsh on Spoelstra throughout his time as the Heat coach, but it was for good reason. But in Game 2, he finally did something that he hadn’t done for his entire time as the Heat Coach, he made fantastic adjustments.

He finally decided to start Chris Bosh which was a good decision albeit way too late, thus spreading the floor for players like Dwayne Wade and Lebron James to drive to the rim. And what do you know.. Dwayne Wade had one of his best performances of the playoffs so far. But that’s not where it ended, as the entire complexion of the heat’s half-court offense adapted, with multiple pick and rolls being run through Lebron James and Dwayne Wade. This also links in with the Chris Bosh move, as by having a big that can shoot jumpers or drive to the basket, you immediately make it easier for those pick-and rolls to work efficiently. And with those changes, the Heat secured a victory. Now Spoelstra has to continue to make those adjustments, if he wants his Heat team to secure victory.

A guy that hasn’t drawn as much criticism for his coaching is Scott Brooks, who has done a fantastic job in Oklahoma City. And it was once again a major contributing factor in why his team won Game 1, and also came very close to making a comeback in Game 2. With Game 1, he recognized that James Harden was having an off-night and that his bigs (plus Thabo Sefolosha) were having massive games. So instead of reverting back to his usual ‘small ball’ in the fourth quarter, he played his defensive lineup. This allowed Sefolosha to continue to contain Lebron James, where on numerous occasions he was able to give Lebron very difficult looks and it also allowed his team to continue to dominate the glass, resulting in a major turn-around as the Thunder continued to put up big points (thanks to Kevin Durant) whilst his team still managed to restrict the Heat’s offense very effectively.

Even in defeat, Brooks did a fantastic job considering the start his team made. In the fourth quarter, down by double-figures, the Thunder’s star was on 5 fouls. But instead of subbing him out of the game, Brooks recognised that his team wasn’t going to get back in the game, with his star on the bench for the majority of the quarter, so he decided to put his trust in Kevin Durant, and played him for the entire fourth quarter. The end result? Kevin Durant went off, reducing the lead to as little as 2 points before a bit of unfortunate luck on a foul call ultimately resulted in defeat. In game 3, Brooks is going to have to keep adapting, to ensure his team has the best possible chance to succeed.

So if you have learnt anything from this article, I think we can all agree… This series is going to be fantastic. That is all.