Saturday, April 22, 2017

Top 50 Prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft+5 Best Players at Each Position

With the start of the 2017 NFL Draft just five days away, here are my picks for the 50 best prospects and 5 best plays available at each position.

50.Carl Lawson, edge rusher (Auburn)
49.Sidney Jones, cornerback (Washington)
48.Cam Robinson, tackle (Alabama)
47.George Kittle, tight end (Iowa)
46.Malik McDowell, defensive tackle (Michigan State)
45.Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback/safety (Colorado)
44.Joe Mixon, running back (Oklahoma)
43.O.J. Howard, tight end (Alabama)
42.Patrick Mahomes, quarterback (Texas Tech)
41.Chris Godwin, wide receiver (Penn State)
40.Kareem Hunt, running back (Toledo)
39.Adoree' Jackson, cornerback (USC)
38.Justin Evans, safety (Texas A&M)
37.Desmond King, cornerback (Iowa)
36.Jordan Willis, edge rusher (Kansas State)
35.Evan Engram, tight end (Ole Miss)
34.Jarrad Davis, inside linebacker (Florida)
33.Jourdan Lewis, cornerback (Michigan)
32.T.J. Watt, edge rusher (Wisconsin)
31.Obi Melifonwu, safety (Connecticut) 
30.Corn Elder, cornerback (Miami)
29.Ryan Ramcyzk, tackle (Wisconsin)
28.Marcus Williams, safety (Utah)
27.Charles Harris, edge rusher (Missouri)
26.Quincy Wilson, cornerback (Florida)
25.Caleb Brantley, defensive tackle (Florida)
24.Alvin Kamara, running back (Tennessee)
23.Zach Cunningham, inside linebacker (Vanderbilt)
22.Mitch Trubisky, quarterback (North Carolina)
21.Taakarist McKinnley, edge rusher (UCLA)
20.Kevin King, cornerback (Washington)
19.Tim Williams, edge rusher (Alabama)
18.Dalvin Cook, running back (Florida State)
17.Christian McCaffery, running back (Stanford)
16.Gareon Conley, cornerback (Ohio State)
15.John Ross, wide receiver (Washington)
14.Forrest Lamp, guard (Western Kentucky)
13.Tre'Davious White, cornerback (LSU)
12.Corey Davis, wide receiver (Western Michigan)
11.Derek Barnett, edge rusher (Tennessee)
10.David Njoku, tight end (Miami)
9.Hasson Reddick, inside/outside linebacker (Temple)
8.Leonard Fournette, running back (LSU)
7.Jonathan Allen, defensive tackle (Alabama)
6.Mike Williams, wide receiver (Clemson)
5.Myles Garrett, edge rusher (Texas A&M)
4.Malik Hooker, safety (Ohio State)
3.Marshon Lattimore, cornerback (Ohio State)
2.Jamal Adams, safety (LSU)
1.Solomon Thomas, edge rusher (Stanford)

1.Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina)
2.Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech)
3.Deshone Kizer (Notre Dame)
4.DeShaun Watson (Clemson)
5.Nathan Peterman (Pittsburgh)

Running Back
1.Leonard Fournette (LSU)
2.Christian McCaffery (Stanford)
3.Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
4.Alvin Kamara (Tennessee)
5.Kareem Hunt (Toledo)

Wide Receiver
1.Mike Williams (Clemson)
2.Corey Davis (Western Michigan)
3.John Ross (Washington)
4.Chris Godwin (Penn State)
5.Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma)

Tight End
1.David Njoku (Miami)
2.Evan Engram (Ole Miss)
3.O.J. Howard (Alabama)
4.George Kittle (Iowa)
5.Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech)

1.Ethan Pocic (LSU)
2.Pat Elflein (Ohio State)
3.Tyler Orlosky (West Virginia)
4.Jon Toth (Kentucky)
5.Chase Roullier (Wyoming)

1.Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky)
2.Taylor Moton (Western Michigan)
3.Dan Feeney (Indiana)
4.Dion Dawkins (Temple)
5.Danny Isidora (Miami)

1.Ryan Ramcyzk (Wisconsin)
2.Cam Robinson (Alabama)
3.Garret Bolles (Utah)
4.Roderick Johnson (Florida State)
5.Antonio Garcia (Troy)

Edge Rusher (Defensive End/Outside Linebacker)
1.Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
2.Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
3.Derek Barnett (Tennessee)
4.Tim Williams (Alabama)
5.Taakarist McKinley (UCLA)

Defensive Tackle
1.Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
2.Caleb Brantley (Florida)
3.Malik McDowell (Michigan State)
4.Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama)
5.Chris Wormley (Michigan)

Inside Linebacker:
1.Hasson Reddick (Temple)
2.Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt)
3.Jarrad Davis (Florida)
4.Reuben Foster (Alabama)
5.Blair Brown (Ohio)

1.Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
2.Tre'Davious White (LSU)
3.Gareon Conley (Ohio State)
4.Kevin King (Washington)
5.Quincy Wilson (Florida)

1.Jamal Adams (LSU)
2.Malik Hooker (Ohio State)
3.Marcus Williams (Utah)
4.Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut)
5.Justin Evans (Texas A&M)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Album Review: Kendrick Lamar-DAMN.

In an era where "real" hip-hop is alleged to be dead, Kendrick Lamar has been dubbed a savior by the segment of the genre's that is disenchanted with the current trap-obsessed climate. With their rich storytelling and dense commentary on everything from growing up in the rough streets of Compton, California to systematic racism, 2012's good kid m.A.A.d city and 2015's To Pimp a Butterfly received the type of sweeping, universal acclaim that hip-hop artists rarely ever receive. On his latest project DAMN., the beloved 29-year old rapper comes crashing back to earth with a competent yet bizarrely safe project that doesn't come anywhere close to sniffing the greatness of his last two LP's.

As hard as I tried approach listening to this record with a clear mind, the letdown of DAMN. directly correlates with the fact that it follows-up good kid m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly. While it's admittedly unfair to expect everything he puts out to be on the level of his past records, expectations are a cruel reality that can't be ignored when you're assessing an album. Dropping two instant genre classics in a row naturally raises the bar for what you expect as a listener when you sit down to listen to that artist's new material and sadly, DAMN. falls well below the lofty quality standard Lamar has set for himself.

A large part of what made Lamar's previous two records so special was the scope and execution of the narratives that ran through them. good kid m.A.A.d city focused on the struggle of a teenager trying to escape his gang-driven, poverty-stricken LA neighborhood without being influenced by the evils of the environment he was raised in while To Pimp a Butterfly took an in-depth look at what it means to be black in modern-day America. The stories and overarching messages of these records may be different, but they both thrived because of Lamar's insightful, sharp and deeply personal approach to the topics he discussed. By comparison, the themes on DAMN. are child's play, and that lack of narrative weight paired with shakier execution ends up being its downfall.

This record is primarily dedicated to Lamar's feelings about his newfound fame. I don't know if it's because the subject matter isn't as deep this time around or its just the more accessible style he employs for most of the record, but his reflections on fame lack the potency, tightness and soul-bearing honesty that was present in his earlier material. While there are certainly good tracks with some substance on here ("DNA", "XXX", "Loyalty"), there's not a single moment where Lamar dazzles you with his storytelling. His commentary about the pressures of fame, the strain being in the public eye puts on your personal relationships, etc. offers up nothing you haven't heard on dozens of other "fame isn't as dope as it looks" tracks in the past (Vince Staples' Prima Donna covered similar ground in a much sharper, interesting way). To put it in literary terms, if good kid and Butterfly were his Infinite Jest and The Road, DAMN. is his Runaway Jury.   

Lamar's sudden embrace of all things generic is also apparent in the album's sound. While he shows off his top-flight technical chops throughout and the production from the likes of Mike Will Made It, DJ Dahi and Lamar's longtime collaborator Sounwave is generally pretty good, there's a sense of predictability present on DAMN. that had previously been foreign to his music. The wide influence of production styles and constant vocal delivery changes that made his previous two records so dynamic have been swamped out for more straightforward compositions that rarely utilize Lamar's arsenal of  flows or unusual instrumentation. The sense of unpredictability that ran through Lamar's music gave him a dynamic edge that no one in hip-hop outside of weirdo extraordinaire Danny Brown could match and without it in the fold, he becomes just another faceless semi-conscious rapper that's hard to get excited about.

DAMN. isn't a bad record, it's just a frustratingly unadventurous one. When an artist that has spent the past five years pushing the boundaries of the hip-hop genre releases something that is indistinguishable from the shit that every other non-trap rapper on the planet is putting out right now, you can't help but feel betrayed and disheartened as a listener by the time its over. I'll admit that I'm probably being too harsh on this record, I just can't sit here and overpraise a trailblazing artist like Kendrick Lamar for putting a project that's as inessential as DAMN. is. Every great artist releases some less-than-stellar stuff over the course of their career, let's just hope that DAMN. isn't the first step in Kung Fu Kenny's downward spiral into mediocrity.

3/5 Stars
Standout Tracks
2.XXX (feat. U2)
3.Loyalty (feat. Rihanna)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Best and Worst of Brie Larson

The "Best and Worst" series profiles the best and worst work of an actor starring in one of the week's new theatrical releases. This week I take a look at the filmography of "Free Fire" star Brie Larson.

Films starring Brie Larson that I've seen:
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
21 Jump Street
The Spectacular Now
Short Term 12
Don Jon
The Gambler
Kong: Skull Island

Best Performance: Room (2015)
In my eyes, Larson's Academy Award win for Room was one of the most well-deserved in recent history. Her portrayal of Joy Newsome, a 24-year old woman raising her 5-year old son (Jacob Tremblay) in captivity, is an unforgettable, emotional powerhouse that solidifies Larson's standing as a generational talent.

Worst Performance: Don Jon (2013)
The failure of Larson's performance in Don Jon is a classic case of a talented actress being held back by bad writing. I'll never understand why writer/director/star Joseph Gordon-Levitt got an actress of Larson's caliber to play such an underwritten and unessential character. With the exception of one lengthy, "inspirational" monologue near the end of the film that doesn't quite land, Larson is reduced to a thankless role that mostly consists of her sitting quietly with her face buried in her phone. If Larson was given more of an opportunity to show off her chops, maybe Don Jon wouldn't have been so mediocre.

Best Film: Room (2015)
Unlike most human beings, I don't get visibly overwhelmed by emotion during movies. The only time I cried during a movie was the first time I saw American History X  and I watched that well before I morphed into the cold, heartless prick that I am today. The raw emotion of Lenny Abrahamson's psychological coming-of-age drama Room came VERY close to breaking this decade-plus streak of me not shedding a tear while watching a movie. The strong character development and unflinching realism of the hell the main characters go through makes this an absolutely devastating yet consistently captivating viewing experience.  

Worst Film: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
I was very close to giving this title to Don Jon, but that movie wasn't nearly as much of a letdown as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was. After the genius of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, writer/director Edgar Wright proved his mortality with this wildly overrated cult phenomenon. The movie's over-the-top, comic-book shtick becomes grating very fast, the jokes aren't nearly as clever as Wright thinks they are and not a single member of this phenomenal ensemble cast (Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anna Kendrick, a half-dozen other of my favorite working actors) is anywhere near the top of their respective games.  

Thank you for reading this week's installment of "The Best and Worst of". Next week, I'll take a look at the best and worst work of "The Circle" star Emma Watson.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

2017 NFL Mock Draft 7.0 (Updated 4/18)

1.Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, edge rusher (Texas A&M)
2.San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas, edge rusher (Stanford)
3.Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams, safety (LSU)
4.Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Forunette, running back (LSU)
5.Tennessee Titans: Marshon Lattimore, cornerback (Ohio State)
6.New York Jets: Mitch Trubisky, quarterback (North Carolina)
7.Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker, safety (Ohio State)
8.Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffery, running back (Stanford)
9.Cincinnati Bengals: Jonathan Allen, defensive tackle/end (Alabama)  
10.Buffalo Bills: Mike Williams, wide receiver (Clemson)
11.New Orleans Saints: Gareon Conley, cornerback (Ohio State)
12.Cleveland Browns: DeShaun Watson, quarterback (Clemson)
13.Arizona Cardinals: O.J. Howard, tight end (Alabama)
14.Philadelphia Eagles: Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback/safety (Colorado)
15.Indianapolis Colts: Haason Reddick, inside/outside linebacker (Temple)
16.Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis, wide receiver (Western Michigan) 
17.Washington Redskins: Jabril Peppers, safety (Michigan)
18.Tennessee Titans: John Ross, wide receiver (Washington)
19.Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Takkarist McKinnley, edge rusher (UCLA)
20.Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles, tackle (Utah)
21.Detroit Lions: Kevin King, cornerback (Washington)
22.Miami Dolphins: T.J. Watt, edge rusher (Wisconsin)
23.New York Giants: David Nokju, tight end (Miami)
24.Oakland Raiders: Reuben Foster, inside linebacker (Alabama)
25.Houston Texans: Patrick Mahomes, quarterback (Texas Tech)
26.Seattle Seahawks: Tre'Davious White, cornerback (LSU) 
27.Kansas City Chiefs: Caleb Brantley, defensive tackle (Florida) 
28.Dallas Cowboys: Adoree' Jackson, cornerback (USC)
29.Green Bay Packers: Forrest Lamp, guard (Western Kentucky)
30.Pittsburgh Steelers: Derek Barnett, edge rusher (Tennessee)
31.Atlanta Falcons: Charles Harris, edge rusher (Missouri)
32.New Orleans Saints: Jarrad Davis, inside linebacker (Florida)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

The continued financial success of the Fast and Furious films can be attributed to the creative team's deep understanding of its audience. Star/producer Vin Diesel, screenwriter Chris Morgan and the half-dozen other people calling the shots on this long-running franchise ability to consistently find new ways to excite and steadily grow their fanbase without ever boring them has helped make this series one of the biggest properties in Hollywood over the last 15+ years. The latest installment, The Fate of the Furious, keeps the franchise's sterling reputation in tact with yet another dose of top-notch, adrenaline-fueled entertainment.

The Fate of the Furious is a testament to how efficient these films have become since it reinvented itself as a lighthearted, wildly over-the-top action/spy/heist series with 2011's Fast Five. Every person involved with this project is on the exact same page creatively and that collective, collaborative mindset helps establish the type of effortless on-screen electricity that every blockbuster should strive to have. Whether it's a destruction-filled chase scene through a crowded New York street or the protagonists (Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Jason Statham, flipping sides after his villain turn in Furious 7) sitting around a table playfully hurling insults at each other, every frame of the film bristles with a level of energy, enthusiasm and good-natured fun that is nothing short of infectious. The consistently crazy action scenes may (deservedly) command the spotlight, but the sense of spontaneity that runs through every inch of Fate of the Furious still plays a pivotal role in its runaway success.

Per usual, the inspired madness and strong sense of camaraderie that defines the Fast and Furious brand is bolstered by the contributions of some series first-timers. Fate of the Furious' game new blood comes in the form of Academy Award-winner/certified badass Charlize Theron and director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, Law Abiding Citizen). Theron's imposing, scenery-chewing presence makes Cipher the most exciting villain this series has had to-date and a battle-tested veteran director like Gray was the perfect choice to tackle this series' massive, multi-faceted action sequences. Even among Fast and Furious fans, the producers ability to consistently bring new people into the fold that understand the tone and vision of the series is highly underappreciated.
Fate of the Furious proves once again that there's enough juice left in the tank for Diesel and co. to keep this franchise alive for the foreseeable future. Everyone involved with this project is clearly still have a blast making and every ounce of that collective joy always finds its way into the finished product. This series continues to raise the bar for escapist entertainment and if the alleged final two entries are as fun as the last four films have been, that bar is going to be damn near impossible for anyone to clear.

4.5/5 Stars

Thursday, April 13, 2017

10 Funniest Moments of the 2016-17 NBA Season

When it comes to gaffes in professional sports, the NBA reigns supreme. The volume of stupid, absurd and head-scratching miscues that occur on an almost-nightly basis helps give the league a distinct, entertaining feature that no other major sport in North America can contend with. After spending the last few weeks digging through 5 months worth of hardwood ineptitude, I've assembled a list of the 10 funniest moments of the 2016-17 NBA regular season. Hopefully this collection of basketball blunders is as fun for you to watch as it was for me to put together. Enjoy the playoffs everyone!

Honorable Mentions:
Kemba Walker does his best Swaggy P impression:
Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard squabble while Steph Curry hits an uncontested 3:
Put Quincy Acy in Kenny Atkinson, He's Ready to Play:
Wesley Johnson's Inbounding Nightmare:
Derrick Favors' Creative Post Finish (fast forward to 2:15):

10.J.R. Smith's Mid-Play Embrace of Jason Terry
When you've been in the league for as long as 39-year old Jason Terry has, you're bound to have a lot of friends around the league. Cleveland Cavaliers guard/decorated pipe-giver J.R. Smith is clearly among them. Smith is such a fan of Terry's that he decided to take a play off and greet him on the Bucks bench while his man (Tony Snell) drove to the basket for an uncontested dunk. It may have resulted in an easy 2 for the opposing team, but Smith's mid-game hug was a powerful reminder to the world that even in the heat of battle, love always prevails.
9.Russell Westbrook's Long 3rd Quarter Walk
This casual stroll through the marigolds should probably cost Russell Westbrook (aka the Oklahoma City Thunder) some MVP votes.
8.D'Angelo Russell's Excellent Coordination
Ladies and gentleman, the 2016-17 Los Angeles Lakers.
7.John Wall Decapitates Marcin Gortat
I'm almost 25 years old yet I still laugh every time someone gets unexpectedly hit in the face with an object. I need help.
6.Phoenix Suns Mascot Jumps on Court Mid-Play
The Suns Gorilla showed more hustle in this sequence than most of the team's sorry-ass roster did over the course of the entire season. If I were part of the Suns front office, this primate would definitely be part of the rebuilding plan.
5.Jahlil Okafor's Lockdown Defense
Casual Reminder: Jahlil Okafor was picked 3rd overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. Okafor's interior defense on this play (and in general) shows a complete and total disrespect for the integrity of "The Process".
4.Sam Dekker's Fast Break Faceplant
Has this play been replayed on TV too much since it happened in early November? Sure. Does that fact take away from how glorious it is? ABSOLUTELY NOT. If you don't see the beauty in a man eating shit and hitting himself in the face with a basketball, you're probably not a human being.
3.Dwight Howard Embraces His Inner Point Guard
I'll fully admit that this play is probably higher on this list than it should be. However, I get a pathetic amount of enjoyment out of watching a whiny, team-wrecking douchebag like Dwight Howard make colossal fuck-ups like this. Fingers crossed that Mike Budenholzer lets him run the fast break again in the playoffs.
2.Joakim Noah's Beautiful Jumper
This play managed to get even funnier after Joakim Noah got busted for using a banned substance in mid-March. Noah's game has deteriorated so much in recent years that he can't even get his heinous jumper to hit the rim while hopped up on performance-enhancing drugs. Tremendous stuff.
1.Devin Booker's Business Casual Ejection   
Behold the Donnie Darko of basketball plays. There's enough layers present in this super nonchalant ejection video to fuel months of heated philosophical, psychological and sociological debate in any high school or college classroom around the world. This densely-packed 1:30 of action prove that contrary to what the so-called intellectuals say, sports can be meaningful art.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

The still young cinematic year of 2017 has been loaded with unlikely gems and Paramount's Ghost in the Shell very well could be the most pleasant surprise yet. A live-action adaptation of an acclaimed anime film from the director of the painfully dull Snow White and the Huntsman sounded about as intriguing as diving into a piranha tank on paper, but it ended up being one of the most enthralling and visually-striking blockbusters to come out of Hollywood over the past several years.

The non-stop advancements in technology combined with the volume of CGI-driven spectacles that hit theaters every year has made it very difficult for me to be impressed by special effects in the modern day. This marks one of only a handful of times in recent memory that I've been legitimately blown away by a film's SFX. Ghost in the Shell's blend of elaborate practical effects and computer-generated imagery gives it a vivid visual style that is breathtaking to behold. The consistently eye-popping scenery plays a pivotal role in building (and eventually sucking the viewer into) Ghost in the Shell's infinitely badass, cyborg-filled universe.

While the non-stop parade of striking visuals may give the film a stunning backdrop to work with, Scarlett Johansson's performance as part-human, part-robot special agent Major gives Ghost in the Shell its soul. Johansson plays the character with an appropriate amount of subtlety and emotional distance, which allows her journey to discover her true self to play out in a very natural, convincing fashion. It's a shame that the backlash surrounding Johansson's involvement with this project has cast such a black cloud around the entire film because she really was the perfect choice to bring this beloved character to life.

As the summer season approaches, Ghost in the Shell has set a really high standard for this year's wave of big-budget action spectacles. It possesses the memorable fight scenes, distinct visual style and abundance of entertainment value that every blockbuster strives to have, but often has difficulty pulling off. I really hope people will put be able to look past the overblown controversy that has surrounded Ghost in the Shell since Johansson was cast as Major and give this film the unbiased chance it deserves. 

4/5 Stars