Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The History of WWE King of the Ring (1997)

King of the Ring '97 - Providence Civic Center - 6.8.97

The KOTR took a step back down in 1997, as a disorganized tournament coupled with last-minute card reshuffles made for a muddled show and a thin roster.  It was also something of a do-over for Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who had been pegged to win the tourney in 1996 but was instead punished for the infamous "Curtain Call" incident the night of Diesel and Razor Ramon's WWF exit.  So this show was an endeavor to set his career back on track.

What made no sense though was that Helmsley had been eliminated by Ahmed Johnson in the first round on free TV (the PPV would again only feature the semis and finals), but kayfabe threatened legal action since he was supposedly unaware he could be ousted due to a disqualification (even though that precedent had been set in numerous tournaments already).  So Hunter won the next qualifier against Crush, and would face Ahmed again in the semis.  Their PPV match was brief and just as forgettable as the first, but Hunter won, earning him a finals spot.

In the other semifinal the now-sympathetic, complex babyface Mankind faced Jerry Lawler in a pretty slow, meandering brawl in which Lawler used an invisible foreign object.  By that I mean he motioned pulling something out of his tights that evidently fit all the way into his fist and repeatedly punched Mankind with it.  Now, even if that was supposed to be a ball bearing or some such object, would that really add much oomph to a regular punch?  Did Lawler forget to actually stuff something in his drawers before the match?  Regardless, Mankind won, and would face Helmsley for the crown.

"Wait, I gotta wear this...ridiculous thing?  I resign..."

Their finals match was good but not great - it had some intense spots but was longer than necessary and felt like it never got out of second gear until the waning moments.  Highlights included Hunter hitting the Pedigree through the announce table, and Chyna bludgeoning Mankind with the royal scepter.  After nearly 20 minutes Hunter was crowned the '97 King of the Ring, and thus began in earnest his path to main event status.

Non-tourney matches included a RAW-quality Goldust-Crush match, a fun but middling six-man pitting Owen Hart, British Bulldog & Jim Neidhart against Sycho Sid and the Legion of Doom, and the double main event.

First up was the current WWF Tag Champions Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin facing each other.  The background of this match started with the newly formed Hart Foundation targeting all of the American WWF wrestlers (sparking the awesome US vs. Canada feud).  Owen Hart and the Bulldog had been Tag Champs but lost the Titles to Austin and the returning Shawn Michaels (whom you'll recall went home three months earlier to "find his smile").  Shawn was then set to feud with Bret Hart again and it was announced they would have a ten-minute time limit challenge at King of the Ring (not sure what the point of a ten-minute match was), while Austin would face former friend Brian Pillman.  But Bret sustained a knee injury in a real-life backstage skirmish with Shawn, and would miss the PPV.  The Hart Foundation suggested instead that Shawn fight Austin since the two didn't fully trust each other.  "Divide and conquer" I believe it's called.  The match was quite good but didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations of a masterpiece, and after nearly 23 minutes it ended in a double disqualification.  The best moment though was watching the two walk back to the dressing room while suspiciously keeping an eye on each other.  Hilarious.

My God...look at that team....

As for the main event, recently-crowned WWF Champion The Undertaker would face Nation of Domination leader Faarooq.  Yeah, this wasn't any more exciting than it sounded.  Faarooq was a pretty non-threatening opponent for Taker and there was little suspense here.  Taker won a mediocre match with the Tombstone before Ahmed Johnson ran in and eventually attacked Taker.  The prospect of a Taker-Ahmed match was very intriguing to me, but Ahmed got hurt again before it could ever take place.

"Bitches, prepare to eat armpit!"

King of the Ring 1997 was roughly a two-match event.  Austin vs. Michaels is obviously worth seeking out, and Hunter-Mankind has some good moments and some historical significance, but otherwise this PPV wasn't much better than your average RAW (though at least nothing was terrible).  The WWF would find its creative footing over the coming months with the US-Canada feud hitting high gear and the emergence of the Attitude approach.  But KOTR '97 was a rather shabby entry from a company desperately in need of a fresh approach.

Best Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin
Worst Match: Mankind vs. Jerry Lawler
What I'd Change: The tournament felt very half-assed in general.  I know the roster was thin, but it was only an 8-man field and Owen, Davey, Pillman, Vader (who may have still been stuck in Singapore after roughing up a TV host there), and Sid were all left out.  Also, Faarooq as the #1 contender??
Most Disappointing Match: I guess the tourney final, which wasn't bad but wasn't anywhere near as good as their subsequent matches
Most Pleasant Surprise: Nothing really
Overall Rating: 5/10


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Monday, August 19, 2019

Parents' Night In: The Podcast!

Attention Parents' Night In fans - now you can enjoy some of our episodes as audio-only podcasts, on a multitude of platforms!  We're on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Pocket Cast, Radio Public, Breaker and Overcast.  Click below for your favorite platform! 

Apple - https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/parents-night-in/id1473621580?uo=4

Spotify - https://open.spotify.com/show/4qPxkRJyQaGLMl9B62McAe

Anchor - https://anchor.fm/enuffadotcom

Google Podcasts - https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9hbmNob3IuZm0vcy9jYWU4NmYwL3BvZGNhc3QvcnNz

Pocket Casts - https://pca.st/9Xy2

Radio Public - https://radiopublic.com/parents-night-in-WPXOKR

Breaker - https://www.breaker.audio/parents-night-in

Overcast - https://overcast.fm/itunes1473621580/parents-night-in

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Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

In case you missed them, click HERE for Rise and HERE for Dawn

War for the Planet of the Apes

So, ya know how the third movie in a trilogy is always the weakest one, almost without fail?  That's out the window now.  War for the Planet of the Apes is the best, most poignant, most emotionally engaging film in the series, one that moved me almost to tears several times.  It pays homage to such classics as Apocalypse Now and Bridge on the River Kwai, while spectacularly concluding the trilogy and also providing some of the most breathtaking visuals in the entire series.

Director Matt Reeves and screenwriter Mark Bomback returned for the third installment in which Caesar and his apes must prepare for the inevitable war against a human military force hell-bent on exterminating them.  The human contingent is led by a maniacal Colonel (a fantastic, tortured Woody Harrelson, with a nod to Marlon Brando) who has become so dangerous and bloodthirsty he's begun killing off some of his own men and even using a few traitorous apes to do his bidding.  The Colonel wrongs the ape colony (in ways I won't reveal here), prompting Caesar and three of his lieutenants to seek vengeance while the rest of the apes retreat to a new home across the desert.  The story takes multiple unexpected turns and builds to a spectacular climax, but I'll leave you to discover that for yourself.

Suffice it to say, this film is beautiful, poetic, contemplative, exciting.  Andy Serkis once more delivers a note-perfect, deeply subtle mo-cap performance which transcends the special effects and makes the Caesar character as real as nearly any live-action performance you'll ever see.  Another standout is series newcomer Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, a wonderful character who provides most of the film's laughs but is also heartwrenchingly sad.  Like I said, I found parts of this film deeply moving, and Zahn's performance was one of them.  It's high time the Academy started recognizing motion-capture performances at awards time, even if it's a special category.

The effects team has outdone themselves here; these hyper-intelligent apes look so believable they've somehow dug themselves out of the uncanny valley.  For most of War's running time the analytical part of my brain that notices these things was not on alert.  Caesar and his apes have to be considered the most brilliantly realized CG characters in film history.  I often come down hard on the use of CGI, but Matt Reeves and his creative team have figured out the exact right way to utilize the technology.

War for the Planet of the Apes, like Logan earlier this year, is a film that transcends its genre and provides much more than simple summer popcorn entertainment.  This is a profoundly affecting film that will stick with you long after you leave the theater, and it caps off one of the best trilogies of the past thirty years, amazingly managing to top the first two entries.

I give War for the Planet of the Apes **** out of ****.

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Top Ten Things: Beatles Songs (George Harrison Edition)

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  It's been a while since I made one of these stupid lists, but I thought of kickass three-parter for y'all!  Today I'm all about The Beatles, those four lovable mop-tops from Liverpool who went on to change the entire fuckin' world.

A couple years ago I compiled my list of The Beatles' best albums, and while it occurred to me back then to do a list of songs as well, I ran into a conundrum: How the actual hell do you narrow down the Beatles' iconic song catalogue to ten choices?  It would be nigh impossible.  So instead I've saved myself hours of agony by compiling not one list, but three: the ten greatest Beatles songs written, respectively, by the group's three songwriters - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and today's subject, George Harrison!

George has always been considered the unsung hero of the band, finding himself in the unenviable position of having to compete with the two-headed compositional juggernaut known as Lennon-McCartney.  While the two prodigies were virtually pooping out gold records, George was left to his own devices to come up with one or two tunes he just hoped would be deemed worthy of inclusion on each album.  Though his early output certainly didn't stack up to standout singles like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You," George was diligent and untiring, honing his unique gifts and molding himself into a great composer in his own right.  By the time the band recorded Revolver, George could consistently be counted on to deliver at least one album standout; he was sadly almost always limited to two tracks per disc, and when the band broke up he'd amassed a double album's worth of material which became his solo record All Things Must Pass.

With all this in mind, let's take a look at the Top Ten Beatles Songs: George Harrison Edition.... 

Honorable Mentions


George's anti-establishment anthem about consumerism and class relations dates as far back as the Revolver writing sessions but wasn't finished until the White Album.  The use of harpsichord calls to mind snooty 18th century upper-crusters, while the lyrics have a biting satirical bent.

The Inner Light

One of three Harrison-penned Beatles songs to use traditional Indian instruments, "The Inner Light" deals with his newfound interest in Transcendental Meditation.  The music alternates between slow, meditative lyric sections dealing with spirituality, and upbeat Indian temple music making liberal use of George's sitar; the prevailing theme here is about discovering one's inner peace.

Within You, Without You

Probably George's most famous sitar-based song, and his only track on Sgt. Pepper, was steeped in traditional Indian music but with a mix of Western instrumentation as well.  The lyrics evolved out of a philosophical conversation with Beatles friend Klaus Voorman about embracing the non-physical.  I always found this song a bit overlong, but it was nonetheless an adventurous major sonic departure for the band.

Alright, now for the top ten....

10. For You Blue

A simple, bouncy 12-bar blues composition written for his wife Pattie, "For You Blue" was heavily influenced by a trip George took to Woodstock, NY to jam with Bob Dylan and The Band, a welcome contrast to the discordant White Album recording sessions.  This song ended up on the Let It Be album, itself a very troubled production, but it managed to retain its intended care-free vibe, and is one of George's two strong Let It Be offerings.

9. Long, Long, Long

Perhaps the quietest of all Beatles songs, from the "quiet Beatle," George's hauntingly serene ballad about his reconnecting with God immediately follows Paul's violently heavy "Helter Skelter" on the White Album, making for an abrupt mood swing.  The song has a sad-but-relieved vibe about it, as though George were atoning for his time experimenting with mind-altering substances and truly finding tranquility in mysticism.

8. Blue Jay Way

Released at the height of Beatles psychadelia, George's lone contribution to the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack is a ghostly, atmospheric tune written on a Hammond organ while George and Pattie waited for friends to arrive at their rented LA house, immediately after a long flight from London.  Harrison's songs usually seemed to take on a darker tone than John or Paul's, but that's especially true of "Blue Jay Way," which perfectly conveys George's post-flight exhaustion and impatience waiting for his house guests.   

Friday, August 16, 2019

Wrestling's Greatest Finishers: Sweet Chin Music

Welcome to another edition of Wrestling’s Greatest Finishers, here at Enuffa.com!  Today I’ll be talking about the signature move of my all-time favorite wrestler, Shawn Michaels.  It’s been called the Crescent Kick, the Superkick, and most famously by HBK, Sweet Chin Music.  Whatever its handle, the side kick to the jaw has become an enduring, easily imitated maneuver.

“Gentleman” Chris Adams allegedly created the move, but the first incarnation I ever saw was when Haku began using it in the WWF, calling it the Crescent Kick.  Haku was extremely agile for his size, and the Crescent Kick demonstrated his balance and flexibility while also carrying an aura of mystery appropriate to his South Pacific heritage.  For a while Haku was the only wrestler I remember utilizing the move.

Then The Rockers arrived.  Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty brought probably a dozen tandem moves with them to the WWF, one of which was the double superkick.  Initially I didn’t pay that move much attention given how much more spectacular most of their other offense was.  It wasn’t until that fateful Barber Shop segment in January 1992 that the superkick truly became a fearsome piece of in-ring weaponry.  In turning on his longtime tag partner, Michaels demonstrated how gut-wrenchingly sudden and devastating the move could be.

As a new singles star Shawn primarily used the superkick as a setup move for his teardrop suplex – a finisher I found pretty underwhelming for a former aerial master.  In the early 90s a heel couldn’t maintain heat if his moveset displayed too much flash, so Shawn kept his game grounded and opted for an arsenal designed to show off his newfound mean streak.  As he moved up the roster it became clear the teardrop wasn’t cutting it as a finishing move.  In non-wrestling segments Shawn would generally use the superkick to lower the boom on an unsuspecting rival, so it only made sense that he promote that move to his full-time finisher.  It was the perfect utility move he didn’t need to be in the ring to execute.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Top Ten Things: Quentin Tarantino Films

Welcome to another edition of Enuffa.com's Top Ten Things, where I compile a list of ten of something and then demonstrate the arrogance to imply my opinion of them is undisputed fact.  Buuut who are we kiddin', it is....

Today I'll be discussing the films of one of my favorite writer/directors, Quentin Tarantino.  Exploding on the scene in 1992, Tarantino brought a "film geek" sensibility to Hollywood, having absorbed decades of movies while working as a video store clerk and using his natural stylistic ability to create a new genre of films.  He sold his first two screenplays to the studios before making his directorial debut with Reservoir Dogs, and then became a household name with his second film Pulp Fiction.  Since then Tarantino has created pastiches of crime dramas, samurai films, Westerns, and even horror movies with unabashed glee and incredible attention to memorable characters and quirky dialogue.  When you sit down to watch a Tarantino film you know you're getting an unforgettable (and likely very uncomfortable) cinematic experience.

Note: I'm including three films Tarantino wrote but didn't direct, as I felt they all warranted inclusion.  Also you'll find Death Proof didn't make the cut.  I absolutely love the first half of that film - the characters are strong and colorful, the villain is compelling, the style feels like a grindhouse flick.  But in the second half I found the characters fairly dull and overly chatty, and the climactic car chase is pretty uninteresting, not to mention QT inexplicably abandoned the "scratchy footage" gimmick.

12. Death Proof

One half of the Grindhouse double feature along with Robert Rodriquez's zombie pastiche Planet Terror, Death Proof was Tarantino's homage to the 70s slasher film, except that instead of using a knife or a chainsaw, Kurt Russell's homicidal maniac Stuntman Mike used his souped up, "death proof" muscle car.  This film is split into two halves, the first concerning Austin radio DJ Jungle Julia (a hypnotically sexy Sydney Tamiia Poitier) and her friends, out on the town celebrating Julia's birthday.  The film allows us to spend time with these likable characters before Mike makes his murderous move, and then shifts gears (no pun intended) to a new set of would-be victims for our vehicular stalker.  I love the first half of Death Proof, complete with film stock damage, bad splices and grainy, high-contrast cinematography that makes it feel like a legit crappy 70s movie.  The second half though falters for me somewhat, as the characters and dialogue aren't as compelling, the payoff doesn't quite feel earned, and the grindhouse look of the film is abandoned.  Still, as I explore in detail HERE, Death Proof is a movie I feel compelled to watch every few years.  But something had to be at the bottom of Tarantino's resume, and this is it.

11. From Dusk Till Dawn

Another horror homage that's split into two distinct halves, From Dusk Till Dawn is a skillfully-made roller coaster of a vampire film starring an exceedingly compelling George Clooney and Tarantino himself as Seth and Richard Gecko, two escaped criminals attempting to reach the Mexican border before the authorities catch them.  On the way they take a family of three hostage and hijack their mobile home before stopping off at a Mexican strip club to await an associate.  The first half of the film plays out in typical Tarantino fashion, with playfully vulgar dialogue and high-tension standoffs, with director Robert Rodriguez lending his own visual style to the proceedings.  In the second half though the film takes a 90-degree turn when it's revealed the strip club is a lair for the undead, and our protagonists must fight for their lives against a gaggle of bloodsuckers to make it till morning.  Structurally this plays out like a Romero zombie film but with a much more sardonic tone and a ton of uncomfortable laughs.  Clooney demonstrated in his first major Hollywood role what a strong leading man he was - Seth is an eminently likable bastard - and his chemistry with Tarantino is undeniable.  The two leads and scores of snappy lines of dialogue really carry this film past being a crappy horror film and into the realm of a loving tribute.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Note: In case you missed my Rise review, click HERE

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

After his initial spark of genius, Rise director Rupert Wyatt was unable to commit to a sequel on the studio's timetable, and was replaced by Matt Reeves of Cloverfield and Let Me In fame.  While I'd be interested in seeing what Wyatt would've done with a sequel, Reeves proved himself a more sure-footed director, brilliantly handling the larger scope of the second (and third) film.

Set ten years after Rise, Dawn begins by showing us the effects of the super-virus Will Rodman accidentally unleashed.  The human population has been decimated, with only a fraction being naturally immune to the disease.  The apes meanwhile have created their own civilization in the redwood forest.  Caesar, now a full adult with a wife and son, has become the apes' exalted, compassionate leader.  After a run-in with a team of human scouts, a power struggle develops between Caesar and another ape called Koba, who still harbors deep hatred of humans for his mistreatment in their labs.  The humans have set up a colony in the city and need access to a hydroelectric dam within the apes' domain so they can restore power.  A very uneasy truce is formed, and Caesar gradually bonds with a few of the humans - Malcolm, his son Alexander, and his second wife Ellie.  But Koba can't accept peace and he engineers a coup, shooting Caesar and framing the humans as an excuse to attack their compound.  Koba and the apes take over the city while Malcolm helps nurse Caesar back to health.  Eventually a violent showdown ensues between the two apes, and Caesar comes to realize that a human-ape war is now unavoidable.

That this synopsis creates so many potential pitfalls but manages to avoid every one of them is nothing short of miraculous.  Dawn could have easily devolved into a trite, manipulative "apes good, humans bad" story, but the script is so deftly written we are able to understand and empathize with the point of view of every major character.  More than that, it establishes parallels between the apes and the humans, illustrating the similarities of the two species.  Caesar is delicately trying to balance his own desire for a peaceful coexistence with his need to protect his race, and Malcolm feels the same way, understanding that the apes are intelligent, reasonable creatures.  On the other side of each coin, Koba is a severely damaged character who is now defined by his hatred of humanity, while the human leader Dreyfus (an always compelling Gary Oldman) is prepared for a violent showdown and will preserve the human race at all costs.  This creates a fascinating parable of sociopolitics and once again the characters and their motivations are front-and-center, while the action sequences are a byproduct.  I also love that the first act of the film contains very little dialogue; the apes communicate primarily through sign language.  As summer blockbusters go, Dawn is a stunningly quiet film.

Dawn takes the incredible dramatic foundation of the Caesar character and expands on it, showing us his maturity and courage as a leader and father but also the violence of which he is capable when wronged.  Koba has also become an amazingly realized, three-dimensional villain, who deeply respects Caesar but whose anger has swallowed him whole and turned him into a monster.  This installment also improves on the original in terms of the human characters; Jason Clarke as Malcolm delivers a heartfelt, relatable performance as a man clinging desperately to the last vestiges of human compassion, wanting above all to reach a peaceful understanding with Caesar.  Gary Oldman plays Dreyfus as an uncertain military leader, a broken man who has lost everything and refuses to let humanity perish on his watch.  These are all well fleshed-out, fascinating personae with believable and understandable motivations, and the film resists the urge to become a sweeping action epic, preferring instead to stay close and intimate with its central characters.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a significant improvement over its impressive predecessor that further fleshes out the Caesar character and his place in this society, while also providing more substantial human characters for him and the other apes to play against.  Matt Reeves' direction is confident and thoughtful, while the pensive, thematic script by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver defies expectations, grounding the events in complex social and political commentary.  This is how you do a summer sci-fi film.

I give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ***1/2 out of ****.

Click here for the War review

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Awesomely Shitty Movies: Death Proof

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com, where I pick apart a guilty pleasure film, or a movie that has most or all of the ingredients to be great but can't quite get there.

Today's subject is a little of both.  It's the 70s exploitation/slasher film throwback, Death Proof, aka Quentin Tarantino's Worst Movie.  Originally released as half of the double-bill Grindhouse along with Robert Rodriguez's zombie pastiche Planet Terror (a bona fide ASM in its own right), Death Proof follows the slasher formula but with a crazed stunt driver committing vehicular homicide on groups of women.  Oddly split into two halves, the story begins with an Austin, TX radio DJ and her friends going out to celebrate her birthday.  Along the way they run afoul of Stuntman Mike, and it ends badly.  In the second half Mike has relocated to Tennessee, stalking a new group of women, two of whom happen to be stunt drivers themselves, and it ends badly again, this time for Mike.

That's really all there is to the plot; like many horror films, particularly the slasher variety, it's all about style over substance.  Fortunately Quentin Tarantino is the quintessential expert on imbuing a film with style and immersing the viewer in his detailed little worlds.  There's a lot to like about this movie, and I find myself needing to rewatch it every few years to spend time with some interesting characters and see if there's more to this film than I remembered.  There isn't really, but it's still a fun little romp and a lovingly created crappy 70s drive-in flick.

So let's look at the pros and cons of Death Proof...

The Awesome

Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell has to be one of my favorite actors who's done very few films I like.  Sure there's The Thing, Backdraft, Tombstone, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and three Tarantino outings, but he's also done a lotta crappy movies.  Regardless though, Russell improves every film he's in.  He oozes natural charisma and whether playing a hero or a villain you can't take your eyes off him.  That's most certainly true in Death Proof, where he starts out charming everyone in the bar and making Tarantino's quirky dialogue jump off the page, and then morphs into a murderous maniac.  Russell as Stuntman Mike is absolutely perfect casting.

Careful, or in his book you'll be filed under Chickenshit...

Jungle Julia

Speaking of "can't take your eyes off" someone, Sydney Tamiia Poiter as local DJ Jungle Julia absolutely commands the screen whenever she's on it.  As Mike himself observes, "she is a striking-looking woman."  Poiter is statuesque, effortlessly sexy, and bursting with sass.  Why Tarantino never cast her in anything else after this is beyond me; I could watch her all day long.

Sweet Jeezus....

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

NJPW G1 Climax 29 Recap: Kota Ibushi Makes History

G1 Climax 29 has come to an end, after five crazy weeks of restaurant-quality matches on tap.  As always, the results have set up some fascinating threads over the next five months between now and the Dome, we got a first-time G1 winner, some inevitable top title matches have been set up, and we were treated to an incredible newsworthy angle to open up intriguing possibilities.

The tournament is always full of ongoing stories, and this year's was no different.  We had half a dozen G1 newcomers including the red-hot Jon Moxley going 5 for his first 5 matches and leading the B Block throughout, Shingo Takagi making the transition from Junior to Heavyweight and carving out a NEVER Openweight niche alongside Ishii and Goto, Kenta finding himself again after five years of WWE setbacks, Will Ospreay continuing his incredible year and stealing multiple A-Block shows, and for me the most pleasantly surprising, Lance Archer growing exponentially as a performer before my very eyes.  Archer is now my favorite superheavyweight in the business - dude's peaking at 41 and probably still hasn't hit his ceiling.  Give that man an Intercontinental Title run, stat.

Other notable moments and threads included Zack Sabre Jr. underperforming, dropping his first four bouts and becoming the first mathematical elimination, Jay White nearly doing the same before a late tournament rally that won him the block, Sanada finally earning a win over Kazuchika Okada in the final 13 seconds of the time limit, Kota Ibushi wrestling the entire tournament on a sprained ankle and still delivering ****+ matches, and as always, Tomohiro Ishii becoming the tournament MVP, delivering the B Block Match of the Night on six of his nine go-rounds.  Give that man an Intercontinental Title run as well!

The G1 final saw a blazing-hot heel turn by Kenta, who betrayed his Chaos partners and joined the Bullet Club.  His mentor Katsuyori Shibata attacked him as he was about to cut a promo, the first instance of in-ring physicality by Shibata since his retirement in 2017.  Does this mean.....  Shibata was then laid out by the Bullet Club before Kenta posed sitting on top of him.  If this means what I think it means....

But of course the biggest story coming out of all this is Kota Ibushi's emotional journey to his first G1 Climax trophy.  Ibushi dropped his first two matches but went on to win his last seven on the way to the Final, including a hard-fought win over IWGP Champ Okada.  In the finals Jay White took every shortcut imaginable to rob Ibushi of his destiny, but Ibushi was unstoppable, flattening White with three Kamigoye knees.  It would appear our WrestleKingdom 14 main event will be the Okada-Ibushi rematch, and for me this is the most exciting WK main event since Okada-Omega.  But Okada will have to get through Sanada and Minoru Suzuki (to whom he lost in a tag match), and Ibushi will have to defend his briefcase against Kenta and Evil.  Both of those matches were great, so I have no complaints about seeing them again.

NJPW's fall season is shaping up to be one of the more exciting since I've been a fan, and in September I'll finally get to see them in person.  Interesting times ahead.  As for the G1 itself, it was a great five weeks as always, though I'd place this tourney a step below 27 and 28.  It was maybe the best field they've ever had but I felt like there were fewer Match of the Year contenders than in the last two.  But that's a nitpick, I look forward to revisiting some of these bouts in the near future.

Monday, August 12, 2019

WWE SummerSlam 2019: Seth Beats Brock For Real

Well that's more like it.  SummerSlam 2019, while certainly no instant classic PPV, was nonetheless a thoroughly easy show to watch, managing to stay well under four hours and providing a variety of solid undercard matches and a pretty great main event.  Yes I'm still pissed about how many top stars were left off the show; Roman vs. Bryan obviously would've been far preferable to Goldberg-Ziggler and KO-Shane.  But in 2019 WWE any show that doesn't leave me feeling ripped off or exhausted by the end is a win.  And would ya know it, for the most part the booking actually made sense too.

The show kicked off with the Becky Lynch-Natalya submission match.  I guess since Becky closed WrestleMania and Seth opened it, they had to swap spots for this show.  This was the exact right type of match for the stipulation, with both women working over the body part their respective finishers target.  Becky went after Nattie's arm to soften her up for Disarm-Her, and Nattie attacked Becky's historically weakened knee.  Each of them stole the other's finisher at one point, teasing the humiliation of having to tap out to their own move.  The most memorable spot was Nattie locking in a Sharpshooter in the turnbuckles, leaving Becky dangling out of the ring as she struggled to break free.  Becky nearly submitted to a second Sharpshooter mid-ring, but managed to reverse it into the Disarm-Her for the win at about 12:30.  This was a fine opening match, easily one of Becky's best this year (along with her Rumble match with Asuka and the WrestleMania main event).  Hopefully a performance like this will restart Becky's momentum, which they squandered with the Lacey Evans feud.  ***1/2

Next up was one of two matches I was dreading, as Dolph Ziggler got killed dead by Goldberg in under a minute.  But for what this was it was executed damn near perfectly.  Ziggler and Goldberg stared each other down for a moment, and suddenly Ziggler leveled him with a superkick, covered him, Goldberg kicked out at one, and the sequence was repeated.  Ziggler charged, Goldberg cut him off with a sick-looking spear (Ziggler takes this move better than perhaps anyone), followed by the jackhammer for the win.  Ziggler got on the mic and trash talked him, Goldberg returned to the ring and speared him again.  Ziggler did it again and Goldberg hit him with a third spear before finally leaving.  Now, feeding Ziggler, irreparably damaged though he is, to a 50-year-old who hasn't had a real match since 2003, is idiotically counterproductive.  But the live crowd went apeshit for this, the tease of Ziggler winning an upset was great, and Ziggler made the spear look like a spine-shattering move.  That said, I still don't get why everyone likes seeing Goldberg's one-note schtick over and over, or how this is supposed to translate to good long-term business.  But for what it was, they nailed it.  NR

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Superman II

Welcome back to Enuffa.com's Awesomely Shitty Movies, where I examine what exactly draws me to certain films that so spectacularly fail to live up to their potential.

Continuing with the superhero theme from last time, today I'll be dissecting the only good sequel from the vaunted Christopher Reeve franchise, Superman II!

In 1978 Richard Donner was tasked with directing two epic Superman films back-to-back.  Unfortunately budget and schedule issues would force him to shelve the second movie and focus on delivering the first, lest producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind fail to see a return on their massive financial investment.  Released in December 1978, Superman: The Movie was a huge commercial and critical success, ensuring the intended sequel could now be completed.  But after months of creative tension during the incredibly long shoot, the Salkinds opted not to bring Donner back to finish the second movie (It was estimated that about 75% of the footage was already completed).  Instead comedy director Richard Lester (of A Hard Day's Night fame) was brought in, and in order to officially receive directorial credit he'd need to not only complete the remaining 25%, but also reshoot a third of the already-completed footage.

The result was an immensely entertaining but horribly inconsistent sequel, featuring very divergent visual styles from two completely different directors.  This coupled with obvious continuity problems stemming from the principle actors' appearances noticeably changing between 1977 and 1980 gave Superman II a rather disjointed feel.

So let's take a look at what worked and what didn't, about this beloved Superman sequel!

The Awesome

Christopher Reeve

As with the first movie, Reeve embodied the perfect fusion of wholesome farmboy shyness and statuesque physical presence to bring to life what is still thus far the best cinematic interpretation of the Man of Steel.  This is one of those roles that a particular actor was born to play.  Reeve just captured the essence of this iconic figure and his alter-ego so brilliantly I'm not sure anyone will ever match his performance.


Friday, August 9, 2019

WWE SummerSlam 2019 Preview & Predictions

I hope you've enjoyed our look back at SummerSlam's 30+ year history, because now it's time to predict this year's edition.  And it looks......kinda boring.  

Thanks to Vince McMahon's gnat-like attention span, this year's lineup comes off as one of the most disorganized in recent memory, if not ever.  There are some good on-paper matchups, but most of the rumored bouts I was excited for either got tossed off on free television the past two weeks, or in the case of Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan, Vince couldn't figure out how to get from Point A to B to C, in time for the third-biggest show of the year.  I'd like to repeat that.  Vince McMahon, who's been doing this job since 1983, couldn't move a feud between two of the company's biggest stars along fast enough to get the resulting match on his third-biggest PPV.  For one thing, this "career-altering announcement" Daniel Bryan teased three weeks ago simply got thrown out.  No payoff at all.  Because apparently no one watches these stupid shows week to week.  Attention religious WWE viewers: Vince McMahon thinks you're stupid.  Always has.  So Vince decided to nix that whole angle and instead positioned Bryan as the guy who's been mysteriously attacking Roman backstage, but waited so long that he only had 12 days to put the match together in time.  Still this could've happened, had he written the reveal to be on this week's RAW.  But no, he instead saved the Erick Rowan reveal for the last five minutes of the go-home Smackdown, so Bryan still hasn't even been established as the guy behind it all.  Fuck's sake.

Aside from Roman-Bryan, we're also not getting Nakamura-Ali (they booked Ali to beat Nak in a non-title match and then had him lose to someone else a week later, so the I-C Champ now has no feud), Aleister Black vs. Sami Zayn (given away for free), the RAW Tag Title match (Anderson & Gallows won it on RAW), the Women's Tag Title match (gave it away on RAW and had the wrong fucking team win - Asuka and Kairi need to get out of WWE, pronto).

But don't worry, this lineup is chock full of part-timers and old-timers.  Brock, Orton, Shane, Trish, and for fuck's sake, Goldberg, the guy whose match with the Undertaker is sure to win Worst Match of the Year honors.  No wonder young people don't watch this shit anymore, the two big title matches involve OVW Class of 2002 stars, Shane and Goldberg are 50, and Trish, god love her, hasn't been relevant since the Dubya administration.  You couldn't find room for Reigns, Bryan, Nakamura, Joe, Rey, Andrade, Black or Zayn on a SummerSlam card??  This is like the SummerSlams from 10-12 years ago where they just left off half the big stars for no reason.

Fuck it, let's get this over with....

Cruiserweight Championship: Drew Gulak vs. Oney Lorcan

Oh good, they found room on the show for 205 Live.  Look, I'm not pickin' on the cruiserweights, they're all very talented and their matches are basically always good.  But 205's viewership is simply not strong enough to justify this title getting represented on every PPV (or pre-show) when the Intercontinental and every set of Tag belts can't even make it on.  Seriously, why did they bother creating a Women's Tag Title and then do absolutely nothing with it?  Fuck.  Anyway, this'll be fine and will probably happen on the pre-show.  Gulak just won the belt last month, so he'll keep it.

Pick: Drew Gulak

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

I left the theater after Quentin Tarantino's ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in a state of giddiness.  This movie will challenge you with its considerable 160-minute running time, the first third of which cuts a very methodical pace and has you wondering where and why it's going, but it comes together so well and so thoroughly in the third act it leaves you exhilarated by Tarantino's signature, balls-out audacity and eager to watch it again.

Boasting superb dual lead performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt (who are being dubbed "the last big movie stars" due to the film industry's new reliance on spectacle and branding over star power to open a picture), OUATIH tells the story of an aging TV Western star and his stunt double/best friend, set against the backdrop of the Sharon Tate murders.  DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, once a household name for his leading role on hit show Bounty Law, now struggling to stay relevant and making a living in one-off TV villain roles.  Brad Pitt is Cliff Booth, Rick's former stuntman-turned-gopher, content just to be his best buddy's personal assistant/handyman.  Leo is both pitiable and hilarious in a good ol' Southern boy turn that brings to mind Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, while Pitt brings his uncanny, affable charisma, relishing every moment in this Jeff Lebowski-esque role and often stealing the screen.  Both actors deliver some of their best-ever work here; DiCaprio's standout moments include a meltdown in his trailer after botching a scene and a subsequent triumphant take, Pitt's include a visit to the Spahn Ranch where he encounters the Charles Manson family.

The supporting cast is full of notable, colorful performances, with dozens of new and recognizable faces peppering the screen (Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell and other members of Tarantino's repertory pop up in cameos and he even refers to them in the credits as The Gang).  My favorites were Margaret Qualley as Pussycat, an aggressively provocative member of the Manson family, and Julia Butters as a precocious child actor with whom Rick Dalton shares a touching exchange.  Interestingly Qualley (daughter of Andie MacDowell) is one of at least three famous Hollywood children in the film; Kevin Smith's daughter Harley Quinn and Uma Thurman's daughter Maya Hawke (a dead ringer for her mother, both in appearance and voice) also appear as Manson girls.  And of course there's Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, a role curiously sparse on dialogue, written more as an icon to be worshiped than as a fully fleshed out character, so her tragic real-life fate hangs over every moment she's onscreen.  Robbie imbues Tate with a simple, innocent beauty; she's a unanimously adored pixie whose star was on the rise until that fateful August night in 1969.

I won't go too deep into plot details as it's better if you go in cold, but this film is full of lovingly crafted details and tropes of late 60s Hollywood, so much so that multiple scenes simply involve a character traveling someplace either by car or on foot, just so Tarantino can show us how painstakingly he recreated the period.  Everything looks authentic, lived-in, grimy and decadent; a true homage to a bygone era.  I'd be lying if I said a few of the early scenes couldn't have been trimmed a bit to get us where we're going a little sooner; in the moment there were a few times I was restless to know where the trip was taking me.  The film's structure is unusual too; we spend most of the first two hours over a February weekend and then jump ahead six months for the third act.  But by the end everything fell into place for me and I couldn't help but marvel at the confidence with which Tarantino steered this film (like virtually all his films), taking it to places unexpected and pouring his love for acting and shot composition into every minute.

Like most Tarantino films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood stuck with me long after the credits rolled - the performances, the morbidly dark laughs, the immersive minutiae, the historical elements...  I can't wait to experience it all again.

I give the movie **** out of ****.

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NXT TakeOver: Toronto II Preview & Predictions

It's that time again - the one WWE product that works consistently is due for another kickass TakeOver special, where they pre-emptively show the crumbling main roster team how it's done.  NXT is back, bay bay!

The second TakeOver emanating from Toronto, this five-match card will continue the best feud of 2019, likely bringing it to a fitting conclusion in what is sure to be a Match of the Weekend contender at worst.  Get ready for Cole-Gargano III!  But first, let's look at the undercard.

Candace LaRae vs. Io Shirai

Now, I'm not sure why Io wasn't tapped for a rematch with Shayna Baszler, as their Chicago match was first-rate and Io seemed like she should be the one to finally dethrone the dominant ex-MMA star.  But Io's loss instead fueled a heel turn as she betrayed her friend Candace, and here we are.  This should boast some strong storytelling and it'll be interesting to see how Io changes her style to suit her new character.  High fliers generally don't make strong heels, so I imagine she'll adopt a much more vicious moveset.  I can't see Io losing her first major match as a villain.

Pick: Io

NXT North American Championship: Velveteen Dream vs. Pete Dunne vs. Roderick Strong

This should be a pretty great non-stop action kinda bout, with Dream doing the flying and Dunne and Strong bringing the crisp, brutal striking offense.  It's always safe to assume the main roster crew is looking to call up someone after one of these shows, but that roster is so overloaded right now no call-ups make sense.  Plus there are rumors NXT's weekly show will be on FS1 to counterprogram AEW.  Why am I mentioning all this?  Well, Dream seems tailor-made for the main roster, so whenever I predict any of his matches that fact is always in the back of my mind.  I could see Strong winning this to round out his stable's championship pedigree.

Pick: Strong

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2018)

SummerSlam 2018 finally saw Roman Reigns' big Universal Title coronation, as after three-and-a-half years he defeated Brock Lesnar for the first time.  This climactic battle lasted six minutes.  Six.

Barclays Center - 8.19.18

This SummerSlam was frustratingly inconsistent and suffered from repetitive booking and a nonsensical match order.  It was a middling show, despite a few of the bouts being quite good.  Things oddly peaked in the middle of the PPV, and although it never dragged like the previous two SummerSlams, by the end I walked away mildly unsatisfied.

After the disdainful crowd response Brock-Roman II got at WrestleMania 34, common sense dictated this rematch should be kept short to prevent the audience from shitting all over it.  While that was probably still the right move, what a nothing match this was.  First off, Braun Strowman interrupted the ring introductions to announce that unlike other MITB holders, he wasn't a coward who would cash in when the champ's back is turned.  "Cool" I thought, "he's adding himself to the match like a monster babyface realistically would."  Nope.  He just stated that he's cashing in after the match.  So how's that really any different than cashing in when the guy's back is turned?  You're still a fresh challenger facing an exhausted champion.  How is that not cowardly?  It turned out to be a moot point anyway, but really think about this for a second.  This is why Money in the Bank needs to go away; no one really gets elevated by holding the briefcase anymore.

Anyway, Brock vs. Goldberg in 2017 proved you can have a red-hot sub-five-minute match that is memorable and that the crowd will eat up.  But after the first thirty seconds of Punch-Spear, this match was a buncha fluff.  Brock got a guillotine choke, hit a few suplexes, attacked Braun Strowman with a chair to prevent him from cashing in, and then got speared out of nowhere to lose the belt.  The indestructible Brock Lesnar, who earlier had taken three SuperPunches and two spears but still had it in him to counter with a guillotine choke, got pinned from one spear after controlling the second half of the match.  This was the most anticlimactic title change since Cena beat JBL in 2005, and nowhere near as good as either WrestleMania match between these two.  Strowman was clearly put out there to prevent "We Want Strowman" chants and get the crowd hyped for a possible cash-in, but what does it say about your main event when you have to trick your audience into not booing it?  This more or less sucked and illustrated why people in 2018 and beyond were and are tired of Brock.  Roman had to relinquish the title only two months later when his leukemia relapsed, thus further diminishing what should have been the culmination of an emotional journey.

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2017)

Another mixed-bag PPV from WWE in 2017....

SummerSlam '17 - Barclays Center - 8.20.17

SummerSlam 2017 felt a bit like one of those older WWF PPVs that had a ton of variety and was oddly more enjoyable than it probably deserved to be.  The ten main PPV matches cruised by at a decent pace and this show never felt to me like a slog, a la SummerSlam 2016.  There wasn't anything truly great on the show, but there were several very good matches, most of which occurred in the second half.  In that way this was like the anti-WrestleMania; the previous two 'Manias started out strong and become a major drag by the final hour.

Of note, the crowd for NXT TakeOver the night before was electric from start to finish.  The SummerSlam crowd was mostly pretty dead except during a few select matches.  I've asked this before, but isn't Vince bothered by this phenomenon?  You'd think he'd figure out a way to make the main roster crowds' enthusiasm match that of the NXT audience.

Things kicked off in very strange fashion, with the John Cena-Baron Corbin match.  I'm not sure who thought this would make for a hot opener, but it wasn't; Corbin's nondescript offense and Cena's seeming lack of motivation of late failed to jumpstart the Brooklyn crowd.  There was a nice callback near the end of the match, where Cena tossed Corbin to the buckles, Corbin slid out of the ring, and immediately slid back in.  Earlier in the bout this spot resulted in Corbin leveling Cena with a clothesline, but Cena turned the tables the second time, hitting a clothesline of his own, followed by the AA for the win.  Not much of a match, but I got some enjoyment out of it because my son watched it with me and he's a big Cena fan.

Next up was a much stronger match, pitting Smackdown Womens' Champ Naomi vs. Natalya.  These two strung together some nice, innovative offense, the wrestling was fairly crisp, and Nattie finally got a well-deserved Title win with the Sharpshooter.  Perfectly serviceable undercard match with the right winner.

The worst match of the night was third, as Big Cass and Big Show sleepwalked through a fairly excruciating ten minutes.  I'm not sure why this needed to be on the main card while the Smackdown Tag Title match wasn't, nor were The Miz or The Hardyz, and Sami Zayn and Dolph Ziggler were absent from this show completely.  The only memorable bit was Enzo squeezing out of the shark cage, which immediately led to him getting murdered by Cass.  Pointless, particularly since less than a year later both Enzo and Cass were gone.

Speaking of pointless, Randy Orton beat Rusev with an RKO in ten seconds.  Poor Rusev.  Not that I was excited about this match anyway, but Jeezus this was a waste.

Things picked up again with the RAW Women's Title match, as Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks delivered a well-worked 13-minute bout on par with Naomi-Nattie.  This wasn't on the level of Sasha and Charlotte's matches, and certainly nowhere near as good as the show stealing Asuka-Ember Moon match from the night before, but Alexa played the douchebag heel to perfection and these two had undeniable chemistry.  Sasha won the belt for the fourth time via Bank Statement tapout.

So the first five matches definitely felt like an undercard, in the same way that New Japan structures their PPVs.  The last five matches felt like the real meat of the show.

Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt was a solid outing, with Balor no-selling Wyatt's theatrics.  The action was just pretty good, but it was interesting to see Balor throw everything back in Wyatt's face, so to speak.  Balor was one step ahead most of the bout and finished it with the Coup de Grace for the decisive win.  This unexpectedly ended the feud, as the blowoff match scheduled for No Mercy that fall was derailed by a Wyatt stomach bug.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Well color me shocked.  When I first learned Hollywood was rebooting the Planet of the Apes franchise I groaned, loudly.  Tim Burton's 2001 PotA remake, while boasting incredible makeup effects and a couple decent performances, was largely a disappointing, drivelous mess with a nonsencial reimagining of the original's famous twist ending.  I thought, "Why in the name of all things holy, THE FUCK, do we need more of these movies??"  So I skipped Rise of the Planet of the Apes when it was released.  Then surprisingly I began to hear some pretty great buzz about it, particularly centered on Andy Serkis's motion-capture performance as the main character Caesar.  But I never got around to watching it, and when the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was released in 2014 I read similarly complimentary things about that film and said to myself, "Justin" I said, "You should get your ass to a TV and watch these movies."  But I still never got around to it.  Finally with the announcement of the third movie War for the Planet of the Apes I said, "Goddammit, just fuckin' DO IT!"

So I did.  And here's what I thought of them, starting with Rise.  Stay tuned for the Dawn and War reviews coming soon....

**Note: I've included SPOILERS for the first two films but not the third**

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes drew me in almost immediately with the Frankenstein-esque theme of tampering with nature, as well as family loyalty and the exploitation of animals.  Here was a summer "action" film with hardly any action, but a thoughtful focus on the aforementioned concepts and a deeply explored character arc.  Director Rupert Wyatt took the original premise and asked the question "How might we have gotten there?"  Rise presents a practical, real-world explanation of how the Earth could believably be taken over by hyper-intelligent simians, in the same way Batman Begins explored how a man might take to dressing like a giant bat to fight crime (Wyatt himself made that connection in interviews and I happen to agree with him).

This refreshingly small-scope narrative introduces Will Rodman, a promising scientist (James Franco in a solid if unspectacular performance), who experiments on chimps with a powerful Alzheimer's drug, driven by a very personal motivation (His father suffers from the disease).  Rodman secretly adopts a baby chimp whose mother passed onto him the effects of the drug, naming him Caesar.  Caesar shows incredible intelligence at an early age, but as with all domesticated simians, becomes increasingly difficult to control as he matures.  A violent incident with a neighbor leads to Caesar being sent to an ape sanctuary run by a cruel father-son team, and Caesar becomes a hardened alpha-male, taking over the shelter, learning how to escape, and exposing the other apes to the intelligence-augmenting drug.  This builds to a sensational battle between the super-apes and the authorities, leading to Caesar's army setting up a new civilization in the redwood forest.  Meanwhile the Alzheimer's drug has created a deadly super virus in humans that begins to spread worldwide.

While the human performances in Rise are passably effective, the driving force in the film is Andy Serkis's groundbreaking work as Caesar.  As with his turn as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Serkis is a revelation here, conveying entirely through facial/body language (and what he calls "digital makeup)" amazingly subtle, tangibly real emotional nuances.  Here is an Oscar-worthy performance with almost no dialogue; we feel every moment of Caesar's growth, suffering, loneliness, and finally triumph.  Had this aspect of the film not delivered, Rise would have fallen apart in a heartbeat.  But both Serkis's acting and the amazingly realistic CG rendering are so effective you forget you're watching an animated character (a phenomenon even more prevalent in the sequels).  And Serkis was just getting warmed up...

I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes *** out of ****.

Click here for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (posted 7/26/17)

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The History of WWE SummerSlam (2016)

The 2016 edition was like a demonstration of everything that was good and bad about the WWE product.  The highs shined, the lows sucked....

SummerSlam '16 - Barclays Center - 8.21.16

What an exhausting show this was.  It went four-plus hours and by the second half both the live crowd and I were drained, to the point that when the second-to-last match for the US Title was a non-starter I was actually kinda relieved.

This lineup was the most stacked in many years, with no fewer than four potential Match of the Year candidates (on paper anyway), plus a good amount of variety in the undercard.  Had the execution been stronger we'd likely be including SummerSlam 2016 in the "Greatest SummerSlam Ever" conversation.  But a few things kept it from reaching that level.  First though, let's talk about what did work.

I would've liked to see Cesaro vs. Sheamus actually open the PPV, since these two always work well together and this was no exception.  It wasn't anything amazing but in the first slot this would've fit perfectly.  Sheamus won the first match of the Best of 7 series.

The actual opening match, JeriKO vs. Enzo & Cass, was just fine but it was very strange to see Kevin Owens, seemingly on the verge of breakout status at that point, relegated to an opening tag match (Though nowhere near as infuriating as Sami Zayn's position in a preshow tag match). This of course led to one of the best ongoing angles of that time period, the bromance between Owens and Jericho.  As for the match, it was okay.

Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte was the first of probably three instances where I said aloud, "This match is happening already??"  Putting this match so early on the card seemed to undermine the importance of the Women's Title and the company's new outlook on the division.  That said, this was a fine contest that suffered from a few sloppy moments and an over-reliance on big risks.  These two would go on to trade the Title back and forth throughout the fall (including a headlining Hell in a Cell match), before Charlotte finally won the feud.  Anyway, this was a splendid match all things considered, though this feud really peaked with their first meeting on RAW at the end of July.

One of several moments in this match where I feared for Sasha's life

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2015)

Here's a show I wasn't excited for that turned out to be pretty great....

SummerSlam '15 - Barclays Center - 8/23/15

Sometimes it pays to have low expectations.  Case in point the 2015 SummerSlam extravaganza.  I went into this show with the mindset of "I'll be content as long as I don't feel like my night was wasted," and what I got was a consistently very entertaining wrestling show with a ton of variety where every match felt like it got enough time, and a few actually stood out.

The much-dreaded-by-me Brock Lesnar-Undertaker main event was easily the best match delivered by these two since their No Mercy 2002 Hell in a Cell.  It was streamlined, hard-hitting, full of nice little nuances (the double situp for example), and while the ending left me baffled at first, once the replay explained everything I actually kinda liked it.  Granted we've been conditioned that the timekeeper never rings the bell until the official calls for it, but in all these years you'd think human error would get in the way at least once.  Well, this was that one occurrence.  Taker tapped out and the timekeeper jumped the gun.  It was a realistic screwup and it protected Lesnar as an unstoppable monster while reframing the feud with Taker playing more of a heel.  I liked this match a lot, and the lasting image for me was of the defiant Lesnar flipping Taker off just before passing out to Hell's Gate.

Ok this was pretty boss.

The Match of the Night however was Seth Rollins vs. John Cena.  Both guys were motivated to overshadow every other match despite being placed only 7th of 10 bouts, and aside from a couple miscues, this was a helluva contest.  Rollins essentially worked babyface, pulling out every crazy, crowd-pleasing move he could muster.  My fellow New Japan fans surely noticed Rollins borrowing from Hiroshi Tanahashi's moveset (High Fly Flow, Slingblade), and even Kota Ibushi's (standing shooting star press).  The finish, where Jon Stewart stormed the ring and whacked Cena with a chair to cost him the match, was met with a lot of scorn, but WWE covered it brilliantly the next night by having Stewart say he couldn't bear to see Ric Flair's 16-time record tied.  Simple, logical, and made for a nice little moment where Cena gave Stewart the AA.

This was even more boss.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2014)

Considering how upset I was not to see Bryan vs. Brock on this show, it turned out pretty damn good...

SummerSlam '14 - Staples Center - 8/17/14

The 2014 SummerSlam was a rock-solid show with a pretty stacked lineup and no bad matches.  It almost resembled the 2012 edition but was infinitely better-executed and boasted one of the most unusual and memorable main events in a long time, while also spotlighting several strong midcard feuds.

The opening match was yet another I-C Title meeting between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler.  While their feud was never treated with much importance, these two always had decent chemistry in the ring, and this was an enjoyable 8-minute kickoff.  The Title itself was long-dead, thanks in part to becoming such a hot potato, but no complaints about the match.

Next up was the second PPV bout between AJ Lee and Paige.  As with the I-C Title, the Divas Championship had been bouncing back and forth between these two.  Paige won here in just under five minutes, which sadly wasn't enough time to have the barn burner AJ and Paige were capable of.

Rising heel Rusev was third, in a Flag Match with recently-turned "Real American" Jack Swagger.  Swagger provided a somewhat credible midcard challenge for the undefeated Bulgarian, but the nature of Swagger's (and especially manager Zeb Coulter's) in-ring persona kinda prevented him from fully connecting with the audience.  Had this not been a USA vs. Russia feud, there wouldn't have been much heat.  But this match was fine.  Nothing amazing, but a good power vs. power matchup.

Things picked up big in the fourth slot as Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins finally had their much-anticipated first match.  The previous month at Battleground, Ambrose had been thrown out of the building for attacking Rollins backstage, and Rollins won their scheduled match by forfeit.  The extra month of buildup made this feud red-hot, and Ambrose's loose cannon persona coupled with the host of Lumberjacks outside the ring made this a wildly entertaining brawl.

What a great feud this was.

Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt was next, and they got a chance to redeem themselves after an uninspired effort at Battleground.  Both guys brought their A-game and put forth a near-show stealer, with Wyatt finally getting the big win.

The unexpected hit of the night was sixth, as Brie Bella took on Stephanie McMahon.  Steph had by now become one of the best talkers in the company (to my absolute shock), and held up her end of the buildup brilliantly.  Sadly Brie's acting skills are nowhere near that of Steph's, so Mrs. Helmsley had to carry this feud.  But once the bell rang both women delivered a helluva catfight reminiscent of Steph's 2001 match against Trish Stratus.  In the end Nikki turned on her sister, leading to probably the worst feud of 2014.  But this match was stunningly entertaining.

My pick for Match of the Night went to the semi-main event, as the unproven Roman Reigns took on mainstay heel Randy Orton.  These two meshed admirably and strung together some exceedingly well-timed spots, leading to Reigns hitting the match-winning Spear at just under 17 minutes.  This was Reigns' first major singles victory, as well as his first really strong one-on-one performance.

The long-planned main event of Daniel Bryan vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title unfortunately never took place due to Bryan's neck injury (Four years later the match finally happened and blew the roof off the dump), but the company instead subbed in their biggest star to take on the rejuvenated Beast.  In what was almost a do-over from their Extreme Rules 2012 match, Lesnar absolutely DOMINATED John Cena, throwing him around the ring like a bag of wet leaves.  This will likely go down as the most one-sided PPV main event of all-time.  Lesnar played his overpowering bully role to perfection, treating WWE's posterboy like a total jobber and routinely mocking both Cena and The Undertaker (whom he defeated at 'Mania 30).  After 16 minutes and just as many German suplexes, Lesnar steamrolled Cena to win the WWE Title.  My initial reaction to this match was one of boredom, as I found it too monotonous and had hoped for a back-and-forth match.  But upon a second viewing I understood what they were doing.  This wasn't ever supposed to be a match per se, but a realistic beatdown by a heel so far above everyone else on the roster the company's top star didn't even present a real challenge.  The story of this match was Lesnar basically winning the Title by hitting one move over and over.  While it's certainly not a five-star classic, Cena vs. Lesnar holds up as a unique, unforgettable angle.

This might be my favorite moment of the entire match;
Lesnar mocking Taker's situp

Nothing on this show exceeded the 3.5 star range, but SummerSlam 2014 proved to be a highly engaging night of wrestling, with several good matches and no bad ones.  The big story coming out was Brock Lesnar's complete supremacy over the WWE roster.  Unfortunately WWE followed this up horribly, hotshotting a rematch the next month and then keeping Lesnar off TV until January.  Clearly an every-other-month schedule would've been a more appropriate way to play out Lesnar's title run.  Anyway, thumbs up for SummerSlam '14!

Best Match: Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns
Worst Match: Paige vs. AJ, by default
What I'd Change: Aside from putting Cesaro vs. RVD on the actual PPV, just the usual SummerSlam time management issues where it seems like every match somehow gets shortchanged.  Not sure why that happens so often at SummerSlam.
Most Disappointing Match: There wasn't much disappointing.  Nothing on this show was truly great, but nothing was bad either.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Stephanie vs. Brie was much better than it had any right to be.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Better than WrestleMania XXX? - No


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