Monday, September 19, 2022

AEW Grand Slam 2022 Preview & Predictions

Holy jeez is AEW Grand Slam 2022 a loaded card.  The Dynamite portion is original Clash of the Champions-caliber, while the Rampage lineup has a whopping eight shorter matches.  Hopefully AEW continues their string of big ratings to continue proving they can get along just fine without CM Punk and also to show Discovery that they're underpaid.


This Punk-Elite situation has certainly motivated AEW to create some must-see television, what with the tournament for the vacant AEW Championship and the featuring of more stars that were perhaps underutilized.  The next few months leading into Full Gear should be intriguing to say the least.

Let's look at the lineups....


Dynamite


AEW All-Atlantic Championship: Pac vs. Orange Cassidy


These two had a fantastic match in 2020 and I expect the same here.  Pac is the no-bullshit tough guy while Cassidy is the aloof slacker who likes to poke the bear.  I don't anticipate a title change here, but Cassidy will give Pac a good fight.

Pick: Pac retains




Ring of Honor Championship: Claudio Castagnoli vs. Chris Jericho


This should be spectacular, and it's yet another match WWE never capitalized on.  Considering they're giving a huge star like Jericho a crack at the ROH Title, hopefully that means an ROH TV deal is imminent.  It would make sense then to put the title on the biggest possible star to give that brand a boost.  Claudio just won the title two months ago but if the idea is to get an unprecedented number of eyes on Ring of Honor, it makes sense for Jericho to capture it.  Regardless I'm very much looking forward to this one.

Pick: Jericho wins his first ROH Title

Monday, September 12, 2022

Movie Review: Pinocchio (2022): No Strings, No Magic Either


Disney's slew of unnecessary remakes of classic animated films continues with Robert Zemeckis's "live-action" Pinocchio, now streaming on Disney+.  Starring Tom Hanks in a lethargic, half-hearted turn as Geppetto and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the voice of Jiminy Cricket (channeling his best Cliff Edwards from the original), this version omits numerous magical moments and songs from the old film, adds new tunes and characters we didn't need, and somehow strips the story of all its former urgency.

Consider a moment in the scene where we're introduced to the incorrigible, scheming fox Honest John and his dimwitted partner Gideon.  As they stroll past Pinocchio, lost in their own "conversation" (John speaks, Gideon does not), John half-notices the living puppet skipping past and remarks "A little wooden boy..." before doing a double-take as the amazement of what he's just seen sinks in.  In the original film, the double-take is sudden and big and hilarious.  But here, even the comedically prodigious Keegan-Michael Key as Honest John can't muster the energy to make this bit work - the timing of the moment has no tightness, and Key's reaction is so underplayed it scarcely conveys how mindblown he's supposed to be.  And for me that's almost a Rosetta Stone for how ineffective this film is.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

WWE Clash at the Castle Review: That Ending Stunk

AEW wasn't the only wrestling company to hold a major show over Labor Day weekend, as WWE traveled to Cardiff, Wales for Clash at the Castle.  How very 1980s Vince of them, horning in on the other company's established big weekend.  Tony Khan's gonna need to schedule a Battle of the Belts on TBS opposite 'Mania.


Anyway, Clash was the first main roster PPV one could say was fully produced under the Triple H regime, as SummerSlam was pretty much already set by the time Hunter took over the creative reins.  SummerSlam still felt like a typical Vince PPV, but Clash felt to me like the ship beginning to steer in the right direction.  Two changes I noticed were the WAAAAAY more sparsely used snap-zooms for big bumps, and the near-absence of rapid-fire cuts during striking exchanges.  Thank Christ, I can finally watch a WWE show again without having a seizure.  True to WWE form though, there were some frankly baffling booking decisions that kept this show from truly reaching greatness.  

Things kicked off with a fairly energetic six-woman tag, as Bayley's new stable Damage Control faced RAW Women's Champ Bianca Belair, Asuka and Alexa Bliss.  Wait, Asuka, Bianca Belair and Alexa?  Their team name should be ABBA, am I wrong?  This proved to be a pretty strong opener, though it perhaps went a bit longer than was ideal.  At nineteen minutes I felt like the crowd wasn't as hot as they could've been.  There was plenty of back-and-forth action though, and everyone got a good amount of time.  The finish came when Bayley tied Bianca to the turnbuckles with her own braid, allowing each of the heels to hit their finishes.  Iyo Sky finished Bianca with a moonsault and Bayley covered her for the win, thus positioning Bayley as the new top contender.  Not too shabby at all.  ***1/2



AEW All Out 2022 Review: How Do You Solve a Problem Like CM Punk?

AEW and its fans rode an emotional roller coaster this past weekend.  Between the fairly stellar All Out PPV and its frankly upsetting aftermath, there was a ton of news to unpack, both good and bad, for the company and the fans.


I guess we should start by addressing the irrationally angry elephant in the room.  And look, I'm saying this as a longtime fan of CM Punk - he's lucky to still have a job after all this, if indeed he does still have a job.  For a man who prides himself on being a locker room leader to retaliate against an opponent vaguely "going into business for himself," by explicitly going into business for himself, is frankly embarrassing.  Regardless what happened between Punk and Colt Cabana - and the dissolvement of their friendship was obviously very bitter - Hangman Page's promo back in May barely referenced that situation (specifically the rumor that Punk used his clout to get Colt fired from AEW), and 95% of the audience watching probably had no idea that's what he was referencing.  What Punk should've done, again as a supposed locker room leader, was address the situation with Page (and Tony Khan if necessary) in private.  Instead Punk waited till after Page did a clean job for him (in and of itself a form of making amends) and only after he'd spent three months on the shelf, decided to fire back with a promo very clearly designed to make Page look bad.  A shovel-to-the-face obvious burial is not just desserts for a thickly veiled dig.  

But Punk wasn't done.  At the post-All Out media scrum he went out of his way to bring up the subject again, immediately steering the conversation toward a Colt Cabana tirade and throwing both Page and the Young Bucks violently under the bus for allegedly starting the aforementioned rumor.  For several minutes he verbally trashed his coworkers and their EVP status, thus making the company look stupid for giving Matt and Nick executive roles.  Meanwhile Tony Khan sat next to him mostly silent, rather than making a genuine effort to change topics.  Key among Punk's comments was "If anyone has a problem with me, come talk to me."  Well, that's precisely what Matt, Nick and Kenny Omega attempted to do immediately after Punk's scrum appearance, and then all hell broke loose.  

It's not yet clear who started the physicality, but it's been confirmed that Punk punched Matt, and Punk's friend Ace Steel threw a chair at Nick's face and bit Kenny.  Word is there could be legal action taken, and it seems unfathomable that the two sides will ever be able to work together after this.

Friday, September 2, 2022

WWE Clash at the Castle Preview & Predictions

Well, it's a loaded wrestling weekend, and not only does AEW have their annual All Out PPV on Sunday, but WWE has a big UK stadium show on Saturday, the first PPV lineup formed under the Triple H regime....


Triple H may be in charge now and may have assembled most of this card, but true to WWE form he's only announced six matches for a stadium show, meaning we'll almost certainly get 2-3 unannounced additions.  And man, are there a lot of people missing from this show, even some folks Hunter's finally been pushing on free TV.  Hey WWE, why are you the way that you are?

Let's look at the 2/3 of a show we have.....



Edge & Rey Mysterio vs. Finn Balor & Damian Priest


This should be a fine tag team contest.  Lotta good talent here.  Of course this feud feels super goofy since Edge was prematurely kicked out of his own group and Judgement Day doesn't feel like they have a real leader.  Weak sauce.  Anytime Rey and Finn are in there together should be fun times.  I think Dominik probably at long last turns on Rey, because unless you're the Usos, you turn on your family in WWE.

Pick: Judgment Day




Bianca Belair, Asuka & Alexa Bliss vs. Bayley, Iyo Sky & Dakota Kai


This one should also be a lot of fun, with a ton of talent on display.  It's probably a good thing though that Clash is the day before All Out since, good though this match looks, it won't touch the Trios final on Sunday.  Alexa seems out of place in this trio and generally looks like she doesn't want to be there.  I have to think Team Bayley wins here to further establish them as contenders for Bianca and Raquel/Aliyah, respectively.

Pick: Bayley, Iyo, Dakota

Thursday, September 1, 2022

AEW All Out 2022 Preview & Predictions

Oh man, AEW may be going through some growing pains, but you'd never know it by looking at this weekend's All Out lineup.  Two weeks ago I was thinking this show may not live up to the last year of AEW PPVs.  Right now I'm thinking it could equal or even surpass what is in my estimation their best, last year's Full Gear show.  


All Out 2022 is an absolutely LOADED show, with nearly all hands on deck, a massive main event with a real emotional story at play (more on that in a bit), a real focus on elevating some of the homegrown stars, a focus on the new Trios division (three trios matches on this show, all of which should be pretty great), and what's sure to be a batshit crazy ladder match.  If you can't find something to get excited about on this PPV, I dunno what to tell you.

Let's get into it....



Pre-Show: Eddie Kingston vs. Tomohiro Ishii


Jesus, even the pre-show has two potential show stealers, starting with this slugfest.  Originally the plan was Kingston vs. Sammy Guevara, until a miscommunication over a Sammy promo led to a backstage scuffle between the two and Eddie was suspended (they've made amends and all seems to be well now).  So as a substitute we're getting something arguably even better, a match that would be right at home in the G1.  I'm guessing Eddie wins here since he's the AEW guy.

Pick: Eddie




Pre-Show: All-Atlantic Championship: Pac vs. Kip Sabian


Well this was a slow burn.  After months and months of Kip sitting front row with a box on his head at every AEW taping, he finally revealed his intention by going after Pac.  Sabian has been somewhat repackaged and will hopefully prove to be yet another promising homegrown talent.  Pac is incredible.  This should be a fun little match.  I don't see Pac losing the title yet.

Pick: Pac retains


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Top Ten Things: Christopher Nolan Films

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!


It's another bonus edition of TTT, as we have not ten but eleven entries to discuss - time to rank Christopher Nolan's filmography!  I've been a Nolan fan since Memento's 2001 theatrical release, and over the past two-plus decades this cerebral English director has already compiled an extraordinary body of work, creating a singular brand of intelligent, crowd-pleasing blockbuster films.  Nolan's affinity for challenging, puzzle-like movies was apparent from the beginning, but he also reinvented the Batman franchise by grounding it in reality and making its protagonist a deeply flawed, real-world hero trying to redeem his broken city.  Nolan's films generally demand repeat viewings, keeping the viewer on their toes and often letting the editing drive the narrative so there's no cinematic fat on the bone.  Every new Christopher Nolan film is event viewing for me, guaranteed to present a story in a genre-defying way audiences have never seen before.

Here now are Christopher Nolan's films, ranked....





11. Following


Nolan's feature debut was this neo-noir with a non-linear narrative, about an aspiring writer who looks for inspiration by shadowing people he sees on the street.  He falls in with an experienced burglar and begins to make a habit of breaking into strangers' homes, stealing various items, and selling what he can.  Soon though he becomes romantically involved with one of his "victims," whom he learns is mixed up with a local mobster.  Meanwhile nothing he comes to believe about her or his mentor is what it seems.  Following was made for a paltry $6,000 and is thus quite rough around the edges, but already Christopher Nolan showed his gift for labyrinthine storylines and devilish plot twists, two things he'd execute much more assuredly in his second film, Memento.





10. Tenet


Perhaps Nolan's most Nolan-est film was this 2020 puzzle box loaded to the brim with so much exposition he himself seemed to have trouble conveying it all.  John David Washington stars as The Protagonist, a CIA agent tasked with stopping a time-inverting terrorist plot that will create backward-traveling entropy and unmake the world as we know it.  Got all that?  Nolan as usual stacks the film with talented, capable actors and creates some truly unique set pieces, such as staging a fistfight while one participant is traveling forward through time and the other is traveling backward.  And while Tenet provides an entertaining, James Bond-on-conceptual-steroids cinematic experience, sadly some of the plot details get lost in the translation (not helped by the audio mix, which buries crucial dialogue under thundering sound effects).  Still Tenet is yet another innovative spy thriller from a director who loves his puzzles.





9. Insomnia


Nolan's remake of the 1997 Swedish thriller of the same title, Insomnia stars Al Pacino as an aging LAPD detective assigned to a murder investigation in Alaska during the "midnight sun" season.  The Pacino character accidentally kills his partner during a shootout, after said partner has revealed he intends to testify against Pacino in an Internal Affairs case.  Complicating the matter is the at-large murderer (a superbly creepy Robin Williams), who witnessed the shooting and attempts to blackmail Pacino into pinning the murder on the victim's abusive boyfriend.  What follows is a fascinating moral dilemma, where the flawed protagonist must choose between saving himself or bringing a killer to justice.  Insomnia takes the suspense thriller genre and turns it upside down, throwing curve balls at the audience every step of the way.  Pacino and Williams have splendid chemistry together, and Nolan's direction lends this noirish thriller a modern edge.





8. Dunkirk


Nolan's streamlined, visceral account of this World War II rescue tells the story from three different points of view: the air, the sea, and the land.  The film intercuts between the three locales, expanding time in some instances and showing us some of the same events from multiple points of view.  There's little historical context presented, so the material depicted must speak for itself and create an immersive viewing experience.  For the most part this element works, though I would've liked to see more about who these characters were and what the battle itself meant in the grand scheme of WWII.  You'll need to do a little homework to fully appreciate what's happening.  Still Nolan and co. deftly handle the genre, presenting a gritty, palpably harrowing war film and adding yet another impressive entry to his resume.


Monday, August 29, 2022

Top Ten Things: Martin Scorsese Films

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  These are ten of my favorite things.  That's how the song goes, right?


Martin Scorsese.  In my estimation there is no greater director in film history than the diminutive, sickly kid from Little Italy in New York who grew up with a passion for telling stories through the medium of film.  Scorsese spent his childhood looking out the window and observing people and events in his neighborhood, and this predilection for people-watching translated into some of the most incredible filmmaking of all time.  His films are often unforgiving looks at profoundly troubled characters, yet Scorsese finds a way for us to empathize with them, at least enough to want to spend a couple hours in their company.  Many Scorsese films deal with hardened street criminals, hearkening back to the seedy lot he observed in his neighborhood.  But while crime dramas are his bread and butter, Scorsese's filmography also includes religious epics, suspense thrillers, biopics, lush period dramas, and even lighthearted children's fare.  Even after forty-plus years Scorsese remains at the top of his game; in fact his post-2000 output ranks among some of his best work.  To this day any new film of his is event viewing, almost guaranteed to be one of my favorites of that year.

The following are my ten favorite Martin Scorsese films....




10. Cape Fear


One of Scorsese's rare remakes is this 1991 suspense thriller based on the 1962 Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum film of the same name.  Peck's role of besieged attorney Sam Bowden went to Nick Nolte, Mitchum's degenerate character Max Cady was played with gleeful menace by Robert Deniro.  The first thing Scorsese did with his version was to change Bowden from a virtuous family man to a morally ambiguous one who withheld evidence in order to get his client Cady convicted, and whose marriage is coming apart due to an extramarital affair and a strained relationship with his teenage daughter.  This change makes the Nolte character and his family even more vulnerable and fits in with the film noir trope of the flawed protagonist.  Deniro's performance of course steals the show; he is musclebound, ruthless, violent, and endlessly persistent.  This Hitchock-influenced genre exercise may not stack up with Scorsese's greatest work, but it did illustrate his ability to take an existing story and place on it his own distinctive stamp.





9. Casino


Casino plays almost like a sequel to Goodfellas, or at least a spiritual cousin.  Another epic, frenetically-paced gangster film based loosely on a true story, Casino chronicles the rise and fall of a Vegas gambling empire, once again pairing Robert Deniro with Joe Pesci.  Deniro plays Sam Rothstein, a mob associate brought in to run a mafia-controlled casino, while Pesci plays Rothstein's longtime friend, loose cannon enforcer Nicky Santoro.  Told from multiple narrative viewpoints, Casino shows in violent, gruesome detail the inner workings of 1970s mob-controlled Las Vegas.  Aside from Deniro and Pesci's legendary onscreen chemistry, Casino also boasts an Oscar-nominated turn from Sharon Stone, as Rothstein's materialistic, alcoholic wife Ginger.  Casino didn't quite equal the masterpiece that was Goodfellas, but it was a very worthy, provocative return to Scorsese's favorite genre.





8. Hugo


In 2011 Martin Scorsese's filmography took an unexpected 90-degree turn with this family-friendly, light-hearted tribute to the early days of cinema.  Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese's film follows the exploits of a young boy who lives in a Paris railway station.  Hugo's deceased father, an inventor, taught him how to repair clocks and instilled in him a love for film.  He befriends a young girl, Isabelle, whose stern uncle is revealed to be early film pioneer Georges Melies, director of the first science-fiction film, A Trip to the Moon.  After his career declined sharply in the 1920s, Melies became a disillusioned, bitter man who distanced himself from his prior calling.  Hugo and Isabelle work tirelessly to uncover the story of the forgotten auteur so the world can once again embrace his artistic contribution to the medium of cinema.  Scorsese's film is a delightful and colorful romp, made all the more whimsical by the use of 3-D cinematography, used here in a way that enhances the story and intensifies the experience.  Hugo is a rare film that can be enjoyed by any age group; it doesn't talk down to young audiences and it contains complex character arcs that older viewers will be drawn to.


Friday, August 26, 2022

Top Ten Things: Steven Spielberg Films

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!  You know how it works.  It's a countdown.  Of ten items.


Today it's the top ten films by one of the all-time great directors, Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg's extraordinary forty-plus-year career has given us multiple iconic films and he's renowned for his uncanny ability to craft intelligent movies we can all relate to.  Whether he's making a summer action movie or a thoughtful historical epic, Spielberg excels at imbuing his movies with substance.  His best work demands multiple viewings over decades, and there probably isn't another director alive who's repeatedly demonstrated such pure storytelling ability across such varied genres.

Here now is the list....



HM: Jurassic Park


In 1993 Spielberg created the definitive dinosaur movie, about a small group of scientists and children sent to a remote island near Costa Rica to be a focus group of sorts for the first-ever dinosaur zoo.  Predictably nothing on the island works properly, and thanks to a rogue IT manager the dinosaurs are able to escape their enclosures and wreak havoc on the park and its human occupants.  Jurassic Park doesn't contain much in the way of lofty concepts; it's simply a quintessential popcorn action-adventure with some of the best creature effects ever put to film.  This was one of the earliest movies to make extensive use of CGI, and for the most part those dinosaurs still hold up today.  As with Jaws, Spielberg was wise enough to let the human characters carry the early parts of the story so we care what happens to them, and built up to the appearance of each species of dinosaur.  The T-Rex sequence is a masterfully assembled piece of action-horror, and the later Velociraptor scenes work on the same monster movie level as some of the sequences in Aliens.  Three decades later Jurassic Park's flaws show through pretty clearly, but it's still a great example of Spielberg's ability to create crowd-pleasing entertainment that actually has a brain.





10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


The third and final chapter (Crystal Skull was just a bad dream...) of the Indiana Jones saga reminds me of Return of the Jedi in many ways, insomuch as the bulk of the story elements from the trilogy's first film are reused here.  Indy is up against the Nazis once again, racing to find a religious artifact that will allegedly render its owner invincible.  Indy's pals Sallah and Marcus Brody are back to join in the fun, and in a casting coup, Sean Connery plays Indy's father, who has spent a lifetime searching for the Holy Grail.  The action sequences, as good as they are, don't quite hold up to those of the first two films for me, and this movie's real strength is the interplay between Ford and Connery, who have perfect chemistry together.  Don't get me wrong, Last Crusade is a fantastic piece of summer moviemaking.  But it doesn't have the freshness of Raiders or the unrelenting pace of Temple.  So like Return of the Jedi it's simply a very worthy conclusion to the series (Jeezus, why couldn't they have left well enough alone??) that introduces a new side to the action hero we've all come to love.





9. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


The followup to the iconic Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom was, I believe, the first time anyone in Hollywood used the word "prequel."  For some reason Spielberg and Lucas set this movie a year before Raiders (Sort of an odd choice since it removes the suspense of whether Indy survives or not), and this one plays out like a standalone adventure, with Dr. Jones himself the only Raiders character present.  This time Indy has to retrieve a mystical stone which has been stolen from an Indian village by an evil underground cult.  This film pushed the limits of what could be shown in a PG-rated movie and set an exceedingly dark tone; there's human sacrifice, brainwashing, child slavery, people being crushed, people being eaten by alligators, and most infamously a dude having his still-beating heart ripped out of his chest.  In fact we have Temple of Doom and Gremlins to thank for the existence of a PG-13 rating.  Most (including Spielberg himself) consider Temple of Doom the weakest of the Indy trilogy, but I disagree.  I love how unapologetically dark this film is and how different it is from Raiders.  This movie might also have the most fun climax of any Indy film, with our heroes and villains fighting for survival while hanging from the side of a cliff (but only after a long and thrilling mine cart chase).  Temple also has probably the greatest booby trap sequence of all time - that scary room with all the spikes.  As a kid this was one of the earliest sequels I got to experience as it was coming out, and it still holds up for me as a tremendously fun roller coaster ride of a movie.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Cinema Showdown: Hulk 2003 vs. Hulk 2008

  

The Incredible Hulk is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters.  He is pure, unbridled rage.  Fury incarnate.  The perfect embodiment of what happens to us all when our emotions become too potent to control.  The meek, intellectual, physically limited Bruce Banner morphs into the mindless, gigantic destroyer known as the Hulk.  Few fictional characters are as universally relatable or recognizable, and this story is a natural for cinematic interpretation.

The late 70s saw a TV version of the character, as Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno costarred in The Incredible Hulk series.  The show was very popular but due to technological and budgetary limits it failed to fully capture the spirit of the comic.  Instead of being a giant with unlimited strength and near-invincibility, the Hulk was merely a large, very muscular man with green skin who never spoke and liked to throw people around.  The series was followed by three rather poorly-received TV movie sequels, and it seemed that a theatrical feature film based on the character would never happen.

Ferrigno oddly looks simian in that wig.  Hulkey Kong!

Top Ten Things: Quentin Tarantino Characters

What's up kids?  Time for another episode of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com, where I do a silly little countdown of.....things.


Today it's a list of my favorite characters from the films of Quentin Tarantino!  Mr. Tarantino has a tremendous gift for writing quirky, memorable dialogue in a way that helps establish clearly drawn, relatable characters, many of whom shouldn't be relatable given their occupation or role in the story.  QT is famous for writing scumbags, murderers, thieves and ne'er-do-wells as people we actually want to spend time with; they're regular folks just like us, except that they do awful things for a living.  Sure, there's the occasional legitimate "good guy" character, but almost everyone in Quentin's films is a shade of gray.  Regardless though, his characters are nearly always colorful, eloquent on some level, and above all unforgettable.

Here is a list of the best ones....



HM: Budd (Kill Bill)

Probably my favorite Michael Madsen performance is that of the alcoholic lowlife Budd, self-exiled from his brother Bill's crack team of assassins after a crisis of conscience, but still possessing innately acute survival instincts.  Budd's very posture says volumes - slumped over, defeated, resigned to a destitue life in a shabby desert trailer while working nightly at a local strip club.  The once accomplished mercenary now takes routine browbeatings from his boss and spends his free time getting liquored up and listening to Johnny Cash records, awaiting his fate at the hands of Beatrix Kiddo.  Madsen's work here is wonderfully nuanced and despondent, conveying Budd's sense of self-punishment; wracked with guilt over what he and his colleagues did to Beatrix but still ultimately loyal to his older brother, Budd is the only one on Kiddo's Death List 5 who gets the better of her.





HM: Elle Driver (Kill Bill)

Perhaps the most purely evil character in the Kill Bill saga is the callous, scheming, one-eyed assassin Elle Driver, played with depraved delight by the cast-against-type Darryl Hannah.  She only has modest screen time, but Hannah and QT imbue Elle with tangible malevolence, coupled with a mercenary's sense of honor.  Despite being former teammates with The Bride, it's established early on that Elle and Beatrix have never liked each other, yet they have immense mutual respect as professionals.  We first meet Elle as she plans on disposing of a comatose Bea via lethal injection, offering a peaceful death as a gift.  Later Elle double-crosses Budd by hiding a black mamba snake in his satchel of money, articulating her disgust that he of all people seemingly got to finish Bea off (a great monologue).  Elle is such a fascinating, shrewd villain I think she could carry her own movie.





HM: Shoshanna Dreyfus (Inglourious Basterds)

At first glance, Basterds seems to be mostly about Lt. Aldo Raine and his squad of Nazi-hunters, but the real central protagonist is Shoshanna Dreyfus, who barely escapes as her family is massacred in the first scene and assumes the moniker of French cinema owner Emmanuelle Mimeaux.  Dreyfus manages to keep her true identity secret from the Nazis even as her theater is selected for the grand screening of Joseph Goebbels' new propaganda film, and she concocts a plan to burn the place down with the Third Reich's high command trapped inside.  Played with beautiful subtlety by Melanie Laurent, Shoshanna is one of Tarantino's highly intelligent, crafty female protagonists.


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2021)

Well, as expected WWE's SummerSlam 2021 was yet another mixed bag of a show.  A few of the matches were very good, a few of the matches were utterly pointless, and God forbid we have a WWE PPV without a moment that flat-out pisses people off.  SummerSlam had all of these things.  Vince McMahon once again proved he could fuck up a bag of Doritos.


The PPV kicked off with the RAW Tag Championship, as AJ Styles and Omos defended against RKBro in a short but energetic bout that brought to mind old school PPVs where the opening match was just an easily digestible warmup.  AJ did almost all the work for his team and meshed well with both opponents, there were some fun spots later in the match as Matt Riddle took an Omos apron slam and an AJ moonsault DDT on the floor, perfectly executed.  It boiled down to AJ and Orton, who missed his first RKO attempt but scored on the second, pinning AJ to win the straps.  The crowd loved this title change and Riddle was ecstatic, and even Orton looked happy.  Decent little opener. 


Immediately the streak of good matches ended as Alexa Bliss faced Eva Marie in a useless regular match that didn't belong anywhere near a PPV.  There was no supernatural bullshit, which was good, but we were subjected to an Eva Marie match, which was bad.  Bliss hit Twisted Bliss off the top, followed by a DDT for the win.  I can guarantee this match did not garner a single ticket purchase or Peacock subscription.  Why was this on this show? 

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2020)

2020 was the year wrestling shows were mostly staged in front of no crowds due of course to the COVID 19 pandemic, and that year's SummerSlam felt those effects like every other show.  


The 2020 edition felt in a lot of ways like an old-school SummerSlam card, with only seven matches and a three-hour running time.  In that respect the show was somewhat refreshing.  It also felt like an old SummerSlam show due to the numerous big names missing from the card (AJ, Bryan, Owens, Zayn, Nakamura, Cesaro, etc.).  In that respect the show was somewhat stupid.

Kicking things off was the first of two women's title matches where Asuka was the challenger, and she took on Smackdown Women's Champion Bayley, with then-BFF Sasha Banks in the champ's corner.  Keep that in mind, as it would play into the story of both matches.  These three women nearly carried the show; Asuka and Bayley both worked hard to make this a strong opener, and it turned into a nice little rematch from their NXT rivalry.  There were some innovative moments like when Bayley countered an apron hip attack by catching Asuka's legs and slamming them into the edge of the ring.  Bayley then went after the injured leg, which would become a factor in Asuka's second match as well.  Asuka eventually snared the Asuka lock but Sasha distracted her from the outside and Asuka swung around with a kick to Sasha's head.  Asuka went for another apron hip attack but Sasha pushed Bayley out of the way and took one for the team, while Bayley got an airtight cradle to retain the belt.  Good, compact opening match with a well-executed screwy finish.


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2019)

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.  


The show kicked off with the Becky Lynch-Natalya submission match.  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 and easily one of Becky's best that year after her goodwill had been squandered for months in a feud with Lacey Evans.


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, 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.  


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.

Monday, August 22, 2022

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.

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

Friday, August 19, 2022

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.

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.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2013)

Goddamn, this show was awesome.  Maybe the best main roster PPV of this decade.  Certainly in the running anyway....

SummerSlam '13 - Staples Center - 8/18/13

After a slew of disappointing and lackluster PPVs in 2013, WWE finally brought the goods that August, presenting an absolutely killer Summerslam card.  The show was built around two incredibly intriguing main events and fan enthusiasm was riding high on the wave of Daniel Bryan's YES movement.  Much like the 2011 edition, this show is fantastic, but you should turn it off before the final minute.

The show opened with a real dud - Bray Wyatt's in-ring debut in an Inferno Match against Kane.  The Inferno Match first appeared in 1998 as Kane introduced the gimmick during his feud with The Undertaker.  That match was novel and somewhat entertaining, but this match was not.  It was too short to amount to anything and not much happened.  Fortunately this would be the only bad match on the card.

The former Rhodes Scholars faced off next, as estranged allies Cody Rhodes and Damen Sandow had a nice little six-minute bout.  It was well-worked and fast-paced, and while it could've been a bit longer, got the job done.

Highlight #1 of the night was up next as Alberto Del Rio defended the World Title against Christian in a superb 12-minute match.  The action here was crisp and agile, and these two worked great together.

Natalya then faced Brie Bella in something of a throwaway bout, but this was fine for what it was.  Nothing offensive here.

Highlight #2 was fifth, and boy was it a doozy.  Brock Lesnar faced CM Punk for the first and only time ever, in a brutal, intense, smartly-booked No-DQ match.  The month before at Money in the Bank, Paul Heyman betrayed Punk, costing him the briefcase, and Punk vowed revenge.  Heyman then brought back his number-one client Lesnar to take Punk out.  This match told a fantastic story of the giant bruiser pummeling his smaller, scrappy opponent who refused to back down.  Punk managed to outsmart and outmaneuver Lesnar throughout much the match which made for a believable back-and-forth contest.  Finally after several interference attempts by Heyman, Punk's focus shifted, allowing Lesnar to take advantage and score the win.  This was near-perfect for the gimmick.  My only complaint is that Punk fell for Heyman's interference too many times.  At a certain point he should've been smart enough to keep his eyes on Lesnar.  But otherwise, great, great match.

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2012)

Brock's first SummerSlam back in WWE has to be considered one of the more disappointing editions....

SummerSlam '12 - Staples Center - 8/19/12

One of the more disappointing editions occurred in 2012.  Here was a show that on paper looked quite stacked and featured a dream match with some real intrigue. 

Ten years earlier Brock Lesnar and Triple H were on top of their respective brands and arguably the "co-faces" of the company.  Before Brock's hasty departure in 2004 there were plans in place for these two to clash at the following WrestleMania.  Alas Brock's exit thwarted this plan and instead Dave Batista became the new monster babyface.  But in 2012 we would finally get to see this long-awaited battle, and given how well Lesnar performed in his big return against John Cena that April, it seemed we were all in for a treat.

Unfortunately Triple H proved to be one opponent with whom Brock didn't click in the ring.  This match was slow, plodding, and overall pretty dull.  The crowd was fairly anemic too which didn't help.  WWE made a mistake putting this match on last; had it been placed in the middle of the card maybe the crowd would've had more energy and wouldn't have expected this to save what had been a lackluster show.  Lesnar predictably won by "breaking" Hunter's arm, and this should've put an end to the rivalry.  But of course eight months later Triple H had to have a rematch, which as it turned out was even worse, and received with even greater apathy.


KA-BOOM!!

Side note about Triple H (indulge me for a moment): From an in-ring standpoint he really doesn't work as a babyface.  Hasn't since he turned heel in 1999 and became The Cerebral Assassin.  His whole character is based around being a dangerous, sadistic bastard.  His wrestling style is slow, methodical, and generally involves dissecting an opponent and trying to permanently injure them.  When you put him in the face role and expect him to carry the offense for the first and third acts of a match (traditionally the segments where the face is on offense) it makes for an extremely dull affair and doesn't rev up the audience like it needs to.  And for the middle third of the match when the heel is in control, the very nature of Triple H's character undermines the whole purpose of the second act - vulnerable babyface in peril.  Hunter's character is almost never presented as vulnerable, so there's no real suspense during his big selling segments and therefore nothing to root for.  End of tangent.

The rest of the show consisted of a series of decent matches, all of which would've been welcome on any episode of RAW.

Chris Jericho and Dolph Ziggler had a fine contest to open the show, and Jericho won his only PPV match of 2012 (even though Ziggler really needed a win here).  The following night they'd have a rematch where if Jericho lost he'd be fired (hmmm, that sounds familiar).  He did, and he was.

Nice girdle, fattie!

Next up was Daniel Bryan facing Kane.  These two had a very entertaining comedy feud which of course led to a wildly successful tag team run and demonstrated that Bryan was much more than just a technical workhorse.  This match was decent but nothing special.  They did what they could with the eight minutes allotted.