Thursday, September 24, 2020

WWE Clash of Champions 2020 Preview & Predictions

Ugh, there's another WWE PPV this weekend?  I didn't even do picks for the last one because I didn't even realize it existed.  Who in the fuck schedules a PPV a week after SummerSlam?  What is this, 1991?  Instead of Payback they should've called it This Sunday In Suckville.

Anyway, Clash of Champions is this Sunday and we have another pretty half-assed lineup from the 'E.  A few big picture notes first though.  Roman Reigns is back, he's the Universal Champion (way to bury The Fiend again by having his second reign last one week), and the good part, he's a heel aligned with Paul Heyman.  That there is alright by me.  Of course it's four years too late; they should've turned him in 2016 when Seth Rollins came back from his knee injury.  But at least they finally came to their senses about Roman.  As a heel his character is actually compelling. 

In other news Retribution, despite repeatedly attacking WWE employees over several months, are now WWE employees.  Sure, that makes a lotta sense.  Also the male members are named Mace (that's alright), T-Bar (uhhh), and Slapjack.  S-slap...jack?  Isn't that a children's card game?  When a jack is turned over you have to be the first to slap it?  That's what I think of when I hear that word.  Jesus H. Christ this creative team is devoid of ideas.

But back to the PPV lineup, once again not much of interest on this show.  I guess it's made my decision to cut the WWE cord that much easier, I have not once regretted missing a main roster PPV since.  And considering how messy NXT's booking has been during the Wednesday Night War I honestly haven't been that upset about missing TakeOvers.  Let's pick some winners....

Pre-Show RAW Women's Championship: Asuka vs. Zelina Vega

1. Why is Asuka on the pre-show?  2. Why is Vega getting a title shot?  3. Why is Vega even being used as a wrestler?  She's a great manager/valet.  She's not so good in the ring.  This is pointless.  Squash City.

Pick: Asuka retains

US Championship: Bobby Lashley vs. Apollo Crews

Jeezus, Crews has been feuding with The Hurt Business since roughly 1927.  How many iterations of this feud are we being subjected to?  I'm inclined to stick with Lashley retaining but they could have Crews finally win back his title to end the feud. 

Pick: I'll go with Lashley retaining

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

RIP Road Warrior Animal (1960-2020)

Well, 2020 has punched us in the gut yet again.  Joe Laurinitis, better known as Road Warrior Animal, has passed away at age 60, joining his long-departed comrade Mike Hegstrand (Hawk).  No word yet on the cause of death, but it's unfathomably cruel, this wrestling business that has taken so many so young.  

I first became aware of The Road Warriors in 1985, when one of my friends procured a Best of the AWA tape which spotlighted AWA Championship matches (the centerpiece was Rick Martel winning the title from Jumbo Tsuruta).  After the main content was over, the tape featured trailers for other tapes in the collection, one of which spotlighted The Road Warriors.  Already a huge fan of the 1981 film The Road Warrior, I immediately took notice, marveling at these two larger than life, facepainted monsters obliterating everything in their path.  Animal in particular stuck out to me thanks to his mohawk, which recalled the charismatic villain Wez from the film (shoutout to Vernon Wells).  Every time I visited my friend's house I'd insist on rewatching that tape, and the clips of Animal and Hawk were the highlight for me. 

That VHS cassette and the Saturday morning cartoon Hulk Hogan's Rock n' Wrestling were my dual gateways to becoming a fan of this bizarre form of entertainment where musclebound guys (and gals) pretend to beat the shit out of each other.  A year later I began watching the WWF religiously, but not long after that I discovered the NWA, whose roster to my surprise and delight now included Hawk and Animal.  It didn't take long for the duo to become my favorite tag team, their presence and mystique so compelling as to defy the concept of "workrate." 

Not that Animal and Hawk couldn't work a match; quite the contrary, their athleticism between the ropes stood in stark contrast to their enormous stature.  Here were two of the most powerful men in the sport, each able to military press an opponent over their heads, who could also hit dropkicks and flying clotheslines and shoulderblocks.  On top of that, The Road Warriors (along with rivals like The Midnight Express) took tandem wrestling moves to a new level, inventing several devastating-looking combinations, the most famous of which of course is the Doomsday Device, for me the greatest tandem move in wrestling history.  Animal would lift an opponent onto his massive shoulders and Hawk would level him with a flying clothesline off the top rope.  The first time I saw this move I just about soiled my trousers.  It became the yardstick for tag team finishers and it's been copied and tweaked numerous times by others. 

Top Ten Things: Directors' Second Films

And we're back with Ten more Things at the Top.  

Since I just posted a list of the all-time best directorial debuts, I thought I'd follow it up with a list of the best "second" films, i.e. sophomore directorial efforts.  Some filmmakers knock it out of the park on their first try.  A few of those repeat that accomplishment on their second attempt, solidifying their reputations as truly gifted filmmakers.  But sometimes a first-time director is limited by budget or time constraints, or lack of proper distribution, and doesn't get to fully realize their vision or garner the appropriate level of appreciation until their second film.  This list is a mix of those two categories.  But first, some honorable mentions.....

Honorable Mentions

Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010)

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

The Green Mile (Frank Darabont, 1999)

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2001)

Braveheart (Mel Gibson, 1995)

10. Reqiuem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)


Visually inventive and uncompromisingly weird, Darron Aronofsky announced himself as an exciting new director with 1998's Pi, a psychological thriller about a mathematician with delusions of persecution.  He followed it up two years later with this deeply upsetting ensemble piece about four people with debilitating drug addictions that, despite its severely disturbing nature, really should be required viewing for all teenagers.  Sporting strong performances by Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans, and an incredible, Oscar-worthy turn from Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream pulls zero punches in depicting the self-destructive toll the characters' addictions take on their lives.  In adapting Hubert Selby's unflinchingly bleak novel, Aronofsky found a unique visual and editing style to make the movie feel unlike any other.  It's the most unconventional cautionary tale ever put to film.

9. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)

As a music school alum (a jazz-dominated school at that), Whiplash's subject matter immediately caught my attention.  But then it defied my expectations of being a Mr. Holland's Opus-esque movie where the student and the hard-ass teacher grow to respect each other and a father-son bond is forged.  Nope, Whiplash wasn't like that at all.  The teacher Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) is vulgar, brutally tough on his students, unapologetic, and grandiose.  And the student (Miles Teller) is stubborn, ambitious to a fault, and singlemindedly obsessed with being the world's greatest drummer.  By the end of the film his goal is not to gain Fletcher's respect, but his awe.  This film is centered around this power struggle, and it's absolutely riveting.  Simmons delivers a career performance (not to mention some of the most creative swearing I've heard in years), and Teller announces his arrival as a top-notch young actor.  Whiplash was apparently loosely based on writer/director Damien Chazelle's own music school experiences, and he brings a very personal touch as well as a captivating visual flair.  Whiplash is one of the best music-related movies I've ever seen, and a tour-de-force from a young filmmaker with only one previous feature under his belt.

8. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)

Three years after his brutally frank take on the IRA hunger strikes of the early 80s, Steve McQueen returned with an intimate character study about Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a New York yuppie with a crippling sex addiction, whose life is thrown into disarray when his estranged sister Sissy (played with quiet despondency by Carey Mulligan) comes to live with him.  Brandon's daily routine involves an endless string of joyless sexual encounters and self-gratification, and Sissy's presence forces him to examine his own dysfunctional existence in growing distress.  Fassbender is an Oscar-worthy revelation in this film, creating a potpourri of emotional turmoil and powerfully conveying how imprisoned Brandon is by his compulsions.  This film could just as easily be about a heroin addict or an alcoholic and it would play out almost the same way.  Despite only being Steve McQueen's second feature film, Shame already demonstrated his virtuosic skill as a director.  As with McQueen's other two films, Shame is nearly impossible to put out of your mind.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Top Ten Things: Directorial Film Debuts

Welcome to yet another edition of Top Ten Things, here at  Things, ten of them, at the top.

Today I'm talkin' about directorial debuts.  I forget how this popped into my brain, but one day I just started thinkin' about which first-time directors ended up defying the odds and making lasting pieces of cinematic art.  With most talented directors their first films show at least some promise, even if they either haven't found their voice or simply didn't have adequate funding to realize their vision.  Then you get situations with a James Cameron directing tripe like Piranha II: The Spawning, just a gifted aspiring filmmaker looking to get his feet wet.

But sometimes a newbie auteur gets it just right on his or her first try and delivers a great film right out of the gate, taking an established narrative form and giving it a new spin, or inventing a new genre altogether.  Below are ten such examples (but first some honorable mentions).  Note: This list only includes debut feature-length films, not shorts.

Honorable Mentions

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005)

Anchorman (Adam McKay, 2004)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)

Blood Simple (The Coen Brothers, 1984)

Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)

10. Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)

The movie that launched Kevin Smith's View Askew-niverse, Clerks is a quintessential indie slacker comedy, about two best friends stuck in a go-nowhere convenience store job trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up (amid discussions about Star Wars, Gatorade and relationship troubles).  Shot in grainy 16mm black & white, the entire film takes place over the course of one day, chronicling our hero Dante's misadventures, from closing the store to play hockey on the roof, discovering a dead customer in the bathroom, and ruining his relationship with his current girlfriend to rekindle one with his ex.  The film showcases Smith's gift for writing quirky, articulate, often vulgar dialogue and inventing memorable characters, the most lasting of which are View Askew anti-heroes Jay & Silent Bob, two drug dealing miscreants who spend all day loitering in front of the store.  Smith's inexperience as a first-time director shows in Clerks, but the script and atmosphere are so strong they make up for the film's lack of polish.  I still consider Clerks to be his best movie.

9. Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)

The future director of the smash-hit Wonder Woman movie began her career behind the camera with this haunting bio of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a Florida prostitute-turned-murderer who was executed by lethal injection in 2002.  Without excusing Wuornos's seven murders, Monster presents her as a severely damaged woman who was dealt a terrible hand from childhood and felt she had no other recourse but to rob and kill.  Boasting a scorchingly exquisite lead performance from Charlize Theron (for which she won a well-deserved Oscar), Monster focuses on the person behind the heinous acts, showing us how and why she arrived at them.  This film is pretty note-perfect and it's quite shocking that Jenkins didn't direct another feature film until Wonder Woman.

8. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)

Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut based on his third screenplay (His first two, True Romance and Natural Born Killers, would later be directed by Tony Scott and Oliver Stone, respectively), Reservoir Dogs took the heist film and turned it upside down, presenting the events in question almost as a parlor drama.  Instead of a long buildup to the heist followed by an action centerpiece, Dogs briefly introduces the characters and then spends the majority of the film on the aftermath of a job gone horribly wrong, without ever showing the heist itself.  Structurally I had never seen anything like this before, and it illustrated Tarantino's ability to play with time and sequencing while indirectly revealing information about the characters; we see the heist's aftermath sprinkled with flashbacks focused on key players, so the plot information is doled out sporadically (One of the robbers is suspected of being an undercover cop, and we don't get the reveal until an hour in).  With uniquely musical dialogue, grisly, stylized violence, and strong performances by veteran actors like Harvey Keitel (whose enthusiasm for the project essentially got the film made), Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, Reservoir Dogs announced Quentin Tarantino as a maverick new filmmaker.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

NJPW G1 Climax 30 Preview & Predictions

2020 has been an all-out shit show, but at least there's one constant still intact, and that's NJPW's G1 Climax tournament.  Pushed back to September due to the Olympic Games being booked in Japan, this year's G1 probably couldn't have happened properly if slated for its usual July-August timeframe.  So serendipity prevailed in the end.  This lineup is appropriately stacked as all G1 tournaments should be.  Let's take a look at the block lineups, shall we?

I was worried that due to COVID travel restrictions we'd get a watered-down G1, but fortunately we have a full roster again this year (minus Jon Moxley), and thus loads of potential for four weeks of great wrestling.  This year the G1 cards will only consist of the five tournament matches each night, which will make things a little easier to keep up with.  As always this tournament will have Tokyo Dome ramifications; no word on whether WrestleKingdom 15 will be a two-night event like 14 was.  But enough setup, let's dive in....

A Block

Kazuchika Okada

The company Ace has been without the IWGP Championship since January and always has to be a block favorite, especially when he isn't the champ going into the tournament.  Betting on Okada to win the whole thing is never a bad move.

Kota Ibushi

That said, Ibushi has so much to prove this year, having won last year's G1 but come up short both nights of WrestleKingdom 14.  He and Okada had the 2020 Match of the Year (I don't see anyone topping that bout in 2020), but he failed to unseat the champion, and then on Night 2 he took a screwjob loss at the hands of Jay White.  So Ibushi also has to be a favorite to win and redeem himself at the Dome.

Cinema Showdown: Manhunter vs. Red Dragon

"I am the Dragon. And you call me insane. You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing. You are an ant in the afterbirth. It is your nature to do one thing correctly. Before me, you rightly tremble. But fear is not what you owe me.....You owe me awe!"

These chilling words from serial killer Francis Dolarhyde, the fearsome villain of Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon, sum up perfectly his deranged mindset and motivation for murder.  He believes that killing families and arranging them like dolls will transform him into a god.  FBI Agent Will Graham, possessing a gift for empathizing with murderers, has been assigned to chase down Dolarhyde with help from famed sociopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Red Dragon has twice been adapted for the screen - first in 1986 as Michael Mann's thriller Manhunter, starring William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox; and again in 2002 as a direct prequel to the suspense classic The Silence of the Lambs, starring Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, and of course Anthony Hopkins.

Manhunter was met with mixed reviews and anemic box office receipts but has since become a cult favorite on home video.  Red Dragon was fast-tracked following the massive financial success of Hannibal, and itself made a hefty profit and garnered generally positive reviews.

But which version is superior?  I will assemble a case, comparing the various aspects of each film, from casting/performances to sets to music, and decide definitively which adaptation works better.  ***Note: Interestingly both directors used Dante Spinotti for cinematography.***


Will Graham: William Petersen vs. Edward Norton

***Another Note: Hugh Dancy of the TV series Hannibal is actually the best onscreen Will Graham to date, in my opinion, but I'm only discussing the two films at this time.***

Both of these actors are quite talented and, in portraying the protagonist of this story, play to their individual strengths.  Petersen plays Graham as an emotionally wounded man, just barely recovered from his former profession of tracking serial killers.  His final assignment, capturing Hannibal Lecter, left him mentally broken and he subsequently spent time in an institution to heal his own psychological scarring.  Petersen's Graham carries an overwhelming hesitancy throughout the film, as he isn't sure he is up to the task of catching one more murderer.  Edward Norton's Graham seems less emotionally affected by his run-in with Lecter; his reluctance to participate in the Tooth Fairy case is borne more out of responsibility to his family and the fact that catching Lecter almost killed him (During the opening credits we learn that Graham was in a coma for a time).  So this Graham's motivation is a bit more physical in nature than that of his counterpart.  Norton is probably a bit more business-like, Petersen is more haunted.  Both of these interpretations of the character work fine, but I'll give a slight nod to Norton because he's just a more compelling actor than Petersen.  I think Norton more cleverly carries us through the process of Graham's work (and that's partly due to the script as well) while expertly portraying an everyman we can identify with.  Petersen's Graham is so morose it's sometimes hard to like him. 

Point: Red Dragon

Jack Crawford: Dennis Farina vs. Harvey Keitel

Again we have a close battle, as both actors are accomplished character veterans who tend to more or less play the same type of role - a grizzled but likable tough guy.  They both portray Crawford in the same way, and in both cases it works fine.  But for me the definitive Jack Crawford will always be Scott Glenn, who brought a sly intellectualism to the role and made you unsure if you fully trusted Crawford.  So since neither Farina nor Keitel quite nailed the character as I prefer him, I'll call this a push. 

Point: Draw

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Top Ten Things: Family Ties Episodes

Welcome to another television-related Top Ten Things, where I'll pick my ten favorite episodes of a classic show.

Today it's the unforgettable 80s family sitcom that launched the career of Michael J. Fox, Family Ties!  When I was a kid, Thursday night primetime on NBC was unfathomably awesome.  For a few years you had The Cosby Show (fuck you Bill...) at 8pm, Family Ties at 8:30, and Cheers at 9.  Three of the greatest television shows ever, back-to-back-to-back.  Man, those were good times.

Anyway, Family Ties ran seven seasons, chronicling the goings-on of the Keatons, your average midwestern middle class family, but with a twist.  See the parents, Steven and Elyse, were ex-hippies who spent their college years steeped in the 1960s anti-war, peace & love movement, while their eldest son Alex was a stuffy, business-obsessed Republican who dreamed of becoming a powerful Wall Street executive.  This flipped the usual sitcom dynamic of the strict parents and the rebellious teenager.  Running contrary to most family TV shows, Alex (Michael J. Fox in the role he was born to play) generally didn't get into trouble with his parents in the traditional sense; instead their conflicts stemmed from their opposing ideologies and Alex's overactive ambition.

The two Keaton daughters were also wildly divergent characters.  Mallory the middle child (Justine Bateman in an often underrated performance) was a more typical teenage character - struggling at school and focused on her social life - while the youngest (until season 3) Jennifer was a precocious preteen who later displayed advanced intelligence and academic drive like Alex, albeit with much more compassion.  Then there was Andy.  Introduced in season three as a way to explain star Meredith Baxter-Birney's real-life pregnancy, Andy didn't become a full-fledged character until season five, when they magically aged him from toddler to preschooler so he'd have a speaking role.  Child actor Brian Bonsall was passable in the part, with stilted delivery but occasional moments of genuine sweetness and humor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Parents' Night In #44: Leon The Professional (1994)

Kelly and Justin are back (in our new house!) for a movie review of another film we bonded over before we were dating, Luc Besson's action-drama masterpiece Leon!  Starring Jean Reno as Leon, a scenery-chewing Gary Oldman as DEA cop Norman Stansfield, and an 11-year-old Natalie Portman as Mathilda; Portman proved even at her young age to be a prodigious onscreen talent.  Leon (or The Professional) as it was called in the US, is the story of a socially stunted Italian hitman who develops a close relationship with an orphaned girl, taking her under his wing as she vows revenge on a crooked DEA officer (Oldman, our favorite of all his performances) who killed her family.  Leon is full of intense, violent set pieces but also contains touching, delicate moments between its two protagonists.  An underrated gem of a film. 

Intro song contains a snippet of Sting's "Shape of My Heart," backing music from Chris Jackson Music -

Parody lyrics:

You know that your hosts are named Justin and Kelly
You know that the jokes are fueled by the booze
You know this podcast belongs in the bin
And that it's called Parents' Night In

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Top Ten Things: The Office (US) Episodes

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

Today I'll be talking about my ten favorite episodes of one of my all-time favorite TV series, the US version of The Office (The original UK one is great too, but I'm partial to the American remake).  For nine years (six of them consistently excellent) The Office reigned as one of the most beloved shows on television.  Who can't relate to an awkward boss, dysfunctional co-workers, and office crushes (My wife and I met in much the same fashion as Pam & Jim, three years earlier, so this arc resonated with us on a profound level)?  The show had it all - memorable characters, palpable tension between its romantic leads, engaging storylines, and above all, truckloads of uncomfortably hilarious moments.  It lost its way a bit toward the end, as most sitcoms do, but taken as a whole The Office holds up as one of the great TV shows of the past thirty years.

But which episodes are the cream of the crop?  Well it's a difficult question to answer since a) there were so many and b) some of the best story arcs on the show took place over multiple episodes (The Michael Scott Paper Company saga for example).  But I think I've narrowed it down to my ten favorites, in chronological order.  Here goes.....

1. The Dundies

For my money Season 2 was the show's best.  The abbreviated first season wasn't quite enough time for the show to find its true voice and set itself apart from the UK version (though it did have some great episodes in its own right).  But in the second season all the actors fully settled into their characters, the Jim-Pam storyline surged to the next level, and we were treated to a bevy of classic episodes.  The first, and possibly my favorite single episode in the show's entire run, was the season premiere, "The Dundies," wherein Michael and his employees have an outing/awards show at the local Chili's.  Pam gets hammered (Pammered?) and flirts with Jim all night, Michael bombs as the Dundies host, and we get to see all the characters outside their work setting.  This episode is probably the one that got me hooked.

Best Moment: A shitfaced Pam yelling into the camera, "I would just like to say that this was the BEST. DUNDIES. EVER!! WOOOOOOO!!!"

2. The Fire

Another laid-back scenario from Season 2, "The Fire" sees our office workers stranded outside the building after a fire breaks out in the kitchen, and numerous parlor games ensue, including "Desert Island Movies" and "Who Would You Do?"  We also see Jim interacting with his new girlfriend Katy (Amy Adams, introduced in Season 1), Michael trying desperately to become Ryan's mentor, and Dwight discovering the source of the fire: Ryan's cheese pita, prompting the best line in the episode.

Best Moment: Dwight, presenting the charred cheese pita to the camera, performs a revamped verse of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire":  "Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television, North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Mon-roe, RYAN STARTED THE FI-YAH!!"

3. Christmas Party

The first Christmas episode of the series (one of three such episodes on this list - hey, I'm a sucker for holiday-themed sitcom episodes) sees the office holding a Secret Santa party.  Jim gets Pam in the drawing for the first time and buys her a teapot, but stuffs it with little personal gifts like his high school photo (which she found hilarious when she first saw it).  He also includes a card that expresses his hidden feelings for her.  But Michael throws a wrench into the works when after receiving a hand-knitted oven mitt from Phyllis, he changes the Secret Santa into a Yankee Swap.  Now everyone's gifts are up for stealing, and Jim's thoughtful gift to Pam finds its way into Dwight's hands.  The entire office rejects Michael's self-absorbed power play and abandons the proceedings, after which Michael makes a liquor store run to win them back.  This is yet another episode where we get to see everyone interacting in a more informal setting (Apparently I really like episodes like this) and it really captures the mood of office holiday parties.  Of course in the end, Pam, who had ended up with an iPod (Michael flagrantly overspent on his Secret Santa gift) trades it back to Dwight so she can have Jim's teapot, but Jim chickens out about the tell-all greeting card and secretly removes it from the box.  His confessional would have to wait until our next entry....

Best Moment: Michael opens his gift from Dwight, a bag of paintball pellets and a piece of paper entitling him to two paintball sessions with Dwight.  Michael gripes, "How is that better than an iPod?" and Dwight replies, "I never said it was better than an iPod."  Michael then takes Dwight's rubber elf ears off him and bounces them off Dwight's face before storming off.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Top Ten Things: Unnecessary Movie Remakes

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!  I am your host, Justin, and I'll be bitching about something most would consider trivial.  But ya know, that's my thing.  So stick it.

Today I'll be talking about an issue that's plagued Hollywood for many years - particularly this century - the unnecessary remake.  Remakes are nothing new; the early decades of cinema saw countless movies done over, to take advantage of ever-improving technology and greater budget availability (just like now).  Plus it was a way for the studios to make easy money with a known title and not have to come up with original ideas (just like now).  Sadly these remakes often failed to live up to the artistry and craftsmanship of the original versions (just like now) and many of them fell by the wayside.  In the last fifteen years or so it seems just about every film churned out is either a remake, a sequel, a reboot, a prequel, a requel, a threequel, a squeakuel (okay that one just applies to the Chipmunks), and any new ideas get squeezed out of the mix except at Oscar season.  Some of the remakes in recent years have been downright baffling, in many cases at the expense of original films that absolutely got it right the first time.  So let's take a look at some of those....

10. The Karate Kid

Directed by John G. Avildsen of Rocky fame, The Karate Kid tells a similar story of an unlikely underdog's one chance at redemption.  Danny Larusso is the new kid in a California suburban school, who immediately runs afoul of some local bullies who also happen to be martial arts students.  After taking a few beatings from these kids, Danny enlists the help of the superintendent of his apartment building, an old Okinawan by the name of Mr. Miyagi.  The film follows Danny's unorthodox training and builds to the karate competition where Danny overcomes the odds and wins the whole thing.  This was a truly inspirational 80s film that has aged fairly well despite some cheesy moments and its similarity to Rocky.  But in 2010 Will Smith co-produced an "update" starring his son Jaden as the titular "Kid" and Jackie Chan as the Miyagi character.  While it got mostly positive reviews, it just struck me as cheap exploitation of a known brand (Lots of that going on in Hollywood), and I can't imagine anyone deeming it the definitive version, nor do I recall anyone clamoring to see it remade.  Makes one wonder when an ill-advised Rocky remake will see the light of day.

9. Psycho

Speaking of remakes no one asked for, in 1998 Gus Van Sant released his homage/shot-for-shot recreation of Alfred Hitchcock's iconic thriller.  This version would be in color, thus robbing the film of the original's distinctive look, and aside from a few shots now made possible by updated technology (the opening crane shot into the hotel room window for example), Van Sant offered literally nothing new.  He used the original shooting script and didn't make any changes to the story, nor did he try to make it his own.  This was nothing more than a vanity project, akin to a contemporary band covering a classic old song note-for-note, resulting in a banal sound-alike.  This doesn't even cover the senselessly inappropriate casting of Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates in a performance that can't hold a candle to Anthony Perkins' original.  If I ever said "Let's watch Psycho" and the person I was hangin' out with popped in the 1998 version I'd punch them square in the face.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Movie Review: Tenet - teneT :weiveR eivoM

Christopher Nolan's latest opus, Tenet, may just be his most confounding film yet.  Part spy thriller, part Nolan sci-fi-infused puzzle, Tenet works best if you go in cold.  To that end, I'll keep this review as spoiler-free as I can.  But be warned....

Tenet stars John David Washington as an unnamed CIA agent who, after proving himself in the field, is let in on a top-secret mission involving a conspiracy to "invert" objects, or send them backwards through time.  You see, somewhere in the future, someone came up with a plan to undo decades of environmental damage, and its unintended side effect was that a weapon of mass destruction has now been inverted in time, threatening to wreak havoc so widespread it would unmake the world.  Washington's character now has to find and destroy this weapon to save all life on Earth.

This is a pretty out-there concept, even for Nolan, but as usual he makes it work for the most part, employing state of the art special effects, taut screenwriting, novel sci-fi gimmickry, and strong performances (Washington makes an excellent, relatable protagonist, his sidekick Robert Pattinson a slyly charismatic partner, Kenneth Branagh a palpably menacing Russian oligarch, and standout Elizabeth Debicki a sympathetic, damaged woman as Branagh's kept wife) to create a smartly-devised summer blockbuster.

Where Tenet falls short for me is largely dialogue-related; even when you can understand what the characters are saying (which is rather inexcusably seldom - who the hell mixed this movie?), the film hurtles along so quickly it's often a strain to keep up with the rules being established and what they mean for the characters.  Nolan has never been one for audience hand-holding, and usually that faith in his viewers' intelligence is welcome, but here I felt like he assumed a little too much.  A key action sequence is outlined by a character at such a frenetic pace I finally had to throw my hands up and just let it unfold, and when it was over I asked myself, "Wait, why did they need to fight this battle in both temporal directions?"  After watching the film I looked up the synopsis on Wikipedia and was stunned to find out how many expository details I'd missed.  Nolan films almost always benefit from repeated viewings, but this was the first one where I was literally unclear on multiple story points after the first watch.

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Dune

Good day and welcome to Awesomely Shitty Movies!  Each installment will focus on a film that, despite considerable and crippling flaws, I can't help but like or even love.  These flaws could be with the script, the acting, the special effects, the cinematography, or all of the above, but in each case the movie has something going for it and I'm inexplicably fascinated by it, despite its ineptitude.

The first movie I'll be tackling is David Lynch's commercially and critically reviled adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel Dune.

I was nine years old when this movie was released, and being a huge fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, I was immediately drawn in by the promise of sci-fi adventure.  In some ways the story of Dune resembled Star Wars (or really the reverse is true since the book was published 12 years before Star Wars was released) - a young hero with budding supernatural powers, a desert planet, laser guns, weird creatures, etc.  What I got though was a horribly confusing mish-mash of geo-political, religious and sci-fi themes overrun with baffling inner monologue narration and overly bizarre and gross-looking characters.

To be fair to Mr. Lynch, the studio interfered greatly during post-production and the theatrical cut was very different from what he intended.  Unfortunately he has all but disowned this film and has no interest in releasing a Director's Cut, which might actually make the story easier to follow.  There is a 3-hour version of the film available but Lynch had no hand in it, and from what I understand it actually confuses things even more.

Dune was originally supposed to be adapted into a film in the mid 70s, with famed Alien artist H.R. Giger attached as a production designer.  That incarnation went over-budget and never saw the light of day, and eventually in the 80s producer Dino DiLaurentiis acquired the project and David Lynch ended up in the Director's chair.

Anyway let's examine what's awesome about this movie, and then we'll talk about what's shitty.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

AEW All Out 2020: Their Weakest PPV So Far

AEW All Out 2020 is in the books.  It was a solid show with several good matches but I have to say I thought this was their weakest PPV effort thus far.  Whether it was the unbearable heat (95 degrees and humid - such is Florida in early September), or the fact that the only actual fans in the venue were far from the ring and thus mostly inaudible (I'm not sure why the wrestlers at ringside have toned down their "fan" reactions; they were working so well), overall this show didn't capture the AEW magic like the others have.  It was by no means a bad show but also not the great one it had the potential to be.

Things kicked off in less-than-stellar fashion with the goofy Tooth and Nail match; this was supposed to have been on the pre-show and probably should've stayed there.  Britt Baker and Big Swole brawled mostly throughout a dentist's office that was pretty obviously a set inside Daily's Place.  The action was pretty generic Attitude Era hardcore match-type stuff.  Baker at one point tied Swole in her dentist's chair and tried to use a power screwdriver on her (I'm not sure why they didn't make available an actual dentist's drill), followed by a syringe full of novocaine.  But this backfired and Swole injected the novocaine into Baker's leg, punched Reba through a framed diploma, and put a gas mask on Baker causing her to pass out.  Swole was declared the winner.  This was dumb and not at all a good choice for an opener.  *

The true opening bout was The Young Bucks vs. Jurassic Express.  This was wildly energetic, athletic showcase that was tailor-made for an opening slot.  The story here was the Bucks becoming more and more aggressive, playing the heels to Jungle Boy's underdog character.  Luchasaurus hit a couple of big dives, including one over the barricade onto several bystanders.  Unfortunately this kept him indisposed as Matt and Nick hit a pair of superkicks on Jungle Boy (one echoing the famous Shawn Michaels-Shelton Benjamin spot).  But Jungle Boy kicked out of both pin attempts before the Bucks hit the BTE Trigger on him for the win.  This was a fine contest and the best thing on the show for most of the show.  ***3/4

Thursday, September 3, 2020

AEW All Out 2020 Preview & Predictions

Alright, back to predicting wrestling shows I actually care about.  Let's talk about AEW All Out!

This Saturday is the second annual All Out event (hard to believe it's been two years since the original All In, which was the first non-WWE event in 20 years to sell over 10,000 tickets and set this whole AEW thing in motion).  Once again AEW has assembled a very promising lineup with a good mix of established former WWE and NJPW stars and homegrown talent.  Correct me if I'm wrong but I think this is the first AEW PPV to feature a homegrown guy in the World Title match, and they picked a great talent with which to start that trend.  Anyway, let's look at the lineup...

Pre-show match: Britt Baker vs. Big Swole

Britt is finally returning to the ring after several months on the sidelines.  But she was hardly idle, beautifully developing her new heel persona along the way.  That's how you handle an injury, folks.  She and Swole have been itching to fight for months and it's actually strange this is on the pre-show for that reason.  The match is called a Tooth and Nail match.  No idea what that means, but I'm assuming some kind of no holds barred situation.  Since Baker is the one they've been building up this whole time she's gotta be the winner.

Pick: Britt

Casino Battle Royale

The winner as usual gets a future World Title match, which of course eliminates over half the participants.  And of course we have four mystery combatants, which means one of those folks is almost certainly winning the whole thing.  But for a moment let's leave the TBDs out and look at who we do know is in it.  Right off the bat we can disregard Ricky Starks, The Butcher, The Blade, Eddie Kingston, Shawn Spears, Billy and Austin Gunn, Santana, Ortiz, Chuck Taylor and Trent.  So that leaves six of the known names.  I'd say Pentagon and Fenix probably won't win either but they could be longshots.  So that leaves Darby Allin, Lance Archer, Jake Hager, and Brian Cage.  Allin and Cage both got title shots recently so they're out I think, which leaves Archer and Hager.  I could see either of them winning and getting a crack at Moxley; I think Archer would give him a better match, like the one they had at WrestleKingdom.  So if it's one of the 17 names we already know, I'll go with Archer.  But ultimately it's always a safe bet to go with a surprise entrant.

Pick: One of the TBDs, or Lance Archer

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Top Ten Things: Fawlty Towers Episodes

Welcome to yet another edition of Top Ten Things, where I pick my ten favorite of somethingorother....

Today what's on my mind is the classic British sitcom Fawlty Towers (which is streaming on Netflix as we speak), one of my all-time favorite comedy series.  Created by John Cleese and then-wife Connie Booth, Fawlty Towers takes place in a shoddy English hotel run by an eminently rude, impatient man and his rather domineering wife.  Supported by a clever, quick-thinking waitress and a bumbling Spanish waiter, the hotel and its staff get into various misadventures and hilarity ensues by the truckload.

Cleese's inspiration for Towers was a hotel called The Gleneagles, where he once stayed with the Monty Python cast.  Flabbergasted by the rudeness of its owner Donald Sinclair, Cleese mined this character for all the comedic material he was worth, and in the process created an incredibly funny, highly influential series.  As with most British sitcoms each season consisted of only six episodes, and Cleese and Booth only made twelve total, with a four-year lag between seasons.  This means of course that only two episodes failed to make this list of ten - "The Builders" and "The Kipper and the Corpse."  Don't get me wrong, there's nary a bad episode of this show, but for one reason or another these two episodes rank at the bottom for me, mostly because they both veer too far into slapstick for my taste.

But here are the top ten in my estimation.....

10. Basil the Rat

The final episode of the series deals with the hotel being given a health code citation for numerous violations.  While the staff scrambles to rectify these issues and avoid closure, Manuel's pet rat gets loose, triggering a whole new set of problems.  This felt like a good way to end the show, as certain recurring jokes had reached the end of their shelf life.  But it was good for one last hurrah, culminating in the trademark zany Fawlty humor.

Favorite Moment: The health inspector reads a laundry list of health violations and Basil responds with "....Otherwise okay?"

9. The Anniversary

Probably the wackiest episode (Polly even mentions the Marx Brothers in this one), is #11, wherein Basil plans a surprise anniversary party for Sybil but pretends like he's forgotten their anniversary altogether.  This of course backfires as Sybil leaves in a huff just before their friends arrive, and Basil decides to pretend Sybil is upstairs sick in bed.  One of my favorite aspects of this episode one of Basil's friends, Roger, only half-heartedly going along with the ruse despite clearly knowing something's up, and repeatedly toying with Basil.  This episode is probably the most "sitcom-ish" but still has a ton of laughs.

Favorite Moment: Another of Basil's friends mentions she saw Sybil driving around in the town and Basil covers it up by claiming that's another woman who looks like Sybil.  When the real Sybil comes back, Basil pretends she's the fictitious lookalike and locks her in the kitchen while he says goodbye to his friends.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

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 31, 2020

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

Thursday, August 27, 2020

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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

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.


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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2011)

Now this here was a goddamn SummerSlam, my friends.....

SummerSlam '11 - Staples Center - 8/14/11

SummerSlam 2011 rocked my nuts off.  In the summer of 2011 (WWE's Summer of Punk), the company managed to throw together two epic, amazing PPVs in a row - something they hadn't done in literally years (2001 was probably the last time).  The one-two punch of Money in the Bank and SummerSlam is one of the best pairs of PPVs I can remember.  Of course they screwed everything up royally after this, and even the immediate Money in the Bank followup was kind of a mess.  But that didn't stop this show from being one of the best SummerSlams of all time*.

*As long as you turn it off before the last minute of the show.

The opening match was a helluva fun six-man tag where Rey Mysterio, John Morrison and Kofi Kingston faced off against The Miz, R-Truth and Alberto Del Rio.  There wasn't anything epic about this match, but it was a good old-fashioned hot opener that was presented as a bonus bout.  I love a good six-man to kick things off.

Next was the re-energized Mark Henry, now packaged as an awesome wrecking machine, against the newest babyface Sheamus.  Prior to this Henry push I never thought I'd be interested in any of his matches, but this was a damn fine slugfest that ended with a broken security barricade and a countout win for Henry.

Speaking of wrestlers whose matches I wasn't supposed to like, Kelly Kelly was next, defending the Divas Title against the always fantastic Beth Phoenix.  Beth should've won the belt here but this match was stunningly good and displayed Kelly's in-ring improvement toward the end of her run.

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2010)

WWE catches lightning in a bottle, and then throws it away....

SummerSlam '10 - Staples Center - 8/15/10

This here is what you call a one-match card.  The summer of 2010 belonged to the WWE-Nexus feud, and it culminated in a huge elimination tag match at SummerSlam (this probably should've happened at Survivor Series, but whatever).  The match was so big there was little room left on the card for an undercard.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston opened the show, and these two worked well as always.  Unfortunately the Nexus interfered seven minutes in and the match was thrown out.  So pretty pointless.

Melina vs. Alicia Fox had the obligatory forgettable Divas Title match.  The Divas division was still full of interchangeable model types who swapped the belt back and forth like a tube of sunblock.

CM Punk went from new headliner in 2009 to fodder for The Big Show in 2010.  Show beat Punk's entire Straight Edge Society (a fantastic gimmick that never got the respect it deserved) in a 3-on-1 handicap match.  Always a great idea to have three people lose to one.  Does wonders for the three.

A forgettable WWE Title match was next as Randy Orton challenged Sheamus.  These two had worked together before and they would again.  Only one of their matches really clicked for me and this wasn't it (Hell in a Cell 2010 - check it out).  This was the second Championship match on the card to end with a DQ of some kind, which further made the undercard feel phoned in.

Look how spiky Sheamus's hair was.  Kinda looks like Sonic.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The History of WWE SummerSlam (2009)

We're back with another installment of's SummerSlam history - finally they rediscovered strong SummerSlam lineups....

SummerSlam '09 - Staples Center - 8/23/09

Finally, FINALLY in late 2009 the WWE was starting to reinvigorate the product with some new faces in prominent spots on the card.  After years of the same five or six guys headlining every show, a few young lions were beginning to break through and the results were pretty exciting.  Also, in contrast with earlier SummerSlams, this show wasn't missing many active stars and nothing felt like it got shortchanged (with one obvious exception).

To open the show we got a blistering speed vs. flash match for the I-C Title between Rey Mysterio and Dolph Ziggler.  Dolph had been around for most of the previous year but it was around this time that his in-ring skills were starting to click.  Working with Rey doesn't hurt of course, but I became a Ziggles fan during the second half of 2009, in no small part due to his work here.  A helluva nice way to kick off the show.


A nondescript Jack Swagger vs. MVP match was next.  Both of these guys showed some solid potential but the company didn't really move on either of them, and this was your garden-variety free TV match.

Tag Team Champions JeriShow defended against Cryme Tyme in a surprisingly good bout.  JeriShow were able to restore a bit of prestige to the long-useless Tag straps, and this was just one of their successful defenses.

In one of two baffling inclusions on this card, we saw a rematch from WrestleMania 23 as Kane once again took on The Great Khali.  This match sucked just as much as the first time, and oddly no one cared about it.