Tuesday, January 28, 2020

WWE Royal Rumble 2020: I'm Just Not Seeing It With Drew....

Soooo, that was a Royal Rumble. Nothing more, nothing less. It was alright. We got a couple decent Rumble matches, a couple very strong singles bouts, and a couple not-good matches. If part of the Royal Rumble’s purpose was to get people excited for WrestleMania, then this show was a bit of a failure for me. The three big matches set up so far don’t do much for me at all, and one match I do actually want to see doesn’t appear to be happening. Why the hell not I couldn’t say.

The show kicked off with an overlong bells & whistles brawl between Roman Reigns and Baron Corbin. This pairing has never done anything for me and this was no different. They fought in the ring for several minutes and then brawled all around the stadium; since it’s such a big venue this undoubtedly helped bloat the running time. Near the end of the match Roman locked Corbin in a porto-crapper and tipped it over. Uhhh, okay. Then both guys ended up on top of a dugout, where Reigns finished him with the punch/spear combo. At least the finish was fun. This didn’t need more than 15 minutes but it got 21. Shane vs. Miz at Mania 35 was more entertaining. **

The women’s Rumble was shockingly early in the lineup. This was definitely better than last year’s women’s Rumble but not a great one, and the wrong woman won. I cannot fathom how they justify Charlotte winning here when the moment was so clearly Shayna’s. On the plus side though, Shayna was booked like a monster for her four minutes, and Bianca Belair looked like a huge star in her 33-minute run. Each woman tossed out 8. Other than that we got a helluva run from Beth Phoenix, who withstood a bad cut on the back of her head and made it to the final three after tossing out her bestie Natalya (payback for 2018), a lot of overly quick eliminations of NXT stars, and for some reason no Sasha Banks. Is she hurt? It came down to Shayna vs. Charlotte, and rather than go the logical route set up at Survivor Series they had Charlotte head scissor Shayna over the ropes to win. Sooo, Charlotte vs. Becky for the thousandth time? Oh joy. Or worse, Charlotte vs. Bayley? Or does Bayley drop her title to Shayna and we get yet another triple threat? Can’t we just have the Becky-Shayna match we’ve been waiting for? This Rumble was fine but I didn’t like the result at all. ***1/2

Thursday, January 23, 2020

WWE Royal Rumble 2020 Preview & Predictions

It's the first WWE PPV of the new decade!  Let's get ready to Rumb-- wait, only five women have been announced for this thing?  Seriously WWE, let's get ready to Rumble, huh?  What the hell are you sitting on this info for?  Is it just gonna be 25 surprise participants?  When did this company forget how to hype a show?

The inaugural WWE extravaganza of the New Roarin' 20s is upon us, and like last year's Rumble it appears they've booked more matches than can possibly fit on the main show.  So get ready to see two or three of these bouts get bumped.  I for one can't believe how fast the last couple years have gone by.  The 2018 Rumble feels like it was one year ago.  The 2019 one feels like it just happened.  The 2000 Royal Rumble still feels like a state of the art event, as though it kicked off the current era.  And that was twenty goddamn years ago.  I'm gettin' too old for this shit.....

As is always the case nowadays, WWE's build for this event has been all over the place - sloppy, disorganized, and poorly communicated to us viewers.  Seriously, they've only announced five women for that Rumble match and there are basically no stories being told going in.  The men's Rumble at least has the Brock Lesnar "I'm so good I'm gonna enter at #1 and toss everyone out so there's no Title challenger" thing.  The women's Rumble has nothing.  What the fuck guys?  It's only the second-most important match on the show (maybe even first if Becky headlines 'Mania again).

Anyway, let's take a look at this card, which is not without interest but overloaded.

Sheamus vs. Chad Gable

I refuse to call Mr. Gable by the name they've given him.  Vince really is like a 12-year-old ("He's short, it's such good shit!").  I find this a very odd inclusion for the returning Sheamus.  Why not just put both of these guys in the Rumble?  This match hardly seems important enough to get its own slot.  Also why does Sheamus think Gable is the reason WWE sucks now?  Gable is one of several WWE stars who needs to get the fuck outta this place ASAP.

Pick: No way Sheamus is losing in his first big match back

US Championship: Andrade vs. Humberto Carrillo

This is a late addition for a championship that's been bouncing around like crazy lately.  Both these guys are hoping to take up Rey Mysterio's mantle as WWE's biggest Hispanic star.  Andrade has all the tools, to be sure.  Not sure yet about the other guy.  This match should be good but will also likely get moved to the pre-show.  Andrade should retain since he just won the belt, but maybe Humberto will help his stock even in defeat.

Pick: Andrade retains

Smackdown Women's Championship: Bayley vs. Lacey Evans

Well this is weird.  The former snobby heel vs. the former lovable babyface, roles now reversed.  I'll say this persona works much better for Lacey.  Why they didn't play up her military service to begin with I'm sure I don't know.  Let's hope she's improved in the ring over the last 12 months.  I don't think they have a WrestleMania season plan for the SD Women's Title at all, so this could go either way.  I'll pick the champ to retain I guess.

Pick: Bayley retains

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Movie Review: 1917

What a spectacular technical achievement is Sam Mendes's latest film 1917.  This simple story of a pair of World War I soldiers tasked with crossing No Man's Land to call off an impending British attack that will surely end in disaster is presented in a way that's so visceral and mesmerizing you won't be able to stop thinking about it.

Based loosely on stories told by Mendes's grandfather (a WWI soldier himself), 1917 is staged as one unbroken shot (there are edits here and there but except for one instance they're seamless), creating a sense of claustrophobia, tension and inevitability.  The film opens on our two protagonists dozing in a field, roused and called into the trenches to be briefed on their mission.  From the opening moments the camera drags us into the action, and for the next two hours we're never given a reprieve.  The technique forces the audience to become participants in these harrowing events, as Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield crawl through corpse-laden fields of mud and barbed wire, navigate abandoned German trenches, dodge crashing aircraft, and so on.  I won't say more about the story, as it's best to go in cold.  Were these events presented in a traditional way this film would perhaps not be as engaging, but that's sort of the point.  Like Saving Private Ryan, 1917 is about the "how," moreso than the "what."  It is designed to make the audience experience the film rather than just watch it.

The film's lead actor George MacKay gives an understated but note-perfect performance, reluctant to be a part of the mission at first, then determined to complete it at all costs, no matter the increased weight heaped upon his shoulders.  It's not a flashy performance but it's exactly the right one for this film, and mostly conveyed with facial expressions and physicality.

Friday, January 10, 2020

TV Review: Dracula (2020)

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss of Sherlock fame are back with another television take on an iconic character, this time in the form of a three-episode adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic Dracula.  And well, it's very good, but it's not Sherlock.  Or Dracula really. 

Image result for dracula netflix

The miniseries closely follows certain beats from the novel but deviates wildly from others.  Some of these inventions are effective, some not so much.  As someone who's been waiting three decades for a truly faithful screen adaptation (I love Francis Ford Coppola's version, and it's pretty close but still not totally authentic), I'm always vexxed when someone puts out a new Dracula film or TV series that almost compulsively reinvents the wheel.  First off, the book got this story right the first time; Stoker's version is absolutely loaded with chilling moments of dread.  Second, at a certain point the idea of "doing something different" is no longer doing something different.  If everyone is radically changing the story, your "bold new take" is neither bold nor new.  In this case Moffat and Gatiss start out with Stoker's material but diverge within the first half hour, to the point that by the end of the first episode we're in a totally different narrative space.  By the third episode we've strayed so far (aside from some characters and moments that parallel the novel) that the show can hardly even be called Dracula.

But enough about the show's lack of faithfulness.  Is it any good?  Yes, it's quite well-made.  As with Sherlock, the writing is crisp and darkly humorous at times (though often the dialogue is far too modern sounding), and information is doled out gradually, creating some shocking plot twists.  The performances are all strong, particularly charismatic Finnish actor Claes Bang as the Count (who's written a little too charmingly funny for my taste but that's not his fault), a suave, sardonic and pragmatic vampire who takes on the skills and personality traits of his victims and thus has to be discriminating about who he feeds on.  Another standout is Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha, an amalgam of a classic character and a new one, who serves as Dracula's crafty and resilient nemesis.  The cinematography and art direction are mostly impressive and atmospheric, often mirroring that of Coppola's version (though they sometimes betray the modest budget of a TV series as opposed to a feature film), and several of the visual choices are obvious nods to nearly every previous Dracula film (as well as moments that recall The Shining, The Fly, and Interview With the Vampire).  If nothing else this series certainly rewards sharp-eyed fans of the genre.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Night Two Review: Naito Reigns Supreme

If Night One of WrestleKingdom 14 was like an album A-side featuring two monster hit singles, Night Two was the B-side with deeper cuts but more consistent quality from song to song.  Of the eight matches on this show I'd only rate one below three stars, and while there was nothing on the level of the Ospreay-Takahashi or Okada-Ibushi classics from Night One (which would've been nothing short of miraculous), we got multiple ****+ bouts and a huge climactic moment.

Click HERE for Night One...

The main card kicked off with part 2 of Jushin Liger's retirement, as he teamed with Naoki Sano against Ryu Lee and brand new Jr. Heavyweight Champ Hiromu Takahashi.  This was fine, but nowhere near as fun as Liger's 8-man tag the night before, and at 12 minutes it felt longer than necessary.  I'd have liked a Liger-Takahashi singles match much better, but maybe the company didn't want to make Takahashi work back-to-back singles bouts.  After some decent back-and-forth, Taka pinned Liger with the Time Bomb finish.  The crowd was pretty dejected at Liger's loss, but it was the right move; Liger passed the torch to the new Jr. champion.  **1/4

Things ramped up quickly with the second match, for the Jr. Tag Titles, as Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo (both working as fantastic douchebag heels) faced Sho and Yoh.  The bad guys cheated like crazy and did a ton of unnecessary posturing to draw great heat, as RPG3K played the underdog babyfaces to the hilt.  Late in the match, during a ref distraction, ELP hit Sho with a low blow (a common move for ELP), only to find that Sho was wearing a cup.  RPG3K then hit a double-stomp/Shock Arrow tandem move on ELP to win the match and the belts.  This bout was super-fun and high-energy, and a great mix of athleticism and babyface vs. heel dynamics.  ***3/4 

The most unusual bout of the night was Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Sanada for the British Heavyweight Title, a mat grappling showcase where Sanada went hold-for-hold with the technical wizard.  Zack as usual had some great counters, like catching Sanada's standing moonsault into an arm hold.  Late in the match Sanada snared the Skull End several times (Zack is perfectly built to be put in this hold) only for Zack to escape or counter.  Finally after a series of cradle near-falls, Zack caught Sanada in a European clutch to retain.  I was shocked Sanada didn't win here and I wonder what the plan is after this.  Fun little technical match.  ***1/2

Monday, January 6, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Night One Review: Okada and Ibushi Make Art

The first-ever two-part WrestleKingdom is in the books, and it was overall a helluva weekend of pro wrestling.  The two shows played like a double album of sorts, with the first disc containing by far the two best tracks, and the second disc being a more solid overall album.  To break things up I'll review each show separately, so stay tuned for my Night Two review coming soon.

Night One took a while to really get going, thanks to three consecutive 8-man tags.  I would've liked another singles match in one of these slots rather than just trying to get everyone on the main card.  But the three openers were inoffensive at worst and were kept short.  The first of these was the best, thanks to Jushin Liger and his old-school pals (plus Taguchi) having one last romp to show off their stuff.  Everyone in the match looked great for their age.  After nine minutes Taguchi hit Liger with a Buma ye (that's Nakamura's finisher except with a hip attack instead of a knee), followed by a Dodon for the three-count.  I'd have had Liger win the Night One match, because why not?  He's in there with mostly other old-timers anyway, there's no torch to pass in this match.  But this was a fun opener.  **1/2

Next was Suzuki-Gun (led this time by Zack Sabre Jr. to hype his Night Two singles match) vs. LIJ (minus Naito of course).  This was technically the best of the 8-man tags but still too short to amount to much.  The story was Zack vs. Sanada, and Zack won the match by tying Bushi up in knots while smiling sadistically at his Night Two challenger.  This was fine.  **1/4

The final 8-man pitted Goto, Ishii, Yano and Yoshi-Hashi vs. Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi and NEVER Champ Kenta, in another match to hype a Night Two singles bout.  This was pretty basic, with the biggest spot being Ishii hitting a hard-fought brainbuster on Fale.  After all eight men started brawling in and around the ring, Goto hit the ushigoroshi followed by the GTR on Takahashi for the win.  Another serviceable but forgettable undercard match.  **

The 2019 Enuffa.com Pro-Wrestling Year-End Awards

Welcome to Enuffa.com's 6th Annual Year-End Awards

2019 was, putting it mildly, an interesting year in pro wrestling.  For the first time in nearly two decades, the industry juggernaut WWE faced real North American competition, in the form of Tony Khan and Cody Rhodes's brainchild All Elite Wrestling.  An upstart company that promised to be more fan-and-employee-friendly, that promised to make wins and losses matter, and that promised to present a more sports-like atmosphere than WWE's three-ring circus, AEW launched its weekly TNT program Dynamite to mostly positive reviews and solid ratings, winning the first seven head-to-head weeks (It's been a see-saw battle since then) against the revamped NXT show.  Even more impressive was the near-instant sellouts of the company's first two PPV events, Double or Nothing and All Out (the latter of which saw upwards of 80,000 people vying for seats.  The company isn't without its flaws, as was expected for a brand-new promotion, but with Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, Cody, Chris Jericho, and WWE deserter Jon Moxley as their core main event crew, plus a host of promising young stars, AEW is a breath of fresh air in what had long been a stagnant North American wrestling landscape.  If nothing else their existence will hopefully force WWE to put more effort into their creative and worker harder to keep employee morale up.

AEW's top stars sadly came at the expense of NJPW, who found themselves in a bit of a lurch immediately following WrestleKingdom 13.  Amazingly though, as they'd done in 2016, the company adjusted quickly and put the focus on a crop of new and up-and-coming stars, selling out Madison Square Garden (the first non-WWE promotion to play there since 1961) and once again delivering loads of great matches and moments.  Impact's parent company Anthem purchased AXS TV, which also cost NJPW their weekly American time slot, but I don't doubt New Japan will find a workaround.

As for NXT, WWE's third brand had maybe their best creative year, delivering multiple yardstick TakeOver specials and amassing one of the best rosters in the business.  The AEW situation has been great for NXT, as the company is now motivated to treat the former developmental brand as a full-fledged part of the whole.  Given how badly the main roster squandered all the 2019 call-ups, I've about gotten to the point that I hope no one from NXT ever gets called up again.

Speaking of the main roster, there's probably never been such a collection of wrestling talent so badly used, ever.  RAW and Smackdown are bursting with great athletes and somehow they have no idea how to utilize any of them.  Pushes were bungled (perhaps intentionally in some cases), payoff matches were poorly booked, undeserving people were elevated and overexposed, angles were dropped without warning, PPV lineups were thrown together last-minute.  2019 provided so much more evidence (as though we even needed it) that the industry passed Vince McMahon by a long time ago and he needs to step down.  It's gotten so embarrassing I can't imagine how bad things will be in ten years if he's still there.  I skipped six main roster PPVs in 2019.  I haven't done that since 2010, and that was back when you had to pay for them.  For someone like me (a WWE Network subscriber since Week One) to not bother watching nearly half the company's PPV events in a given year, things have to be in really rough shape.  2020 isn't looking very promising for the red and blue brands.  Were it not for NXT I'd have likely dropped my Network subscription already.

But enough grim news.  Let's do something fun.  Let's hand out some pretend awards!

Friday, January 3, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 14 Preview & Predictions

A new decade dawns.  A new Tokyo Dome extravaganza looms.  A new kind of supercard is born.

Welcome to a special edition of PPV Predictions, here at Enuffa.com!  It's the beginning of a new year, and that means it's time for NJPW to drop a 500-megaton PPV Awesome-Bomb on all of us.  This year's WrestleKingdom is a two-parter, and if all goes well it could be the template going forward, not only for New Japan but for WWE's WrestleMania and perhaps other super-shows.  WrestleKingdom 14 will take place on January 4th and 5th, with 16 main card matches plus four pre-show bouts over the two days.  The first night is built around the huge G1 Climax A-Block rematch, Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Title, plus B-block rematch Jay White vs. Tetsuya Naito for the Intercontinental Title, while Night Two will see the winners of those two matches face off to become the first-ever Double Champion.  This pair of shows should have far-reaching consequences for NJPW's Big Four guys and will set the stage for the company's attempted US expansion in 2020.  My biggest hope for New Japan in 2020 is that they partner with AEW.  Both promotions would benefit enormously; AEW could use New Japan's top stars to boost their own ratings, while New Japan's US footprint would be greatly expanded by their stars appearing on TNT.  It's a win-win.  Make it happen.

But enough about that stuff, let's predict some WrestleKingdom matches...

Night One

Jushin Thunder Liger, Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke & Tiger Mask vs. Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa & Ryusuke Taguchi

This eight-man tag will be Liger's penultimate match and is mostly a throwback bout for the old-timers.  It's all about the nostalgia, and I expect Taguchi will do most of the heavy lifting.  It won't go very long and probably won't earn a ton of stars, but it should be a fun little pre-sendoff for Liger.

Pick: Team Liger obviously has to win

Evil, Sanada, Shingo Takagi & Bushi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi & El Desperado

Of the throwaway matches on these two shows, this has the most potential.  There's a ton of talent in this match and a strong faction vs. faction vibe.  It's also the only main card match for Suzuki, Evil, Shingo and Bushi, which is very sad.  That's actually really wrong when you think about it.  Anyway, hopefully these guys will get enough time to make the match count and be set up for something bigger in February.

Pick: I'll go with LIJ

Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Kenta, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi

Ishii is another great talent being criminally shortchanged on these two cards.  You mean to tell me you couldn't find a singles match, out of sixteen main card slots, for fucking ISHII?  This match is all about previewing Kenta vs. Goto on Night Two.  It'll be brief and energetic, with some good hard-hitting exchanges.

Pick: Chaos