MPW8 another week in wrestling: NXT & CWC, September 7, 2016

Damn there is a lot to catch up on in el Mondo de pro wrestling, so I’m going to try to keep the focus narrow and get right down to business, which was always kinda the idea to begin with.

NXT, September 7, 2016

The GOOD

TM61 VS Davari and Neese

This was a great match, indeed great use of some of the wrestlers involved in the Cruiser Weight Classic, no longer in the running to win the tournament, to add some variety and exciting matches to the program. TM61’s finisher looked strong as well as their clothesline game. Neese was impressive with quick kick combinations. The show would benefit a lot from continued use of CWC related talent in the mix

 

Asuka’s promo

Asuka speaking in English here felt more natural than when Hideo Itami took a turn the week before. This promo benefitted from ocassional lapses into Japanese to add intensity. The idea of her being a completely dominant champion was forwarded. A trick about the English skills improving, that I think would benefit both Asuka and Itami – it is said that for Japanese in particular who learn English, there is a lot of word by word translation in the mind. That could be the cause of the slower deliberate delivery. Some coach or coaches on hand (my services are available…) should instill the notion of ‘thinking in English’ to get them on their way.

 

Ember Moon VS Leah Von

I loved Leah Von’s music. Simple, a bit on a post punk or surf rock tip, stood out for its simplicity. I hope they keep it and don’t try to razzle dazzle on every track because that will get old fast. Ember Moon continues to have a very impressive look and her finisher holds a lot of anticipation.

 

Austin Aries VS Cien Almas

Aries also has some excellently suited and underrated entrance music. It goes perfectly with the notion of a big ego coming through. Cien did not connect with me here as well as at Takeover. I think the only way to go with him is take out and REBUILD. If they go for something heroic, flashy, not cool and loose like the hat and baggy ring wear they will be on the right track. That or make him a smug heel.

 

Nakamura VS Steve Cutler

 This was simply a great exhibition of Nakamura’s amazing move set. Meanwhile Joe sitting in on commentary, speaking very quietly and looking on with quiet intensity promises something more down the line with him and Nakamura.

 

Nothing all that BAD or WEIRD

 

The TAKEAWAYS

This was a perfectly good episode of NXT. A nice balance of technical matches (the opening tag) and I don’t think you ever want to have an episode without at least one of these, new talent looking strong by going over up in dominant fashion, and promo work done to develop feuds. Hopefully with more intensity as it gets closer to big show date.

It did occur to me there is something in the way of cleverness and humor missing lately compared to NXT circa 2 years ago or even last year. Perhaps some effort could be made to get back to that.

In Asuka, Ember Moon, and what Sanity could very well be like, there is a strong notion of fantastical character in the women’s division. The type that might draw in a different audience than wrestling programs often get, one that might draw the interest of young women seeking powerful role models or perhaps into comic book, anime, or cosplay scenes. This has unique potential.

 

CWC, September 7, 2016

As it gets closer to the finals there is not much to it but for the matches to speak for themselves. Here were too great ones, the first extremely sound technically, the second with a bit more flair. They were a bit less exciting than the previous week’s pair of quarter final bouts because the styles of each opponent were similar rather than different.

The GOOD

Zack Sabre Jr VS Noam Dar

This was again very unique territory for WWE programming with its focus on submissions. The story became Noam Dar working Sabre’s weakened leg while Zack Sabre jr. attacked Dar’s compromised arm. Noam sold brilliantly, showing a lot of pain and emotion, and really waking me up to his potential in this round of the tournament. He had some extremely impressive looking offense at times. There was a slight bit of feeling awkwardness regarding timing, only because they were taking their time and building what really felt close to being an athletic competition. Sabre Jr. hits these incredible moves where he jumps or lunges at Dar and in the process ties him up and works in very domineering submissions.

 

TJ Perkins VS Rich Swann

This was also a very good match, highlighting more showmanship. They actually managed to work in a sequence where Rich Swann dabbed, taking a page from Perkins’ style, and as a result Perkins got incredibly pissed off. Serious heat over a dab! Perkins’ incredible moves included sling shotting himself over the ropes into a swinging kick to his opponent on the outside with a huge arch. He also landed a great suplex combination. Swann landed an amazing variety of mid-air kicks throughout the match. A solid injury story made this a compelling match, with Perkins taking the win but showing his concern for his friend immediately afterwards. It is a great thing that both these guys are signed to RAW.

 

The NOT COOL

It is very cool that the crowd is very much into the matches, and that they had a favorite in Rich Swann, also cool. But for them to yell ‘bullshit’ after the match was a bad note to end on. The match was over, so the chant came off like that off a bunch of spoiled brats. Get into it but don’t be jerks.

—–

The stage is set for a very impressive final show this Wednesday. It will take a page from impressive NJPW tournaments where other matches are incorporated into the show – here being Gargabno and Ciampa in tagteam action. These guys make a great team and a rematch with The Revival is much anticipated, but with this being a very eventful time period for Gargano already, one wonders if intrigue will be pushed further with the more experienced Ciampa turning on Gargano in the midst of his meteoric rise?

MPW7 Another Week in Wrestling: Smackdown September 6, 2016

This week’s Smackdown Live again brought a program that missed a couple steps but was, overall, a good time thanks to a steady dedication to building solid builds and having a bit of fun. It could only get better as the roster quality improves on the whole. This week’s edition also boasts what I would consider the best…the BEST….segment of the Raw/Smackdown Live continuum for this week. As far as WWE programming, it will surely have some stiff competition in the Cruiser Weight Classic the following day.

Let’s break it down.

 

(New Category) THE BEST

 American Alpha VS The Usos

 For all the star power and big time drama abound on RAW, this simple, old school injury-based angle with a couple of twists accomplished so much and set up so much. It was a joy to watch. We were taken a bit by surprise with the Usos storming in to attack American Alpha before the bell rang, expecting heel-ish tactics to perhaps come after a loss tonight. And the loss came but also, BAM, right away. It effectively set up a scene where the Usos could have been embarrassed, and it also got the desired job done without wasting time. Then we had a situation where the Usos could have again led us on and showed their change in persona at the special, but we got it immediately instead and it paid off. The manner of taking out Gable’s leg looked and felt severe. A sufficiently big deal was made of this by several ensuing replays and references on commentary. Now we have a whole match between two accomplished tag teams, which really didn’t happen yet, and has a LOT of heat around it, to look forward to at some point down the line.

The Usos also had a very real, unscripted feeling promo afterwards. It wasn’t the most smooth or coherent delivery, but it didn’t need to be, and played nicely off of genuine negative reactions the Usos have gotten from audiences in recent months. Hmm, I wonder what other wrestlers would benefit from a change up in persona due similar circumstances? Renee was also fantastic here, displaying quiet disgust with what she just saw these guys who she had been chummy with just a few weeks ago had done. The Usos would also let loose a tweet referring to the change in character, nicely paralleling the story on the show.

 

The GOOD

Miz VS Crews

This did not appear to be the most exciting booking – a rematch from Summerslam. But it was an OK match that ended cleverly, managing to accomplish a lot. Miz looked competent in his winning way via devious tactics as he took advantage of Dolph Ziggler’s presence, misdirecting Crews and Ziggler toward each other and then Crews into the ring post shoulder post, allowing for him to hit his finisher and pin in the ring. Ziggler was perhaps a bit perturbed by Crews colliding into him for his troubles. And it could tease dissension between Ziggler and Crews, but this was not at all played up – a bit of a ball drop in my opinion. Then again Ziggler was very vocal about Crews’ potential later on Talking Smack – it could be some foreshadowing if Ziggler were to turn heel?

Crews also continues to look great in the ring. He hit the same moonsault spot in the narrow space between the ring and fans out on the floor. He worked the impressiveness of it afterwards, high fiving fans sitting nearby. What is missing for Crews is a win. I fear his character does not look good with loss after loss, and should definitely get some matches against jobbers to bolster him up.

 

Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella, and Naomi VS Natalya, Alexa Bliss, and Carmella

This had a slight air of rehash to it at first, being another Summerslam rematch, but the match really picked up toward the in the end, was solid. There was a lot of fast paced action. Carmella looked like a stronger contender than ever as she tapped Nikki out with her neck lock finisher, The Code of Silence. Alexa Bliss also looked impressive with the punishment she doled out on Nikki. Naomi’s new raver entrance and upbeat style of fighting also suits her well.

I think in the future, mixing things up a bit would be go a long way in keeping the show from getting stale. Instead of all of the women in one big match, how about pairing 2 and 2 for a tag match, and pairing the other 2 women in the division into a singles match. I also understand Becky’s character has a bit more charm than her straight shooting serious persona in NXT, but I would really like the exaggerated expressions outside of matches to be toned down. It is sometimes distracting, and she should be taken seriously for all of her talent.

 

Rhyno and Heath Slater VS The Hype Bros

This was a good match. The balance of comedy to serious action was in the right proportion with all of the wrestlers putting on a match with some suspenseful spots. Rhyno and Heath definitely have momentum going into Backlash where many are pulling for Heath to get a contract.

 

AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose talk some smack

Both guys looked and sounded alright here. Delivery was not wooden, not overly goofy. Styles is the real revelation here, though, continuing to command the mic, slow down the pace or turn up the volume when needed. He exuded confidence. I also like that the brand is not giving away the show by having these guys lock up in some kind of match right before they face each other on a special. This builds far more anticipation.

 

The BAD

 That Wild and Crazy Dean

 There was just a bit of Dean being silly and mock crazy at the beginning of the show; just enough to remind that this is not a good direction for him. The trophy he presented to AJ was a bit silly but had a purpose, and the fire of his verbal attack on AJ Styles was stirring. Please just do away with all unnecessary goofy scenes with Ambrose.

 

The cast of the Smackdown Women’s Division in DRAMA

These promos where one wrestler talks. Then is interrupted by another wrestler, who talks. Then is interrupted by another wrestler, who talks and so on and so forth are terrible. They feel totally disingenuous and are often peppered with the most corny lines of any given show. These segments seem to be reserved for the women on the show more often than not. Let’s do away with this stale form of storytelling.

  

Bray a rockin’ and a ‘ramblin’

I have liked Bray Wyatt’s presence and style of delivery lately, which makes this return to murkier and less compelling presentations a shame. As a rule of thumb too, if a segment is being shown live, with audience reaction included it should be live, with the performer working the crowd. If it is on a screen, then it might as well be prerecorded, and might as well be given some cool edits and effects. Bray sitting back in his rocking chair, talking archaically with (gasp) FOG entering the picture is not rousing any excitement. Bray should be getting more aggressive and energetic in his manner of presentation.

 

The WEIRD

 Randy Orton

 Randy Orton seems to be a hot character, still evoking his uphill battle at Summerslam, where was savaged but came right back to work following the bloody match. Instead of hitting RKO’s out of nowhere he has been trying to keep up with Bray’s odd storytelling mode. And this time he spun a real yarn. It was more confusing than Heyman and Stephanie’s segment on RAW the week before. It would be bad, just plain bad, but it was so….strange, it ended up keeping my attention. Orton’s lashing out on twitter to a critical fan afterwards was priceless.

 

 ——

After the dust settled, Talking Smack turned out to be a solid addition to the show. Daniel Bryan is the real star, really feeling like he is talking genuinely about the things he liked about the talent on the show – I love how he put over Ambrose and AJ Styles as performers, dissing the competition, and making slip ups that show his human side and turn into humorous banter with Renee (‘isn’t it the Hype Brothers??). They advanced the angle of Gable’s injury with Shane updating us on his condition and they discussed how it would play out on the special, giving Talking Smack some exclusives for Network viewers. Shane’s aura felt very awkward, making me cringe as though I was in the room with the three of them, but a little uptightness doesn’t hurt in fact it also lent an air of realness to the way their interactions came off.

 

MPW6 Another Week in Wrestling: RAW September 5, 2016

This week’s RAW had an extremely high level of anticipation attached to it, after the surprising finish involving Triple H’s run in, attacking Reigns and, more shockingly, Rollins, before giving the nod to Kevin Owens to grab the victory and Universal championship. The finish was so left field that it surpassed the level of intrigue of even new roster addition Finn Balor contending for the championship before his untimely injury.

The show was a strange assemblage of strong and weak performances, moments that capitalized brilliantly on the buzz coming off the previous RAW while others never quite fit in with anything else going on, and a feeling that a very exciting potential direction was started upon, but with one step out the door, was left in disappointingly familiar territory.

Let’s get into it.

RAW September 5, 2016

The GOOD

Opening montage of most excellent moments and mentions on social media.

 The opening segment was perhaps a bit of overhype, making the closing moments of the last RAW’s fatal four way the wrestling media event of the century, throwing in quotes from all corners of twitter. But, a bit of hyperbole is what you want to get you psyched up about what you are about to see.

 

Mick and Stephanie and Kevin and Seth

The first two segments were all a good blend of drama and story advancement outside the ring. It was especially good to see Mick Foley out of his usual flannel and something along the lines of more serious attire. He was also given reason for a more fiery delivery, and it gave so much more purpose to his character. Seth’s entrance feels a bit more dynamic with the digitized bursts of static, black, and white and it lending a look of someone fans would want to get behind. Stephanie’s exchange with Foley made sense and created some questions to mull on and Kevin Owens did what he’s been doing great at for some time: play an obnoxious self promoting grumbling heel, who very quickly gave the fans grief even as he acknowledged their cheers of approval for his victory.

 

Mick and Stephanie and Kevin and…Chris

After a commercial break, Mick and Stephanie were still talking. This time about the decision Mick had just made to book Rollins and Owens in a match at the Clash of the Champions special, and not kotow to Stephanie who wanted to suspend Rollins. Some seeds of dissent sown among these two managers makes for fertile storytelling ground down the line, even though the fact that there was more talking after talking sowed the seeds of potential boredom as the show wore on.

It was good to see the alliance between Jericho and Owens continue, as they make a great team. This also veers from the tired formula of heel champ backed by a corrupt authority collective. Jericho delivered some classic instances of humor, such as referring to Owens as the ‘longest reigning Universal Champion.’ Great because it’s true!

 

 Charlotte VS Bayley

 This was a fine match, with Bayley looking great in action. Her win was a nice way to shake things up and since it had Dana arguably botching things to lead to the finish, Charlotte escapes with some credibility as champion still. Bayley started selling an ankle injury that started to feel genuine. I’m beginning to wonder if this will be an increasingly used strategy on WWE’s part to keep us guessing about the reality of what is happening in the ring. It’s not a bad idea, but they had better watch out lest they overplay this hand. It was also a bit sudden for such a big match and result, something that would occur later on too – big moments would not have fully sunk in when suddenly, another big moment, leaving an inability to fully absorb.

 

Don’t Stop Bo-Lieve-ing

It’s good to see Bo Dallas back with a weirdly intense new persona. I think it has more potential than the overly comedic version of the character. And this match also proved that yes, smaller wrestlers can gain a lot from squash matches too. NOTE TO SMACKDOWN LIVE: Let’s try a run of these with Apollo Crews too.

 

Rollins VS Jericho

This was a good match that accomplished a lot. Rollins had some heroic attributes restored by him powering through The Walls of Jericho submission. His acrobatic maneuvers proved to work very well, much better even, as delivered by a fan favorite babyface, such as propelling off the ropes and landing a kick in midair to counter his opponent’s offense.

One note I’d disagree on is that doing the Pedigree is an effective message sent to Triple H, something the commentators, at least Cole, tried to assert. Byron Saxton seemed out of the loop with this. I think a better message would be him using a new finisher, as if to say ‘screw you Hunter, I don’t need this move or anything to do with you anymore.’ I am sure he has plenty of interesting maneuvers in his repertoire to choose from.

 

 Two Gee’s and a Baby

It is good to see a renewed focus on Enzo and Cass as a tag team. Their opening antics were as funny as ever. On paper, the idea of what they did would surely sound corny. A lot of the lines they uttered were also ridiculous but their singular and confident delivery makes their material work so well. I did not mind The Shining Stars winning (by somewhat devious tactics) because it allows for the rematch and Enzo and Cass really do not lose much popularity by taking the occasional loss.

 

Kevin and Sami promo

Despite it being a contradiction of their feud getting a dramatic finish just a few Network specials ago, it is very cool that these two have this built in story involving their previous history wrestling together in Ring Of Honor and on the indie scene in general. It makes for great reality based promos like this one. Still for this to be returned to so soon after making a point of them being finished feuding for a while is strange. There was also something a bit wooden about the delivery on Zayn’s part, like he was given a bunch of lines to remember. These two should be left to improvise.

 

The BAD

Sheamus VS Cesaro: Best of 37

 This was actually fine as far as ideas go. Instead of the expected back and forth, Cesaro is way down in wins and needs three victories in a row to be back in the running. And sure he will get them. Unfortunately, this idea was lost on a dead crowd and it’s hard to blame them because very little was done to get them enthused. In cases where wrestlers like Cesaro and Sheamus are failing to get a reaction, I am beginning to think it should call for INSTANT TWEAKS. Not major changes, of course not, but just an attempt at a little something in their presentation to wake the audience up a bit.

 

Guns and Gallows and Gramps and Groans

Anderson and Gallows have a reputation for being funny, bantering with each other on their homespun podcast that once was featured on the MLW network and injecting some sneaky humor into their work in NJPW. But the ratio of mean ass kickers to humor should be 70 percent of the former and 30 percent of the latter. Or thereabouts. This one liner based humor revolving around an old version of The New Day is not it. Maybe it would have worked if they came out and then Gallows and Anderson simply beat them up, but no enter The New Day. The New Day has become known for creative humorous segments that they lead, not reacting to the material of others. It feels like Enzo and Cass are at where The New Day was, and now The New Day is languishing. We need a refresher on their in-ring work, and I think it would really help for them to be split off into a tag team and singles scenario. Then, coming back together for promos maybe,

 

Nia Jax and Alicia Fox in the WWE Production MEAN GIRLS

This was a chance to do some simple heating up of Nia Jax’s character, which is much needed, that came off terrible and was upsetting for how badly it was blown. Some very awkward wording set things moving in the right direction from the start, with Nia claiming ‘reality shows’ don’t involve real repercussions…OK…and Fox replying that she knows this isn’t reality. Hmm.

Fox knocking a box into Nia made the monster’s reaction seem timid in comparison, and then Fox started screaming melodramatically. This did not make Jax look intimidating. Instead it came off as one of those terrible fake real segments, the sort they claimed this wasn’t. Unprofessional was the word that came to mind.

 

The WEIRD

Sasha Banks (not a) retirement speech

Perfect for the weird category because this caused something of a ‘wha…?’ reaction, but overall it was good. Good because it had me, and I presume many others going, and even if there is something a little bit cheap about playing on audiences’ concern, it was compelling. Sasha Banks did an excellent job commanding the audience. Dana coming out to take advantage of the injury – while it did quickly restore the fourth wall of the story for savvy fans – was nicely played dastardly heel stuff. And Sasha looked cool as can be and full of finesse turning the situation with the ‘I’m fine’ reveal.

It was a cool moment, but the more you think about it, the harder it is to stand by it. How did it fit in with the rest of the show? It was a bit awkward after Bayley had just beaten Charlotte earlier and asserted her claim to a title shot. And WHY would Sasha swerve her fans and pretend to be injured, thus pulling one over on… us? At best you could make the case she was hoping to draw Charlotte and/or Dana in so she could hit them with that surprise announcement and Bank Statement. But that is a stretch. I guess you could also just say she knows the power of a ‘moment’ and worked it for that reason alone. She definitely established presence. She came off as a power player. And, since she mentioned the name of the designer on Instagram, I will mention that her wardrobe fit her figure very nicely.

 

Zayn and Owens and Reigns

Not that weird, just…a bit of a waste and some very familiar wasted potential? Owens VS Zayn was fine, and did the job of making Kevin the dominant one, which I guess he needs to be for now. Having just come off their amazing match at Payback a few months ago AND off the emotional Sasha Banks segment, it was hard to concentrate on this. I think on the positive front, we can look forward to a break between these two happening now, with Sami having reason to turn away, dejected, in need of doing some soul searching, to come back and challenge Owens later down the line in a well promoted match.

Then there is the appearance of Roman Reigns. I don’t want to talk about this because it is getting ridiculous, the number of times an opportunity to turn Reigns to heel mode, which would both a) make for a great moment and b) make so much more sense for the way he presents himself and the way the audience reacts to him. He could’ve shocked many by coming down to the ring, attacking the all around good guy Sami Zayn and setting up an interesting match for Clash of Champions between them.

 

That’s all.

 

The WHAT IF…

I liked a lot about this RAW if not all, and I love the fact that Kevin Owens is champion, and looking strong in the role. I can’t help but wonder about things going differently…Triple H on this show – the lack of him being there to explain his actions did feel a bit strange – championing Owens, setting up a rift between Owens, representing a rebel figure along the lines of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk taking on the figure backed by management in Seth Rollins. Could have been a bit more exciting? Things could be moving in interesting directions though. Will stay the course.

 

MPW 5 Another Week in Wrestling: TNA IMPACTSeptember 1, 2016

Ok I have sipped the Kool Aid, eaves dropped on the gospel and decided to watch TNA. Be forewarned I generally do not like TNA nor see do I deem anyone’s claim of its superiority or even comparability to WWE programming to be sane or rationale EXCEPT when WWE is at its worst. Which does happen plenty these days.

Here are some notes from this week’s episode, which I will note was much better than episodes I have seen in the past, most notably the week RIGHT BEFORE, which I thought was an atrocious train wreck. Here are some things that stood out with references to the previous week where relevant.

 

TNA

The GOOD

X Division match

Here I should note the marked difference in the presentation of the entire division from 1 week to the next. LAST WEEK: Everyone in the division is in the ring in a pseudo talk show segment run by Eli Drake, in which he channels his best Ken Anderson loud mouthed persona and the catch phrase ‘Yeah, Dummy’ (you can imagine who felt like the dummy allowing this continue to play on the television he was staring at…) He makes all of them look like a chump and then they take turns getting in one-liners and still looking like chumps and then someone does a Hilo to everyone on the outside of the ring. The guy who looked the least like a dummy, and not by a big margin, was Eli Drake, who I only this week realized is NOT IN the X-Division.

This week was an actual match and it was fun and exciting. There were plenty of inventive spots and they didn’t seem all that extraneous. The guys wrestling under the somewhat baffling label of the Helms Dynasty – one of them is Trevor Lee – did some excellent moves. Early in the match Trevor Lee hit an amazing looking bicycle kick from the ring apron to a guy on the floor, which had him spinning a near 360 degrees. Victory was literally snatched from the Dynasty when Zima Ion leapt impressively through the air to grab the belt. Intrigue over possible match ups in the division was left intact.

 

Glaring Galloway

Again I should back up to last week where a pre-taped segment EC3 and Drew Galloway was thrown to throughout the show, at the top of a luxury building, everyone wearing white suits , throwing back drinks, like high rollers or a gangster and cop with a history, having one last civil talk for old times sake before ripping each other to shreds in a conflict over irreparable differences. It ended with…Galloway tossing EC3 into a pool. Hah a lighthearted rib. But then…swerve! Galloway went psycho but not on EC3….we’ll get there later. Anyway this sucked, all the more so for it trying to come off as cool.

Now we have simply, Galloway cutting a taped promo with some appropriately ominous lighting and some psychotic heel talk. He is MUCH better as a heel. I approve this direction and the less hokey way of delivering it.

 

Delete, Repeat, Delete

 This week’s segment with Broken Matt Hardy and Brother Nero and their rivals in Decay was excellent, off kilter humor. I did not take to the Final Deletion fervor right away but it’s growing on me. To some extent. Certainly not last week.

To review, in last week’s mostly IN RING scene, Jeff was wearing a vomit inducing concoction of oily make up and freakish contact lenses, and working a confusing character that is a) subservient to Broken Matt, but B) still trying to get his crowd pleasing showiness over. He also wrestled a LONG clunky match against Abyss who, I’m sorry I know has been a reliable hitter for TNA and has some creativity but could best be described here as wrestling oafishly. Everyone was YELLING. Matt bit Crazy Steve’s ear in a segment filled with fake blood, which in a week following a lot of the real stuff, was insulting to the intelligence in its goofiness. Not good.

This week, there was a lot of humor. We are on the Hardy estate. The line ‘now it’s Rosemary;s Baby’ was uttered by Crazy Steve and there was awareness of how on the nose a reference it was and it WAS funny. Hardy using Face Time was funny. Hardy treating the drone, Vangaurd 1, as his sentient right hand man was funny. Senor Benjamin was funny. Hardy’s psycho wife going after Rosemary on the Hardy estate with a katana blade was funny. Yes, this was weird and funny, and was carried by the stronger performers of this whole off kilter angle.

 

Michael Bennet’s ring entrance

with Maria, was appropriately vivid. His ring attire and entrance music stands out, unlike what is used for most of the wrestlers.

 

The BAD

Aaron Rex is here…SILENCE! Wait, ok how could we get a little less silence…

I have not been too thrilled about the way Aaron Rex has been presented since making a somewhat surprising return to the ring, by way of signing with TNA, after the final deletion(?) of beloved WWE character Damien Sandow. And after this week I am out and out critical.

Last week, Aaron played the role of special guest referee and played it right down the middle and was beaten down by Galloway for his troubles. This whole deal did not sit well with me because a) the beat down did look all that devastating, especially in the light of other beat downs in other organizations in recent angles and b) throughout the match, Rex could’ve been ANYONE in a drab pair of pants and shirt – not even a classy black and white striped shirt to my memory. It all begged the question, WHY would an exciting get from a big competing company decide the way to make an impact would be relegate himself to a refereeing role??

In this next week, after Galloway did all the heavy lifting in a verbal confrontation with the also problematic Billy Corgan as GM, Rex ran out to get a little payback, wearing slacks, a plain blue shirt, and looking rather shabby and characterless. This is NOT how you present someone or allow someone to present himself when trying to take an audience by storm. Perhaps big things await but this certainly isn’t setting the table for them.

 

It’s Bayley! Oh wait, it’s just Allie.

OK that may be an unfair comparison, the characters aren’t THAT similar. But I do find it a bit suspect that a bright bubbly and more than a little naïve female character is getting a spotlight on TNA programming. And in case you didn’t watch NXT back when Bayley first started, YES she did begin as a character who was not all that good at wrestling.

Nevertheless, taking this angle as it is, let’s go back to the previous week where there is a gauntlet, every woman for herself, tornado whatever match where the woman’s championship is on the line. Whip cracker Billy Corgan has decided to punish all involved in a previous altercation by putting them in the match, thus giving them a shot at becoming new women’s champion. You mean general manager you, Billy. People trip over each other, slip, spin around confusedly, and we end up with an ACCIDENTAL new champion in Maria’s personal assitent, ALLIE.

OK, here I admit a bias which may make me unfit to assess this because I do not like angles where competent wrestlers play characters who cannot wrestle, but stumble into victories and, eventually, they are probably going to ‘learn’ how to wrestle. For those that like this kind of programming, this might’ve been the greatest angle of the year. In this day and age, I find it impossible to suspend your disbelief, making it another time TNA television is insulting to the intelligence. The match in which it happened, just like the X Division segment from the previous week, made all the other women wrestlers involve look like hapless idiots.

Move on to the next show at least the direction is solid, with Maria commanding her subservient personal assistant to hand over the title. Here, a talented performer in Maria, who has in other promotions as well been playing a somewhat competent wrestler but mainly an outside the ring scheme, grabbed power by trickery, not the idiocy of others. She will now probably have a program against Allie who will miraculously learn to wrestle! Or they will much about like idiots, a far cry from the athleticism women are display in NXT and WWE proper, because – BREATH OF FRESH AIR – they are being taken more seriously.

Now even if the non wrestling wrestler act is your bag, there are other problems with the concept of Allie. Her act is she has a very annoying voice. And she uses it. A lot. Very loudly. This is not thought provoking or clever stuff, it is just a loud buzzing that is impossible to tune out. Wrestling audiences deserve and should demand better.

 

Walk softly, carry a big…lead pipe.

 Moose’s turning was fine. His character does not fit that of someone wielding a pipe. That looked wildly out of place.

 

Billy Corgan is not cool.

At best he carries himself with an out of touch Millionaire’s aloofness. Think Willy Wonka. Or the warden on Super Jail. It might wrap around to somehow make him cool in a detached ironic sort of way. Otherwise, much like Stephanie McMahon on RAW, he drew so much natural heel heat while trying to cut a baby face promo, it was painful.

 

Most of the music… 

Is very dull and unremarkable and uh, doesn’t Billy have some connections? The use of Marilyn Manson for The Decay is appropriate. But if you look at how much music figures into NXT’s success and how limp music is on most of TNA, particularly for X-Division guys who are not Zima Ion, and even his music wasn’t that great. Get on it Billy. And the same goes for the look of most of the wrestlers. Drab and colorless.

 

The WEIRD

Ultimate X 

Yes this match went in the good category but it is really pretty convoluted and awkward. I know X-Division is the name most, or all TNA fans and sympathizers put out there as their high point, but matches with bizarrely gimmicked ring accessories really are not cutting it quality-wise compared to NJPW, ROH, NXT… Look at the Cruiser Weight Classic. Put wrestlers in a ring. They wrestle. Amazing results. Let’s get back to that. Keep the title, lose the weird half wrestling match, half zip line challenge.

 

One more thing to consider…

The Broken Matt Hardy program soared when it was mostly pretaped segments, matches even. In the middle of a wrestling ring in front of an audience it was rough stuff at best. Can it thrive or help TNA’s business if it doesn’t work in a live setting?

MPW4 Another week in wrestling: NXT/CWC August 31, 2016

This was a pretty subdued episode of NXT, notable for its lack of familiar faces. It was a reminder of how many bodies were called up to the main roster in recent days. And while there are some colorful NXT mainstays still in rotation, here was a real emphasis on up and comers, a reminder perhaps that the division is about developing new talent. Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a mode where appearances of the same wrestlers do not occur week in and week out. This could be a good long run strategy for keeping fans from burning out on certain talent, perhaps even increasing interest in seeing them when they tour live. It can make for a bumpy road between specials, as this episode clearly illustrates.

NXT

The GOOD

Samoa Joe

This very brief segment with William Regal and a doctor at the beginning of the show had a tinge of reality to it, as Joe was reported injured from his match with Shinsuke Nakamura at Takeover Brooklyn, yet mention was also made by the doctor of unreported injuries on Joe’s part before the match. It sets up intrigue for a rematch down the line, and sets up a plausible angle where the results of match number 1 are called into question. For now it seems like Joe will go away leaving audiences hanging on his return.

 

The Perfect 10 spot

Ty Dillinger seems to be on his way to the upper echelon of the NXT roster, getting another win and flaunting his gimmick throughout the match with audience participating rambunctiously. I could see a good next step being Ty taking on some of the more prominent heels like Aries and Rude, perhaps falling short but coming very close to victory.

Aliyah, heel you livin’

Aliyah came out to the ring for her match with Liv Tyler in some commanding ring attire, working a heel-ish look and attitude. It suited her. She used a painful-looking leg submission and smashed her leg down on Liv’s head a few times midway through, reminiscent of NJPW submission spots. The match was pretty rough, though, but potential is definitely there for Aliyah to play a brash, cocky antagonist on the roster.

 

The Revivial beat down Ciampa

The fighting between The Revival and the team of Ciapma and Gargano has arguably been the hottest thing going in NXT, and one of the best feuds in wrestling this summer. All players involved know how to work drama and storytelling into their matches and promos. Here a good old fashioned two on one beat down by The Revival made for us to want Johnny Gargano’s return from injury to come sooner than later so that we can see a rematch of their stunning battle at Takeover Brooklyn.

 

The BAD

 

Itami, you talkin’ to me?

During Itami’s promo, which had nothing but great words, there was a forced feel to it. Toward the end it seemed as though Itami could have even been reading a card off to the side. I’m not saying that’s definitely the case. But regardless it definitely should not look like it. I know all too well the challenges of Japanese learning English and delivering long phrases smoothly. They should give him a lot of practice (My services are available!) and allow, even encourage lapses into Japanese. The ore natural delivery would make up for any missed meaning in the words themselves.

 

Andrade ‘I get no respect…from Austin Aries’ Almas

Here is another English as a new language issue, and I want to emphasize it is GREAT, fantastic even that wrestlers of multiple nationalities are given a chance tio shine in NXT. Use of those prerecorded promo segments should be taken advantage of to make things come off great, though, and plenty of practice should be given. Aries was great as an obnoxious heel but Andrate seemed too timid and when he was given a chance to talk, it didn’t feel that fiery.

 

The WEIRD

Nothing weird, just an ok show with appearances by some of the main players in outside the ring roles, some new talent highlighted whose matches varied from ok to rather clunky. Some spicing up was definitely in order.

 

CWC

This was the popular tournament in prime functioning on all cylinders mode, with 2 long matches, making up half of the quarter finals, filled with great wrestling and fantastic story telling.

 

The GOOD

Gran Metalik VS Akira Tozawa

This was a great match with a lot of speed and agility on display. The two combatants’ styles varied making for interesting exchanges of moves, but both have had experience with Japanese ‘strong style’ rhythms and this match took on a lot of that, with exchanges of chops and shoulder blocks. Tozawa has such an effective manner of riling up the crowd, like in the way he runs for a suicide dive; his movements are fascinating to watch. A highlight on Tozawa’s part was breaking up a forearm exchange to land an unexpected stiff looking punch to the face. Gran Metalik’s move set looked very polished, and his unique rope walking techniques were executed smoothly. The final exchange between the two with finishing moves being reversed and kicked out of was unpredictable and plenty exciting. I hope we see more of Tozawa in a WWE ring, because his style and charisma have been entertaining throughout his matches in the tournament.

 

Kota Ibushi VS Brian Kendrick

This will surely stand among the best of the CWC tournament matches when all is said and done. With a finish that many had called from the beginning this managed to be extremely suspenseful. I was fully ready for a reversal from the expected outcome, as news was reported earlier that Ibushi, the often dubbed favorite to win, did not sign with WWE full time. In fact, looking at how this played out, one could even make a case that reporting that was a well placed plot device to make an Ibushi loss seem more possible to those following the behind the scenes of the industry.

This was a prime example of match as storytelling, based around the brilliant work of the wrestlers in the ring and commentators – Bryan and Mauro Ranallo – calling the action and giving background details to enhance the drama. Ibushi’s past previous neck injury was figured into the story, particularly when Kendrick got the advantage worked a backbreaker from on the apron outside the ring, bouncing the back of Ibushi’s head against the ring post. It looked incredible, complete with Ibushi selling it perfectly, falling straight down, face first, into the incoming ring apron and rolling to the floor like a sack of dead weight. The story of the injured neck continued, with Kendrick leading a very innovative offense. Must not forget the other story being weaved of Kendrick being a wily veteran, but one who has been away from action long enough to be an underdog throughout the tournament, but who would regain a lot by winning. This was sold perfectly by Kendrick pulling sneaky and original maneuvers like wedging Ibushi’s foot between slats in the guard rail to try to get him counted out. Throughout the match Ibushi hit his high flying moves with amazing preciseness. The timing of Kendrick’s moves, which included his patented Sliced Bread from the top (perfect considering the emphasis it has on impacting the opponent’s neck) and rarely performed moves named for us by Ranallo and Bryan, led for very believable false finishes. This match had instant re-watch value.

 

The BAD 

That this will come to an end. But hopefully an overwhelmingly positive reaction will lead WWE to continue delivering this style of programming in the future.

 

The WEIRD

The WWE’s main shows on television, RAW and Smackdown Live can rarely deliver matches with this much excitement. If they cut the volume of events and let performers build matches with stories and drama, those tv shows would regain a lot of appeal.

MPW 3 Another Week in Wrestling: Smackdown, August 31, 2016

Another week…in wrestling: SMACKDOWN, August 31, 2016

THE GOOD

Smackdown was very good overall. It is becoming increasing clear that there are certain elements making SDLive the more interesting production than RAW, week in and week out. Although RAW’s eventful conclusion may have been more exciting than anyone moment on Tuesday’s show. Smackdown’s production was more consistently interesting throughout.

Daniel Bryan and Renee Young

Bryan has Renee have been a huge source of joy brought on when watching Smackdown and of course, the related Talking Smack. They are both very credible in the enthusiasm they bring to whatever they are talking about and into interactions with anyone they work with. It is easy to believe in their characters and can often forget there is a distinction between their pro wrestling roles and actual personas.

 

Bryan and Shane talking Talking Smack

This quick opening segment was evidence of the above with Bryan calmly and believably bringing us back to the amazing verbal throw down between him and The Miz on last week’s much buzzed about Talking Smack. It also showed a much needed distinction between SD and RAW, often promised but little seen, when Shane reprimanded Bryan for getting in The Miz’s face. It’s a marked direction from what you associate with Stephanie who is all about management being overbearing and hostile to its talent. There was also a hint of dissent between Shane and Bryan, nothing overblown, subtle enough to be realistic and lead to some interesting shading to the show down the line.

 

Heath Slater and Rhyno, Home on the range

 I liked this weird pre taped segment in the home of Slater and his trailer trash wife’s home for the most part. It was a bit overly stereotypical at times and I didn’t care for the level of crudeness they had to resort to. But then you had Rhyno adding this hilarious and simple element to it all by just sitting there eating and decorating chips, near oblivious to the others. Subtle humor on the part of elected official that I would not have imagined possible when he reprised his role as the master of the GORE on NXT. And then there was Renee, excellent at playing straight man, err woman, and bearing the silliness of it all without breaking out of serious journalist mode once.

 

Slater and Rhyno VS The Headbangers

With the unlikely assistance of some former wrestlers from back in the Attitude Era who were never all that interesting, in my opinion, Slater and Rhyno managed to capture this lightning in a bottle momentum of two guys forming an unlikely team to win a tournament, become the first NXT tag team champions and get Slater a WWE contract. Here the big impact move of a Gore had a perfect place to end the match. There was also the awkward appearance of blood, stranger still for its occurrence the same way Lesnar drew it from Randy Orton in their infamous Summer Slam match; with a sharp elbow to the temple. It was almost too reminiscent to be coincidence. But whatever led to it, it helped take the unlikely team that much more seriously in their quest. Which is always more compelling than WWE’s desired goal to position talent to be ridiculed.

 

The Booking: AJ Styles VS Apollo Crews; Dean Ambrose VS Baron Corbinn

These matches were fine for the most part, but what was most pleasing was this simple, easy to watch formula of booking that I’ve long wanted to see on RAW and Smackdown. Take your top program wrestlers, have them face wrestlers lower on the card, and put together matches that a) assert the dominance of those at the top and b) give a shine to the lower card combatants for their valiant effort or devious tactics or what have you. Interest in the upcoming collision between top guys (or gals) increases as their momentum builds, yet they’ve been kept apart so it will be something new (unlike, say, Rusev and Reigns having a 15 + minute match days before being booked for a match at Summer Slam). Of course veering off the course is needed at times to keep things lively, with say tag team encounters, interview face offs, etc but this is a good solid way to build a show. As far as the mid card guys getting over, Crews hit an incredible Moonsault off the apron to Styles on the floor, high and in a narrow space. His character really needs some pizzazz to get people’s attention, even if it’s just a flashier look. I can see giving him a hot streak of wins against jobbers, not unlike with Strowman and Nia Jax over on RAW, helping considerably. Corbinn did not seem quite as interesting. He continues to be unlikable but his physique is a bit too noticeably loose in my opinion. He should bulk up that physique to credibly come off as the monster he is being pushed as.

 

The BAD (or just OK)

Shane, (please) not vs Lesnar

 A leftover note from the week before, it was not great that Shane claimed his business with Brock Lesnar is ‘far from over’ only a bit after Orton cut his promo on Lesnar and expressed hopes for a rematch. It was not illogical and they did not do much with it this week so it is safe to say for now that Shane’s angle with Lesnar is not getting blown out of proportion. But Shane’s claim overshadowed Orton’s and put his contention with Lesnar on the same level as the Viper’s, which should not be the case. Something should have been done to make it clear the true intrigue in ring is between Orton and Lesnar. Shane should at this point be in NON-WRESTLER status and it should be made a bit clearer that he would not dare enter into physical combat with Lesnar, and that his course of action should be based in the legal or business sphere.

 

The Miz and Dolph Ziggler, and then…they talked

The interaction between these two on the mic was OK, nothing terrible. But it was a bit of a disappointing follow up to the volatile confrontation between The Miz and Bryan on Talking Smack the week before. On the one hand, it is credible and a marked difference from RAW to have Bryan and The Miz kept apart for professional reasons. But things could have been a lot more heated and compelling if Bryan and The Miz did meet in the ring again, if the apology they spoke of (was that it right there in the opening segment??) was delivered in person with The Miz not buying it. Ziggler’s challenge to the Miz made sense and will hopefully be a step along the road to a character change, the needed catalayst perhaps. This would make it worthwhile instead of Ziggler continue to languish in a losing role. Ziggler’s rationale for the Miz to fight also did not make that much sense and would have been easy for him to counter, but he remained silent. Perhaps it pays off with The Miz attacking Ziggler next week; something to keep Miz a dislikeable character with that edge he presented the week before.

 

AJ Styles, gosh golly

Let’s be clear right away, AJ is good. AJ is GREAT. But I am mentioning him here because he is getting a tad to hokey in his demeanor. A bit of cartoonish bragging and aloofness is OK, but what rocketed AJ to this spot is his amazing wrestling. He also summoned a serious fire in his promos when challenging Cena, and should keep that element in play to go along with the in ring excellence.

 

The ending of Ambrose VS Corbin with AJ interfering…awww nuts!

As stated above, I loathe the idea of Styles becoming a silly character. So seeing him reacting to being crotched with the exaggerated moaning and groaning did not make for that potential intense build toward their match at Payback. Ambrose’s reaction, giving him a little condescending handshake, while different than the norm and maybe even some improvising on Dean’s part, took me right out of the scene as well. Here is a threat to your title reign, interfering in your match and trying to do you harm; a harder strike back was called for, even if was just dismissively pushing Styles to the floor.

 

The WEIRD

Talking Smack

How to follow up the previous episode’s viral momentum? It would be unrealistic to think they should try to do something more intense so I didn’t mind the more mellow scene at all. But instead of staying mostly in character, as it seemed was the case the week before with the Miz and also Carmella, who just flat out rushed the set and attacked Nikki Bella, the talent this time came off much more like their actual selves commenting on their wrestling personas. Not always but sometimes. But it was far from terrible, more like a good weird. There was still building on the stories on the show taking place, like Rhyno and Slater discussing their aspirations to win the tag team championship tournament. But their unscripted conversation led to real life tidbits leaking in, making for an interesting mix of in character and real life on display. The same goes for Styles coming out, overselling the crotch situation, but getting into less heel-ish details of his goals, such as taking on celebrity status and doing charity appearances. This might have seemed like it would not meshed well with his kayfabe villain but in this setting it was fine. Bryan’s being there and being genuinely interested and experienced in many facets of wrestling also led to talk of wrestling outside (gasp) the WWE. The respect Renee and Bryan have for their roles, again, makes for such easy enjoyable viewing, and so when Bryan talks up the matches on the upcoming Payback special, the enthusiasm feels genuine. And it does carry over to us, the viewers.

 

 The WHAT IF…

The hostility between Bryan and The Miz was allowed to continue. Bryan apologizes, but maintains his criticisms. He declares that although he cannot step back in the ring and bring prestige to the Intercontinental Championship title, he can find the best talent in the world to do just that. A battery of challengers is unrolled, not unlike Cena’s US Championship challenge, but an unwilling one with a heel persona doing he defending. It leads to a special where the surprised challenger is Samoa Joe. The very legit shoot style capable wrestler takes to the ring, decimates the Miz and rides the momentum of fan appreciation for new call ups. Perhaps this could shift after a little while with Joe reprising his role as a monster, and goes on to a hot undefeated streak.

 

What do you think? Questions, comments, criticisms…bring it.

Mondo Pro Wrestling 2 RAW 8/29/16

 

RAW went from a whole lot of nothing to say to a whole lot of something to say in a matter of minutes with its shocking, satisfying and question-filled conclusion.

Before we get to there, a couple of points along the way.

It was fun watching Bayley and The New Day team up against Anderson and Gallows and Dana Brook. It was mainly nice to see a fresh combination of wrestlers interacting with each other. Bayley was clearly having fun and that was carrying right over to the audience. Her final transition from an armbar into her Bayley To Belly suplex finisher looked great. Dana also continues to display entertaining heel chops with her constant verbal battering of opponents. I am afraid that in the current pattern she will be diminished as just a jobber to whoever is gunning for Charlotte. RAW should make an effort to utilize more wrestlers in the women’s division and play up some of Dana’s strengths.

It is usually a delight to see Paul Heyman do just about anything but the segment with Stephanie McMahon was just utter confusion. They crisscrossed so many points, leaving none of them clear. On one hand we think Steph issued a 500 dollar fan as lip service to the idea Lesnar should be punished, yet isn’t taking it seriously and doesn’t care about what happened to Shane. This would make sense and lead to intrigue down the line. But instead of being appreciative, Heyman comes out and mocks her. Why? Shouldn’t they be on the same page? Then Stephanie tries to verbally castrate Paul and demand a genuine apology. Why? It seemed she didn’t care about Brock’s recklnessness. Then Heyman does apologize. Then he explains why Stephanie is in a tough spot with the company. Then he smirks and Stephanie storms off. Yeah. I couldn’t make it more confusing if I tried.

While some ambiguity is good, the creative direction and nature of characters like Stephanie need to be decided on and more clearly defined. It is like they don’t know what she is; how could we? It is also very difficult for her to come off as a bay face. She has a naturally abrasive way of speaking, gathering lots of push back from fans. Which is a good thing. If that’s what is intended. But to hear her talk of women’s revolution and say it in such a way that you want to boo her every word, it’s not gelling together.

In a far simpler bit of business to assess, Braun Strowman continues to look strong by knocking out unknown jobbers. This is not something to start whining about because it is repetitive. It is like a train slowly picking up momentum and set to hit a peak in due time. For now, its best to enjoy watching Strowman’s confidence grow and moves get more polished.

There is nothing more to speak of than the extremely topical main event, mainly so for its final minutes and result: Kevin Owen our new Universal Champion with a significant assist from Triple H who delivered a Pedigree both Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. This was great in many ways.

First it shows a continued commitment to moving in the direction of pushing new and different talent on the roster by not going with one of the expected and already tested candidates of Reigns or Rollins. It also can’t help but trigger connections to real aspects of the landscape – again the blurring is usually a good thing – you have Triple H coming out and giving the nod to someone who very much represents an NXT success story in Kevin Owens, and we all know how proud Triple H is of his project.

This potentially sets a new diagram of conflicts. Perhaps we will see Triple H continue to back talent from NXT regardless of heel or face alignment while Rollins and Reigns try to counteract. Perhaps Reigns and Rollins form a begrudging alliance with Stephanie, or maybe they will stand united against management. A concern I’ve seen expressed is that of Owens becoming a relatively powerless pawn of an established Authority. It could happen but I don’t get this in my read. If anything, lines seem drawn to put Hunter and Stephanie/Foley at odds with each other. This would be far more interesting, as the Authority as an active presence has long seemed diminished. Triple H had tremendous difficulty getting heat when he went against Reigns at Wrestlemania and would appear as a far more credible advocate of the newer generation of wrestlers coming up the ranks.

Another gripe, which echoes years and years of the same sentiment, was that Owens did not look strong by getting the pin after Triple H did all the work, essentially making Triple H the star. It’s a point I understand but was not bothered by in this instance. Some counters. First in this instance, Triple H is the star compared to Owens. I will be glad to see that reversed and there is plenty of time starting next week for Owens to shine. Second WWE is still very much about STORY, and Triple H interfering and screwing over Rollins and upsetting Stephanie and Foley makes for very good story points. OK, Owens could have hit his powerbomb finisher before pinning Rollins but that could have also been overkill to end a very long and busy match.

The future is buzzing with possibilities now that KO is on top. Lets give them a chance to develop.

 

 

 

Mondo Pro Wrestling 1

It has been a crazy week of wrestling, arguably the most eventful newsworthy of the year? It has prompted me to make sense of it. Some of it. The it that I have seen. And only a little of that. There is way too much to actually get into every detail. Not sure what to think? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you in this ‘not be the latest, but simply the greatest’ analysis and projectionsis from an outsider who does not know enough nor is not interested in being considered an expert. Maybe from here we will do this on a regular weekly basis but those are some famous last words in these parts. And one more thing, GIFs are stupid.

Summer Slam

I have been thinking about why the match between Finn Balor and Seth Rollins was not so memorable and far from match of the year or match of the weekend. Leaving everything injury related completely aside. I rewatched it and found the match started in what seemed like a race to get things done. There was no build in tension, no circling one another, sizing one another up, trying to intimidate each other – the things you would expect from a real sports combat competition and what a simulated one should absolutely contain. There is something to be said for a sudden flair up – two combatants running at each other and clubbing away or someone rushing in and getting a sudden advantage. But it wasn’t like that; from the moment Finn landed the first drop kick it simply seemed like a rush. Some speculation that perhaps this was a case of main stage jitters on the part of Finn, and Rollins not being quite seasoned enough to help matters? Setting the stage for a heated, rage-fueled competition is of the utmost importance.

The outpouring of reactions brought on by Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton showed something was done right. Glimpsing online reactions one gets a sense of extreme opinions, people thinking they knew what was what (except you take 5 any people and you get any of 5 different interpretations) and you get reactions to Brock that suggest a lot of unease, a lot of anger, or HEAT, beyond that of storyline, which is in fact good heat to get. Let’s not forget that wrestling is at its best when it blurs the line between the staged and the real. Putting my feelings about the use of actual brute force and level of risk involved, it was an intense confrontation. What probably left many people feeling underwhelmed was the sudden finish after a show that became increasingly exhausting as time wore on. The card definitely needed editing. It is also a bit problematic that this was the main event and we are not left with any direction from here when it comes to Brock Lesnar. We are not left seeing him as a title contender as he has been in the direction of left field since he started feuding again with Undertaker. It just left people with as much confusion as it did any temporary rush of adrenaline.

Raw? Medium, well…

Not much to say about RAW, which was in scramble mode after plans suddenly shifted due to the new and first ever Universal Champion to be crowned, Finn Balor, was declared injured. They did what they had to do, stripping him of the title. But I will suggest a perfectly good opportunity to generate some of that stuff they call HEAT was squandered by not having a face off between Finn and Rollins. They could have blurred that line between reality and show, and made this into a feud with some stakes beyond the belt, something it was lacking from the beginning.

 

The introduction of Bayley was something many were looking forward to after her apparent send off at NXT Takeover Brooklyn last weekend. What took place was OK, but it seemed a few tweeks could have made it so much more exciting. General Manager Mick Foley came out to have an exchange with Charlotte and then announce Bayley. The only reasons for this I could see is 1) kill time (which RAW seems to have way too much of and 2) have a familiar face introduce a potential newcomer to the wider RAW audience.

I think the impact could have been far greater if Bayley just took to the ring suddenly, with her music ringing out as Charlotte seemed all but completely triumphant in her standing. And again it would have been the perfect time for some reality tinged trash talk between WRESTLERS, no need for the go between of a mild mannered. Charlotte could have asked Bayley how she could dare think she has a shot at the title after just LOSING to Asuka. Bayley could have retorted that she knows someone she HAS beaten and that is Charlotte herself. All would have been valid points, would have given those unfamiliar with their NXT activity the background they needed, and built up a solid confrontation – WRESTLER to WRESTLER.

The Dudleys send off seemed ok though it hit from out of nowhere, with many expecting more to it. Perhaps negotiations between the tag team and the company were truly up in the air til this point. Being laid out by Anderson and Gallows, though, actually highlighted what a great program that could be. In these two teams you have some forces of destruction with plenty of credibility: on the one hand this new and exciting team with the allure of having a cult following in their previous incarnation, plus the legitmacy of working the rigorous style associated with Japan and NJPW. In the other, a team with a long history including the craziness of tables and ladders from their ECW days. While the Dudleys have been on the back burner, a sudden changeup could shake off some of the dust that seems to have fallen on them. Hopefully the value of such a feud will wake some folks up and business can be done to keep them around a bit longer, at the least, to have a run against Guns and Gallows.

SMACKDOWN

Smackdown had a solid show that seems to be upstaging RAW. It is shorter, more manageable, and seems to be having quite a lot more fun.

American Alpha had a great match with Breezango. I think they should tone down the silliness with the latter. And it is worth noting that American Alpha’s music was tweaked just enough to be terrible. When it ain’t broke don’t fix it! And considering the string of smash hits NCT’s music team has had there is no reason to think there catchy intro music from NXT needed a change.

There was a lighthearted and knowingly naïve charm to the segment between Heath Slater and Rhyno, when Rhyno offered to team up with the guy he had knocked out of a contract, and help him get on the roster (and pay for an aboveground pool!)

I think they should find a way to win. Slater is obviously winning the crowd over and the premise of the contract slipping away from him at every turn is getting long in the tooth.

As nicely poetic as these two teaming up is, did it occur to anyone that a perfect partner for Slater would be KANE? I don’t know what his exact status is but I believe he is officially signed to SMACKDOWN. You would have the redhead and the big red machine. But let’s not discount this just yet. Perhaps this could be the blueprints for a fun 3 man act. In Rhyno and Kane you have two wrestlers with genuine political experience. Slater could be…Slater. The Constituency perhaps?

Bray had an excellent presence when he confronted Randy Orton. I am a bit disappointed he is still being positioned as a heel at this point. I noticed Bray started tagging his twitter activity with a phrase DOWNWITHTHEMACHINES. It sounds like the making of rebellious crowd favorite fare. Hopefully he looks strong against Orton and changes lie in wait for Wyatt.

 

MC 2.2 Shades of Sion Sono at Japan Cuts 10th Anniversary

Love & Peace_05
Love & Peace © 2015 “Love & Peace” Film Partners

Part of this year’s 10th Anniversary Japan Cuts festival of Japanese film is a mini focus on outspoken rabble-rouser Sion Sono. It’s a fitting addition to a landmark edition of the festival, which has shown numerous films by the prolific director whose works have jarred, delighted, and flabbergasted their audiences for the past several years. It also jels perfectly with the festival’s unstated theme of radicals and rascally revolutionaries, running through both its narrative and nonfiction selections. Sono’s uncompromising attitude and artistic work puts him right at home in this group.

Three films may not seem sufficient to give him his due. But considering this isn’t a full on retrospective (the last to occur in New York was at the Museum of Design in 2011), the trio of works being shown on July 16 – 2 of his recent films plus a documentary made about him, along with an appearance by Sono himself, do form an elegant statement.

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© 2016「園子温という生きもの」製作委員会ࠖ © 2016 “The Sion Sono” Film Partners

THE SION SONO (directed by Arata Oshima) takes an insightful look at the philosophies and working process of the man, mainly by spending time with him and letting him speak – something he does not mind doing at all. Perspective can also be gleaned by talks with those who have worked closely with him. While Sono’s contemptuous attitude toward widely accepted commercial films and critics are well known but amusing to see unfold – we all like someone who names names – real illumination comes in the opening sequence of the film wherein Sono prowls through his studio filled with paintings and sets to work on some of them while deconstructing notions of good and bad. It’s a multilayered act, as the artist appears to reacquaint himself with his work in this medium, engage in the process while discussing it.

The intensity of feelings burning in and around his brought to the surface, not only in hearing from the director himself, but emotional conversations held with Megumi Kagurazaka his wife and an actress that has figured prominently into many key roles in his films, including WHISPERING STARS. She will also appear in person for its screening on the 16th.

Amusing testimonials on Sono’s singular quirks and compulsions come from Fumi Nikaido and Shota Sometani, who speak of their work on Sono’s critically acclaimed HIMIZU. And lest one has been taken primarily with Sono’s ‘bad boy’ image, there is a decided charm to be found in a glimpse of Sono’s earliest activity, which holds uncanny earnest. A very early journal of movie going with collage elements and reviews show signs of a connoisseur and voice of remarkable wit in the making.

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The Whispering Star © SION PRODUCTION

THE WHISPERING STAR is made all the more interesting for the insight we may gain from the documentary, which features footage from the planning stages of this stark exploration of the science fiction genre. There is not much to speak of plot, which finds an android with extremely human qualities (Kagurazaka) as an intergalactic courier in the wake of civilizational collapse. The film is shot in a mesmerizing monochrome.   Here Kaguraka’s subtly expressive voyager, taking in this new world around her with understated wonderment and consternation, is also entrancing against the overall static unfolding of events.

These are accompanied by LOVE AND PEACE. Released in 2015, it is too early to call it one of his classics, but by all rights this will be one. It is essential viewing, not only for Sono fans but anyone with an interest in Japanese cinema. But in terms of the director, it prominently features so many hallmarks of that have distinguished his work, with a notable absence of lurid violence or sex. There is what I’ve come to refer to as a ‘psychodramatic’ style that Sono employs, wherein personal trauma is magnified by key characters to the point of feeling like a large scale devastation. Music turned way up in the mix pulses and pounds, extreme closeups turn bystanders and casual tormentors alike into grotesque monsters and capture every detail of the actor, who has apparently been told to exaggerate mannerisms to cartoonish proportions, and regular scenery is augmented by vibrant colors. All the while scenes are sped through quickly, highlighting only those that emphasize the character’s plight.

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Love & Peace © 2015 “Love & Peace” Film Partners

This only describes the first 10 minutes or so of LOVE AND PEACE, during which a fumbling menial worker at the offices of a recording studio dreams of rock stardom and pines after a subdued colleague (Kumiko Aso) while serving as the punchline of the office jokes. But with a bit fantasy and Sono’s panache for plot progressions both imaginatively far fetched and compelling, his fate takes a turn for the better. It is a rise and rise story that ends up a unique twist on the usual convention of exploding egos leading to an inevitable fall.

The incorporation of diverse musical pieces that are pitch perfect fits is another attribute of Sono’s films in peak form and here it occurs both within and without the story. Aside from wonderfully catchy rock anthems that our down on his luck protagonist begins to magically produce, background music provides numerous callbacks to previous films. Viewers of the director’s numerous works are rewarded in spades, with a rousing callback to the infectious jingle that rang throughout WHY DON’T YOU GO PLAY IN HELL.

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Love & Peace © 2015 “Love & Peace” Film Partners

While the story has feel good elements, it is far from slight. Throughout the movie, scenes that may seem like background noise show Japanese youth with a general lack of awareness about the atom bomb’s treacherous role in the country’s history. Names are also used to show misunderstandings or perhaps a repurposing of history’s scars. Then there is Sono’s unprecedented incorporation of elements straight out of Western imports like Toy Story, a representation of Disney and Pixar both. When this comes to clash with mass destruction ala quintessentially Japanese kaiju movies, it is as though the collective Japanese self identity and its subjection to Western influences is being exploded onto a moving canvas. Who wins may come as a surprise. It is heady thought provoking stuff works on the mind while the personal story of sad sack turned star stirs the emotions.

For tickets and information on these and other films in the JAPAN CUTS lineup, visit the Japan Society website.

MC 2.1 Four Razor Sharp Dramas at JAPAN CUTS 2016

 

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Kako: My Sullen Past Ⓒ 2016 “Kako: My Sullen Past” Film Partners

There is a focus on hard hitting dramas with a conscience at this significant 10th year anniversary edition of JAPAN CUTS. Here are four that stand out.

KAKO: MY SULLEN PAST

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Kako: My Sullen Past Ⓒ 2016 “Kako: My Sullen Past” Film Partners

A work brimming with mystery and engrossing verbal sparring. Fumi Nikaido and Kyoko Koizumi sharing the screen together is pure electricity with the constant promise of fireworks. The story centered around an unsophisticated family slyly introduces a backdrop of political anxiety as adolescent Kako scorns the world around her while making sense of it at the same time, as suddenly she is faced with an aunt who has suddenly returned home under strange circumstances. Embraces ambiguities like the best of Japanese cinema.

 

THREE STORIES OF LOVE

 

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Enter a captionThree Stories of Love © Shochiku Broadcasting / Arc Films

A Harrowing unfolding of three of individuals stuck in the margins, and at the whim of a society that is often insensitive to those who have fallen on hard times or are different. A victim of discrimination against homosexuals, a widow whose wife was senselessly murdered, and a woman stuck in a dull and seemingly loveless relationship. The subtle storytelling leaves some question over who we are following at first. But While the stories are quietly told they bring about a slow release of emotion that is each gripping. They also reveal that the best triumphs of the human will are evident simply in the hanging on and weathering the storm.

 

KEN AND KAZU

 

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Ken and Kazu © Third Window Films

An amazingly accomplished and at times extremely suspenseful low budget production focusing on two drug dealers. One is hot headed, impulsive, tethered to a maternal figure he harbors resentment for. The other is calm, loyal, and looking for a way out so he can make a peaceful life for his wife and soon to be born child. There is raw violence, heated exchanges, and a brooding intensity in the two leads, both with surprisingly small on screen acting resumes. While the tale is a classic one, this feels nothing like the typical yakuza prototype. There are no tacky suits or rolling r’s. And while the scope of the action ends up being relatively small scale, ambitions are huge, to make this more than an exercise in style. The characters here are faced with challenging decisions and the question of what you do when they are placed before you. An essential look at an exciting new voice in Japanese filmmaking.

 

BEING GOOD

 

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Being Good © 2015 “Being Good” Film Partners

An unflinching look at several aspects of how adults navigate the lives of children they raise. Another triptych looks at a novice fourth grade teacher struggling to keep order in his class, a mother of a preschooler with tendencies to strike her child welling up within her, and an autistic child’s encounter with an elderly lady suffering bouts of dementia. Scenes feel extremely real. They are left to unfold calmly yet are extremely compelling. The drama is often nerve wracking. While even handed for a while, as it reaches its conclusion things become a bit more manipulative. But characters are also moved to action as the film decided to not only catalogue problems faced by our youth but show how individuals can take a stand.

For more information and tickets visit the Japan Society website.