Thursday, November 9, 2017

Joyride & Joyride 2: Dead Ahead

Every year for Christmas my mom and I exchange random DVDs with each other. It is just a random gifting tradition we do in hopes of landing each other a good film from the $5 DVD bin. My mom has been on a pretty good streak for awhile and past hits she gifted me I never saw before that were a hit for me include Sour Grapes, Alpha Dog, Blues Brothers and Rat Race. Today I am covering last year’s Christmas DVD, which is a pair of scare/thriller films that were part of a two-in-one pack with 2001’s Joy Ride (trailer) and its 2008 sequel, Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead (trailer).

The original Joy Ride stars Paul Walker in the lead who is fresh off his Fast and the Furious fame earlier in 2001. Walker stars as Lewis, who is on a road trip to pick up his longtime crush Venna (Leelee Sobieski). Along the way when checking in at home with the family, he discovers his brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) needs to get bailed out of jail so it becomes a three person road trip. Along the way they pick up a CB radio and start pranking truckers on it. One of their pranks with a trucker who only goes by ‘Rusty Nail’ (voiced by Ted Levine) goes all kinds of bad when it turns out that good ‘ol Rusty is a psychotic killer.

The film proceeds to be a gigantic cat and mouse chase with lots of thrilling moments and gotcha-scares that reeled me in all the way. The only questionable moments I had in the film was that there is no way that big rigs can accelerate as fast as they do here, but I rolled with it for the sake of the film. Additionally, the few glimpses we got of Rusty throughout the film made it hard to believe he was as mobile and crafty as the film made him out to be, but at that point I was so immersed into the crazy stunts and story that it did not bother me that much, especially in the final act that had an intense showdown with everyone involved and a gratifying payoff to a great overall flow of consistently bigger and better stunts, chases and thrills.

Joy Ride hit in 2001, which was probably one of the last years you could do a slasher/scare flick by avoiding one hiccup that most films in that genre struggle with today and that is how do you address the victims-to-be immediately busting out their cell phones and calling for help? In Joy Ride 2 they address this by Rusty (now played by Mark Gibbon) phoning the victims and telling them to immediately dispose of and crush their phones. How did Rusty get their number? Well, the victims felt bad when their car broke down and they happened to stumble upon Rusty’s home and broke into his place and ‘borrowed’ his car to get to safety.

The victims in the direct-to-video sequel are not as sympathetic as the first and it did not make me want to root for them. Bobby is suppose to be the stand-up guy here, but he is played by Nick Zano who also happens to play Steel, aka the biggest dolt in Legends of Tomorrow and knowing how much I detest him in that made it hard to root for him here. Nik (Kyle Schmid) is intentionally played up to be a slimeball that I found myself rooting for him to be the first to go, and I will give props to the filmmakers for having a very sleazy character get his fitting way to ride off into the sunset.

Joy Ride 2 tried to get a little more creative with its thrills and moments of despair. There are still a couple standard chase scenes, but there are also scenes that straight-up flop such as Rusty getting Nik to dress up in drag in order to score him some crank, and Rusty goofing on Melissa (Nicki Aycox) to get her to striptease. The only scene that really popped out for me was when Rusty gets Bobby and Nik to play his special version of craps that you just have to see to believe. I tried to hunt down a clip to link, but alas YouTube has failed me! That scene combined with the final showdown with Rusty results for a mildly satisfying final act, but nowhere near the same level as the first Joy Ride.

Joy Ride 2 only has two quick extras for 20 minutes which mostly feature basic cast and crew interviews setting up the film with a few interesting anecdotes on filming in the desert in Canada and its makeup work. The original Joy Ride however is packed with extras. The standout extra is four different alternate endings. All four have director’s commentary which I found helpful on why the filmmakers say they did not work. One of the endings is nearly a half hour long and features the always awesome, Walter Goggins and has a whole different take on how the final act went down. The other three have alternate branching paths and I found all four really fascinating on how they played out and why they did not make the cut. Joy Ride also has three commentaries, one with director John Dahl, the second with actors Zahn and Sobieski and the third with writers JJ Abrams and Clay Tarver which was the commentary I decided to check out. The duo have a good flow of nonstop banter with little to no lulls and tons of facts and insight about the cast and behind-the-scenes on the film. A couple highlights was how they renovated an abandoned truck stop for just one scene for the film and how they had to shoot the big cornfield chase on two occasions in separate cornfields and they dissected all the little differences to point out how they pulled it off.

I will give my mom another thumbs up for her annual Christmas DVD for me. If you made it this far it is obvious I am much higher on the first Joy Ride compared to its sequel. The sequel still has a few moments that saved it into being passable, but if you were to only watch one, then definitely check out the first. Upon doing my research for this entry, I see there is a third Joy Ride film that hit straight-to-video in 2014, subtitled Roadkill, so it looks like I will have to track that down and complete the trilogy!

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

3
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christmas Eve
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Creed
Dirty Work
Faster
Fast and Furious I-VIII
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Gravity
Guardians of the Galaxy
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
Ink
The Interrogation
Interstellar
Jobs
Man of Steel
Marine 3-5
Mortal Kombat
National Treasure
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
The Replacements
Rocky I-VII
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
San Andreas
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Shoot em Up
Steve Jobs
Source Code
Star Trek I-XIII
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
UHF
Veronica Mars
The War
Wild
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Roseanne - Season 7

Happy belated Halloween everyone and welcome to the season seven recap of Roseanne (season 7 excerpt). You can catch up on past season recaps by clicking here. I was hoping to sneak this write-up in time for Halloween since the yearly Halloween episode is always a big occasion for the series, but alas I just missed that window.

-There is not too much of a change for the job roll call this season. Dan (John Goodman) is still running the city auto body shop, with Mark (Glenn Quinn) and Fred (Michael ‘O Keefe) working there too. Roseanne (Roseanne Barr), Jackie and Leon (Martin Mull) are still holding down the fort at The Lunchbox, however the amount of episodes that transpire there is dialed back a couple notches. There are a couple episodes where DJ (Michael Fishman) and Darlene (Sara Gilbert) are seen helping out there too. Becky (Sarah Chalke) is presumably still working her waitress gig, but it is never really addressed this season.

-One of the big season hooks this year is Roseanne and Dan deciding to want to have another child and eventually getting pregnant midway through the season. Since it happened a good ways into the season there is no stereotypical season finale with the new family member arriving on the household. It is a surprisingly lukewarm episode when it comes to season-ending storylines as the finale is half David (Johnny Galecki) debating on taking a post-graduation trip to Europe, and half fantasy tribute to the cast dressing up as characters in a spoof of Gilligan’s Island.

-Carrying on the theme of last season, the show rotates the amount of Connor children appearing on each episode with Roseanne and Dan being at the forefront of most episodes. There are a few shows where the whole family is on, but since Darlene is still in school in Chicago and Becky and Mark move out into a trailer halfway into the season, Roseanne trended to rotating those three characters on and off. Speaking of Mark, his character regrettably got dramatically dumbed down this season to the equivalent of Joey from Friends. It is cringing to endure Mark getting played for cheap laughs several seasons into his character, and I am surprised this lasted throughout the season. Speaking of Friends, it debuted this year in the TV lineup of 1994-95 and it must have had a really strong first season because it is even referenced in one of the final episodes of this season of Roseanne.

-This is a second strong Halloween episode this season where the theme is once again Roseanne being the victim of the prank. Roseanne is led to believe her mother is bald and falls for thinking Fred is gay with a huge payoff at the end of the episode. This is an edgier season for the dialogue, and a bit more explicit language thrown around casually this season. I am all for it as it only seemed natural for the characters to be looser with their vernacular, but were held back all these years until the FCC eased up their guidelines. Roseanne has a lot of entertaining exchanges with Leon this season where the two casually throw fat/gay jokes at each other in a bizarrely loving way.

-Roseanne & Jackie’s co-owner of The Lunchbox, Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) is only on one or two early episodes this season before mysteriously not appearing again afterwards. After being limited to just a few appearances in the last couple of seasons, this is the first season with no Crystal (Natalie West). While doing a little research for this entry, I found out she will only be appearing in one more episode before she is done with the show.

-One of the peculiar arcs this season to follow was the love triangle between David, Darlene and Jimmy (Danny Masterson). Darlene dumps David for Jimmy at the beginning of the season, only for Jimmy to break up with Darlene halfway through the season. David and Darlene finally get back together towards the end of the season. Speaking of relationship troubles, Jackie and Fred’s marriage seemed doomed from the beginning as the two are squabbling over initial hurdles, but things take a major turn after Jackie starts going out with another man and Fred finds out. The two then soothe things over and reunite, but then go into couples counseling an episode or two later, before they finally call their marriage off in a depressing scene in the penultimate episode of the season. It looks like Fred will be around for a little while longer into season eight before officially departing the show, but I am bummed as I really dug his character and wit, and he gelled in perfectly and was in the mix prominently for these past two seasons.

-Once again, there are no extra features for this season. As I referenced earlier, I am curious with the direction of the last couple seasons to shuffle in and out the Connor children and I would have liked to see some interviews with cast and crew explaining the evolution of the show at this point in the series. One other little nitpick I have is throughout the entire run of the series on DVD at this point there is no option for subtitles. Not a huge deal breaker, but thought I would mention it for those that appreciate that option. Split hairs aside, this is yet another solid season of Roseanne as they found new ways to evolve the show and its characters and keep it must-see throughout.

Past TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
2014-15 TV Season Recap
2015-16 TV Season Recap
2016-17 TV Season Recap
Adventures of Briscoe County Jr: The Complete Series
Angry Videogame Nerd Volumes 7-9
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
OJ: Made in America: 30 for 30
RedvsBlue - Seasons 1-13
Roseanne – Seasons 1-9
Seinfeld Final Season
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle
Superheroes: Pioneers of Television

Sunday, October 29, 2017

RoH Supercard of Honor XI

Welcome all to my yearly recap of Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor (SoH) event. It is the one RoH show I make sure to catch every year, so click here to check out past installments. 2017 marked the 11th edition of the show and like most previous SoH cards, it transpired within the same vicinity as where Wrestlemania occurred that same weekend. As a result, the announcers for this show (Kevin Kelly, Colt Cabana, Ian Riccaboni) stated SoH XI had one of the largest attendances in RoH history. RoH is about in the same place as it was a year ago, owned by TV conglomerate Sinclair. One new addition to RoH since the prior SoH was bringing back their own women’s division and branding it as ‘Women of Honor.’ They aired a handful of women-only shows since the summer of 2016 and women matches spotlighted on the RoH YouTube channel are among their videos that garner their highest traffic.

RoH still has their weekly syndicated TV show that can be found on your local Sinclair affiliate or on a few day delay on the official RoH website. I am impressed to see they have maintained their step up in ring and arena lighting that I noticed last year as it brings their overall production values up to a more professional level. They even added a few video-trons to their entrance area and have near-WWE quality matchup and banner graphics throughout the event. Big ups to Sinclair these past two years for doing those little things that go a long way!

The four prelim matches are included as bonus material on disc two and are all Women of Honor bouts. On one hand this is great seeing four women matches on a show, but to see them all relegated to the preshow is disheartening. Tasha Steelz bested Brandi Lauren in the opener with a Butterfly Suplex in a basic opener while the arena was still filing in. Next, Mandy Leon & Jenny Rose beat Sumie Sakai & Faye Jackson in a bout that engaged the crowd with a few more dives and high-flying maneuvers and saw Mandy get the pin with her Unprettier finisher. The best of the four women’s matches featured talent on loan from Mexican promotion CMLL. Marcela and La Amapola are two sound veterans who had a main event caliber match with many impressive holds and moments, and eventually Marcela got the victory with a Michinoku Driver. The final women’s match saw the undefeated Kelly Klein defeat Deonna Purrazzo with a Northern Lights Suplex. The announcers kept hyping Klein as a big deal for being undefeated for 525 days going into the match, so I anticipate only big things for her ahead.

The opener for the main SoH XI card was for the TV title and featured Marty Scrull defending the strap against Bullet Club member Adam Cole. Yes, the same Adam Cole who left for WWE a few months later and is now the head of the NXT faction, Undisputed Era with Bobby Fish and Kyle ‘o Reilly. This bout had a lot of good exchanges and counters and vicious-looking piledrivers. The exception however was Cole botching two attempts at a Tombstone, but the duo quickly found their footing not too long after. Eventually Scrull successfully defended the title with a rear naked choke submission. My man, Silas Young (AKA AWA Scott Hall) and Beer City Bruiser teamed up next against The Kindgom, and after some chicanery involving a cigar, Young hit his version of the TKO and got the pin while puffing away on the stogie in a fun match.

A nice highlight package recapping Bully Ray’s involvement in RoH and becoming a triple tag team champion along with the Briscoes helped set up their title defense versus Bullet Club’s Hangman Page & Gorillas of Destiny. If you recall my past RoH recaps, I am not a big fan of the lack of officiating in RoH tag bouts, but considering the participants involved here I will allow a little leeway in this match that had a ton of chaos and crowd pleasing madness. I am still a little surprised to see Bully Ray competing in an RoH ring, but he seems like a good fit with the Briscoes as they successfully defended their titles with a double Doomsday Device and Super 3D for the win. Another former WWE star made his SoH debut next with Bullet Club’s Cody Rhodes taking on Jay Lethal in a Texas Bullrope match. Oh yeah, I forgot he is just called ‘Cody’ here because WWE owns the ‘Rhodes’ trademark. Another video package and the announcers helped set the stage for their rivalry and why the Bullrope match is a big deal for the Rhodes family. There were some big moments here that saw Cody dawn the crimson mask and a sweet-looking spot from Cody where he popped up and toss Lethal through a table. Eventually Cody got his first RoH loss here after Jay pinned him with the Lethal Injection.

The next match was a triple threat tag team match with the Motor City Machine Guns, the Rebellion and Will Ferrara & Cheeseburger. This contest was more of a cluster-mess with all kinds of hijinx in the opening half and the tag rules being practically non-existent. Once I got past the craziness, there were a few decent spots that culminated with the Motor City Machine Guns getting the win with their finish. The last match on disc one saw Punishment Martinez take on Frankie Kazarian. Martinez can fly for a big man, and he eventually got the victory with his South of Heaven Chokeslam after Hangman Page distracted Kaz.

The aforementioned Bobby Fish came out next and called out Jay Lethal, but instead Silas Young came out and the two had an impromptu match that featured a cringe-inducing ref bump. The match got thrown out after a few minutes when Silas attacked the replacement ref for the DQ. More CMLL talent was showcased in the next bout with Dragon Lee & Jay White taking on Volador Jr. & Will Ospreay. These guys can go, and their acrobatics puts a vast majority of the cruiserweight action on 205 Live to shame. Ospreay delivering a Shooting Star Press to the outside of the ring was the standout highlight, but it was his partner Volador Jr. who got the pin with a body scissors from the top rope.

The first half of the double main event followed with Christopher Daniels defending his RoH World Title against Dalton Castle. It was a nice feel good story earlier this year with Daniels winning his first World Title gold after over 20 years in the business. Dalton dialed back his act enough so it is not as obnoxious as before, but despite his efforts in this match a well executed counter-exchange had Daniels getting the surprise roll-up win. After the match Cody attacked Daniels to set up their title match several weeks later.

The final match saw the Hardy Boyz defending their tag titles against the Bullet Club’s Young Bucks in a ladder match. Since my previous SoH recap, I have since ‘got’ the Young Bucks ‘too sweet/superkick party’ personas. It was a bit too over-the-top initially when first exposed to it last year, but I kind of get it now and am not as mortified by it as I once was. I still think they forever ruined the superkick as a finish, but to be fair so did the Usos in recent years to a lesser degree. The match did not disappoint, and while the Hardyz are 25-year vets, they nearly stayed on pace with the Young Bucks throughout. A couple OMG moments were the Bucks putting Jeff Hardy through a table with a 450 Splash and the Hardyz shoving one of the Bucks off a ladder in a specific way that he wound up inadvertently putting his own brother through a table. I am not kidding when I state that at least 10, maybe even 15 tables were broken throughout the match. Ultimately, the Young Bucks emerged as the new tag champs when they simultaneously superkicked both Hardyz off a ladder and grabbed the belts for the win. If you recall how this weekend went down earlier this year it was the final day for the Hardyz in their short RoH stint after a lengthy run in Impact/GFW/TNA. They would proceed to return to WWE the next night at Wrestlemania 33, but more on that in a future blog!

SoH XI was a major improvement from the two night split SoH X lineup from last year. The overall show was better paced and they did not go excess on the comedy or highspots overkill like in some previous years. The continued bump in production quality and convenient storyline highlight packages that preceded most matches added a lot for a casual RoH fan like myself who only catches just a few shows a year. I would have liked to have seen at least one of the women’s matches on the main card, and I had a few other nitpicks noted above, but for the most part this was the best SoH show in quite a few years. My picks for matches of the night are the Bullrope match, the CMLL tag match and the tag titles ladder main event that delivered! Definitely go out of your way to add Supercard of Honor XI to your RoH collection!

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Clash of Champions
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 3
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
DDP: Positively Living
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History
Owen: Hart of Gold
RoH Supercard of Honor 2010-Present
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Sting: Into the Light
Straight to the Top: Money in the Bank Anthology
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
TNA Lockdown 2005-2014
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns
Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28-Present
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
Wrestling Road Diaries Three: Funny Equals Money
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Shoot 'em Up

I will never forget highly recommending today’s film, 2007’s Shoot ‘em Up (trailer), to a coworker after catching it at the theater. A short time later he came back to me in a not-so-delightful manner and proceeded to lambast me about how much he and his wife hated it. Ever since then I taught myself to never glowingly gush about any film to friends and peers. Even if I know a film will make my annual top 10 rankings, when it comes up in conversation and only when prompted I will respond with simply mild approval in order to avoid raising expectations.

From that experience and a few others with films belonging to the ‘gratuitous over-the-top’ action genre (Crank, Drive Angry, Hardcore Henry) , I came to find out people either really love or really despise these films. As you can see, I belong to the former group. Like Crank and Hardcore Henry, Shoot ‘em Up puts its outrageous action and stunts at the forefront and attaches an eyebrow-raising exposition in order to somehow tie it all together. Smith (Clive Owen) is minding his own business at a bus stop when a mother-to-be in labor dashes by him, and she is pursued moments later by henchmen working under a man known as Hertz (Paul Giamatti). Smith reluctantly decides to save the day and delivers the baby, only to see that he is to be ruthlessly chased by a countless amount of thugs in all sorts of ridiculous shootouts. Smith tries to bring the newborn to safe refuge to his friend DQ (Monica Bellucci), only to discover that Hertz is still right on his tail, and the rest of the film is a cat and mouse game with Smith trying to stay a step or two ahead of Hertz while trying to piece together how this diabolical plot came to be.

The unbelievable, unapologetic action is what Shoot ‘em Up is all about. There are too many ‘yeah, right’ moments in the film to count, and eventually it got to the point where I accepted it and rolled with it to see what the filmmakers would shove in my face next. If Mr. Smith would have it his way, it would be carrots…literally. It has been 10 years since I first saw this film and every time I have seen an ordinary carrot, I instantly hearken back to several priceless moments in Shoot ‘em Up. I do not want to give a lot away on how crazy the action is, because the ‘what will they throw at me next’ X-factor is what keeps this film moving. Most of the stunts and action worked for me, but like I said in the intro, there are people I have talked to who were not on board with Shoot ‘em Up right from the beginning so there is a decent chance this take on action films may not be up your alley.

Clive Owen is perfect as the man of few words, Mr. Smith. He will occasionally mutter a super-cheesy one-liner that would make 80s action flicks proud. Giamatti is also spot-on as the villain Hertz, and Shoot ‘em Up does a great job conveying that Hertz is a little off his rocker. Hertz is a former FBI Profiler who garbles throwaway lines about using his profiler instincts in order to figure out where Smith and DQ are off to next. The three plays off each other well whenever they encounter one another throughout the film, and the film pulls no punches when it comes to their final clash.

There are a decent amount of extras on the BluRay. There are eight minutes of deleted scenes, and make sure to check them out with director’s commentary as I was losing it at one scene where Michael Davis stated he had to cut a scene because of feedback that it was ‘too unbelievable.’ There is a 53 minute making of feature titled Ballet of Bullets. It is pretty comprehensive at breaking down the origins and inspirations for the film, dissecting the latest weaponry in the film and explaining how they pulled off some of the stunts. Definitely check that out or instead opt for the ‘enhanced visual commentary’ that is available to play alongside the entirety of Shoot ‘em Up. The visual commentary plays clips of interviews with many cast and crew members talking about relative scenes that are playing out and it recycles a fair amount of excerpts from Ballet of Bullets. It was a nice way to experience the film again and get a little more insight throughout from many perspectives. There is also a standalone audio commentary track with director, Michael Davis, but he chimes in frequently throughout the visual commentary so I skipped his additional audio track.

I am a big fan of straight-up action films, but it is only every so often that we get ones as outlandish as this. Again, do not let me overhype this for you if this style of action/comedy is not what you are into. If you checked out the linked preview in the intro, you will know what you are in for. Suffice it to say, if you do not mind a good dose of crazy injected into your action movies, then you cannot go wrong with Shoot ‘em Up.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

3
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christmas Eve
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Creed
Dirty Work
Faster
Fast and Furious I-VIII
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Gravity
Guardians of the Galaxy
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
Ink
The Interrogation
Interstellar
Jobs
Man of Steel
Marine 3-5
Mortal Kombat
National Treasure
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
The Replacements
Rocky I-VII
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
San Andreas
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Steve Jobs
Source Code
Star Trek I-XIII
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
UHF
Veronica Mars
The War
Wild
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Thursday, September 28, 2017

2016-17 TV Season Recap: Part Four - Bonus Summer TV Edition

Previous TV Season Recaps – (2013-14 | 2014-15 | 2015-16

2016-17 TV Season Recap, Part 1 (Gotham, Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow)
2016-17 TV Season Recap, Part 2 (Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Legion, Riverdale)
2016-17 TV Season Recap, Part 3 (24: Legacy, South Park, Horace & Pete, Stranger Things)

I did not anticipate there being so many new shows to keep up with this summer, and the last summer shows just wrapped up over the last few weeks in time for season premieres of the shows I am currently following. When I reflected back on the summer, there ended up being six seasons of shows I wound up devouring throughout the summer, and it felt like plenty to warrant a quick blog with my thoughts of the summer of television. A few of these shows I covered in prior TV Season recaps, but their premieres got pushed back a few months to the summertime instead of their usual spring debuts, and a few other shows caught my eye too, so let’s get to it!

Glow - For those unfamiliar with GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) it was a edgy women's wrestling league that ran from 1985-90. The Netflix series focuses on a new cast of fictional characters with some based on personas of the former wrestler's in the promotion. Glow centers on one Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) who has been looking to catch her first break in Hollywood and took up a role in GLOW because it was the only thing available. The 10 episode season introduces the cast of the dozen or wrestlers and builds up to the season finale which is the shooting of the pilot episode. Obviously, the wrestling nut in me is really biased on this, but I feel safe in saying it is a legit good show and you do not need to be a wrestling fan to dig it. Only about 30% of the show deals with wrestling while the rest is fleshing out the rest of the cast. Wrestling fans will dig a few cameos from former WWE/Impact stars peppered throughout the show. The episodes are roughly a half hour each and with only 10 episodes it made for a quick and entertaining watch. Grade: B+

Defenders - This is the equivalent to the Netflix Marvel Universe to what the first Avengers was to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Defenders is the team-up show of the four heroes introduced in past Netflix Marvel shows over the last few years featuring Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). I loved seeing Daredevil, Jones and Cage back again and kicking ass, especially once they all start teaming up in the back half of the show. Another positive is this season is only eight episodes compared to the usual 13 of previous Marvel Netflix series so there is a lot less fluff.

On the negative however, Defenders doubles down on nearly everything I loathed on the Iron Fist show. I am not a fan of the villains known as ‘The Hand’ at all as they come off as meaningless cannon-fodder, but Marvel went all in on them this season by unleashing Elektra (Elodie Yung) as their leader. She kind of gives The Hand a smidge of an edge, but I was never much of a fan of Elektra either so that did not really help. Like most of the Internet, I was not big into Iron Fist also and it is unfortunate that Iron Fist is the primary focus of the four heroes in most episodes as he plays a pivotal role in trying to vanquish The Hand. By the end of the show I still was not swayed to be a fan of either Iron Fist or buying into The Hand as a formidable antagonist, but at least I can take solace in enjoying how Daredevil, Cage and Jones all played off each other along with each show’s periphery characters in each episode so the season was not a complete waste. Grade: C-

American Grit - The first season of American Grit was a guilty pleasure of mine and I am glad it returned along with host John Cena for a second season. It is a Survivor-esque reality show where a bunch of people are divided into four teams in a military themed camp with a former military veteran as their leader and compete in challenges each week that leads to someone going home each week until there is one left to win a million dollars. This season mixes things up a bit by having a 50/50 mix of contestants consisting of athletic builds and everyday Joes/Janes and all have a theme of trying to find their grit. That means a part of each show features a little bit of everyday drama of the competitors having a big personal moment revealing their past personal struggles and why they entered the show. There is also a little bit more of a focus on the team leaders this season too and watching their turmoil bubble over throughout the season resulted in some entertaining animosity.

I usually try and avoid most reality TV but naturally I made an exception for this show because it involves the charismatic beast that is John Cena and I got a kick whenever he appeared to shed some wisdom to the entrants or gossip with the military veterans. The challenges are also fun to watch for the most part and consist of a unique boot camp style variant so I was always looking forward to what challenge they cooked up each episode. The ‘finding your Grit’ theme resulted in several emotional moments throughout the show of the cast spilling their guts about their past and for a handful it looked like they legitimately came out of the show changed and finding out something new about themselves. Grade: A-

Ballers - The Rock continues to impress as sports financial manager extraordinaire Spencer Strasmore. I always relate Ballers as a sports-themed version of Entourage for those not familiar with it. The theme of this season is Spencer’s agency trying to expand and make it big by landing a deal to be the owner group in charge of moving an NFL team to Las Vegas. Rock continues to play off well with coworker Joe (Rob Corddry) as the two continue to party way too hard to impress potential clients. I also dig the athletes on this show as they face popular NFL controversies such as dealing with concussions and suspensions over failed drug tests. I will also give a shoutout to the Dolphins scout, Charles (Omar Miller) and Dolphins GM Larry Siefert (Dule Hill) as I have always dug their love/hate dynamic and they continue to steal the show with a few unforgettable scenes including a dinner scene that goes all kinds of wrong just like the average WWE wedding. There are a couple clunker episodes, but for the most part this was another must-see season. Grade: A-

Leftovers - I have no idea where to begin on this show that deals with living in the aftermath of the Rapture. The first season had a little bit of a standard plot structure, but last season and for this final third season, The Leftovers went off the rails in all kinds of unpredictable ways where I stopped trying to guess what happened and went along for the ride. The primary plot point for this episode is the cast worrying about a second, far greater Rapture occurring and the cast going to insurmountable lengths to prevent it. Some of those lengths feature crafting a new version of the Bible, the wildest boat ride in TV history and finally getting the payoff to what happened to the 2% of the population that vanished in the original Rapture.

It is hard to recommend this show as I stopped questioning what they were doing early on in the second season and am just accepting whatever they throw in my face, except for almost anything relating to the Guilty Remnant cult. It appears the writers heard our dissatisfied pleas and the Guilty Remnant are laughably written off early in the season with a throwaway line of dialogue and have a minimal presence this season. I take that back, I do like Guilty Remnant member, Liv Tyler getting her overdue comeuppance this season in a glorious manner. The series finale delivered like few other series finales before it and I will never forget conversing with a friend for nearly a half hour breaking down the entire season in a way I do with no other TV shows. Grade: A+

Game of Thrones - After many brief teases and minor skirmishes this is finally the season of Game of Thrones that goes all in on white walkers/zombies. It is impossible for me to give this show a fair breakdown in just a paragraph or two because it has such a huge cast and I am awful at remembering almost of all their names. I will say I liked the setup to capture a living white walker and bring it to Castle Black. Those two episodes really stood out the most where Jon Snow and his motley crew put their lives on the lines into the icy wastes to capture a white walker. The confrontation with the walkers surrounding Jon Snow on that island lead to him and his men laying it all on the line in a EPIC showdown that had me buying into their fates until an unexpected ex-machina transpires and had me popping huge at the TV.

I loved how Game of Thrones built up the big negotiation session between Snow and the Lannisters as a dramatic TV event for the ages and that episode delivered in a big way with meaningful payoffs. I do echo what a majority of the online feedback that the pace of travel is amped up far too fast compared to previous seasons. I recall prior seasons where certain characters spent an entire season getting from one location to another, but in this shortened season characters would leave one location, appear on another side of the world later that episode and make it back to their home region by the end of the same episode. I get it, the show is winding down with one more season to go so they need to fast track some of these story arcs, but after setting a precedent for the five prior seasons it is difficult to make that adjustment. There is still so much more I want to touch on including Arya being a badass assassin, dragons, zombie dragons, that grayscale-sickness seeming to be a little too convenient to cure, the awesomeness of Hot Pie and the cowardice of Theon, but I am already pushing 2000 words here and need to wrap this up. Suffice it to say, Game of Thrones continues to amaze, and I am gratified that I am finally caught up and cannot wait for the final season next year. Grade: A

Past TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
2014-15 TV Season Recap
2015-16 TV Season Recap
2016-17 TV Season Recap
Adventures of Briscoe County Jr: The Complete Series
Angry Videogame Nerd Volumes 7-9
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
OJ: Made in America: 30 for 30
RedvsBlue - Seasons 1-13
Roseanne – Seasons 1-9
Seinfeld Final Season
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle
Superheroes: Pioneers of Television

Straight to the Top: Money in the Bank Anthology

Several years ago WWE started releasing a few home videos compiling the most notorious gimmick matches in pro wrestling history. In 2013 they released a compilation I will be covering today, Straight to the Top: Money in the Bank Anthology (trailer). It consists of every MitB match through 2013; that is 14 matches of insane ladder spots! For newer fans of wrestling unfamiliar with the MitB match, it is a ladder match that usually happens once a year (originally debuting at Wrestlemania in 2005 before shifting over to its own self-titled PPV in 2010) featuring anywhere from 5-10 wrestlers vying to grab a briefcase off the top of the ladder to win. Inside the almighty briefcase is a contract guaranteeing a world title shot to be cashed in at anytime of the winner’s choosing within the next calendar year.

A majority of the MitB winners were mid-card talent who successfully cashed in and became world champions. Winning MitB almost certainly guaranteed a world title reign and a transition from the mid-card to the main event. Every match in here features a nonstop dazzling array of flips and dives and wrestlers getting creative with the ladders for all kinds of spots. Instead of breaking down each match individually, I will instead opt to highlight several things that popped out to me all these years later and other random factoids worth pointing out.

-The Miz is the host of Straight to the Top. He chimes in every couple of matches detailing changes to the MitB match over the years and recapping how some previous winners cashed in their title shot. Miz does not phone this in and is legitimately good in his hosting scenes and he paints a good picture setting up matches and recapping the success of past winners, including hyping himself up a lot after his 2010 MitB win. For those that may have forgot, that cash-in lead to my all-time favorite fan shot of ‘MizGirllooking pissed after Miz cashed in and won the WWE Title from Randy Orton.

-The first few matches in this collection are before WWE went HD in 2008 and are presented with ladder graphics on the side to help smooth off the resolution to its native format. Those are also mostly the matches that Jim Ross calls before Michael Cole took over. I miss Jim Ross. Cole is a pretty good replacement for the most part, except there are a couple matches where Cole was in the middle of his villain ‘Cole Miner’ run where he is more annoying. Luckily Cole dialed back his villain character on PPV so it is not all that bad, and is nowhere as insufferable as Booker T on commentary. When Booker T first started announcing in 2011, he was atrocious and his co-announcers rip on him nonstop throughout. Now in 2017 Booker T is…..still awful on commentary. Why did Booker T have to replace David Otunga on commentary this year!?! Otunga is far superior than Booker on commentary.

-It is worth noting that the first MitB contest in 2005 does have Chris Benoit in it. I think this is only the third or fourth Benoit match I have seen since the 2007 tragedy. It is hard to explain how that feels since WWE has not featured him in most home video releases since the double murder/suicide. WWE does make some edits around him in the 2005 match by removing his entrance and all lines of commentary pertaining to Benoit which makes for some awkward lulls whenever Benoit is on the offensive. I have no problem with WWE doing this and part of me is surprised they included this match in its entirety when they could have just done a quick highlights package instead and danced around Benoit’s involvement in the match. I can only ponder how befuddled newer fans not familiar with Benoit must feel watching this match and wondering who that unnamed wrestler is and why the announcers suddenly get quiet when he is on the attack.

-Shelton Benjamin is the highlight of the first batch of MitB matches. He is in five of the first six and in each one he usually has one or two surprising moments of ingenuity with the ladder that I have seen no one try to repeat since. Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne take over for Shelton for creative ladder spots in the second half of Straight to the Top. Kofi’s spots are a little goofier and do not usually pan out as well, but are still entertaining regardless. Reliving these matches again make me really miss Evan Bourne and I wish he was not as careless when it came to the PED tests he failed back-to-back that lead to his early WWE exit. I was stunned to see throughout this set that Rey Mysterio was only involved in just one MitB match in his lengthy WWE run.

-Kane is in a majority of the MitB matches in this anthology. He usually has one standout moment in a match where he does his vintage top rope clothesline or some other monstrous spot before the other competitors team up and incapacitate him for the rest of the match. I felt happy for Kane however when his lucked change in 2010 when he finally gets revenge and singlehandedly incapacitates each opponent with a destructive move before grabbing the briefcase for his MitB victory. I prefer how I originally worded this in my notes as ‘KANE KILLS EVERYONE TO GRAB BRIEFCASE.’

-Speaking of other unlikely big men to be in the MitB match, my favorite big man, Mark Henry is in a couple and I will give him a shoutout for a couple memorable spots, like teasing going off the top rope in 2009 before he gets tripped up and just dangles on top of the turnbuckle. In 2010 Henry has an awesome moment where he parts two ladders like how Moses parted the Red Sea….seriously. Believe it or not, Big Show participated in two MitB matches, and both times saw the inclusion of the super-ladder custom built for Big Show and capable of holding one ton of weight. Just watching Big Show attempt to get that beast of a ladder in the ring is an entertaining feat of itself and the wrestlers capitalize on taking advantage of that unique ladder.

-With so many ladder spots occurring in each match, there are going to naturally be a few botches transpiring here and there. I am never a fan of the ‘You ****ed up’ chants that happen when moves go awry because wrestlers can potentially injure themselves badly on a botch and it is incredibly disrespectful to the talent. The exception to this however is a comical botch where the danger level is low-to-nonexistent. There is the ultimate comical botch to the finish of the 2012 MitB match that John Cena won when John accidentally broke off the latch with his super-strength before he was suppose to win the match and he had to suddenly feign victory excitement before going back to bashing Big Show on the head with the briefcase.

-Probably the most vicious-looking spot of the collection is Sheamus powerbombing poor SinCara through a ladder, which lead to him getting the EMT-removal-treatment.

-The two hours of BluRay exclusives for Straight to the Top are probably the best exclusives of all other WWE BluRays. They feature all MitB cash-ins in their entirety. That is 12 matches all together, but of those 12, only two of them are main-event caliber match-ups. That is because only Rob Van Dam and John Cena are the only two MitB winners to announce their cash-in ahead of time so their bout was featured as a marquee main event match. All 10 other winners cashed in after the incumbent champion was in a vulnerable state after a grueling match or after getting ambushed unexpectedly by other wrestlers and made relatively quick work of the weakened champion. Watching the first cash-in again brought back memories of getting goosebumps because I did not know how the first ever cash-in would play out and it was so surprising because Edge waited 10 months to use it on a prone John Cena. Reliving RVD’s cash-in at One Night Stand 2006 was also special because it was in front of a raucous ECW-centric crowd at the Manhattan Center who ripped into John Cena with no remorse throughout the entire match. A few of the cash-ins I completely forgot about because a lot of them went down so similarly.

-I know fans that look forward to the MitB match each year more than the Royal Rumble match. Reliving all these matches again was a riot and there is rarely a dull moment in any of them. There are some stronger MitB matches than others, but nearly every match has several OMG moments. The only downside to this set is that it is now outdated by a few years and does not feature the last few MitB matches, but I guess that is what the WWE Network is for nowadays. If you want a vast majority of the MitB bouts on a nice BluRay set and not have to worry about digging through them individually on the WWE Network archives, then Straight to the Top: Money in the Bank Anthology is the way to go.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Clash of Champions
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 3
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
DDP: Positively Living
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History
Owen: Hart of Gold
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
RoH Supercard of Honor VIII
RoH Supercard of Honor IX
RoH Supercard of Honor X
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Sting: Into the Light
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
TNA Lockdown 2005-2014
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns
Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
Wrestlemania 31
Wrestlemania 32
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
Wrestling Road Diaries Three: Funny Equals Money
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

As promised, I am back with my take on the sequel to last month’s movie I covered, National Treasure, with 2007’s National Treasure: Book of Secrets (trailer). Why would there be a sequel when the first movie had such a happy ending you ask? That is because all it takes is some simple lines of dialogue and a couple quick minutes of setup to erase all the happy endings in Hollywood and establish a new conflict to conquer in a sequel.

How far has the cast come after earning their share of the mammoth treasure haul from the first movie? Well, Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Abigail (Diane Kruger) start the film fresh off a breakup. Riley (Justin Bartha) has his share of the treasure haul embezzled by a greedy accountant and Patrick Gates (Jon Voight) has his family’s legacy accused of treason by newcomer antagonist Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris). Recall how Gates had an ancestor in the last film that had direct ties with the founding fathers? Turns out there was another Gates ancestor who had ties to a legendary treasure left behind by John Wilkes Booth during his attempted escape from authorities after murdering President Lincoln. Wilkinson’s accusation leads the Gates family along with Riley and Abigail to track down Booth’s treasure and clear their family’s good name!

From here Book of Secrets follows the same beats as the previous film. Nicolas Cage once again uses his one-of-a-kind couth to deduce riddles and clues that take his party across the globe to DC, Paris, London and finally finishing off their quest at Mt. Rushmore. Props to the filmmakers for once again sprinkling nonstop history facts throughout the film that the history nut in me absolutely ate up. To complete the established formula of the first film, expect several WTF/yeah right moments/stunts throughout. The biggest eyebrow-raiser is when the Gates family concludes that in order to uncover the next clue that they have to kidnap the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood). If that is not ridiculous enough, the way it all plays out is more laughably absurd, but in a hilariously entertaining way.

I will once again give props to Cage for nailing the over-the-top, yet affable Benjamin Gates persona. The rest of the supporting cast brings it too and all gel together for yet another fun treasure hunt film. Other random little bits I want to mention is a quick shoutout to a minor periphery character, Connor (Ty Burrell). He rocks in the couple of scenes he is in! I want to be a part of the annual White House Easter Egg hunt! Those bunnies look far more happier than the one in Mallrats. Like the previous film, Book of Secrets likes to show off the latest tech and gadgets they have available. For a movie filmed in 2006, the cast is shown throughout showing off the latest features of their fancy flip phones that are equipped with a camera so they can send pics to each other. My oh my, how far phones have come in a decade. I bet the President’s Secret Book really does exist, and if I somehow stumble across it I swear I will not be like Benjamin Gates and quickly brush past the JFK assassination chapter like he does when Riley points it out with his retort being the cliché “there’s no time” excuse!

The Book of Secrets BluRay is stacked with extra features just like the last one. If you are an extra feature junkie like me, then you have probably seen some movies include various forms of feature-length pop-up factoids. This BluRay has a really enhanced version of that called Book of History where there is a lot of interactive ‘fact or fiction’ history questions posed at you and the film keeps track of your score throughout. I would have stuck with it for the whole film if I did not already watch it a second time with the audio commentary with director Jon Turteltaub and actor Jon Voight. Like Turteltaub’s last commentary, he came prepared with tons of facts and insights from the production process and he peppers in many little history bits throughout. Voight is amusing to listen to because he only occasionally chimes in every few scenes with, ‘Wow, what a movie!’

After the feature-length extras, there are an ten additional extra features totaling just under an hour and a half. There are a ton of deleted scenes included, and a few of which I would have loved to see in the film, but Turteltaub is on hand here to justify why they all had to remain on the cutting room floor. Of the nine other extras, the two I would recommend checking out the most would be Secrets of a Sequel which is a quick breakdown with the cast and crew about going ‘bigger and better’ in terms of scope and quality with the sequel. The other must-see extra is Inside Library of Congress, where the filmmakers spread the love about how awesome this particular library is, and detail its history and how it acquires its many books among its archives. Very cool!

Fans of the first film and of other treasure hunting classics like Indiana Jones cannot go wrong with National Treasure: Book of Secrets. As stated above, the filmmakers stick with the same formula of the first film, but crank it up a notch by trekking around the world to international landmarks and even bigger stunts/theatrics thanks in part to a bigger budget. To top it off, if you happen to love your American history as much as I do then expect a free bonus mini-history lesson out of the film too!

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

3
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christmas Eve
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Creed
Dirty Work
Faster
Fast and Furious I-VIII
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Gravity
Guardians of the Galaxy
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
Ink
The Interrogation
Interstellar
Jobs
Man of Steel
Marine 3-5
Mortal Kombat
National Treasure
The Replacements
Rocky I-VII
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
San Andreas
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Steve Jobs
Source Code
Star Trek I-XIII
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
UHF
Veronica Mars
The War
Wild
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past