Thursday, December 31, 2015

redvsblue Season 10

Season 10 marks the final season included in the ten year redvsblue anniversary set off Amazon. It is part two of two of the Project Freelancer saga (trailer), and clocks in at one of the longest RVB seasons yet at a whopping two hours and forty minutes! It continues the same narrative as the previous season where half of it is a prequel with the freelancer team working under the director (John Reed) and the counselor (Asaf Ronen) set “many years ago” before the events of the first seasons of RVB.

The other half of the narrative takes place in the present. The end of season nine was with Church/Epsilon (Burnie Burns) getting yanked out of the bizarre alternate reality he was stuck in. To his rescue is Caboose (Joel Heyman), Sarge (Matt Hullum) and former freelancers, Carolina (Jen Brown) and Washington (Shannon McCormick). They meet up with Grif (Geoff Ramsey), Simmons (Gus Sorola) and Tucker (Jason Saldana) as we find out that Carolina is leading them all to track down the director to settle some unfinished business.

That unfinished business is told through the prequel narrative with the freelancer squad as we follow them on a few missions in the opening half of the season. Not all is well as we find out that Agent CT (Samantha Ireland) is a traitor and she meets her maker courtesy of Tex (Kathleen Zuelch). Things get a bit intense on the prequel half of the season as the cracks forming between the agents in part one of Project Freelancer come to a head in part two with several alliances and rivalries erupting between the agents. Like last season the freelancer half of the story features the bulk of the stunning animation scenes that has been present since season eight of RVB. The animators Rooster Teeth has employed since season eight do some marvelous work with their super detailed battle scenes that are a joy to witness, and like last season I cannot help but feel spoiled while indulging them after several seasons without them.

Watching the freelancer side of the story this season is a bit edgier than the everyday lighthearted tomfoolery involving the reds and blues in the present storyline. The last couple years I have been getting into the Flash and Arrow TV series and it reminds me a lot of that similar dynamic between those two shows that both fall under the same story arcs. Like last season the two balance each other out nicely, because after seeing the bubbling storylines come to a boil and the heated firefights with the freelancers it is much appreciated to get a helping of some of the trademark humor from the reds and blues. I recall knowingly nodding along with Sarge as he quipped that it was hard to keep tabs on what was what with all the double crosses, time travelling, deaths and fake deaths transpiring. He is not kidding, because like I mentioned in last season’s blog, the RVB cannon is right up there with Lost on how to keep track of everything.

Even though this is the longest season of RVB yet, the storyline being split in two parts definitely helps make it go by faster. I particularly enjoyed how the final act went down. The freelancer prequel side ends fittingly enough with all the pieces falling in the right places and tying in directly to the beginning of the first story arc of RVB that is known as The Blood Gulch Chronicles. Back in the present, the reds and blues unite in a very memorable scene after an unlikely voice we have not heard from in awhile motivates them to overcome their differences where the reds and blues hook up with Carolina and Church/Epsilon against what else but insurmountable odds to lead them to their fateful meeting with the director. Make sure to watch after the credits this season also as there is a two minute stinger tying up some loose knots that were dangling throughout the season.

As usual we get the standard slate of extra features for season 10 of RVB. I dug the commentary track the most as it features several Rooster Teeth cast and crew members. There were rarely any lulls in the commentary and the cast had a great ebb and flow throughout as they pointed out easter eggs, timeline discrepancies, overall thoughts on filming with Halo Reach and visiting 343 to use their first Halo 4 machinima for the final sequence in season 10. If you want to know more about how they pulled off their animation, they have a couple animators on the commentary that definitely go into detail on certain scenes. Rounding off the extras are seven minutes of outtakes and five PSA bonus videos, with my favorite of the five easily going to their ‘net survival guide PSA. That PSA compares how the Internet has evolved over the years and what it takes to survive in the modern era dominated by social media.

While part two of the Project Freelancer saga is the final season included in theten year box set, it will not be the final RVB blog here. I only covered two of the four discs of extra features so far, so expect the next RVB article to detail the remaining box set extra features. I also own seasons 11 and 12 of RVB, so expect blogs of those in the next few months. Oddly enough, I had to purchase season 10 separate from the box set, because in a onetime only instance from the countless things I purchased from Amazon over the last 16 years, I had the case ripped open and the disc with season 10 was missing. Why only one disc was swiped from the 14-disc set will forever remain a mystery. Regardless, I will see you all again soon for at least a few more RVB entries to come.

Past redvsblue Blogs

Season 1 Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7
Season 8
Season 9

Friday, December 25, 2015

Dirty Work

Merry Christmas my dear readers! My gift to you is a blog on my all time favorite comedy film that finally came out on BluRay a few months ago with 1998’s Dirty Work (trailer). Why did it take so long to come out on BluRay you ask? In 1998 the DVD format was only a year old and Dirty Work was there with a DVD release and it became one of the very first DVDs I owned. Many film companies have put out their biggest hits on BluRay since that format arrived in 2006 and it still has a noticeable presence on retail shelves. However, the ubiquity of online streaming media like Netflix and Hulu combined with the surprising staying power of DVD sales resulted in BluRay not taking off as fast as DVDs.

BluRay still splits about 50% of home video shelf space with the aging DVD format at most retailers nearly 10 years after the debut of the BluRay. Compare that to the advent of DVDs where five years after the debut of DVDs in 2002 and the VHS format was about a year away from being gone on retail shelves all together. I am giving that little aside as a reason why some film studios are taking their time putting out their back catalog that were not originally massive hits on BluRay. This past year I finally got three of my favorite comedies in the form of The Replacements, UHF and finally here with Dirty Work making their long overdue release on BluRay.

Enough history, onto the film! Dirty Work stars Norm MacDonald as down-on-his-luck Mitch Weaver. The film opens with a nice montage of Mitch and his friend Sam (Artie Lange) growing up not taking crap from bullies and always getting the last laugh. Fast forward to the present and it is a complete 180 as Mitch just lost his girlfriend and his latest job, so he moves in with Sam and his father, Pops (Jack Warden). All is not well though as Pops has a heart attack and his doctor-turned-compulsive-gambler (Chevy Chase) reveals he needs a new heart transplant to live, and will bump him to the top of a transplant list if they give him $50,000 to pay off his bookies. So Sam & Mitch do the only reasonable thing and go back to their mischievous ways and open up a revenge-for-hire business with is aptly named Dirty Work in hopes of raising the cash.

While some of you may recognize Norm MacDonald now as the new KFC mascot and for his random live Twitter sports play-by-play tweets, back in 1998 Norm was riding high coming off a hot run on the long running Saturday Night Live satire news segment, Weekend Update. Norm added a unique twist to his take on Weekend Update by busting out a tape recorder and recording future notes to self so he can learn from the mistakes of others making headlines. Norm’s tape recorder bit was a hit with fans that it made its way into Dirty Work and plays a vital role in Norm overcoming this film’s antagonist Travis Cole, played by one Christopher McDonald who is fresh off as evil golfer Shooter McGavin from the Adam Sandler megahit, Happy Gilmore.

There are also a few other noteworthy cast members worth mentioning. Traylor Howard plays Norms love interest, Kathy. Adam Sandler, Gary Coleman, Ken Norton and John Goodman all have brief, but memorable cameos. Don Rickles and David Koechner have small roles as evil bosses early on that are on the receiving end of Mitch & Sam’s revenge business. Dirty Work also will go down as being Chris Farley’s final role (Farley is not in the official credits for reasons beyond me) as he plays a small supporting role in the film as ‘that guy’ in the bar in only a few vintage Farley-quality scenes, with his most memorable when he plays the wrong song on the jukebox in preparation for a bar fight. Finally I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Mr. Full House himself, Bob Saget took one of his few trips to the director’s chair in his career to oversee this production.

Dirty Work is about as slapstick as it gets, as you can nearly predict how the film plays out right from the beginning. The journey there is worth it however as the film is filled with countless great quotes and moments throughout. Trust me after seeing this film, you will think about used car dealerships and other films like Men in Black in a whole different light. Some of the jokes may not hit for all as the film has its fair share of dry humor moments peppered throughout, especially from Chevy Chase which I thought they were a fine balance to the many off-the-wall antics from Sam & Mitch.

MGM did nothing special for BluRay release. The original DVD release only had a trailer, and that is all we get on the BluRay. Somehow MGM found a way to take away bonus content as the original DVD menus had the Dirty Work theme in the background, and it is absent on the BluRay menu. The DVD also had a little two page insert with production notes and quotes from the cast and crew on what was the closest we got to a behind-the-scenes feature of the film, and sadly that is not included with the BluRay either. Yes, I had to be the guy who made sure to save my DVD insert and enclose it with my BluRay copy. The lack of extras is a bummer, as I imagined it could not have been that difficult to track down Norm MacDonald, Artie Lange and Bob Saget for a couple hours to record a commentary at the very least.

I am probably overhyping this film a bit by proclaiming it as one of my favorite comedies ever when I doubt this will be on many lists if you search Google for ‘best ever comedy films.’ Dirty Work came out at the right time for me, and the jokes and moments still hold up today for me. The film perfectly captures Norm MacDonald’s style of comedy he brought to SNL, and if you were a fan of that then you know what you are in for. If you were completely unfamiliar with Dirty Work before and stumble across it in the cheap movie bin or while browsing across a streaming service, I hope you give it a chance as it is a very quick watch right at an hour and a half and I guarantee it will at least get a few unconventional laughs out of you, if not many more.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

Friday, December 18, 2015

ECW Unreleased: Volume 1

After several years of not releasing any ECW DVDs, WWE started off a new trilogy of ECW home video releases with 2012’s ECW Unreleased: Volume 1 (trailer). As the name of this BluRay implies, it features 22 matches never released on a WWE home video disc before. However, some of the matches on this very collection were released on home video before through ECW’s old video partner through 2002, Pioneer Video. I have most of those Pioneer releases and if you can track those down at a reasonable price I suggest you do so as they feature matches uncut, uncensored and do not suffer from WWE’s watchful editing eye as I saw some of that original content like signs blurred out when it appeared again on WWE Network or this very home video release.

The Pioneer DVDs also do not edit out the unlicensed entrance themes that WWE does not have the rights to. Some of the entrances helped really establish the characters and it goes a long way getting psyched up for a match when you see the crowd singing along to Rob Van Dam coming out to Pantera’s “Walk” and the crowd jamming out with Sandman to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as he drinks a six-pack through his meticulous walk through the crowd. On this release, the licensed music is dubbed over with their WWE themes, and other non-WWE wrestlers get painfully generic tunes dubbed over instead. I am anticipating an already lengthy blog so I will not try and give a detailed match-by-match breakdown but try to make sure to highlight the ones that really popped me instead.

Joey Styles kicks off ECW Unlreased: Volume 1 with a quick history of ECW’s origins as Eastern Championship Wrestling in 1992. ECW rebranded itself as Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1994 when Shane Douglas threw down the NWA title he just won in a match against 2 Cold Scorpio in favor of the ECW title instead. That match kicks off this collection, along with Shane’s infamous post match promo where he rechristens the ECW acronym and title, and we got our very first ‘ECW’ chant from the Philly faithful. That promo was indeed legendary for its time and it still feels special experiencing again today.

If you watched recent episodes of RAW you’ll notice their new ‘Extreme’ faction with Rhino, The Dudley Boyz and Tommy Dreamer going at it against the Wyatt Family. On RAW, Michael Cole keeps referring to Dreamer as ‘The Heart and Soul of ECW’ and you can see the match here where he won over the ECW crowd with that moniker with his bout against Raven at Hostile City Takedown ’95. Constantly on ECW montages on modern day WWE television you will see a classic ECW clip of Dreamer in the crowd chanting along with the fans, and that is what happened here directly after this match.

There is a pair of technical-savvy bouts featuring a pre-WCW/WWE Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero. One is a Heatwave ’95 tag match with Eddy & Taz teaming up against Scorpio & Malenko in a rare ECW tag match that features actual tag rules. On top of that, pay attention to the crowd in this match as it is apparently scorching hot inside the building as quite a few fans are shirtless and dripping with sweat. Fans who read Mick Foley’s book and remember his hall of fame speech will recall that he is good friends with Shane Douglas as the two were in the same training class, here you can see the only time to the best of my memory that they squared off during Cyberslam ’96. This bout features a lot of heat as it transpired during Foley’s “Take Me Back Uncle Eric” phase that was drawing massive heat in his final weeks in ECW. This match is really entertaining, and the ending is still intense to watch to this day as it draws heavily on Foley’s history in ECW and his old tag team partner, Mikey Whipwreck.

In a predecessor to the TLC matches we see today, there is a match featuring those weapons pitting the Eliminators against RVD & Sabu from Cyberslam ’97. Match is a big ‘ol spotfest with no real build, but was something special at the time. Another big spotfest is the grudge match that had a ton of buildup culminating to ECW’s first PPV, Barely Legal that had Taz and Sabu square off. It is entertaining witnessing Taz deliver many variants of suplexes, but he cannot pull them off like Brock Lesnar can today. Make sure to skip over the November 2 Remember ’97 bout with Shane Douglas and Bam Bam Bigelow. It is technically sound, but very slow and dragging, with Douglas wrestling in a modern day SuperCena underdog match where he is lying dead for 80% of the match before making the predictable heroic comeback and ‘overcoming insurmountable odds.’

There are a few of RVD matches on here worth seeing when he was in full-on “Mr. Monday Night” mode. At Heatwave ’98, RVD & Sabu team up against two Japanese sensations in an all out awesome tag battle with nonstop action that actually had a story and made sense! In a Hardcore TV match a few months later you see one of his classic bouts against Jerry Lynn for the TV Title. At Heatwave ’99 RVD and Lynn put their differences aside to team up against Justin Credible and Lance Storm in another excellent tag bout that is noteworthy for a literally out-of-nowhere Sabu spot.

As I alluded to before, Taz was a big deal in ECW, and for those who know him now from his podcasting and announcing days make sure to check out his glory days in the ring here. That counts doubly so for his big ECW moment when captures the ECW Title from Shane Douglas at Guilty as Charged ’99. Taz had a second big ECW moment, while under contract as a WWE talent. You probably heard the story a billion times, but Joey Styles does a great job in the studio recapping how Taz won the ECW title a second time. Then you get to see Tommy Dreamer’s big moment when he beats Taz for the ECW Title at Cyberslam 2000, and Taz gave a very memorable post-match speech to Tommy to be a fighting champion, only to see Tommy get jumped by Justin Credible in his victory speech and grant him a immediate title match and, well, poor Tommy is all I got to say on how it goes down.

There is a pair of Rhino matches on here defending the TV Title against Sandman and Spike Dudley on Heatwave 2000 and Massacre on 34th St, respectively. He destroys both guys, but both Sandman and Spike do put up a believable fight. Sandman is fun to watch here as he is fresh off his short beer money stint in WCW and you can tell he is happy to be back with all types of dumb fun hardcore spots that only he can pull off. The final match on the main feature takes place on ECW’s final PPV, Guilty as Charged 2001 and is a triple threat tag featuring the FBI, Tajiri & Whipwreck and Kid Kash & Super Crazy. The bout features lots of nonstop action and surprisingly no use of weapons.

There are two matches as BluRay exclusives, both come from the 1994 TV special titled ‘The Night the Line Was Crossed.’ The first match is Jimmy Snuka against Tommy Dreamer. Snuka had a smidge left in the tank in 1994, and I got a kick of him getting into it with a few fans at ringside and raging on a then suspenders-wearing Dreamer by delivering three superfly splashes off the top turnbuckle. The other match is a 60 minute time limit draw that features what I believe is the first ever triple threat match in wrestling history. Yes, ECW is responsible for that innovation that seems almost commonplace in modern day wrestling. It features Terry Funk defending his ECW Title against Shane Douglas and Sabu. It is a fun match, but I can see why it is only included as a BluRay exclusive because there are a few expected lulls and ECW camerawork in 1994 left a bit to be desired as the camera could not keep up with the combatants as they brawled outside the ring and all over the arena. There is also a pretty good post match press conference tacked on afterwards where in glorious stereotypical wrestling fashion, it concludes in a big ‘ol pull-apart brawl.

Thanks for sticking with me if you made it this far. I try not to focus this in depth on the matches in my wrestling blogs, but since ECW Unreleased: Volume 1 is primarily a match collection it felt like the right thing to do. The only new content on here is when Joey Styles pops up every several matches to set the stage for the next bout, much like Diamond Dallas Page does on the Best of Nitro volumes put out by WWE.

If you are a newer fan of wrestling and want to see the prime years of many former big WWE and WCW names, than this is definitely worth checking out as it features a lot of big moments and a good chunk of the matches on here range from pretty solid to great. Some of the edgier hardcore spots like chair shots to the head are a little hard to watch knowing what we do now of concussions and the unfortunate aftermaths of some of the wrestlers involved like Mike Awesome and Bam Bam Bigelow. Also, since WWE has really stepped back the amount of weaponry and hardcore spots with their TVPG rating from the last several years, a lot of ECW’s content really pops with intensity in comparison. So yes, ECW Unreleased: Volume 1 is perfect for newer fans to see a gateway to a whole different era of wrestling, and even ECW fans to experience a bunch of matches that were either hard to track down and/or never-before-released on video.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
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
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
RoH Supercard of Honor VIII
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
WWE Network Original Specials Summer 2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015

redvsblue Season 9

Season nine of redvsblue kicks off the third major story arc in the RvB universe, Project Freelancer (trailer. This far into the RvB saga, the lore and mythos behind the freelancers and their respective AIs is almost as complex as the Metal Gear Solid canon. At the end of the season eight, we saw Church (Burnie Burns) realizing more of his true nature as he rediscovered himself back at good ‘ol Blood Gulch, and season nine marks the first season shot entirely in the Halo Reach engine, so expect a few tweaks to the famous multiplayer map and a nice coat of paint to spruce up the scenery a little bit.

Shortly into season nine you realize Church (Burnie Burns) has once again stumbled back in time. Instead of constantly jumping into different timelines however and repeatedly failing to fix the past like in season three, Church is now locked in this version of the past. This one appears to take place in an alternate timeline as the events that transpired here are similar to the very first season of RvB, although things are a little different. Sarge(Matt Hullum) is now a laid back superior, and Grif (Geoff Ramsey) is a super hard working trooper who refuses to take a break, seriously, and Simmons (Gus Sorola), well, he is still Simmons. Tex (Kathleen Zuelch) makes another emergency fill in situation for the Blues, and Church has a whole new destiny waiting for him. Since this is a prequel of sorts that means Donut (Dan Godwin) is back in the mix too, and I absolutely love his character this season.

Most of the characters on Blood Gulch in season nine end up in the same spot or as the same character as they did by the end of the first season, just the path they got there is a whole different, amusing journey. In a weird way as I watched this season it kept reminding me of the final season of Lost and how things were all kinds of messed up with their flashbacks, flash-forwards and flash sideways and then by the last season they had time travel integrating between all these timelines to keep you scratching your head throughout. The end of this season on Blood Gulch completely came out of left field for me and has me on my toes for the events of season ten.

That is not everything that happened in season nine as we have duel prequel timelines this season bouncing back and forth throughout its just under two hours runtime. One timeline is the Blood Gulch prequel, the other is a prequel involving the Freelancers. Their timeline opens with them performing a routine seize and escape mission, but you can tell the Freelancers are crumbling throughout as the Director (John Reed) is manipulating a scoreboard ranking them all in his own twisted version of Darwinism.

Remember how last season was the first to implement motion-captured animation? In season nine, the animators at Rooster Teeth kept the super slick looking motion-captured animation exclusive to the Freelancers timeline of this season. It is probably the right call because there are a handful of very detailed action sequences with them on their action-filled missions. The animators take it up another notch with most of the Freelancers removing their helmets and we get some well crafted facial animations throughout this season, with very top-notch animated lip syncing, and we are not talking about of the Vic-quality either in the early RvB seasons.

However, I cannot help but feel a little off at RvB looking this….professional looking. The way the animators pulled off some of these elaborate gunfire exchanges and chase scenes looks so well done, that it feels a little too good for the web series that until the previous season had a charming DIY vibe. If there is anything to take away from these exquisite motion-captured scenes it is that a couple of them overstay their welcome as they went a little too overboard with the Freelancers kicking ass and I just wanted them to move on already.

The standard extra features accompany season nine. There are five short deleted scenes, with one of them standing out as it features cameos from two characters that since they are regulated to this deleted scene wind up with no actual involvement in season nine. There are four behind-the-scenes features tallying up to just under a half hour that are worth checking out as they are really well shot interviews with the cast and crew. Back to Blood Gulch has the cast answering fan questions, while Meet Project Freelancer has the cast and crew pretty stoked about doing a prequel. RvB Visual FX is a in depth look at how Rooster Teeth handled the detailed animation on the Freelancers side of the story I recommend checking out if you are just the tiniest bit curious on how they pulled off the animation. Finally, there is a commentary that I recommend not skipping over as it features the series creator and director Burnie Burns with a rotating cast of guests throughout to keep the conversation on point and nonstop references to RvB lore, and little nods to the fans of certain scenes and even more details on how they pulled off their animation.

I will give props to Rooster Teeth for shaking things up a little bit with part one of Project Freelancer as the dueling prequel timelines is a fresh way to mix up the storytelling of the RvB universe. I dug the whole alternate ‘how did we get here’ aspect of the Blood Gulch timeline, especially with its cliffhanger at the end, and the Freelancer’s timeline helped give a lot of back story on Tex, The Director and a few other freelancers we have seen throughout the seasons. I am intrigued to see how it all ties together as Project Freelancer wraps up with season ten, so make sure to join me next month for my coverage of it here!

Past redvsblue Blogs

Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7
Season 8