Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lucha Libre USA on MTV2

Anyone who was witness to MTV's last wrestling debacle was probably smart enough to either skip last week's Lucha Libre USA debut show, or have severely lowered expectations. I fell into the second camp, as someone who, for some reason unknown even to me, watched every episode of the sub-par and deservedly short-lived Wrestling Society X. That being the case, I was almost impressed by what Lucha Libre USA put forth.

WSX had three major problems. 1) The show was 30 minutes long. A half-hour is not long enough for a wrestling show, unless it only has one match, and how far can you advance stories with one match per week unless your roster is four guys? 2) Because of #1, the matches were all clipped, and not only were they clipped, the audience wasn't told that they were clipped, which made them look terrible, though I'm sure many of them weren't. 3) Musical guests. Nothing like taking up a third of the show with a musical guest none of the wrestling fans give a fuck about, am I right?

You will be happy to know that LLU has none of these things. Unfortunately, what it does have is a bunch of guys most people have never heard of, and the bookers are doing a pretty poor job of making us care about any of them. They're basically trying to bring us into their world in media res. This does not work in wrestling. I understand lucha has rudos (heels) and technicos (babyfaces), but just telling us "he's a rudo and he's a technico" doesn't give us any reason to cheer or boo. The wrestlers and the booking needs to give us reasons to do that.

The first match on the card was a trios match, which is not the same as an American rules six-man tag. It featured rudos El Oriental, El Limon & Neutronic vs. technicos Mascara Purpura & the PR Powers. The rules were explained haphazardly (there's a captain, if he gets pinned, it's over, otherwise both of the other guys on the team must be pinned), and did not offer much clarification. (If one of the non-captain guys is pinned, is he eliminated? Does he have to go to the back?) The finish only compounded the issue, since both non-captain members of the technico team were pinned simultaneously, which would lead viewers to question in future matches if that's how it has to be done.

Beyond that, the match was ok. Nothing spectacular, but reasonably solid in ring work, no breakthroughs in wrestling psychology, but not bad. Enough high spots to get viewers hooked at the prospect of later matches being actually good.

There was a promo by R.J. Brewer playing up an anti-Mexican heel. He's from Arizona, he hates illegal immigrants, he also hates legal ones because he doesn't know for sure if they're legal, blah, blah, blah. Very one dimentional, full of cheap heat. Hopefully, he'll get a chance to branch out.

There was a tag match from the "minis" division. I assumed that meant midgets, but only one guy in this match looked to be a midget. It's hard to tell a wrestling audience that a guy who's the size of Evan Bourne (Mini-Park) is a guy who is in the same division as midgets. It just doesn't make sense. And all the while, the announcers are putting over how much Pequeno Halloween and Marscarita Dorada (the actual midget) hate each other. Okay, that's fine, they hate each other, but why? At least show me some tape of a AAA show or something, or book this match like there's real bad blood, because these guys were locking up in the middle of the ring.

Moving on to the main event, we had Marco Corleone (Mark Jindrak, for all you WCW fans) taking on Tinieblas, Jr. There was a promo with Tinieblas talking about how famous his mask is, despite the fact that almost no one watching this has ever seen it before, (either on him or Tinieblas, Sr.) then Jindrak says something about beating him up, being his daddy, really standard, non-creative promo stuff.

The match itself wasn't too bad, but they're clearly trying to push Jindrak as their top technico, which isn't going to work. Two reasons for that: 1) If I'm watching lucha, I want a dude in a mask as the top babyface, it's what casual fans who tune into lucha expect. 2) His charisma is... lacking, to say the least. In a world of John Cenas and Rob Van Dams, even of Tyler Blacks, Mark Jindrak doesn't have what it takes to carry a promotion. Which really just takes us back to #1, because a mask can do wonders for a guy who isn't naturally charismatic. Ever wonder why WWE put the mask back on Rey after WCW took it off? Well, besides all the merch they can sell...

Still, though, I was more entertained that watching an episode of iMPACT, because while the booking was bog standard, it wasn't dick-in-the-toaster idiotic. I'll give it a few more weeks to see if it picks up once it's in the swing of things. And while it's faint praise, I'll say it's worlds better than MTV's last wrestling show.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A thing from by way of Things That Don't Suck

Embedding doesn't work, so I'm just posting a link to this video essay Bryce from Things That Don't Suck did. Enjoy!

Inception: The Metaphysical Heist Movie


Inception is, at its core, a heist picture. It's a thinking person's action movie. They like to call those "thrillers," so that people who watch them don't feel like they're enjoying some kind of b-grade genre film. Which they're not. In Inception's case, they're enjoying an a-grade genre film, and Christopher Nolan has added another fine notch to his belt with this one.

He's basically turned the heist genre on its head with this one. It's not about stealing, it's about delivering. And it's not from a traditional vault, but a person's mind. Still, it follows the heist formula more or less to a T, right down to "one last job." Rounding up his team, working out the plan, and then pulling off the caper, not without a few hitches, of course.

Being both a heist caper and a Nolan film, you can imagine that it'll require a second viewing. The completely batshit insane metaphysics involved pretty much guarantee that. And, honestly, that's where the film is the weakest. In the final act, there's a three-layered dream sequence, that becomes a four-layered dream sequence that starts to crumble under the weight of its own movie-science, particularly as it pertains to how the kicks work. That being said, it's movie-science, and getting too bogged down in it is kind of missing the point anyways.

Really, the heart of the film is three fold, and little of it has to do with trying to understand metaphysics. No, the film's really about 1) how strikingly gorgeous it is, 2) Cobb's inability to forgive himself for Moll's death and 3) totally sweet action sequences. The second is arguably the most important if you're a film snob, but they're all equally important if you're a normal person who likes movies. The scene with Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fighting the dude in the rotating hallway was my personal favorite (and reportedly done with practical effects, which you know I love).

Either way, in the roll of Cobb, DiCaprio emotes very well, as usual, and you feel genuinely bad for him. Despite my teenage loathing for him, he's now one of my favorite actors, with the gravitas to pull these kinds of rolls off. In Inception, he blames himself for something that isn't really his fault. His speech to the phantom Mal (Marion Cotillard) at the end is fantastically delivered, and exceptionally written.

The film has been well received to this point, but one thing I've seen alot of discussions about is the ending. Does the top fall or doesn't it? Is Cobb still in limbo? Has he escaped his dreams into the real world? Why did Nolan cut away before we knew?

The answer to these questions is actually pretty obvious, if you think about it. The answer is that it doesn't matter. The reason there's a cut is because it doesn't matter if it falls or not. What matters is that Cobb believes he's back in the real world. (For the record, I do think he's back in the real world, in case you're curious.) Just as in Total Recall, it doesn't really matter if it's a dream, because at this point, it's likely to be all but a permanent dream anyways, and a person's perception of things is what makes them real. What you're really supposed to walk away with, what's really most important is that Cobb has finally let Mal go, and is, at least for the most part, at peace with himself.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Batman Begins

I'll be honest, when Bryce (a.k.a. Evil Dead Junkie, the name I've known him by for far longer), put out an appeal for his Nolan-a-thon for Things That Don't Suck, I knew I wanted to write something, but I had no idea what. Memento was a watershed moment for me as a moviegoer, Batman is my favorite superhero, Inception looks to bare more than a passing resemblance to an old favorite of mine, Dark City.

So what to write? A nostalgic bit about seeing Memento in an art house before it became a breakout hit? Something about Nolan's mastery of genre filmmaking, which lead to one of the biggest movies ever made in a genre most Hollywood types said would never draw a mainstream audience? A comparison between two movies by bold directors that use dreams and sleep as the central mechanic?

In the end, I decided to go with what I expect to be the least covered movie of the blogothon, Batman Begins. Batman Begins will forever be overshadowed by The Dark Knight, and with myraid good reasons. It has overall better villians, better performances and, most importantly, you see Batman within five minutes, as opposed to Batman Begins, in which the Bat is absent for well over an hour of screentime.

The problem is, the first film has now been kind of shuffled to the side, and is ignored for all the great things it did do. One being it took villians which heretofore would never have had a chance at gracing a movie screen. Quite honestly, I'm surprised the studio let Ra's Al-Ghul find his way into the multiplex (though, to be fair, he's toned down and much shallower of a character than his comic counterpart). The Scarecrow is less surprising, but the fact that he made it through intact is nothing short of a miracle in the world of the Hollywood Rogues Gallery. I mean, look at what they did to Bane!

Jonathan Crane's alter ego is one of my favorite Batman villians, one who I always felt was a true threat to him. Cillian Murphy plays the role brilliantly, giving the doctor the right amount of quiet menace, and the Scarecrow the perfect maniacal edge. The only real shame is that we barely get to see the true Scarecrow in action, and it's Rachel Dawes, not Batman, who has the movie's last encounter with him. Unsatistfying, to say the least. But the encounter in the apartment is excellent, and exemplifies exactly what makes him such a threat to Batman.

The story borrows a bit from Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, particularly as it pertains to the mob element, but on balance probably gives a more satisfactory origin for Bruce Wayne. We see more of Thomas' influence on young Bruce, and see much more of his travels in the name of fighting evil. Tying everything back with Ra's Al-Ghul just makes for a nice cherry on top.

The thing that really makes the movie successful, though, and lays the groundword for the incredible sequel, is Nolan. All good Batman movies have a strong unity of vision, thanks to quality direction, and this one is no exception. The style of the Batmobile (which I, quite frankly, don't like, but it fits with the aethetics), the villians costumes, the Batcave, even Gotham itself all look like they belong in the same world.

Now, while Tim Burton's Batman films both have this, it was Nolan who really raised the bar with Batman Begins (though some credit goes to Bryan Singer's X-Men films) to the point where something like the '90s Captain America movie just isn't acceptable anymore. You can't make half-assed attempts at comics just to make box office anymore. Fans, not just of comics, but of movies, expect a higher quality piece of work now. And that's Batman Begins' most important contribution.

-Lucha Libre on MTV?
-House of the Devil