Monday, March 31, 2014

My Tops of 2014 - March

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL was Wes Anderson doing another one of his hyper-colored romps, this time mixed with the templates of Hitchcock, but its dark moments greatly kill the buzz and nearly cripple its mystique.

Alright, one movie for one entire month! Thankfully, drive-in season is about to start and some of the early 2014 releases are coming to video, so expect more reviews (hopefully).

Best Films of 2014

1. The Lego Movie

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Friday, March 28, 2014

Strange Bedfellows - The Ultimate Warrior & The Undertaker

What makes the idea of "strange bedfellows" so fantastic is that they sometimes make dreams come true and make fans go sploosh. If ever was there a tag team to draw massive dollar signs, it would be these two.

I don't really to need explain who these two WWF legends are, but for those not initiated: The Ultimate Warrior was an uncontrollable powerhouse who constantly ran to ring and gas himself out pre-match, booked to look strong in short bursts, and always delivered batshit insane promos about rocket fuel and killing airplane pilots. The Undertaker, on the other hand, is the best example of how sports entertainment can make anything work; he was a somnambulist who was powered by an urn carried by his manager, Paul Bearer naturally, no sell often with the Michael Myers spot and destroy his opponents with chokes and lariats before killing them off with the Tombstone Piledriver.

The two crossed paths first in 1991, when Taker locked Warrior in a casket on his talk show segment, The Funeral Parlor. After much struggle, the WWF crew were able to break him out but the damage was done; Warrior passed out from his panic attack and showed that he was no longer invincible. To set up their main clash, Warrior went under the guidance of Jake "The Snake" Roberts, in order to combat his fears through a series of tests. Unfortunately, that's where the feud stops due to two huge reasons: Roberts turned heel when Warrior was bitten by a hidden cobra at the final test, causing Taker to end up as Roberts' crony and out of the picture. But this new Warrior-Roberts feud too was scuttled when Warrior allegedly blackmailed Vince McMahon for a payout at that year's SummerSlam and being suspended soon after.

Despite these immoral events, the two would make up fast next year for a tag team match. After all, they were both faces now and brought major contributions to Wrestlemania VIII: Taker buried Roberts out of his job and Warrior returned during the botched main event with an awful haircut and a slimmer build, causing many to still theorize that the original Warrior died and was replaced in the absence.

Post-Wrestlemania, Warrior was facing up against Papa Shango, the Baron Samedi-inspired voodoo priest who was the main botcher of said main event, thanks to his ultra late run-in. Shango would place numerous curses on Warrior in the coming weeks, much to the horror and acclaim of wrestling fans, mostly notably the time when Warrior puked on air (Darren Drozdov was too busy in the NFL to sub-in). Taker, unfortunately, was a bit lost in the shuffle due to his sudden fan popularity and quick face turn. Instead of returning to the top of the bill, he was stuck against The Berserker, John Nord as a viking/tribute to the late Bruiser Brody. He would be the first in a long line of dark and/or stale opponents for Taker before finally breaking out of the rut with his blood feud against Mankind in 1996.

I should be talking about this Berserker/Shango pairing (with Mr. Fuji as manager) as well, since they are bizarre (™ Davey Boy Smith), but there's nothing much I can muster up to say about them. They are both too goofy and I simply didn't care for either of them back during my childhood.

But when it comes to Warrior and Taker, it makes perfect sense. Both shared an enigmatic place of origin, Parts Unknown and Death Valley respectively. They were both booked to be complete monsters, chucking out jabronis left and right and always coming up on top in the end. The high and low energy of their charisma levels made it easy to generate buzz from the crowd and to make the desperate tag white hot. And finally, they shared the same mammoth accomplishment: They both beat Hulk Hogan for the WWF title. Warrior ended Hulk's second title reign in a "passing of the torch" match at Wrestlemania VI, only for Warrior to be booked terribly and lead to the first warning sign of WWF's decline, while Taker nailed Hogan with a Tombstone on a chair at 1991 Survivor Series, only for Hogan to no sell the career-ending injury by whining for a rematch at the next PPV literally days later (Tuesday in Texas) and pinning him. To be fair, Taker still looked strong, as it took tons of cheating tactics in order for Hogan to win the title back. Taker was supposed to remain a heel and face off against Hogan at the following SummerSlam but the massive rewrites and the growing public disdain of Hogan and his lame "retirement" angle would lead to matters such as this match.

Man, that's a lot of baggage to claim, so let's just get started already!

After a staredown between the two, to sucker in the audience of possible dissension, Warrior & Taker then deliver two awful big boots and clotheslines to the outside. So much for being a great tag team.

The fan favorites stay strong until Warrior gets a short clothesline by an aproned Shango. For the next couple of minutes, Warrior's idea of being Ricky Morton is to just lower your head, immediately get up from every move, and keep slightly running in place. Despite this storytelling setback, the crowd is very energetic for this match; not much of a wonder considering this was filmed in Toronto.

Taker gets the hot tag and runs wild. Then, we get something really cool: The heels try for a double team maneuver, only for Taker to plant a standing choke on both of them. Instead of a double chokeslam, Warrior revs himself in the corner, Taker 180s them, and Warrior clotheslines them to the canvas.

Then, the weirdness factor ratchets completely up: Warrior is now somehow legal and wins with his running body splash. Before celebrating in the corner, he puts on a small purple tassel necklace (?). Meanwhile, Taker stands on the apron, staying in character but confused as all hell before Warrior finally walks over and they share a mighty handshake.

Despite the easy outcome and the blatantly bad work rate of Warrior and Shango, I'm always in a state of glee whenever I watch this match. Warrior & Taker could have been a mighty team in a year where the tag division was rapidly falling apart; a possible feud with the Legion of Doom would have been amazing in how much no selling would take place, with time limit draws every night. Sadly, this was the only taped match for this duo. They had a dark match a week later, against Shango and Kamala at a Superstars taping and an one week house show run in 6-man matches with The Big Boss Man. Warrior was fired in November for a drug violation, kicking him off another major payoff. But that's a tag team for another day.

Strange Bedfellows - Introduction

My favorite gimmick pro wrestling PPV has always been Survivor Series.

Similar to the far more popular Royal Rumble, this annual event had two major features: First, it centered all around an unique match-type. In this case, it was the multi-man tag team elimination match, where 4 to 5 to 10 men or women would be grouped together, usually determined by their moral alignment (face or heel), and battle against their counterparts to prove their dominance in the wrestling ring. Secondly, and more importantly, Survivor Series has an encyclopedic quality to it, able to perfectly encapsulate the then current environment and product of the WWE, showcasing all of the big money draws, the rising superstars, the background players, the freaks, the geeks, and the oddities.

For instance, take a look at the 1995 iteration, which starts off showing the WWF's amazing undercard talent before moving on to the brief shining moment where Vince McMahon wished to expand the women's division by bringing in joshi (Japanese female wrestling) talent like Aja Kong and Kyoko Inoue. Or, jump to 2003 where the first match has the blue-plate special for Jim Ross, a team consisting entirely of hosses with limited skills, as in Matt Morgan and Nathan Jones.

But what really makes me interested in the history of this event is trying to figure out the kayfabe acceptance of these sometimes random groups. To use a 1991 team for example, beyond their status on the card billing, what makes a group consisting of an Iraqi colonel (played by an Iranian), a viking, an alligator hunter, and an over-the-hill roid muncher a truly stable idea?

This intrigue of mine would then later spread to my fascination for the appearances of "strange bedfellows". This term is used for mismatched wrestlers who are paired up in a tag team, usually for one night. One of the earliest forms of this idea, beyond the ever-present jobber match on television, was the brief time when WCW ran the "Battlebowl", a PPV event where the wrestlers were put into random teams solely to qualify for the pointless battle royal main event. It came further into prominence when bookers like Paul Heyman of ECW fame often used it as a plot point in his long-term wrestling rivalries, most notably Tommy Dreamer and Raven, who at one time held the ECW tag team titles despite a history of malice and bloodshed. To cement the idea firmly in the eyes of viewers, it had a distinct place on the match spinner when WWE would run its popular Raw Roulette episodes.

All of this is important to know about beforehand because I plan to dive into pro wrestling's past to uncover these hidden gems in a new ongoing feature.

I'll be looking at these one-off pairings/short tag team tenures both for pro wrestling history and comedic purposes. Think of it being in the vein of Wrestlecrap, with a sprinkling of Botchamania. I'll give background material to the individuals, examine the possible purpose of them being together, breakdown the notable match(es) where they were showcased, and end with a brief aside of their future endeavors and whether this team would have worked beyond its inception. Most of them, of course, won't but as evident by my first entry, there were a few duos with so much untapped potential waiting to be unleashed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trailer Review - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
1st Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: William Fichtner as the narrator and future Shredder, Megan Fox as wooden April O'Neil, Leonardo, Michelangelo, cameoing Donatello and Raphael, cameoing Will Arnett, and the tower from The Amazing Spider-Man.

Scene Pop: Anything involving the Fichtner.

Briggs Breakdown: 8 Bella-faces, weird snow physics, a smashed humvee, a schizoid subway battle, sure-to-be smart phone product placement, ominous green fluid (no ooze?), and Leonardo doing what he does best, standing around with two swords and trying to make the audience believe he's cool.

Effective?: Not really. I made an early jab at Amazing Spider-Man because this looks exactly like that pathetic film: Main character's father being a scientist and formerly being in league with dangerous folk, NYC in turmoil, Times Square being a central arena, etc.

Check it Out?: I'm at an impasse with this one. I have a big place in my heart for the TMNT since childhood but this looks very, very troubling. The turtles look okay, with Michelangelo already appearing to be spot-on. But the overall ugly commercial look and spastic action is, as put it by Maria Bamford, a flag factory that only manufactures giant red flags. What did you expect from Jonathan Liebesman, the auteur of the putrid Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trailer Review - The Giver

The Giver
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Jeff Bridges as the titled character, newcomer Brenton Thwaites as our teenage(?) protagonist, Katie Holmes as the hero's cold mother, cameoing Alexander Skarsgård as the father, Meryl Streep as an evil elder, and Odeya Rush as the just plainly awful love interest.

Scene Pop: Nothing. The only memorable thing is the haunting piano score.

Briggs Breakdown: 2 flash montages and an aircraft stolen right under President Snow's nose.

Effective?: No. Doesn't explain anything to the viewer or have a personal hook beyond its declaration of "Hey! It's just like The Hunger Games! You love that!"

Check it Out?: Indecisive but kneeling more towards a "no". I, like many others lucky enough, read the book in school and was a fan. The long pre-production delays, including Steven Spielberg be picked as the director at one point, has drained all the hype however. Plus, this is coming in August, not exactly a good month for new releases. But my real concern with the movie involves the book's most controversial moments, the real reason why the book is still banned in some American libraries, and whether they will be present. I will be glad if "that scene" is shown but I do wonder what they will do with its infamous ending.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Trailer Review - Peanuts

1st Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Woodstock.

Scene Pop: N/A.

Briggs Breakdown: A 2001: A Space Odyssey rib and 6 ways for Snoopy to continue stealing away Brown's presence.

Effective?: Yes. A simple preview of the classic Peanuts characters and the new animation style.

Check it Out?: Probably. It depends on whether it will have a story like the 2D animated features (Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown!) or just be a series of small events.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Poster Review - March 2014

Damn you, Godzilla marketing team! Not only do you craft another masterful piece but you made it a SXSW-only exclusive.

Gee Disney, Black Swan much?

Ladies and gentlemen, the best film poster of 2014. Simply ravishing.

Yesterday, Dr. Will Caster also believed that the truth can be adjusted, your future has been adjusted, and that this will be the most terrifying film you will ever experience.

That battle of course being his struggle to overcome his vertigo affliction and defeating Graviton.

...the hell?

You need to sell the public on accepting a western film, desperately trying not to have it bomb at the box office like the others, and the poster you came up is the protagonist holding up a sheep? It was nice of Seth MacFarlane to hire Paris Hilton's long-lost older sister to pose as Charlize Theron.

Dios Mios! How could they get any worst after Walk of Shame's American poster? Elizabeth Banks' head has been entirely replaced so she can look more stoned out of her gourd, speeding cars and buildings(?) have been added, and her dress have been treated to the absolute worst photoshopping I have ever seen. Has there ever been a bus bench placed AWAY from traffic?

Nice 80's horror throwback styling and a clever visual gag.

All hail King Optimus Prime! Simply badass.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Trailer Review - Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
1st Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Mickey Rourke as Marv, Jessica Alba as pouty, suicidal Nancy Callahan, Josh Brolin as Dwight (yes, that Dwight), Ray Liotta as a genuinely unnerving stalker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as some pretty boy turned meatbag gambler, Bruce Willis as wandering spirit John Hartigan, Powers Boothe returns as Senator Roark, Christopher Meloni as overacting bespectacled driver, Dennis Haysbert as the non-union Mexican equivalent of Manute, the same goes with Jamie Chung as the new Miho, and Eva Green as the titled femme fatale.

Scene Pop: Liotta's creepy nature and those horrifying eyes.

Briggs Breakdown: 2 scenes of driving angry, 2 human darts, broken glass, broken mirror, and a back alley beatdown.

Effective?: No. It doesn't possess any hints at the plot, just some brief CGI visual tricks and a bunch of scantily-clad women, which of course worked wonders with Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch. The dubstep music is unbelievably ill-fitting, lacking the necessary bite to add to Frank Miller's boobs and guns, especially once compare to the first film's signature instrumental version of The Servant's "Cells".

Check it Out?: Fans only. "A Dame to Kill For" is a great read and could make for a good watch on the big screen. But the near decade turnaround time for this sequel, the rapidly dwindling talents of director Robert Rodriguez, plus the still thriving, enormous backlash of Frank Miller, his insane views and tastes, and his recent film and comic book works made this project radioactive. This pitiful teaser, as well as the film's premiere placement in the dog days of August, clearly shows that there's no confidence for the film to do well.

Trailer Review - Annie (2014)

1st Official Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie, Jaime Foxx as... Will Stacks? (is Daddy Warbucks too subtle and not bland enough?), Cameron Diaz as Ms. Hannigan, Rosa Byrne as Grace Farrell, Bobby Cannavale as Foxx's plot dumping political adviser, cameoing David Zayas, and Sandy.

Scene Pop: Nothing.

Briggs Breakdown: 2 songs, near decapitation by van, Windex to a child's face, and Windows 8 product placement (BOOOO!).

Effective?: No. It looks like commercial garbage; remove the signature Annie songs and it could have been called Imagine That 2.

Check it Out?: No. Nothing stands out beyond the lack of dying Wallis' hair red and the pitiful acting all-around. Of course, it doesn't really matter what I feel about it because there is sure to be a ton of families checking it out come December.