Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Trailer Review - Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke
Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and The Joker respectively.

Scene Pop: "It only takes one bad day..."

Effective?: A little too spoilery and too much of a rapid highlight package a.k.a. normal trailer procedural for DC animated films.

Check it Out?: Yes. I don't normally cover direct-to-video releases in this column but I made a special case for this. DC Comics and Warner Bros Animation tend to go overboard on their Batman love, mainly to suck the wallets of fanboys everywhere, but their adaptations of famous Batman stories are some of the best. This looks to follow suit. And hey, it will likely be way, way better than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Chyna - RIP

It was sadly announced very late last night that pro wrestling trailblazer Chyna, aka Joannie Laurer, has died from an unknown cause. She was 45 years old.

Chyna got her start in the wrestling business in 1995, being trained by legend Killer Kowalski. Her love for bodybuilding, combined with her intimidating Amazonian appearance, quickly made her stand out on the independent scene and made her top pick for the WWF and WCW. With some help from Kowalski, and some arm-wringing by supporters who wanted her in the land of the male giants, she was hired by Vince McMahon.

In February 1997, she debuted as an intruding attacker in the audience, beating up Goldust's valet Marlena at ringside. Given the moniker of "Chyna" for unknown reasons, she was the new and improved bodyguard for mid-card wrestler Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Stuck in wrestling purgatory since his debut despite having the athletic abilities and brains for the business, Helmsley's stock quickly rose thanks to the new addition. Chyna would constantly interfere in matches in order for the future HHH to win, even going so far as to assault his male opponents, which was unheard of in the land of sports entertainment. The two's summer feud with Mankind (Mick Foley) cause them to further up the ladder, especially after Chyna memorably slammed a steel cage door right on Foley's head at Summerslam 1997.

Late 1997 saw the introduction of D-Generation X, a new stable led by Shawn Michaels and supported by Helmsley and Chyna. While the two boys made asses of themselves with their profane humor and sneering antics, Chyna was the straight man and the true muscle of the group. If the chips were ever down, she was there to even the odds. Michaels would go into hibernation in 1998 after Wrestlemania XIV, leaving Helmsley and Chyna to carry the name. They immediately allowed "Road Dogg" Jesse James, "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn and Sean "X-Pac" Waltman into the ranks. Initially going around as heels, the group suddenly turned face due to a series of popular skits where they "went to war" with WCW and mocked fellow heel stable, the Nation of Domination. Chyna's ringside antics however, specifically her penchant to viciously give a low blow, got her incredibly over with the rabid crowd. A storyline was evenutally formed where she was being sweet-talked by Mark Henry, dubbing himself "Sexual Chocolate", allowing Chyna to lower her some of barriers and make her more lovable with fans. She of course got back at him in the end with a swift whack to the family jewels.

1999 will go down as the greatest year of her career and one of the most progressive endeavors the "sport" has ever saw. Chyna shocked the world when she won a special battle royale on an episode of Raw, allowing her to enter that year's Royal Rumble at #30. No female wrestler has ever done so previously. Walking out to a huge pop, she threw out Henry, only to then be unceremoniously clotheslined out by Stone Cold Steve Austin. She only lasted 35 secs but everything she was able to do in the small time frame made her a pioneer.

Chyna continued shocking everyone when she turned heel on DX and HHH, joining up with Mr. McMahon's Corporation. Plans revealed themselves, however, when Wrestlemania XV saw her run back into the arms of HHH again, after betraying "just a friend" Kane in a match, only for them both to turn heel later in the night after giving the Pedigree to X-Pac. After a short feud with the remnants of DX, continuing her groundbreaking ways by being the first woman to compete in the King of the Ring event, she and Trips entered into the realm of the main event. Yes, in 1999, a female wrestler was willing and able to fight for the WWF Heavyweight Championship, the biggest prize in the entire federation, instead of just going strictly for the Women's Championship. Chyna won a #1 Contender's Match, giving her the chance to face Austin for the belt at Summerslam; the top trophy at the promotion's 2nd most important show of the year. Though it was later washed away and reconfigured by the booking committee, the people in the back were in fact going to originally go with a Triple Threat Championship Match, with Chyna being one of the contenders.

Though she missed out at winning the Heavyweight Championship, Chyna quickly rebounded and made history when she won the WWF Intercontinental Championship off of Jeff Jarrett. Designed to get the utmost, cathartic response from the audience, Chyna beat the crap out of the woman-hating Jarrett in a hardcore match, using many stereotypically female appliances against him. Though old-timey fans and internet smarks mocked the new precedent, Chyna made an indelible image to live on forever and inspire future wrestling hopefuls.

From here into 2000, Chyna would hang out in the top mid-card, still competing against men and being placed in plots with the likes of Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Hardcore Holly, and Val Venis. She would even surprisingly have a second reign with the Intercontinental title, as part of a lengthy storyline where she was hooked up with Guerrero and attracted by his "latino heat".

Unfortunately, late 2000 began the unfortunate downfall for Chyna. The powers that be wanted her to be relegated to the women's division, as soon as possible. Due to her impressive physique and the sheer fact that every audience member expected her to trounce the female competition with complete ease, she was placed in a poorly thoughout storyline where her neck was "broken", but was somehow able to make it back in time for Wrestlemania X7. Sporting a gaudy pink bikini and frizzy hair, an attire that never matched her persona, she squashed Ivory and snatched the Women's Championship off of her in record time. She continued on as a pseudo-heel champion whose ego was a little too high until she was oddly removed from television, stripped of the belt, and the WWF let her contract run out, with no chance of ever being hired again.

The specific details surrounding her sudden departure remain hazy to this day but many observers have their inklings as to why. Though she helped alter the wrestling environment, became a celebrity thanks to a Playboy shoot and some acting gigs, and was a strong role model for women, she did have some issues backstage. Constant plastic surgeries, alleged drug problems and steroid use, and a severe attitude behavior that rubbed the boys and management badly caused her to be a carrier of nuclear heat. But the biggest matter came around when she was caught up in a bizarre love triangle with her former boyfriend HHH and the boss' daughter Stephanie McMahon. The ill will from all of this caused the WWF to virtually blackball Chyna from returning and scrub her from their history. Their stubborn refusal to enter her into their Hall of Fame, despite all of the skeletons in the closet other Hall of Famers have, remains a sore spot today.

Her career and personal life sadly weren't able to flourish to the fullest anymore. She went to Japan and briefly competed in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2002, once again facing off against men. This attempt ultimately failed due to the different nature of fan mentality and the fact that she was tied to an awful gaijin (foreign) invasion storyline. Two years later saw the public release of 1 Night in China, a homemade sex tape between her and her on-off boyfriend Waltman. This led to her having a new career in the porn industry. Her most notable (and infamous) roles was as She-Hulk in Avengers XXX (and a spin-off for herself) and a truly gross, hard to stomach wrestling parody film called Chyna is Queen of the Ring.

Things continued to spiral out of control for her. She was arrested for domestic abuse, hospitalized multiple times after possible suicide attempts, and several public appearances saw her intoxicated or otherwise not with it. She once again tried to enter wrestling in 2011, competing this time in WWE's rival promotion TNA, but after a laughably bad PPV match, she was scuttled off the screen. Though she had said that she got her life back in order recently, working as an English teacher in Japan, several new instances proved otherwise: she failed in hijacking a live radio interview with Waltman and at a wrestling convention timed in conjunction with this year's Wrestlemania, she allegedly showed up in no condition and asked to leave by the promoters.

Chyna was a beacon of hope and change in the WWF Attitude Era. In a period where misogyny was running at an all-time high, she took no shit from anyone and made womanhood utter badass and beautiful. She may have been well-protected and given the spotlight due to some backstage politics, but it's not like many a male wrestler hasn't done that before. Additionally, if not for her involvement with them, stars and legends like HHH, Henry, Jericho, and Guerrero wouldn't have survived and prospered. Unfortunately, despite all of the joy she gave to the world, Chyna wasn't able to overcome all of the hardships that affected her throughout her entire life. She was a poor soul that let the world get her down.

She will be sorely missed.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Hardcore Henry - Review

Henry, a silent protagonist this side of a Call of Duty video game, wakes up in a lab with a bad case of amnesia and two new robotic limbs, given to him by his hot scientist wife (Haley Bennett). His new life as a cyborg quickly goes sour when albino telekinetic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) invades the scientific sky fortress and eventually snatches up his woman Double Dragon-style. Henry seemingly must content with the entirety of mother Russia, as he violently battles and parkours his way to his girl, only aided by a succession of weird, cloned helpers (Sharlto Copley). HARDCORE HENRY is junky pleasure, a movie that pushes the needle with its gimmick of being a cinematic FPS. Trying to extract and combine the appeal of video games like COD, Mirror's Edge, and maybe even the obscure Xbox gem Breakdown, the film attempts to emulate the rush those games deliver with its full blown Go-Pro cinematography, multiple sets and shootouts, and a "having and eating your cake" direction by viral music video auteur Ilya Naishuller. As much as I wished to bump my grade of it a wee bit (maybe in the future) due to my adoration for gaming and the sheer boldness of gore and stunts, the movie is frankly hard to stomach; it's the equivalent of ingesting a fast food promotion, most notably my own time with the Arch Deluxe. The camera gets extremely shaky and blurry too many times, you often have a hard time figuring out what vicious thing just happened, and then there's the bad cases of multiple 360° turns around closed off spaces. Further hurting matters is the rancid story, filled to the brim with its boys-only humor, twists you can put a bullet through a mile away, and a pathetic endnote that might has well had "Press F" subtitled on the screen. I may slag this with good reasons for the normal viewer to avoid it completely but at least this gonzo picture is destined to be a true blue cult film, not a run of mill "intended to be bad" flick that sadly now spring up in droves. Naishuller and his crew put a lot of love into their insane vision, from the fantastically horrific opening credits to the Tommy Wiseau-talking villain to the booming score and eclectically diverse soundtrack. The experience will only be better if you're in the nerdy know, have a tall glass with friends, or venture out to the theater at midnight. Others need not apply.


My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 - Review

14 years after the original film, the Portakalos crew are back at it again with their obsession of all things Greek and marriage. Figurehead Toula Portakalos Miller (Nia Vardalos) must contend with a faltering love life with her husband (John Corbett), her angst-ridden daughter's drive to attend college far away from the close-knit clan, and the revelation that her father and mother's marriage wasn't officially performed, all at the same time. I still stand behind the first entry but simply put MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 is beyond being too little, too late, especially after the flop TV series that only tube fanatics can remember. It's basically a chain restaurant's dish of soup: it provides you with some warmth and a minor tasty response but it rapidly goes cold and you wished you ordered something more healthy or vibrant. Vardalos' script certainly will not give her another Oscar nomination, as it is pure sitcomy in all of its plot lines and gags and you can practically feel the dustiness whenever she includes something sprung from 2013 or earlier comes up (FaceTime, John Legend's "All of Me", Zumba). Worst, I don't know if it was supposed to be a running joke or not, but nearly everybody asks Toula to "do something" whenever a new ordeal pops up, only for her to remain silent while the more smarter and interesting characters take charge. Toula is so defanged and brain-dead this time around that you just wish Vardalos was excised from the proceedings entirely, that way we can have more dreaminess from John Corbett, Andrea Martin with her funny dirty talk, or Elena Kampouris making a name of herself as a young woman besieged by her own professional and personal lusts and the family that keeps intruding in. It drove me crazy at times and practically hate the entire picture but MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 is a barely-passing throwaway that you can have a sprinkling of enjoyment with. A natural pick for those who need a tepid extension to hanging out with old friends or to watch it on television on a lazy afternoon.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane - Review

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) blacks out from a serious car crash in the middle of Louisiana, only to wake up locked away in an underground room. She was "saved" by doomsday prepper Howard (John Goodman), who keeps her and fellow injured person Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) in his lavishly thought out underground bunker under lock and key due to an unexplained "attack" on America. The two try to enjoy the hospitality and luxurious entertainment post-armageddon but the unchecked psychological issues of their host keeps them fearing for their lives. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is technically the next step of J.J. Abrams' so-called "Cloververse", a Twilight Zone-like franchise that really doesn't need to exist. Not only does this have no connecting thread to the 2008 found footage horror film save for the title, it also isn't really all that good. This disappointing effort by first-time director Dan Trachtenberg is overall fine thanks to its play-like structure and the fine performances of the central three actors, with Goodman easily taking the cake thanks to his visual acting tics and slow somber tone that masks the real horror of the picture. Unfortunately, the problem starts when the establishing conflict is fairly quickly resolved, causing the players to relax and take it easy in this psychological thriller. The makers seem to then realize they need a second act so they slapdash another dissension into the mix to make everybody against one another again. The average viewer can not only sense this bumbling storytelling but they can see it when Howard's distaste of Emmett's cocky demeanor gets turned off then back on like a light switch. Once we reach the final act, we are treated to a real head slapper that deflates the entire experience and drastically transforms its genre for the worst. As much as I enjoyed the lingering tension, the brief encounters of violent behavior, and the sheer coolness of people watching a cannibal horror movie on VHS after armageddon started, I can't completely forgive the film's gear-shifting approach to its plot or its unsatisfactory undertaking. Worthy for a glance but not able to remain in your senses as the cinematic year continues to unfold.


The Boss - Review

Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy), an even more unlikable version of Suze Orman, loses her entire financial empire after being napped for insider trading. After 5 months of pitifully easy jail time, the white collar parolee lays low at the small Chicago apartment of her former assistant (Kristen Bell) until being motivated to create her own version of the Girl Scouts in order to roll around in green again. THE BOSS is a flummoxing comedy due to the inability of McCarthy and her directing/co-writing husband Ben Falcone to craft stable and substantial material from even its own flat story. Any viewer can connect the dots with how the movie will go but the married couple make it more frustrating with scenes that jump ahead in time, alter from serious to completely cartoonish, and feature little to no visual gags despite having a budget of $30 million. Going into this, do you think this redemption story would end with with a heist plan that would then morph into a katana fight, instead of say Darnell using her business expertise and verbal violence to save the day? Speaking of Darnell, though I severely have an issue with the main story, Darnell herself is the real glowing problem with the picture. McCarthy polishes some of sharper edges of the character with her performance but Darnell still remains to be a mostly insufferable bossy boots from beginning to end. Her sole weakness of a crippling fear of being in a family, due to her personal problems as an orphan kid in the pathetic prologue, is wrapped up with barbed wire, meaning poorly thought out by the script. The only times where you can actually like her, and able to laugh for a change, come when she delivers some smackdown on her former rich "friends", stuffy moms, and the archaic ideals of the girl scouts breeding non-progressive womanhood. Additional smiles and guffaws come from the charming turns of Kristen Schaal, Tyler Labine, and a very committed Peter Dinklage. That much needed humor in this so-called comedy save the film from the scrapheap but just barely.