Monday, January 30, 2017

My 20 Most-Anticipated Blockbusters For 2017

The Lego Batman Movie
February 10

I've been loving what LEGO's been doing in terms of their movies. Of course, The LEGO Movie is the main one, but they've been knocking out of the park with small-time, self-aware, sight-gag-heavy animated features on video. Will Arnett and Zach Galifianakis make for a fantastic Batman and Joker.

John Wick 2
February 10

People vastly underestimate how good Reeves can be in very specific roles. Demanding from him an accent or extreme nuance is dicey. But making him the badass in a dystopian world is way more fitting. The first one was fun, I can't see any reason the sequel won't be even better.

Kong: Skull Island
March 10

I'm not completely sure why I am as excited about this movie, but damn if I'm not intrigued by the trailers. And if this truly is leading to a remade Godzilla VS. Kong, I'm excited to the Kong that measures up to the 2014 Godzilla. At the very least, I hope this movie's more exciting than the Peter Jackson rehash of the original.

Beauty and the Beast
March 17

I am also unnecessarily excited for this movie, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the live action remakes of Disney so far. Beauty and the Beast sports an impressive cast, and from the trailers looks like a gorgeous movie. I'm looking forward to it all, and I'm incredibly excited for Emma Watson as Belle. Of course, the idea of Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor as Cogsworth and Lumiere, though? I mean, I'm in. If Disney can make me watch and care about Cinderella and Jungle Book, two animated stories that I really don't care all that much for, I have high hopes for what they do with an animated I truly love. I hope I'm not disappointed, because I know they're going to be doing more of the ones I love very soon. Like Aladdin, for instance.

Power Rangers
March 24

Very polarizing movie. I, like some of my friends, grew up with the Rangers as heroes on TV. Many of my other friends did not, and this movie looks as stupid to them now as the TV show did to them back then. This movie adaptation's also attempting to make them very serious, which is something Power Rangers has never been able to do. They deal with serious issues, certainly. And they have characters with serious pasts. But the tonal shift to being a dramatic story about unlikely heroes from what was originally a show about five do-gooder kids is rather jarring. No one's found a good groove yet to adapting these paper-thin kids show plots into grand blockbusters with substance. Transformers sacrifices a lot of character work. Smurfs had to go slightly more adult-themed humor. The Chipmunks are as incredibly mindless as the TV show to mixed success. GI Joe turned generic action. I don't understand what Battleship was. Maybe Power Rangers is the one to do it. After all, they are the ones with previous big screen experience, though those adaptations were far more straightforward.

Ghost In The Shell
March 31

While I'm still not happy about ScarJo's casting, the anime of the same name is far too close to my heart to pass up seeing this movie. Casting aside, I do think she is a marvelous actor, and I'm excited to see the rest of the cast in place as well. Besides that, like I said, Ghost In The Shell is my favorite anime of all time. It deserves a worthy live action adaptation and now is as a good time as any to do it.

Fate of the Furious
April 14

The title suggests a finale, but who knows. I'm interested in what could possibly have driven Dom to betray the family, but who knows. The series has been absolutely mindless fun since the first film, and it has never let up on its action sequences. Fast 5 was a bit twisty with no real stakes, and people mostly hate Fast & Furious (number 4) but for the most part, it's an upward trajectory. I can't help rooting for these absolutely batshit, brilliant characters.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
May 5

I'll keep this brief, because I don't believe in a Marvel VS. DC argument, but for all the crap DC gets about being dark and color corrected... I gotta say that the Marvel movies to me look incredibly washed out. Nowhere is that more apparent than in what should be the most colorful movie: a heist film set in outer space backed by a 60s/70s greatest hits soundtrack. While I loved the movie, I couldn't shake how unbelievably drab it all looked. Well, the trailers for the second installment look to be brighter and more vibrant. The poster here looks more alive than anything I remember from the first movie. I'm not totally clear on where the sequel is going, either Star Lord is searching for his dad or they're looking for one more Infinity Gem, but I'm hopeful it also gives us an idea of how the Guardians impact the Infinity War storyline. Also, I'm damn excited for Baby Groot.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
May 12

Guy Ritchie is incredible at action comedy. So good at it in fact, that he managed to take Sherlock Holmes and completely turn him into an action star as well. But seriously, in terms of history, Ritchie's pretty irreverent. But his action sequences are quite good. I was pleasantly surprised by Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I'm rather excited he's helming the live action Aladdin. The Arthurian adaptation looks a bit mixed bag, but I love the cast, and I won't say no to a Guy Ritchie film, so this one's in the bag. And honestly, it couldn't be anything worse than Dracula Untold.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
May 26

I think everyone's grown rather weary of the Pirates franchise. On Stranger Tides was relatively lacking in excitement, and before that At World's End was overloaded and convoluted. Javier Bardem in the trailer sells it for me. It looks like it's going to a more horror-based foundation, which I'm excited for. And to tease it at least initially without Jack Sparrow I think is a refreshing change-up. The character will always be the star. It doesn't mean he has to be in ever selling point of it.

Wonder Woman
June 2

I'm going to admit something I don't like admitting. I kinda need Wonder Woman to be good, guys. Because honestly, if it isn't, I don't think I have much left in me to see how Justice League goes. I'll just give up on DC movies entirely. And I'm a huge DC fan. Grew up reading the comics, I was the perfect age for the Superman, Batman, and Justice League animateds, I loved all the initial adaptations, from Smallville to Superman Returns, from Batman to Dark Knight Rises. I also loved Man of Steel. I'm a big defender of Batman VS Superman (the extended cut), and of Suicide Squad (though you don't need to see it more than once). But I concede the movies have a lot of negatives. And while for me personally, I don't have near as many problems with them, the discussion has worn me down. I need Wonder Woman to be objectively wonderful, because not only do fans like me kinda deserve it at this point, but Wonder Woman the character herself deserves it. We've never had a big screen adaptation of her, and the trailers have looked incredibly promising. I was proud and emotional as I watched it, in a way that I haven't been for a superhero movie yet. I think it's time, and I think it's going to be amazing. Because moreso than me needing it, I think the world right now could use it too.

Transformers: The Last Knight
June 23

It feels weird to transition from that very candid and serious blurb for Wonder Woman, to this. This movie I know is going to be mostly flaming garbage. But the Transformers series has grown on me, possibly like a tumor, but at this point a friendly, benign one. I haven't the slightest idea what's going on plot-wise in the Transformers universe anymore, I assume that the other knights are dead, even though I don't know who they were in the first place. Either way, I want to see giant machines kick each other's ass, and since I have to wait til next February for the superior Pacific Rim 2, I'll settle for a Transformers in the meantime.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
July 7

Get it? Because he's coming home to Marvel, guys! He was in Avengers! While I understand Iron Man being important to getting the lesser-known Avengers over, I'm having a hard time understanding why he needs to be such a part of Spider-Man. Regardless, I always get a bit excited when Tony suits up, and Tom Holland has already won me over as the Web Head. Michael Keaton also has me intrigued for his Vulture, and the more teen-oriented focus of the trailer suggests that we're getting the Spider-Man I've always admired the most: the kid who has to grow up. I know we make a lot of jokes about Spider-Man almost in constant reboot, but I think this is the one, guys.

War For The Planet Of The Apes
July 14

I don't know what it is, but the remade Planet of the Apes series has quietly won me over. I'm obsessed with how good the acting of the humans and the apes has been, and I've been impressed with how the series has developed thus far. The all-out war that is promised looks to be devastating and breathtaking. I'm thoroughly excited.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets
July 21

Did not know about this movie until I saw its trailer before Rogue One in December. I've developed a huge crush on Cara Delevingne, so she might very well be the only reason I'm seeing this movie. But the phrase "City of a Thousand Planets" also has me intrigued, let's be honest. I don't know the comic it's based on.

Blade Runner 2049
October 6

Blade Runner occupies a curious quantum space for me. On one hand, it's a complete story. The original movie requires no follow-up. The questions it leaves unanswered do not require another movie to answer those. Deckard is likely a replicant, but it's irrelevant to his decision at the conclusion of the original movie. However, I like Gosling in action. I think Blade Runner is a deserving world to have a follow-up story in. I also think that modern filmmaking is informed and inspired by Blade Runner as a key inspiration for many modern filmmakers, so to have them circle back and address that world they were born of, is a marvelous idea. I hope thought and care goes into the story of the sequel and it's not just franchise fodder (though of course I fear every sequel, reboot, remake, or prequel is money-driven).

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
October 6

I was strangely impressed by the first Kingsman movie and the sequel promises to be at least equally good. Here's hoping it is.

Thor: Ragnarok
November 3

Dark World was mostly a disappointment. So Ragnarok also has quite a bit riding on it too. I'm excited about the idea of Banner and Thor paired up, since we didn't see as much of them as I'd hoped in Ultron and Civil War. I think in terms of the Infinity War storyline, this movie is also going to have a lot of implications for that, plus Loki will be there! I'm excited for this as well.

Justice League
November 17

As I said, depending on Wonder Woman, I'm excited for Jason Momoa's Aquaman and Ezra Miller's Flash. Barry Allen's never been my favorite Flash, though the TV show has helped that, and Ezra is so unbelievably charming that his casting has also gotten me excited for this. I'm curious as to how they bring back Superman, and I'm also excited for a lot of the movie being Diana and Bruce paired up trying to get a team together. Everything has looked really cool thus far, and I loved the shift in tone for the trailer. Hopefully, this is much more cohesive than the effort of BVS. And maybe after so many missteps, Wonder Woman and Justice League can course-correct The DC Cinematic Universe.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
December 15

I don't know about you guys, but I love that my calendar years are going to be culminating in a Star Wars film from now on. Episode VII got me excited for the rest of this trilogy and beyond. Rogue One proved that the stand-alone films have a lot of promise. While I'm not totally jazzed on a Han Solo prequel (much less a trilogy) I am incredibly jazzed for The Last Jedi. Episode VII thrust Star Wars into a more modern context. It unified the saga thus far and has us set up for any number of possibilities going forward.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

WWE Royal Rumble -- 5 Matches To Watch And Prepare For The 30th Annual Royal Rumble

The 30th Annual Royal Rumble is tomorrow and it's the first time in about six or seven years that I've been truly excited for it, which is too bad, because it's an amazing show (third biggest of the year, I think Summerslam is more popular) and an important show, as we get to see what everyone's trajectory is for WrestleMania, the biggest show of the year.

The problem with the last four Rumbles is that we could all see who was winning from a mile away. There were no surprises, and there was no excitement. Keep in mind, you don't need both to have a good match or show. You can be unpredictable, but the twist has to be solid and the pay-off may be hit or miss. Or you can have a very predictable story with familiar beats, but the storytellers responsible for selling it are great storytellers and they will make the pay-off worth it.
WWE tends to suffer from two problems with the former situation: their incredibly convoluted mystery storylines peter out and lead to terrible conclusions, or they think they are being completely fresh and unpredictable, when like I said their endings are telegraphed months in advance.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a largely predictable ending. But giving us no other possibilities or sacrificing character and coherency makes it bad. Last year, it was exciting to see Triple H return and actually win, but we knew the only story that was being told was Reigns vs. Trips for WrestleMania. The year before was everyone being slaughtered and character assassinated simply to make Reigns look like a deserving winner. It was poorly executed. As soon as Batista returned, it was obvious who was winning in 2014. And as soon as Cena entered the Rumble in 2013 after losing to The Rock at WrestleMania the year before (plus Rock going into a title match the same night of the Rumble) we all knew who was winning.

The problem before that was that the rosters were incredibly thin, limiting options. Jericho was the likely (and rightful) winner of 2012's and the fact that there really wasn't a viable option outside of that (plus Sheamus being the eventual winner) speaks to that. The 2011 Rumble is 40-people deep, but that still feels like they're pushing it. Nothing truly exciting comes from the '11 Rumble.

One thing to keep in mind is that the card for the Rumble night also features other matches, and likely at least one or two titles being defended. It's not often people will pull double-duty for a match that night and the Rumble, though people have done it.
But basically, if you're looking at the undercard and thinking, "Who's left for the Rumble?" that's a bad sign.

This year, we don't have that problem, and it's truly the most unpredictable the Rumble's been in years. Like I said, probably since 2010. Of course, as soon as Edge made a surprise return, we all knew he was gonna win. But up until then, I would've been harder-pressed to tell you who was winning that Rumble. There's definitely some good stuff in the title matches and the rest of the card: Styles/Cena is going to be an epic clash, and I'm frankly more excited about it than I am Reigns/Owens, which is likely not to disappoint either. Plus, I'm sure there's some hilarious lines forthcoming from Jericho who will be suspended above the ring in a shark cage. (Wow, are we in the late 90s again all of a sudden?) Charlotte and Bayley are fighting for the RAW Women's Championship, and the Smackdown women also have a multi-man tag match on the card, as well as Sasha and Nia Jax. Cesaro and Sheamus are set to pull double-duty, defending the RAW tag belts against Gallows and Anderson (who may also pull double duty). Neville and Rich Swann are fighting for the Cruiserweight title. Twenty-two of the spots are filled in already:

Xavier Woods of the New Day, Baron Corbin (who is already the third winner of the annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale), Enzo's partner Big Cass, and The Hype Bros' Mojo Rawley all enter their first Royal Rumble this year.
Eternal underdog Sami Zayn, giant dog Braun Strowman, and old dog Goldberg enter their second Rumbles.
Brock Lesnar (who won in 2002) and Big E are about to go in for a third time.
Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, Luke Harper, and Rusev all enter their fourth.
Bray Wyatt's in his fifth, Sheamus is in his sixth.
This will be Randy Orton's 8th (he won in '09), Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler's 9th, Chris Jericho and The Miz's 10th, Undertaker's 11th (he won in '07), and Big Show's 12th.

Predicting the remaining eight spots is a bit unclear this year with the brand split, with NXT, and with how well WWE has been masking their booking this year.
Enzo Amore is a likely possibility, as well as Jinder Mahal. Heath Slater and Rhyno were both so popular they got the Smackdown tag titles first, and this would be a good place to re-introduce them after taking themselves out of title contention.
Speaking of the tag titles, the Smackdown titles don't have a spot on the card. They may be on the pre-show, or Shane may be holding them off the show to save them for the Elimination Chamber PPV which is just two weeks after the Rumble. Regardless, we may see the Champs American Alpha get some cross-brand exposure at the Rumble.

If these were the first six, that would leave two remaining spots for surprise entrants.
Finn Balor, the first Universal Champion on RAW, who has been out injured, has been cleared but has yet to be re-introduced to RAW. It's been quiet on his front the past few weeks, which may hint at his reappearance here at the Rumble, setting him on a path to take back what he lost, by challening whoever wins the Reigns/Owens match.
Also a possibility is NXT call-up Samoa Joe. The monster heel Joe doesn't have a spot on the card fro Takeover, so it's possible he makes his debut for the main roster at the Rumble. A free agent winning the Rumble has a lot of storytelling opportunity: the GM's and the commissioners would want a popular dominating force for their roster (if only to take it away from the other team) but the champions (especially if they're Owens and Styles, the heels who know Joe) they're not gonna want their title in contention with him.
Nakamura is also a possible NXT call-up but I think it's highly unlikely, as I think they're going to need him anchoring NXT a bit longer.
One name that is now ever-present of course is James Ellsworth. I'm not quite sure what he'd do in the Rumble, but his continued relevance on SmackDown Live and pairing with Carmella plus his campaigning for a spot seem to suggest the WWE isn't ready to let go of this weirdo with a dream quite yet.

Outside of NXT, there's the possibility of Triple H. We know Seth Rollins is no longer involved in the Rumble, after losing his spot to Sami Zayn on RAW. At the moment, he doesn't have a means into the match, but Triple H may insert himself into it, and Rollins is likely to come out and interfere with Trips' chances at winning, furthering their storyline heading into WrestleMania.
The other big name of course is Kurt Angle. Angle's been the WWE prodigal son for many years, and he was just recently announced as the headliner for their Hall of Fame 2017 class, and it immediately sparked rumors that he could have an impact on the Rumble, or at the very least a "one last match" sorta deal at WrestleMania. He's come out to deny those rumors, although who knows, when a wrestler has to address rumors, it's often pretty clear they're setting up a swerve. In this case, I would be surprised if he enters, I wouldn't be suprrised if he doesn't.

And of course, just to address all rumors, Kenny Omega's name has come up as a surprise entrant. He's coming off his greatest year in NJPW, after his rising star has put on caliber matches time and time again all over the world. He made it clear that he wants to be remembered as the guy who never went to WWE, but after a losing effort at WrestleKingdom against Okada, he's also stated that he's "weighing all his options." Again, like Angle, it could be smoke and mirrors, or who knows. I do know that Omega's appearance would be likened to AJ Styles' debut at last year's. Yet again, a "never thought we'd see it" kind of event. I think Omega's frankly not as well known as AJ Styles (personally, I've known Styles' work for years, Omega's only recently entered my radar in the last couple years) so I don't know how his reception would be if he were to debut, but I think the live crowd would be ecstatic.

And it's the most outlandish rumor, and one that I frankly don't know how to process properly, because his retirement was so emotional and sad. Daniel Bryan's name has come up recently. Between The Miz stealing his repertoire of moves, and their constant fighting over Miz's need to feel validated as a "true wrestler", and Daniel Bryan being absent from Talking Smack and leaving a lot of the talking segments to Shane O'Mac over the past month or so, the rumor has formed that they're trying to make us forget about Bryan a bit before surprising everyone and having him enter. Like I said, I think his injuries and risk are real, I think his retirement was serious, and I think there have been other reasons for him to take time off, but the Daniel Bryan fan in me is holding a very small candle of hope for this.

In regards to the winner, like I said, it's up in the air. There's a lot of possibilities. Sheamus, Orton, Undertaker, and Lesnar have all previously won the Rumble. And it has been the season of returning winners taking their second Rumble wins after a hiatus (Cena wins in '13, after previously winning in '08, then Batista in '14, after ultimately winning in '05, and Triple H in '16, after taking it in '02). Lesnar's win gap would equal Triple H's if he were to do it, but I don't think he will, because Lesnar/Goldberg is the goal for WrestleMania. Sheamus' first win was nothing to write home about so they seem unlikely to repeat that. Orton has a far more interesting story developing with the Wyatt family, although if they were to add a title to that eventual breakdown, then this could be the route that gets us to Bray's first ever championship reign. Maybe Orton wins the Rumble, Bray wins the championship in the Elimination Chamber, retains at WrestleMania to become a face? Undertaker has the intriguing win, because it's 10 years exactly since he last won. Maybe if he were champion, we'd see him hold on to the Championship til Wrestlemania where it's Undertaker VS. Cena, and Cena ties Ric Flair for championship reigns, while leaving WrestleMania as a heel for defeating The Undertaker?

Amongst the rest of the entrants, Goldberg also seems unlikely, I have a feeling Goldberg eliminates Lesnar somewhere in the middle, and Lesnar returns to cost Goldberg the win. I expect Baron Corbin to make a huge impact, like Kane in 2001 or Wyatt in '15, but I don't think he's going to win. The only other two names I can think of for strong possibilities are Braun Strowman, Cesaro, or Ambrose. Ambrose got very close last year, eliminated by the eventual winner Triple H, and stayed in contention for Road Block. It's an interesting story they've never really run with, that the runner-up seeks redemption and overcomes the next year. I'm not particularly interested in Ambrose/Styles again, but the prospect of the Elimination Chamber for their brand adds some unpredictablity to it (The Chamber featuring Styles, Ambrose, Cena, Corbin, Orton or Wyatt, and possibly Samoa Joe? Sign me up). Cesaro is top of the "least most unlikely to win" list, which includes Dolph Ziggler and Rusev. Should all be stronger contenders for winning, but I simply think they aren't. Strowman, having been booked as a monster all year, seems primed to dominate a Rumble which would be his specialty in all likelihood. We'll have to see where he falls in placement.

So there's a lot of reason to watch, based simply on the unpredictability of the match, as well as the prospects of how the title matches could turn out. The brand split again adds intrigue to the proceedings. That's hard to accomplish in the modern era of massive spoilers and rumor mills completely dominating the internet.

But in addition to that, there's some amazing talent on the roster, both rosters. And these five matches I want to recommend show off a lot of the talent that is going to be involved in tomorrow night's epic battle royale.

1.) Brock Lesnar VS. Goldberg, 
special guest referee Stone Cold Steve Austin -- WrestleMania XX

Wrestling fans will likely be questioning why I'm starting off with this turd of a match. But I think it's important to see, with one of the strongest storylines going into the Rumble itself being the rivalry of the Beast Incarnate and the returning master of the Spear, where everyone's collective memory left off with one Bill Goldberg.

This should have been an easy slam dunk of a match for WWE. Two money names, an epic clash at the 20th biggest show of all time, overseen by the biggest star of all time in Steve Austin. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. When the fans got word that both Lesnar and Goldberg were leaving right after this match for other career choices, suddenly the stakes were gone. And honestly, by this point, people weren't caring too much about the stakes of this match in the first place. The titles were being contested by hotter commodities Angle and Guerrero (who put on one of many amazing matches between the two), and the triple threat match of Michaels, Triple H, and Chris Benoit, which we can't talk about anymore. Even the Undertaker/Kane fight was billed as a main event over this. The match itself features two monsters trash-talking each other forever, so much so that Austin eventually has to encourage them to fight. Austin is more over than either man in the match and it really sucks to see. The crowd shits on the match the whole time, nothing remarkable happens, Goldberg wins to the boos of the crowd. Lesnar flips off the crowd before he bows out. Austin Stunners both men and has a beer with the audience as if he won. But we all lost.

I just want everyone to take in the crowd when Goldberg enters the match tomorrow night. It's going to be explosive. It's going to be thunderous. It's going to be as if this travesty wasn't the last thing we all so Goldberg do before he left. That's the beauty of wrestling, is how it keeps going, how everyone forgets everything for the next moment.

2.) AJ Styles VS. Baron Corbin VS. Dolph Ziggler 
for the WWE Championship -- The Wild Card Finals, SmackDown Live

Styles isn't likely to enter the Rumble this year as he's in a title match with Cena, but Corbin and Ziggler are both set to appear and this match showcases just how good they are: Ziggler at a perseverant face in peril, Corbin as the lone wolf, couldn't give two shits heel. Styles works the match injured, so the bulk of the match is left to Ziggler and Corbin. It's a fantastic show of talent, and I can't believe
it's from TV and not a PPV. See a match from two people who are likely to have a big impact on Sunday's proceedings.

3.) Samoa Joe VS. Finn Balor 
for the NXT Championship -- NXT Takeover: Dallas
As for two men who are speculated to have an impact on Sunday, I think it's only right to see how good these two are. This is my favorite defense for Balor, who fights a hard fight against challenger Joe. Joe gets cut open almost immediately and bleeds up a storm. The stop-and-start of the medics trying to clean him and close him up feels like a stopper to the momentum, but seeing just how badly he bleeds and his insistence on fighting through it adds to the intensity of the match. Suddenly you understand why it's an exciting idea that either (or both) could be involved in the Rumble tomorrow night.

4.) 5-on-5 SmackDown Live VS. RAW 
-- Survivor Series 2016
The match involves many of the major players in the Rumble as well as some other big names. It's an awesome exhibition of WWE's ability, when it wants to, to tell multiple interweaving (and sometimes conflicting) storylines in a single match. The over-arching stakes are bragging rights. RAW has already won two of the three brand vs. brand elimination matches for the evening. And their team of best friends Jericho and Owens, former friends Reigns and Seth, and mighty oak Braun Strowman, appear a much more cohesive team on the outset than SmackDown's. Luke Harper isn't quite trusting of Orton who has just joined the Family, and the fact that Orton is joining Wyatt in the match instead of Harper has him miffed. Styles and Ambrose are feuding over the belt by this time so it's unclear how much they can get along to win this match. Shane McMahon places himself into the match as well in a show of solidarity with "his guys." But that might put them at a disadvantage against a more seasoned team of wrestlers. There's some tension with Reigns and Seth trying to get along, as well as having former Shield-mate Ambrose on the other side. Same for the Wyatts, who are all in the SmackDown corner, but have to contend with the former family member Strowman who has their number. Also some tension is teased with Jericho wanting to be co-captain with Owens who isn't always as fit to lead the team. Of course, Stephanie McMahon threatens Team RAW's jobs if they don't deliver a win. Again, it's a captivating match to watch for how they manage to weave all these stories against each other. Plus, everyone works their asses off. For a non-prop match, this one's got some guts.

5.) The 20th Annual Royal Rumble 
-- San Antonio, TX

Ten years ago, the Royal Rumble was in the same place. The roster was split over three brands. There's a lot to be excited about in this match (but also, there's the vampire Kevin Thorn) with a lot of different acts: early going is Flair, until Kane comes in at 10. Some amazing choreography among the bigger stars. Orton, Benoit, and surprise entrant Van Dam enter back-to-back-to-back and as JR says, "Business picks up." Khali dominates the ring and practically empties it before Undertake makes his entrance at number 30. Orton and Edge put the beatdown on Undertaker before he and Michaels are left as the final two. They proceed to have a one-on-one that would be worthy of any main event spot. And the two Texas natives split the crowd and offer a nailbiter before Taker throws Michaels over after a failed Sweet Chin Music. It's a really crisp Rumble for how chaotic these affairs should be, and you'll at least be able to find the highlights on YouTube.

Bonus matches:
Since Lesnar/Goldberg is rather short and ineffectual, here's a couple extra ones, because I wanted them somewhere, but they didn't quite edge out these five.

Kurt Angle VS. Eddie Guerrero 
for the WWE Championship -- WrestleMania XX
I mentioned it earlier, but this is worth the watch. Angle is one of the most amazing performers ever, and there will never be an equal for the charisma of Eddie Guerrero. They put on a hell of a match here.

Sami Zayn VS. Cesaro VS. Kevin Owens VS. The Miz 
for the Intercontinental Championship -- Extreme Rules 2016
Extreme Rules has softened over the years. It's barely a B-show PPV anymore, more like a C-show. But last year's was great for two reasons: Styles and Reigns in the main event, and this match. Miz comes out on top, but not before some excellent wrestling from three other guys I consider the best. And The Miz was just breaking out on his very hot run with the IC title, one of the better heels to hold it in recent memory.

And that's it! Who are you betting on?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Week 1 - Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends Of Tomorrow Return in their Mid-Season Premieres

As 2017 rolls in, I made the decision that I wanted to start reviewing the DC CW shows as a unit, because I think watching them as a sort of variety mega-show as I have all this season (and did last night for their mid-season re-premieres) offers the best viewing experience. The weaknesses and flaws of one show are better handled by one of the other three. Each one handles a different aspect of what it means to be a comic book adaptation expertly, placing it at the forefront of its themes and delivery, while downplaying the rest and relegating them to the other shows. My appreciation of each of the shows individually is informed by how well all four shows perform every week. On the other hand, I do think it is a net positive enhancement for me, but is not a net loss for people who only watch one or two of the shows. Ultimately, if there's only a couple you really like and want to focus on those, it's feasible. Each of the shows operate surprisingly well when you consider their source material, a couple of which are rocky at best.

But it's such a unique moment, having four distinct shows center on a common universe airing almost back-to-back (and as of this week, two actually are back-to-back: Legends of Tomorrow follows Flash on Tuesday nights) that I thought it deserves a unique analysis. Hence this column. Where I will attempt to review everything happening in the DC CW "Arrowverse" (named after the genesis show) as a whole. Sorry to Gotham fans out there. All two of you. (No, but really, are people still watching Gotham?)

I'll be writing these up in their power rank order, least to best. So number four:

4.) Forget multiverse, where's more of THIS universe?
Got that Dutch angle goin' on. 

Kevin Smith, who himself has admitted he may not be worthy of helming a larger DC project despite his fanboy devotion, has proven quite capable in the director's chair for the superhero small screen. Previously directing the emotional "Runaway Dinosaur" and last November's ambitious "Killer Frost" for The Flash, Smith now moves over to Supergirl to direct his first episode there, and the title's a play on his aborted 90s Superman Lives, "Supergirl Lives."

Both Supergirl and Flash take it a bit easy this week, with a soft recap of events and projections of where we're headed next. Supergirl's big attention-grabber for this episode is an expansion of the universe off-Earth. For featuring two Krytonians, two Martians, a Daximite, and a Mos Eisley ensemble of alien bar-dwellers, Supergirl remains largely Earth-bound, and invaders are periodic. This is the first time we're getting to visit an alien world, and the implications in the episode of Earth's place in the larger universe are fascinating (Earth youngsters fit for work are a hot commodity in the slave trade?) Maybe humans aren't so useless in civilizations of the universe. And perhaps we can start seeing more of Kara and the DEO finding means of getting off-world more often.

Supergirl's greatest strength is its optimism. With that, there is a strong emphasis of family and belonging, as well as purpose and motivation. The character work for all four shows is the strongest asset, but Supergirl has charming and charismatic performers as likeable characters in spades. Comics can be incredibly cheesy, and the characters unflappably positive. Supergirl manages to temper that with grounded performances. The strongest relationship is the sisterhood of Kara and Alex. They look out for each other, and in the case of this episode, Alex blindly follows Kara through a warp gate to an alien planet as a rescue, with no guarantees that it works properly, or that they have a sure hope of getting home. Since the Invasion 4-part crossover, Supergirl is the show that offers us the most opportunity for storylines on other worlds, so I hope we see more of those.

I think my only complaint of the episode is that we aren't getting a lot of development with any of the myriad storylines that are now happening: Jimmy and Winn are moonlighting as the new Guardian (plus Winn has his own sub-arc through the episode, which does lead to a great line: "I'm NOT the Red Shirt!") and they're having a difference of opinion, Alex is dealing with her new relationship with Detective Maggie Sawyer (not to mention also coming to terms with coming out, particularly to herself) and it's a bit of a rocky start, Mon-El is attempting to find himself as his daily life keeps intertwining with Kara's, and there's also a double-life plot present with Kara continuing her uphill climb as a reporter to her difficult editor Snapper Carr. It's a lot to handle, and I don't think Supergirl is as deft at handling multiple and revolving plots as well as Flash (which tends to keep the number focused to 2 or 3) and Arrow (whose revolving plots tend to inform each other and overlap better). So the Guardian plot gets a little lost in the shuffle, and Winn and Alex's arcs feel rushed. It barely feels like a commercial break between Winn quitting the Guardian partnership and bemoaning the fact that he is incapable in the field, before he's thrust into a situation where he finds himself entirely capable in the field. Same with Alex, who careens wildly from honeymoon phase of new relationship bliss, to calling it off completely, to having to beg for one last (and according to Maggie, for real last) chance to make this work and not running when the going gets tough. Mon-El's trajectory is a little more clear, since he remains in the forefront of the episode with Kara, and by the end he's gone from part-timing as a bartender at the alien bar to asking Supergirl if he can help defend Earth alongside her, after seeing her remain brave and defiant even powerless and all odds stacked against them.

All these progressions are perfect and much needed for all three of the characters, like I said it just felt rushed to get there, as if a couple transitional scenes are missing from the framework. But we have Mon-El and Winn stepping up. Guardian is likely to become a larger point of contention for the group. We also have some hints at a wider mystery in the tag, with some hooded figures searching for Mon-El. Add to that an odd exchange between Mon-El and the slave trade aliens where one bows, and you can understand why some internet theorists are positing that the humble Daximite may have royal origins from his destroyed planet.

3.) Borrowing from the past, calling the future 
The youngest cast for CSI ever, CSI: Central City

The Flash like I said has a similar problem this week as Supergirl. It serves much more as a recap and setting up of the new status quo: Alternate-Earth Harry Wells opens the Star Labs Museum, Cisco goes from adamently against this waste of time to helping by marketing and renovating the museum for its real opening as well as inspiring Harry to continue his pursuit of dreams, Caitlin turns to Julian for help supressing her powers and he eventually decides to join Team Flash, Wally goes from hero-in-training to full Kid Flash even going as far as to catch the villain of the week, Iris learns of her future fate while Barry continues to try and prevent it.

The Flash's strong point is how soap opera it can be. The themes are simple. They center on a love story between Barry and Iris. The morality of the characters is clear. Every character reveal or next beat is marked by a new twist and wrinkle. What Flash does better than a soap opera though, is that the characters are learning and growing. No twist is a throwaway. It all loops back on itself and the result on the characters is cumulative.

That's what makes watching the multiple plots of The Flash more enjoyable than Supergirl and sometimes even Arrow. The plots and their associated characters move together despite different external goals. While Harry strives to find his purpose, Barry struggles to change the future, and Caitlin learns to look to others for help. In one scene, Caitlin relays to the team that no one can do it alone. And that has implications for everyone. It's what makes Cisco help Harry, it's what makes Barry and Iris choose to tell the rest of the team about Iris dying in the future (they still do not tell Joe though, for fear of what he might do at the cost of his own life), and it's what makes her reach out to Julian, and eventually what makes Julian accept the team and vice versa.

The villain of the week, a little like the central conflict of Supergirl Lives, is mostly incidental, dwarfed by the ideas at play and the growth of the characters from beginning of the episode to the end. What edges out Girl of Steel for the Scarlet Speedster this particular week is that Supergirl, much as her cousin does in comics, remains a beacon and there's not a whole of growth for the title character. Whereas Barry learns an important lesson (something Ollie has been learning over on Team Arrow before the winter hiatus) about not keeping secrets, about being honest. Barry has a more proactive role this week, more than just inspiring the others around him.

The storytelling of this episode is fun and it's got my interest piqued for the remainder of the season. Cisco vibes Barry back to the future he saw where Iris dies. They take in some headlines from a nearby news broadcast and dictate them back to the team in the present. Their thinking is that if they can alter enough major events leading up to this moment, they can change the future. The main villain in fact proves this, as originally Barry apprehends him, this time leaving it to Wally. We now know a lot of things that are going to happen leading up to the final confrontation with Savitar, I am now solely focused on how the creative team gets us there.

The tag has another mysterious woman arriving from a portal that looks like a parallel world (as opposed to elsewhere on the timeline) who is apparently searching for Wells. A stalker from H.W.'s parallel Earth? We shall see!

A couple of the headlines pointed to episodes we already know are happening: The Music Meister, Gorilla Grodd, and Killer Frost.

Looming over the Flash is the mystery of Savitar's prophecy: one will fall, one will betray them, and one will suffer a fate worse than death. Rumors and theories abound, but it seems Iris is at present the one likely to fall. But my money is on Joe, who trades his life for hers. Harry, Caitlin, and Julius are the obvioius choices for betrayal, which makes me feel like it's not one of them if TV has taught me anything. Unfortunately, The Flash has taught me something different in its 3 seasons, which is exemplified by this episode's plot: there is no trick. We're going to do exactly what you all think, but watch how cool it is to get there. Everyone could see the Zoom/Jay/Man in the Iron Mask reveal coming, but the episodes building to it were phenomenal. Flash constantly reminds us that it's not about the destination. It's a theme that haunts the Barry Allen character consistently. It seems pretty obvious that Barry suffers the fate worse than death, as he will suffer through both a friend betraying the team and losing a loved one (again). But maybe this one seems less twisty. After all, why wouldn't Savitar simply say that Barry would suffer a fate worse than death? Why leave that one vague if it's meant for Barry? Perhaps it's Wally. A pretty current arc in the comics is Wally's disappearance and about ten years missing from the memories of everyone in the DC universe's life. Wally becomes one with the Speed Force and everyone forgets about him. Could they be speeding us toward something similar on TV?

2.) Don't believe the hype 

After two seasons of Arrow being a dumpster fire lost in the woods (not a good place for a dumpster fire) I cannot believe how hard and well the show has bounced back. It harkens back to its first two seasons: raw, unapologetic, dark and gritty but done well. Also, like Flash, the characters have grown up. Diggle is a man betrayed by the uniform he wears. Felicity has loved and lost. Ollie trains a new team, one of which has already betrayed them, and while he's also mayor, it seems like he's now losing the war against evil on two fronts, making him find his honesty and has galvanized his sense of justice. Thea is absent this episode, but she's come into her own this season as she essentially calls the shots from the mayor's office. Rene and Curtis were the highlight pairing of the episode for me, finally confronting a lack of character development for both of them as of late. Only Ragman is left a little in the dust for this episode, but that's bound to happen. We already had some wonderful work with him and Ollie and then him and Felicity before the winter hiatus.

Prometheus' impact on the team is still being felt, which thins the team's resolve, leaving Felicity to power through and be not only the voice of reason, but the voice of justice as Laurel Lance returns to the fold under mysterious circumstances. Everyone is happy to see her, but Felicty remains skeptical. It's one of my more favorite uses of the character, and I really never thought I'd ever like anything Felicity was doing on the show ever again. But she's soon proved right, as Laurel reveals herself to be the Black Siren, the evil meta from the parallel earth where everyone's just the evil version of themselves.

It's still unclear though whether a version of the good Laurel is in there and she worked with Prometheus simply out of self-preservation, or if this is an irredeemable Black Siren whose love died on the Queen's Gambit when it sank. Ollie certainly believes, even by the end of the episode that there is hope to bring her around. Felicity is unconvinced. I like the development of these traits in these characters, as they're attributes so often associated with the other person. It's important to see these charcters develop realistically as well as independently.

This is Arrow's strength: it is the most realistic of the quartet. And when I say realistic, I don't mean that it's true to real life, just that there are very real rules that govern this reality they occupy, one of parallel universes, of time travel, aliens, and metas, but the characters remain true to themselves, they develop realistically, and react as people do. During the Invasion, Ollie wanted a minute to digest everything before jumping into training the ragtag group of heroes to fight the alien invasion. He lamented the fact that when this all started (and he's speaking both as a character and to the fourth wall) it was just him, this guy with arrows and vengeance on his mind. Now he's surrounded by the fastest man alive, a group of time travelers including the once-dead sister of the love of his life, and an alien from a parallel Earth. The world externally has changed for Team Arrow, but their mission and their hearts remain the same.

There's a lot less fluff to Arrow than there is to Flash. While Flash's characters also develop, they feel more lifted from comics. Arrow's ensemble gets mad at each other, they disagree, they try to articulate, they struggle and cry, they take a moment. It's always been exemplified in their fights: Arrow's fight sequences are brutal, hard-hitting, and more realistic. Legends looks too choreographed. Supergirl and Flash are metas, and their fights require some fantastical elements. I don't want to keep reusing it, but it feels much more raw. Again, it's dark and gritty done right. When dark and gritty became everyone's perogative in the 90s and 00s, it went too far. We didn't need ultra-violence and anti-heroes. What it meant was that not everything was solved right away, that people walked away from conversations unsatisfied, that not every villain was captured, and that at every point, difficult decisions are made. Flash almost always ends with everyone together, they are a family. If there are fights, people make sure they know they still care. In Arrow, difficult truths are confronted, people are devastated and they are changed because of the chaos that wrecks their lives, and often they have to hold it all in. We see it get to Curtis in this episode and it takes Rene to talk reason to him. We see it happen to Felcity too, and Ollie and her fight for most of the episode through it. Diggle is scared and doesn't know how to react to the man recruited by Ollie to help him, D.A. Adrian Chase (whom we all know is Vigilante, right?) until he actually does it, in a choice that looks like extreme desperation and ingenuity.

It creates a story, a thru-line. This episode starts right where the last episode before the hiatus left off, with Ollie looking at a revived Laurel. Arrow doesn't bother with a refresher, leave that to the more convoluted Flash and Supergirl. Arrow remains focused and uncluttered. And we're on a clear trajectory to the final confrontation with Prometheus.

Of course, there's also a mysterious woman at the end of Arrow. Two if you count the now-revealed Talia al-Ghul in the flashback sequence. But the tag features the next likely Black Canary. We'll see if she's suited up in time to join them against Prometheus.

1.) A new kind of hope 
Can't wait for that Power Rangers movie.
If Flash is soap opera and melodrama, Arrow is dark and grit, and Supergirl is fairy tale, then Legends is great big unapologetic fun. And when it's not trying to take itself so seriously, it seriously shines.

This episode epitomizes that. The plot uses the oft-used Spear of Destiny to bring both the Legends and the Legion (Eobard Thawne, Damien Darhk, and Malcolm Merlin) to the late 60s where a lobotimzed Rip Hunter is making his college thesis film. It's a zany episode that allows for some of the best ensemble work by the Legends, a lot of meaningful fun with the MacGuffin and the time travel ramifications of the show, and I can't beliee how menacing they managed to make John Barrowman and Neal McDonough. (It's hard for me to see them as anything but the very friendly Captain Jack Harknes and the really not menacing in the least M. Bison from Legend of Chun Li.) 

What I really love about the time aberration that they have to correct is that there's personal meaning to the characters we're watching. George Lucas is Rip's prop master and he quits the film and film school after the attack of the Legends and the Legion. Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark are never made, undoing the inventor and historian histories of Ray and Nate respectively. They have to embark with Vixen on getting Lucas to relent and go back to film school. Along the way, they manage to fit in a set piece that likely inspires the iconic trash compactor scene from A New Hope. Sometimes in similar time travel shows, the character who has a personal connection the mistake they must correct is someone the heroes meet at the top of the story, it's not often it's one of the heroes (although this was used to great effect with Dr. Martin Stein's past self and future daughter before the hiatus).

I also loved the acknowledgement of the first season's lack of a good villain. Vandal Savage deserved so much more. And his lack of real villainy and threat in the first seasons was one of the problems. This is addressed with the Legion of Doom. The second problem was the ensemble splitting up constantly, or bickering constantly, plus too much deadweight in the cast. This has been solved by cutting out a lot of the deadweight (though Rip looks like he'll be tagging along again), or replacing the useless Hawkgirl with the much more capable Vixen. Putting Sarah in charge of the crew has led to a much better dynamic amongst the team. The bromance of Ray and Nate is awesome, and keeping the ensemble together more often has led to much better episodes this season. If there is a team split off it keeps the dynamic of the main team strong, while we get an interesting subplot. For this one, it was Martin and Rory investigating Snart possibly haunting Rory. It's a pairing we don't get to see often.

With Flash focusing on its two speedsters, and Arrow still getting their ensemble work together, and Supergirl still being a mostly one-woman show, it's nice to see an ensemble that sticks together, works together, and actually gets stuff done. And if this George Lucas-centric episode is any indication of its tone and overall style moving forward, I'm very optimistic about the second half of the season being even stronger than the first half.

Supergirl - B-
The Flash - B
Arrow - A
Legends of Tomorrow - A-

Best scene: The final Legends fight starting from the trash compactor to the escape on the Wave Rider is fantastic.

Best feel-good moment: Big fan of Cisco and H.W. finally getting along at the opening of the Museum.

Most inspiring moment: Supergirl taking multiple tazes to protect the kidnapped Earthlings is pitch perfect Kara.

Best pairing: Tied between Marty and Rory on Legends or Barry and Wally finally getting that Flash/Kid Flash dynamic down.

Most important current storyline that I'm thinking about because of the current social issues: Alex and Maggie's relationship I think has been done incredibly well. I feel like TV and movies are still trying to get non-cis relationships right in their portrayals but this one feels the truest to me. Alex coming out to Kara played like how I've heard a lot of my friends' stories play out and that heartens me.

Most forgotten character this week: I almost said Jimmy Olsen, but he does have the opening Guardian fight before disappearing for pretty much the whole episode. Instead, the honor goes to J'onn, whose Martian DNA can't survive the atmosphere on Maaldoria to lead the rescue. So he sends a sun grenade with Alex to restore Kara's drained powers after being under Maaldoria's red sun. 

Favorite little scene: Mon-El covers himself with the blanket on the couch when he sits next to Kara and admits he wants to be a hero. The slow burn on this relationship is also wonderful. They're quickly becoming my favorite couple of the Arrowverse.

Best dramatic moment: Felicity's got a ton, but I'll pick her direct confrontation of Laurel while Black Siren sits in her cell. She's got some cutting lines there.

Speaking of cutting lines, Best Felicity/Cisco/Jax/Winn one-liner: I already mentioned it, it's Winn's "I'm not the Red Shirt! YOU'RE the Red Shirt!"