WWE Ruthless Aggression Era: 2003

WWE Ruthless Aggression

Honestly, this year wasn’t very noteworthy, judging by the fact that I write hardly even wrote notes during this year (that being said I’ll probably blab like normal in this and it’ll end up being just as long as the past ones). It’s all just pretty run-of-the-mill stuff with nothing amazingly good, but not too much that’s horrible, just kinda bland maybe. Both shows are fully set in their ways of being separated, especially with the split pay-per-views now where one show gets a PPV and they alternate and only come together at the big events. I always said I’d try to make it to WM20 to match up with when I started watching back in the day and maybe stop there, but I got here a lot quicker than I thought, so who knows. Things are getting increasingly clear that the product isn’t what it used to be in the true Attitude years or even the ones following, and now it’s just in kind of a boring and un-flashy groove. People complain about the HHH reign of terror, but I like him generally and as such him always on top doesn’t bother me as much. Anyways, I’ve been thinking it’s time to go back and watch all the Attitude era WCW Nitros and stuff since I’ve never seen them. But, before all that, let’s get into this thing…

The first two pay-per-views were pretty void of anything special. Lesnar wins the Rumble, of course, not only because it cements him of having one of the greatest first years in WWE history with winning the King Of The Ring, beating The Rock at SummerSlam for the title, main-eventing with Undertaker and just generally being on top, to the Rumble win now. It has been telegraphed for awhile that he was going to get his big match against Angle, with their whole shared background of amateur wrestling, so it worked good in storyline as well.

Royal Rumble is also where Scott Steiner got finally had his top feud with HHH for the title, and as expected this whole thing was a mess and not really engaging at all. They had dumb little test of strength competitions because of course Hunter is self-conscious about that going against Steiner. Steiner had no chance of winning and after he had this little program, Steiner would wallow in the mid-card doing worthless stuff with Stacy Kiebler and Test, which somehow they stretched for, like, the whole year. Not like he was that great in the first place, but WWE seemed to be placing him for something good coming into the company, and nothing happened, as should really be expected for their track record.

No Way Out was centered around the return of The Rock and his rematch with Hulk Hogan from last year, which was really just a set-up for the Vince/Hogan match at WrestleMania. The Rock comes in with his new Hollywood Rock heel gimmick and it’s a lot of fun since Rocky hasn’t played a heel in a long time, and it actually works well with his real-life persona of being an actor now, the conceit that he’s this major actor only concerned with himself and thinks that he’s better than everyone else now that he’s making movies. He gets some heat, mainly when he directly insults the fans, but mostly he still gets cheers. The most hilarious thing was Hogan getting screwed out of the win by The Rock and Vince and WWE played it up like it was at the level of the Montreal Screwjob, since the PPV was in Montreal. Also, I had no clue Sylvain Grenier had his introduction (before the La Resistance thing) as the French ref that screws over Hogan. I always love seeing in WWE when guys you know from their major gimmick actually have debuted earlier in some two-bit role.

Alright, so the WrestleMania build:

HHH/Booker: This feud just makes no sense and has NO business being a Mania-pseudo main event or world title match. I mean, I love Booker and all, but I still didn’t think he was main event level at this time and for sure not enough to go against HHH at this time. I’m obviously looking at this from the far future, but it just seems so unmatched and random. Like, it would be more than fine for any other PPV, but for Mania it’s so underwhelming. Also, it’s SOOO goddamn racist, like overtly, not even subtle. When HHH saying people like YOU don’t get to be in my spot etc. It’s was so dumb because with all this overtly racist stuff you would assume that they did it all to have Booker get his comeuppance over HHH at the biggest event of the year, but nope, HHH goes over and it all just falls beside the wayside. I heard the original plan was indeed for Booker to go over, but HHH nixed it, and thus it doesn’t make much sense, besides HHH always wanting to win here.

Rock/Austin: Rock is super fun as the Hollywood Rock and his whole heel business. It at least brings some more interest to his character who is just so sporadic in his appearance anyways that it provides another angle and isn’t just boring face Rock popping up. Also, it’s a cool way to play off him being this whole big Hollywood star now and he is always good at gaining heat. Austin is doing really nothing at all, but I guess it’s to be expected as this would be his dipping of his toes back into WWE before he was out again. It’s basically him feuding with Bischoff. Also, the Rock/Hurricane stuff was fun, giving a guy shine like that in the main event. The match was pretty fun in the end, it was short and almost like a greatest hits of their previous Mania matches, not that it was close to any of those, but just both guys giving everybody all their hits for their last match together.

McMahon/Hogan: This was fine enough, at least it had some real world history so there’s weight to it that had been building for all these years, although it just started in storyline very recently. But, for the love of god, keep Hogan off the mic, he was always fumbling his words. The match was surprisingly good and it’s always hilarious to see Vince McMahon, the supposed non-wrestler and boss of the company, with his buff body looking way more muscular and in shape than the flabby supposed greatest wrestler of all time.

Lesnar/Angle: This was obviously the most hyped match and the one with an actual lengthy backstory and heft to it. They’ve been feuding since, like, November of last year, and although it seems like it’s going on forever, there is at least the goal of Mania which you know will be a grand culmination of it all. I can’t wait for it. They did have a match on SD, but Angle won it sneakily, so it wasn’t that much of a takeaway from the Mania match. Benjamin and Haas is a good addition, giving Kurt his collegiate stable or whatever you wanna call it. The match was fantastic as expected and really I think the best thing to main event the show, since they had several options and were supposedly wavering about what to put on last. The Brock shooting star press botch that has him land on his head will never be easy to watch, and I always yell at my TV for Brock to drag Angle closer to the corner so he wouldn’t have had all that pressure to make that huge distance while flipping, but he never listens.

Taker/Jones vs A-Train/Show: Before all this stuff I was wracking my brain to think of Taker’s match for this and thought it was Show, but then I remembered it was A-Train and then this tag match pops up that I never heard of happening before. I’m almost certain it doesn’t happen, though? Because I only recall Taker facing A-Train and never heard of a tag match around it. Off that, I only sparingly have heard of Nathan Jones and thus he must be around for such a short time, but surely I would’ve heard of him being in a  Mania match, or maybe this match is just that unforgettable. I think he gets gone fast somehow. Also, it was so so stupid how they were building him up in the vignettes as being this Australian prison badass ready to rip someone’s face off, and he comes in and turns face right away and becomes Taker’s little delicate padawan who needs wrestling lessons. It was so bizarre and sudden and took everything away from what he was seemingly built to be. I guess they just lost their luster on him. I really should do some actually research into him and why WWE soured on him so quickly, I mean, it’s so obvious that he sucked in and out of the ring. But, it was hilarious how quick they pushed him high up the card, only to yank him back down just as quick.

Jericho/HBK: I was really looking forward to this match, as they’re both fantastic wrestlers. The build was pretty lame with each basically just interrupting each other’s matches and randomly attacking each other.

Goldberg coming into WWE finally happened and one of the last debuts I was waiting for and I was super stoked to see, as I’ve seen none of his short WWE stuff, besides WrestleMania 20 (ugh). The Rock stuff was the perfect feud and one for The Rock to go out on, for now, and put Goldberg over, not that he needed it. I don’t know how much The Rock has left even beyond his part-time player thing, because I know his Mania 20 match is like his last match for a whole long while. Goldberg actually got a bunch of boos, but I think that was mainly because how much people liked The Rock.

The Evolution stable stuff was weird to start the year. They were establishing it right before WrestleMania, but all of a sudden Orton and Batista disappeared, like not wrestling or just hanging out ringside for HHH, only Flair. Is it because of the Nash thing? I knew they came back later in the year as that’s when it really kicked off. But, it’s weird they were establishing/introducing them as this group and then half of them vanished.

I couldn’t believe that John Cena actually won the tournament Smackdown was having to see who would face Brock for the title. I know we look back at Cena now and be like, duh of course he wins, but I didn’t think he’d win here this early before his MAJOR push. I guess watching all this, though, it’s clear that Cena was pushed from the very beginning as soon as he started. And now especially with his hip-hop gimmick. And it was an actual match too, I thought Brock might squash, but Cena actually dominated for most of it until Brock surprised and hit him with one F5 and got the pin. It’s hilarious to see this mini-feud between the two, looking back with 2016 eyes and how much they’d fight and feud over a decade later. It’s crazy to think that in theory, the seeds for their 2014 feud were planted all the way back in 2003.

Also, they have Roddy Piper being Sean O’Haire’s manager type guy to try and get him over, but it’s not even close to working. O’Haire is just so boring and not engaging at all. They tried to reignite the feud with Rikishi where years ago when Piper hit Snuka with the coconut. Boring, and short match.

Judgment Day was pretty lame. I can hardly remember stuff from it. The Battle Royal was fun for the IC title. And I love Christian like this, he’s perfect as the smarmy heel which he’s been playing forever with no need of a face change.

The classic short singles match for the world title with HHH that ends in a DQ just to keep extending the feud and get to the big gimmick match. So pointless.

Lesnar/Big Show in a stretcher match was at least a fun change of pace as this was the first one in forever. They fought a ton outside the ring more than I thought and thus it wasn’t the most high paced match, not that these two would give that, but it was good enough.

Bad Blood was better. The HIAC match was pretty good, but there was no need for Foley to come back to guest referee. Just another dumb gimmick every year for Foley to pop back up.

Michaels/Flair was good. And Goldberg/Jericho was fine enough for a little stop gap feud for Goldberg. But, you can already tell that Goldberg is just always getting the short-shrift and he’ll never do anything of actual note in the company.

Vengeance was fine enough, I guess. I could care less about Zach Gowen and the whole Vince angle. Undertaker/Cena is a pretty great feud and decent match. Guerrero/Benoit single match, enough said. The triple threat title match was decent enough, but I was shocked Angle won, but it becomes clearer later when Vince turned on Angle and aligned himself with a heel-turned Lesnar.

So, without me looking it up, I never really understood the Zach Gowen thing. Vince must’ve just had a huge crush on the idea of a kid with one-leg who always wanted to be in the WWE, just so he could constantly squash him and beat him up. Dude had zero charisma and is just a bore, especially when they focus sooo much on him. But, then they just got sick of him and turned on him, as it always happens in this company, and eventually just used him as someone for Brock to destroy on his mean streak.

The Kane unmasking was so dumb, there was zero build to it, just one week Bischoff saying if Kane loses against HHH he’ll lose his match. They weren’t even feuding, it would seem better to have it at the end of an epic feud or something, but nope just off the Hell In A Cell against Nash. Obviously they probably wanted something of note to do since it’ll be awhile until their next PPV with them alternating with SmackDown now. It definitely adds a new dimension to stuff, but it’s really just oooh Kane is crazy and a monster, but I guess it does give his character some teeth since he’s been pretty neutered and de-monsterized over the years.

I do like that since each brand doesn’t have a PPV each month to build to that they have to spread things out and have semi-big events like this and later SmackDown has the Angle/Lesnar Ironman match to provide some spark in the downtimes between getting to that next pay-per-view. At least WWE back here was able to stretch together some decent stories from week-to-week and it wasn’t completely aimless like nowadays.

Kevin Nash like Goldberg just seems to have fizzled out so quickly after their one big feud that entered them into the company. It’s such a pattern with the company where their one big obvious feud that kicks them off onto the show will be fun, but once it ran its course they just languish behind-the-scenes. Just like Scott Steiner, too. They didn’t even give Goldberg/HHH its due and buildup and quickly turned it into the Chamber match, but I guess their singles feud would resume later in the year.

Elimination Chamber match was alright. I was semi-surprised that Goldberg went over for the title and thought he would destroy everybody until HHH, then HHH would cheat for the title, but I guess they decided this would be the best time to give Goldberg the title, for at least a couple months. Hey, at least he got one up on the likes of Nash and Steiner.

It’s crazy that leading into SummerSlam in August the WWE title has only been contested by Lesnar/Angle and Big Show since like Survivor Series in November. It’s legit just the same dudes contesting for it. I mean, it doesn’t feel that long, but dang it would be nice if they spruced it up and brought in some new guys.

I can hardly keep track but Angle is heel leading into Mania, Brock face. Brock reigns for a bit as face, then Angle comes back after a few months all face and buddy-buddy with Lesnar which lasts for a couple weeks. Then on a SmackDown Lesnar on the side of Vince turns on Angle and is now heel with face Angle and being the Champ heading into SS.

The match itself was pretty great, as expected from what Lesnar and Angle always deliver. I love to that Lesnar tapping was built into the storyline for the coming months, as this huge thing that not only did he lose but he tapped, and the crowd would chant it at him.

John Cena is now fully in his rapper gimmick to the point where he has a full handle on it and you can begin to see him getting over and the popularity of it with the fans that skyrockets him. I’m a sucker for his raps.

I barely remember anything that happened at Unforgiven.

Oh, yeah, and so Evolution gets established with their theme and all. Which I fucking love. It’s weird because at the beginning of the year it was Orton-less with Batista the guy in the mix, and then it was Batista nowhere to be found and Orton is around. They never mention it either, so I dunno what was up. But, Batista would come shortly after.

No Mercy was pretty unforgettable, too, as these Pay-per-views were back then at the end of the year, outside of when Survivor Series was actually relevant. There was probably no match in recent memory that I could’ve cared less about than the Vince vs. Stephanie “I Quit” match and it was just as terrible as expected. It was all just an excuse to get Stephanie out of the GM chair and put Heyman in.

Lesnar/Undertaker in a Biker Chain match was pretty decent. I always have hated the concept of a weapon on a pole match, as they make a big deal about the first person who retrieves the object off the pole, but it’s not like they automatically win once they get it, or the other person can’t use it. It’s just the weapon is now fair game for both, and isn’t really much of an advantage getting it first, because it’s not like they ever win right after getting the weapon down and using it.

I love watching Survivor Series pay-per-views back in this time, because they actually have Survivor Series matches with a built in storyline and a reason to have them, and not just thrown together today. The RAW one considered the ongoing Austin/Bischoff GM feud that would eventually get Austin kicked off and the SmackDown one was the continuation of the Angle/Lesnar feud. The Lesnar team was hilarious because they somehow got Nathan Jones back from the dead and had the slightly less of a bore of Matt Morgan.

Also, I know Chris Benoit wins the Rumble in a couple month here and I was thinking about it around this time how it seemed so random that they hadn’t even been building Benoit up and was in zero story to speak of. But, then they had Benoit make Lesnar tap out, which was a pretty big deal, and so begins his subtle climb into the serious main event picture and eventually to where he explodes and wins the Rumble and the title (except it was HHH’s).

On the same theme I’ve been paying attention to Eddie Guerrero and his treatment as he’s the one to take the belt off Lesnar in a few months, similar to Benoit, but his rise isn’t quite as apparent. Sure, he’s super over with the fans, but not much is happening storyline wise. I knew he was give up his United States title to Big Show, to clear his way for the WWE title, and for Show to give the title up to Cena at Mania to really get Cena cooking.

Also, it was hilarious how they bring Hardcore Holly back and immediately push him into feuding with Lesnar, like he comes back with these vignettes about being mad that Lesnar was the one to injure him, yet I’m pretty sure nobody remembered that or even cared or knew that Hardcore Holly was gone. I guess they just needed a a stop-gap feud for Lesnar for the Rumble.

The Vince/Undertaker Buried Alive match wasn’t anything special, and obviously just a set-up for Undertaker to return in his Deadman gimmick. This was a pretty underwhelming year for Undertaker, and really had no top feud or main-eventing match, beside the one at No Mercy. The Biker gimmick was getting a bit stale, even though I kinda enjoy it more than most, but it was time for the Deadman to come back.

And then Armageddon was all about putting all the belt on Evolution, because of course. I was so stoked, though, because it’s the beginning of the Randy Orton push and when they start establishing his Legend Killer moniker. I never got to see this stuff and I love this Randy, especially the early days when he was my favourite wrestler when I started watching in 04/05, so I can’t wait to see him keep getting pushed and the eventual Evolution fracturing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Triple H got his title match, with WWE simultaneously satisfying both needs by getting the title off Goldberg and onto HHH, while also giving Kane his shot at the title, which you woulda thought they were going towards earlier with the unmasking, but they kinda just threw it away here. Then to add to the craziness, HHH and HBK would start feuding again after this, with Michaels actually winning the belt over HHH on the last RAW of the year, which I didn’t think they’d actually do, even though it was in his hometown of San Antonio. And so the build to the Rumble and WrestleMania 20 begins.

It is bonkers to me to think that I’ve watched seven years of WWF/E from the beginning of 1997 to the end of 2003 in the real-time frame of a year. I never thought I’d actually watch it this fast, but it’s been a lot of fun (if a bit less so the last few years) to see all this stuff I’ve known bits and pieces of and especially how it all leads into when I started watching. I first started watching right after WrestleMania 20, and while it’ll kinda suck when I eventually get there since I know all the major storylines and where everything goes, I’m looking forward to seeing it with my 2016 eyes and seeing how I remember it.

Royal Rumble: Review/Recap

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Dean Ambrose defeats Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match to retain the WWE Intercontinental Championship:

Besides the Rumble match itself this was really the only match I was looking forward to on the card, with how great Owens and Ambrose are together, both with their promos and their chemistry in the ring, and then add on the stipulation of the Last Man Standing and it had all the elements to presumably blow this feud off perfectly. Now I could easily see these two going back-and-forth on a couple more PPVs as I’m not sick of this match-up at all, but it seems like they’re diverging the guys after this since we’re heading into Mania and I presume they have different ideas for each of them heading into that show.

Anyways, the match was great as anticipated, and really the perfect way to kick off this show or any, with the energy high and weapon spots used to get the crowd going early. There were some cool moments like Owens just beating a ten count by rolling out of the ring onto his feet on the outside, Ambrose striking Owens who had a chair wrapped around his head and the general jawing back-and-forth between the two guys which gave the match an air that these guys actually hated each other. It was pretty clear that when Owens set-up a double-decker table outside the ring that he was eventually going to go through it for the 10-count loss, especially when the cameras made sure to never show it in a shot again until the fateful moment when Owens went to the top rope to moonsault onto Ambrose who was laid across a bunch of chairs, only to have Ambrose spring to life and push Owens through said tables and regain his belt.

The New Day defeats The Usos to retain the WWE Tag Team Championship:

I think I’ve said before that I’m sick of The New Day and their whole schtick, I mean I like them still, it’s just that their gimmick has worn a bit thin especially when they do the same overlong promos every week and have the same matches week in and week out. It doesn’t help that they’re facing off against the Usos, who aren’t bad, but are just generally bland and aren’t really great enough wrestler or have a good enough gimmick that they stick out to you to make you care about them one way or the other. Unsurprisingly, because of all this this was basically just a regular RAW TV match you’ve already seen a thousand times between the teams and wasn’t anything new.

There needs to be some new blood mixed in to at least make things fresh again in the tag division, but on the surface there isn’t really anyone. They already ran through the lackluster Dudley Boyz feud, one was starting up with the Lucha Dragons until Sin Cara go injured and now this Usos one doesn’t have any legs to it, so I don’t know where they go from here. I can’t even think of any teams, outside of any combination of jobbers they could mix and match, or I guess falling in line with that have them do a program with the Social Outcasts, which could be fun or a disaster. Or maybe they finally bring up an NXT tag-team, like Enzo and Cass who seem to have passed their opportunity to gain the NXT tag belts, and throwing them up with The New Day to go promo for promo with their colourful antics wouldn’t be the worst thing to head into WrestleMania with.

Kalisto defeats Alberto Del Rio to win the WWE United States Championship:

I’m unsure of the reason why this belt hot-potatoed between the two guys over the past few weeks, but here we are again with Kalisto winning the belt yet again, where hopefully he can maintain a little bit of a run with it this time. I really enjoyed the matches between the two, they obviously have chemistry, and this one was more of the same again, minus a couple missed cues and one large botched spot, but it was a great showcase for Kalisto and something that WWE actually tries to build off and not just squander like they did when he won before. They obviously wanted to push Kalisto and unfortunately or fortunately the Sin Cara injury gives them the exact excuse to do that with a guy who could be a great mid-card singles guy if they give him a proper run.

Charlotte defeats Becky Lynch to retain the WWE Divas Championship:

This was another solid match between the two. Unfortunately for Becky she’s basically just a stop-gap between the Charlotte/Sasha Banks feud that most certainly will be leading to that as the women’s match at Mania. After Ric Flair’s distraction help Charlotte picked up the victory and saw Sasha Banks walk down the aisle as she celebrated. The pop for Banks was bigger than I imagined, like it looked like it was deafening in there, and long overdue to turn her face since that’s what everybody so badly wanted when they’d chant her name in every Divas match. The Charlotte/Sasha Banks program for the title is what everyone has been waiting for since the NXT stars got promoted to the main roster, so let’s see if they can deliver us that classic women’s match on the main roster that everybody has been salivating for.

Triple H wins the 30-man Royal Rumble Match to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship:

The PPV wasn’t surprising in the least, matter of fact everything we thought would happen, did. So, of course, it’s the end of the match Roman hits his moves on Bray Wyatt as the clock winds down to see who the 30th entrant is… and Motorhead hits and Triple H in his impossibly buff body hits the ring to lay waste to all in advance of his 14th World title win. Now we all knew this was going to happen, Triple H had conspicuously been off TV since Reigns went crazy and gave him a severe beatdown following the TLC PPV, he was going to come in and spark the HHH/Reigns feud, presumably setting up their Mania match where Roman goes over for his PROPER coronation that WWE so badly wants with him standing tall after the biggest show of all time with the victory and title. The booking here was all sorts of weird, though, with them having the League of Nations take Reigns out of the match, beat him down and then have Reigns just walk backstage to supposedly nurse his injuries that were fine enough for him to walk on his own power. I mean, if you’re gonna do the whole “one vs. all, Reigns as entrant #1” stick at least have him stay in the match legit for the whole time, go that 55 minutes until he gets eliminated, but don’t cheap out on the person you’re trying to go over (above everybody else), it doesn’t make sense why you would cheapen his look in the match by pulling him out so weakly. Have him valiantly fight for the whole time and thus his loss to a fresh Triple H at #30 makes sense, rather than how they did it here.

Conversely there was actually some very smart booking in the match in regards to eliminations that follow storylines or perhaps set up storylines. Lesnar’s position in the match was basically just to feud with all the Wyatt’s, which is fine because that’s what it looks like he’s going to do for the next couple months. Sure, it was weird when the previously eliminated Wyatts eliminated Lesnar and then Lesnar just looked all mean and pissed off, but did absolutely nothing about it. We also had Sami Zayn come in to further move along his what will be life-long WWE feud with Owens and eliminate him to set-up whatever they do in the future. Owens eliminated AJ Styles to possibly set-up something in the future. Chris Jericho was eliminated by Dean Ambrose with rumours that they could do something at Mania, stemming from Jericho’s whole defiance of Ambrose back when they teamed at Night Of Champions. Small touches like this help to provide continuity with the overall storylines and are pretty easy things to do to either start a feud or plant seeds for things further down along the line.

Oh, yeah, how could I forget AJ freakin’ Styles debuted at the show, causing me much delay in writing this since I literally can’t stop watching his entrance debut on YouTube. It was seemingly the worst keep secret in wrestling that Styles was going to debut at the Rumble, but damn if I didn’t get excited like it was an unknown surprise when I first saw him walk around the corner in his entrance. I can’t even begin to describe how cool and surreal it is to finally see my favourite enter a WWE ring. They did it perfectly, putting him at #3 where Roman just dumped Rusev and was waiting for his opponent, all the attention drawn to who would be next. Some cool music hit and nobody really knew what was up until Styles sauntered out and the PHENOMENAL words went across the titantron and the crowd went absolutely nuts, like goosebumps each time I watch it level of nuts. I was literally watching the match, a damn WWE match, shaking my head at just how bizarre it was to see Styles in a WWE ring facing off against all these WWE superstars after over the past two decades doing everything but go to WWE and after headlining an ROH and NJPW PPV within the last month. They handled him perfectly to in the match, teasing the Styles clash, while still getting over his moves, and they had him go 27 minutes which is super respectable, especially since he’s not going to win and then having someone of the calibre of Owens, who he could feud with, eliminate him. It was awesome and I really could’ve wrote this whole thing about Styles, but I can’t wait to see how he’s used in WWE and the gravity of his entrance and treatment in the match gives me hopes that they won’t squander him and actually have high hopes for him.

So, we’re right where he though we were really, HHH won the title and know Roman’s gonna chase it for WrestleMania, which I know people hate having HHH main event that event, but really what better options are there at this point with everybody injured and with the company wanting to put Reigns over so bad, even to his detriment. I think it’ll be a good match regardless, whether WWE gets their moment or not, and they certainly didn’t set Roman up well in that Rumble match, but let’s see what they got for the next couple months.

‘Anomalisa’: Review

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At first Anomalisa has you wondering why it’s an animated film in the first place, it’s not some huge fantastical adventure story featuring talking animals and epic set pieces, but rather an introspective look at relationships, how we perceive other people and just what goes into all these connections we make over time and how they bleed into one another for better or worse. Michael Stone is a self-help author who is in Cincinnati to give a talk, while the film focuses on his stay at a local hotel as his mind over takes him and he finds himself devolving into a past relationship and attempting to jump-start another. Stone also perceives everybody as having the same face (one of the major reasons for the animation style) further driving him inside himself, making contemplate his marriage and attempting to do something to his stagnant life.

Michael meets a woman named Lisa staying at the same hotel to hear him speak, and immediately becomes enamored with her, whether he genuinely likes her this much or if his subconscious just so badly wants to fall for somebody who is so different than he normally meets. She is shy and reserved, but eventually falls to Michael’s wishes and they enjoy a night together fantasizing about their new life together and immediately have plans to spend the rest of their lives together. Until the next morning when reality sets in and Michael finds nit-picky flaws in Lisa that drive him up the wall, like cutlery clicking on her teeth and he realizes that things always seem so great and perfect in the haze of the moment and he has to face real life. Michael has a breakdown during his speech and eventually returns home to his wife and kid, who throw him a surprise party where he doesn’t know anybody there.

Charlie Kaufman has a way inside the head of human beings that other filmmakers just can never seem to accomplish. His films always seem so out there and bizarre on the outset, but when you really look and understand them they’re all really plainly some of the best and most obvious views into how humans think and interact with the people around us. Anomalisa is no different for Kaufaman and provides another outlet for him to delve into with a framework that sometimes could seem gimmicky or unnecessary, but uses it to reveal thoughts on emotions, relationships and life that other films with a more straight-forward view could never do.

‘The Revenant’: Review

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Enough is enough, Leonardo DiCaprio thought, he’s had several close-calls with taking home that long-coveted Oscar, but it just wasn’t good enough. So, he went full Oscar bait doing the whole “suffering in the wilderness on/off screen trudging his way through trials and tribulations to get him to his destination.” The destination being either home and one-step closer in avenging his losses if you’re taking about the movie or the Oscar at the end of the road that he so desperately wants. In the strictest sense of the word this is an Oscar bait film to get Leo his award, literally everything in the marketing and presentation of the film has that in the forefront. Someone like Tom Hardy who is at least just as good as DiCaprio in the film is unheard of in any type of awards talks and the film itself seems to have taken a backseat. I mean, sure, it’s nominated for a bunch of awards for the film itself, Inarritu, but it’s still very much a DiCaprio vehicle.

Going into the film I was a bit worried because I had heard from other reviews that it’s not some deep meditation on this character that DiCaprio plays and really not all that big of a study on the human condition. It doesn’t stick with DiCaprio’s character of Hugh Glass as he fights the elements, Indians and whatever else the landscape has to face him, we don’t just suffer through with him, we often flip back to Tom Hardy’s character of John Fitzgerald, who had killed Glass’ son spurning on the revenger from Glass, attempting to make it back to the Fort all the while attempting to cover his traps and formulate his game plan of making a break for freer pastures. We also flip back to the Fort where Glass and Fitzgerald’s fellow trappers have made it back and are slowly being drawn into the story. I thought this all was going to be a detriment to the film, all the flip-flopping to other areas and characters, withdrawing from the constrictive plight of Glass, but doing so as a more traditional narrative film works quite well and probably just as good as if they just solely focused on DiCaprio. Conversely, I could never get behind a similar in construct film in ‘The Martian’ because they would too freely flip between Matt Damon’s character stuck on Mars and the people on Earth trying to get him back where you felt no tension or real concern about his character being trapped on Mars. Focusing more on his plight would’ve greatly helped the film, whereas I actually think that direction in The Revenant might’ve put too much of an onus and be a little much with DiCaprio’s portrayal of Glass.

Don’t get me wrong, DiCaprio is very good in the role, definitely not as great as I anticipated him to be, but he does enough work to help disappear into the role and seem more Hugh Glass than he does Leonardo DiCaprio playing a character. As mentioned earlier Tom Hardy is fantastic in his part, but unfortunately will forever be overshadowed by DiCaprio’s work, but that’s what you’d expect when DiCaprio pulls out all the stops. The direction and photography is top notch as expected, I know some people think Alejandro González Iñárritu is overrated, but I think without his touch and dedication to get this film done with as much real life fidelity as possible it wouldn’t have come off as both being a low-key epic film, along with the more subtle beauty shots that juxtaposed with the harshness of the land. The stage was masterfully set by Iñárritu and sufficiently finished off by the effort of DiCaprio and company.

Wrestle Kingdom 10: Review/Recap

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The Young Bucks defeats reDRagon, Matt Sydal and Ricochet, and Roppongi Vice to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship:

This match has basically become a staple of the Wrestle Kingdom card by now, opening the show by throwing all the junior tag teams into a four-way and let the havoc ensure. Some people don’t seem to be a fan of this thing, since it literally just breaks into a chaotic spotfest from the drop, but c’mon, you’ll get your technical wrestling and storytelling from the last three matches or so, this thing is just meant to be a ton of fun. It’s always hilarious because the match always starts off well inside the rules with two guys starting it off, abiding by the tag rules, but then within a minute or two it always devolves for the rest of the match with crazy spots between all four groups at once and you never know who is actually the legal men for the pinfalls. It really doesn’t matter to me, because individually all these teams are fantastic, and they’ve worked with each other so much that this thing always is fun and provides a nice segue into the show.

I was surprised the Bucks came out on top, I was expecting reDRagon to lose, most likely to Sydal and Ricochet with them having won the tag tournament and are they fresh blood, but I guess not. Everything, though, seems to be pointing towards a Buck/Sydal & Ricochet program, which is the logical route, so it should be fun to see them put together some more concise and story-oriented spotfest tag matches when it’s just those two teams.

The Briscoes and Toru Yano defeats the Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi) to win the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship:

I don’t think anyone knows why this belt was created, since the two tag championships seem a little bit much as it is. It’s not even like they got some great factions or some kind of storyline that would realistically culminate in this belt, nope, rather they just threw in the other remaining Bullet Club memebers who weren’t booked and have them face the Briscoes and Toru Yano for some reason. The Briscoes are great and it’s cool to see them back in Japan, which hopefully is the start of more to come, but this thing was wholly unnecessary all the way around. Toru Yano was fine, and this whole thing was just that, fine, but it was just not needed in anyway. Mark Briscoe definitely had the best showing and seemed committed to trying to get over with his move-set and personality. Mark actually seems like somebody the Japanese would love with his zany and wacky personality combined with his solid in-ring skills, so who knows, this might be the beginning of something worthwhile.

Jay Lethal defeats Michael Elgin to retain the ROH World Championship:

I was really looking forward to this since I’m a huge ROH fan, an even bigger Jay Lethal fan and have done a complete 180 over the past year on Michael Elgin and have been loving his work as of late. Unfortunately, since this thing was at this point in the card they weren’t given much time and did a good enough job with what they had, but was nowhere close to how good this could’ve been main-eventing an ROH pay-per-view. Everything just felt very condensed and didn’t really feel like much of a world title match. The Japanese looove Elgin now since he’s this mammoth of a gaijin, but even still there was no way Lethal was going to lose the belt like this, and it really was just a showcase for the belt and company.

It’s super cool to see Elgin get so over in Japan, a place he’s wanted to wrestle his whole life. I used to hate Elgin, namely because he was so boring and I usually hate his big lug style of wrestling, but with him taking a backseat from the ROH title picture and him heading over to Japan for the G1 Climax he’s been putting in some solid unassuming work that made him a favourite with the Japanese fans and seems to have put him in a top spot going forward with NJPW.

Kushida defeats Kenny Omega to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:

This belt bounced around between both men this year and it was pretty clear it was going back to Kushida for the foreseeable future, especially when bigger things were being brought up for Omega. The matches between these two are always great, like, solid four star outings everytime, nothing ever sensational, just very solid matches.

Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma defeats the Bullet Club (Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson) to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship:

This thing was also pretty predictable with Makabe and Honman completed their coronation after winning the tag tournament last month and by finally giving Honma a win and putting it on the grand stage of Wrestle Kingdom. It was a really good match all the way around, helped out by the always solid Gallows and Anderson who are basically an institution in these sorts of tag matches by now.

Hirooki Goto defeats Tetsuya Naito:

For all intents and purposes this was basically a no. 1 contender’s match for the heavyweight championship, which seemed to me to be a sure-win for Naito, but Goto had other ideas. It seemed like ever since re-jigging Naito with this Los Ingobernables stable and his whole evil bad-ass gimmick that they were grooming him to be next in line with Okada, not that that won’t happen, but it’s not the immediate plans here. Goto relatively fresh off his Intercontinental reign and battles with Nakamura looks to be stepping things up and entering a program with Okada. Goto at this point just seems like a breather feud for Okada to go into after the enormity of the Tanahashi feud, so I don’t expect much beyond a stop gap for that.

I’m a big fan of Naito and still think the long-term is to try and build him to that main event status to duel with Okada, whether he’s up to the task and people buy him in that position is another story, but it seems like that’s what will happen, especially with the eventual departures that we’ll get into.

Katsuyori Shibata defeats Tomohiro Ishii to win the NEVER Openweight Championship:

And now we get into the big stuff, a basic trifecta of matches that easily could main event any PPV card around the world. Each match had it’s unique hook that you could argue through your own preferences why it was match of the night. This one was the war. This was a Shibata/Ishii match after all, we all knew what we were getting, a pro wrestling match that basically throws pro wrestling out the window in regards to the “wrestling” aspect and also the “fake” aspects. This thing was just a brutal battle of kicks, chops, headbutts and one-upmanship with both men trading kicks and inviting each other to take their best shot, like it was some sort of tough guy competition. Shibata somehow prevailed in the end, somehow gaining his first singles title, which is kinda hard to believe for someone of his calibre. It’s time for him to own the belt and really there’s no better guy to put the title on and long may he reign.

Shinsuke Nakamura defeats A.J. Styles to retain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship:

I can’t honestly remember match that I’ve looked forward to more than this one. A.J. Styles has been my favourite wrestler for over a decade and it’s still crazy to me that coming back to him over a decade later he’s putting on the best matches of his life at this point in his career and at the age of 38. I’m relatively new to NJPW so Shinsuke Nakamura was new to me, but like pretty much everybody who sees just one match from the guy I was hooked before he even got to the ring. His flamboyance and charisma make you unable to draw your eyes anywhere but where his frame is occupying the screen. Nowadays I usually skip entrances of people I’ve seen a million times, but not Nakamura, his entrance and song deserves to be seen every time, it’s that captivating. Not only does he have this unique and boisterous Michael Jackson-eqsue look, but he backs it up in the ring with a mix of technical prowess and hard-nosed strikes. It gets thrown around a lot, but this was a dream match, with both guys never really fighting each one-on-one like this, and everything culminating with expectations for this to be match of the year.

Unfortunately, A.J. has been suffering with a back injury for the last month or so, putting him out of the tag tournament and putting this and his Final Battle ROH Heavyweight title match in jeopardy. But, A.J. being the big match wrestler he is put on a fantastic performance at Final Battle, but the jury was still out on how healthy he would be for this one of, if not the biggest match of his career. In the end you couldn’t even tell how or if A.J. was suffering, but what you could see was the flawless match that A.J. and Nakamura put on. A.J. sold his back in the match, but just in-so-far as a method to lure Nakamura into a false sense of security, never actually seeming in any pain. A.J. and Nakamura put on a chain wrestling with both men so skilled at countering and seeming to have about 20 different ways to reverse each move the other put on him. In the end Nakamura outlasted A.J., not before kicking out of a Styles Clash (a one-handed one, though, so perhaps Styles didn’t connect all the force that he wanted to). An exhausted Nakamura hit Styles with two back-to-back knee blows to the back of his head, doubling up on his finisher to get the win.

This was the kind of match that makes you proud to be a wrestling fan and thankful that this thing actually exists and matches like this are capable of reaching the insurmountable hype. I basically had to stop writing this blurb halfway through just so I could go watch it again.

Kazuchika Okada defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship:

And then as if match of the night had already been snatched up before the main event even went on, the culmination of the years long feud and passing of the torch between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada culminated like few things I’ve seen before. Now, about halfway through this match I was certain it wouldn’t reach the Nakamura/Styles level from the previous match, but then the back half and the ending sequence just blew this thin into the stratosphere.

It’s hard for me to judge this fully because while the Nakamura/Styles match was largely just built off wrestling and the fact that they hadn’t wrestled before, the Okada/Tanahashi match was dripping in this epic feud they’ve been having for seemingly forevever, with the remnants of previous matches effective the latest one. I’ve only been watching NJPW for a year now, so the history and storytelling doesn’t mean as much to me as someone who lived through the whole thing, but nonetheless it was a gripping and wondrous piece of storytelling.

As the 36 minute match drew to a close Okada was reaching as far into his bag of tricks as possible, his lariat finisher The Rainmaker, which nobody kicks out of, was doing nothing to Tanahashi to put him down. Unsure, of what next to do Okada’s hand clung onto Tanahashi, never letting him out of his grasp, making sure he wouldn’t venture away from Okada’s grip. He kept hold of him and nailed Tanahashi with two Rainmakers, keeping hold of Tanahashi and then finally collasping over him for the pin count. Only then did Okada relieve his grasp on Tanahashi, separating himself from the man who he’d been connected to through wrestling, expectation and life. Cementing himself as THE guy and champion on top, with the Tanahashi era vanishing behind him. As he released his grip, he became the pre-eminent guy on top, Kazuchika Okada readied himself for what’s to come by letting go of what got him there.

Post Wrestle Kingdom 10 craziness/New Year’s Dash:

As if Wrestle Kingdom wasn’t enough of a newsworthy event to kick off the new year, the following day had a little something to say about that. It was reported that Shinsuke Nakamura, A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows had all given their notice to NJPW the day of Wrestle Kingdom with their intention to leave the company, and join… WWE. How about that! From everything that’s come out it seems like besides the physicality of signing the actual contract this thing is as good as done. Nakamura has made it no secret that he desires to take himself and his brand to the highest level possible and expand himself globally and he sees WWE as the best chance to do that. A.J. Styles has literally for years been THE guy that people wondered what would happen if he ever signed with WWE and it seemed like it would never happen given his career and how successful he was outside of it, but now it’s finally happening. Anderson and Gallows look to be WWE wanting them in the company to try and garner some of the Bullet Club popularity and remake that sort of group, perhaps with Finn Balor. Again, this is all speculation about what they’re exactly gonna do, but what isn’t is that they’re coming, barring something amazingly foreseen.

Now is this the best move for these guys? With A.J. I think it’s just an inevitable thing and a “checking the box” type of thing. He’s done almost literally everything to do in a wrestling career without any involvement with WWE. It’s not like you can blame his age or call him washed up, given his laundry list of epic matches over the past years, not to mention his MOTC last night. Nakamura seems to be a different story, where he’s on the top of the world in Japan and is a foreign talent, and you never know how WWE will treat that, but they seem high on him, so it’s all up to the usage. That’s the thing, these guys have been having incredible matches outside of WWE and don’t need the company, but eventually it all comes down to usage. If WWE uses them right and lets their talents shine and doesn’t smother them with the WWE way and doesn’t make them just another cog in the machine they can help the product, but just as easily they could revel and be just spinning their wheels. It’s obviously a blow to NJPW, a huge one actually, with half of their “top four,” the others being Okada and Tanahashi, leaving very abruptly.

The New Year’s Dash show the following day shot a terrific angle with Kenny Omega of the Bullet Club turning on their leader A.J. and demolishing him, eventually joined by the Young Bucks, Anderson, Gallows and the rest as they ousted their leader. Omega made some pretty good reasoning as why he turned on A.J., as they basically stood beside while A.J. got all the good singles matches and all the top championship opportunities while people like Omega languished in the light heavyweight division. Omega then made his case about going after Nakamura and the IC belt, which I’m sure he’ll take since Nakamura is on his way out. It’s honestly a long time coming, with Omega obviously more of a fit for the heavyweight division. NJPW needs all the top singles talent it can get now, and while I don’t know if Omega ticks every box on what makes a main eventer, he’s definitely committed and dedicated enough to make a hell of a run at things and I’m excited to see where they take these things. NJPW is so good at booking that I have more faith in them booking a good product without Styles, Nakamura, Anderson, Gallows then I do WWE with those talents, but I guess we’ll see.

It’s amazing to think we’re four or five days into 2016 and we already probably have our match of the year and story of the year. It’s going to be an interesting couple months as we see how and when these new WWE signings occur, supposedly WWE was pissed it got out as some of those guys could’ve been surprise Royal Rumble entrants, and how NJPW books their programming, but I have no doubts they’ll be great.

‘The Hateful Eight’: Review

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The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s bloody rendition of a what a play would look like filtered through the eyes of the visual director. It’s funny because where Tarantino is largely and accurately looked at as a pastiche director, one who takes elements of several others and combines them into one thing, The Hateful Eight very much seems like a pastiche of previous Tarantino films, although I guess you could make that argument about all his films.

Of course, Tarantino loves nothing more than hearing people speak his dialogue, so this film which is about 80% set in the same location, a haberdashery filled with a cavalcade of Tarantino characters, is practically a field day for Tarantino where he has access to eight+ characters cramped in a tiny room, all fixed to play off each other and each maintaining their own motivations and secrets. It works well in this sense because Tarantino gets to indulge in everything he loves like grand monologues, Samuel L. Jackson recounting an epic story, and slowly tightening the grip on these characters who are all unsure of who each other truly is.

I think that’s the best thing that Tarantino has going for him here, I mean, largely it’s the whole point of the film, but it works expertly in ratcheting up the tensions until you’re finally revealed to who’s who and what’s going on. Chiefly all these characters with different backgrounds and motivations are stuck in this cabin during a blizzard, until Samuel L. Jackson’s character of Marquis Warren slowly unravels that certain people might not be who they say they are and like all Tarantino films unravels into a mess of blood and chaos.

The film is purposely slow and takes a while to get to the point where all is revealed, but it happens in one large swoop rather than one-by-one. I previously thought coming into this that it would be a And Then There Were None situation where people slowly get picked off one by one, but I guess in this shortened film time it almost works better where things pop off with a huge violent reveal. Tarantino, though, to create these shortcuts and remove some of the guessing from the audience actually outlines, through his own dang narration I might add, what is going on and literally tells you which character did what and guides your hand in solving this mystery for you. I’m not explaining that well at all, but it’s this weird thing where Tarantino provides his own narration in order to skip the plot ahead and tell you pertinent plot details instead of letting things play out, it’s weird and not a good decision, even if it speeds the film’s events up.

It’s almost pointless to talk about the performances in a Tarantino movie, because they’re always so good. Jackson is fantastic and literally fits any Tarantino movie like a glove, where nobody delivers Tarantino dialogue like Samuel. It’s nice to see Kurt Russell back again who’s perfect as a gruff bounty hunter where he has a code always to bring his subjects to hang, because the hangman’s gotta work, too. Tim Roth does his best Christoph Waltz impression and Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern turn in inspired work as well. By far the standout, though, is Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix, a supposed newly appointed sheriff to the town they’re all traveling to. He’s his typical Walton Goggins southern hillbilly self combining a weird off-kilter sense about him to his bubbly humour that can pop out of nowhere.

I will say that after Django Unchained its gotten progressively uncomfortable hearing and seeing Tarantino make these movies with black issues at the forefront involving slavery and the general treatment of black people of this time, and his insistence in using the n-word so frequently. I realize this was largely how it was, but it seems excessive to a fault, even if he’s trying to make some kind of point, and especially coming from Tarantino, who is as white as can be. I don’t know, it just seems a bit much at times, and yes, the black protagonist in the past two films always gets his way over the oppressors, but it sometimes just feels he uses it as an excuse a bit too much.

It’s hard to tell at this point where I fit this on the overall canon of Tarantino, I liked it overall, but as soon as I finished I was dying for a re-watch because I think things will become a lot more clear once I’ve seen it again. I did respect and enjoy the play aspect of things, where everything was combined and contained to one specific area that made you feel like a bigger part of the film and the filmic world became such that you were aware of every nook and cranny of that cabin. I am very interested to see what Tarantino will do next, since his big ideas years ago of doing a WWII film and a western have now been done, and now two westerns at that. As great, and enjoyable as his period films have been, I wouldn’t mind him tackling something in the modern day again or perhaps another modern crime flick in the vein of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. Who knows.