Monday, December 31, 2012

Books Read in 2012

Tim Callahan seems to like lists like these. The dates after each title are the dates I finished reading the book in question. This list only includes the books I finished during 2012. Like many, I have numerous partly-read books that I simply did not complete.

EDIT: Updated with a few words on each book...

  1. The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoevsky (January 13): I remember a sense of dread and awfulness lingering over this. Characters so true to themselves that they cannot avoid tragedy.
  2. Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone by Hunter S. Thompson (February 23): I wrote about this already.
  3. Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman (February 27): The final stop on a Chuck Klosterman reread. My second time reading this. Very enjoyable. Klosterman is a writer I never have to work at to read.
  4. Timbuktu by Paul Auster (March 8): The plot concept didn't do much for me... until I began reading the book itself. Touching and wonderful.
  5. The Sugar Frosted Nutsack by Mark Leyner (March 27): One of my favourite authors finally returned with a novel and it was everything I expected/wanted -- which means insane, tedious, self-aware to the point of annoyance, unpredictable, and something of an endurance race. All of which I mean as compliments.
  6. The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson by Michael Cleverly and Bob Braudis (April 8): Some nice stories about Thompson. Nothing too sordid or out of line. A book that both plays to the legend and grounds Thompson within his home.
  7. Avengers Assemble: An Oral History of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes  by Brian Michael Bendis (April 12): I wrote about this already.
  8. Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis (April 23): The beginning of the Great Bret Easton Ellis Reread of 2012. Still a slight, pure book. So focused that I cannot help but admire it.
  9. Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis (April 24): A return to the style of his first novel and it was interesting to read immediately following Less than Zero. Not quite as impressive in reread, though.
  10. The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis (May 3): My least favourite of Ellis's work. If only because some stories don't hold up at all. But, there are some wonderful bits and pieces here and there.
  11. The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (May 17): The first half is tough to get through because it was adapted so directly in the movie that it feels tired. But, the second half is still surprising and worthwhile.
  12. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (June 8): I laughed more this time.
  13. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho by Julian Murphet (June 8): One of Continuum's books from a series on 'popular' books that looked at their place within the culture and how they have been adapted. I have ones for High Fidelity and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as well. Nice companion to American Psycho with some choice tidbits. Worth it for the bio chapter.
  14. Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis (June 18): Still my favourite. I laughed more this time, too.
  15. Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis (July 3): Ellis mocking himself in the character's planned novel concept was hilarious. The horror elements didn't quite come together at the end for me. Unlike other novels, this one couldn't just fade out as easily as it faded in and that seemed to be a problem for Ellis.
  16. Exile on Main St. by Bill Janovitz (July 19): Part of the 33 1/3 series. I listed to the album quite a bit during this time, too. I need to read more of those books.
  17. American Tabloid by James Ellroy (August 11): I read the first 2/3s over a long weekend at a cottage. Wonderful time.
  18. Winter Journal by Paul Auster (August 26): An amazing example of how, in writing about the specific, a truly gifted writer can speak to the general. I found myself imparting my own self onto the text an alarming amount. A joy.
  19. Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young (October 27): This reads like a series of blog posts in the best way. Little visits where Young talks about what's on his mind in no order. Just whatever comes to him with lots of tangents. What I was hoping for.
  20. Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV by Warren Littlefield with TR Pearson (November 24): I read this quickly. It could have been twice as long and I would have still loved it. Oral histories are great.
  21. Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis (December 8): More focused than I rememberd. It could have been longer if Ellis wanted -- and might have been better for it. It breezes by. But, it made me laugh.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Smarkass Reviews: WWE Superstar Collection - John Cena

So, this is one of the first releases of the new "WWE Superstar Collection," a cheap set of DVDs aimed at the more casual WWE fan. This one, along with one for Zack Ryder, came out on Tuesday, each running around an hour and a half total and meant to be just quick catch-ups/spotlights of wrestlers. I'm oddly enthused about this line of DVDs, mostly because it will give some guys who aren't ready for the three-disc treatment DVD releases. That doesn't look like it will always be the case necessarily given some of the guys getting sets in the future (like the October releases, which seem to be Shawn Michaels and Rey Mysterio), but it's fun and something that you can watch in a short period of time. There isn't, like, nine hours of stuff to get through, which is kind of nice.

The John Cena set only has four matches and one of which kind of annoys me (the triple threat with Shawn Michaels and Triple H), because it was featured on his most recent three-disc set, the John Cena Experience. I don't see why they felt the need to include a match already on a John Cena DVD set (one that's only a couple of years old at that). It's a bad case of double-dipping when they had a variety of other matches that could have filled that spot like a Cena/Big Show match from 2010 or maybe the Cena/Triple H/Randy Orton triple threat from 2010, or even one of Cena's matches with Batista from 2011. None of those have shown up on any recent compilations and would have fit in pretty well, because Cena's disc here is really just a random collection of matches that show off Cena's ability. I think this is especially problematic when John Cena is one of those guys who the more casual fan will buy the DVD of, so there's an increased chance that fans will be getting the same match twice when there's really no reason for it.

Aside from that conceptual problem, let's go through the matches and see how this set fares...

Match #1: World Heavyweight Championship Match - John Cena (C) vs. Chris Jericho (Armageddon 12.14.08)
At first, I thought this might be a duplicate for me from the History of the World Heavyweight Championship set, but that has their previous match, from Survivor Series, where Cena won the belt off Jericho. I pay attention quite well... I remember seeing this match in the bar where I watched every WWE PPV (aside from Armageddon 2008) from the fall of 2008 through Backlash 2010, and it was dead. Completely dead. It was a little awkward, because Michelle and I aren't big drinkers. I'd usually get a pitcher of coke (maybe a second later in the show), while she'd get a pitcher of pop, too, if I recall correctly. I think one other person turned up to see this show. This match was a disappointing at the time, because it seemed to mark the end of Jericho's awesome 2008 where he became the best wrestler in the company by pretty much all standards. The tap out at the end seemed so rushed. Rewatching it for the first time since then, I liked it. Jericho was more vicious, even using headbutts against Cena early on (I can't recall him doing that any other times really). The story was that Jericho wanted the title back, but also wanted to utterly destroy Cena, because Cena was his son's favourite wrestler. Nice to see Jericho step up the aggression for a story like that. It was a match where Jericho was in control more often than not, but usually not for extended periods of time. There was a lot of back-and-forth and counters with few down moments. They kept up a steady pace and avoided the usual 'heel beats on Cena for long periods of time' style. It's a subtle thing to have the heel dominate without long periods of just beating the shit out of the face, but they managed that through the simplicity of the counter. Cena would break the rhythm by trying to hit a move and Jericho would counter it. It was a sign of life on Cena's part without him actually getting any offence in. Clever stuff. The finish still seems a little rushed with Jericho's tap out to the STF coming pretty quickly, but they'd built up enough fake-outs and near wins for Jericho that you buy the idea that he was mentally worn down -- also, he'd tapped out at Survivor Series, so there could be a sense that he knew he couldn't escape, so why suffer? Jericho has a habit of delivering good matches with Cena and, while this isn't their best bout, it definitely fits that trend.
Winner and STILL World Heavyweight Champion: John Cena [***1/4]

Match #2: Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship - John Cena (C) vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (Survivor Series 11.22.09)
This has one of my favourite openings to a match. This was the semi-end of the 2009 DX reunion (or the beginning of the end at least) and, going into this match, the question of how Michaels and Triple H would behave was a big driving point of the story. Cena against a tag team, basically -- but both tag partners would want to win, right? So, the bell rings and Cena is in one corner, facing both members of DX and... Shawn Michaels superkicks Triple H! The look on Cena's face of sheer surprise sold the moment so well. It just came out of nowhere and was fantastic. The match itself was basically told in four parts: Cena vs. Michaels; Cena vs. Triple H; Michaels vs. Triple H; and Cena vs. Michaels vs. Triple H. It's an interesting way to structure a match like this and all of the parts weren't equal (the Michaels/Trips part was pretty short compared to the rest), but it kept things clear and fresh. A trio of short singles matches before all three men collide in the finale? I can think of worse ways to approach a triple threat. It's a nice build and, when things started to collide in the final stretch, it worked quite well. Moves blended together -- I loved when Cena had the STF on Triple H and Michaels put the Crossface on Cena before Cena countered and put Michaels in the STF. They got into a nice rhythm/flow that paid off the trio of one-on-one moments earlier. They made you want to see all three guys at once instead of simply giving it to you right away. I complained about the double-dipping of this match on Cena DVDs, but I can't complain about the quality -- there's a reason why this is on both this and the John Cena Experience.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: John Cena [****]

Match #3: Superstar of the Year Match - John Cena vs. Randy Orton (Monday Night Raw 12.14.09)
This is an epilogue match to the 2009 feud between Cena and Orton that a lot of people shat on at the time, but I've enjoyed whenever I've gotten the chance to see their matches from that period. This was for the Superstar of the Year Slammy Award (it used to be awarded like any other award, but they began holding matches in 2009 for it) and it's not an amazing match. It's mostly a competent Cena/Orton TV match, but I like the idea that, after their One-Hour Iron Man Match at Bragging Rights that we got a small epilogue TV match. One last regular match between the two where they show how well they work together. Orton dominates, Cena comes back, they tease their finishers until Cena puts him away. Solid stuff and I'm not sure you'd find a much better Cena TV match to put on this set.
Winner: John Cena [**1/2]

Match #4: Steel Cage Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship - The Miz (C) vs. John Cena vs. John Morrison (Extreme Rules 05.01.11)
A bittersweet match, because is basically the End of the Miz as a Main Eventer. I really like the Miz's work in the WWE and am still annoyed that losing the WWE Championship here killed his validity as a main event performer (more because of how he was handled in the wake of losing the belt than anything else). But, this is a pretty good match. Each man has clearly defined roles: the Miz is the cocky champion that knows he's hated by everyone and has to bust his ass to keep his belt; John Cena is the powerhouse face that is the favourite, but somehow can't beat the Miz; and John Morrison the agile and quick newcomer that has a history with the Miz and is this close to proving he's just as good as his former partner. Within that framework, the three men work well -- lots of quick escape attempts by Morrison, the Miz frantically alternating between the two men, the two faces sometimes working together to beat on the Miz... there aren't a lot of Cena/Morrison moments, but that fits the story. The spot of the match is easily Morrison's modified Starship Pain off the cage onto the other two. R-Truth's involvement doesn't work as well when viewing this match out of context, but it did put the focus on the real story, which was Cena finally ending the Miz's reign as champion. Despite this being a triple threat match and Morrison's history with the Miz, the Cena/Miz stuff was the heart of this match, and R-Truth's involvement put it back in focus.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: John Cena [***3/4]

Overall, this is a decent set. Nothing too special, particularly if you buy PPV DVDs, but it's an hour-and-a-half of good matches -- and another reminder that Cena is better than most online give him credit for.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Some Brief Thoughts on Celebrity Apprentice 5

Tonight is the finale of Celebrity Apprentice 5 where Clay Aiken and Arsenio Hall will square off to determine who is the fifth Celebrity Apprentice in the weakest season of the show I've seen yet. I've watched every season except the first and, on the whole, this one has been a frustrating, dull, disappointing experience. The line-up of celebrities had potential, but quickly devolved into the same tedious problems week after week, not helped by this season skewing wildly away from fundraising tasks towards 'creative' ones (I hate that fucking word now), creating a fairly repetitive pattern of tasks week after week. But, nonetheless, here are some thoughts on the season:

* The first episode was a genuine 'game changer' for the show, I think. Paul Teutul, Sr. winning the fundraising task because of one donation of $305,000 basically gave a big "Fuck you" to fundraising tasks. It was a cheap win that made everything we saw completely worthless. Of course, fundraising tasks have always been worthless and ripe for someone to exploit them like this. I don't think it's a coincidence, though, that the season began with this and only featured one other fundraising task (before the final task, which is part fundraising, part 'creative' as always). Usually, the show tries to keep things relatively even and Paul, Sr. looks to be the man who killed the fundraiser.

* Victoria Gotti getting fired in the second week was a big plus, because those 'She's with the mob and may kill me' jokes got old after the first episode.

* Week four was the first sign that this season was fucked. The first three episodes were your typical Celebrity Apprentice bullshit. Episode four was the one where Adam Carolla and Michael Andretti were fired because Andretti didn't want to give Buick a free endoresement, basically. The task was to do a presentation for a new Buick car along with a Q&A about it. The men were obviously superior in executing this task. Not even close. But, the Buick executives didn't like that Carolla was the project manager instead of Andretti, so the women won. The irony, of course, was that Andretti played a big part in the presentation and the execs didn't like him as a public speaker. So, their complaint was that they wanted more Andretti, but also thought he wasn't suited to something like this. It was a bullshit decision that was obviously based on Buick wanting to take advantage of the Andretti name and Andretti obviously not entirely comfortable with giving an endorsement to a product because someone else says he has to (and for free). Carolla was fired when he took responsibility for the loss instead of trying to blame anyone else -- and, then, Trump fired someone else because how dare anyone take responsibility for losing when it's their fault? It was a joke and one of those times where you can't help but wonder how Trump succeeded in business if that's how he runs his company. That Tia Carrere was fired the next week, taking full responsibility and not bringing anyone back to the boardroom made the fucked up fourth week stand out even more, because there was no consistency.

* Inconsistency was a big issue. Trump would waver wildly between blaming people who came up with the initial concepts and project managers who approved and oversaw their execution. Some would praise the inability to predict Trump, but, at this point, it's just annoying. He swerves for the sake of it most of the time it seems.

* The episode that was on the same night as the Academy Awards was horrible to watch. The boardroom began shortly after ten and went on forever into a surprisingly long overrun. If anything makes me glad that the show will only be an hour next season, it's an episode like that. I genuinely wanted the men to lose in those early episodes because I couldn't stand the boardroom with the women.

* It took far too long for someone to point out that Aubrey O'Day spearheading the 'creative' on the women's team and, then, losing is something that they could use against her instead of allowing her to continue to act like she's amazing.

* The Clay Aiken/Pen  Jillette mini-feud was a little lame.

* It was funny how much the women hated Dayana Mendoza and, then, how easily the men worked with her right away much to the horror of Lisa Lampanelli.

* Lisa grew from someone who seemed like they could win into someone you rooted against. Her inability to distinguish between Dayana being upset over 'not being the star' and not being included at all was amazing. Aside from Aubrey, no one had a larger gap between how they perceived themselves and how they came across.

* I will never forgive Arsenio for backing off his rant on Aubrey.

* Dee Snyder getting fired stood out as another big mistake for the show. Same with Penn getting fired. Looking back, if I were to have chosen two people to be in the finals, it would have been those two. But, both of their firings, pointed to a large problem the celebrities had this year: defending themselves in the boardroom. They were pisspoor at making arguments for why they should stay, aside from Aubrey. She was always good at attacking others and mentioning everything she could possibly be credited for doing. Everyone else fell into the trap of trying to be nice and not using rhetoric and logic well.

* I was surprised in a few instances that no one tried to argue with the decision of the judges. The Buick one and the Trump cologne taks stood out as times when arguing against the choices and reasons might have worked.

* I wish someone said to Aubrey "You know how I know you're not really creative? You don't use any other words to say you are!"

* Lou Ferrigno was an endless source of amusement. You know there were drinking games centred around him saying "a hundred and ten percent."

* The biggest flaw of this season was the paperthin abilities of the celebrities. In the past, numerous people stood out as possible winners, while, this time, it seemed like you had a bunch of losers, a bunch of second-tier 'capable' people who didn't stand above the rest, and only a couple of possible winners -- and they were fired. By the time we hit the final five, it was apparent that this was the weakest final five yet and, no matter who won, this season was a dud. That every task save two was a 'creative' task really stopped people with blind spots or gaps in ability from standing out like usual. Changing up the tasks was a way to judge who was well-rounded, not simply good at one thing, and this season didn't do that.

So, we're left with Arsenio and Clay and... both are safe, crowd-pleasing choices. Neither stood out too much, good or bad. No one will be upset if either wins, I imagine, though most probably lean one way or another. Maybe this show has run its course.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fraternizer-In-Residence Spoof Article (2007)

In my final two years of undergrad at University of Western Ontario, I wrote (and edited in my final year) for the Arts & Entertainment section at the school's paper. One of the traditions there was the April 1 (approximately) spoof issue. It was always fun to mock university events or poke fun at ourselves. When I moved onto grad school at the University of Windsor and became friend with the Arts editor at that paper (she was a fellow grad student), I began writing there as well. For that spoof issue, I wrote one of my favourite articles, one that actually got one of my profs a little upset. The prof who taught my creative writing class was also the head of the department that I mentioned in my spoof article. Except, the use of his name wasn't intentional on my part, because, at UWO, we always used fake names. Obvious fakes, but fakes nonetheless. It was part of making sure the issue came across as a jokey spoof issue. At Windsor, they used real names. That led to a fun moment in creative writing when the prof mentioned the artcle as an example of great satire and I revealed that I wrote it (my name wasn't credited) much to his surprise. He was obviously annoyed at it, but had just praised it, so... Either way, I figured since it was just April 1, I would post this here. It was a fun article to write and semi-inspired by some problems the department had had before I arrived at the school. Name in square brackets were meant to be placeholders for whatever fake names the paper had settled on. Enjoy.


The English Department at the University of Windsor has had numerous scandals over the past few years concerning students and faculty. In most cases, students and faculty can interact without problems, but, sometimes, things have been taken too far, resulting in rumours, questions of professionalism, and, even, firings. The problem: fraternizing.

To rectify the problem of students and faculty sleeping together, the Department has taken a bold new step that has some applauding and many outraged. Beginning September 2007, the English Department will have a fraternizer-in-residence.

“The position does not necessarily entail having sexual contact with students,” Department head [Karl Jirgens] said. “It is merely someone who will be open to having a more casual, non-academic relationship with students. Whether there is anything sexual going on is up to the individuals.

“We hope that the fraternizer-in-residence will be a longstanding program here in the Department and will help avoid unpleasant situations between students and faculty. By having a professor-like person on staff that can mingle with students, maybe both faculty and students won’t feel the need to seek each other out.”

For the position, the Department interviewed many candidates, but finally settled on adult film star William Bigspear. Bigspear is known for his literary-themed films like Paradise Lust, Jane Bare, and A Portrait of the Pizza Boy as a Young Stud .

As well, Bigspear has written, directed and starred in over a dozen Shakespeare-based films, such as Much Ado about Fucking, Julius Pleaser, The Horny Wives of Windsor, and Pleasure for Pleasure. [Jirgens] said his knowledge of Shakespeare also helps the department fill its current hole until a suitable candidate is found.

University President [insert name because I don’t know it] issued a statement saying that he supports the new program on a trial basis. If it’s successful, the position may become permanent and other departments may receive funding for a similar position.

[Last name of the president]’s scepticism is shared by various campus groups, including [the women’s group]. [WG’s leader] said, “The position is deplorable. It assumes that women all want to sleep with their professors and that that is somehow a problem. Women can make their own sexual choices whether the University likes it or not.”

As well, the newly formed [men’s group] has begun circulating a petition for an additional, female fraternizer-in-residence. “It is sexism, pure and simple,” [Aaron Lang], founder of the group said. “Men want to sleep with faculty just as much as women, but the Department has only hired a male fraternizer. I thought we lived in a society that valued equality, but apparently we don’t.”

[Jirgens] has responded to criticism by referencing Bigspear’s alleged bisexuality: “If you watch his performance as Fellatio, best friend and sidekick of Prince Came-Lots than you’ll know that Mr. Bigspear will service any student, male or female. If you close your eyes, oral sex is oral sex. This is an English Department and I think some of the students just need to use their imagination a bit more. And to not be so homophobic.”

Criticism also comes from within the Department as a professor who wishes to remain anonymous said, “One of the reasons I became a professor is the readily available co-eds. If all I wanted to do was teach and discuss literature, I would work at a high school, but I want to teach and discuss literature and have sex with barely legal women. It’s a perk of the job and they are trying to take that away.”

This is not the first case of a fraternizer-in-residence, the position first appeared on the campus of the University of Western Ontario in 2004 after similar problems of students and faculty having inappropriate relationships. Western President [Paul Davenport] hails the program as a big success and has implemented in every department on campus.

“The fraternizer-in-residence program has lowered complaints of unwanted advances from both students and faculty, and has also increased faculty productivity by 40%. It has been an unequivocal success.”

[Jirgens] said, “We saw how successful the program has been at UWO and decided it was worth trying here, at least on a trial basis. I’m sure all criticism will fall by the wayside once people see what the program can accomplish and the positive results it will not doubt yield.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Some Brief Thoughts on Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone

I finally finished reading Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone, a book collecting Hunter Thompson's writing for the magazine, today. Before reading my thoughts, you should read Rory at Totally Gonzo's review of the book, because he sums up the biggest problem with it: namely theheavily edited versions of Thompson's writing that we get. Now, I can live with that more than he can, because I get the whole thing about wanting one book, size limitations, wanting to represent everything, etc., etc., etc. I think they would have been better off doing excerpts like Rory mentions, especially for the pieces already collected in other books. They did a decent job of this with the bit they took from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, because, honestly, you don't need to put much of that in here.

I only wish they'd done something similar with his 1972 campaign material. I wound up skipping over those pieces because I'm planning on rereading Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 sometime this year like I do in every US election year. What we get here takes up about 150 pages of the book when, honestly, some choice excerpts at about a third of the space would have done nicely.

The main draw for me was the uncollected pieces he'd done for Rolling Stone. Stuff like "Polo is My Life," which hasn't appeared in any of his released books yet -- or that piece on the 2004 election. There isn't much that hasn't been collected somewhere ("Fear and Loathing in Elko" appears in Kingdom of Fear, I believe), but I'd hope that the material that can't be found in other collections appears unchanged. Probably not, though.

Despite these problems, I'd still recommend this book -- at least to someone who's just getting into Thompson's writing. His writing for Rolling Stone was something that shows where he was at almost every stage of his career, so this book functions as a sample at the very least. It may be chopped up, but, even in that state, it's still Thompson -- it's hard to hide his style and talent. If you want to read complete versions of the articles, there's always The Great Shark Hunt, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Songs of the Doomed Better than Sex, and Kingdom of Fear.

I liked the introductions to each article/section of articles and the use of letters surrounding the article/section of articles. That was one thing Jann Wenner got right in his editing of the book and something that makes this a better book to give to first-time readers of Thompson. Because, honestly, that's who the audience is. There's the appeal of the odd thing that longtime readers haven't seen (unless they got the original issues of Rolling Stone), but, otherwise, it's a taster's menu of Thompson's writing throughout his career tied to one magazine.

Now, what I need is The Mutineer, something that has all of the "Hey Rube" columns not in the print collection, and the promised unreleased stuff...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Smarkass Comments: Randy Orton: Evolution of a Predator

In December, I got Randy Orton: Evolution of a Predator and I'm amazed at how little mention I've seen of it online. It was one of the more DVD releases from the WWE in a while. Obviously, a Randy Orton DVD set isn't surprising: he's basically the #2 face in the company behind John Cena. You could maybe argue that CM Punk is #2 now, but I don't think so. Orton is at the point where's just over in a big way no matter what. That he hasn't had a DVD set yet is a surprise, honestly -- not as surprising as the set itself. It features a documentary on the first disc and two discs of matches, which is the WWE's most common way to structure these sets. The surprising thing is the content.

The main documentary feature presents two stories basically: the first is Orton's journey from Elimination Chamber 2011 to WrestleMania XXVII, while the second is the usual biography. The first part is interesting, walking the lines between the reality of working as a wrestler for the WWE and limiting the exposure to the scripted element of the company's product. We see Orton backstage before events, but never see any discussions of match construction, who's going over, or run-throughs (as I've heard are had for group matches like the Elimination Chambers). They keep that stuff off screen, instead presenting Orton like a 'real' competitor. They also show some of the media stuff he does and charity work, a few bits at home, stuff like that. One of my favourite moments in this portion of the documentary (it skips back and forth between this and the bio) is Orton discussing how difficult he finds media appearances and how much he's worked at it. Wrestling is stage performance, working for the live audience, and that means being over-the-top. Orton is fairly restrained usually, but still.

The bio feature is where I was surprised. The story is basically 'Randy Orton used to be an asshole and now he's not.' Showing wrestlers in a negative light isn't something new to WWE DVDs. How can it be with the antics of Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, the Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, and so many other wrestlers from the past? There's a big difference between showing the negative side of 'legends' and your #2 guy, though. Orton's attitude problems aren't news to the online smarks, but to the average viewer? To kids? You have Orton and pretty much everyone else they interview call Randy Orton a complete asshole up until a couple of years ago. You have John Cena saying that he hated Orton and that he was only kept around because he was good in the ring. The closest thing to someone saying something positive about Orton outside of the ring then is Triple H saying that Orton never acted that way around him because he knew that Trips would have had his head. A combination of talent and coming from a wrestling family kept Orton employed despite every story or quote telling us what a nightmare he was backstage.

One part of Orton's life that I'm very surprised they kept on the DVD is his time in the military. He joined the marines in 1998 and hated it. He hated the dehumanising culture of the military, but figured that, after basic training, things would get better. When they didn't, he went AWOL, figuring they'd come after him and throw him out. They didn't, so he returned, was told they didn't want to kick him out, and did everything he could to get out until they court martialled him and he served some time in military prison. Considering the WWE's close relationship with the US military, that they put this part of his life on the DVD is shocking. It paints the military as a place of bullying, a place where a guy like Orton was miserable because of the treatment he received. Obviously, you could make arguments that place the blame on Orton or that things have changed; except no one even comes close to that.

Basically, the honesty of the feature is surprising. They bury 80% of the time Orton was in the company, trash the military, and it makes for good viewing. It made me realise that Orton's career path is very much like Shawn Michaels's in compressed form: he came in, got a big ego, was a nightmare to work with, and, then, settled down a little with his family, realised his spot is secure, and focused more on delivering great matches. Some people have talked about how good Orton was in 2011, how he seemed more focused on in-ring performance than anything else, and I think doing this DVD helped. He was already heading in that direction and doing a project like this is the sort of thing that could have made him think more about his behaviour and spot in the company. He's over. He knows he's over, so why worry about titles and pushes? Why not just go out and deliver great matches?


I haven't watched a lot of the matches yet. I've skipped around a little and what really caught my eye was Orton's match against John Cena at Breaking Point in 2009. It was an "I Quit" match for the WWE Championship where Orton would lose the match and the belt if anyone interferred on his behalf. An "I Quit" match is where the only way to win is to make your opponent say "I quit." It's a step beyond a traditional submission match where the only way to win is to make your opponent tap out. Now, tapping out and saying you quit are, basically, the same thing, of course. The thinking is that actually saying you quit is worse -- something that's harder for wrestlers to do. Tapping out is ending the match, but saying you quit is to admit total defeat. It's an act of cowardice in a sense. At least, that's how I always viewed the distinction. And "I Quit" matches have slowly become John Cena's 'match.' Edge has TLC, the Undertaker and Triple H both have Hell in a Cell, and John Cena has "I Quit." His gimmick is one where he doesn't quit. He doesn't give up. He's never lost an "I Quit" match. Logically, any time he has to pick a stipulation for a match, you'd assume he'd choose "I Quit," but that would mean, like, nine of those a year. Still, you see Cena in one of these matches and you know who's winning.

Breaking Point was a PPV that only happened once and was based around submission matches. I've never seen the entire show and didn't hear anything really positive about it. It seemed like your average WWE PPV, either a little above or below average depending on who you talk to. A forgettable show. The Orton/Cena match didn't get a lot of praise either, but it's become one of my favourite matches after seeing it on this DVD set.

As a storytelling medium, the wrestling match is limited. The few times I've discussed wrestling with Tim Callahan, I would defend it, but he was always right in saying that comics have far more options for telling a story and communicating ideas. There are a lot of things wrestling matches can be about, but the most common, obviously, is violence. These are fights -- what else would they be about 99% of the time? Even when other stories are told, they're told through violence. Yet, wrestling doesn't often try to tell stories about violence in a meaningful way -- or to play with the concept of violence. Because it's such an integral part of the text, it rarely becomes subtext.

The Randy Orton/John Cena "I Quit" match is a story about the futility of torture. Because of that, it's actually a fairly unimpressing match on the surface. For 95% of the match, Randy Orton beats the living hell out of John Cena. He uses weapons, he uses handcuffs, and he delivers a ton of punishment. It's an incredibly one-sided match, especially once Orton pulls out the handcuffs and begin slowly torturing Cena. He toys with him by taunting him, by beating on him in a casual 'I can hit you, but you can't hit me' fashion before making it more serious. At one point, he hangs Cena from the ringpost by the handcuffs and hits him repeatedly with a Singapore cane, pausing in between the violence to see if Cena will quit. Once the handcuffs come out, it becomes a torture session where Orton uses violence to try and break Cena's will. Every time Cena refuses, Orton becomes more frustrated and responds with even harsher punishment. That continues until Cena finally escapes the cuffs and mounts an offence of his own. But, that's not enough, because Orton could still take control. It's only when Cena handcuffs himself to Orton and puts Orton in a submission move after Orton tries to obtain the keys (just barely out of reach) that Orton gives up almost immediately.

Orton barely took any punishment, especially compared to the amount of violence Cena endured. But, that's the point: this was a match where the violence didn't actually matter. It was a contest of wills where Cena's ability to stand up under torture eventually broke Orton. Once Cena got the upperhand, even briefly, Orton knew he couldn't win. He had brutalised Cena so much that more violence wouldn't do any good and his only option was to quit, because he knew he couldn't last that long. Orton is the coward who can dish it out, but can't take it -- at least not to the extent that Cena can. Orton tried to torture Cena into quitting and it backfired, and handed Cena a relatively 'easy' victory in how quickly Orton gave up when confronted with opposition. It's a surprisingly smart match with a story that goes beyond the usual sort you see in wrestling. A violent contest designed to make another person bend to your will where the message is that violence is ultimately futile at making someone bend to your will. Fantastic.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Books I Read in 2011

Really, these are the books I finished in 2011. I read bits and pieces of other stuff, I'm sure. Books I began and never finished. Short stories from other books. Who knows. Offered without any comments since Tim Callahan said he just wanted to see the list and I'm not in the mood to do more. The included dates are when I finished reading the book in question...

1. The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson (January 12)
2. Sunset Park by Paul Auster (February 3)
3. A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex by Chris Jericho with Peter Thomas Fornatale (February 10)
4. Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps by Chris Jericho with Peter Thomas Fornatale (February 13)
5. after the quake by Haruki Murakami (March 17)
6. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (March 22)
7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (April 3)
8. Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami (April 7)
9. Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Matthew Strecher (April 7)
10. Screwjack by Hunter S. Thompson (April 7)
11. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (April 27)
12. Marshal Law: Origins by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill (May 7)
13. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (May 29)
14. Noah’s Turn by Ken Finkleman (June 15)
15. The Living Daylights by Ian Fleming (June 18)
16. Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories by Ian Fleming (July 8)
17. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (July 17)
18. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville can Teach Us about being Human by Grant Morrison (July 28)
19. Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner (August 21)
20. Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake (September 1)
21. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (September 17)
22. Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman (September 25)
23. The Girl with the Long Green Heart by Lawrence Block (October 4)
24. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman (October 13)
25. Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman (October 22)
26. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (November 14)
27. Ghosts by Paul Auster (November 20)
28. The Locked Room by Paul Auster (November 25)
29. Invisible by Paul Auster (November 29)
30. Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster (November 30)
31. Man in the Dark by Paul Auster (December 5)
32. The Velvet Underground and Nico by Joe Harvard (December 9)
33. Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good: Larry David and the Making of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm by Josh Levine (December 26)
34. The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman (December 30)


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: WWE Greatest Superstars of the 21st Century

This may be the most puzzling WWE DVD I've gotten so far. Normally, I don't buy new DVD sets when they come out, preferring to wait until I can buy them cheaper used at some point, but I really wanted the Kurt Angle/Brock Lesnar Iron Man match. And I was in Detroit and spending American money, so it didn't seem like such an expense. Also, I already have the DVD sets for the '80s and '90s; there was an appeal in completing the set. Instead of doing a disc-by-disc review over three posts, I wanted to discuss the entire set, because never have I wondered more what the fuck they were thinking when putting together a DVD set.

There are 20 superstars chosen for the list (although, for the Divas, they spotlight them all even though it's Trish Status on the cover and in the sole Divas match included... still, they included a Divas match, which is suprising) and, for the most part, I agree with their choices. I tend not to get too bent out of shape over lists like this. The only change I would have made would have been to put CM Punk in Kane's spot. That's less a criticism of Kane and more about how much CM Punk did in the second half of the decade (Kane gets bumped because he's probably the weakest choice for the list; really, everyone else deserves the spot more). Now, the WWE could have kept Punk off the list to not ruin his 'Summer of Punk II' angle, but I doubt it.

The first disc contains a feature on the 20 superstars selected, mostly clips, old interviews, and some new comments from other wrestlers. It's not any different from the one they did for the '90s set and that's fine. It's a pleasant thing to watch. Not amazing, but fun, especially for a more casual fan like my girlfriend. It also gives a decent overview of the decade and some of the wrestlers that aren't in the company currently for whatever reason like Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero, JBL, and Booker T (who is in the company, but not as a wrestler). What the first disc is missing is any bonus features like promo/non-match segments like the first disc of the '90s set included. You get an hour and forty minutes of the main feature and that's it. The lack of that extra material is noticeable and detracts from the set.

From there, we go to the matches and the first thing I noticed was that everyone on the list is represented... except for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Jeff Hardy. Neither man is featured in any of the matches. That's got to be an oversight, especially in Austin's case. It's kind of funny: both of those guys were popular/good enough to make the top 20 superstars of the past decade, but neither were worth showing in a match? Wow.

The second thing I noticed was that the final match included is from 2007. What about the final two years of the decade? Nothing noteworthy happened there? That's one of the reasons I would have liked to see CM Punk included on the list: they could have put his TLC match with Jeff Hardy from SummerSlam 2009 at the last match. It's a great match and would have gotten Hardy in a match.

The third thing I noticed was that there are a lot of non-PPV matches and this is something I really like. I know the 'big' matches happen on PPV usually, but PPVs are also on DVD already, while a lot of the stuff from Raw and Smackdown is not. Skewing the match selection towards the television stuff is a smart move. Seven out of twelve matches are from TV and that seems like a good ratio, especially for a set like this where they don't NEED to show any specific match. They can choose random throwaway matches that show two of the guys on the list and that's fine, and they seemed to approach the set with that mentality.

Except, that also meant we get some very strange selections like the third disc starting with two JBL WWE Championship defences... from two straight Smackdown-inclusive pay-per-views. Now, there is some logic to that decision since one matches is a Fatal Fourway and the other is Triple Threat with only JBL as the constant, but there's also the fact that all four men from the Fatal Fourway appear in other matches on the set, so it's not NEEDED to show any of them. The third disc is strange like that. Those two JBL matches come from December 2004 and January 2005 and, then, we get a Triple H/Edge match from February 2005. Later, we get two matches from February 2007 followed by one from April 2007. It's weird grouping that really overrepresents some specific periods.

Not a complaint at all, but something I would have liked to see: since the second disc has the Angle/Lesnar Iron Man match from Smackdown, the third disc should have had the hour-long Shawn Michaels/John Cena match from Raw (that match needs to be put on DVD). Right there, including those two matches would have made this set a must buy... although just including one pretty much made it so. EDIT (10/20/11): I just received the first three-disc Shawn Michaels DVD set and it has this match on it. So... uh... ignore me.

So, there were some odd decisions made in putting this set together, but how were the matches? Let's get to them now...

Match #1: WCW Championship Match - Booker T (C) vs. The Rock (SummerSlam, 08.19.01)
This was part of the whole Invasion storyarc and was a decent little match. Even though Kurt Angle had already won the belt for the WWE, the Rock winning it here was meant as a 'big' moment in the story -- and I guess it would be since, from there, only he and Chris Jericho would hold the title before it was unified with the WWE Championship to become the WWE Undisputed Championship. This match kind of blurs together from big spots, brawling on the outside, and attempts at interference. It was overbooked... I think a bigger moment might have been Booker T/Kurt Angle on Smackdown where Angle won the title.
Winner and NEW WCW Champion: The Rock [**3/4]

Match #2: Intercontinental Championship Match - Rob Van Dam (C) vs. Chris Jericho (Raw, 09.16.02)
This match also suffers from interference, which becomes a common theme. It's like, in choosing the matches, simply representing as many people as possible in the matches themselves wasn't enough, you also need lots of interference to give some guys more screen time. Or, it's a sign that the WWE is more like TNA than any of us want to admit. As you'd expect, an RVD/Jericho match is pretty good. Very quickly-paced with some inventive spots. This was back when RVD was capable of doing things you hadn't seen him do before and working with Jericho basically made that a necessity. I swear to god, he must stand backstage and go "Yeah, but we've seen that already..." to half the spots guys come up with when they're going over their match ahead of time. Because RVD was feuding with Triple H over the world title, he had to get involved and help Jericho win. It's weird to see Triple H and Jericho working together since I tend to view them as natural enemies. (It also happened in the first Elimination Chamber match. The girlfriend and I are in the middle of that DVD set, so it just happened that I saw two examples of the two of them working together around the same time.) A somewhat nice twist here is that Triple H only costs RVD the title because he's a distraction -- RVD spends too much time and energy beating on Trips and Jericho sneaks in and gets the Walls of Jericho on him. After the match, Triple H beat the shit out of RVD.
Winner and NEW WWE Intercontinental Champion: Chris Jericho [***]

Match #3: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Triple H (C) vs. Kane (Raw, 06.23.03)
This was the match that led to Kane unmasking, so that's the reason it's included here. Lots of interference from Ric Flair and Randy Orton to help Triple H retain the belt. Nothing really stands out aside from the paradox of Triple H as a heel needing lots of help to win matches, while Triple H as a face can win while withstanding tons of interference. I know, I know, that's all faces/heels; it stands out to me more with Triple H, because he seems so fucking useless as a heel. I couldn't help but laugh when Eric Bischoff came out, commanded Kane to take off his mask, and Evolution decided to just kick the shit out of Kane some more instead of letting him unmask.
Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H [**]

Match #4: 60-Minute Iron Man Match for the WWE Championship - Kurt Angle (C) vs. Brock Lesnar (Smackdown, 09.18.03)
The reason for me buying this set -- and why you should as well. This is the entire match including everything that happened during commercial breaks. What I loved about watching this match was how it was so obviously geared towards the stipulation. The match that Angle and Lesnar have here couldn't have been had under ANY other stipulation. It was a story unique to the Iron Man match. Whenever a stipulation is used, I try to watch and see if the match could have been done as a regular match or under any other stipulation -- and, if it could, why bother with the stipulation? Lesnar ducking Angle until he just destroyed him with a chair was fantastic. He purposefully dropped one fall to make Angle so weak that he could pick up a few more. I liked how the first four falls were all won through different means: disqualification, pinfall, submission, and countout. That was a smart way to keep the match from not getting too boring/repetitive at the beginning as Lesnar picked up three quick falls on the completely wrecked Angle. Angle's comeback attempt fit the face/heel dynamic and played into Lesnar's arrogance. Once he got that first pin on the beaten Angle, he obviously assumed he'd won the match already. He assumed that simply destroying Angle with a chair would be enough for him to bank falls and win. That it did shows that the strategy paid off, but Angle put it in doubt. Because Angle had to come back from such a large deficit, the match was compelling throughout. I've heard people say that Iron Man matches drag because you can basically skip to the end where the falls matter more; by having Angle down so much, his comeback was spread out over a greater amount of time and kept the internet high. Simply waiting out the final minutes would mean you missed the insanity of him building momentum and making the comeback -- it wouldn't be nearly as sweet. Lesnar winning was the right call, because the comeback was TOO big to make... but Angle looked good in the process. It wasn't that Lesnar was a better wrestler, it was that he used a cheap (and brilliant) strategy to gain an 'unfair' advantage that even Kurt fucking Angle couldn't completely overcome. Fantastic match and well worth buying this set for.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****1/2]

Match #5: WWE Championship Match - Eddie Guerrero (C) vs. Rey Mysterio (Smackdown, 03.18.04)
The first disc ends with this nice little match. Guerrero had just won the belt, I guess, and this was a showcase match basically. Him and Rey just going out there and putting on an entertaining match where the crowd loved both of them. Because he's smart, Guerrero leaned into the heel role a bit, allowing Rey to be the babyface (even though Rey Mysterio is a heel and always has been a heel). Very good chemistry; nothing in this match blew me away, but it ran so smoothly that the entire thing just impresses. Post-match, Paul Heyman says racist things, hypes up the upcoming brand draft, and is fed to the Undertaker by Guerrerio and Mysterio. Good time for all.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Eddie Guerrero [***1/2]

Match #6: Fatal Fourway for the WWE Championship - JBL (C) vs. the Undertaker vs. Eddie Guerrero vs. Booker T (Armageddon, 12.12.04)
I liked the storytelling of this match. JBL didn't want the match to happen, because his Cabinet was banned from ringside and he figured there was no way he'd win. Guerrero and Booker T decided to work together to take out the other two. The Undertaker is unstoppable and the heavy favourite. Everyone taking turns punching JBL is always good fun as was the Guerrero/Booker alliance falling apart. The Undertaker was built as unstoppable and only lost because of interference from Heidenreich. That allowed JBL to sneak in and retain the title. Not an amazing match from a workrate perspective, but the storytelling was solid. The interference was kind of shitty, though. That's the big weakness in the construction of the match for me. It would have been better for Guerrero and Booker to work together again, take out 'Taker and, then, JBL picks up the pieces of their brawl to determine who will win. Interference is just lazy.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: JBL [**3/4]

Match #7: Triple Threat for the WWE Championship - JBL (C) vs. Kurt Angle vs. the Big Show (Royal Rumble, 01.30.05)
And now a match from the next PPV featuring Smackdown talent! Another JBL title defence where he sneaks out a victory! This match was less entertaining than the previous. The ending was even more stacked with interference and felt anticlimactic. It was weird to see Kurt Angle apparently afraid of the Big Show. I'm not sure I've seen bald Angle afraid of anyone before and it doesn't really work. Some decent spots with the Big Show, but a fairly uninteresting display all around.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: JBL [*1/2]

Match #8: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Triple H (C) vs. Edge (Raw 02.07.05)
This was the first Raw from Tokyo and the Japanese fans definitely give this a different feel. They're a lot quieter during matches -- but their appreciation of technical wrestling seemed to cause Trips and Edge to begin with a few minutes of chain wrestling and holds. It was unexpected and interesting to see (and a reminder that Triple H is better than a lot of people think he is). From there, it became a fairly typical match and ended with a ref bump and interference from Ric Flair and Batista. The post-match celebration continued to build the 'Batista/Triple H for the title at WrestleMania' story as he kept staring at the title until Triple H noticed and backed away.
Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H [***]

Match #9: Women's Championship Match - Lita (C) vs. Trish Stratus (Unforgiven, 09.17.06)
Trish Stratus's retirement match in Toronto and pretty decent. JR really sold the idea of the history behind this match with Stratus and Lita's past. Some of the spots were a little sloppy, but Lita eventualy gaining dominance and mocking Stratus worked really well. I'm not a fan of Stratus winning the title here since she was leaving. It was a crowd-pleasing moment, but it just meant that the belt was vacated and Lita won it back. Better to have Lita win via cheating and Stratus get the feel good moment after the match.
Winner and NEW WWE Women's Champion: Trish Stratus [**]

Match #10: Triple Threat to Determine WWE Champion John Cena's Opponent at WrestleManania 23 - Shawn Michaels vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton (Raw, 02.05.07)
The original plan for WrestleMania 23 was for Triple H to challenge Cena, but those plans got blown to hell along with Trips' quadricep. So, we're left with his DX partner and the tag team DX has been feuding with. The match had a basic story: Rated RKO doubleteam Michaels until eventually imploding and allowing Michaels to win. It was fine for what it wanted to do, but isn't anything special.
Winner: Shawn Michaels [**1/2]

Match #11: John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Batista & the Undertaker vs. Randy Orton, Edge, MVP & Mr. Kennedy (Raw, 02.15.07)
One of the more puzzling inclusions on the DVD since this isn't a good match. It's not bad either. It's exactly what you'd expect from an eight-man tag where one team are the four men in the two World title matches at WrestleMania. The heels dominate someone, he makes the hot tag, the faces come back, there are some big moves, the faces win. They did change it up a bit with the Undertaker and Batista turning on Michaels and Cena after the match was over. Whatever.
Winners: John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Batista & the Undertaker [**1/4]

Match #12: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Batista (C) vs. the Undertaker (WrestleMania 23, 04.01.07)
My second time seeing this match and it continues to underwhelm me. I just don't get why people like it so much. It seems like it's missing the final third for it to be really great. Batista takes it to the Undertaker, the Undertaker comes back, Batista regains control, the Undertaker makes a big counter and wins. Some spots felt forced and contrived and neither man seemed to get out of second gear. I like how there weren't any slow parts. It was constant action and energy... it still doesn't cohere for a great match.
Winner and NEW WWE World Heavyweight Champion: The Undertaker [***1/2]

And then the DVD is over. Apparently the decade ends at 2007. It's a strange set. It's worth it for the Iron Man match alone and a few others that are a lot of fun -- or for the simple novelty of TV matches not available on DVD. Mostly just a confusing DVD set for some odd decisions by the WWE.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: SummerSlam 2009

It's been a long time since I posted anything here. No good reason for that other than laziness, I suppose. I've been tempted to write about some music, movies, DVDs, books, and so on... but haven't. Shit. Ah well. I'm back and, hopefully, this is something that will continue on beyond this one review of a two-year old WWE PPV that I watched for another purpose completely. However, I have been doing a lot of writing lately for 411mania, including new weekly reviews of Curb Your Enthusiasm season eight. The season premiered this past Sunday, so I've only had one review up. Still, check out my twitter feed for links to future reviews and other writings I do around the internet.


SummerSlam 2009. I got this on DVD for five bucks at Wal-Mart. I haven't seen any cheap PPVs on DVD there since I got this back in the winter, which sucks. Sure, when I have no money, they have many $5 DVDs; when I have money, they dry up. Bullshit. I hadn't actually seen this show before. It came after the local bar where I used to watch WWE PPVs stopped showing them and I realised that going to the movie theatre to watch them was too expensive to do on a regular basis (now, it's not so much a cost thing as a conflict with my work schedule -- though, I will be seeing Money in the Bank on Sunday, because I arranged for the person who works after me on Sunday nights to come in an hour early -- something I've done once before and would like to only do rarely if possible). So, this was all new to me.

Match #1: WWE Intercontinental Championship Match - Rey Mysterio (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler
A strong opening match that reminds me of how motivated Rey was in 2009. Hot off his feud with Chris Jericho and before his 411 'free TV match of the year' with John Morrison, he feuded with Dolph Ziggler over the IC belt and, surprisingly, didn't drop it at all. Here, Mysterio did some pretty cool things that he doesn't bust out all of the time and Ziggler was very responsive, lending himself to some inventive counters. Honestly, this is one of the best Ziggler matches I've seen (before or since). He looked in command and wasn't doing his usual routine as much. It's like, in the wake of the Jericho/Mysterio stuff, it wasn't possible to do the same ol' thing with Rey Rey. This has me curious to see their previous match at Night of Champions.
Winner and STILL WWE Intercontinental Champion: Rey Mysterio [***1/2]

Match #2: Jack Swagger vs. MVP
Remember this feud? It did absolutely nothing for either man and never delivered the sort of match you would expect from the two. This didn't get the necessary time, so it was like watching a highlight video of the full match.
Winner: MVP [**]

Match #3: WWE Unified Tag Team Championship Match - JeriShow (C) vs. Cryme Tyme
The pre-match promo by Jericho was arrogant heel at its best. I remember being so disappointed when Big Show was selected to replace Edge, but, in retrospect, it worked out quite well. Just standing in the ring, these two looked like a team that couldn't be beaten. Technical wrestling at its best and a motherfucking giant! The only thing I remember about the feud with Cryme Tyme was JTG beating Jericho on Smackdown in the run-up to SummerSlam. I didn't like that only because of the way it happened -- I think JTG got in a quick pin after Jericho went for a cover under the ropes and I didn't think that fit with Jericho's character who is far too ring savvy to do something that stupid. Otherwise, I didn't mind JTG getting the win. Jim Ross(!) mention how the Road Warriors won their first WWE Tag Titles at SummerSlam was a nice bit of info that fed into Cryme Tyme never winning any belts. The match itself was decent. Typical Cryme Tyme pattern: JTG gets beat down until making the hot tag to Shad, but they added in a bit with Shad getting beat down only to make the hot tag that changed things up enough. The combination of the Walls of Jericho and the Knockout Punch was a good finish.
Winners and STILL WWE Unified Tag Team Champions: JeriShow [**1/2]

Match #4: Kane vs. the Great Khali
You don't always notice how good Kane is in the ring, but stick him next to the Great Khali and you suddenly can't help but notice how agile and skilled he is. His style doesn't lend itself to impressing fans often, unfortunately. However, he carried this piece of shit of a match. It wasn't good, but it could have been a lot of worse. All of the good parts were because of Kane with Khali looking sluggish and awkward at even the simplest of moves. I must admit, though, that I always enjoy the 'big man tries to Chokeslam another big man only to be goozled by his opponent in return' exchange.
Winner: Kane [1/2*]

Match #5: Degeneration X vs. Legacy
I completely forgot that this was the beginning of the final DX reunion. I have a big soft spot for DX and rather enjoy goofy Shawn and Trips. A lot of people hated their previous reunion along with this one, but I found both entertaining. It's hard not to like two guys who are obviously just having fun goofing around with one another. This match had a really good story: DX hadn't teamed for a long time and Michaels had been out of the ring since WrestleMania, so they couldn't keep up with Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes who had been teaming for two years at that point. Most of the match was DX not getting on the same page, while Rhodes and DiBiase used the most basic of tag team tactics to destroy the veterans. It's surprising how dominant Legacy looked here, countering almost every effort at a comeback Michaels and Triple H could come up with until Trips managed to take out DiBiase on the outside, breaking the rhythm of the duo. There was one spot where Rhodes and DiBiase tag each other in and out every five seconds, just stomping on Trips (or Shawn... I forget) in the corner, making the tag, stomping, tag, stomping, tag, etc. Once the two weren't able to make frequent tags and take advantage of double-teams, things fell apart a little and, eventually, Michaels won the match with Sweet Chin Music that came as a last resort. DX needed to win in their first match back together, but it wasn't a victory that made Legacy look bad. If anything, Legacy came out of this looking great. That wouldn't last, but, right here, it was hard not to look at those two as the best tag team in the WWE.
Winners: Degeneration X [***3/4]

Match #6: ECW Championship Match - Christian (C) vs. William Regal
This wasn't a match with Christian immediately hitting the Killswitch and winning before Regal could take his robe off. Disappointing given how good a match between these two could have been. Why not drop Kane/Khali and give the people something halfway decent?
Winner and STILL ECW Champion: Christian [N/R]

Match #7: WWE Championship Match - Randy Orton (C) vs. John Cena
Watching this match, I couldn't help but admire Randy Orton's skill and concentration. People didn't like him a lot around this period, but are loving him now. How else would he get so good in the ring besides this long period of slow, methodical in-ring movement? I can't imagine how much extra effort it took to always be so slow, so expressive. When he finally turned face, he sped up considerably and you can see him mastering this style in matches like this. The match itself was good until the string of false finishes and restarts that were just plain fucking goofy. I am glad that Orton won in the end, because that's the way it needed to go down: Orton does everything he can to cheat his way to victory only to have it taken away and he still wins (albeit through a different type of cheating). The final five minutes or so of this match killed it, though. Absolutely killed it.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Randy Orton [**1/4]

Match #8: TLC Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship - Jeff Hardy (C) vs. CM Punk
Ah, the beginning of the Straight Edge Saviour character... is there a better foil for CM Punk when he's playing up his Straight Edge lifestyle than Jeff Hardy? The drugged out fuck up who is more loved than Punk? With Hardy on his way out, the ending to this match was easy to see, but the two men still brought it. Their early work on the outside was rather good with some smart counters and cool moves. The dive off the ladder was insane (though, I could have done without them trying to take Hardy out on a stretcher just so he could get off and prove how 'extreme' he is). The Superplex onto the ladder looked far more painful for CM Punk with Hardy placed to land dead centre, while Punk hit the edge. The finish was good with Punk using kicks to get the advantage on the top of the ladder. The lights flickering as a cue to Punk to make sure Hardy was in position for the Undertaker switch was interesting -- and Punk played that perfectly. A strong ending to the show.
Winner and NEW WWE World Heavyweight Champion: CM Punk [****]

Overall thoughts: A lot of quality in this show. Take away the Kane/Khali and Christan/Regal matches and everything was, at the very least, okay. Three matches were very good, even approaching great, and the rest had their moments. Not a classic show, but one well worth checking out if you have the chance.

Rating: 8.0 (out of 10)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: Brock Lesnar: Here Comes the Pain

I can't remember exactly when I stopped watching wrestling. Sometime in 2000/2001, I think. Nothing specific made me stop, just a general feeling that it was the same old shit over and over again, and I wasn't going to waste my time with that. I never stopped liking wrestling, but I had no interest in it either, if that makes sense. I'd sometimes check it out and enjoy it only to forget about it the next day. I could enjoy watching it when I watched it, I didn't have the desire to watch it. I didn't get back into it until late 2007. So, there's a nice gap there where I missed out on a few things: Evolution, the rise of John Cena, the Invasion storyline, the Smackdown Six, and Brock Lesnar. I have a pretty strong fascination with these things that I missed out on and that led me to getting a copy of the only Brock Lesnar DVD the WWE put out: Here Comes the Pain. It's still a little insane to me that I could miss out on someone like Lesnar, but he was only in the WWE a short time. Everything else I missed, I still had some reference points from either before or after my period of not watching wrestling. I saw the Smackdown Six before they turned that show into a weekly wrestling clinic. I knew Triple H and Ric Flair, and came to know Randy Orton and Batista. I missed the rise of John Cena, but have watched him on top for over three years now. For Lesnar, there's nothing like that. He came and left when I wasn't watching. His matches haven't shown up on many of the DVDs I've purchased (besides this one and the WrestleManias I have, I think he only shows up on The Best of Smackdown (and not wrestling) and The History of the WWE Championship). He's pretty much a mystery to me beyond stories I've heard or things I've read.

This DVD was released at the same time as a VHS version that contained only the hour-long documentary feature. Thankfully, the DVD contains some matches. But, this also only covers up until its release in 2003, so it's not exactly a great overview. For my purposes, it did its job and gave me a good glimpse of the Next Big Thing. I watched the matches first since I knew Michelle would want to want the documentary feature and she wasn't able to until the evening.

Match #1: #1 Contender for the WWE Undisputed Championship Match - Brock Lesnar vs. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan (Smackdown, 08.08.02)
Not so much a match as a slaughter and a way to make Brock Lesnar seem unstoppable. Put him up against one of the biggest icons in the business and just kill him. Not that Hogan didn't get some shots in, hitting some boots to the face and a leg drop that Lesnar got to kick out of, but any offence by Hogan was there for the purpose of Lesnar overcoming it and, then, killing Hogan. There was also the story of Lesnar hurting himself with his overconfidence, his playing to the crowd, and taking too much time to gloat. It's a theme that crops up a little bit in the other matches. Given that he's only debuted five months previously, he was still a newcomer and that overconfidence after such dominance made sense. The finish of the F5 and, then, the Brock Lock bear hug was the capper. He could have won with the F5 but wanted to utterly destroy Hogan. He even want back and nailed him with a chair after the match. Like I said, not a technical masterpiece, but it does the job of making Lesnar look like an unstoppable monster.
Winner: Brock Lesnar [**]

Match #2: WWE Undisputed Championship Match - The Rock (C) vs Brock Lesnar (SummerSlam, 08.24.02
I watched this match a few months ago on The History of the WWE Championship DVD set, but rewatched it here with Michelle since she hadn't seen it, and I thought it would be a good intro to Lesnar -- and she's been digging the Rock lately because of his involvement with the WWE, so that's an added bonus. Like her, I love the beginning with the Rock laying the belt down, doing a little jogging on the spot to mimic Lesnar in the ring, and then sprinting to kick the crap out of this young punk. Some good storytelling here with the involvement of Paul Heyman. Lesnar was the monster heel that doesn't need to cheat to win... but does anyway. I love the dominant heel, because that gets better heat than the regular chickenshit variety. There's satisfcation in seeing a chickenshit coward heel get his comeuppance, but that pales in comparison to a face finally besting a heel that is legitimately better than everyone else. You hate that sort of heel not just because he's a heel, but because he's right when he says he's the best and you can't deny it. Heyman helping Lesnar isn't necessary for Lesnar to win, it gets him over even more. Here, the Rock kept coming back from whatever Lesnar gave him, even controlling a big part of the match. He made sure that Lesnar didn't just steamroll over him, Lesnar earned the win here by kicking out of a Rock Bottom, delivering his own (B)Rock Bottom, and an F5 to put the Rock away. Lesnar looked decent here, but the Rock carried this a bit for me. His mannerisms and selling made Lesnar look so much better. This is how a first-time WWE Champion should look when he wins.
Winner and NEW WWE Undisputed Champion: Brock Lesnar [***1/2]

Match #3: Hell in a Cell Match for the WWE Championship - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Undertaker (No Mercy, 10.20.02)
There were some problems with this match like the on-and-off psychology surrounding the Undertaker's supposedly broken right hand. It came into play quite a bit, but was conveniently forgotten any time the Undertaker had to, you know, use his hands. Still, this match had a lot going for it and I couldn't help but get swept up in the spectacle and emotion of it. Lesnar getting nervous quickly about being trapped was a great touch to play on his inexperience and that panic a rookie might feel in the same situation, WWE Champion or not. Paul Heyman's involvement really helped here with his constant comments and shouting, the spot with the Undertaker ramming him into the cage by pulling his tie through an opening, and, then, him holding the belt that Lesnar tied around the Undertaker's hand while Lesnar hit it with a chair. Heyman added that extra flavour as a cheerleader. Between Lesnar and the Undertaker, they managed to craft a good match by playing into the psychology of the veteran/rookie confrontation. Any time Lesnar got the upperhand, he would make some stupid mistake like gloating too much and the Undertaker would take advantage. Still, Lesnar was quicker and stronger and wouldn't stay down. The blood was just... nasty. The Undertaker was gushing blood. I told Michelle she would have hated it since she's not a blood fan and seeing the Undertaker so covered is shocking. Honestly, this match is a good argument for the use of blood since it came at the right time (Lesnar split open early on but not too bad) to ramp the match up that extra bit. I'd never seen the Undertaker this bloody, this seemingly broken down, and that made Lesnar look that much better. He did that to the Undertaker and that's almost better than winning the match. Plenty of people have beat the Undertaker -- how many made him such a mess? How many left his face covered with blood? This match made Lesnar for me.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****]

Match #4: WWE Championship Match - Kurt Angle (C) vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XIX, 03.30.03
This match suffers from the finish. That's fucking brutal to watch and killed any enthusiasm/enjoyment I had until then. Up until the finish, this was the strongest wrestling match on the DVD so far. Angle and Lesnar trading amateur wrestling holds at first until Lesnar couldn't quite keep up and went to a more power-based game, something Angle couldn't best him at. That put over both men: no one can touch Kurt Angle on the mat, but even Angle can't stop the monster than is Brock fucking Lesnar. Angle used every fucking hold he could think of and Lesnar always got out, and planted Angle on the mat. Very good story that showcased both men excellently. The finish with Lesnar hitting a second F5 and victory just a pinfall away only for him to attempt a Shooting Star Press with Angle 2/3s of the way across the ring is awful to watch. Lesnar doesn't even come close to making it after his legs buckle a little bit. It was a stupid thing to try with Angle so far away. I'm not sure what the finish was meant to be (probably him winning after hitting that) and the announcers tried to play it off as Angle rolling out of the way. Anyway, Lesnar wound up winning and looked so fucking out of it. He and Angle shaking hands to end the show was a nice moment, not one that could overcome the Next Big Thing falling flat on his face, though.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****]

Match #5: Stretcher Match for the WWE Championship - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Big Show (Judgment Day, 05.18.03)
The first modern Stretcher Match apparently. I've only ever really liked one Stretcher Match and that was Batista/Shawn Michaels at Extreme Rules 2008. Chris Jericho's involvement helped make that match damned entertaining with Batista killing Michaels and Jericho not letting the Animal actually win until Michaels ate far more punishment. This one had the interesting story of the Big Show being too big for a stretcher. The spot with Lesnar using a lighting/tv cable to choke the Big Show out and, then, it preventing him from getting the Big Show across the line on the stretcher was good. The finish with the forklift was just ridiculous. Stupid and entertaining at the same time. This was more a fun/throwaway match than a good one.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [**1/2]

Match #6: WWE Championship Match - Brock Lesnar (C) vs. the Big Show (Smackdown, 06.12.03)
Included for the finishing spot of Lesnar Superplexing the Big Show off the top rope and the ring collapsing. That's pretty awesome to see no matter how many times you do. Everything before that was pretty average and forgettable.
Result: No contest [**]

The documentary provided some background on his life pre-WWE and, then, basically went into little rundowns of his big feuds/matches with some commentary from the likes of Paul Heyman, Michael Hayes, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Gerald Brisco, and others thrown in. It was kind of funny to watch since they kept shifting between discussing things in reality and kayfabe. It was a weird blending of the two. The matches they chose definitely complemented what we saw here, though I wish they'd given us the Lesnar/Cena match from Backlash. I would say that if I'd rated the matches above after watching this documentary stuff, I would have rated them all a little higher, that's how well they talked things up. Entertaining. What it really missed was Lesnar. After his pre-WWE time was covered, he didn't add anything, and that's a shame. I always like hearing what guys have to say about their matches.

We get, basically, the first year of Lesnar's career here and he shows a lot of skill and potential to be great. I don't know how much further he developed in his remaining time with the WWE, but he definitely could have progressed to be one of the greats. He had speed and strength, some solid mat-wrestling foundation, and a fantastic look. I hope the WWE eventually does a set that covers his entire career with them, because I'd like to see more of his work.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pearl Jam!


Well, I was just reading Chad's post and I figured that I had a bit of time to kill right now and what better way to spend it than to write a quick post on our blog (on which I have written so little!).

I am not one to purchase CDs in general. It's not that I download music either, it's just that I'm usually content to either listen to what music I already have or to just have the radio on (yes, among other things I am a top 40 kind of gal). For a long time now, I have enjoyed Pearl Jam and get really into their music whenever I hear it on the radio, but have never gotten around to buying any of their albums. We were at Best Buy the other day and I happened to see one for 9 bucks, so I bought it. After listening to it, I finally understood something that I could never truly comprehend before. I just simply wanted (and still want) to own every single Pearly Jam album in existence! Maybe I'm just weird, but I don't often get too excited about new things coming out by an author or artist or actor, etc. that I really like and I figure that at some point I may get it, but if I don't, I'm not going to be upset or probably think twice about it. But this Pearl Jam CD, Vs. (their second), I really just love it so much and it's not even just that the music itself is so good, but it reminds as to how much their other earlier music kicks ass and how much I want to listen to that, too. I don't know a lot of their music that hasn't been on the radio, but I'm excited to find out about it.

Would anyone have a suggestion on what they think is their best album/the one that I should pick up next?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Charm: The Samoa Joe/CM Punk Trilogy

It's been a while. Sorry about that.

I recently purchased a couple of Ring of Honor DVDs. The first was last year's "Death Before Dishonor VIII," largely considered the best wrestling show of 2010. The other was the "Allied Forces" release. From what I can tell, that's a pretty typical (I haven't watched it yet) and not one that would jump out as worth buying if you haven't bought any ROH DVDs before. Except, it's got a bonus disc featuring the 2004 trilogy of matches that Samoa Joe and CM Punk had for the Ring of Honor World Title. I've heard about this trilogy since I got back into wrestling and the chance to have it all was very hard to pass up. It's my first real experience with ROH aside from a few matches I've seen online... but I'm a sucker for great wrestling trilogies.

Match #1: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("World Title Classic" Dayton, OH 6/12/04)
I loved the early pacing of this match, the way that the two men would lock up, exchange some holds and strikes, and, then, break apart for a breather. The announce team talked a lot about Punk using a rope-a-dope style against Joe, taking a lot of punishment to wear the big man out, and it was clear that this was structured as a boxing match initially with the concept of rounds. It was an effective way to build the match. One thing I didn't like was, around halfway through, the announcers started talking about hour-long matches. Christ, talk about giving it away, gentlemen. I know we all know now that this was a one-hour broadway, but it really spoils the mood of the match. The way things progressed from round to Punk usually as the one taking the breather to Joe taking it to him on the outside was good. It felt organic; Joe recognised what Punk was doing and was having none of it. The second half of the match was start and stop, but in a different way: it became not so much rounds but fits of action followed by fits of exhaustion by both men. The effect was similar in pacing, not in impact and storytelling. It was like neither man had the energy to really finish the job after a certain point, hoping that each last-ditch strike would just knock the other guy down long enough to get the win. Punk hitting the Pepsi Plunge and falling out of the ring was a nice tease. I really loved the way they paced this.
Result: One-hour time-limit draw [****1/4]

Match #2: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("Joe vs. Punk II" Chicago Ridge, IL 10/16/04)
This match built on the first one with Punk using headlocks again to wear down Joe, but not taking the 'rounds' or 'rope-a-dope' approach, instead using the same offence he did in the first match with a lot more aggression. He didn't try to wear down Joe by taking punishment and tiring Joe out, he tried to wear him down by just kicking the shit out of him and cutting the blood flow off to his brain as much as possible. Punk owned the first half of this match with Joe unable to make any comeback stick. Punk used his speed and brains to counter everything Joe tried and stuck to his aggressive offence. And that didn't work. Joe took it all and, oddly, Punk was the one who was worn down. He just went too hard against Joe, allowing Joe to take over. What hurt Joe was his overconfidence. It's like after taking all of that punishment, he assumed that Punk would not win, that victory was guaranteed, and delivered a lot of slow, cocky offence. It was an entirely different type of match with Joe almost becoming a heel with his lazy covers and hamming it up as he beat down on Punk. Since this was in Punk's hometown, Joe leaning into a heel role made a lot of sense and he pulled it off. From there, it became a more traditional wrestling match that echoed the last part of their first match, except with more desperation. Each man tried whatever he could to take the other out, seemingly afraid of another draw. When it happened, both men looked defeated. Punk because he couldn't capture the title, Joe because he couldn't retain the title by defeating his opponent -- to this point, Joe had been a dominant champion, ROH's greatest champion, and a draw may have meant he kept the belt, but it wasn't a win.
Result: One-hour time-limit draw [*****]

Match #3: ROH World Title Match - Samoa Joe (C) vs. CM Punk ("All Star Extravaganza II" Elizabeth, NJ 12/4/04)
This match was no time limit and Punk's final shot at the title. Again, this was as much about putting on a good match in and of itself as it was building on and responding to the previous matches. Punk went for the headlocks and Joe continually countered, leaving him a little stumped on what to do. So, he got in Joe's head with a fantastic bit surrounding chops to the chest where Punk delivered this weak little nothing of a chop and got in Joe's face, so, when Joe went for his chop, Punk ducked and was able to get the headlock on. Punk still wanted his regular strategy, but got there with head games. But, Joe splitting open Punk was a big point of divergence and allowed Joe to dominate a lot of the match, reversing things a bit. Punk tended to go for the headlocks and sleepers, hoping to wear down Joe. But, with Punk split open, Joe attacked the head and looked more for wins based around Punk losing consciousness. I loved Joe just headbutting Punk in the corner, leaving Joe with this bloody mark on his forehead from Punk's cut. It's not that Joe would never go for a choke hold, it's that this was more Punk's strategy and Joe took it over well, just beating down Punk, making him lose blood. A big sign that things were different in this match was the first attempt by Joe to go for the Ole Ole kick in the corner -- he hit it. Something that hadn't happened in the first two matches. In the second one, he eventually hit it, but not on the first try. It was a nice reversal with Punk looking like the guy trying to survive and stay on his feet after two matches where that was Joe. There was a spot where I thought the finish might have worked better as they exchanged quick pinfalls, but the finish of Joe choking Punk out, stopping his breathing, was a good one and played off Joe's different strategy here. While just over half the length of the previous two matches, this one held its own, creating a lot of spots that built on the first two to make a unique match.
Winner and STILL ROH World Champion: Samoa Joe [****]

Everyone was right. A trilogy of three amazing matches, each building on what came before. A good sign is when you know the result (and I did for all three) and the match still surprises you and draws you in. It's worth buying Allied Forces just for this disc.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: WWE The Bash 2009

One of the two more recent WWE PPVs that I got at Wal-Mart for five dollars each, the Bash also has the distinction of being the first PPV I didn't see at the time after a long string of seeing all of them. I think I'd seen every PPV since missing Armageddon in 2007. My former roommate, Adam, and I (and others) would go to a local bar that showed the PPVs, a tradition I continued after Adam left town. That was until certain circumstances prevented the bar from showing PPVs anymore. The last one Michelle and I saw there was Backlash '09 and, then, we saw Extreme Rules '09 at a local movie theatre. But, for the cost, it didn't seem worth it except for specific PPVs that looked like they would be worth it. So, that meant missing the Bash that year and, now, I've finally seen it. Was it worth the wait?

Match #1: Championship Scramble for the ECW Title - Tommy Dreamer (C) vs. Christian vs. Jack Swagger vs. Finlay vs. Mark Henry
I actually like the Championship Scramble match concept: you start with two guys and, then, every five minutes, another wrestler enters the match until the fifth one comes in. After that, a five-minute countdown starts until the end of the match. At the end of the match, whoever scored the last pinfall or submission is the champion. Technically, after you've scored a pinfall or submission, you're considered the current champion (but it's not an official reign). It's a cool idea and leads to some interesting moments like the WWE Championship Scramble match where The Brian Kendrick was the champ for a few minutes. But, it's also a bit of an oddball concept, so I can see why they haven't used it since this match. Christian and Jack Swagger started things off, and that was good. It's weird to see how far Swagger's come since this point in time. Less than a year later, he'd be the World Heavyweight Champion and is definitely better in the ring now. But, a lot of that talent was already there. When Finlay entered, he came running to the ring and I lamented the lack of his old entrance theme that began with his voice proclaiming "My name is Finlay and I love to fight!" It would have been much more appropriate. The action in this match was good. Swagger got two pinfalls, Henry one, and Dreamer the last one. Dreamer leaving with the belt was so surprising that even he looked shocked that it happened. As far as an opening match goes, this was a smart choice. Granted, the crowd felt a little different. The silence during the Swagger/Christian part of the match was noticeable.
Winner and STILL ECW Champion: Tommy Dreamer [***]

Match #2: Intercontinental Championship vs. Mask Match - Chris Jericho (C) vs. Rey Mysterio
I always lamented never seeing this match, the third one in their trilogy of bouts in 2009 and, according to everyone, the best of the three. And they were right. What impressed me most about their second match, at Extreme Rules, was how it built on their first. Spots and moves weren't repeated with success, they were countered. Both men looked like professionals at the top of their game, able to learn from what happened before, and adapt on the spot. The fact that certain guys are able to do the same spots in the same order with success much of the time is something that I've never liked about wrestling. I'm sorry, but if you don't know the Attitude Adjustment is coming after the Five-Knuckle Shuffle, where have you been? COUNTER THAT MOTHERFUCKER, IDIOT! I know that the routine is integral to some, but I'd always prefer to see a match where it looks like both men have actually watched a wrestling match before. This match was one of those where it wasn't just move-countermove, it was move-countermove-countermove. It was one of the smartest in-ring work I've ever seen. Even the seemingly gimmicky finish of Rey Rey having a second mask on didn't come off that way -- it was another counter since Jericho won their last match by unmasking Mysterio and completely throwing him off his game. My favourite spot, though, was Jericho faking that the 619 landed near the end so he could lull Mysterio into doing a jump off the ropes and catch him, putting him into the Walls of Jericho. Definitely the high point of this PPV and, from what happens later, I know why they put it on second, but, really, they expected people to follow this match? After the Undertaker/Michaels at WrestleMania, it was the second-best WWE match of the year, easily.
Winner and NEW Intercontinental Champion: Rey Mysterio [****3/4]

Match #3: No Disqualification Match - Dolph Ziggler vs. The Great Khali
Remember when Dolph Ziggler first showed up and did that "Hi, I'm Dolph Ziggler" gimmick? And now he's the #1 contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. Did anyone see that coming then? This was the culmination of Ziggler's feud with Khali where Ziggler continued to outsmart the giant and walk away with victories (or, at least, leave the giant beaten and bruised). This match was shit. For the record, I'm pretty sure that being seven feet tall doesn't make punching a ringpost hurt any less. This was really the beginning of a Kane/Khali feud with Ziggler winning after Kane came down and beat the shit out of Khali with a chair. Whatever.
Winner: Dolph Ziggler [*]

Match #4: Unified Tag Team Championship Match - The Colons (C) vs. Priceless vs. Edge & Chris Jericho
This match became a triple threat match with Edge and Jericho added because of a story involving Smackdown General Manager Teddy Long being put on probation for not being innovative enough for Mr. McMahon's tastes. So, he threw in Edge and Jericho, which just pissed off the other four guys. So, the story of this match became the Colons and Priceless trying to have their match without ever allowing Edge and Jericho to enter (since tag matches with more than two teams still only have two men in the ring, leaving the extra teams on the apron, possibly never able to legally win the match). The couple of times where they managed to get in, they'd make the mistake of getting too close to one of the other corners and immediately tagged out. In the end, they managed to win after the match became a bit of a clusterfuck. Sadly, the Edge and Jericho team didn't last long once Edge suffered a torn Achilles heel. Still, a decent match with a cool story.
Winners and NEW Unified Tag Team Champions: Edge and Chris Jericho [**]

Match #5: Women's Championship Match - Melina (C) vs. Michelle McCool
We fast-forwarded through this.
Winner and NEW Women's Champion: Michelle McCool [N/A]

Match #6: World Heavyweight Championship Match - CM Punk (C) vs. Jeff Hardy
The beginning of Punk's heel turn after cashing in Money in the Bank on Hardy. This match wasn't as good as you'd expect given the two guys involved. Some nice spots, but not conhesive really. Neither guy seemed on the same page entirely. Maybe it was both men trying to wrestle as faces. Sometimes that dynamic doesn't work -- and Punk hadn't turned heel yet. I loved the false finish where Hardy thought he'd won, but the ref noticed Punk's leg was under the ropes after he'd counted the pin. It worked with the feud: Punk was technically in the right when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and, technically, Hardy didn't win here. Of course, I did enjoy the idea of Hardy, seemingly a face with lots of tenacity, being portrayed as a whiner for this entire storyline. The actual finish where Hardy went nuts on Punk, injuring his eye, so Punk kicked the ref was... meh. It was meant to be Punk couldn't see, so he didn't know who he was kicking -- but we see the small smile he gets as he walks away. The only thing is that the excuse that Punk couldn't see who he was kicking was just lame. It wasn't staged well. But, this is the beginnings of Punk turning heel, which was awesome. Also, the end of Hardy in the WWE.
Winner but NOT new World Heavyweight Champion: Jeff Hardy [**3/4]

Match #7: John Cena vs. the Miz
Like Ziggler and Swagger, the Miz has come a long way since this PPV. He's also become a lot more polished. What I noticed most from the recap video package was how calmer he is on the mic. The personality is the same, but he's slowed it down a little and is much more at ease. He's not trying so hard (or, more accurately, it doesn't look like he's trying so hard). This match was a squash. The Miz barely got in any offence and Cena just beat the shit out of him. Ah well.
Winner: John Cena [*1/2]

Match #8: Three Stages of Hell Match for the WWE Championship - Randy Orton (C) vs. Triple H
And we end things with an odd match. This is a two-out-of-three falls match where the first fall is a regular match, the second is a Falls Count Anywhere match, and the third is a Stretcher match. Now, I've only ever seen one Stretcher match that I'd want to see again and that was the one from Extreme Rules 2008 between Batista and Shawn Michaels -- and that's because of Chris Jericho's involvement, which was done in a way that only worked with a Stretcher match. Here, the Stretcher match doesn't follow any progression. A good progression for this sort of match: No DQ fall, Falls Count Anywhere fall, and, then, Last Man Standing to finish it off. See how that works? Here, it's disjointed. But, that was this storyline all over. It built to Orton winning the belt at WrestleMania... except Triple H retained and Orton won it at Backlash the following month. They just couldn't get things right here. I did like the way the first two falls ended: the first one had Triple H get disqualified when he attacked Orton with a chair, viciously beating him and, then, hitting a Pedigree on the floor to win the second fall. It was a good strategy, especially since Orton seemed so dead that rolling him past the line on a stretcher wouldn't be too difficult. From there, it was your standard hardcore match with a stretcher. Nothing too special. Rhodes and DiBiase helped Orton retain the belt. This would lead to Triple H finding Shawn Michaels to reunite DX since Trips couldn't handle the numbers game of fighting all of Legacy. A mediocre finish to a mediocre PPV.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Randy Orton [**1/2]

Overall Show Rating: 5.0 (out of 10)