Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Link Roundup

What I wrote (or contributed to) online this past week:

411mania
* Wrestling Top 5 -- Finisher Names
* High Road/Low Road on Rey Mysterio as World Heavyweight Champion
* Wrestling 4Rs including my review of the 06.24.10 TNA Impact
* Wrestler of the Week Year 6 Week 13
* Independent Draft 2010 Part 1 -- Intro, Keepers, Rounds One and Two
* Independent Draft 2010 Part 2 -- Rounds Three through Seven

GraphiContent
* Best of 2010: Halfway Mark
* Quickie Reviews (June 16/23 2010)

Comic Book Resources Reviews
* Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3
* Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #4
* Incorruptible #7
* Secret Warriors #17
* Joe the Barbarian #6
* Bullet to the Head #1

Comics Should be Good
* Random Thoughts! (June 29, 2010)

The Splash Page Podcast
* The Splash Page Podcast episode 22

Smarkass Comments: WWE Raw 06.28.10

I'll keep this brief since I didn't think much of tonight's Raw. Aside from the Nexus beatdown and the final match, the show was pretty forgettable. The opening delayed the ongoing story in a way that made me wonder what the rest of the episode would be like and if it could be good. The John Cena/Sheamus stuff was pretty bad with Cena overacting and being stuck with some really bad 'jokes.' The booking of their match at Money in the Bank came out of nowhere. I do think that Sheamus has really improved on the mic. He's really solid there.

The Ricky Steamboat appreciation segment/Nexuas beatdown was well done. The collection of legends was pretty random, but the attack was handled well. I do think that there wasn't much point in creating the stipulation that any Nexus member who attacks a WWE superstar will be fired/any WWE superstar who attacks a Nexus member will be suspended without pulling the trigger. It could have worked well if a few guys came out to defend the legends and got big pops for risking suspension to do so.

The final match was a solid build to the Raw Money in the Bank match. I imagine we'll get some variations on the men involved over the next couple of weeks leading to the PPV.

Really, though, I found the episode largely forgettable. I did like Rob Zombie's Lou Reed t-shirt, though.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Post 004)

Two weeks later, I've finally finished the third part of The Idiot. I was delayed a little because of Imperial Bedrooms and another weekend away where I didn't read a whole lot. Also, like the second part of this book, the third wasn't that great -- or that interesting. I'm really disappointed given the strength of the first part of the novel. Part I had a strong focus and worked as a whole, while the second and third parts have been meandering and don't work by themselves. They seem like Dostoevsky hit a certain page/word count and said "Okay, that does it for this part," much like he does with chapters. More than that, it seems like he only really had plans for the first part and just kept on going. There are some really strong moments here and there, but it's so plodding in other places as characters talk and talk and talk and say nothing. Yes, it's meant to be a bit of a satire of this level of society, but, fuck, I get it already.

In this part... nothing really happens. There are some small scandals that go nowhere and Ippolit, an 18-year old dying of consumption, spends three or four chapters reading this long preface to a suicide attempt that is really just a lot of blather. I did like the idea of Dostoevsky having a character say he's going to kill himself rather than die of a terminal illness and have almost everyone scoff and mock him for it, not believing he'll go through with it.

Prince Myshkin continues to be an interesting character, but still quite passive. He is alternatively loved and scorned by characters as some see him for the kind, Christ-like person he is, while others dismiss him as an 'idiot' (most do both at one point or another). There's some dancing around his relationship with Nastasya and also with Aglaia, the youngest daughter of a family he's acquainted with... except she's not quite right, much like Nastasya, changing moods midsentence. She goes from hating to loving to tolerating to liking to praising to scorning Myshkin and he goes along with it all because he's that kind of guy.

I honestly have no idea where this book is going. I don't know what it's about really. This book is definitely bloated and requires some editing down into a manageable form. Then again, maybe the fourth part will bring it all together and cause me to reassess what's come already. Though, god help me if Lebedyev shows up much more, because he is such an annoying character. The manner in which he speaks is so meaningless and filled with empty blather.

Normally, I don't get so caught up in characters, preferring to examine style and structure, but I can't see much of the latter. That's my big problem with what's here. Stylistically, it's typical Dostoevsky and it works better in some parts than others. He introduces some potential plotlines only to discard them -- his characters show little consistency in their actions at times -- Myshkin can barely speak at times...

Despite not loving the past, oh, 300 pages, I am looking forward to the last 150 to see what Dostoevsky does with this cast of characters and how it all comes together.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Watching in the Moment: Damages Season Two

Yesterday and today, Michelle and I watched all of Damages season two on DVD (except for the first two episodes, which we watched last weekend at her parents'). This is one of Michelle's shows and we watched the first season in a weekend on DVD last year at her urging. I enjoyed the first season. I didn't think the writing ever cohered, more focused on keeping you guessing and surprising you than logical storytelling or consistent characters, but it was interesting. I'll always take interesting and flawed over boring and perfectly executed. I like ambition and Damages has it. Or, had it in the first season. The second season wasn't bad, but it was definitely missing something with me... not bored, but not exactly caring either by the end of the final episode of the season. (I should warn anyone that I will spoil anything I feel like. Because what's the point of discussing it if I tiptoe around the payoff?)

Part of the problem stems from one of the show's signature features: throughout the season, it shows you glimpses of what happens in the future. For this season, it was six months from the start of the season. Little snippets, often with repeating bits that leave out essential parts to give these glimpses some drama. In this season, we saw Ellen (Rose Byrne) shooting someone (apparently). We eventually gained more information about other characters and, when it was all revealed, nothing was quite what it appeared given context and scenes not being edited to be suggestive. It's a risky gambit that structuring a show this way will pay off since you need these fragments of scenes to all add up into a coherent conclusion that would make sense if we hadn't seen the flashforwards. In this season, they don't. They make sense, but they don't cohere into a good scene. The resulting scene is just awful as they try to piece the fragments together from short little bite-size pieces into something larger and it's just Byrne delivering one suggestive line dramatically after another, things never coming together.

The show is about a law firm run by Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and, unlike the first season, the central case for this season doesn't dominate as much. Last season, it was an Enron-esque case with Ted Danson as the bad guy. This season, it's a corporate polluter, so things are bigger. And, yet, much less dramatic and interesting as the season meanders its way through the various subplots and little pieces of intrigue until there are so many twists and turns that you just don't care anymore.

After the first series of swerves, you just don't believe anything anymore, because you know that nothing is true until the end of the season. Anything can be changed, undone, made to be a work by some character on another. That doesn't mean it's bad or not entertaining, it just means that it's hard to get too wrapped up in any of it. You only get small little moments to latch onto. A character being arrested by the FBI just after his wife goes into labour, or Glenn Close being amazing, or William Hurt playing a monster that you know is a monster even when everything says he isn't, or Timothy Olyphant charming you even after you see that he's a bad guy, except not really. It amounts to a bunch of moments that never add up, that don't flow from one to the next, that can only be appreciated in the moment with no thought to the past or the future.

It's Vince Russo writing. "Nothing is true; everything is permitted." Make it up on the fly and keep 'em guessing.

I had planned to write a longer post, but there isn't much to the show beyond that. Some great acting by some, some mediocre acting by others, a lot of irrelevent subplots that lead nowhere, and a series of swerves that lose their power each time. It's a mystery show that doesn't play fair, so the mystery aspect is lost and you're left wondering what remains except watching in the moment... maybe I'll come back to this.

Smarkass Reviews: WWE Judgment Day 2006

Another $5 WWE pay-per-view on DVD from Wal-Mart. Since the last one I got was Judgment Day 2007, I thought I'd go with Judgment Day 2006 just for fun. Why not go back a year and see what the PPV was like then? Well, this one is from when the brand extension in the WWE resulted in brand-specific PPVs. Judgment Day was a Smackdown-only PPV. I kind of regret that I missed this period in the WWE since it sounds like fun and a way to keep PPVs interesting since you wouldn't get burned out on the same guys every three or four weeks. It's also a good way to give more midcard talent a chance to shine. There are a few matches here that I don't think would make it onto a WWE PPV right now (some for good reason), but it's nice to see them giving certain guys a spot on the PPV. I'm not sure they have the depth of talent to pull it off now -- but it would be interesting if they gave it a try again. Anyway, let's get onto Judgment Day 2006.

Match #1: WWE Tag Team Championship Match -- MNM (C) vs. Brian Kendrick & Paul London
The story going into this match was that London and Kendrick had beaten MNM five times already, just not for the belts. This was a great match to kick things off with Kendrick and London going at top speed whenever on offence, but Mercury and Nitro played the classic tag team heels perfectly. They worked the ref, cheated as much as possible, and even got Melina into the act a few times. There was some good back and forth in spots along with double-teaming by MNM that ultimately backfired. What annoyed me about this match was how much young, raw talent there was here and, now, only one of these guys is still with the WWE (well, I guess Mercury has signed with them again, but hasn't been seen officially, so...). This match kicked off a yearlong reign as tag champs by London and Kendrick, too. Really, just some really good tag team wrestling. I also liked the stuff after the match where Melina and Nitro turned on Mercury. It made sense given the story and gave the PPV a sense of importance beyond just the title change.
Winners and NEW WWE Tag Team Champions: Brian Kendrick & Paul London [***1/2]

Match #2: Chris Benoit vs. Finlay
Later in the PPV is the finals of the King of the Ring tournament and these two met in the first round where Finlay won by cheating. So, it's a bit of a grudge match between two of the stiffest workers in the business. This was just a class in fantastic mat-based wrestling mixed with hard-hitting, smashmouth action. The match began with the two locked up, trying to overpower the other, even rolling outside the ring (still locked up) until it broke. Then, it was a series of holds before it got into just brutal action. Both men just beat the other down, Finlay trying to cheat a few times to no avail -- until Finlay made the mistake of taunting Benoit a bit too much. Benoit won via the Crossface, but both men looked fantastic. I turned to Michelle and said that, in a better world, this would have been the main event. Instead, it was just the best match of the night. At this point in the show, I was really impressed with what I was seeing. That wouldn't last entirely.
Winner: Chris Benoit [****]

Match #3: Jillian Hall vs. Melina
After the break-up of MNM, Melina went into this match distracted. It was a fine enough Divas match. Leagues ahead of the shit we usually see now, but nothing too special either. Jillian won despite Melina grabbing the rope (the ref didn't see). After the match, there was a run-in between Melina and Kristal that was... well, lame. This was a nice breather match after the first two, both of which were great and were also decent lengths.
Winner: Jillian Hall [*1/2]

Match #4: WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match -- Gregory Helmes (C) vs. Super Crazy
I didn't know what to expect of this match since I haven't seen a lot of either man. Bits and pieces here and there, never at a PPV. Helms is the heel champ, while Super Crazy the face that jumps around a lot. The story of this match is somewhat similar to the current one involving Douglas Williams as X-Division Champion in TNA where Williams wrestles a mat-based style against the high-flyers. Now, Helms does high-flying stuff, too, but stuck to the ground mostly here, because he's the heel. Honestly, this didn't impress me really. Neither man ever really got things going. It just puttered along in 2nd gear, never rising above a certain level. Helms won via cheating and I didn't care. The first match that felt like a let down of the show.
Winner and STILL WWE Cruiserweight Champion: Gregory Helms [*3/4]

Interlude
Between the matches here, there was a great backstage segment where Smackdown General Manager Teddy Long (hey, he's still got that job despite being demoted/fired in story at least once) had a run-in with Johnny Nitro and Melina that resulted in both being fired. Good stuff and built on the two matches involving them well. This PPV had a solid little MNM story running through it for the first half.

Match #5: Kurt Angle vs. Mark Henry
I wasn't expecting a lot from this. Kurt Angle is one of the best in the business and Mark Henry is a great big man, but that doesn't mean it would be a great match necessarily. The story here was simple: Mark Henry keeps jumping on Kurt Angle while Angle is laid out on tables, and Angle would like Kenry to stop. The storytelling here was really strong where Henry tried to wrestle his usual 'big man squash little man' match, while Angle outsmarted him, countering any power moves until making a mistake of his own. I love it when a wrestler of a certain skill level wrestles at that level with intelligence in the ring. Angle does so here. Eventually, the match resulted in Henry winning via countout, but, after the match, Angle got revenge by laying him out, sticking the ankle lock on, and, then, hitting him with the Angle Slam on the announce table. While Angle lost the match technically, he came away on top. Not an amazing match, but great storytelling. Better than I expected.
Winner: Mark Henry [***]

Match #6: King of the Ring Finals -- Booker T vs. Bobby Lashley
The pre-match segment here with Booker T was gold. The more I see of Booker T, the more I realise how underrated he is when considering the best wrestlers of the past 20 years. That he was the only guy to really see any lasting success from the WCW guys after the WWE bought that company speaks volumes. Sharmell running through the list of kings Booker will be better than was great, especially when she said Martin Luther King and Booker responded with "What?!?" before being won over. This match was also better than I expected. Lashley was limited in the ring to some pretty basic power moves, nothing flashy -- but Booker T brought the flash. Lots of agility and overacting to make things look better. I wasn't a big fan of the finish with Finlay coming down, but since Lashley beat him to earn a spot in the finals and Finlay later became a member of King Booker's royal court, it works. A bonus on the DVD is the coronation of Booker on the next Smackdown, which is worth it for William Regal doing the ceremony and ending things by repeating "Long live King Booker" over and over again.
Winner and the 2006 King of the Ring: Booker T King Booker [**1/2]

Match #7: The Undertaker vs. The Great Khali
This was just after Khali first entered the WWE (he's been there for over four years? shit...) and took out the Undertaker immediately. The sole goal was to make Khali seem like a big threat, which happens. 'Taker puts him over big time, while doing his best to carry the match despite Khali knowing all of three moves. It doesn't really work, but it sells Khali as a threat for the way he just destroys the Undertaker at the end.
Winner: The Great Khali [*]

Match #8: WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match -- Rey Mysterio (C) vs. JBL
Hmm, with Rey Rey becoming a two-time world champ this past Sunday, this match suddenly gains new meaning as we get to see what sort of champion he was the first time around. Well, in the weeks leading up to this match, he lost to Mark Henry, the Great Khali, and Kane. Just crushed by all of them. The entire match is JBL kicking the shit out of Mysterio, just beating him down again and again with brutal, punishing moves. Tossing him from one side of the ring to the other like a rag doll. Taunting him with allusions to Eddie Guerrero. Basically, JBL makes Rey Mysterio his bitch in this match and Rey wins anyway. Rey is the underdog even when champion, which doesn't work at all. I hope they do things better this time around, because this was a good match until the finish where we learn two things: 1) Rey Mysterio can take a superhuman amount of punishment; 2) JBL can be beaten with, like, three moves.
Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Rey Mysterio [**1/2]

Overall, this was better than I thought it would be -- and better than the Judgment Day that would follow it. Only a few matches were letdowns, while the show began quite strong. Granted, the matches that bested my expectations weren't fantastic, I wasn't disappointed with this show at all.

Show Rating: 7.0 (out of 10)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Smarkass Comments: WWE Smackdown 06.25.10

I missed Smackdown two weeks ago and was doing online things while watching last week's episode, so I didn't pay close enough attention to warrant any comments (even my brief, cursory sort). So, it's been a while since I talked Smackdown. This episode was solid overall. Lots of focus on in-ring action with the right amount of promo work mixed in.

* Teddy Long one-upping Drew McIntyre at the beginning of the show was great.

* The opening match was pretty good. I liked Jack Swagger's promo before it began. During it, Michelle and I got into our first Swagger-related debate: his win/loss record while champ. I thought he should have been booked stronger against the midcard talent he faced like John Morrison, Kofi Kingston, and MVP, while she thought that him winning all of those matches wouldn't make as much sense. I had no problem with Swagger dropping matches to guys like the Undertaker or Randy Orton since they're established main eventers and he was new to that level. However, his losses to the midcard guys were unnecessary. They shouldn't have been easy victories or anything, but I think Swagger should have won all of those matches. Show that the confidence he's gotten from being champ has made him better in the ring -- more determined and focused.

* The other argument was over the ankle lock finish. Michelle hated it and how the Big Show reacted, thinking that he needed to do more to get out of it, while I argued in favour of what happened. Michelle and I don't really argue, we're not one of those couples, but this was one of those rare times where it almost devolved into angry shouting. Because we have a good sense of perspective on matters... Some people will no doubt criticise them for having Swagger become more of a Kurt Angle copy, but I like that. Someone from Swagger's background would look to Angle as a person to emulate, so it makes sense. I just wish they would have gone in that direction sooner a bit more. Besides, I love the ankle lock. It's probably the submission move I see as the most effective given the mobility of the applyer, the pain it inflicts, and the difficulty in getting out of it.

* The six-man tag match was pretty typical stuff. Still not a fan of Hawkings and Archer. I like how they had the senior team win with the youngest guy taking more of the punishment, pushing the idea of experience winning out.

* The McIntyre/Hardy match didn't impress me as much as it did others. I found it to be a great argument for why more time doesn't necessarily equal better quality. Until it came back from its last commercial break, it was pretty slow and plodding. Shit we'd seen before. I also didn't like the placement of the Michinoku Driver variation from the top rope. That looked like a match-ending move and it was done very early into the match. I didn't buy Hardy kicking out. At all. It was a just the wrong place for that move and that kind of soured me on the rest of the match. The post-match visa shit with McIntyre made me wish that he had won only for Teddy Long to then inform him that he will be able to celebrate this victory with his family... IN SCOTLAND. It would have been a nice twist on the Powers That Be helping Drew after he loses.

* The Cody Rhodes promo was awesome. Dashing Cody Rhodes finally has character. It was great arrogant heel work, especially lines like "I can literally hear you getting fatter" and his mocking of Husky Harris. He even worked in his entrance of coming out backwards looking over his shoulder. It was really good and has me thinking that Rhodes is going places. I've liked his ring work for a while, but thought his character was lacking. This may be what he needs to get a decent midcard push.

* The more I see of Team LayCool, the more I love them. They're funny -- and the addition of Kaval as their NXT rookie just adds visual comedy anytime all three are together on screen.

* The final brawl between Kane and the Straight Edge Society was well done. The three-on-one bit kept things moving smoothly while making Kane seem unstoppable. CM Punk running away into the night was goofy as fuck, but whatever.

* I do have to question the decision to give Rey Rey the belt when he was going to miss the first TV taping after Fatal 4-Way because of a vacation. I'm a big believer that your world champion should be the focus of your show unless there's a good for otherwise. I criticised TNA heavily for not having RVD on last week's Impact (this week wasn't much better for him showing up very briefly). The world champ is the face of the company/brand/show and his absence should come with a good reason. But, that's me.

As I said, a solid episode. Not entirely sure where everything is going as we build to Money in the Bank, though. Probably the Swagger/Mysterio match, Kane/CM Punk, and the Smackdown MitB match? Seems solid enough. We'll see.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Top Five -- Lou Reed Songs

I love lists and always enjoy doing the wrestling top five at 411mania when I can, so why not bring that here? Whenever I get in the mood, I'll do a top five list of some kind. No honourable mentions, just the top five. Since I've been in a Lou Reed mood lately, I'll do my top five favourite Lou Reed songs. This includes his stuff with the Velvet Underground, obviously. I'm including links to youtube videos featuring the songs as well so you can hear them in some form or another -- if there's the original (audio with a static picture), I'll use that.

5. "Coney Island Baby" (Coney Island Baby): I love the guitar work in this song, but also the odd shift where it goes from Lou Reed talking about wanting to play football in high school to ideas of love... I've never really figured this song out, but it's just a beautiful song. It builds well from the slow, quiet beginning. There's a lot of passion in it. The guitar playing is by Bob Kulick, I believe, and is really different from standard Lou Reed songs. Very intricate work. I can just listen to this song over and over.

4. "New Age" (Loaded): While I've heard demos or live versions of most of these other songs that have variations, "New Age" is the only one with two radically different sets of lyrics. They both share a chorus (albeit with some slightly altered lines), but the verses are very different. The studio version involves the "fat, blonde actress" and wanting her autograph. It's a song about finding a new life as you reach a certain age -- hitting that point in your life where you're not young anymore and need to change. The other version, which you can hear on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live vol. 1 (and Tori Amos covered on Strange Little Girls) is more about going out to bars and clubs in New York. Something about the lines "I'll come running to ya / Hey, baby, if you want me" strikes me. More than any other song on this list, I can't point to what about it touches me. I just dig it.

3. "Perfect Day" (Transformer): A little cliche to stick this song on the list since it's one of those songs everyone knows, but... it's really fucking good. Sad and self-aware at the same time. The lines that always stick with me are "You made me forget myself / I thought I was someone else / Someone good." A nice little hint at the meaning of love, but in a different context. This also just has one of Reed's better vocal performances. I also really like the demo for the song where he sings about a 'sumer's day' most of the time. I kind of like that version of the lyrics more, because it makes the times when he calls it a perfect day stand out more. It was just a summer's day, but it became a perfect day... something cool about that.

2. "Caroline Says II" (Berlin): The saddest, most heartbreaking song I've ever heard. This song is the culmination of Reed's various "(girl's name) Says" songs, building on "Stephanie Says." This song shares some lyrics with "Stephanie Says," but takes things even further by detailing the abuse Caroline suffers from her boyfriend/husband. It's slow and sad, this song. To make things worse (sort of), on Berlin, this song is followed by "The Kids," which is probably the second saddest song I've ever heard. The opening lyrics to this song are the worst -- just a kick to the gut. My heart sinks every time I hear them.

1. "Rock & Roll" (Loaded): A song about how fantastic music is. How it can change your life, save your life. Life can awful, but if you put on the right music, suddenly, it's all right. I'm always amused at how aware the five-year old girl is in this song, though. What a depressed little kid. If she's already rolling her eyes at her parents' commercialism, I can't imagine she'd make it past the age of twelve without killing herself, rock music or no rock music. Also, this song contains a very important message that everyone of my generation seems to have forgotten: YOU CAN DANCE TO ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC! Still, the core message here isn't about rock music, it's just about the glory of music. How powerful it is and what it can do. The song also has a great little imperfection where after the first line of the lyrics, the sound of the recording gets louder. I love little things like that.

If you haven't before, check out the songs. They're all fantastic.

Hell's Kitchen Episodes 07.05 & 07.06

These episodes were just brutal to watch as the Blue Team just kicked the shit out of the Red Team until the Red Team decided to just kill itself. The fourth episode ended with Scott and Autumn switching teams and, wow, did that work out for the Blue Team as Scott continued to suck despite having a giant ego. I know that the producers use footage to tell a specific story, but Scott just provided so many soundbytes about how great he is and, then, screwed up so many times in the kitchen. Was there anyone who wanted him on the show by the end of the sixth episode? It was the kind of obnoxious bullshit that gets you dumped by your girlfriend when she sees it. (I am genuinely curious how many relationships have been ruined because of reality TV shows. Also, how many suicides? There's got to be some...)

* In the sixth episode, Ramsay kicked the Red Team out of the kitchen and had his TWO sous chefs finish the service. The Blue Team then seemingly stopped making any mistakes, almost as the capper to the two-episode arc of 'Hey, the Blue Team owns the Red Team.'

* Hey, wouldn't the people making the show know about Siobhan's allergies to cleaning products ahead of time? If so, what the fuck was that shit? Because it wasn't good TV, it was just stupid.

* There's something very uncomfortable about watching this show devote 30-60 seconds on the guys on the Blue Team ogling the one girl on their team at a spa.

* Later in that episode, we got an odd piece of the chefs hanging out where one revealed that she has a giant porn collection and another revealed that she used to work in S&M... completely pointless beyond just having those conversations in the middle of the show. Oddly set up with Salvatore, the Italian (who's lived in America for nearly twenty years, but speaks with an accent and doesn't actually seem to know English) coaxing the women into sharing stories like that. You wouldn't be wrong to think that they'd accidentally stuck footage from another show in...

* I was oddly disappointed that the challenge involving the pigs didn't involve the chefs personally killing the pigs they'd then cook. In the teaser last week, I immediately came up with a scenerio where Siobhan was crying, holding a knife while Ramsay yelled at her to kill the pig and she sobbed that she doesn't want to kill the pig. I'd watch that.

* This show makes me afraid to eat out...

* A little girl drawing Ramsay saying "You donkey!"? Priceless.

* Ramsay yelling at Jason had me thinking that we were two seconds away from Jason shoving Ramsay's head into the deep fryer. I'm always surprised at the lack of violence in the show. You got some angry British guy yelling at you for an unnecessarily long time after you've admitted your wrongdoing and promised to do better... yeah, I'm thinking you may want to punch that fucker. Then again, Ramsay would destroy anyone who tried.

* This show brings out more violent impulses in me than wrestling. Why?

* Judging from the teaser, Benjamin getting moved to the Red Team doesn't help one bit. In fact, he seems ready to kill himself and everyone else. I kind of want to know why.

I definitely like having two episodes in a single night. I'd rather breeze through this than have it dragged out. Also, these people suck so much that I kind of need to see two of them kicked off each time I watch it. Until next week.

Smarkass Comments: WWE NXT 06.22.10

Because of the NBA draft tomorrow night, the Score aired NXT a day early this week. Because of watching some Babylon 5 with Michelle, I came in fifteen minutes late. And, because of writing a comic review, I only payed attention to the matches really -- and the final segment since I finished the review. Something about NXT just doesn't capture my interest. Maybe it's knowing for sure that at least half of these guys will go nowhere. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. Some brief random thoughts:

* Man, watching the Kaval/Eli Cottonwood match was like watching an argument for everything that's wrong with the WWE style of booking matches and wrestlers. On one hand, we have Kaval who fills matches with stunning offence that's innovative and fun to watch. On the other, we have a slow, plodding big man who doesn't do much except not fall down and do simplistic power moves like punches, chops, and slams. Kaval carried the match and gets the loss. I know, I know, wins and losses don't matter really, but, fuck, would it kill them to push the guy who can actually fucking wrestle? Is that too much to ask?

* Joe Hennig is solid in the ring. Not as good as Kaval, but definitely someone to keep an eye on.

* Cody Rhodes going over Luck Cannon made total sense. Cannon didn't look that good in there at all.

* The final segment was pretty solid with each rookie given 45 seconds to sell themselves to the fans and pros. Alex Riley was good. Kaval was okay. Titus O'Neil had some good passion. Hennig was short and sweet. Cottonwood seems genuinely creepy. Showtime was just funny. Cannon was dull. Husky Harris's attack on Striker worked with what Rhodes did last week.

It's odd to see rookie types wrestle WWE style in successive matches, because, fuck, that's a boring style when done by lesser talents. Kaval stood out this week. Hennig is solid. The rest, I don't know. As I said to Michelle tonight, I could really take or leave this show.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Smarkass Comments: WWE Raw 06.21.10

I'm torn on tonight's episode of Raw as it did some things very well, others not as well, and the rest was just typical Raw bullshit. As always, any lack of a guest host is a good thing.

* The opening with Vince, Sheamus, and John Cena was strong. Vince is always good on the mic, but Sheamus really won me over. Michelle wasn't in the living room for the first bit of the show and came in asking what I was laughing at so hard. The answer: Sheamus and his little 'I don't want to win the title like that' fake-out. His delivery was very strong and shows he's really growing. I don't mind him as WWE Champion right now at all.

* I oddly hope that the anonymous General Manager is Triple H. For some reason, I'm very keen on the idea of Trips as GM to play up his McMahon connection (why not since it's common knowledge since that feud with Orton last year...), allow him to stay out of the ring somewhat, and keep him out of the title picture for the most part. That made me think that Vice was going to screw Sheamus out of the belt in the main event as payback for what he did to Trips back at Extreme Rules. But, this story is intriguing. I wonder if this is the last we'll see of Bret Hart. Probably not, but it would be weird if it were.

* Chris Jericho and Evan Bourne put on the best Raw match in a long time. The added stipulation that Jericho would leave the WWE if he lost had me genuinely worried since there are rumours of issues between Jericho and Vince backstage over Jericho hosting that Downfall gameshow (despite Jericho getting permission ahead of time). But, he and Bourne really put on a good show. Jericho won in a very Jericho fashion (outsmarting his opponent), while Bourne looked good in the process. After the match, Jericho helping Bourne up only to shove him back down was fantastic -- Bourne's reaction was great; he looked like he was about to cry. Raw was off to a very good start.

* Then, we got a taste of Natalya and Tamina in the ring and FINALLY some Divas that can actually wrestle. It's been far too long since we saw Natalya in the ring. I don't mind it too much when I think of the matches she's had with other Divas where she's obviously moving in slow motion so they can keep up. Sadly, we only got a taste of this before the NXT (or, it looks like, Nexus) guys came out.

* That Nexus promo was weak. The apologies were just awful, especially the over-the-top apology to the kids and parents. Wade Barrett's bit was the only good part.

* The Miz getting involved with the Edge/Randy Orton feud is interesting. Are Edge and Miz allies or did it just work out that way?

* Zack Ryder is a little mystifying regarding any push, but, as I told Michelle, he's easy to remember -- and standing out at all is half the battle. In the ring, his match with Morrison was average.

* The Cena/Sheamus match was solid. Not sure about Cena being so knocked about because of being thrown into the steps. That didn't fit exactly with what we've seen. The Nexus beatdown was just odd and tame compared to what we've seen. They teased Vince as the man behind it and, thankfully, didn't go in that direction. That final bit was a little too drawn out for me. It wasn't tense, it was boring.

All in all, the show started well, dragged in the middle, and had a small recovery at the end. Hopefully, we'll see more matches of the Jericho/Bourne calibre on Raw in the future, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Smarkass Comments: TNA Top Ten Rankings #2

Last night, the second round of Top Ten Rankings in TNA was revealed and some of the choices seem questionable to me. So, out of curiosity, I thought I would go over the guys listed in the first top ten and the guys in the new top ten to see what they actually accomplished in the ring over the past month. The first number (or UR for unraked) is the current ranking, while the number in parenthesis is their previous ranking. (Also, the top three contenders haven't been determined. They had a threeway last night to determine the #1 contender, but the match ended in a countout. Somehow.)

UR. Kazarian (#10)
* May 21 Impact: Won eight-man battle royal to earn the #10 spot after Kurt Angle gave up his spot.
* May 28 Impact: Defeated Jay Lethal.
* June 3 Impact: Lost in a threeway match against Jay Lethal (winner) and AJ Styles (#2). Styles was pinned.
* June 10 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* Slammiversary VIII: Lost to Kurt Angle.
Record: 2-2 (singles).
Thoughts: His only victories were early ones, including one against a guy who won a threeway featuring Kaz the following week and he lost at a PPV against Kurt Angle. He deserved to drop out of the top ten.

UR. Rob Terry (#8)
* May 21 Impact: Lost to Orlando Jordan.
* May 28 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* June 3 Impact: Beat Desmond Wolfe (#7) and Orlando Jordan with Abyss (#5) in a tag team match.
* June 10 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* Slammiversary VIII: Did not wrestle.
Record: 0-1 (singles); 1-0 (tag).
Thoughts: No big wins, lots of missed action because of an injury, he deserved to drop out of the top ten.

10. Kurt Angle (UR)
* May 21 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* May 28 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* June 3 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* June 10 Impact: Defeated Amazing Red.
* Slammiversary VIII: Defeated Kazarian (#10)
Record: 2-0 (singles).
Thoughts: Mostly nothing, but two wins including beating the #10 contender, so taking his spot makes sense.

9. Desmond Wolfe (#7)
* May 21 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* May 28 Impact: Defeated Jeff Hardy (#3).
* June 3 Impact: Lost to Abyss (#5) and Rob Terry (#8) in a tag match with Orlando Jordan.
* June 10 Impact: Defeated Jay Lethal, Jeff Hardy (#3), Mr. Anderson (#4), and Abyss (#5) in an eight-man tag match with AJ Styles (#2) and Beer Money, Inc. (Robert Roode and James Storm).
* Slammiversary VIII: Lost to Abyss (#5) in a Monster's Ball match.
Record: 1-1 (singles); 1-1 (tag).
Thoughts: Not sure Wolfe deserved to drop these two spots. He was split in tag matches, which aren't as important as singles matches. His singles win was over the #3 contender, while his loss was against the #5 contender at a PPV. This seems like a wash to me. No improvement, but no falling in the stats either.

8. "The Pope" D'Angelo Dinero (#6)
* May 21 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* May 28 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* June 3 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* June 10 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* Slammiversary VIII: Did not wrestle.
Record: None (injured).
Thoughts: Being injured sucks, but he should have been dropped until he could come back and prove himself worthy of a spot.

7. Jay Lethal (UR)
* May 21 Impact: Defeated Beer Money, Inc. in a tag match with Rob Van Dam (C)
* May 28 Impact: Lost to Kazarian (#10).
* June 3 Impact: Defeated AJ Styles (#2) and Kazarian (#10) in a threeway match by pinning Styles.
* June 10 Impact: Lost to AJ Styles (#2), Desmond Wolfe (#7), and Beer Money in an eight-man tag match with Jeff Hardy (#3), Mr. Anderson (#4), and Abyss (#5).
* Slammiversary VIII: Defeated AJ Styles (#2).
Record: 2-1 (singles); 1-1 (tag).
Thoughts: Two wins over the #2 contender means jumping into the top ten. I might have placed him even higher, maybe #6.

6. Samoa Joe (#9)
* May 21 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* May 28 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* June 3 Impact: Lost to Rob Van Dam (C) in a fourway match with Sting (#1) and Matt Morgan.
* June 10 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* Slammiversary VIII: Did not wrestle.
Record: 0-1 (singles).
Thoughts: Not much action except for a loss in a fourway. He didn't take the pin, though. He should have fallen or, at minimum, stayed where he was, not jumped three spots.

5. Sting (#1)
* May 21 Impact: Lost to Jeff Hardy (#3).
* May 28 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* June 3 Impact: Lost to Rob Van Dam (C) in a fourway with Samoa Joe (#9) and Matt Morgan.
* June 10 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* Slammiversary VIII: Lost to Rob Van Dam (C)
Record: 0-3 (singles).
Thoughts: He should have fallen further after three losses, including a shot at the title.

4. AJ Styles (#2)
* May 21 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* May 28 Impact: Defeated Mr. Anderson (#4).
* June 3 Impact: Lost to Jay Lethal in a threeway match with Kazarian (#10). He was pinned.
* June 10 Impact: Defeated Jay Lethal, Jeff Hardy (#3), Mr. Anderson (#4), and Abyss (#5) in an eight-match tag match with Desmond Wolfe (#7) and Beer Money.
* Slammiversary VIII: Lost to Jay Lethal.
Record: 1-2 (singles); 1-0 (tag).
Thoughts: Two losses to Lethal, but one over Anderson along with the tag win. Dropping a couple of spots makes sense.

#3/2/1? Abyss (#5)
* May 21 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* May 28 Impact: Defeated Orlando Jordan.
* June 3 Impact: Defeated Desmond Wolfe (#7) and Orlando Jordan in a tag match with Rob Terry (#8).
* June 10 Impact: Lost to AJ Styles (#2), Desmond Wolfe (#7), and Beer Money in an eight-man tag match with Jay Lethal, Jeff Hardy (#3), and Mr. Anderson (#4)
* Slammiversary VIII: Defeated Desmond Wolfe (#7) in a Monster's Ball match.
Record: 2-0 (singles); 1-1 (tag).
Thoughts: A winning record, including a PPV win means advancement.

#3/2/1? Mr. Anderson (#4)
* May 21 Impact: Did not wrestle.
* May 28 Impact: Lost to AJ Styles (#2).
* June 3 Impact: Lost to Robert Roode.
* June 10 Impact: Lost to AJ Styles (#2), Desmond Wolfe (#7), and Beer Money in an eight-man tag match with Jay Lethal, Jeff Hardy (#3), and Abyss (#5).
* Slammiversary VIII: Defeated Beer Money in a tag match with Jeff Hardy (#3).
Record: 0-2 (singles); 1-1 (tag).
Thoughts: Wow, two losses including one to an unranked guy with his sole victory being a tag match -- albeit a PPV one. He deserved to drop some spots, not possibly be the number one contender. What the fuck is this shit?

#3/2/1? Jeff Hardy (#3)
* May 21 Impact: Defeated Sting (#1).
* May 28 Impact: Lost to Desmond Wolfe (#7).
* June 3 Impact: Defeated James Storm.
* June 10 Impact: Lost to AJ Styles (#2), Desmond Wolfe (#7), and Beer Money in an eight-man tag match with Jay Lethal, Mr. Anderson (#4), and Abyss (#5).
* Slammiversary VIII: Defeated Beer Money with Mr. Anderson (#4).
Record: 2-1 (singles); 1-1 (tag).
Thoughts: A win over the number one contender is always a plus, but he did lose to Desmond Wolfe. Throw in a victory over James Storm and a PPV tag victory to overmatch the eight-man match, Hardy came out a winner this month.

Based on these numbers, about half of this list is right. Samoa Joe, Mr. Anderson, and the Pope stand out as the three guys who are ranked higher than they deserve, while Jay Lethal and Desmond Wolfe are ranked a little low. Were I to do the rankings, mine would probably look like this:

10. Rob Terry
9. Kurt Angle
8. Samoa Joe
7. Mr. Anderson
6. Desmond Wolfe
5. Sting
4. Jay Lethal
3. AJ Styles
2. Jeff Hardy
1. Abyss

Just a little different...

Smarkass Comments: WWE NXT 06.15.10

Actually caught all of NXT this week with its 8 pm Thursday airing on the Score here in Canada. Some thoughts:

* MVP's delivery of the explanation to the rookies for last week's beatdown was quite strong. Sometimes, I forget how good MVP is on the mic and, then, he's given a chance to speak. Not as bombastic or jokey as he usually does, this was just straight talk. The beatdown was a lesson/warning/initiation/challenge.

* The Kaval/Alex Riley match was alright, but lacking. Considering Kaval's skill level and Riley being FCW champion, I expected a lot from this one. Kaval wasn't moving too quick, while Riley never got past the most basic of 'I'm bigger than my opponent so I'll just hit him a lot' moves. LayCool on commentary was funny. Not sure about the decision to give Riley the win. Like Danielson last 'season,' Kaval has been paired with pros that make us wonder what the fuck is going on and he's made to lose despite his obvious accomplishments in the ring. There's a theory that since he's so good/respected, he can put others over -- but I'd rather just see a guy who is built up as great in the ring just be great in the ring and win. Kaval's personality isn't as likable as Danielson's -- it lends itself better to the violent heel that dominates his opponents. Plus, this match had the awful finish of Guy A beats the shit out of Guy B until Guy B hits finishing move out of nowhere for the win. I'd rather just a fluke roll-up or small package. Guys just hitting finishers out of nowhere makes you wonder why they waited so long.

* The pros comments after that first match where awful. Morrison seems to be losing his mic skills as he goes, while Ryder was... meh. I don't get the love for him.

* The mixed pro/rookie tag match was alright, but the difference between "Lucky" Cannon and Joe Hennig in the ring is so obvious that it made this hard to take too seriously. Cody Rhodes's tear down of Cannon after the match was spot-on. Though, I did like Mark Henry sticking up for his rookie even if he did use the word 'lucky' about two hundred times.

I like the format of the show, especially with the pros watching matches and taking notes. Kaval and Riley underwhelmed a bit, but the stuff with LayCool was funny. Joe Hennig looked strong, while Cannon was forgettable. A solid show.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chad's question number 2

Yes, it's that time again! And, it's not really suprising that at least one of his questions would have to do with wrestling :p

What's been your favourite wrestling match and/or story so far?

Well, I actually have a HORRIBLE memory in general, but especially when it comes to something that even now I haven't really really gotten in to. I more just watch it with Chad as a way to spend time together and we have fun making fun of people and getting excited when something cool happens. So, to figure out what my favourite match or story has been so far I thought would be kind of difficult, if only because I don't remember most of them. Then I though, well, the ones that I do remember must either be because I liked them a lot or because they were really stupid, of which I can easily discern the two. So... based off of my memory, here are a few of my favs!

1. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker at Wrestlemania in 2009 (I forget which one that was, but since everyone seemed to like that match, I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about). We watched that one together at a bar down the street and I think it was the most fun I've ever had with wrestling. The bar was pretty packed (unlike other PPV nights) and I got so caught up in the quality and suspense that match had. I still remember how I felt during that match even if I don't really remember most of what happened. I won't say that the whole feud is my favourite, but that match itself is definitely at the top of my list.

2. The Macho Man and the Ultimate Warrior: only because of the hilarious promos the two of those guys give!!!

3. Shawn Michaels and JBL. At the time, I HATED this story because I couldn't see why Shawn Michaels would be such a wimp and willingly be under someone like JBL. But I see now that that was a smart thing and it also was able to bring out emotion in me. It brought out the ass that JBL is and set up a good retirement story for him. I think that the timing of this story and how well played out it all was was really just perfect and only upon reflecting on it do I think that it was really good.

4. This new Kane/The Undertaker thing. I guess it's a little too premature to list this one, but I'm really really looking forward to seeing what happens with this and I'm glad that they're using Kane in a scary but not too stupidly monster-like way.

So You Think You Can Dance

Hello again!

As you may or may not know, I really enjoy watching American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. SYTYCD just had it's first voting show last night, which I taped and watched this morning. I haven't really watched any of the show up until now, which is typically what I do for American Idol, but not for SYTYCD because even though they may not all be the best dancers, you typically get really good dancers in the auditions and future tryouts.

This year the producers of SYTYCD have decided to change the format of the competition (side note: this word always makes me think of Kozlov saying 'I demand better competition!'... and then I chuckle to myself...) where instead of each of the contestants being paired up with each other, as seen in previous seasons, there are fewer contestants (11 vs. the usual 20-24) and each are paired with a different 'all-star' dancer who has been on the show before and are known for the style of dance they will be dancing in. At first, I didn't like this idea mainly because I thought I would spend most of the time watching the all-stars that I know from different seasons and not really care about the contestants. However, I didn't find this to be the case at all. I also was worried from the competition's perspective that the all-stars would make all of the dancers look so good that it would be difficult to determine who was actually a better dancer. After thinking about it, I don't think that was the case either. In fact, as the show neared the end, it became more obvious as to which contestants were able to step up to their all-star's level (all of which were absolutely fantastic and the show did a great job at picking them!) and which contestants were being dragged along for the ride.

My favourite routine was by far the third dance of the night which was a hip-hop routine choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon and was danced by all-star Comfort and contestant Jose. It was so amazing and well done that I think I watched it over about 10 times in full and just the opening sequence another 10 at least.

All in all, I really like this new set up of the show and I think that it makes the quality of the dancing on the show much higher. While I didn't watch any of the judges comments (I really only like watching the dancing parts of the show), I don't think there was a single flop routine the entire night!

So, if you're a fan of the show, or dancing, at all, I would check it out this season for sure!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chad's question number 1

Hi everyone!

I am in a strange state of waiting around this morning with nothing to do at work, so I figured why not make more of a presence on this blog!

In an effort to stimulate discussion on here, Chad has written me 5 questions, all of which I will attempt to answer throughout the week (or maybe 2... we'll see!).

Question #1: While you haven't read a lot of it yet, how does the book Pride and Prejudice match up against the various film and TV adaptations you've seen? What's been your favourite version to date?

Just to give you a little bit of background info, I have been a big fan of Pride and Prejudice for a few years now, since my old roommate showed me the BBC series version. Since then, I have watched many BBC versions of Jane Austen novels and have loved most of them. For Christmas this past year, Chad bought me a book of several Jane Austen novels and the first one that I started reading was Pride and Prejudice because it is the one that I know the best and my favourite. I also own the newer blockbuster version of Pride and Prejudice.

I would say that by far I like the BBC series version the best, even compared to the novel. I think this is because in the movie, you really get to see all of the grandiose sets and costumes that you really don't get much description of in the novel. However, I do really enjoy reading the book after seeing the movies because it gives me a bit more to base the imagry off of. One thing I really do like about the book is the description of subtle details in people's body language and tone of voice, etc. that you can easily miss in the movies or just aren't included, as it is a very long story. Definately the movie with Keira Knightley is my least favourite. I just don't think that she is a good choice for the role and the whole thing was just too Hollywood and too condensed to get the same feel from it as the novel originally intended. Though, I don't necessarily think that remakes of movies need to reflect the original, it's just hard not to notice it in a story that you love so much and when it's almost impossible not to compare it to the novel or the BBC version.

Question #2 to come shortly! Well, probably tomorrow :)

Michelle

Bloomsday 2010: Some Words on Ulysses

Today is Bloomsday, the day that marks worldwide celebration surrounding Ulysses by James Joyce since the novel takes place on June 16, 1904. I just remember that and don't have anything planned to mark the occasion -- nor have I ever in the past. I just wanted to talk about Ulysses briefly since it's a novel that holds a big place in my life.

It's been almost four years since I've read Ulysses. That was my second time reading the novel, which I'd read a year-and-a-half previously when I took a one-semester special topics course on it. The class was taught by Michael Groden and I was very pleased to learn on the first day that he's a rather prominent Joyce scholar. The class was focused on Ulysses, but we began by reading Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and ended with a selection from Finnegans Wake. You need context after all. That course is probably still one of my favourites from my six years of university. My favourite, actually. It was a very relaxed course where the schedule was one or two episodes from the novel each week, a weekly quiz on plot points to encourage us to keep up with the reading, a presentation, and two essays. No final exam, no testing of what was actually taught. It was a course where the goal was to genuinely learn about and interact with this stunning work of fiction. I never took notes, I simply sat in the front row (a rarity for me) and listened. It was a wonderful way to experience the novel.

The first time reading Ulysses isn't great. You stumble around trying to figure out what's happening more than anything. Joyce's writing is obtuse and difficult in a lot of places, so just understanding what's happening is a chore. You don't really have time to appreciate what's he's doing a lot of the time. You obviously appreciate it nonetheless, it's just that you're distracted by the plot. Reading it in a large group like that class is a great motivator and place where you can feed on the energy of everyone. You're all in it together, all wanting to understand and work your way through -- and having a guy like Groden to lead things made it fantastic. I reread it during the late summer of 2006 prior to moving to Windsor to do my Master's and liked it more. With the plot not a strong concern, there was more freedom to revel in the style and the language of Joyce's writing.

Ulysses consists of 18 chapters (usually called episodes) all done in different styles, each also representing a portion of Odysseus's journey in The Odyssey. It focuses on Leopold Bloom on a single day with Stephen Dedalus playing a supporting role. The novel begins with Dedalus for three episodes, spends the next 14 with Bloom as he wakes up, goes out into Dublin, and returns home, and the final episode is all Bloom's wife Molly. The plot is mundane -- just another day really. Important things in the lives of the three happen, but I don't think it would be a day that stands out necessarily. It's the way that Joyce tells the story that makes this book so wonderful. His use of the underlying structure, the shifting narrative techniques that become more bold as the novel progresses, his willingness to take on any idea or subject...

I'll be honest: on an emotional level, I like Portrait more. I see a lot of myself in Stephen Dedalus in that novel and just relate to it better (not Dedalus in Ulysses, though). But, Ulysses casts a larger shadow on me. It was one of the big influences on the novel I wrote for my Master's thesis, "Infinite Future" where the first part focuses on one character, the second part is twelve chapters all in different styles, and the final part is a stream-of-conscious finale. I love the idea of using an underlying structure and shifting your style between chapters.

The funny thing about that is that the tour de force of Ulysses, the episode where Joyce really shows off how amazingly talented he is, is also the chapter that's the most difficult to read: "Oxen of the Sun." In that episode, Joyce moves through the history of literature, changing style with every paragraph. It begins without language, progressing through time and writers. It's astonishing how well he does it, but it makes following the narrative of the episode difficult since he will filter actions and events through the writer/genre he's mimicking. A gothic or romantic convention obscures what's happening.

Of course, that begs the question: is it really that great if you can't read it?

Well, yeah. You can read it, it's just difficult -- or, rather, it's challenging. Ulysses is a challenging, demanding work. You need to pay attention and take things slow. You need to reread sentences and paragraphs. You need to not go it alone.

I've often tried to put into words why Ulysses is so great. It makes the mundane epic. It experiments and pushes. It's ambitious -- probably the most ambitious novel that I can think of. So, Happy Bloomsday. If you've never given Ulysses a shot, I highly recommend it. It's worth it.

Hell's Kitchen Episodes 07.03 & 07.04

This is the third season of Hell's Kitchen I've watched. More like the second-and-a-half since I only watched bits and pieces of season five, I believe. Michelle and I watched all of season six (not always together, though) and it's one of the few reality shows I can get into. The other is Celebrity Apprentice. Some brief thoughts on last night's two episodes:

* It's still too early to really root for anyone. These early episodes are mostly struggles to remember everyone's name and not getting too attached because any of them could be going home. The show basically has two parts to its season: the goofy, stupid first 2/3s where it's too crowded and everyone sucks; and, the more serious, skilled final 1/3 where the quality folks remain and it becomes less about arguing with one another and more about doing good work. These early episodes are goofy and meant to be laughed at as people act like fucking idiots.

* Jason's anger at being put up for elimination last week was understandable since Ramsay chose another person from the men's team to go home. The episode began with Jason pissed off and rightly so: he obviously didn't deserve to be put up there if Ramsay picked someone not nominated.

* Watching people walk the line between self-interest and helping the team is interesting.

* In the first challenge, Fran really bothered me because she hid her burns and tried to continue, which hurt her team. I would have sent her home because safety should be the first concern and someone like that shouldn't be there. Ramsay should have been harder on her for it.

* Scott says the same thing over and over again in his solo moments -- he's a leader, he's there to help others so the team does well... it's funny to see him say the same shit over and over again, and then him be the guy who fucks up the most. Then again, the reason why Salvatore did so well is because of Scott helping him -- something Ramsay doesn't see.

* Has a service ever gone as well as that one did so early into the season? The mistakes were small and minor, quickly corrected, and Ramsay was right not to eliminate anyone.

All in all, entertaining stuff. None of the women really stand out as great yet, but a couple of the guys are very solid/good.

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

I really think that—and I’ve said this before—but I think that LA forces you to become the person you really are. I don’t think LA is a place where you’re allowed to reinvent yourself. It absolutely isn’t. There’s an isolating quality to a life lived out here. I don’t care how many friends you have. I don’t care if you have a relationship. Whatever. It’s just an isolating city. You’re alone a lot. And I think it forces you to become the person you really are. It doesn’t allow you to hide. I think New York is a much easier place to kind of reinvent yourself. In LA, over time, the real person you are ultimately comes out, or else people can’t deal with that and they flee before it happens.

--Bret Easton Ellis, Vice Magazine



I avoided reading too much about Bret Easton Ellis's seventh novel, Imperial Bedrooms which came out today, until I'd read it myself. It arrived from Amazon.ca today and I spent the late morning/early afternoon reading it. It's not a long book, only 169 pages. Brisk, easy to plough through while still taking your time to enjoy it. It's a sequel of sorts to his first novel, Less Than Zero. If you want to know the biggest difference between the two books, that quote from Ellis to Vice. Less Than Zero was a novel where the narrator/protagonist Clay is passive. He floats through this world of decadence and drama and awfulness without really doing anything. He's an observer. Here, he returns to LA, seemingly for only a month ala Less Than Zero, but we slowly see what an awful person he is. He's a user, an exploiter, an egocentric douchebag that thinks it's all about him, so the narrative becomes all about him.

The novel begins with Ellis addressing Less Than Zero by having the novel and film adaptation exist in this world. The novel was written by someone that Clay and the group knew -- he told it like it was. The film adaptation was toned down and changed because the people making it didn't want to have their kids shown like that. There's a wonderful moment where Clay describes seeing a screening of the film before it comes out with most of the people from the book and Julian's stunned reaction to seeing 'himself' killed on screen. That segues into the actual death of Julian, which is told to us right then, but doesn't happen until the end of the novel.

The manner in which Ellis begins Imperial Bedrooms isn't essential. There's no need to address the book/film, because this is a sequel to them. Why would they necessarily exist in this world? Partly, an introduction for any new readers, I imagine. It allows Ellis to do a quick 'recap' in a manner that interacts with what a reader new to his work may understand. They may know of Less Than Zero, but never read the book or seen the film. This gives the substance, while also allows Ellis to distance himself from both. He points out differences, even critiques both a little. So, this is a sequel, but not quite. Not really, because neither the book nor the movie was 100% accurate to the world of this novel.

Also, Clay is a screenwriter. The structure of the novel is a series of scenes/shots, so beginning with a framing/pre-credits flashback scene makes sense. It's the sort of bullshit, unnecessary bit that's added into a lot of movies. It serves a function of sorts, but not really. It's there because they think the audience is too dumb to follow along without some hand-holding at the beginning.

The use of short sections does go back to Less Than Zero. This picks up from there, but there's also a sense of these being scenes/shots in a movie. Clay's language is very flat and to the point. Minimalist and direct. Ellis returns to a restained narrative style that's different from his others. While he has certain consistencies, this novel is more minimal in its use of language than everything since Less Than Zero. Even the dialogue scenes are shorter, less drawn out than usual. However, he does play with that by sometimes crafting run-on sentences with numerous clauses that twist too much, becoming confusing somewhat. In a few spots, I had to reread sentences to see how they fit together entirely. Clay is simple and direct, but likes to think of himself as better than that sometimes.

His progression through the novel is subtle and sneaks up on you. He begins by seeming affable and likeable. He's self-depricating and has a sense of humour about himself. He even recognises his place in the world as a writer -- he's not a novelist, he's a screenwriter. But, as the novel progresses, we get hints of who he really is. He's the kind of guy who uses his role in filmmaking to fuck young actors and actresses with the promise of an audition or role -- a promise he may or may be able to deliver on. It's a transaction often done automatically by both parties, so subtle that the lack of explicit statement makes it seem less tawdry. But, there's a part where he discusses a transaction of this sort with an actor in one of the movies he wrote and how it became explicit, making Clay come off as selfish and sad, cruel almost. Granted, the actor chose to let Clay have sex with him, but it's still an abuse of power.

The plot centres on Clay having a 'relationship' of this sort with Rain, an actress that sucks. The transaction is clear, but it's not as apparent at first. We know what's happening, our faces aren't rubbed in it. But, as she grows impatient and he grows more demanding, it becomes horribly explicit. She won't get a part in the movie that's being cast (The Listeners, a stand-in for The Informers) and everyone knows that, but he still pushes her, threatens her, tries to buy her (without ever actually buying her). We learn that this is really the only way that he can get off. This is what he likes best. He likes being in this position of power, of forcing people to do as he wishes. He's a selfish prick.

When other characters say that he's too self-involved, it rings slightly false, because they're all self-involved. It's like when you and your buddy both want the last slice of pizza and one of you tells the other to stop being so selfish -- it's bullshit, because you're both being selfish. These are people who tell Clay to break it off with Rain for their own purposes, never telling him why he should, just that there's more going on than he knows... of course he doesn't break it off.

Then again, why doesn't he?

He seems to care for her, but it's hard to say why. He wonders at one point how she's such a bad actress on screen/in auditions, but so good in real life. Is it just that he knows how much she wants to be famous that he knows he gets off on prolonging their 'relationship?'

Like the last two Ellis novels, there's a general sense of paranoia and that we (and the narrator) are not privy to a lot of necessary information. Clay receives text messages that say he's being watched and that give him advice -- all from blocked, unknown numbers. He's being followed by a blue jeep and a black Rolls Royce. People are telling him what to do without explaining themselves, speaking cryptically. His sense of fear and paranoia is justified to a degree. Then again, how much of it is him just not paying attention? Not hearing what other people have to say? How much information are we denied because he is too self-involved and stupid to see what's going on? We are limited to his perspective. Obviously there are things he just can't know, but we can't know how much of that is fact and how much is because he's too self-involved.

Like the last two, there is a plot driving this forward. It's influenced somewhat by Raymond Chandler with a mystery at the centre, but more in the Haruki Murakami way where you don't really get a solution. Not everything ties together nicely. We learn how Julian dies, but not entirely why. Not everything is wrapped up neatly. Lunar Park played with horror conventions and this plays with mystery stories.

The path that Clay takes through the novel culminates in one section that shows his true self. It's not shocking in and of itself, but in a book relatively free of the explicit sex and violence of previous Ellis works, it stands out. In it, Clay is totally revealed and it is a natural progression of his relationship with Rain and other actors/actresses. He uses two prostitutes (male and female) in some horribly degrading and awful ways. He stayed in LA too long. There was a chance for him to escape back to New York or to Las Vegas to 'reinvent' himself, to put up a mask... but, no, as Ellis told Vice, he was alone too long, isolated even when with others and his true self comes out. It's not terribly revealing since many others have shown the 'true self' to be a debaucherous, violent, selfish prick, but it still stands out nonetheless.

I'm not entirely sure how others fans of Ellis will react to this book. It stands alone from Less Than Zero well enough, though it mirrors it in many ways. The same premise (return to LA from the east coast around the holidays), the same narrator, the same strained relationships with the same people... but what changes is who Clay is. He isn't as passive, he isn't someone who fades into the background as much... he was obviously shaped by things that happened to him in Less Than Zero, but maybe it was all there already.

The ending of the novel knocked me on my ass. It ends with a line that is so revealing that it manages to sum everything up perfectly. Actually, the entire final section, a single paragraph that reveals Clay as far less passive than you thought. Far more sadistic, cruel, fearful, and loathsome. It's the sort of ending that makes you want to read the book again. If that isn't a recommendation, I don't know what is.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Smarkass Comments: WWE Raw 06.14.10

After last week's fantastic ending, this episode faltered a little with the whole NXT rookies invading. They made the rookies look too weak here -- and the WWE look too united. The opening segment was very strong with all of the rookies failing to apologise and Bret Hart firing Wade Barrett as a result. The way they handled the Bryan Daniel/Daniel Bryanson situation was fine with me -- though, if you looked at this as a coherent piece of writing, Bryanson feeling guilt over what happened last week wouldn't fit his character at all since he attacked Michael Cole numerous times and was the most vicious last week (or among the most vicious at least). But, it had to be done. Not his firing (which could be a work, but that doesn't look likely) -- a firing that just comes off as stupid pure and simple. Ah well.

The rest of the episode couldn't match that opening. Mostly mediocre to awful matches. Putting the US title back on the Miz seems odd, even if it's just a way to get another match booked for Sunday's Fatal 4-Way pay-per-view. The Jericho/Bourne match was fine for the three minutes it was given, but the finish was questionable. Why have Bourne kick out of the Codebreaker and not go anywhere with it?

The midshow Cena/NXT segment was kind of stupid. I didn't like the WWE guys who came out to fend off the NXT guys, partly because it's too soon for the NXT gang to be on the run. Partly because we're talking about an initial group that includes Santino. And, partly because it just makes me wonder why no one came out last week if what the NXT guys did was so disrespectful to the entire locker room. Wouldn't they have came charging out then?

The final match wasn't too bad. Not anything amazing, but a solid match. Was Chris Jericho on the ramp with the other Raw members? I didn't see him, but I could be blind. The shit with Bret Hart and the limo was kind of lame. A regular beatdown would have suited me fine.

Less convinced that the WWE knows what it's doing with the NXT angle, but still optimistic. Not an awful Raw, but not one that knocked me on my ass. Last minute Fatal 4-Way booking and typical short matches. The WWE's inability to book heel stables as dominant lately bothers me. That's how people get over: the heels dominate, the faces get their asses handed to them and eventually come back to win. While I don't follow CHIKARA too closely, its current Bruderschaft des Kruzes storyline is a lesson in doing that story correctly. No one cares if a weakass faction gets beaten. That's why Legacy failed and why the Straight Edge Society isn't taking off as much as it could be (CM Punk is crazy over, but the SES isn't much of a threat most of the time). Ah well. We'll see what happens on Sunday with this since that was the deadline Barrett gave at the end of the show.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Post 003)

This weekend, Michelle and I were at a campground for a few days of wedding stuff for her best friend. It was a pretty good time -- much better than I thought it would be. On Saturday (the day of the wedding), there was some down time with Michelle off getting her hair and make-up done with the bride, so I managed to finish Part II of The Idiot.

The second part of the novel was rougher going than the first part. While the first part had a nice contrast of the sweet, decent Myshkin with the craziness of everyone else, it was also grounded by his lack of understanding of everything. He understood Russian society a little, but living abroad, he wasn't completely familiar with everyone else. In the second part, he's much more familiar and that lack of essential innocence just makes the second part a chore at times since it's just bullshit. People talking bullshit and then talking more bullshit. Fuck, I hate these people. They're shallow, vapid, pretentious-yet-stupid, and driven by unknown/unseen passions that cause them to act like fools.

This part picks up six months after the end of the first part. Myshkin has received a large inheritance, but not as large as everyone thinks. Because of his simple nature, he's taken advantage of by swindlers somewhat, but he also doesn't mind too much since he is so innocent and wants to help people so much. It's an interesting complexity, one that leads to misunderstandings, because people don't know how to react to him. Some, in this part, begin to accuse him of not being as simple/nice as he seems, that it's all a ruse so he can get what he wants without appearing rude or cruel. Of course, it isn't a ruse -- he's genuinely a sweet, caring, sensitive man.

There were two parts in this section of the novel that stood out as particularly interesting.

The first was the apparent dismissmal of the illegitimate son of his benefactor by Myshkin. His time abroad to get well was funded by a rich aristocrat and his bastard son has apparently shown up only for Myshkin to dismiss him out of hand. It seems out of character -- and it is, because that's not how it happened at all. Things are made worse by a newspaper article written by one of the son's friends that is very biased and is filled with lies. Myshkin had a friend investigate and discovered that the son isn't really the artistocrat's son at all -- but that he had good reason to think it true and wasn't trying to scam Myshkin; he was simply mistaken. Myshkin, despite this, still wants to give the 'son' 10,000 rubels since he sees himself in the man, who also stutters and is socially awkward. But, as a matter of pride, the 'son' refuses.

What stood out was how disagreeable the friends of the 'son' were. No matter what Myshkin said, they would get offended or try to take issue with it. They don't understand Myshkin or see that's genuinely trying to do the right thing, not thinking of himself at all. He doesn't like to be slandered, but he's more concerned with the truth and with helping others. There's a bit where a wealthy woman who is visiting with her family mentions that despite their actions, Myshkin will go to them the next day and try to persuade them to reconsider his offer of the money, that he will press forward with helping them, especially the 'son' and Myshkin says of course he will, leaving her shocked and annoyed.

The other part is a passage where Myshkin is thinking. He considers going away, leaving all of these people behind, just going somewhere and living his own life, knowing that, if he stays, he'll just get sucked in more. These are people who live for scandal and get offended at the smallest of offences, so bored out of their minds that there isn't anything else but these small, petty things. And Myshkin is better than that -- something he senses, but he doesn't leave. For whatever reason, he doesn't save himself and you just know it's going to end poorly for him.

Despite these two things that I enjoyed, a large chunk of this part is tedious in its attention to the small, petty bullshit. The first part had those elements, but they were more interesting. Dostoevsky just isn't as entertaining here. It all lends itself to that second section where you want Myshkin to leave, because you're just so tired of these stupid, small people, but the actual reading is a little dry and dull.

Two parts down, two to go.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Smarkass Comments: WWE NXT 06.08.10

Beginning with the second 'season' of NXT, the Score here in Canada is showing it on Thursday nights at 8 pm, meaning I could have three hours of wrestling on Thursdays if I chose with TNA Impact on at nine. I tend to tape and watch Impact on Friday during the day, but maybe I'll begin subjecting Michelle to its pure fucking awfulness...

For those who don't know, NXT is a little different from Raw and Smackdown. It replaced the C-show/brand in the WWE, ECW, earlier this year. It's meant to be part typical wrestling show, part reality show... kind of. There are eight 'rookies' paired with eight pros where, by the end of the 'season,' one rookie will win and be given a WWE contract and title shot at a PPV. Last week, Chris Jericho's rookie Wade Barrett won the first round of competition, but, on Raw this week, all of the first group of eight rookies attacked John Cena, CM Punk, and everyone ringside, destroying the ring and some of the surrounding barriers, so this episode had that hanging over its head.

But, from what I've read, not much was done with that.

Anyway...

I came in partway through a match between MVP & Percy Watston and Cody Rhodes & Husky Harris. It didn't wow me, but it was only two or three minutes at the end of a match.

After, we got a promo video for Mike McGillicutty aka Joe Hennig, the son of Mr. Perfect (Curt Hennig). The choice to not have Hennig arrive with his real name is mystifying since that's something that can be traded upon and was one of the big reasons why he was signed to begin with. The WWE had a big hard-on for second- and third-generation wrestlers, often using their family names to get them over. A goofy name like Mike McGillicutty makes little sense. Husky Harris is another third-generation star and his name seems to be a message: you're fat. Oh, Vince...

This season of NXT makes me laugh since at least the first season had some veteran pros like Chris Jericho, William Regal, Christian, CM Punk, and Matt Hardy. This season has Mark Henry and, then... MVP? Definitely a step down as far as the 'pros' go. I mean, Zack Ryder? He's barely around as it is let alone enough to be worth believing as a pro who can advise a rookie. And that's not meant as a slight against Ryder since I like his work and he's obviously a pro, but it's not just about literally being a pro, it's about having that veteran appearance.

Before the final segment of the show, they replayed the attack from Raw and... I love it every time I see it. Especially Bryan Daniel yelling "You are not better than me!" over and over to the beaten and broken John Cena. He really isn't. And a little kid yelling "Mr. King!" at Jerry Lawler. So good.

The episode ended with this season's pros beating up their rookies to send a message. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get new information on last season's NXT gang, but this established the new group and had a... somewhat appropriate response. Nothing impressed me, but we'll see what happens with next week's episode, which I plan to watch in full.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Eminem Feat. Pink - Won't back down

I am a fan of pop music in general, mainly because these songs are catchy and fun to listen to when driving. Yesterday, two new Eminem singles were released; one featuring Pink and one featuring Rhianna. Now, I really like Eminem and I think he is a genius when it comes to writing and producing music and when I heard that his latest record was filled with new styles that he doesn't often explore and that 'we've never heard before', I was pretty excited. This morning while driving during work, my friend and I heard the last minute or so of the featuring Pink song called Won't Back Down. In short, I have never been so disappointed by an Eminem song in my entire life! Yes, he is definitely not for everyone, but when there is so much hype about a song, and this particular song has two of your favourite artists singing you tend to get your hopes up. I just got back from work and I immediately went to youtube to find this song to listen to it in its entirety, hoping that it would be better than my first impression. It was, just a little, though. I think it's not as much the lyrics or vocals as it is the accompaniment. I don't think I like the rock/rap type hybrid music so much and I think it is really distracting. I'm guessing that if this is the case, I'll get use to it after they over play the song for a couple of weeks and I'll end up really liking it.

I also just finished listening to the featuring Rhianna song called Love The Way You Lie while writing the above. I actually really really like this one and it feels more like the Eminem that I like. It's also pretty close to Airplanes which is a B.O.B. single that just took off like crazy featuring Eminem and Hayley Williams. It's not the softer feel that makes it more enjoyable to the ear, and writing of course is always top notch, but I really think it again has to do with the music and the fact that a softer R&B/rock feel contrasts a lot better with the heavier rap beat vs. a harder rock mix in Won't Back Down which just doesn't really seem to work too well for me.

Anyway, those are just my first impressions and we'll see what happens over the coming weeks when Eminem floods the airwaves.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Links from the Past Week

What I wrote online over the past week (excluding stuff for here):

411mania
* Wrestling Top Five -- World Title Turns
* High Road/Low Road on the TNA Top Ten Rankings
* Wrestling 4Rs including my review of the 06.03.10 TNA Impact
* Wrestler of the Week Year 6 Week 9

Comic Book Resources Reviews
* Avengers Prime #1
* Avengers: The Origin #3
* Vengeance of the Moon Knight #9
* The Thanos Imperative #1
* Irredeemable #14
* Greek Street #12
* FreakAngels Vol. 4

GraphiContent
* Quickie Reviews (June 2 2010)

Comics Should be Good
* Random Thoughts! (June 8, 2010)

Smarkass Comments: WWE Raw 06.07.10

This week's Raw didn't look too promising with the 'Viewer's Choice' gimmick. Basically, it turned out to be the Cyber Sunday PPV -- fans are given a potential match with three options (usually the stipulation or one of the participants) and whichever option gets the most votes is what happens. With Cyber Sunday, the fans would be able to vote in the weeks leading up to the PPV whereas, here, they had from the time the match was announced through a commercial break... so a few minutes. No idea if the voting meant a thing or if it was a lie. The biggest problem with this approach is that, if real, it takes all of the writing power out of the hands of the WWE. Say they're pushing a specific feud or angle, the fans voting for something else could get in the way. Then again, for the most part, they either created some broad matches that could work no matter what or two tepid/unlikely choices with a third that would be voted for no matter what.

* The Chris Jericho/Big Show match was an example of three options (over the top rope challenge, submission match, or bodyslam challenge -- the third chosen) that all worked relatively equally. In all cases, the Big Show's size gave him the advantage and the two could work a pretty similar match. Jericho made this more entertaining than expected with some interesting counters and attacks. The Big Show won, then made him submit, and then tossed him over the top rope for the hell of it.

* Michelle and I had a fun discussion about the Hart Dynasty tag match where people could choose their opponents: the Usos, the Dudebusters, or the Great Khali and Hornswoggle. I had seen online that the third choice was selected (since Raw was three hours, it began at eight in the US, but aired at the normal time of 9:15 here in Canada), so we debated the wisdom of this selection during the commercial break. I couldn't help but see it as a referendum on the Usos who, over the past two weeks, have been built up as the next threat to the Hart Dynasty. That they didn't win the vote says something, right? Michelle wisely pointed out that no team is going to beat a giant and a midget when it comes to people voting. Sadly, that's probably true. That they had the Usos come out after the match made it work in story, though.

* Kozlov and Santino having a dance-off was actually pretty funny.

* The funniest part of the episode had to be "Mean" Gene Okerlund's harsh comments about and to Josh Matthews. I laughed my ass off at his 'loser' comment to Matthews.

* I loved how William Regal didn't even seem to care about being the Miz's tag partner when they showed him before the results were announced. Then, I thought it was great that the Miz and Zack Ryder won their match... without Ryder ever getting tagged in. The Miz's partner was totally meaningless.

* They made sure that Matt Hardy got voted to fight Drew McIntyre by making him a 'mystery choice.' People always vote for the mystery choice.

* The stuff with the A-Team was universally awful -- except the previously mentions "Mean" Gene bit.

* The Kane/Sheamus match was surprisingly decent. Sheamus needs to work with more big men if only because it's helping him become more well-rounded. Winning squash matches only teaches you how to deliver offence, but learning to take a beating and sell -- and how to create interesting counters is very important.

* I was rooting for Rey Mysterio to win the vote to take on John Cena, if only because this seems like the only way we'd ever see them fight one-on-one. Both are faces and will stay faces for as long as I can guess, so this was the best chance to see it. And, say what you will, it would be new and interesting. All three men were good options and CM Punk getting some action is always great.

* The ending with the NXT season one rookies destroying everything was amazing. I was genuinely surprised and was glued to the TV. With an hour left in the show, we moved to the bedroom so Michelle could go to sleep and I almost woke her up for it. What I especially liked was that they were united. Wade Barrett won, but he was just part of the group. There didn't seem to be a leader once it got started, just a single force of eight guys working in harmony. And, fuck, they tore everything down and laid a beating on John Cena... the most shocking development in the WWE in a long time. I'm very interested to see where this goes. With the Score airing NXT starting this week (albeit on Thursday nights), I'm hoping they follow up on it there. Edit: You can see the bulk of the end here. Looks like Barrett was more in charge than I thought -- with the nods to the others at the beginning. Cole escaped. The crowd noises were great, too. Man, what a fantastic end.

All in all, not too bad an episode of Raw. The matches were mostly throwaways that didn't mean anything. We're two weeks out from Fatal 4-Way and still only have the world belt matches, which is troublesome -- should they be building some other matches? But, this episode could have been a lot worse and the ending was fantastic. Absolutely stunning.