Raw Review (March 2, 2015)

Spoilers follow for the March 2nd episode of Raw.

Seth Rollins gets to kick off Raw this week, coming down the ramp with his bodyguards, J&J Security. A segment from Jon Stewart’s show, on which Rollins was a guest, is shown. Stewart was invited to Raw this week, and he accepted. Stewart will be here tonight, Rollins tells us. He taunts Stewart for a bit, but then Roman Reigns down from the crowd.

Reigns comes down and says he’s here just to let Rollins talk and get “You suck!” chants. Rollins says he can out-wrestle Reigns, which is 100% true. That dastardly truth-telling heel! Reigns eventually punches Rollins and then beats up J&J Security.

After the commercial break, Rollins is seen backstage, hurting. Randy Orton comes up to him and tells him how embarrassing that was. Orton tells Rollins he should demand a one-on-one match with Reigns tonight to prove himself. Rollins doesn’t, even though we later get told that, yes, they’ll have a match. Rollins and Orton have a bit of a staredown.

Bad News Barrett vs. Dean Ambrose

R-Truth is once again on commentary, because someone backstage thinks that’s a good idea. They’re wrong.

Barrett and Ambrose have a decent match for most of the time. Barrett dominates most of it early, losing control once he goes over to shove R-Truth. Ambrose then beats up on Barrett, while Truth steals the Intercontinental Championship just like he did on Smackdown last week. I love when good matches are distracted by shenanigans. Luke Harper then shows up randomly behind the commentators and motions for Truth to give him the belt, which he does. Harper then walks away with the belt. This distracts Barrett and lets Ambrose hit a Dirty Deeds and pick up the win.

Match Rating: **1/2

The Miz invites a whole bunch of the people backstage to the premiere of the commercial he shot last week. One of those people is Eva Marie, so this is the best Raw ever.

The “commercial” is for erectile dysfunction, so of course it’s “funny.” Everyone laughs at him. Miz yells at and eventually slaps Damien Sandow. They look at one another angrily for a bit. Sandow eventually apologizes to Miz. I have a feeling they’re not getting a match at WrestleMania, but that’ll be where Sandow finally turns on Miz.

Bray Wyatt gets to cut a live promo in front of the crowd. There’s a wooden casket on-stage. Wyatt talks about The Undertaker, as you’d expect. We all hope Undertaker will appear, but he doesn’t. Wyatt pours gasoline on the casket. He eventually lights it on fire.

Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, and Natalya vs. The Usos (Jimmy and Jey Uso) and Naomi

A bit of good wrestling at the beginning happens, but after about a minute, it becomes nothing of interest. Kidd tags in an injured Natalya, they bicker, and Naomi rolls up Natalya for the win. It ends in something like three minutes.

Match Rating: **

John Cena is out after the commercial break, because two wrestling matches each hour is definitely the rate at which we should be working given that this is a wrestling show. He’s going to tell us what his WrestleMania plans are now that he’s not facing Rusev. He enters himself into the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Stephanie McMahon comes out as soon as he says this. She asks him since when Superstars get to declare if they’re in the Battle Royal? Cena tells her that everyone does. Stephanie was Andre the Giant’s “friend,” so she’s taking this personally. She then says he can’t compete in the match.

They go back and forth for a while. It’s basically a talk about how WWE will survive without John Cena. Curtis Axel eventually comes out. #AxelMania. He wants to face Rusev at WrestleMania for the United States Championship, even though he’s already in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Stephanie wants to see Axel and Cena square off right now. Oh, and if Cena wants to face Rusev, he has to convince Rusev to change his mind.

John Cena vs. Curtis Axel

Axel does some Hogan-esque taunts at the beginning. Cena then squashes him. A punch, a clothesline, an AA, and an STF wins it for Cena.

Match Rating: *

Rusev and Lana come out after the match — if you can even call it a match. We’re reminded that Cena only gets to WrestleMania if Rusev changes his mind. Rusev tells Cena “no.”

Triple H is out next, because we’re going to continue this trend of “not wrestling” on the wrestling show. He’s here to hype his match with Sting. It’s the same thing he’s been saying for a while now. He eventually invites Booker T to the ring, because Booker knew Sting at one point. We address whether or not Triple H politicked Sting out of WWE. Triple H takes a shot at the IWC, too. After a long, rambling segment, Triple H … fires Booker T!

No, really. Booker T gets fired. He grabs his stuff from the commentary desk and walks away. Triple H stops him on the ramp, and tells Booker he’s just messing with him. So, yeah, it was just an “example” of his control.

WWE Divas Championship Match: Paige vs. Nikki Bella (with Brie Bella)

It’s interesting to see this match, since it comes after the Raw during which #GiveDivasaChance was a trend on the Twitter. Well, they get two segments, although the first was taken up primarily with entrances. Two segments is a good thing, though, so I’m not complaining. But we don’t get a clean finish, which is too bad. Still, the wrestling was decent, and it got enough time to count as a real match. Paige locks in the PTO, but Brie comes into the ring, breaks it up, and gets her sister disqualified.

Match Rating: **

The Bellas start beating on Paige after the match. A returning AJ lee comes out and makes the save. Paige and AJ are a team now, I guess. At least, for the WrestleMania season, they are. A consolation prize for Paige.

Paige and AJ get interviewed backstage after the break. AJ does most of the mic work, says the #GiveDivasaChance thing. Both of them hate the Bellas, so they’re friends again.

Seth Rollins then hosts an episode of The Daily Show. He does it from inside the ring. We replay the same clip from earlier, too. Rollins’ first topic is “where is Jon Stewart?” Then Stewart comes out, making this the most culturally relevant guest on Raw since, uh, Floyd Mayweather, I guess.

Stewart makes fun of Rollins a bunch, much to Rollins’ chagrin. Stewart is funny, and he actually comes across like a legitimate fan of the program. Rollins eventually gets fed up with Stewart, drops his mic, and starts physically intimidating Stewart with J&J Security. Randy Orton walks down the ramp, a distraction which lets Stewart hit a low blow and escape the ring.

Stewart then gets interviewed backstage. He says he’d have to train to stick around in the WWE, and then he keeps running away, just in case Rollins wants revenge.

Luke Harper vs. Daniel Bryan

The match is sloppier than you might expect. There are a couple of moments that just aren’t that good. Harper dominates for most of it, but then he reverses a facelock into the Yes Lock and Harper immediately taps. Was that the planned finish? It’s hard to know if Bryan’s just selling or if he was legitimately hurt. But this isn’t the classic match we know these two could have.

Match Rating: **

We soon find out that the match was supposed to be really short (and meaningless). Barrett comes down and steals back his championships. Ambrose stops him on the stage, hits a clothesline after getting Barrett back into the ring, and then takes the title. Harper knocks out Ambrose while R-Truth takes the title. Harper stops him and gets the title back for himself. Harper walks to the stage and eats a superkick from Dolph Ziggler, who winds up with the title. I guess we’re going to do this for the next few weeks.

Alundra Blayze (Medusa) is announced as the next inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. Good on her.

Randy Orton and Seth Rollins have a talk backstage. Orton thinks he saved Rollins’ job, because Stewart would’ve sued him if he’d done anything. Kane and Big Show announce they’ll be at ringside for Rollins’ match, and Jamie Noble tells Orton he’s not needed. We continue the tease.

Paul Heyman gets to cut a promo following the commercial break. Heyman’s here to “address” rumors about Brock Lesnar. But he doesn’t really. Heyman works the crowd wonderfully, as we know he can. He’s usually great but he was amazing tonight. Eventually, Roman Reigns comes down. Heyman leaves the ring, and it turns out Reigns is just here for a match, not to address Heyman.

Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins (with Kane, Big Show, and J&J Security)

Rollins is treated like a joke at the beginning of the match. Reigns laughs after each move, and he dominates. Thankfully, that’s not how the entire match goes. Rollins does get some offense in. Randy Orton comes down partway through the match. He watches from the opposite side of the ring from the other Authority members.

The match is fine, but would be better without any distractions. Mercury should’ve gotten Rollins disqualified at one point, but doesn’t. Noble does stuff, too, although at least he’s never really caught. Kane hits Reigns with a chair and throws him back into the ring — he was seen doing the latter. The actual in-ring stuff is good, but there’s just so much outside junk that distracts and detracts.

The finish comes when Orton stops Reigns from doing a spear, allowing Rollins to roll up Reigns for the win. Disappointing finish, but the match part was pretty fun.

Match Rating: ***

Reigns looks shocked and confused after the match. He does a dive over the top rope — like The Usos, but he got more air — onto The Authority members. He then takes out anyone who gets up and continues to look strong. That dive was unexpected and so very much worth seeing. That’s how Raw ends.

The Good: Reigns/Rollins. Eva Marie cameo. AJ Lee’s return. Paul Heyman. Jon Stewart.

The Bad: Cena/Axel. So many promos.

Match of the Night: Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins.

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The Lazarus Effect

Bad horror movies are a dime a dozen. Look in the bargain bin of any retail store that has one and you’re bound to find a whole bunch. You can usually find a pack of 10 for about $5. They’re cheap to make, they don’t need good actors, and they’re usually not terribly concerned with big ideas. So, it’s refreshing when a horror movie comes along and has good actors and ideas on its mind. It’s even more disappointing when a movie has these things for about ten minutes before throwing it all away in order to degenerate into a generic bad horror movie.

The Lazarus Effect is a movie that, for about ten minutes, looks like it’s going to be about big ideas. It would make sense, in that case, why actors like Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde are in the movie; you need good actors to sell these themes properly. But soon enough we learn that the movie simply brings up bigger concepts, does nothing with them, and then becomes an awful horror movie. It hurts more than usual because you can see where more ambitious filmmakers could have taken this premise.

Said premise involves a bunch of scientists creating a “Lazarus” serum, which when combined with electricity and a few other components allows for the resurrection of bodies that had long since been dead. Married couple Frank (Duplass) and Zoe (Wilde) head up the research, joined by two younger guys, Niko (Donald Glover) and Clay (Evan Peters). A documentarian, Eva (Sarah Bolger), also tags along, even though everything they’re doing is top-secret — at least until they know it works perfectly.

You can probably already see how this could be used to tell an interesting story. Zoe is religious, so you’ve got that dynamic in play already. Of course, when she gets electrocuted and dies, she’s brought back to life thanks to the serum. We already saw it work, mostly, on a dog, after all. But the dog acted weird. Zoe is acting weird, too. She’s going full-Lucy. Is she possessed? Did she die and go to Hell, bringing back with her a demon? Why is her brain firing on overdrive? And what’s her tragic back story that she dreams about every night?

The answer to all of those questions is simple: “Who cares?” The movie and the filmmakers clearly don’t. She gets psychic powers and becomes evil not to prove a point, not to generate discussion, but because we need someone to lock down the lab and to start killing off the characters, one by one. We don’t get many definitive answers, and those that we do get are inconsequential. The film uses all of this as an overelaborate setup to kill off its characters and let Olivia Wilde make lots of funny faces.

Wilde does get to pull some funny faces, while covered in heavy “evil” makeup. There’s also one where she gets to be smug. It’s unintentionally funny. Actually, a lot of the film is like that. It’s really hard to take this seriously. You begin to wonder why actors like Duplass and Wilde even accepted the project. One presumes they read the script and tried to deliver some of the lines without laughing out loud. You’re more likely to laugh at The Lazarus Effect than be scared.

Most of the attempts to scare us are jump startles, which might make you jump because that’s how they work, but any sense of atmosphere is lacking, as is much progression. Once the kills actually start, we’re really only got about 20 minutes left. They’re generic and make you wonder why whatever Zoe becomes — demon or “Dark Lucy” — takes her time and plays with her food. “Because the movie needs to barely make feature length,” is the real answer. There’s one creepy scene in all of The Lazarus Effect’s 83-minute running time, and it’s only creepy because it involves a dog.

The Lazarus Effect opens up with promise but soon reveals itself to be nothing more than a generic horror movie that wants to use jump startles and intermittently flashing lights to startle, not scare, the audience. Its big ideas are thrown out the window, any attempt at good acting disappears, and any and all potential it had was disregarded in favor of blandness that’s far funnier than it should be. This is a disappointing movie.

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Focus

When a movie like Focus comes along, you know you’re going to be in for a lot of plot twists. That’s to be expected. The feeling the movie wants to give you is a thrill that it was able to pull one over on you — that its misdirection made you miss key points of information — so that you immediately want to re-watch it in order to check for clues to the ultimate reveal. So frequently is this not accomplished, and it’s not with Focus, either, whose final twist is one you’ll figure out about five minutes before it happens.

But let’s back up. This is a film with a 30-minute prologue which follows a con-man named Nicky (Will Smith) as he recruits a rookie, Jess (Margot Robbie), to help his team pull off over a million dollars’ worth of heists in a Superbowl-esque football tournament before ditching her with her share of the pot, not to be seen for three more years. Then the real plot kicks in, which is unfortunately for us significantly less interesting than the flashy and slick action that took place in the prologue. We get suckered in.

The rest of the movie, set three years later, follows Nicky as he’s hired to pull off a con for a racecar driver (Rodrigo Santoro). Things get more complicated when we find out that the driver is currently dating Jess, with whom Nicky’s had no contact since ditching her. What does this ultimately mean? Lots of “romance” scenes in which he tries to make amends for before, absolutely no drama or tension when it comes to the actual con, and then a couple of late-game plot twists that don’t mean a whole lot to us or the characters, the biggest of which you’ll guess as soon as the scene starts thanks to some earlier foreshadowing that’s just a touch too obvious.

It’s all empty, shallow, and doesn’t amount to anything close to what it hopes to. When all’s said and done, you look back and find that the big picture wasn’t all that complicated, and that the film wasn’t particularly successful at anything it attempted. The romance falls flat — Smith and Margot have little chemistry — the main con is boring, and the twists are perfunctory.

In the moment, though? It kind of works. It doesn’t run for the often seemingly obligatory two hours, which means that there isn’t too much filler. You hope that it’s going to amount to something, so you watch intently — almost too intently — just to make sure that it doesn’t pull a fast one on you. It’s got a relatively strong sense of humor, meaning you’ll laugh a decent amount, and individually Smith and Robbie are just fine. It’s only afterward that you learn you’ve been swindled, and not in a good way.

Will Smith is the lead, in what feels like his first leading role in forever. He’s fine as Nicky, and is especially good in the scenes in which he has to act like a know-it-all con-man. He can’t do romance here, either because he and Margot Robbie have no chemistry, or simply because writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa can’t direct him to. Given that they made the romance-free rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love, that wouldn’t surprise me.

Margot Robbie, meanwhile, is captivating whenever she’s on-screen. She stole the light away from Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street and here does the same thing to Will Smith. No, she can’t do the romance parts, either, but she’s got this enchanting smile that makes it hard to hate her for that. She seems to be having a genuine amount of fun for most of the film, which is something that the rest of the movie was kind of missing. Sure, she’s mostly here to be eye-candy, but she makes the most of what she’s given and reminds us she’s a star in the making.

Focus is the type of movie that makes you feel like it robbed you, but not in the thrilling “How did you do that?” kind of way. Instead, you just feel a little disappointed that its 30-minute prologue was so much fun that it got you excited for the rest of the movie. You hope its big picture is more than it winds up being, and it is eventually too simplistic a story that adds up to too little to be worth the investment.

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Smackdown Review (February 26, 2015)

Spoilers follow for the February 26th episode of Smackdown.

You know what? I kind of dig the Smackdown theme song right now. I’d rather listen to it in full than get the obligatory Raw flashback. Can we make that a thing?

Actually, I shouldn’t be complaining too much this week. Smackdown doesn’t open with a Raw flashback; it starts with Daniel Bryan coming down to the ring to cut a promo. He reminds us he was a heel a couple of years ago, and then thanks the fans for being in his corner. He then talks about his match against Roman Reigns on Sunday. He is just about to announce his plans for WrestleMania when Bad News Barrett comes down, sans his Intercontinental Championship. He talks down to Bryan and then reminds us he’s upset with Dean Ambrose. Ambrose then comes down with his title. They brawl without doing any talking, while Bryan picks up the title. Ambrose eventually knocks out Barrett, and then gets ready for his match.


Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz

Ambrose and Miz do the match you basically expect them to. Barrett steals his title back midway through the match, but even though it distracts Ambrose for a while, Ambrose still pretty easily picks up the win. Remember when Miz was single-handedly taking out The Usos? WWE doesn’t.

Match Rating: **

Bad News Barrett then gets interviewed backstage. He talks down both Bryan and Ambrose.


Naomi (with The Usos) vs. Natalya (with Cesaro and Tyson Kidd)

Since #GiveDivasaChance was trending after Raw, WWE gave us two of the best in-ring Divas on the main roster in a match against one another. Or maybe this was scheduled anyway.

The match shows us how athletic both Divas are, although it felt a little too choreographed at times, as if the entire thing was planned out beforehand. Whatever. It’s fun. It’s still far too short, and a distraction plays a role in the finish. Natalya uses a distraction and a feigned injury to hit a discus clothesline and win.

Match Rating: **

Rusev and Lana come out after the commercial break, as they take up more promo time mocking John Cena. Since Cena doesn’t work Smackdown unless advertised, he can’t come out to defend himself. Instead, Jack Swagger comes down. Swagger beats up Rusev for a bit, but eventually Rusev regains momentum, beats up Swagger pretty easily, and then applies The Accolade. Swagger only did okay because he got the jump on the monster heel. He’s not a credible threat.


Daniel Bryan vs. Bad News Barrett

R-Truth is on commentary, because that was such a good idea the last time it happened.

Barrett and Bryan is a match I wanted to see after they shared the opening segment, and the match we got didn’t disappoint. R-Truth is not someone we should ever have on commentary, as he distracts from the match and really isn’t that good on the mic. But the in-ring stuff was fun. Barrett and Bryan are both good in the ring, they deliver a solid match … and then R-Truth steals the title, continuing to detract from the match. Bryan winds up winning with the running knee. Barrett continues to lose as champion.

Match Rating: **1/2

Barrett gest confused as to where his championship is after the match.

A taped interview between Roman Reigns and Byron Saxton happens afterward. Reigns is confident he’s going to win against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. And then he says some other things that don’t matter because they’re said by Roman Reigns.


Fandango (with Rosa Mendes) vs. Curtis Axel

R-Truth and Dean Ambrose have a “funny” segment about the Intercontinental Championship before the match, but between entrances. Truth just gives the title to Ambrose instead of wrestling for it. Axel also gets to cut a promo before the match, saying the same “I’m still in the Royal Rumble” spiel he’s been giving for the last little while. #AxelMania.

Fandango wins in two moves. #GiveSuperstarsaChance.

Match Rating: *

Damien Sandow is filming a commercial backstage. The Miz interrupts and makes fun of him. Miz then gets the job instead of Sandow.

The same Sting promo we saw on Raw plays next. It tells you all about Sting apart from the fact that he spent a ton of time in TNA.


Adam Rose vs. Goldust

Goldust squashes Rose with incredible ease. It’s not close. Rose gets a couple of punches off, maybe.

Match Rating: *

Stardust, dressed as a Rosebud, attacks Goldust after the match. Then Bray Wyatt gets to cut a “cryptic” promo addressing The Undertaker. Word on the dirtsheets is that we’re not getting to see the Deadman until ‘Mania. So we’ve got another month of these, folks, assuming the dirtsheets are correct.


Erick Rowan, Ryback, and Dolph Ziggler vs. Kane, Big Show, and Seth Rollins (with J&J Security)

The best parts of this match feature Ziggler and Rollins. Unfortunately, that’s not a lot of the match. The odds are against that matchup, first up, even though Ziggler does spend most of the match in the ring, since he’s the best babyface seller. The faces build to a Ryback hot tag, and that’s basically how it goes. Ryback gets in, beats on Rollins for a while, almost gets a double Shell Shock on Rollins and Jamie Mercury, and then everyone hits everyone. An illegal superkick from Ziggler sets up a Shell Shock from Ryback and lets the faces get their revenge. The match was not very good, but it made Ryback look pretty strong. That’s something, right?

Match Rating: **

The Good: Bryan/Barrett.

The Bad: Rose/Goldust. Fandango/Axel. R-Truth’s commentary.

Match of the Night: Daniel Bryan vs. Bad News Barrett.

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Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

The people behind the Tremors movies certainly wrote themselves into a corner with Tremors 3, didn’t they? The most fun that this series had going for it was seeing the continued evolution of the graboids, who became mini dinosaur-type things in the second film and then got wings and the ability to shoot fire in the third. Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided to convey to us that it was a three-stage cycle; there was no more evolution. Why, then, make a fourth movie?

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins takes us back approximately 100 years and functions as a prequel. Well, if we’re not going to further explore the graboids, at least that’s one thing to do. We’re going to watch a graboid invasion that took place in the 1800s in the town of Rejection — which would later become the Perfection we already know — and follow around the great-grandfather of Burt Gummer, Hiram (still played by Michael Gross), who is completely different from the character who’s become the star of the franchise. That’s an interesting development.

Hiram is the owner of a mine that comes under attack from creatures we know as graboids, but the local townspeople refer to as “dirt dragons.” So, Hiram comes to town in an attempt to re-open the mine after all the workers either left or were killed, but eventually winds up having to do a lot of the grunt work himself. He, being a man of great means, is unaccustomed to anything taking place in the “Wild West,” not the least of which being the graboids. He doesn’t even know how to shoot guns! His great-grandson would be disappointed.

So, we get to see Michael Gross act completely different from what his character was in the previous three films — at least, for a while; we eventually see him transition into something more like we’d expect — we make the graboids seem like a genuine threat again, since there’s no prior knowledge of them on the part of the characters, and we get a true “Western” for the first time in the series. The other films had elements of Westerns, but not anything close to what this one has.

For the audience, though, this just isn’t enough of a change to make Tremors 4 worth seeing. It rehashes several elements from the earlier films, and the only real difference comes in the form of our lead. That’s fun at the beginning, as it allows Michael Gross to do something different, but it’s not enough around which to base an entire film. There’s only so much that such a character change can do, and it’s funny for about 30 minutes. Then we still have to deal with the rest of the film.

At least CGI isn’t too much of a hindrance this time around. In Tremors 3, the flying creatures were almost all done with computers, and since these are low-budget B-movies, the CGI wasn’t good. This one sees graboids return to the main villain roles, which means that puppets and animatronics can be used to create them a lot of the time. That’s how the first Tremors did it, almost a decade and a half earlier, and it’s by far the best of the series. It’s not even a competition. The other three movies suck in comparison.

Michael Gross has been the standout of at least three of the Tremors movies now, and this one is only somewhat watchable thanks to his involvement. The complete 180 flip that he does with the Gummer character is hilarious up to a point, simply because it’s so different from what we’re expecting. Our expectations are subverted and that’s where good comedy comes from. It’s not enough to carry the movie, and the character can only be taken so far, but it works for a while and is the only thing worth seeing in Tremors 4.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins is for the people who stuck around through one good movie and two mediocre-at-best sequels. It does one good thing, which sees Michael Gross return not as Burt, but as Burt’s great-grandfather, who is completely different from Burt. That’s funny up to a point. But the movie is dull, feels like a repeat of better scenes and elements we’ve already seen, and does nothing for the graboid mythos. It’s a dull prequel that I didn’t enjoy.

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