Category Archives: TV

World Of Sport Wrestling – 31/12/16

World Of Sport WOS Wrestling logoBefore Vince McMahon and Hulkamania swept away the old world of professional wrestling in the 1980s and became a world-wide phenomenon if you were a grapple fan looking for a fix of a soap opera in spandex living in the UK, World of Sport was where you looked.

Between the 1960s and late 1980s Saturday afternoons on ITV meant wrestling, with the likes of Mick McManus, Adrian Street, Johnny Saint and Jim Breaks (amongst others) providing wrestling action while Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks provided notoriety and spectacle. Then in the late 80’s the ‘British style’ fell out of favour for the big budget, glossy American product and wrestling in the UK headed to the holiday camps.

Over the last couple of years professional wrestling in the UK has had something of a resurgence thanks to the likes of ICW, RPW, Progress and others and, with the announcement last summer that they were bringing back World Of Sport (WOS) Wrestling with Jim Ross on commentary and a selection of indie stars lined up, it looked like ITV were looking to cash in on this, 30 years after last airing British grappling.

I had been looking forward to WOS Wrestling since the announcement, but tried to maintain a sensible level of anticipation. This was after all going out early evening on ITV so I wasn’t going in expecting ‘strong style’ or ‘hardcore’ wrestling, but more family friendly fun stuff, with some good action built-in. From the opening music and styling though I was dubious as it had the ring of everything that makes ITV’s output problematic – shiny and cheap with a lowest common denominator audience in mind.

Grado and Dave Mastiff

Grado and Dave Mastiff

The first bout was announced as being for the World Of Sport Championship with two contenders chosen by an unknown ‘committee’, so far ok, this is an old trope of the NWA and WCW, and even the choice of Grado, a perennial good time babyface (blue-eye, fan favourite) seemed to suit the show, even if comparisons to ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes felt a bit laboured.

His opponent was Dave Mastiff, a terrifying looking 300 pounder who is every part the pro-wrestling heel (bad guy, villain) to counter Grado’s fun loving persona. On his way to the ring, accompanied by Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss as a very imposing team, he cut a promo interrupting one from Grado, both of which felt over simplified and over scripted leading into a short match that felt the same.

The pairing and references on commentary felt self-consciously reverential to the Big Daddy/Giant Haystacks feud but its fair to say pro-wrestling has moved on since then and this was a problem across the show as a whole, along with the fact that the crowd reactions felt false. With such a short match and no real story to it until an interference ending, this didn’t start things off well despite the best efforts of the performers.

After the match we cut backstage to a brief interview with the ‘general manager’, the mysterious Mr Beasley, which felt like an attempt to emulate WWE’s similar backstage segments but fell down on almost all aspects, including the announcement of a Battle Royale at which point the smell of the low-budget mid-90s wrestling shows I remember seeing touring began to get a bit too strong.

WOS Wrestling ladder matchAfter an ad break we heard from some of the genuine British Wrestling legends further hyping the appalling work of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks and ignoring their own great grappling, before a ladder match in some ways akin to WWE’s Money In The Bank gimmick.

The match itself was too short to really get into with four men fighting to reach a briefcase hanging from the ceiling. While I got the feeling at least some of the wrestlers had talent it was lost here as neither character nor any real action got across, largely thanks to some appalling camera work and editing. Anyway the winner, Kenny Williams, advanced to the Battle Royale.

Next up was a women’s match, hyped as the first of its kind on World Of Sport as in the past female wrestlers like Klondike Kate would compete against men, pitting Alexis Rose against Viper. At first I worried this may veer too far into the ‘titillation’ side of women’s wrestling but once they started this wasn’t the case as they put on the hardest hitting contest so far.

Viper and Alexis Rose

Viper and Alexis Rose

Both women’s characters came across and the story was simple but effective with the smaller baby face against the bigger heel. The bigger Viper won and after the opening pair of matches this started to bring me back on board (though the presentation was still all wrong).

Another qualifying match for the Battle Royale came in the form of a tag team match as Mark & Joe Coffey squared off against Rampage and Ashton Smith.

Like the women’s match this was a solid bout with both teams getting across characters and a range of hard-hitting looking action telling a fairly typical but well executed tag match story.

The Coffeys may have looked like they were aping WWE’s The Ascension at first, but I soon got over that and all four men impressed with the brother team getting the win with a nice double team strike combo.

Coffey flies at Rampage

Coffey flies at Rampage

While I was new to most of the wrestlers appearing here Zack Gibson and El Ligero came with something of a reputation that had me excited to see them in action and, once again despite the production, they didn’t disappoint.

Mixing styles of ‘lucha libre’ (Ligero) and a more submission style reminiscent of classic British grappling (Gibson) instantly made for a good story with Ligero looking for his highflying spring-board DDT finisher and Gibson working on Ligero’s arms to set up for his Shankly Gates finishing hold.

Ligero seemed to be slightly hampered by the looseness of the ropes a few times but worked through it like a pro (he wasn’t the only wrestler dealing with an unfamiliar ring, the 20ft WWE sized  ‘squared-circle’ seemed far too big for most of them) and the duo told a fine story with real pace and psychology.

Ligero picked up the win with his DDT and really came across as a true fan favourite character that the small audience actually seemed to genuinely get behind while Gibson’s throwback heel character clearly also got to the crowd in the way he should.

After three matches that seemed to be getting things together we got the Battle Royale that instantly switched back to the poor booking that had marked the start of the night.

Davey Boy Smith Jr

Davey Boy Smith Jr (while wrestling in Japan)

The initial section was set up to get over Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss, both of whom look like great heels, before surprise entrant ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith Jr (aka Harry Smith) came down to sort out the heels.

Smith has a genuine heritage here as son of the original Bulldog and nephew of Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, but he was oddly soon eliminated by the heel duo after a few big signature spots, leaving them open for Grado to eliminate destroying any sense of threat they’d built.

After the win Grado suffered a hugely unconvincing knee injury thanks to a beat down from the heels supposedly calling the return match with Mastiff into question…

…of course there was never any real question as Mastiff returned to the ring before Grado made his third entrance of the show and they proceeded to have less a match, more an angle, that saw Mastiff attack Grado’s injured knee before Grado came back to hit his ‘Grado Cutter’ neck breaker for the win and a feel good ending.

Grado is awarded the WOS Championship

Grado is awarded the WOS Championship

In the show’s favour it had three good (one particularly so) matches in the middle with Gibson, Ligero, Rampage and the Coffey brothers coming out looking particularly good and it had Jim Ross on commentary as it’s always good to hear ‘Good Old JR’ back on the mic.

Unfortunately an inconsistent tone and terrible production work meant it looked cheap and above all silly, and when you’re dealing with a product that can already look inherently silly, emphasising this is never a good idea.

Pro-wrestling should suspend disbelief as we invest in characters we love or love-to-hate but all this seemed to do was poke fun at the formula and set back the cause of British pro-wresting 20 years to the dark days of the mid 1990s.

Much like then there are some good performers doing their best who I will investigate elsewhere where their work is respected, but with WOS Wrestling, ITV have created a product that, while it was never intended to appeal to die-hard wrestling fans, I can’t see appealing to anyone else either.

Lets just hope WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament in a few weeks does a better job (I’m confident it will)…

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Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Sherlock: The Abominable BrideSince 2010 Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have regularly neglected their duties on the revived Doctor Who to revive another great figure of British popular culture, Sherlock Holmes, creating three series of genuine crossover event television (I had a look at series two here). At Christmas 2015 this reached something of a cross roads with Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, an apparently stand alone, one-off, special taking the action from the modern-day back to its original Victorian setting.

The plot takes us back to Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson’s (Martin Freeman) first meeting, in this case in the subterranean morgue of ‘St Bart’s’ hospital, circa 1880 something, before fast forwarding to a point following the duo’s famed adventures as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So we get references to these tales, most obviously The Hound of The Baskervilles and more telling to the plot The Final Problem.

It’s in these opening sequences that the story first stumbles as the apparent need to cram in references to both Conan Doyle and Moffat and Gatiss’ own version feel somewhat heavy-handed making it harder to get immersed in both the world and the story. Once this settles down though the tale of ghostly murder does pick up and get rolling, most notably from the meeting with Mycroft (Gatiss) onwards.

The Abominable Bride

The titular bride (Natasha O’Keeffe)

As it goes on an uneasy feeling falls over the whole thing and it isn’t too long before the reasons for this become obvious and this is another slight stumble as the story is clearly trying to do two things at once. On the obvious front it wants to progress the over arching story that started back in 2010, while on the other it is trying to be a compelling mystery in its own right. This leaves the middle section very uneven and while the period setting is fun it never quite rings true.

From there it largely gives up on the period plot and the modern-day one is the focus once more leading, in a way, to some interesting situations (both fun and serious) concluding on something of a loose cliffhanger teasing ahead toward the next series (currently set for early 2017).

Performance and production wise the whole thing is as top-notch as one would expect, in fact Sherlock is consistently one of the best looking and well made BBC productions I can remember, and the Victorian period is particularly well rendered with interesting little flourishes of telegrams and newspaper cuttings echoing the text messages and online news reports of the modern-day tales.

Watson (Freeman) and Holmes (Cumberbatch)

Watson (Freeman) and Holmes (Cumberbatch)

In the end then The Abominable Bride is a mixed bag of a tale that isn’t as stand alone as I had hoped but works well within the larger context and has got me suitably excited for what’s to come. I couldn’t however help but feel I’d like to see this team tackle some of the original stories in the original setting as I think they could make them just as good and engrossing as their modern variations and breath a new life into them away from the more running and fighting Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. versions.

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Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor

I don’t normally do reviews of individual episodes of a series but I’m making an exception in this case as, not only am I a huge fan of Doctor Who (historically at least), but this new season has something of a ‘make or break’ feel for me.

To put that into some context, I found the last season (8 by the new timeline), the first to feature Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, more than a bit disappointing.

With the exception of the Missy revelation there is little from it that has stuck in my mind a year later and I was left with the feeling that with this and Sherlock show runner Stephen Moffat may have taken on more than one man could deal with, leading to Doctor Who becoming somewhat like high profile fan fiction.

Doctor Who - A mysterious boy

A mysterious boy

In the build up to this season I had found my interest somewhat lacking as the powers that be in BBC’s marketing department seemed to be relying on revealing major plot points as a way of keeping us interested.

Inevitably they have ended up ‘spoilering’ a few key aspects of the story before it even started. So, I came to the new episode, The Magician’s Apprentice, more than a little doubtful.

Starting off with a rather traditional Doctor Who looking setting that could easily have been a quarry in Wales (and I really hope that at least some of it was) the pre-credits sequence managed, in one line that I won’t spoil here, to generate more intrigue than the entire last season combined and had me hooked.

The DoctorFrom there we got some back and forth with companion Clara, back at home on Earth, and UNIT while an inventive looking new kind of creature hunted for the Doctor.

To talk much more of plot details would be something of a spoiler, but suffice to say there was quite a lot to take in that I hope gets at least some kind of explanation as the series goes on.

The middle section of the episode did revert back slightly to some of the directionlessness and gimmickry of the previous season, but that was soon dealt with and the sense of intrigue returned with a further nod to the past, including a brief glimpse of Tom Baker’s Doctor.

Tom Baker's Doctor

Tom Baker’s Doctor faces a dilemma

As the episode drew to a close, on both a big ethical cliffhanger for The Doctor and a wider storyline cliffhanger, I was left with much more positive feelings than I’ve had for the show in a while.

A lot still remains to be seen in how these big set ups are dealt with going forward, and if it all succumbs to the same lack of direction as the last season, but for an opening episode The Magician’s Apprentice had a lot of good points that I hope mean we are in for a more engaging and controlled show again, like Doctor Who can be at its best.

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Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

foo fighters sonic highwaysMuch like many concept albums that came before it the idea of Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways could, on paper, sound massively self-indulgent. Across eight tracks the band travelled around the USA visiting eight cities and in each city visiting a different iconic studio to record a song.

What sets this apart from being an exercise in pure self-indulgence is two-fold. First is that the album they came up with in these unique circumstances is, somewhat bizarrely, one of the Foo Fighters’ most consistent albums to date.

Second is that as well as visiting these cities band leader Dave Grohl continued his new-found love of film, first seen in Sound City, by making a documentary TV series focusing on the musical culture of each city, while taking a behind the scenes look into the album’s recording.

Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways album cover

Sonic Highways album cover

The album itself is a great modern rock record, combining everything that has made the Foo’s reputation so far, but with an added sense of exploration and maturity.

As with much of their previous material there are hints here of where the band came from with grungy overtones and screamed vocals still present. These are tempered with huge melodies that feel custom-built to fill stadiums and festivals come the summer.

Along with that comes the more conceptual end of things where stylistic flourishes, lyrical nods and guest musicians related to each city are added to the usual Foo Fighters mix to create something extra.

While these could be overlooked on a quick listen they are there and reward re-listening brilliantly, like references and ‘Easter eggs’ in movies, just in appropriately sonic form.

Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl

While Sonic Highways is certainly the closest the Foo Fighters have come to so-called ‘Dad Rock’ it retains enough of the edge of the band members’ shared musical history to set it apart and make it a great album.

While it may not have stand out ‘singles’ like many of their other records, this new-found consistency is refreshing in an often ‘shuffle’ centric musical world.

While the album is very enjoyable by itself, it really comes into its own after absorbing the accompanying documentary series.

Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways TV series

Sonic Highways TV series poster

It would be very easy for Grohl and his crew to have taken the easy approach here by telling the obvious stories of each city, but, while these are reflected, each episode adds a personal level.

This varies from the intense connection the band has to Washington DC, Seattle and Los Angeles to the more exploratory links to Chicago, New Orleans, Nashville and Austin while the series’ climax in New York City brings it all back together.

Across the series a real insiders view of the band in the studio is also presented as we see their crew rigging the studios and the band working out the songs and recording them over the course of a few days in each location, while producer Butch Vig gives some brief but surprisingly in-depth insights into the nature of the work he and the band are undertaking.

Much like the album this comes together into something fascinating and highly enjoyable whether your interest lies in the musical heritage explored or the behind the scenes glimpse into the world of one of the rock’s biggest bands.

Butch Vig

Butch Vig

The real highlight of the whole project comes in its conclusion where Grohl, during an interview with US President Barrack Obama, puts the work into the context of a wider American culture and the notion of the ‘American dream’.

Alongside this comes a more universal idea of how the perception and value of music and culture seems to be evolving for good or bad depending on your point of view

While its conclusion is, possibly, a little on the positive and sugar-coated side (as you might expect coming from a band making millions from their art) it also leaves questions open and introduces ideas that leave the more adventurous viewers with a starting point from which to explore many new avenues of music and culture.

This makes Sonic Highways a genuinely successful conceptual, multi-media, work from a band firmly planted in the current mainstream – though I got the feeling each episode had a lot more to say that their hour run time allowed.

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks bluray coverIn the 25 years since its first broadcast Twin Peaks has become a genuinely cult television series with aficionados debating seemingly every second of the show to explore its hidden (or not so hidden) meanings and in that it has become hugely influential on a lot of TV (and general pop culture) that was to follow.

Particular to this was the mid-1990s trend for supernatural themed TV that peaked with The X-Files and almost certainly led to the likes of Lost having a home on international TV. But, for a newcomer, what charms would David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks have two and a half decades on?

Going into my first watch of Twin Peaks I knew very little, simply that it was set in a remote town on the US/Canada border and that the general theme was a murder mystery with the body of a local girl called Laura Palmer being the catalyst for everything that was to follow.

For the first, shorter, season of the two, my expectations weren’t far wrong as I was plunged into an almost soap opera like setting with a host of characters; from our maguffin chasing lead, FBI Agent Dale Cooper (the always convincing, Kyle MacLachlan) down to seemingly bit part players of the various, eccentric, townsfolk.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

As the series goes on a more esoteric thread is gradually introduced through Agent Cooper and his various visions that seem at odds to the almost heightened, soapy, feel of the rest of the show. All this builds to create at atmosphere that could only come from the mind of David Lynch.

Given the extra scope of a TV series, compared to a movie, this off kilter feel is explored with great success and gradually builds in such a way that it becomes simply part of the nature of life in this town.

While some of this leads to some funny moments, that always feel intentional, the main arc of Laura’s murder and Agent Cooper’s investigation always has a serious feeling to it and the series actually deals with some pretty serious themes as the bodies pile up and drug running and prostitution get added to the mystery.

The Log Lady

The Log Lady

Ending on a great cliffhanger Season One of Twin Peaks is a tight, undeniably weird, murder mystery with hints of Lynch’s ever present theme of exploring behind the veneer of, so-called ‘normal’, small town American life.

While season one seemed content to merely hint and suggest at a paranormal aspect from the start of its second season Twin Peaks escalated this and never let up. As intrigue and mystery piled on top of one another the plot does waver at times as it develops from a relative simple murder mystery into something much more.

To the show runners’ credit despite this escalation in scale it never really loses sense of its underlying feeling of peeling back the skin of Americana as everything is heightened and cranked up further and further.

Twin Peaks - The Red Room

The Red Room

Again there is some great comedy, particular coming in Lynch’s cameo as deaf FBI chief Gordon Cole and this is very welcome as other threads becoming increasingly disturbing – particularly those surrounding the mysterious BOB and Agent Cooper’s former FBI agent partner.

The most impressive thing as the series continues is how the various, often separate storylines, are intertwined and all join together as we head towards the dénouement.

Even 25 years later it seems wrong to spoil the ending of Twin Peaks, but its safe to say that the concluding few episodes capitalise on all that’s come before to create something the likes of which I’ve never seen in a supposedly mainstream TV show.

Twin Peaks opening titles

The original opening titles

Across both series the soundtrack and score, from Angelo Badalamenti, is a permanent fixture, often leading the action and emotion of the action or counterpointing it with reverb drenched twangy guitar and bass tones that hint at Lynch’s love of 50s rock ‘n’ roll and, in this, suit the off-centre Americana of the series.

With a movie (Fire Walk With Me) following soon after and a new series in the pipeline as I write, its clear that Twin Peaks had a strong, lasting effect on pop culture and, while I know there’s a lot more to it than one watch could ever give, it more than stands up 25 years down the road as both a landmark series and genuinely fascinating and enjoyable experience that I would describe as essential viewing for any fan of modern television.

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Royal Rumble 2015

Royal Rumble 2015 posterSo, here’s my second attempt at reviewing a current WWE show following last year’s NXT Takeover: Fatal4Way – this is the first step on the so-called ‘Road To WrestleMania’ and has already proved to be WWE’s most controversial show in a good while, at the very least since last year’s edition, this is the 2015 Royal Rumble!

Coming from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a town renowned for its rowdy wrestling crowds, the controversy was to come much later, so the majority of the undercard were, largely, celebrated for their efforts.

The first match pitted newcomers The Ascension against old hands, returning for (hopefully) a one-off, The New Age Outlaws. From the start the crowd were into the Outlaws shtick, which is always nice to hear again for nostalgia’s sake, and, along with Viktor and Konnor put on a reasonable show for their five minutes in the ring. Billy Gunn once again demonstrated that he can still go pretty well, while Road Dogg didn’t really do a great deal, but carried his end.

My main interest though was in the newcomers who, for the past few weeks, have been lumbered with a story of insulting great tag teams of the past in some cringe-worthy segments, while destroying unknowns. Here though a glimmer of their time in NXT came through, despite the best efforts of JBL burying them on commentary, and they soon hit their impressive finisher, The Fall Of Man, to pin Billy Gunn.

The Ascension

The Ascension

While the match was a bit sloppy the end should have given The Ascension a boost heading out of this angle, hopefully setting up a feud with a possible returning team hinted at later in the show, but some messy commentary from Michael Cole left it feeling a bit flat – I just hope Konnor and Viktor get the chance to be the monster heels they’ve already proved they can be now they’re on this bigger stage.

Next up came the first championship match of the show with the World Tag Team Championship up for grabs. While the match in the ring saw The Usos defending against The Miz and Damien ‘Mizdow’ the whole 10 minutes was really about the interaction between Mizdow and the crowd.

While we were treated to all the spots we’ve come to expect for this quartet as they have faced off time and again in recent months, the former ‘Intellectual Saviour of the Masses’ and his relationship with the crowd was the highlight as he aped The Miz’s actions in the ring while his partner didn’t let him in, much to the audience’s chagrin (to use an old wrestling cliché).

Uso Crazy!

Uso Crazy!

The match ended on a decent little tag spot from the Usos but they once again didn’t really do anything new or engaging that we haven’t been watching for the last five years and I can only hope this feud is coming to an end and Miz and ‘Mizdow’ can go on to singles feud that escalates the clearly talented, and over, Damien Sandow, to at least solid mid-card status.

Along with the pre-show this was the third tag team match of the night, which, to me, seems like an odd way of putting a big show together. Ok, it means none of the wrestlers have to put in as much work, before appearing again later in the Royal Rumble (in the case of those who did) but it also suggests that, despite having a lot of good hands in their roster, WWE doesn’t really have a lot going on with them and away from the main event scene the stories seem to be somewhat lacking in any sense of depth.

Natalya Neidhart and Nikki Bella

Natalya Neidhart and Nikki Bella

Another tag team match followed, this time featuring the ‘divas’, specifically The Bella Twins against the new pairing of Natalya Neidhart and Paige. The majority of the match was geared around stories from WWE’s reality show Total Divas and if you bothered listening to the commentary it felt more like and advert for that than anything else.

As ever, with Natalya involved it was at least solid as she was linchpin of proceedings making for a decent match though I’m not sure it actually went anywhere in the end as Diva’s champ Nikki Bella pinned Natalya after a decent looking forearm smash and some good selling from the current generation of the legendary Hart family.

With the undercard out the way it was time for the matches that actually felt like they had some purpose as World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar defended against John Cena and Seth Rollins.

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar and John Cena

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar and John Cena

From the start the triple threat was non-stop action with Cena doing his usual, Brock throwing everyone in sight and Rollins really proving why his elevation to top, full-time, heel is a good move. As the match went on it rarely had the feel that most triple threats do of a rotating series of one of one segments as the three men used the entirety of the ringside area to its full extent.

Of course Lesnar was booked as the monster, taking multiple finishers and still coming back. In the end it seemed to be boiling down to Cena and Rollins squaring off after some great spots that saw Lesnar put through stairs, barricades and the dreaded Spanish announce table.

After back and forth finishers and a spectacular phoenix splash from Rollins, Lesnar returned from nowhere for some more German suplexes and an F5 leaving Brock as champ and therefore making up half of the main event at April’s WrestleMania.

Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins

Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins

Following a generally lackluster opening few matches the triple threat very much turned the tide and is a standout match in all senses and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still being talked about come the end of the year. It also, hopefully, cemented Rollins as a top-level player so once Lesnar leaves WWE will at least have someone to try to fill the void he creates.

And so, onto the Royal Rumble match itself, don’t worry for the sake of everyone’s sanity I won’t go through this blow-by-blow, but pick out the crucial moments and highlights.

It started off pretty so-so before the shock return of Bubba Ray Dudley, most recently seen as Bully Ray in TNA, who looked better than ever and went through the Dudley Boys’ classic spots with R-Truth in place of an injured D-Von to a chorus of ‘ECW’ chants from the Philly crowd who were reveling in celebrating one of the their hardcore heroes.

Bubba Ray Dudley

Bubba Ray Dudley

We then got a nice spot with the former Wyatt family members squaring off which sadly wasted Luke Harper’s time in the ring as he was ousted by Bray with an assist of sorts from Erick Rowan (who wasn’t officially part of the match). This did though set up one of the Rumble’s stand out performances from Bray Wyatt who came across as a super strong character, like he hasn’t in a while, and I hope this will lead somewhere as Wyatt looks like he could be one of the best all rounders the company has at present.

Across the match we got our usual guest spot characters as Diamond Dallas Page arrived to show Randy Orton what an effective Diamond Cutter ‘out of nowhere’ really is and The Boogeyman had a fun sequence with Wyatt.

Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt

Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt

The story of the middle of the match though was that of the recently returned hyper-underdog Daniel Bryan who the crowd were behind 100% like no one else on the night. While he put in a good performance (as always) his elimination changed the mood in the arena in an instant and, to be honest, I felt sorry for pretty much everyone who came out after.

This reached its peak when Roman Reigns, long predicted to win this one, came out and went on to spend the next half hour actually doing very little of any real importance while the others in the ring did their best to put on a good match that had suddenly become painfully predictable.

Diamond Dallas Page and Bray Wyatt

Diamond Dallas Page and Bray Wyatt

One thing that was certainly missing from the Rumble was much in the way of new angles being developed, aside from Wyatt’s performance and a hint at something between Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett and Dean Ambrose everything else was just so much pointless brawling – even Kofi Kingston didn’t really get his now standard athletic surviving elimination spot, instead being ‘rescued’ by the Rosebuds in a pointless twist on his usual routine.

As the match neared its end the crowd clearly became increasingly incensed as veteran monsters Kane and Big Show demolished anyone else who the crowd was cheering for and, while this may on paper have looked like something that would build heat for The Authority, all it seemed to do was further antagonise the audience.

Big Show & Kane and Ambrose and Reigns

Big Show & Kane and Ambrose and Reigns

A brief respite from this was the pop The Rock received for his shock appearance but, once it became clear he was there to help Reigns, even The Great One couldn’t salvage things and the Rumble boiled down to heel Rusev getting cheered while face Reigns was booed and heckled as he won his spot against Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.

For the second year in a row it seemed WWE had misjudged the crowd at the Royal Rumble as what should be the beginning of an epic feud between their top good guy and top bad guy has started out with a chorus of boos (and worse) for the good guy and at least appreciation for the bad guy. Added to this is the fact that with Reigns needing help to win here and Lesnar surviving a truly epic beatdown, Reigns looks, less than ever, like a convincing challenge to the champion.

Whether this situation is turned round remains to be seen, and I’m not going to go into a tirade about what WWE may or may not ‘owe’ their fans, it just seems that in their current state they are like a runaway train with no real sense as where their actions today might lead tomorrow, let alone in two months time.

Roman Reigns and The Rock

Roman Reigns and The Rock

In the end the 2015 Royal Rumble was a mixed bag highlighted by the must see World Championship Triple Threat Match, but while the Rumble match itself had some good spots, it’s mostly recommended as a talking point more than an actual good match and it left the Road To WrestleMania looking like a very rocky one indeed, both on and off-screen.

Photos from WWE.com

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Monty Python Live (Mostly) – One Down Five To Go

Monty Python Live (mostly) - One Down Five To GoWith a career dating back to the early 1960s the six men who made up Monty Python have been largely living on nostalgia since their second proper movie (and arguable highlight) Life of Brian. So, when they announced a ‘one-off’ series of reunion live shows last year I was far from the super excited fan I might once have been.

That said, while their track record is scrappy at best with at least as many misses as hits across their TV shows and movies, there is certainly enough there to make for an entertaining two and a half hour show.

It is largely these that the show draws on but, unfortunately, many of even these fall flat as they are presented in a way that may once have been ironic for a sketch troupe, but now just feels contrived and stayed.

The production is huge, as you’d expect for a live arena show, but this sucks the life out of what the troupe did best – tightly scripted and performed sketch comedy. This is particularly well demonstrated in the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ sketch in which Eric Idle over plays his part, Terry Jones looks a bit confused and it ends segueing into a song and dance number using a mash-up of lines from the sketch that is at best tiresome.

Eric Idle

Eric Idle

Eric Idle over playing is a problem across the whole show as he seems to take a lion’s share of the stage time and use it for his many songs which, originally were funny, but are now left as overblown pastiches of what once made them work – and it really doesn’t help that his voice hasn’t held up as well as he seems to think it has.

The best moments of the show are where it reverts back to sketch format and particularly those involving Michael Palin, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam. Palin and Gilliam look like they are genuinely having fun that really helps their moments come to life and Cleese, when on stage with Palin, has a similar presence.

Gilliam, Palin and Jones

Gilliam, Palin and Jones

Thankfully this means that some of my favourite sketches, The Lumberjack Song, the vocational guidance counselor, the dead parrot, the Spanish Inquisition and the cheese shop all work very well and at points where they fluff moments they run with it in the way that shows the comedic talent these guys once had.

With a string of pointless celebrity guests spots, quite why Eddie Izzard and Mike Myers were even there is beyond me, and more over elaborate dance numbers, Monty Python Live (Mostly) is at best a mixed bag and at worst a near failure that really is only for the diehards or those masochists who want to see what was once vibrant and anarchic become so much the establishment it is, at times, painful.

It’s telling that the biggest cheers are saved for the late Graham Chapman who appears in old clips peppered throughout and who, therefore, has not become a borderline irrelevant pastiche of what Python once was.

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Filmed in Supermarionation

Filmed In Supermarionation posterTelling the story AP Films (APF) and, later, Century 21 Productions, Filmed In Supermarionation offers the chance to step back to the 1960s with the people behind the likes of Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.

While there seems to be an interesting story to tell here, this film never quite manages to find it. We start off with Parker and Lady Penelope introducing us to the story, which they are oddly reading from a book (surely watching the movie would make more sense) and, for the first half of the film at least, we cut back to them and Brains, from time to time, to move things on.

This device disappears part way through the movie though leaving what could have been quite a nice quirky aspect of the filming feeling poorly thought out, which is a thought that continually occurred across the following 120 minutes.

The general arc takes us from through the early puppet TV shows produced by Gerry Anderson and into the more famous sci-fi series that followed up to the odd live action/puppet mixed that sealed their fate. The bulk of the film consists of a mix of talking head interviews, archive interviews and what could have been some interesting segments where Anderson’s son takes some of the original puppeteers back to where the studios used to be.

Parker and Lady Penelope

Parker and Lady Penelope

Unfortunately, and not wishing to sound cruel, a lot of these segments have more of the air of an outing from an old folks home than an insightful documentary and, while all involved are charming, there is little genuine insight to be had here.

It doesn’t help that neither studio really exists anymore (one is clearly now a mechanics workshop) so its left with what often feels like people stood chatting in a car park next to a model.

The talking heads sequences aren’t much better and, aside from the rather dry Gerry Anderson talking about his dealing with TV impresario Lew Grade and Sylvia Anderson telling the bulk of the behind the scenes story, it left me feeling like I’d spent some time with a parade of old English eccentrics, more than anything else. The chap who voiced Parker, however is something of a highlight.

Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson

What Filmed In Supermarionation is most successful at is reminding me how much I used to love the likes of Stingray and Captain Scarlet, when they were revived in my youth in the late 80s and early 90s, and quite how impressive some of the work they did was considering when they were made. Stingray in particular looks a good decade ahead of its time here in terms of production quality and Captain Scarlet has some surprisingly dark and brutal touches I hadn’t previously considered.

I think the biggest problem with Filmed In Supermarionation comes with the fact that it was conceived as a feature documentary but can’t escape the TV feel, so, rather than the cinema and Blu-ray release it has had, I think it would be much more suited to a cut down run on BBC Four (or the like) as its first hour drags as we work through the earlier, less well-remembered, shows.

Filmed in Supermarionation

One of the recreated sets

As expected the segment on Thunderbirds is the most in-depth and seems to be where most of the talking heads come to life most as well, possibly hinting at why this was the most successful of the shows, but again not much is revealed that hasn’t been well discussed in the past.

In an odd move, it leaves things on something of a down beat note as we find out that once Century 21 folded, most of the models were simply smashed and thrown in skips in front of the people who’d spent years working on them. This kills the warm nostalgic feeling that had been built and left me not too keen to watch the bonus disc of classic episodes of the TV shows, which is surely something of a crime.

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True Detective

True DetectiveGenerally speaking the TV detective drama is not one that appeals to me greatly. From the standard fare of British made TV shows, to the more recent spate of Scandinavian series and more intense and modern British variants, aside from the comic book inflected Sherlock, none have appealed enough in their marketing to make me actually watch.

So I came to HBO’s True Detective hopeful, yet cautious, once my friends’, who’s opinion of TV shows I trust more than any advertising, convinced me it was worth my time.

As things started, I wasn’t entirely convinced as we got a semi-flashback related tale of an ‘exotic’ (for want of a better word) murder that fitted the mould of many seen in films and TV over the years.

What did hook me in though in these early episodes (and the whole series is only 8 episodes long) were the performances of the two leads.

true-detective-the-long-bright-darkWoody Harrelson has long been a reliable screen presence seemingly easily turning his hand to pretty much anything from the light comedy that made his name in Cheers to more sinister roles in the likes of Natural Born Killers. Here was no different as his conflicted, but generally straight and by the book, detective was as believable and well explored as any TV character I’ve seen.

The real gem of True Detective though comes in the form of Matthew McConaughey. Aside from his impressive cameo in Wolf Of Wall Street, this was the first time I’d seen anything from his screen “renaissance” away from the role he’d been stuck in of romantic comedies and leaning on things in posters, and to say he impressed is an understatement.

true-detective-mcconaughyWith a character that shows two different sides from the start, his performance across the series is exemplary and he does what is the most impressive thing an actor can do of disappearing into the role. This is something the likes of Johnny Depp try to do through the use of excessive make-up and physical ticks but here (aside from a wig and a moustache) McConaughey does it purely through performance.

The relationship that builds between the two characters becomes the over arching linchpin of the series and is genuinely engrossing to such a degree that there were points where I though the murder mystery might become pure maguffin to the two detectives’ tale.

True Detective landscapeThe mystery plot however is the series’ other hook. It’s going to be hard to discuss much without spoilers but, having 8 hours to play with, gives the series time to develop what in a movie would be derivative. This creates a creeping Southern Gothic vibe and make the characters, no matter how big or small, become part of the Louisiana landscape that seems to somehow be feeding the events, with the music acting to complement this in one of the strongest ways I’ve seen in TV or film.

With a culmination that adds this to the high-end of the horror-mystery genre seen in the likes of Silence of the Lambs, but with a whole lot more on top, along with a continued focus on the titular detectives’ lives, True Detective has landed near the top of TV I’ve seen.

true-detective-harrelson-mcconaugheyIt combines real high tension mystery with a deep plot, based both in the mystery and in the characters involved, while keeping enough un-shown to make for a genuinely satisfying conclusion that doesn’t instantly set up, or even hint at, a second series.

Added to this there is a sense that this is more than just a murder mystery or detective procedural, but I think the extras everyone takes away from it will be different, so I’ll leave it up to you to discover those.

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NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way

nxt takeover logoI don’t usually do full reviews for pro-wrestling events, preferring to ‘live’ tweet them as I watch over at @TomGirard, but as this is my first proper taste of NXT I thought it would be worth it.

Coming in, I had heard all the hype about NXT being where the best of WWE’s output now is and, for the most part, its hard to disagree as this show combines the small arena vibe of an indie show with the high budget and high concept that has become WWE’s trademark along with some great in ring action.

Onto the actual show and its all action straight from the get go, as the NXT Tag Team Championship is defended by The Ascension against Sin Cara (mk.2) and Kalisto. As the luchadores come to the ring, with a great reaction from the crowd, we get a nice quick recap of their tournament wins to get here before the Ascension come out looking every part the big, tough, mysterious guys they want to.

Kalisto flies at The Ascension

Kalisto flies at The Ascension

The match itself is pretty non-stop with the big guy heels getting to show some power, but the lion’s share of the impressive moments going to Sin Cara and Kalisto with a bunch of high-flying offence you’d expect from a lucha-gimmicked team.

It was also nice to hear the masked men get some mic time and good to see Sin Cara (or Hunico as I guess this now is) getting some good time to work and not just get squashed or ridiculed.

This was a great way to start the show with action throughout and set up exactly why NXT has been so hyped for a newcomer like me. It also saw the first of a few botches of the night but none were really so much as to detract and mostly came off as the guys trying to impress rather than sloppiness or laziness like botches on the ‘main roster’ often appear.

Next was the first of four promo packages focusing on the guys in the titular main event of the show. All four of these do an excellent job of hyping both the match and the wrestlers letting us know who they are, what they do and why this is an important match for each of them, while not giving away so much we know what’s going to happen in the match.

Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin

The second match is the first squash of the night with the debuting Baron Corbin destroying CJ Parker in seconds. Corbin seemed over and Parker looked interesting but as the match was two moves long it was hard to get much out of it, other than Corbin sure has a look, but it will be interesting to see what they can do with it.

More main event hype (that is actually making it feel like a ‘main event’) before the hair vs. hair match. With a French team here, a pair of Mexican luchadores earlier, a British champion and the upcoming debut of Kenta, I was amazed at how international the NXT roster feels, especially for WWE who are usually a very ‘USA, USA’ kind of organisation.

The hair vs. hair match itself is ok but the promos before outshine it a bit as Enzo Amore and Big Cass are very over and have something of Shawn Michaels and Diesel to their characters that is good to see again. The match tells a good story and, even if they bottle out a bit on the actual head shaving, it does save us from the often slow, crowd killer moment, of trying to shave someone’s head on live TV.

Hideo Itami aka KENTA

Hideo Itami aka KENTA

Now its time for one of the big moments of the night as new ‘General Manager’ (and wrestling legend) William Regal comes to the ring to introduce ‘international superstar’ Kenta.

Its clear here, if it wasn’t before that this crowd know their stuff as they give Kenta a great reception, although they quickly seem to tire when he delivers the first half of his promo in Japanese – though I liked that, especially as this was going out live on Japanese TV.

Once he’s speaking English the crowd are back into it though and we find out he’s now going by the name Hideo Itami, an odd choice after hyping Kenta, but I’ll go with it for now. He gets ambushed by The Ascension but then cleans house and physically says, to quote the Undertaker, “this is my yard” and the crowd seem to get the name change with a few Hideo and Itami chants amongst the Kentas. This was a nice segment and got Itami over big, although I’m not sure how good it will be for The Ascension as they just got bested by one guy…

Bull Dempsey's flying headbutt

Bull Dempsey’s flying headbutt

Another squash match next which pretty much just fills the space after Kenta’s appearance but manages to give some heat to Bull Dempsey and show that NXT isn’t afraid to be hard-hitting as some of the shots here look stiff. Then we get a follow-up to the hair vs. hair match with Amore and Cass finding Marcus Louis and revealing his newly shaved head and again being generally entertaining.

Now its time for what the commentators refer to as the first part of the double main event. It’s first mention of that but its nice to hear and generally the commentators are on much better form than I expected – they don’t really call moves a lot but they help tell the story and don’t just talk about Twitter and the Network all the time and having a female voice adds a nice new dynamic too.

Charlotte's moonsault

Charlotte’s moonsault

The match in question is for the NXT Women’s Championship (I was very pleased not to hear Diva’s used in that context) with underdog Bayley going up against the daughter of Ric Flair, Charlotte.

Bayley does a good job playing the enthusiastic underdog, but it was hard to tell whether she’s actually a bit green or was just playing the part, while Charlotte has all the arrogance you’d expect from the offspring of The Nature Boy and clearly got a lot of the wrestling talent from her dad that David didn’t.

The match is good, and up there with the best main roster Diva’s matches I remember seeing in years, so, while it’s not perfect, it is entertaining, has some nice spots and tells a good little story, that builds in the post-match.

And now its time for your main event…

The titular fatal 4 way pitting high-flying face champion Adrian Neville against hard-working face Sami Zayn, arrogant heel Tyler Breeze and comparative veteran heel Tyson Kidd.

Tyson Kidd, Taylor Breeze, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn

Tyson Kidd, Taylor Breeze, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn

This is a match of two halves as the first half is something of a boring ‘schmoz’ (thanks OSW review) on the outside of the ring, followed by an extended beat down from Kidd on Zayn. There’re a few good spots here but mostly it drags and had me wondering if these four would pull off a fatal 4 way that could live up to the hype.

Once they properly get back in the ring though it really picks up with Zayn on the receiving end of pretty much everything and building a huge amount of face sympathy from the crowd that is perfectly worked for his character.

With some great spots, including the always scary looking four man superplex/powerbomb from the top rope, the match manages to get all four men over well with signatures moves from each of them, though I felt Breeze lost out a bit compared to the others and the cameras cut away from Zayn’s Helluva (Ole) kick.

Top rope superplex powerbomb

Top rope superplex powerbomb

The ending was equally well done so as not to have anyone come out looking weak while not being a ‘bullshit finish’ and launch a new angle with Zayn and Neville.

With Itami booked for the next NXT show and a bunch of interesting angles being developed here, I certainly intend to keep watching and, while there were a few botches and the squash matches weren’t up to much, this was a much more consistently entertaining show than pretty much any WWE shows so far this year.

Photos by WWE.

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