Appreciating Chyna

Joanie Laurer, better known to most as Chyna, died on Wednesday, and it's a damn shame to see another professional wrestler (or anyone, really) lose the fight with the demons in their life.  It's especially tragic because although she will be lauded and celebrated now that she is gone, she should have received her due when she was still here to enjoy it.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone, sadly, because although I saw most of her career in the WWE, I didn't pay as much attention as I probably should have, and did even less so in the years since as she bounced around the lower ends of the entertainment field.  And it's sad, because she was important for two reasons.

1.  She wasn't a sex symbol.  Women's wrestling in the US has been around a long time, but until the past decade or two it was usually just the breather match, the place on the card to go to the bathroom or get another hot dog.  And if you did stay in your seat, what you mostly got was a lot of slaps and hair pulling.  By the time you get to the 1990s and the WWF/E "Attitude Era," most of the women were no better than car show models, parading around displaying the miracles of modern elective medical science in their increasingly tiny tops, and if they wrestled at all it was in "bra and panties" matches where they'd be stripped to their skivvies while a salavating Jerry Lawler screamed "PUPPIES! PUPPIES! BWA-HLA-HLA-HA-HA!'

Chyna was different, though.  Chyna wrestled.  Chyna kicked ass.  Chyna ran with the boys.  Hell, for the bulk of her time in McMahonland she defended the boys, acting as the heater / bouncer / bodyguard for Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and the rest of D-Generation X.  She was mad, bad, and dangerous to know... if you messed with DX, you might have gotten a beating from the guys, but you would definitely have gotten one from Chyna.  And she continued to be an ass-kicker post-DX, twice winning the Intercontinental Championship (three times if you count when she and Chris Jericho were declared co-champions), the only woman to do so.  The reigns weren't long, but they're considered official and legitimately, understandably groundbreaking.

2. She was a sex symbol.  Bigger female wrestlers weren't a new phenomenon by the time Chyna happened onto the scene, but they were always booked and promoted as oddities, the side-sideshow to the sideshow.  They were big, they were fat, they were ugly, they were to be feared and looked down upon in equal measure.  Chyna was different.  She was certainly bigger than the other women on the roster at the time, but she was tough looking and muscular.  This invited a certain amount of "hurr, hurr, she's a dude" snickering at first, but that changed over time.

Admittedly, her looks were altered over time, too - she left the WWE with a bigger chest and smaller chin than when she had come in - and I'm sure that helped to a degree, but even still the overall effect marked a massive sea change for women in the wrestling world.  She was tall, she was muscular, she could put a hurting on you, but she was also - wait for it - a sexual being.  She was Eddie Guerrero's mamacita, master to the Kat's slave, and out in the real world even posed for Playboy.  A woman could be big and strong and still be sexy... given how many of the women in American professional wrestling at the time looked like exceptionally buoyant Barbie dolls, the importance of this cannot be undersold.

Her life before and after wrestling (and probably even during) was reportedly hard, and that's a damn shame.  She was billed in the WWE as "the Ninth Wonder of the World" (Andre the Giant being the eighth, for those keeping track at home), and that title was deserved in many ways.  It's just heartbreaking that it took this to make me realize that... maybe if we all had done so sooner, things might have gone better for her.

Rest in peace, Ms. Laurer, and thanks.

Say, Jim, that is actually a pretty decent outfit, wooooo!

DC's Rebirth is a-comin' down the pike in the next few months and the thing that most people are talking about (besides the fact that it's not really the rollback to the pre-New 52 DC Comics universe a lot of folks - maybe sometimes myself included - were hoping for) is that the Superman featured in all the press materials is the pre-reboot, married-to-Lois-and-now-with-a-kid Superman, the one we saw in Convergence and the Superman: Lois & Clark miniseries (info here, but probably some spoilers).  New 52 Clark seems nowhere to be found (this past week's Superman #51 has a big clue as to maybe why, and there are definitely spoilers at this link).  There will also be a Chinese man with Kryptonian-like powers getting a book called The Super-Man, and aforementioned Super Son will be getting his own spin-off book with the Damien Wayne Robin called The Super Sons (and his hoodie/costume looks all kinds of rad).

Now, I'm as curious as to the hows and whys and what nexts of all this as the next Comic Book Fan of a Certain Age, but what makes me happiest about this news is that it looks like we'll finally be rid of that New 52 Super-armor and in its place will be a Superman costume that more closely resembles the recent Henry Cavill movie uniform.
(art by Patrick Gleason)
Though there seems to be some question as to how it will actually be colored, though:
(Artist unknown)
But no matter.  While I still prefer something closer to the traditional, red trunks costume (as do most product licensors if the shelves at stories almost everywhere are any indication), this is a damn sight better than that godawful, clunky, priest-collared thing the Man of Steel has been wearing since 2011 and I can live with it because I thought the movie costume worked well and have been wondering when the powers of cross-platform synergy were going to finally take hold.

As for the comics themselves, I'll wait and see but I am cautiously optimistic.  I haven't enjoyed a lot of the New 52-era Superman books I have read (though the brief Geoff Johns / John Romita, Jr. run was decent, and #51 that I mentioned above was pretty good), but I liked what I have read of the Lois & Clark miniseries and I am absolutely loving the Superman: American Alien series from Max Landis, so I have hope that a more traditional, less mopey Superman is the four color panacea I've been hoping to see.  Time will tell, I suppose, but if nothing else it will be easier on the eyes.

The Up Too Late Film Club #4 (Field Trip Edition): Thoughts on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (SPOILERS)

Like so many of the rest of you, I made it out to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice this weekend (and seeing as I crossed state lines to see it with friends up in Maine and didn't make it to bed until about 2am afterward, it counts as an Up Too Late Film Club field trip).  Unlike a lot of you, though, I actually kinda liked Man of Steel, so I didn't have quite the same amount of baggage going into it that many did.  I still had my fears, though (mostly due to comments of director Zack Snyder), so if I went in optimistic, it was cautiously so.

I'll break my thoughts up into two sections: the short, spoiler-free version, and then some more in-depth, spoilery comments to follow.

Quick Thoughts, Spoiler-Free: it tries to do waaaaaaaay too much, it squanders an awesome supporting cast, the villain is weak, and I didn't love the ending, but what it does well it does very well and you can't accuse it of being unambitious or boring. Henry Cavill was properly Supermanly, Ben Affleck was a better Batman than Christian Bale, and Gal Gadot steals the show in her (too few) scenes as Wonder Woman.

More specific comments to be found in between pictures of the lovely Ms. Gadot:

Seriously... HERE BE SPOILERS.  Okay, here we go.

The Good:
For all the talk of the wholesale destruction in Man of Steel and the fears that this would me just more of the same, I think the movie did a good job of addressing the issue.  It wasn't just shrugged off and moved on from, there were lasting consequences that affected each of the characters and their motivations, good and bad alike.  It drove Clark to take his responsibilities seriously and realize his every action has an equal and opposite reaction; it may have pushed Bruce too far, but an over-reactive Batman shouldn't be anything new to people who have read DC Comics in the past 20 years; Holly Hunter's senator's motivations seemed realistically driven by a desire to protect the public good and a basic, understandable fear, etc.

On a related note, Henry Cavill's Clark showed some real growth, both as Superman and in his job at the Daily Planet, both driven by the same instinct to inform and protect.  Having grown up on 1980s post-Crisis Superman, I prefer the idea that it's Superman that's the disguise not Clark, and that the same values and responsibilities drive both of the major facets of his life.

I stand by my assertion that Ben Affleck was a stronger Batman than Christian Bale, particular as an older, at-it-for-20-years Batman.  He was strong and driven, and clearly the most clever guy in any given room.  As grim as he was, it was still kind of weirdly fun to watch him Batman around, particularly given the fight choreography.  And I was psyched that they finally put a more traditional Bat-costume on the big screen instead of the usual all-black body armor.  It looked great.

I realize it wasn't her movie, but Gal Gadot could have had a lot more screen time and I would have been happy because she owned every scene she was in, whether she was playing the part of mysterious international glamour woman or badass Amazon warrior.  I'm excited that she gets a whole movie to herself next year, though... the early footage we've seen looks amazing.

It's a shame that we didn't see more of the supporting cast, because they were excellent, particularly Amy Adams's Lois Lane, who we at least got to see do a little more shoe-leather reporting this time, play a part in the action, and show that maybe all this getting rescued by Superman does take a toll; Lawrence Fishburne's Perry White, who (although he never says it) plays the part of the "getting too old for this shit" guy pitch perfectly, and has a nice arc about the battle between what journalism is and what it could be), and most especially Jeremy Irons's Alfred, who could very easily have just echoed Michael Caine but went his own way and created a character who is still recognizably Alfred but very much his own man.

It wasn't so dark!  I mean, sure, the story was pretty grim & gritty, but it didn't look like it was all shot in a coal mine, so you could actually tell what color everyone's costumes were supposed to be this time around.  It was still more "Early Dusk of Justice" than "Dawn of Justice," but still, since film is a visual medium it's nice to be able to see things.

The Bad:
There's no avoiding it: it's just too busy.  The story is built on the framework of The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman, but also elements of Batman: Year One and "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way" figure in hugely.  It has to set up Wonder Woman's movie, lay the groundwork for an eventual Affleck Batman movie, introduce characters and situations that will pay off in the JLA movie, drop some hints of things that I suspect will be picked up on in Suicide Squad this summer, and oh yeah, act as a sequel to Man of Steel.  By my count, that's nine movies' worth of material all rammed into one.  So, yeah, it's ambitious, and by my reckoning I technically got more than my money's worth, but still, it's way too much to do in the space of one movie, and stuff like plot points and especially characters get short shrifted.

On a related note, there are a few times the movie makes some logical leaps that probably should have been explained a little better.  There are assumptions that can be made, sure - Clark's identity was incredibly guessable at the end of Man of Steel, for instance, so someone of Lex's intellect and resources could put it all together pretty easily - but a line or two of explanation here and there wouldn't have hurt, especially since we go from Lex turning on Zod's ship's computer to him knowing the recipe for Doomsday pretty quickly.  It's weird that a nearly 3 hour movie can still feel like there's stuff left out (but I guess that's why there will be an even longer Blu-Ray release, I guess).

Too.  Many.  Dream sequences.  Just way too many dream sequences.  They always feel like lazy exposition dump devices.  Also, no one ever dreams that lucidly or logically.  And everyone has pants, which almost never happens in my dreams, but perhaps I've said too much.

It needed more Wonder Woman.  I know she didn't get title billing, and it's not like there wasn't enough else going on in all corners of the screen at every second, but seriously, Wonder Woman was awesome.  Her movie can't come soon enough.

It needed more Aquaman!  It's weird that he's getting so much merchandise for being on screen for like 5 seconds.  That's like practically a Star Wars cantina creature screen time-to-action figure ratio there.  If Arthur gets a figure, then where is convenience store cooler Flash (with screaming armor dream sequence variant) or weird Rubik's cube Cyborg?

That "and here's the rest of the nascent JLA" scene just kinda stops the whole thing dead for a few minutes.  It's weird to have a movie pause for coming attractions in the 3rd act.

The Ugly:
I really wanted to like Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, but I just couldn't.  I've enjoyed his performances in stuff like Zombieland and The Social Network, but here he just came off like he was imitating Michael Cera imitating Jim Carrey's version of the Riddler.  Lex needs gravitas, not awkward, manic energy.  It just didn't work for me at all.
Okay, spoilery bit over.

In the end, I think the people spewing the worst of the bile about it online are the people who have been doing so since the moment the project was announced, and they're continuing to make a conscious choice to hate on it.  I can see where it wouldn't be everyone's cuppa, and it is definitely flawed, but if you give it a fair shake I do think there's plenty in there to enjoy despite those very flaws.

Remembrance of Rings Past

I became a huge fan of professional wrestling as a kid, and I was a fan of the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) in particular.  The only problem was that I was living in Bangor, Maine, and though the then-WWF had come to my town sporadically before I discovered the world of sports entertainment, my particular golden age of wrestling fandom was something of a dry spell for live events in the area.  There were local, indie promotions that would put on shows at the fair and stuff, and those were fine, but what I really wanted the bigger-than-life people I was seeing on the USA Network.

As the 90s dawned, though, we started getting some house shows at last, and though my initial interest in pro wrestling was starting to ebb a little (I'd walk away and come back several times through the years), it was so exciting to hear they were actually coming that of course I had to go.  In the years since, I recalled having good times at those shows but didn't have many concrete memories of what happened beyond a few specific happenings, but I recently stumbled upon a site called The History of WWE, and among many other things it lists the results of both TV and arena shows throughout the decades.  My memories of the details are still a little hazy, and some of their listings are incomplete, but I was so excited to find them and relive these events that some specifics floated back to the surface.  Here are the listings from that site for the shows I got to attend, and a few reminiscences here and there where they fit:

WWF @ Bangor, ME - Auditorium - June 14, 1991
Flag Day
The Berzerker pinned Koko B. Ware at the 9 minute mark after dropping him throat-first across the top rope
The Warlord defeated Jim Powers (sub. for Kerry Von Erich) via submission with the full nelson at the 9 minute mark
The Big Bossman pinned the Mountie with the sidewalk slam at 6:15
Roddy Piper pinned Ted Dibiase with a small package after a low blow at the 9 minute mark
Greg Valentine defeated the Barbarian via disqualification at 6:30 after the Barbarian shoved the referee
The Bushwhackers defeated the Orient Express at 9:30 when Butch pinned Tanaka after Luke interfered behind the referee's back
Jim Duggan pinned Sgt. Slaughter in a flag match with the running clothesline; Virgil was the special referee for the bout

Oh, man, I was so excited for this show.  I was practically sitting in the rafters at the Bangor Auditorium but it was still so exciting to finally see these guys in real life.  Funny thing about Jim Powers subbing for Kerry Von Erich ("The Texas Tornado")... he was actually billed as Kerry Von Erich (sort of like how the WWF would later occasionally try and pass others off as The Undertaker, Diesel, and Razor Ramon).  It was hard to tell from where I was sitting (although he definitely didn't move the same way), but friends with better seats assured us that it was not the real deal in the ring.  Von Erich had a lot of problems going on at this point in life, though, would be gone from the WWF for good a bit later, and would be dead by 1993.  

In better news, the Big Bossman (a 2016 WWE Hall of Fame inductee) was amazing... really astounding to see a guy that big move so agilely.  And Roddy Piper, oh man, so much fun in the ring and out.  Also, this was when Sgt. Slaughter had renounced the USA (and presumably GI Joe royalties?), hence the flag match with Hacksaw.  Many "USA! USA!" chants were shouted.

WWF @ Bangor, ME - Auditorium - September 12, 1991
The Berzerker defeated Phil Apollo
Jim Duggan defeated Hercules
Ricky Steamboat defeated Skinner
The Beverly Brothers defeated the Bushwhackers
Million $ Champion Virgil defeated Ted Dibiase
WWF Tag Team Champions the Legion of Doom defeated the Nasty Boys
WWF IC Champion Bret Hart defeated the Warlord (sub. for Mr. Perfect)
Roddy Piper (sub. for the Ultimate Warrior) defeated the Undertaker in a bodybag match

Oh, this show.  This is the one I remember best, and probably will my whole life.  First of all, IIRC, Phil Apollo was subbing for another wrestler who didn't show.  As the ring announcer stated this and introduced him, the entire crowd shouted "WHO?!" in unison.  It was funny and sad at the same time.

Now, the Beverly Brothers and the Bushwhackers... oh, man, this was tough.  Beau and Blake Beverly were very well-coiffed, manicured, neatnik, fancy-dressed, blonde guys, your classic "sissy heel" wrestling archetypes.  The Bushwhackers were rough and tumble toothless sheepherders from New Zealand.  In the midst of this long-standing feud between them, the latter would often make fun of the former and call them "the Beverly Sisters."  At this show, they stepped up their game by outright calling them, well, all manner of homophobic slurs, and they got the arena to chant along with them.  It was awkward, and ugly as hell.  I remember by buddy Cori and I looking at each other and saying "Hey, you know, this really doesn't feel right, and if there are indeed gay people here tonight" - yeah, we said "if," because we were 15 in central Maine and still didn't know how life worked - "I bet they're really uncomfortable right now."  It was one of those "Hey, I don't want to be that kind of person and also it wouldn't be the worst idea ever to move someday" moments that helps define who you are and how you want to be.

As for the main event, people were pissed that Warrior no-showed, but Roddy Piper coming in to sub was amazing.  He put on a hell of a show, went over the Undertaker in his own specialty match (and even then 'Taker was pretty much at a point where he didn't have to job to anyone he didn't want to), and made a hell of a lot of fans in Maine that day.  This was the day that, in my mind, made him one of the all-time greats.  Showing up and making you (as an audience or an individual) feel like you matter is huge, you guys.

WWF @ Bangor, ME - Auditorium - December 30, 1991
WWF IC Champion Bret Hart vs. Ted Dibiase
Roddy Piper vs. Ric Flair

Not a lot of info on this one, and I don't recall it very well, either, just that I was there...  I wish I did remember it better, because come on, Piper vs. Flair!

WWF @ Bangor, ME - Auditorium - March 1, 1992 (matinee)
The Warlord pinned Chris Walker
Tito Santana pinned Ted Dibiase
The Big Bossman pinned Repo Man
Kato pinned JW Storm
Davey Boy Smith pinned Rick Martel with the running powerslam
The Natural Disasters defeated Sgt. Slaughter & Jim Duggan via disqualification
Hulk Hogan defeated WWF World Champion Ric Flair via count-out

The last WWF show I went to as a kid, and I don't remember this one too well, either, except that it was the day we finally got to see Hulk Hogan.  As stated, this was when Flair was WWF champ, so we knew we wouldn't see the title change hands (because it was a house show... on a Sunday afternoon... in Maine), but I have to disagree with what the results say because I clearly recall that Hogan not only won, but it was by a pin count, he was declared "the winner... and NEW WWF World Champion" etc., handed the belt, and got to parade around the ring with it.  Of course, we knew that TV would never reflect this, and he'd either drop the belt again at the very next show, or else it would just never be mentioned again.  Not sure what the deal was... maybe there was some kind of shenanigans and I just don't remember it.

Regardless, this was the last wrestling show of any kind that I attended until seeing a Monday Night Raw live at the Centrum in Worcester, MA, in late 1999 (that's for another day).  By this time, my interest was starting to wane (as the era of the "everyone had a day job" gimmicks began, it all got too silly even for me), and apparently the WWF's interest in Bangor had waned as well because it looks like there were only 2 more shows and another long dry spell began.  But even if I was less excited by the overall product, the shows were all still incredibly fun... sitting in the crowd, cheering the babyfaces, booing the heels, and buying into the questionable reality of it all even for just a few short hours, it's an experience that's hard to beat.  Professional wrestling is the closest thing real life comes to superhero comics; how could I not love it?

Fantasy Booking 3

Diana didn't object to the Divas' title, per se.  She appreciated how it celebrated the spirit of sisterhood, and who doesn't love a big, bright, cheerful butterfly?  However, she never saw the point of a separate championship for women, as if they needed to be segregated into their own division.  Combat is combat, and to the victor go the spoils.

Besides, this belt already had her ring name's initials on it in big, bold letters, so...

The Up Too Late Film Club #3: It's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Harper Lee passed away recently, and like nearly everyone who had ever read To Kill a Mockingbird, the news made me sad because it was an amazing book.  Seeing and reading numerous remembrances of the woman and the book reminded me that I had never seen the (arguably) equally acclaimed 1962 movie adaptation despite always meaning to get around to it.  Seeing as it was readily available via Netflix and I had a free night (and as is the case for most of the movies I watch these days, a heartbreakingly early morning ahead to which I paid no mind), I figured it was time to fix that.

So let's get the easy part out of the way: yeah, of course I loved it.  It's beautifully shot; the script captures the look, feel, and flavor of the novel note-perfectly despite the inevitable cuts that are the sad necessity of screen adaptation; and the performances are all amazing, career-defining work.  It's considered a classic, and justifiably so says I.

So with that out of the way, let's talk about monsters, because that is what I think this story is about.

Everyone - regardless of gender, race, belief, or age - deals with monsters in their lives. Miss Leebreaks those down into three major categories.

The first is the monster we imagine.  This could be something that is purely unreal - the thing we're convinced is waiting in the closet or under the bed - or it could be based on something or someone very real that has been built up by a story that wanders a little further away from the truth with each retelling.  Boo Radley's legend is spread by scared kids and nervous grown-ups alike, a few unfortunate events in his life being blown out of proportion to the point where he's seen as the sort of Thing Chained in the Basement, only a torch- and pitchfork-wielding mob away from starring his own B-movie.  Tom Robinson is similarly cast, placed on trial for a crime he physically could not have committed and convicted in the court of public opinion (and eventually a court of law) just because the story fits the prejudiced narrative that was therefore easier for many to accept than the truth, even if that truth was obvious to any who would consider the facts for even a moment.

The second monster is the one of coercion, bolstered by a combination of fear and the anonymity of a crowd.  There's the terrified Mayella Ewell, of course, the woman who falsely accuses Tom and clearly fears her father Bob (more on him in a minute), but there's an arguably better example a little earlier in the story.  As Tom spends the night in jail awaiting his trial, the jailhouse is descended upon by a mob seeking what they consider to be justice.  They are united in a common belief that one of their own has been hurt, and they are taking it upon themselves to right a wrong.  Atticus Finch holds his ground in front of the building, attempting to keep them from storming in and outright murdering the man inside. He doesn't have much luck turning the tide, and it isn't until the kids show up and Scout addresses one of them by name that anything changes.  Instead of being a faceless member of the crowd, he's now Mr. Cunningham, the farmer who brought them some hickory nuts one time, a man who was a client of Atticus's, the father of the schoolmate who came home with the Finch kids for lunch one time.  Returned to the role of being an individual, he skulks away, as does the rest of the crowd.

These first two types of monsters have something in common: they disappear in the light of day.  A willingness to accept the truth, or a reminder of one's own humanity is usually all it takes to vanquish them.

The third type of monster is harder to slay.  This is the one who has chosen to be the monster.  The causes and aims can vary wildly, but in the end it all comes down to the same thing: the desire to seek out and destroy anything and anyone different, which is what they most fear.  We can speculate all day about what made Bob Ewell the way he is - what motivates his racist attitudes and violent outbursts against not only anyone he determines as Other, but also those who would support them - but it is abundantly clear that he is rotten to the core, as monstrous in the light of day as the dark of night.

Bob is the monster that cannot be reasoned with, only fought and, eventually, destroyed.  So much so that (and I'm sorry if I'm spoiling a nearly 60 year old story here) when he attacks the Finch children and is in turn killed by Boo Radley in the latter's effort to save them, no one really cares.  Atticus, the very picture of reason and nobility, of course worries about the legal ramifications because he venerates the system of justice above almost everything else, but the Sheriff repeatedly urges him to drop it... Jem Finch (initially feared to have killed Bob) was innocent, Boo Radley was protecting the children and has had enough problems in his life as it was, and Bob Ewell terrorized pretty much the entire town and no one would miss him anyway.  It might not be good, it might not be just, but it was probably capital-R Right.

Sometimes the monsters need to be fought.

I think this is what makes this story, no matter what form it takes, resonate for so many people even decades later.  It's a hard lesson to learn, and often harder to accept, that monsters are real and that we face them from childhood and onward throughout the rest of our lives, but it is true and it takes a story like this to drive that point home.  Yes, it says a lot about race and the South and a specific time in our history, and that is important but ultimately it's set dressing.  Sadly, it is a timeless story about humanity as a whole, and we're lucky that we have it to remind us that all of this is real and happening around us all of the time.  In the wake of the current election cycle, it seems more important than ever.

There are monsters. Reason with them if you can, but fight them if you must.

Thank you for the reminder, Miss Lee.  I hope we can eventually make you proud.

Talkin' 'bout what everybody's talkin' 'bout

I have tried to write a post in reaction to the DC Rebirth announcement - or to be more accurate, a reaction to the reactions to the announcement - about a half-dozen times now.  It's been difficult, because I get why the people who are excited are excited and why the people who are mad are mad (though if I'm being completely honest my personal feelings sway more to the former than the latter), so I have a hard time elaborating my stance(s) on this.

So I've decided to stop elaborating, start simplifying, and attempt to do so in as positive manner as possible, which is this:

If you're excited, good for you.  Go buy comics you will hopefully enjoy, and have fun.

If you're angry, good for you.  Channel that anger into something positive.  Throw your vocal and (especially!) financial support behind the comics you will hopefully enjoy, and have fun.

Instead of attacking the other side for liking the comics they like, support your side for liking the comics you like.  Communities are formed, books find audiences, people get good comics.  End of story.

Reductive?  Maybe, but it seems like a better use of of everyone's time and energy than yet another endless Twitter war.

(And if you recognized that the title of this post was taken from a Dweezil Zappa song, congratulations, you used to watch Nick Rocks: Video to Go, too.)

Fantasy Booking 2

Arthur was occasionally dismissed by the everyday audience, but he had a large and vocal following among "smarts" in the internet crowd, the kind of folks who are more impressed with technical skill and workrates than by repeated catchphrases.

He might have a hard time rising above the midcard, but that's where many of the most interesting feuds and most of the best matches take place, anyway, and more than once he and his opponents ended up stealing the show (that brother-against-brother angle with Ocean Master, for instance, and the ongoing war with Black Manta that has stretched out over both mens' entire careers).

Occasionally he'll become a player in the World title picture, and every time things start out strong but eventually peter out due to questionable booking decisions (usually all backstage politics by the bigger names worried about their spots) and weird attempts at changing up his gimmick.  It's the hunt for the Intercontinental title - and minor variations on his old school persona - that best suits him and the fans.

That contract stipulation about only having to defend the championship in coastal cities sure is weird, though.


I was lucky enough to see this live.  Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson in real life) had spent most of the previous few months in a program with then-champion Randy Orton, trying to win the title but constantly being denied due to the machinations of (on-screen) management because he wasn't big or telegenic enough, even though the crowds loved him and would loudly chant his name even during segments where he was not the focus.  It seemed a little mean-spirited, even for a wrestling angle, and in many fans' eyes seemed to reflect the company's one-time (and maybe, as many suspected, then-current) feelings about the guy.  But still the crowds chanted, even as he got shuffled out of the title picture and into a storyline where he became the thrall of backwoods cult leader Bray Wyatt and his Wyatt Family.

A storyline that lasted I think maybe a week.  At the WWE Monday Night Raw from Providence, RI, on January 13, 2014, Bryan turned on his new masters in a cage match, beat them down, ascended the top of the cage, and earned the loudest, most continuous crowd reaction I have ever experienced... TV doesn't do it justice.  From here the crowds chanted him all the way into the main event of Wrestlemania that March and the company's championship title at last - a move that many theorize, probably correctly, was not the original outcome at all.  Professional wrestling as a whole, and WWE in particular, is notorious for pushing the people that the promotion itself wants as the Top Guys, but the crowd would not be swayed into anything less than exactly what they wanted, and what they wanted was Daniel Bryan.

Bryan announced his retirement Monday.  His 16-year career has been an incredibly accomplished one, seeing him performing in parking lots and gyms to the main event of Wrestlemania at the Superdome in New Orleans, and all points in between both in this country and abroad.  While it's a true shame to see his career end so soon due to injuries (repeated concussions, mostly, but also some back & neck issues, IIRC), I'm happy that it ends for understandable reasons, and not in tragedy.  The man was an amazing talent, and by all accounts a hell of a nice guy, and I hope that the next chapter of his life entails that it brings him happiness and success however he happens to define that.  He talked in his retirement speech on Monday about how grateful he was for wrestling and all that it has brought him, and I think it's safe to say his fans are grateful for everything he gave to us.  I know I am, and I will remember for the rest of my life the energy of the crowd cheering "Yes! Yes! Yes!" as he sat at the top of that cage.

The Up Too Late Film Club #2: You're living in the past... this is the 14th century! (Thoughts on Disney's Sleeping Beauty)

I'm the youngest in my family by a wide margin - my sister and brother are 15 and 12 years older than me respectively. One of the biggest disadvantages of that age gap (besides there almost never being anyone my age at family gatherings) was that I missed out on a lot of the childhood entertainments that the siblings got to enjoy, particularly the movies, because my parents did not want to "sit through that shit again" (which I kind of get, because there are a lot of really bad kids movies, but still).  So basically, I caught it on TV or video at some point on my own, or else I missed it.

That latter category includes the lion's share of the Disney "classics" catalog, which seems weird even to me given how much I love animation and that I'm decently well-versed in the live-action Disney output of the 50s, 60s, and 70s (and for the record, the Witch Mountain movies have 'em all beat).  I'm pretty good from about Beauty and the Beast onward, but my record prior to that period is pretty spotty.  I've seen Fantasia, The Sword in the Stone, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Robin Hood, Oliver and Company, maybe The Great Mouse Detective, but I think that's it.

All of this is a probably-too-long prologue to say that I've decided that I needed to fix that, and I started with Sleeping Beauty, due in large part to its good reputation among animation aficionados, the fact that it has a notable villain who eventually turns into an effectively frightening dragon, a fight with said dragon, and perhaps most importantly, it was on the shelf at my public library the day I went in looking for a Disney movie to watch.  I think if we're honest we'll admit that many of life's decisions are driven by simple availability.

Anyway, I liked it, or at least I mostly liked it.  I went in to it expecting memorable songs and  iconic characters, and those weren't areas where the movie delivered particularly well.  As far as the former goes, the songs weren't bad by any means, but hardly a "Bippity Boppity Boo" or a "Someday My Prince Will Come" in the lot.  "Once Upon a Dream" was serviceable and sets up a decent meet-cute scene, but although I remember the title I can't for the life of me remember how it actually goes.

As for the latter, I should specify that although the movie does present some iconic characters, they are not in the form of our leads.  Aurora / Briar Rose is certainly as lovely and kind as you expect a Disney princess to be, but she doesn't get to do a whole lot other than alternate between being happy, sad, lonely, and drowsy; and the whole "wanting to marry literally the first dude she meets after knowing him for the length of one song" seems like it would a bit rash even before Disney itself would call out that trope in Frozen.  Her fella, Prince Phillip, gets to show a little more personality, and he does get to fight a dragon, but he's still mostly Generic Prince Type Guy for most of the story, and in more than a few scenes gets upstaged by his horse (which, admittedly, is a bit of a Disney tradition).  And though he does get to be the hero, he owes all of that experience to the help of the fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, who steal every scene, literally keep the dude from spending most of the rest of his life in a cell, and bring me to an important point about this movie.

The success of Sleeping Beauty as a film has only a little to do with the story, and almost nothing to do with our supposed main characters, but everything to do with the supporting cast and the villain.  Aurora technically has title billing, I suppose, but the story really belongs to Flora, Fauna, Merryweather, and Maleficent.  These characters all drive the plot, shape nearly every action and reaction of our romantic leads, take over every scene by virtue of just being in them, and get every good line.  Consider the second act, as we watch the last day or so of Aurora's childhood in the woods with her "aunts" on the eve of her 16th birthday and return to princesshood.  She's off dancing in the woods with an owl and falling in love at the drop of a hat, which is fine, but the important stuff us happening with Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather as they deal with giving their adopted daughter back to her real parents, a desire to make their last night together truly special, the decision to mix magic with traditional household tasks (while switching up their usual division of labor), and how this all eventually gets away from them and reveals the princess's hidden identity to Maleficent's minions.  The whole sequence has heart, a little suspense, and a lot of legitimate laugh-out-loud moments, especially as Flora and Merryweather fight over the dress.  Who cares about the singin' in the woods when there's a comedy clinic being put on in the cottage?

As for Maleficent, what more can be said?  I think it is fair to say that she became the definitive Disney movie villain, even before she got her own spin-off backstory movie.  A creepy but still strangely beautiful look (green women, amirite?), a voice performance that charms as it scares, and a motivation that makes sense to the audience - the lust for power is hard to relate to, but I think everyone has been pissed about not being invited to a party before, and unlike most of us Maleficent had the perfect comeback to the slight AND the ability to do something about it.  Petty? Sure, but so are most human failings, and the best villains are the ones we can see a little bit of ourselves in.

Also, there's the whole turning into a dragon thing.  I mean, that's always going to be awesome, and it looks amazing, as does pretty much every other frame of the movie.  For what it lacks in story, this is arguably the high point in terms of animation from the Disney studio.  Lush backgrounds, wild visual designs whenever there's anything remotely magical happening, the use of color and lighting to set the mood without a word needing to be spoken, it's all just amazing.  Even the character design stands out, surprisingly; the characters in most of the movies in the Disney canon have a similar look that is uniquely, identifiably Disney, making it easy to believe that Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, The Sword in the Stone, 101 Dalmatians, and even something like Atlantis: The Lost Continent could all kind of be the same world.  Sleeping Beauty has this look, too, but something about it is kicked up a notch. The fairies, Maleficent, the drunk jester, Prince Phillip's nearly-perfectly-round father, and many others all have a little something extra that conveys personality as much as the voice actors' performances.  Even if you somehow cannot stand the story at all, just sit back and let your eyes soak in all the sights. They will thank you for it.

In the end, Sleeping Beauty reminds me a little more of an early Marx Brothers movie than it does and early Disney one.  The real action is with the three characters running around carrying the plot and making you laugh, and the big scenery-chewing villain you love to hate and don't hate to love but still want to see get the inevitable comeuppance.  The rest of the time you're forced to sit through some trifling songs and a pair of bland romantic leads, biding your time until the next "pink or blue" argument or someone has to fight their way through a forest of thorns. Thankfully, it's totally worth the wait.

(Obviously all images in this post are (c) and property of Disney, and used for purposes of tribute & review.)