REVIEW: The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)

A few weeks ago, around the third time I checked my watch during the unfortunate Scorsese imitation that is the new David O. Russell's "American Hustle", I thought to myself, "At least there's a genuine Scorsese right around the corner to wash this out of my brain." After all, despite how mundane "The Age of Innocence" is, I'm not sure the American master has made an outright bad film. In fact, the man has made some of my very favorites, including "Gangs of New York" and "Bringing Out the Dead". Hope was patiently relished leading up to the release of "The Wolf of Wall Street", and if you'll excuse the unintended play on a contemporary social media trend, I can't believe what happened next.

After what I'm guessing was two hours of this unruly dark comedy based on the autobiography of criminal stockbroker Jordan Belfort, I found myself staving off tears. A domestic fight was ensuing on screen between colleagues who were both comically high out of their gourds for what felt like the thirtieth time yet, and I was fighting to dry my eyes. My reaction was not in sympathy for the sorry situation our characters had found themselves in, but for the strongly saddening fact that the incomparable Martin Scorsese - at more than seventy years old and still freshening his creativity with every outing - is now presenting what feels like the cocaine and quaaludes edition of "Pineapple Express".

Rumors have placed the original running time of what has become Scorsese's longest non-documentary feature at between four and six hours. I do not wish to imagine the nightmare "Wolf" would be at double its theatrical length. This behemoth overstays its welcome long after the incessant party sequences have ceased to moderately amuse. Whatever your opinion of modern classic "Boogie Nights", you'd have to agree that at least each party sequence - of which there are a good handful - carries its own unique tone and significance to carry the film forward. Whatever your opinion of Baz Luhrmann's divisive "The Great Gatsby", at least the obnoxious party sequences only exist to establish the world before we delve in to character development and legitimate storytelling. Whatever your opinion, there is a reason "Spring Breakers" is only ninety minutes long.

"Wolf" is three hours of non-starter monotony, just with Scorsese adjusting the volume of the single tone between scenes. Not until the final shot is an idea provided as to why we have been subjected to a drug- and sex-addicted white collar schmuck's exploits for so long. Prior to that bow, but one brief scene presents itself as thematically substantial, though it is so precise in its conveyance it just recalls the Captain Obvious rodent from the otherwise spectacular "The Departed".

Now, to be fair, there is plenty going for the picture. For one, costumer Sandy Powell is yet again by the director's side to create one of the most accurate depictions of 1990s fashion we've seen yet on screen - one that is not as commonly tongue-in-cheek as many late 20th Century period pieces have been. One might even say that despite some oddly blatant computer effects and green screening, the film feels as though it could have come out in the '90s. Also, amongst the monotony there are at least three - maybe four or five if I'm being generous - sequences featuring standout craft even if it does get lost in the whole (hints: Chandler, country club, custody, wake up, penny stocks). Finally, in his limited role Jon Bernthal is, just, like, so fucking awesome.

Though "Wolf" persists amusingly enough before the excess of the unvaried indulgence really begins to calcify, Scorsese could have appeared on screen and eaten himself alive before my eyes and it might've been a similar experience.

Stop the ride, Marty, I'm ready to get off.


WWE WrestleMania XXIX: What COULD Happen, What WILL Happen

Here I'll do the unfathomable and actually attempt to make this introduction brief and painless. Well, as painless as I am capable of. Feel free to skip past.

I stumbled in to professional wrestling fandom in 1998 and watched through the rightfully infamous Attitude Era of the WWF before slowly falling out of regularity with the product during the so-called Ruthless Aggression Era. I would still go to shows when they came to town - including WrestleMania XXIV, an incredible in-person experience - and occasionally hit up the local Hooters for free PPVs but that was it. I recently happened to catch the CM Punk documentary on Netflix Instant, however, and my immediate mark-worthy fascination with the indie icon propelled me to check out modern day, PG Era WWE.

This particular WrestleMania has had a rather lackluster build with weak story development littered with haphazard, potentially career-damaging booking. Hell, Jeff Jarrett's oft-maligned rival TNA has featured vastly superior entertainment since my return to pro wrestling viewership (another can of worms indeed, although I will take advantage of this parenthetical to brag about having been in attendance at the first televised TNA show, and the first TNA PPV). I will still enjoy the hell out of the "Granddaddy of Them All", which coincidentally falls on my birthday this year, for the same reason I enjoyed the Royal Rumble in January - it is a novelty. Here are my thoughts as to what potentials I'd like to see fulfilled, and what the more business-minded WWE will more likely do instead.

YouTube Pre-Show: Wade Barrett (c) vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship
If you are like me you remember a time when midcard titles meant something. This was once especially true in the case of the Intercontinental Championship - an important stepping stone signaling hot up-and-coming talent that tended to put on better all-around matches than the big guys. Now the allegedly promising Wade Barrett holds the title only to be constantly booked a loser against stars who are out of his league. He was looking at an exciting program against fresh NXT graduate Bo Dallas, but like several other recent feuds that angle fizzled to an inexplicable end. At least Barrett actually has a match at the Show of Shows (even if it is ever so oddly relegated to the YouTube Pre-Show) - I expected the even worse-booked United States Champion Antonio Cesaro to defend against the winner of a Pre-Show battle royal, but unless they're holding their cards unnecessarily close the WWE doesn't seem to want to feature one of their belt-holders nor a traditional multi-man match that allows names missing the main card to at least hit the stage.
Then there's The Miz. I have to admit, despite being predisposed to loathing the guy due to my apparently unfounded idea that he got a free ride via previously existing pseudo-celebrity, Miz' face turn has been insidiously working for me. When he was endlessly battling Cesaro, I actually found myself cheering for his vengeance in spite of myself. Problem is, Miz repeatedly lost title matches against Cesaro yet continued to be booked in an under-promoted title-seeking program with him. When he (recently) graduated from that program, he was immediately thrust in to the Intercontinental scene. Where's the logic in booking one man to lose over and over against a lower tier champion, then rewarding his losses with a shot at the more prestigious midcard belt? What's more, this isn't even the initial challenge from The Miz - he lost to Barrett once already, but is being rewarded yet again. Does The Miz comprise the entire midcard division?

What I'd like to happen: The Miz def. Wade Barrett
Yep, even though Miz is undeserving in the ol' land of kayfabe at the moment, his face run is working despite what the pundits say, and some championship momentum would only help that. This would also potentially free up Mr. Barrett to achieve what those same pundits say he is so capable of achieving (even if his finisher is a standing elbow strike).

What will happen: The Miz def. Wade Barrett
Miz is renowned as WWE's second-most altruistic superstar behind Mr. Make-A-Wish John Cena, so methinks they'd like to accompany his charitable ever-presence with some gold.

Tons of Funk & The Funkadactyls vs. Team Rhodes Scholars & The Bella Twins
Poor Prince Albert. "Sweet T" marks his fourth WWE repackaging, and each such character shake-up has been worse than the last. I miss the days of T&A (R.I.P. Test).
That said, unless WWE opts for a squash this throwaway match will likely be very entertaining. I find Tons of Funk as embarrassing as the next person (a frequently mentioned quip in my wrestling circles is that their name should have been The Channel Changers), but I'll be damned if on a base level I don't get a kick out of seeing these two lardy behemoths air-shovel and break out the Gangnam Style to Brodus Clay's funky theme music. More importantly, their companions Naomi and Cameron - together, The Funkadactyls - may be the two most talented divas on the current roster. Typically Cameron has opened Funkadactyl tag matches with standard maneuvers before hot-tagging to the energetically acrobatic Naomi, but she did finally prove greater worth akin to Naomi's with an impressive moment or three on this past Monday night's "Go Home" Raw. You don't see talent like this in the women's division anymore (it all moved over to TNA with Tara, Tessmacher, Gail Kim, Velvet Sky and the rest of that frequent match-of-the-night-delivering gang).
The Hip Hop Hippos' male opponents are two of the more promising talents in the WWE today. Contrarily they are also some of the most losing. Sure, winning and losing isn't everything in "sports entertainment", but for all the buckets and buckets of in-ring and on-the-mic talent Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow haul to the squared circle with each appearance, they are merely thanked with sippy cups of jobber juice. WWE needs to figure out what they're doing with these guys.

What I'd like to happen: Team Rhodes Scholars & The Bella Twins def. Tons of Funk & The Funkadactyls
Cody and Damien deserve this win on a big stage. They deserved a title win at the Royal Rumble and subsequently have at least a spot on the card at Elimination Chamber, but received neither. They are two of the most consistent and entertaining guys in the locker room, yet they always get the shaft. Give the heels a little momentum for when the part-timers depart. While you're at it, Creative, let's see the Primetime Players get a push, eh? Oh, and as for Naomi and Cameron? Not only will losing still provide them ample opportunity to flaunt their great moves in such a grand venue, but losing will also provide better potential for an extension of their program with The Bellas, instead of a win potentially sending them back to dubious arm candy irrelevance.

What will happen: Tons of Funk & The Funkadactyls def. Team Rhodes Scholars & The Bella Twins
As suggested, there is potential this will be a pathetic squash, just like most (if not all) televised Brodus Clay and Sweet T matches have been thus far (gotta make time for all those video package replays, after all). If not, I still get the feeling WWE will give the fans the "feel good" win here. And that's fine, because I do like Naomi and Cameron well enough to be happy for their first match at the big one being a win. Again, however, they will be able to shine, regardless.

Team Hell No (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston for the Tag Team Championship
Speaking of stagnant teams, didn't the embarrassing odd couple storyline that is Team Hell No end two or three months ago? Why are they still together, wasting one another's time? Daniel Bryan has proven himself time and time again, yet remains a sideshow (albeit successfully over as such). Kane may be an IWC darling but Creative has made his involvement in WWE exponentially worse as time has worn on, and it's time to put the monster out of his misery (maybe after one last pity World Heavyweight Champion run).
Since resuming my viewership, only my very reason for resuming - CM Punk - has impressed me more than Dolph Ziggler. Does the WWE currently have a better in-ring entertainer? He commonly puts on PPV-quality matches, and can make even awful acts such as Ryback look good with his knack for selling. Thing is, Ziggler is long overdue for a show of strength. He looks weak with his recent string of losses, and has only been made to look formidable over the past couple weeks due to the interference of his mini-stable rounded out by Big E. Langston and kayfabe girlfriend AJ Lee. AJ may still present a wild card, but getting the intimidating yet hilarious Langston legally inside the ring for what I believe will be his first sanctioned WWE match is a good move to make the team as a whole look strong.

What I'd like to happen: Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston def. Team Hell No
Putting Mr. Money In the Bank in the floundering tag scene is either a stupid move or a brilliant one. Ziggler and Langston could very likely make for an interesting and versatile in-ring duo and the two do deserve some gold, but are the tag titles the right kind of gold? Team Hell No also needs to combust sooner rather than later, and since it's been stalled this long, why not combust at WrestleMania? Ideally, the Show Offs win here, Ziggler cashes in for the blue brand's big belt later in the night, and perhaps AJ wins a previously unannounced Divas title match resulting in this trifecta being highly decorated as this year's pro wrestling Super Bowl comes to a close.

What will happen: Dolph Ziggler & Big E. Langston def. Team Hell No
This win won't be clean. AJ's presence will likely either directly assist Ziggy and Big E. or it will cause Byran and Kane - coincidentally two of AJ's many kayfabe ex-boyfriends - to fall off the same page they've suddenly found. I believe WWE knows Team Hell No is at an end, and that they could possibly begin a decent feud here to occupy the two until, say, SummerSlam. Even if the golden pipe dream detailed above does not come true entirely, at least the Show Offs will have a prize to, well, show off for their effervescent talents. I just wish this could have been a ladder match or something.

Sheamus, Randy Orton & Big Show vs. The Shield
Perhaps I should just chalk it up to WrestleMania season having become the season of the part-timers - the stars of yesteryear returning to earn easy ratings and sell PPVs since the WWE's current crop doesn't have much "casual fan" appeal... but it is baffling how so many young stars in the making are being forced to simply spin their wheels. We've seen at least three versions of this very match already. Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose looked extremely strong (both in-ring and on the mic) as they came up, taking down just about everyone they could from Brad Maddox to The Rock - in their path or otherwise - but now I can barely determine what their agenda is anymore. Why is Sheamus (whose name I hate spelling with that damned 'h') so hell-bent on fighting these guys again? Why are they antagonizing him? What happened to "The John Cena Problem" that made these guys' post-Punk angle so appealing? Why are Randy Orton and Big Show (who just a few weeks ago was getting cheap heat by claiming latinos aren't worth anything, but now he's a good guy I guess) involved other than the fact that it'd be strange if such prominent stars didn't feature on the card? All told, this is probably the match I care about the least out of the ten officially announced, and that is unfortunate to say about a match involving The Shield.

What I'd like to happen: The Shield def. Sheamus, Randy Orton & Big Show
Many believe Randy Orton is set to turn heel here, either just for the hell of it or to reveal himself as the leader of The Shield (a la Bubba - I mean Bully so effectively did with Aces & Eights not too long ago at TNA's Lockdown PPV). Orton has been stagnant yet technically impressive lately, and while I was indifferent to him in the Evolution faction I have come to respect his work and enjoy his bemused demeanor. A new angle could do him well. I'm not entirely buying it, however, as TNA's Dixie Carter recently announced a mystery signee who would "slither and strike". It would make sense for Orton to jump ship, considering his punishments and current stagnation, and I for one would be thrilled with such a development. We shall see. Maybe Dixie meant Jake Roberts.

What will happenThe Shield def. Sheamus, Randy Orton & Big Show
This is a tough call. I am inclined to say Creative puts The Shield out of business for the evening the same way they had Cena crush Nexus. Thing is, once the part-timers are gone WWE still needs storylines to work with. Once the PPV buys are in, all bets are off. This is why despite my gut I feel the smart money is on The Shield to prevail yet again as the fragile alliance of the Celtic Warrior, the Viper and the Giant implodes in one way or another (I am certainly not ruling out the Orton turn entirely). This could lead to a stronger Shield program moving forward, once the part-timers' respective absences free up what is already an excess of airtime.

Chris Jericho vs. Fandango
Is the Triple H/Brock Lesnar bout the only match on the card with a legitimate stipulation? Granted, this feud came out of nowhere as Creative was wish-washing around under the watchful Vince McMahon trying to figure out what exactly to do with a handful of superstars, but you'd think there'd be some ladders and cages or something somewhere.
Anyway, I feel like I'm the only guy enjoying this Fandango character. His arrogance is hilarious, as is the sheer ridiculous nature of interrupting matches with a full-blown entrance (for which a special set needs to be erected, cuing his arrival, and also for which he is not even the first person hitting the ramp). I like that he's been paired with Jericho - what better coach for an arrogant heel? These few weeks with Y2J will surely provide indispensable wisdom for the rest of Fandango's career.

What I'd like to happen: Fandango def. Chris Jericho
It sounds preposterous, but this is Fandango's debut (and what a debut it will be!) and not only will Jericho do a stellar job of making him look good, but Jericho will put him over as he makes his mark.

What will happen: Fandango def. Chris Jericho
It'll be nice and clean, too. Really, this is the easiest match on the card to predict. As mentioned above, this is the in-ring debut of a wrestling character we've known about seemingly for ages. There is no way WWE is going to have Fandango lose, especially to the guy who is known for respectfully putting guys over and whose new priority is his music (he reportedly won't be back until late April due to a Fozzy tour). Not that I don't love seeing ol' Lion Heart in the ring (and on the mic), but I also hope Jericho's exciting "Robot Combat League" on SyFy is able to continue as well.

Ryback vs. Mark Henry
When these two first crossed paths, I was thrilled for the possibility of a match at 'Mania. This thrill emerged not due to the match's potential, but because it would mean these two one-note lugs would cancel one another out and provide much-needed time for a bathroom break (not dissimilar to the Batista/Rikishi match from XXIV during which I visited the Orange Bowl restrooms and spent $40 on beer and cheeseburgers).
I am surprised, however, that this match's build has been moderately engaging. Ryback's feats of strength have admittedly wowed me, and Henry's sheer unlikability has made the up-and-coming man-gorilla look better than I believed he could look. This is all considering the two have been primarily squashing the jobbiest of jobbers.
My real disappointment is that Creative used the strength competition for an episode of SmackDown rather than the actual 'Mania event. In this king-of-the-jungle rivalry hatred feels second to one-upsmanship, so a classic powerslam contest or an event in which we see which walking pile of muscle can haul a pickup truck further would have fit right in at the Showcase of the Immortals.

What I'd like to happen: Ryback def. Mark Henry
Can these guys really go all that long in a real match? Both are technically limited and Henry's matches of late have all consisted of him lumbering to the ring, watching someone 200 pounds his junior run around for 30 seconds and performing his underwhelming finisher before shouting "That's what I do!" Whether this match lasts three minutes or fifteen minutes (the former is more than likely), I am pulling for the lesser of two evils to win.

What will happen: Ryback def. Mark Henry
Whether it is by pinfall or the disqualification of Henry, Ryback will take this one to the bank. The strangely named neanderthal is still another newer face for which this is the first opportunity to shine at WrestleMania. Mark Henry doesn't need a push, even if he is slated for one last major title run (at most). Besides, Ryback's PPV record is not a pretty one, and if WWE is still looking to him as a future top guy, they need him to win here. Something tells me Big Hungry won't be Khali's next dancing partner, if you know what I mean.

Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Jack Swagger for the World Heavyweight Championship
Does anyone still care about the World Heavyweight Championship? I suppose the better question would be if WWE still cares about any championship, but you know what I mean. Specific to this controversial-in-more-ways-than-one angle, the better question might be if anyone cares in general. Del Rio's face turn may make sense, but it is floundering under the Mexican Aristocrat's lack of mic skills and his apparent lack of ability to put on a good match with anyone who isn't pulling most of the weight (IE Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes).
I was actually pleased to hear Jack Swagger won the right to compete in this match ("hear" instead of "see" as I refrained from spending money on the Elimination Chamber's disappointing card). It was surprising and encouraging to see WWE throw the returning star a bigger bone as if to say they believe he has potential to be better than he had been in the past. Swagger's scripted behavior in-ring (which insults both sides of his political issue) and unscripted behavior out of it have been troublesome, however, and even Dutch Mantel hasn't been able to rescue the program despite his loyal efforts.
The real question with this match is whether or not Dolph Ziggler will finally cash in his Money in the Bank contract for a shot at (or a steal of) the belt.

What I'd like to happen: Alberto Del Rio def. Jack Swagger; Dolph Ziggler def. Alberto Del Rio
Jack Swagger no longer deserves this match due to his reckless personal actions, and it is shocking that WWE has not pulled the generous opportunity of a lifetime from him. It's not as if they haven't had plenty of time to reposition a things. Swagger does feel somewhat of an afterthought, though, as Ziggler's long-held briefcase looms over this match more than contrived xenophobia. Best case scenario, Del Rio puts Swagger in his kayfabe place as Swagger is forced to lay down on his way toward release from the company (or at least suspension, although I defy anyone to hold that another return for this guy would do any better). Dolph's music hits and, well, ideally he gets a "clean" win on the exhausted champion, but any method of defeat will do (assist from an enraged Swagger, assist from Langston, whatever).

What will happen: Alberto Del Rio def. Jack Swagger; Dolph Ziggler def. Alberto Del Rio
This is another tough call. Ziggler has announced he will cash in at the Show of Shows but not only did this declaration go without much attention, it also wasn't long afterwards he frantically tried and illogically failed to cash in on a regular weekly show. Chances are WWE wants to keep the controversial immigration plot rolling as it has garnered mainstream attention, and that would probably mean giving Swagger the win (perhaps a cheap one involving distraction by both competitors' ringside companions), but hasn't this run its course? Isn't Swagger overdue for an old fashioned post-loss suspension? Will anyone really buy the misguided new "We the People" shirt? What I'm getting at is that I think Ziggler will cash in as soon as this match ends, and the question is whether he's covering the heel or the face. I predict the irresponsible Swagger being deprived his "WrestleMania moment" as Ziggler pins Del Rio for the gold. A Ziggler face turn is not out of the cards but it would surely have to involve betrayal on the part of Langston (and AJ), and that's a storyline for another day.

The Undertaker vs. CM Punk
If the banner up top wasn't clue enough, this is easily my most anticipated match of the night. Ultimate babyface The Undertaker - as with so, so many fans - has always been a favorite of mine, and CM Punk is the key force working to reinvigorate and legitimize a detrimentally stale and complacent product.
With both men currently injured, the build has had to be more cerebral, and the worked-in reliance on Paul Bearer's sad death has been more or less perfect, even going audaciously farther than the fulfillment of my wish that Punk would mock 'Taker's entrance (he mocked a portion of it, dressed the great Paul Heyman as Bearer and assaulted the distraught Phenom, eventually dumping on him the contents of Bearer's urn). I have to imagine the dedicated Mr. Moody himself would be giddy knowing how he is influencing edgy storylines even post-mortem.
And don't think injuries will hinder the match itself - these two bring it hard every time they're in the ring, and you'd better believe they'll be leaving every ounce of willpower they can muster on the mat.

What I'd like to happen: CM Punk def. The Undertaker
Just as the new release of a (distasteful) Jack Swagger shirt may signal contrary to my prediction that WWE plans to keep the so-called "Real American" around longer, the release of the 20-0 Blu-Ray may signal the end of the streak. But then who am I to think WWE wouldn't double-dip with another similar collection whenever 'Taker does actually retire? Product pushing aside, if any a time has come for Undertaker's streak to end, this is it. I believed another of my favorites, Edge, could pull it off at XXIV, and this year I believe Punk stands a chance. The Deadman is hurting and although WrestleMania XXX may seem a more appropriate milestone from which to finally send him off for good, why not view it as more of a fresh start? I agree with the majority that the streak shouldn't end, but as we know Undertaker is old school - he's the kind of guy who wants to go out putting over new talent. He's also the kind of intelligent company man who understands the Second City Saint is that genuine new talent as opposed to the fermenting marketing tool that is John Cena (a likely opponent for XXX lest WWE decides the third time's the charm with a lazy Rock/Cena rubber match). If the streak must go out, I would be absolutely elated to see CM Punk become the guy to end it.

What will happen: The Undertaker def. CM Punk
CM Punk has earned a couple months off. He will punctuate his arduous run by helping (not "carrying") the damaged Phenom through a heated showdown before laying down to keep the streak alive. Unless his condition severely decays over the next year, we can expect Undertaker back for WrestleMania XXX in what I can only imagine would be his final match. If it's a loss to John Cena, however, that's when I just start watching TNA exclusively.

Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H - No Holds Barred; If Triple H loses, he must retire
I'll just lay it out there - I have always loved Triple H. He's the best of the best. The King of Kings, as he'd put it, utilizing one of his infinite number of well-earned nicknames. I am as proud as a fan can be to see him ascending the ranks behind the scenes - the true future of the company.
This reignited feud with Brock Lesnar has seen Lesnar at his most interesting, if only for the fact that he's shaking things up. I still feel a modicum of disdain for the cage fighter, however, as he appears so obviously apathetic toward anything but the money he's raking in from his appearances, and his entertainment value is fairly limited.
The stipulations added to this match are disappointments, as well, because we all know The Game won't be retiring any time soon, and no holds barred is about as generic as Creative could have gotten with these two brutal brawlers. Regardless, I am looking forward to seeing the Cerebral Assassin in sanctioned action once again.

What I'd like to happen: Triple H def. Brock Lesnar
Well, duh. A Triple H win is something I always want. Be damned, those who claim Hunter selfishly buries his opponents! Hunter just wins, because he is still the best, period.

What will happen: Triple H def. Brock Lesnar
Brock hasn't had a single match since his return, so it may be difficult to buy that his first match back will be a loss. The fact is, however, that the Beast has looked incredibly strong (thanks in no small part to Heyman's verbal selling), and of course this is a rematch of an encounter Lesnar came out on top of. I repeat: Triple H isn't retiring any time soon. Shawn Michaels and/or DX and/or McMahon Family involvement or no, the Asskicker is getting his sweet, vicious revenge.

The Rock (c) vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship
What's worse than the fact Monday Night Raw has become so drawn out and vanilla it's now excessively promoting its promos from stars such as John Cena and The Rock through the shameless, hyperbolic and yet unenthusiastic and forced commentators? How about the fact that such time could be used to showcase fresher talent? More talented talent. I used to love The Rock as much as the next person. These days he infuriates me as he steals the spotlight from full-timers to hawk movie tickets and PPV buys. Go ahead and shame me for criticizing a business for making business decisions, but I believe more in the integrity of the product. The Rock can come back. That's fine. But don't waste a 400+ day championship run by chucking the belt on the MIA Brahma Bull just because it'll increase those ratings you annoyingly brag about after every inopportune commercial break. At least The Rock has been a bit more in his comfort zone in his last two appearances, which were more satisfying for their nostalgia than any of his painful "Rock concerts", etcetera.
And then there's John Cena. I'm just going to pretend someone at WWE is listening, although as is the case with the above paragraph I'm not saying anything anyone else hasn't gone on about a thousand times already. John Cena may get mixed reactions, and WWE may love that he draws so much from a crowd one way or the other, but take note: the reason behind the boos is not that Cena makes for a great heel, it's that he's constantly shoved down our throats despite being so darn mediocre. Unless his opponent is challenging him his matches are snooze-fests. His shouty promos are even worse, as he fumbles awkward phrases and bellows tired clichés like an out-of-his-element 9-year-old. I get that he appeals to the kiddies, and not only is that a big demographic but it's one I'm rather out of touch with. Or at least I must be, because when I was younger Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon got me to start watching wrestling, and I highly, highly doubt John Cena and John Laurinaitis could have achieved nearly the same. This is The Shield's seemingly forgotten "John Cena Problem". We don't dislike John Cena the same way we dislike, say, Antonio Cesaro. Cesaro is a very skilled individual who plays a heel so effectively that we boo him. Cena's mediocrity represents where the WWE has gone, and this is why we dislike him.

What I'd like to happen: The Rock def. John Cena
Although Cena apologists may say my wanting to see Cena get his ass handed to him makes him a good (pseudo-)heel, the reason I desire this outcome is simply so I don't have to tolerate any more of The Prototype. I am not much anticipating this match, but I do foresee myself becoming caught up simply in the grandeur of a WrestleMania main event. This would put me in a position to go kind of nuts if The Great One puts the quack Dr. of Thuganomics out to pasture for the second year in a row.

What will happen: John Cena def. The Rock
The Rock defeating Cena once makes sense ("Once in a Lifetime"... yeah). It was a "dream match" between legends (or at least one legend and one alleged). A second time? Like it or not, Cena is the face of the company and WWE can't afford to make him look like any more of a chump than he already is. The Rock will do the honorable thing and put Cena over, with a possible rematch of some kind at next month's Extreme Rules PPV. A Rock win here is the right thing to do for the fans, but it is not the right thing to do for the company, especially since despite Rocky's love of pro wrestling his priority is now Hollywood and the electrifier has plenty of upcoming film projects on his docket.
The question becomes whether Cena will turn heel for this win or not. After all, Cena has teased as much through his angry, whiney promos about being better than The Rock in recent weeks (the best part of which was Bret Hart's complete lack of amusement upon seeing the two main eventers go at it mere feet from his chair). Will WWE look to repeat the infamous Rock/Austin Part II with Laurinaitis coming to the ring and giving the assist with a chair? Again, the Cena heel turn is the right thing to do for the fans, but it is not the right thing for the company as Cena is the very definition of a company man behind the scenes (odd that those types are the good guys these days, eh?). I would even go as far as to say his heel-ish promos of late only feel as such through phoned-in writing and poor performing. Clearly signs point to the more interesting "turn" of events, but I do not believe WWE has the cojones to pull that trigger.

So, barring the possible (though unlikely) appearance of unannounced United States Championship and Divas Championship matches, there's our WrestleMania XXIX card. I'm surprised to see so many of my desired results falling in line with my more realistic predictions. Although hey, isn't it less about who defeats who and more about how it happens? That'd be a different article entirely. XXIX will be fun, as it always is, even if people like me will only wind up bitching about it both before and after. Who knows, maybe I'll be surprised come April the 7th.

Thanks for reading.


Top 10 of 2012

One of the better years for cinema in recent memory, 2012 was a year of generous quantity, and out of quite nearly 150 films determining a top ten has been more difficult than ever. I am pained at the mere thought of leaving out films such as "Like Someone in Love", "End of Watch", "Amour", "Spring Breakers", "Girl Walk / / All Day", "Your Sister's Sister", "To the Wonder", "Prometheus", "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Haywire"! In many given years these (randomly assorted) honorable mentions and others would be shoe-ins for top marks, and the fact that they've arrived alongside so much other greatness-- well, I suppose it goes without saying that this is no fault of their own as ranking by year is admittedly an arbitrary enterprise... but who am I to resist it, particularly when it's so fun and convenient?

So here we are - the 2012 Top Ten episode of Almost Arthouse has debuted on Sound on Sight and I have viewed all the accessible 2012 films I intended to (films not yet available for viewing are listed below, in descending order of my anticipation for them), so let's get to it.

10. Paradise: Love  (Ulrich Seidl)
I had just landed in Toronto and barely out of my cab I was rushing to "rush" this unexpected experience - my first film of my first major festival and, as I exclaimed to my previously internet-only colleagues upon our in-person meeting immediately afterward in that very auditorium, one hell of a film at that. Seidl's wholly unique approach to the mutual exploitation of Kenyan sex-tourism is thickly layered with themes of self-image and cultural hierarchy. The camera is content to remain set back, observing the sprawling vacation's poignant redundancies in what is practically a documentary-like fashion. All told, "Paradise: Love" accomplishes everything a great film can, on both basal and more complex levels, and I highly anticipate the opportunity to view the concurrent and succeeding installments in Seidl's trilogy, respectively. Read the full review at Sound on Sight.

9. The Master  (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Out of nearly 150 films viewed for 2012, number 9 may still feel "too low" for this masterful "Master" from the modern master himself, Paul Thomas Anderson. In terms relative to these lists I do tend to favor films I more personally connect to. Although "The Master" never holds me at arm's length as has been a wide criticism, it winds up as one I find myself respecting more than loving (which is not to say I don't love it). But enough of this silly defending of what could easily be a member of any top 5 out of mere obligation! I have been a great fan of Anderson's Altman phase, and after the nearly Kubrickian "There Will Be Blood" shocked me due in equal parts to its stylistic departure and just how stalwartly solid it is, "The Master" has won me over and then some with similar qualities. Next to "Hard Eight" it is perhaps Anderson's most original work, and next to "Magnolia" perhaps his most bold (which is saying something, considering "Boogie Nights").

8. This Is 40  (Judd Apatow)
Like others to come on this list, "This Is 40" strikes an ideal balance between entertaining mainstream sensibilities and winningly raw honesty - a film that is equal parts fun and rewarding. It is also the first example herein of my aforementioned preference for "personal connection" films (read on and you'll see just how prevalent that preference made itself this year). Sam Mendes' "Away We Go" came out at a time when my pregnant girlfriend and I were on the heels of a cross-country road trip in search of a place to establish our new family together, and about four years later "This Is 40" feels just as relevant an echo of our lives now as that did then. Watching characters we already loved and constantly quote from the otherwise middling "Knocked Up" ("Go to India!") experience such familiar issues from the wrappings of a Judd Apatow film makes for wonderful healing. Listen to the Almost Arthouse episode at Sound on Sight.

7. Promised Land  (Gus Van Sant)
It's old news by now that Gus Van Sant seems to embody two opposite sensibilities throughout his filmography. There's "Elephant", "Last Days", "Paranoid Park" Van Sant, and there's "Good Will Hunting", "Finding Forrester", "Milk" Van Sant. It may also sound strange that after such a prolific career of soaring ups and cringe-worthy downs and even the recent awards success "Milk" enjoyed ("The Wrestler" deserved that attention, damnit!), I was beginning to view Van Sant as irrelevant. Honestly, I would not have even given the apparently drab and preachy "Promised Land" a chance were it not a potential candidate for review on the podcast I co-host. The film does fall more on the "Good Will Hunting" side of things, but with consistently beautiful and narratively subtle cinematography that embraces pastels and an excellent script from Damon and Krasinski that mixes in rewarding motifs while challenging us with refreshingly blurred lines between antagonists and protagonists, it winds up as likely my biggest surprise of 2012, and certainly one of my favorites to discuss after the fact. Without running on too much longer, I would encourage anyone to give "Promised Land" a go, as what we have here is a character-driven journey of morals and humanity built in to a fairly presented hot political topic as opposed to a celebrity platform that condemns one viewpoint or the other.

64:44 Last Day on Earth  (Abel Ferrara)
Perhaps due to widespread 2012 doomsaying, alternate, mainly insular approaches to apocalypse films have been in vogue of late. The inherently potent subject matter can be housed within audacious ingeniousness or even elevate relative lesser offerings, with Lars von Trier's allegorical "Melancholia" making my top list last year and this year's nearly insufferable "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" glimmering with unearned gravitas in its third act. Ferrara's masterstroke here covers ideas found in the latter but with the ingenuity of the former, making for a thoroughly compelling examination of where humanity has come through the lens of one couple spending the majority of their final day in their apartment. The most interesting aspect here - beyond the fully realized concepts of sentimentality and stubbornness while knowing one's quickly impending expiration date - is that even from within an isolated two-person apartment the entire world can be watched. International and domestic video of both worldly and personal nature - some not necessarily related to the end - is syndicated or streamed live on many screens. Many films on this list forego screenwriting convenience to embrace the contemporary ubiquitousness of iPads, Skype, etcetera, but none more than "4:44". On top of it all, a fascinating idea to consider is that the scariest part of this apocalypse film is not when the world actually ends, but when the internet cuts off.

5. Passion  (Brain De Palma)
What was positioned as my final film at TIFF (before impulsively deciding to seize the moment when an "Aftershock" ticket was hawked in my direction on the way home) wound up being one of the highest points of my festival experience. I have seen a fair handful of De Palma work, but prior to priming myself for "Passion" (which I booked solely due to having no better option, timing-wise) with "Blow Out", I had apparently been watching all the wrong titles (which, to further abuse the parenthetical as I am so prone to do, is not to say what I had seen is necessarily bad, I.E. "The Untouchables" or "Mission to Mars"). I am now of the mind that De Palma is the American Argento, the difference being that De Palma hasn't lost his steam. In fact, the deliciously pulpy "Passion" is far and away the best of his filmography I've enjoyed thus far. Being present to sing "Happy Birthday" to the director with the help of Rachel McAdams and subsequently being able to ask him a question about his characters' frequent subversion of modern communications technology were cherries on a sexy, thrilling ride that giddily never lets you know which was is up. It's like being thrown in to a perpetual tumble through exquisitely shot images. Between this, "Prometheus" and the music video for the Rolling Stones' "Doom & Gloom", Noomi Rapace is my woman of the year. Read the full review at Sound on Sight.

4. Thanks for Sharing  (Stuart Blumberg)
Months separated from my viewing of Stuart Blumberg's winning directorial debut and little word has arisen regarding its deserved wider release (so little that I can't conjure so much as a satisfactory screenshot, hence the male cast photo). Without being able to revisit such an impactful film, over time it does become difficult to distinctly recall the power of its effect - that strong connection that overcomes what is otherwise a fairly generic picture at face value. Don't get me wrong - I take no issue with successful writer Blumberg's reliance on script over presentation, and there is actually nothing wrong with his impressively apt work behind the camera, not at all, but the key reasons I care for this picture the way I do are its definitively strong characters and their power to change audience members' lives. Sound cliché? Well, this may be touted as a "Shame"-lite examination of sex addiction (sounds good enough to me - when I finally saw it after having already published my 2011 top ten, "Shame" shot up to being my #2 of that year) but its probing themes are universal. The film caused me to look at myself with a humility I had previously been afraid to breach, and as a result I began to successfully fight a nearly decade-long obsession with a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Thinking of "Thanks for Sharing" inspires me, and aids my will to keep fighting. More than any yet-distributed festival film, I cannot wait to revisit this. It surely sounds as though I'm not sure it should be ranked this highly, but really due to circumstance I sort of feel bad I'm not ranking it higher. Read the full review at Sound on Sight.

3. Brave  (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman)
More sentimentality! Well, this may be better prefaced with the note that I am not generally a Pixar fan. Yeah, the first "Toy Story" is fine, well and good, and "Monsters, Inc." occupies a special place, but beyond that I have not been won over... until "Brave", that is. "Brave" would be a practically perfect movie if not for its occasional reliance on cheap laughs housed in the characters of the hit-or-miss triplets and Maudie, their maid. Beyond those minor nitpicks, I am utterly in love with this upending of the princess stereotype from its consumate visuals to its intricately layered story that brings both sides of a parent/child issue in to balance while bringing peace to a kingdom. Furthermore, here finally is a family film that respects children. The pathetic pandering to youth in all forms of media has become grotesque, and how reassuring it is to find a film that actually challenges kids, and isn't afraid to frighten them now and again. This was the first real "movie night" for my now three-year-old daughter. I mean, she'd watched movies before and done alright, but this was the first "Okay, we're turning off the lights and this is what we're doing for 90 minutes without breaking for toddler nonsense." Not only did she uphold excellent behavior throughout, she was invested in the film and didn't quit talking about the protagonist for weeks. The free spirit Merida, unburdened by a defining longing for love - talk about a role model! I still haven't made it through the "Touch the Sky" sequence (pictured) with dry eyes.

2. Red Hook Summer  (Spike Lee)
Though there were a few anomalous successes worth getting excited about in this context (such as "Think Like a Man" topping the box office two weeks in a row), in 2012 the quashing of non-white cinema came that much more to the forefront. "Red Hook Summer" is one of several results of studios saying "no" - if the triumphantly defiant Spike Lee could not make his "Inside Man" sequel even though crossover box office sensation Denzel Washington had reportedly agreed to star, he would take his own money and get back to basics in Brooklyn. Poisonous reviews out of Sundance had me all the more fired up to see what "Red Hook" had become, and boy was the wait worth it. In fact, I couldn't stop watching the infectious "Red Hook Summer" for about two weeks (after renting via VOD it was mercifully added to Netflix Instant). Featured here is a new energy for Lee's familiar formatting - another chapter of community development as only Lee can do it, this time with an angelically persistent soundtrack from Judith Hill. This is Spike off the leash (as if he's ever really been on one), and through Bishop Enoch (vigorously realized by Clarke Peters) the one-of-a-kind auteur has developed a platform that allows him to preach his mind while focusing on the character development at hand. One may find "Red Hook" to hurl Christianity in their face on a surface level, but more than anything it is truly about the characters behind the words and how their faith (or lack thereof) helps or hinders, confines or redeems them. A beautiful, beautiful film with power in all the right places - good on you, Spike.

1. Killer Joe  (William Friedkin)
I've been told I gravitate toward movies that leave you scratching your head when the credits hit, and if that is true "Killer Joe" takes the cake (or the fried chicken, as it were). I don't know what to do with myself when "Joe" ends - I just sit there cackling to myself like a madman. That's just one of so, so many compliments I could open a capsule sum-uppance of Friedkin's latest film with. With a story this insane, captured with some of the year's best cinematography, the superb performances across the board are just bonuses - and considering Juno Temple's Dottie, Gina Gershon's Sharla, Thomas Haden Church's Ansel and Matthew McConaughey's Joe (one of a generous number of excellent recent performances from the man), what a bonus they are! Friedkin here is wholly plunged in to the nature of these characters that the film reeks of deep Texas - every moment is thick with this mentality and the darkly interwoven comedy comes naturally as a result, large credit to Tracy Letts' source play as well, I'm sure. There are few cinematic experiences that can rival what this one accomplishes. Even amongst so many worthy 2012 achievements, "Killer Joe" deftly rises to the top.

Not yet available for my consideration
The Fifth Season (Peter Brosens)
Welcome to Pine Hill (Keith Miller)
Paradise: Faith (Ulrich Seidl)
Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
LUV (Sheldon Candis)
Mud (Jeff Nichols)
Filly Brown (Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos)
Middle of Nowhere (Ava DuVernay)

Complete 2012 list on Letterboxd (rankings subject to change).


EDITORIAL: Django Chained: Tarantino and the American Slave

Considering ethics alone, I find myself compelled to place "Django Unchained" toward the bottom of the 2012 stack (in the cold company of "John Carter", "Mirror Mirror" and "2016: Obama’s America"), and certainly that of Tarantino’s career thus far, even if that may sound like a hyperbolic stretch based on the fact that the lowbrow material’s sole aim is to but entertain. Therein, however, does lie one major issue, in that more than 2.5 hours of being bombarded with graphic brutality against the enslaved does not entertainment make. Okay, there is more to "Django" than just that but the barrage of visceral cruelty against those who were then considered 1/3rd of a person is so persistent that it demands to be addressed, and this introduces the more important issue: "Django Unchained" is ultimately not concerned with slavery despite its gratuitous focus on as much.

This is a revenge picture and nothing more – which would be perfectly acceptable; not every movie with slavery in it needs to be "Amistad" or "Roots", or even "Lincoln" for that matter – but at nearly every turn "Django" puts itself in a position where it becomes its obligation – nay, its responsibility – to address the viciously inhumane setting its characters are weaving through and in certain cases enforcing. It is calling out for our hero to become Tarantino’s Nat Turner, though stubbornly it can’t be budged beyond its selfish aim. This is an overt social disrespect that makes fools of we the audience and a fool of its otherwise impressive filmmaker.

Read the full editorial at Sound on Sight.