Booking Brock

Last month, Brock Lesnar committed acts of violence rarely witnessed on contemporary WWE programming.

BrockWWEChampion2014Not only that, but he perpetrated those acts against then-WWE Champion and “face of the company” John Cena.

This was exactly what should have happened.

As has been the case for some time now, WWE gets more right than it does wrong, and it got this exactly right.  Cena endured 16 belly-to-back suplexes over the course of an excruciating 20 minutes.  Merely calling them “belly-to-back suplexes” doesn’t do justice to the brutality with which they were delivered.  Being German suplexed is one thing.  Being German suplexed by Brock Lesnar is another.

This Sunday, the two square off again in Cena’s contractual rematch for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions.  Rather than give a long-winded analysis of each match, as I did for Summerslam, I want to focus exclusively on the main event (and try to keep this piece under 2,000 words for once).

My booking for the match would be pretty simple.

Lesnar annihilated Cena and beat him in 20 minutes last time.

This time, Lesnar beats him in 10.

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A Day in the Life of an Adrian Peterson Fantasy Owner

Here was my CBSSports.com Fantasy newsfeed yesterday:

AdrianPetersonFinal

Oof. Not a great day for me.

An even worse day for AD and his family, though.

(Probably.)

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Some (Possibly Unpopular) Thoughts on Rice and Goodell

Baltimore Ravens Training Camp August 22, 2009A few thoughts on the Ray Rice situation, some of which may be redundant for anyone who’s been following the story, others of which may be uncomfortable for some:

1. Ray Rice should have been suspended for more than two games initially.  However, not receiving a jail sentence or serious charges in this type of situation isn’t unusual.

I think laymen have been a little perplexed by this reality, but it does make some sense.  The general idea is that the law is reluctant to hammer someone who is a first-time offender, a previously “model” citizen, and whose victim says this was an unprecedented incident.

Now, you may disagree with this philosophy.  I’m guessing the Twitter Mob probably wants one-time offenders to go to jail for ten years or more.  But I’m merely telling you that prosecutors and judges—unless there’s some personal axe to grind—are generally not looking to annihilate guys who fit Rice’s fact pattern.

2. The video tape coming to light should have had no bearing on the punishment.

The basic facts of the incident were not really in dispute.  Rice’s now-wife came at him a couple of times, he wildly and inexcusably overreacted by punching her and knocking her out on an elevator.  The NFL knew this (more on that in a moment).  The Ravens knew this.  Rice was suspended two games.

There’s a very good argument—one with which I agree—that he should have received a much stiffer penalty from the NFL.  But, whatever penalty he should have received, the punishment should not have been affected by the tape.  We seem to be glossing over this point.

We already knew what happened.  Rice knocked out his girlfriend and dragged her out of an elevator.  Why did we need to see it on tape for him to get punished more severely?  That brings me to the next point . . .

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Beast For Business – SummerSlam 2014

SummerSlam2014PosterIn just a few days’ time, shrewd businessman and creative genius Vince McMahon’s troupe of fairly compensated independent contractors will put on their second-biggest show of the year.

Originating from its now-annual home, L.A.’s Staples Center, SummerSlam features a complete list of well-promoted matches.  I don’t think I can recall a non-WrestleMania show that included this many matches that had been given thorough, proper build-ups.

Maybe it’s the renewed focus wrought by bad financial news (or the pared-down roster that soon followed that news).  Maybe it’s better integration with the WWE Network that allows for certain characters to flourish.  Maybe it’s a better understanding of how to use the flagship show’s three-plus hours each week.

Whatever the reason, there’s no question that, for the first time in a long time, I can look at each of the eight announced matches on this card and remember compelling specifics about all of them.

Let’s get to the particulars:

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The Decline of the United States of America in One Chart

The New York Times Chronicle sub-site is a wonderful utility that graphs the frequency of words and phrases over the publication’s history.  Users can plug in whatever search terms they wish, and the engine instantly and amazingly checks over a century’s worth of content.

Keeping in mind that there are simply more articles today than there were in, say, 1878, it’s particularly interesting to see how certain concepts and ideas have become more or less prominent over the decades.

With that in mind, here, in one chart, is a visualization of the decline of the United States of America.

CompositeNYTChart

Ok, maybe two charts:

LawsuitNYTChart

 

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RAW in Richmond

Due to a last-minute offer of (excellent) tickets, I was able to catch Monday Night RAW in person at the Richmond Coliseum this week.  Here, in no particular order, are some observations and live impressions that I’ll jot down before loading up the television version from my DVR.

1. First and foremost—the crowd was excellent.  Richmond has been a hotbed for big wrestling shows for decades, and the audience was a great mix of young and old.  There was definitely a “multi-generation” feel.  Most importantly, Richmond crowds strike the perfect balance for wrestling.  The crowds here are very “hot” (loud and enthusiastic), unlike a typical crowd in, say, Phoenix.  However, they also don’t try to make themselves the show, like a crowd in certain major East Coast cities.  Richmond finds that sweet spot: An East Coast intensity with an old-school willingness not to be too-cool-for-school, contrarian dicks.  We cheer for faces and boo heels, here.  We enjoy wrestling unironically.  Imagine that!  (But see also #8 and #9 below)

RAW071414-08B

Absolutely perfect view

2. It’s been almost three years since I last attended a live WWE event.  The operation has been silky-smooth for years, but, incredibly, it’s even more impressive now.  Changes to the ring or set happen instantly as a phalanx of black-clad employees scurry to and fro during commercial breaks or backstage vignettes.  The amount of “moving parts” is staggering, but everyone seems to know exactly where to be and what to be doing at all times.  That’s even true when things don’t go as planned due to, say, an injury.

3. We were in a suite, the best part of which (aside from having our own bathroom) was the incredible sightline.  Even when I’ve had good or great seats in the past, the sightlines haven’t been as clean as Monday night’s.  The view of both the stage and the ring were completely unobstructed.  As a bonus, Roman Reigns entered through the crowd about 25 feet to our left.

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Untimely Movie Review: A Streetcar Named Desire

As the Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection moves into a new decade, the first movie from the 1950s is another story based on a play: Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (which I will refer to simply as Streetcar to signal my credibility to the readers!).

AStreetcarNamedDesirePosterStreetcar (see?!?) directed by Real American Elia Kazan, tells a very “small” story, reflecting its stage roots.  The crux of the plot is that a woman named Stella has a nutty sister (Blanche) who arrives in New Orleans to live with Stella and her abusive husband Stanley.  Blanche’s past is mysterious, and her behavior is odd—she needs frequent praise for her looks, a point her sister drives home more than once.  Blanche also perpetually asks questions about what people think about her.  The eventual revelations about her past are interesting, but not unexpected, given her strange conduct throughout the film.

Story aside, there are problems with the dialogue.  Jeepers, this dialogue.  It’s more music than words, for better and for worse.  The sounds portray the intensity and emotion of the scene, but nobody talks this way.  Not in 2014.  Not in 1951.

The lines sound exactly like what they are: Short, impactful doses of words designed to hold the attention of the couple in the last row of a playhouse.  Viewed with the scrutiny of a close-up on a large screen, they get silly very quickly.

Also note that we’re still in an era of acting that favored broad, melodramatic performances.  The fact that the source material is a stage production only ups that particular ante.  Vivien Leigh, funny and excellent in the 30s epic Gone with the Wind, now seems a little out-of-place in the 1950s, especially acting alongside Marlon Brando.

In fact, seeing Brando and Leigh together is a bit jarring.  It’s almost as if they’re acting in two different movies.  Or, more properly, Leigh is acting in a melodrama from the 1940s, and Brando is delivering something close to a “modern” performance.

Brando is acting.  Leigh is ACTING!

The contrast doesn’t do Leigh any favors, although she won another Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

Karl Malden and Kim Hunter swept the supporting role Oscars as well.  In fact—incredibly—Marlon Brando is the only primary cast member who didn’t win an Oscar for his performance in Streetcar.  Seen from a contemporary perspective, that seems quite odd.  I think it’s also probably surprising for people who only know this movie from the “STELLA!!!” scene to discover that Brando easily has the most subtlety and nuance.

But, again, that’s not entirely Leigh’s fault.  Some of her lines are a volcano of unnatural syllables, particularly strange to hear erupting from the mouth of a past-her-prime Mississippi schoolteacher.  However, there are also moments like (to pick just one) her reaction when Brando gives her the bus ticket back home that illustrate the broad tone of Leigh’s performance.

ACTING!!!

So we noticed.

In some ways, the character Leigh plays here is where we might imagine an older Scarlett O’Hara would wind up at the same age—alone, alcoholic, missing her erstwhile beauty and lost family estate.  The difference is that O’Hara, at bottom, had a resilient, capable spirit.  Blanche is a mess who just gets messier over the course of two hours.

Brando is the major selling point for me.  His is the first performance I’ve seen in this collection that wouldn’t have seemed bizarre 20 years later.  His popularity coupled with his different approach to acting would help usher in a shift toward a more natural, realistic approach to the craft.

This is ultimately a story about two very flawed people (and one who loves and tolerates both of them).  Brando is great.  Leigh’s effort won her an Academy Award, but was the sort of performance whose days as Oscar-winning were numbered.  Hunter and Malden fall somewhere in-between.

Streetcar was rated as one of the 100 best films in movie history by AFI.  One of the 50 best, in fact.  As always, there’s a risk of a disconnect watching it for the first time more than a half-century after its initial release.  However, I don’t think it merits that level of acclaim.

That’s not to say it isn’t a good film.  Of course it is.  But I just can’t get past the unnatural stage dialogue or the antiquated performance of Leigh juxtaposed with Brando’s must-see naturalism.

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Fun with Offensive Trademarks

For no particular reason whatsoever, I thought it might be worthwhile to take some time to poke around the USPTO database.  I wanted to see what potentially “disparaging,” “immoral,” or “scandalous” trademarks and service marks are still live in 2014.

Here’s a very small sampling of what I found.  The marks are listed in no order, and include the good or service for which it was registered:

“Guadalahonky’s” — Salsa and prepared Mexican food items.

“Dago Red” — Apparel.

“Roundeyes” — Automotive lighting.RoundeyesLogo

“Fuck You” — Athletic apparel.

“Asshole Repellent” — Novelty.

“FagOut!” — Apparel items (hats, etc).

“Heeb”Magazine publishing.

“Queer Beer” — Beer.  Obviously.

“Creepy Ass Cracka” — Bumper stickers, apparel.

“Pay Per Jew” — Jewish-themed TV and radio programming and associated apparel.

“Functioning Retard” — Clothing, coffee mugs, bumper stickers.

“White Trash Racin'” — Apparel, especially hats and t-shirts.WhiteTrashRacin

“Fuck the Cool Kids” — Athletic apparel.

“Fag” — Technical lubricating oils and greases.

“JewButt” — Underwear.

“Homo-A-Go-Go” — Entertainment services.

“Retardipedia” — Humor-themed website.

“The Beaners” — Entertainment in the form of TV shows and cartoons.

“Figgas Over Niggas” — Dancing apparel and athletic apparel.

“Trannyshack” — Nightclub and entertainment events.

SmokinJoes

“Jewdoku” — Downloadable game.

“Tardglish” — Humor-themed website.

“Perma-Chink” — Synthetic mortar.

“Kracker Koalition” — Apparel.

Smokin Joes — Cigarettes, ammunition, and various other products.

Plus 250 marks that include “Redneck.”

Personally, I’m happy that all of these marks are still in use.  Are at least some of these objectively offensive?  Absolutely!  But, once the government confers a benefit of some type, it shouldn’t be allowed to withhold that benefit based on “offensiveness.”  In traditional First Amendment terminology, that practice might properly be called impermissible viewpoint discrimination.

Even putting the relevant (and possibly unconstitutional) portion of the Lanham Act entirely aside, I would hate to think that we would prefer to leave it up to the government to tell us what is “too” offensive, especially on an inconsistent or selective basis.

Certainly, we can—and should—collectively decide for ourselves what is too offensive to support.

Right?

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Untimely Movie Review: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

TreasureOfTheSierraMadrePosterThe last of the three Humphrey Bogart films in the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, from 1948.  This is an older, more grizzled Bogey, partially due to simple aging, and partially due to the role.  Unlike Sam Spade or Rick Blaine, Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs is a downtrodden mess.

I said that The Maltese Falcon was based on a book, but felt more like a play, and that Casablanca was based on a play, but felt more like a book.  Well, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was based on a book, but feels more like an episodic television show or serial.

Directed by Falcon‘s John Huston (who has a small part, and whose father Walter co-stars), this movie happens in a series of phases that can almost be separated out into discrete bundles of activity.  I’ll explain that in more detail in a moment, but this is what the episode guide for a television show based on this exact story would look like:

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This is How You Heel

JerichoJacketThree weeks ago, I discussed the looming problem the WWE has in light of its use of heels with face-like qualities.  Summarizing, the WWE has embraced the “smart” reaction to effective heels, essentially turning any heel who gets over into a confusing quasi-face.  This creates storytelling difficulties, as the narrative structure begins to break down when bad guys act like good guys, and good guys are often treated like bad guys by the crowd.

After writing and publishing the article, I happened upon Sam Roberts’ interview with Chris Jericho from last fall.  I hadn’t seen it previously, but Jericho describes the essence of his latter-day heel work at the 16-minute mark.

As you’ll hear in the interview, his total commitment to the role is what stands out: Specifically, his desire for every person in the arena to hate him, his old-school insistence on selling the character at all times, and his refusal to allow WWE to sell new Jericho merchandise during that heel run.

Why?  Because he didn’t want the “smart” fans to wear his shirt or cheer him.

I said last time that I believe The Miz is the solution to this problem at present.  Playing an arrogant, anti-“smart,” Hollywood heel could get him over like no other full-time WWE wrestler is in 2014.  I would love to see him get another run at the top of the card, especially against Daniel Bryan, who represents the opposite of all of those elements.

The Miz can play the kind of heel Jericho discusses in the clip above.[1]  Whether it’s because modern performers are too “scared” to take on that kind of heel heat, or whether guys like Bray Wyatt aren’t established enough and financially secure enough (as Jericho was) to commit to a character who doesn’t want to sell t-shirts, that kind of attitude is sorely missing today.

My philosophy might be summarized as “the faces sell t-shirts, but the heels sell tickets.”  What I mean is that a great character, even in a vacuum, might sell merchandise, but it’s that well-crafted conflict that makes people want to pay to see the next chapter in the story.

A company that has run out of heels will eventually run out of conflict.

________

[1] Make no mistake, though.  The future belongs to someone else.  And his name is Dean.  I don’t state this lightly: Dean Ambrose’s ceiling is “rich man’s Roddy Piper.”  That’s saying a hell of a lot, but I mean it.  The current storyline with Rollins, HHH, Orton, etc, needs to play itself out.  That will probably take several months—meaning that Ambrose needs to stay face for at least that long.  But, when he does turn heel, a feud with John Cena could be a latter-day Hogan / Piper.  And I want to reiterate that I don’t say that lightly.
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