Tuesday, February 28, 2012

FMLL: Experience the Lucha Libre action!!!

FMLL: Lucha Libre at the local Sherwood Hall in Salinas!!!

Professional Wrestling in Mexico has a number of structural and cultural differences from the United States version of “Sports Entertainment” seen every Monday night. There is a greater emphasis on the tag team match, the pin-falls often run two out of three, and then there are the beautiful masks worn by a majority of the stars appearing throughout the country. I won’t get into the differences with ring psychology, the defining characteristics dividing the “technico” (face) and “rudo” (Heel) factions, or the different move-styles. I’ll leave it with the information that the styles are different and you have to be prepared for that before attending the event. Even with my own sizeable knowledge on all things pro-wrestling related, I was still taken by a bit of a surprise with some of the cultural differences and that’s not at all a complaint.

This was my sons’ first wrestling event and I wanted it to be special. I put aside some money to take along with us, so we could pick up a mask and maybe get something to drink. We arrived a little late and took a seat in the stands of Sherwood Hall where the performance was taking place… and let me just congratulate the promoters on a truly imaginative use of the space available. Utilizing the stage, the VIP ticket holders were allowed to sit amongst several rows surrounding three sides of the ring located in the center of the stage some ten or fifteen feet back from the ledge. General Admittance tickets allowed the fans to fill in the normal stage seating which were packed a fair decent amount. The atmosphere was family friendly with a strong focus on catering to the children, allowing them to press up against the stage at various points and even allowing them to stand in the ring during the break.

The in-ring action was constant in the traditional high-flying lucha style, with plenty of head-scissors and armdrag takedowns. Stars included El Hijo Del Rey Misterio (Son of Rey Misterio), Atlantis, Lucifer, La Parka, Blue Demon Jr., and Super Porky. All the matches were tag team cybernetico contests and filled out the nearly three hour show beautifully. I ran into some friends who had tickets in the VIP area, where I also saw them receive some rudo interaction for an added “kick” to what I’m sure was a blast for them. My son got into the action and we walked away some happy campers with a pair of masks.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Ghostrider: Spirit of Vengeance" thoughts.

“Ghostrider: Spirit of Vengeance”

I did not dislike the first Ghostrider film. I thought it was a nifty little popcorn action flick with an interesting performance from Nicholas Cage, though not quite the stellar adaptation of the comic that so many people were looking for. In point of fact, the comic series has never been one of the major publications from Marvel and rarely maintained a great deal of consistency. Whether riding as Johnny Blaze or Danny… whatever… Ghostrider always seemed like a series looking for a back story. The nature of the Rider would change from one writer to the next, the powers would come and go, with the only major constant being the iconic imagery of a flaming skull and motorcycle. So I wasn’t really concerned with the major changes when the character was adapted to the big screen.

Eva Mendez was horrible, though.

For the second installment, Cage returns to the role and we get a quick run down of revisionist history on the character. Partially rebooting the series, Marvel seemed to want to take back about half of what the fans did not like from the first film but couldn’t quite focus on which parts were actually bad. He still sold his soul, but Mephisto is replaced with a generic “Rourke” (AKA: The devil) and Blaze has been on the run from his curse for a fairly long while. He gets thrown into a new story when a woman and her son are being chased by some mercenaries. He’s recruited to help the boy by a French Monk who spends the majority of the movie getting laughs with bad wine jokes as he guzzles one bottle after another. And, big spoiler, the boy has a connection to Rourke and the Monk can free Johnny from his curse. *yawn*

The bare bones of the story actually works with some interesting moments and cool CGI effects, but the rest felt scattered and we were thrown into moments that seemed entirely unnecessary. Blaze starts off being able to “sense” the boy so he easily tracks them down just in time to step into a failed battle with the mercenaries. Rourke somehow blocks the Riders’ ability to track the boy and we get an entirely pointless scene that did little more than tack on a few minutes to the run time and give Cage a chance to rant, rave, and act a little loony. Our two antagonist characters are bland at best, with the mercenary having a contrived connection to the boys’ mother and Rourke being the most dull and painfully boring character to be saddled with the dark powers of hell. He never comes off as intimidating despite some interesting make-up choices, and seems more like a middle-manager out of his depth throughout most of the film. But when it comes to moments with the Rider and in coping with Johnny’s curse, the film actually does a fairly impressive job of explaining how dangerous the Spirit of Vengeance can be. We also have some decent interaction between Blaze and his young charge, so the films narrative shows some potential if you really want to be forgiving. When you whittle away the pointless moments you’re left with some decent action sequences and a few decent story points.

But I expected something better from Neveldine/Taylor. The duo behind the impressive “Crank” series got another base hit with “Gamer”, but failed to get anything more than a bunt out of this comic book franchise.

2 ½ out of 5 ... And I'd still see a third film.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3D (experience review)

First off... check out the new banner at the top of my page! Illustrator Dean Stahl is an amazing artist who I asked to help me with a quick banner, and he cooked this baby up in less time than I thought possible. So now you don't have to cope with my ugly mug on the banner... now you get the Redcap Jack greetings you every time you log on to this blog! WOOHOO!!!!

-Mark Cunningham

Star Wars: Episode One

The Phantom Menace

Far and wide accepted as the “weakest” entry in the Star Wars series, “Menace” is the first of the films to be given a 3D conversion and released to theaters. And while I realize that this is yet another attempt from Lucas films to dig their fingers in my wallet, I’m also a big fan who is raising a smaller fan that absolutely loves ALL the films and this includes the first installment of the Prequel Trilogy. So with an afternoon off from work and an eager six year old boy carrying his bucket of popcorn, the redcap wrapped some crappy glasses around his head and sat back for the full experience of Star Wars up on that big screen. So was it worth it?

A terrible 3D conversion looks like cardboard cut outs in the traditional of bunraku, Japanese paper theater. There’s really no depth and it looks like things going back and forth on a two-dimensional board. Most films that are not shot in 3 Dimension receive this fairly standard post-conversion technology, with few films actually capable of handling it well. So when you throw in the talents of Industrial Light And Magic, you would assume they could do something special with the technology. Your assumptions would prove disastrous, as is the conversional technology for this film. Not only is Natalie Portman giving a wooden performance, but now she looks like a piece of cardboard on the screen. The most impressive scenes are those that were created through CGI in the first place, so it’s post conversion techniques are perhaps a little more polished in that the images themselves were adapted… but traditional film stock is still nearly impossible to modify and we’re pretty much left with what we have.

As for the plot? Come on! Do I really need to get into the details surrounding any film in this series? We already know that the acting is wooden, the dialogue is stilted, and the pacing is way off. Jar Jar Binks will go down in character infamy as one of the worst concepts brought to life, Qui Gon Jin carries the entire narrative before his death, and Natalie Portman is saddled with some of the worst costumes ever designed. Lucas is not a great director and I’ll never proclaim him as anything of the sort, but even a bad Star Wars film has all the fan fare and prestige of actually being a Star Wars film! You know what you’re getting; Jedi with lightsabers, space battles, strange aliens, and all the cool stuff we buy tickets to see anyway. There’s really nothing to complain about at the end of the day.

But with all the negatives there is also that opening scrawl, the beginning theme, the moment where the theater falls silent and applause begin and your sons eyes go wide and he smiles. You stare up at the screen and think back to your own youth, and then later to the first midnight showings back in the day. You think back to when they re-released Star Wars on the big screen, you think back and remember all the figures you used to own, and you take that moment to connect with the young boy sitting beside you. You feel warm, you feel happy, and you reach in to the popcorn bucket and get slapped by that boy you love so much. “Stop it. The space ship is gonna’ come! See?? See Daddy?!?!” I see more than you could possibly imagine, Little Boy.

Yes. It was worth it.