What Daniel Bryan Should’ve Said To The Miz

Last week, Talking Smack lived up to its name.  Airing right after Smackdown Live every Tuesday night on The WWE Network, the show allows wrestlers a chance to further their storylines outside of the ring and vent if they so desire.  (They must’ve gotten the idea from The Talking Dead, the wrap-up show that follows The Walking Dead on AMC.)

During last week’s broadcast, The Miz was a guest.  One of the hosts, Daniel Bryan, made a pointed criticism about his in-ring work.  The former four-time World Champion claimed that the current InterContinental Champion was “soft” (or did he mean “sawft”?) and that he seemed less than eager to take bumps, particularly punches to the face.  He bluntly called him a “coward”.

In the past, when he was knocked for any number of reasons, The Miz would simply laugh off and diminish such negative views as the work of “haters”.  He even turned it into a T-shirt.  In all the years I’ve been watching him in the WWE, he has never let this get to him.

But judging by his ferocious reaction on Talking Smack, Bryan clearly touched a nerve.  Shaking so much with rage, The Miz passionately defended himself, claiming in his decade-long run with the WWE, he had never gotten seriously hurt.  He went on to hammer Bryan for telling the fans he would return but then retiring instead.

The Yes Man had a very good reason for ending his pro wrestling career, as Miz well knows.  He accumulated so many concussions, among other serious injuries, the WWE would no longer clear him to wrestle.  As he noted to The Miz, he would be back if the company would let him.

That wasn’t good enough for the star of Christmas Bounty.  The Miz suggested that if he was serious about coming back, he’d return to the “bingo halls” where he got his start.  Sticking the proverbial knife ever deeper, the IC Champ claimed that he loves the WWE fans (he’s currently a self-absorbed heel) and would make his title (which he has won on four previous occasions) mean something again.  (Bryan’s last title run in 2015 was with the same belt.)

Daniel Bryan eventually walked off the set which added even more fuel to The Miz’s venom.  With a very noticeable vein bulging out of his shiny forehead, he pointed out the obvious.  When vigourously challenged, ironically, Bryan was the one who showed fear.

But was The Miz right about everything else he said?  Is his “safe” style of wrestling, as Bryan derisively called it, the best way to work?

Bryan could’ve easily demolished his argument but because he abandoned this heated conversation while an agitated Miz was still lashing out at him in mid-sentence he missed a glorious opportunity to do so.  There are so many things he could’ve said instead of just walking away in disgust.

First off, he could’ve asked the IC Champ if he had ever had a classic match?  The Miz would probably respond with his two main event matches with John Cena for the WWE Championship back in 2011.  To which Bryan would’ve noted that his match with Cena at SummerSlam 2013 was better than both of them put together.

Miz would’ve countered that he was Champion that night for just a few minutes thanks to Randy Orton cashing in his Money In The Bank briefcase with a big assist from Triple H.  Bryan would’ve reminded him that the only reason he remained WWE Champion at WrestleMania 27 is because of The Rock.  And that Miz only became the champion in the first place because he cashed in his own MITB briefcase on a fallen Orton during a November episode of Monday Night Raw in 2010.  The only way he was able to keep the title in a 2011 Royal Rumble rematch with The Viper is because of the interference of CM Punk.

Miz would likely go on to mock Bryan for losing the World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus in the opening match of WrestleMania 28 in less than 20 seconds, to which Bryan would note that his loss led to his eventual babyface push as the fans began enthusiastically chanting “Yes!”, his once purposefully obnoxious catchphrase, in protest that night.  When Miz would take credit for that success, as he did in an interview in 2012, Bryan would argue that despite his love of the fans, they didn’t love The Miz back during his own ill-fated, mercifully brief babyface turn.

The Yes Man could list a whole slew of great matches in his career.  A Money In The Bank ladder match in 2011 (which led to his first world title push), the 2012 Elimination Chamber match for the WHC, the three WWE title bouts on pay-per-view with CM Punk (including one that featured Kane) during the Spring and Summer of 2012, his Royal Rumble 2014 match with Bray Wyatt and that stellar encounter with Triple H at WrestleMania 30 which directly led to him regaining the WWE Championship in a 3-way with Orton and Batista in the main event of that same show.  Both encounters lasted 30 minutes apiece. Could The Miz have accomplished any of this with his “safer” approach?

Bottom line, Daniel Bryan can easily say he had more memorable, important matches in his six years in the WWE than The Miz has had in his entire career even if he did suffer serious physical setbacks that ended his wonderfully inspiring run all too quickly.

As for the IC Champ’s assertion that he’s never been seriously hurt, I can think of two instances where things went wrong at his expense.  The original finish of the Cena match at WrestleMania 27 ended in a double count-out where Miz hit the back of his head hard on the concrete while taking a bump at ringside.  If memory serves, I do believe he suffered a concussion from that.

And then, there was the Raw match he had with Kofi Kingston where he got struck so forcefully with the Trouble In Paradise (basically a spinning kick to the head), you could hear the loud thump of the impact.  Miz looked dazed for a bit after he was pinned.

Interestingly, if Bryan had brought up these instances during their Talking Smack interview, Miz could’ve used them as proof he can take a serious bump and not lose his spot.  To which Bryan would’ve instantly countered that these were rare, unfortunate accidents and he doesn’t handle genuinely safe but tough-looking bumps on a regular basis.

On this week’s Smackdown Live, The Miz delivered another blistering heat-seeking promo that seemed slightly inspired by CM Punk’s brilliant “pipe bomb” promo in 2011.  Once again sounding very defensive, especially when he was booed, he talked about how great a team player he is for WWE.  Whenever the company needs him for PR work, he’s there, dignity be damned.

Daniel Bryan’s promised direct response to last week’s Talking Smack segment, on the other hand, was a huge letdown.  Bryan and The Miz never actually had a follow-up face-to-face encounter which is baffling.  In fact, as Bryan noted on this week’s Talking Smack, it was decided by WWE management to keep them apart on-camera from this point forward.  (Ridiculous.  Talk about poor creative judgment.)  For his part, Bryan apologized for abandoning co-host Renee Young during a hot segment and for pissing off The Miz, although on Smackdown Live, it was more than clear he stands by his original criticisms, as he should.

It’s such a shame he didn’t go further last week because had he done so, he would’ve won the argument.  Handily.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
7:34 p.m.

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Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 7:34 pm  Comments (2)  

The Boy (2016)

There are two key questions at the heart of The Boy:

1. How far will one couple go to appease their psychotic child?
2. How much of a ruse will an abused woman tolerate in order to flee her tormenter?

The answers?  Too far and too much.

Greta (Lauren Cohan) is a Montana native so desperate to escape her violent ex-boyfriend she takes a babysitting job in the UK.  But she’s not looking after an actual child.  No.  She is tasked with caring for a doll that resembles a child.

This obviously requires an explanation.  The eccentric Heelshires (the very good Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) have never gotten over the loss of their 8-year-old son, Brahms.  So, as a way of coping, they pretend the aforementioned doll is him.  (Greta lost her own unborn child after her ex beat her.)

They clothe him, sit him at the dinner table, read to him, play his favourite classical music quite loudly and give him goodnight kisses after they put him to bed.  They’ve been performing this charade, this meticulous routine for 20 years.  Greta isn’t the first babysitter they’ve hired.  (They instruct her to follow 10 typewritten rules altogether.  She ignores pretty much all of them at first.  Not smart, as it turns out.)

As if that wasn’t strange enough, the replacement Brahms seemingly disappears without warning.  On her first night alone in the Heelshires’ sprawling mansion (they’re taking a much needed vacation), completely creeped out by the thing, she covers his snow white face with a blanket while she reads a magazine and guzzles red wine.  At one point later on, she notices the blanket is off.  Did he remove it himself when she was out of the room or did it just fall?

On a different night, she hears a child crying.  When she goes to investigate, she notices a tear falling from the silent doll’s eye.  But then, a drop of water from the ceiling hits his face.  Did that cause the first tear?

Going back to the very first day she arrives at the mansion, after removing her boots and getting a small tour & instructions from the family, when she goes back to retrieve them, they’ve disappeared.  Mrs. Heelshire blames Brahms.  “He can be playful,” she says matter-of-factly.  Later on, when Greta opens her bedroom door, they magically return.  When she closes it and opens it again, he also leaves her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  (She made one for herself earlier in the kitchen.)  At times, she can see movement in the small space underneath her closed door.  Mr. Heelshire tells her he’s “too timid” to do this while being watched.

Greta’s only company is a flirtatious grocer, Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who arrives every so often to awkwardly hit on her and deliver food.  Their gradual bond is awfully convenient for what’s to come.  When they eventually give in to their supposed attraction, a jealous Brahms cranks up the classical to interrupt their abbreviated, spiceless makeout.

When they make plans to go out to a club, after taking an impromptu shower, Greta notices all her clothes and jewelry are suddenly missing.  That leads her up to the attic where she inevitably gets locked in and can’t get Malcolm’s attention when he arrives for their date.  Despite dropping in constantly unannounced in other scenes (the obligatory False Alarm scares that seem half-hearted in their execution), on this occasion he curiously drives off.  Shortly afterwards, she spots a shadowy figure (a shot so poorly lit it took me a few times to actually see it) and passes out.

Meanwhile, as the days go on, she keeps hearing unexplained noises and Brahms never seems to stay in place.  She also starts having nightmares about the damn thing, one of which inspires the scariest moment in the film, which isn’t really saying that much, honestly.

For a little over an hour, The Boy wants you to think you’re watching a rip-off of Annabelle, the hokey spin-off of The Conjuring, itself one of the most overrated horror films of the decade.  But then, something terrible happens to the doll, and suddenly the last half hour becomes another Halloween-style slasher flick complete with a masked villain.

Which leads us back to those two key questions.  As it turns out, Brahms the doll is not possessed by any demonic spirit.  He’s a prop for a sinister scheme cooked up by the Freeshires who have so much guilt over their dark secret, they pull a Nicole Kidman in The Hours without informing Greta of their plans.  How far will they go to appease their son?  They’re willing to recruit a potential victim for him.  Sick and truly puzzling.  No wonder their chauffeur eyes Greta so closely in the opening scene.

Greta’s violent ex (a generic heel who lacks intensity), who’s been stalking her sister’s family back home in her absence, eventually learns of her whereabouts.  Greta is stunned to see him playing pool in the mansion one night.  (Like Malcolm, he doesn’t believe in knocking.  Does she ever lock the front door?)  He asserts their break-up didn’t count and insists that she’ll be leaving with him first thing in the morning.  How desperate is she to shake off this misogynistic loser?  She buys into the idea that Brahms the doll will take care of this problem after she commands him to do so.  Things turn out not quite like she expected.  In fact, they go from bad to worse.

The Boy really wants to be an M. Night Shyamalan movie, quiet for the most part with unexpected swerves.  Unfortunately, it’s so wrapped up in its mysterious, highly contrived plot it forgets to be consistently scary.  It fails to build enough tension to properly pay off the twisted Brahms portion of the story alone.  It’s all foreplay with no climax.

The maternal Lauren Cohan is an appealing lead who deserves a smarter character to play.  Her initial instinct that someone is fucking with her is absolutely correct.  But sadly, she doesn’t stick with it.  She foolishly buys into the idea the doll is alive.  In fact, she actually bonds with it.  Much like the Heelshires, she uses the doll as a conduit for her buried, unresolved feelings towards her dead fetus.

I had misplaced suspicions about Malcolm because he kind of resembles an adult Brahms.  Despite that, I wasn’t charmed by his lameness.  For instance, pretending to be able to sum up a person’s history through their chewing gum is weak.  He’s only useful when he fills in some of the blanks about the Freeshires’ troubled history.  Why neither of them don’t just run for zee hills well before the third act is beyond me.

By the end, the filmmakers are clearly hoping for a second chapter.  The ultimate fate of Brahms, the real one, is purposefully ambiguous.  Who is that person walking around and making repairs?  But how would they accomplish this without relying on the same bogus conceit?  And why bother with a sequel when they didn’t get it right the first time?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
7:06 p.m.

Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 7:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2

How shameless is Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2?  Well, if you missed the original Silent Night Deadly Night, not to worry.  Number two gets you right up to speed.

In its first 40 minutes.

That’s right.  Nearly half of its 88-minute running time is devoted to completely rehashing the earlier film.  It unapologetically recycles half of the footage from its predecessor.

It’s fairly obvious why.  Part 2 doesn’t have nearly enough material to justify being a feature.  In fact, it’s one of the silliest horror sequels I’ve ever seen.

At the end of the first film, poor, tormented Billy, the kid who saw his parents murdered by a thief in a Santa costume, comes very close to getting revenge against the sadistic nun who put horrible ideas in his impressionable head about punishing the naughty at an orphange she ran.

His little brother, Ricky, who was just a screaming baby when they suddenly became orphans, witnesses his final moments and inevitably follows in his slasher footsteps.

As Part 2 begins, we catch up with him again as an impatient, chain-smoking adult in a mental institution as he’s about to be interviewed by his 13th psychiatrist, a mild-mannered widow who has no idea what he’s in for once he hits record on the reel-to-reel machine.

Eric Freeman, who plays the demented Ricky, overacts constantly with his eyebrows.  His glare is not even close to being intimidating.  Sometimes, he turns his head slowly and robotically like The Terminator.  His line readings are routinely forced.  After he needlessly recaps his brother’s story in full, he delves into his own troubled history.

Adopted by a Jewish couple who gave him a good life, like Billy, he had traumatic flashbacks as a child. Two nuns walking down the street freaked him out.  Seeing red fabric brought up more bad memories about Santa.

After his stepfather died, he started going for long walks in the woods.  In one flashback, he spots a drunken man attempting to rape his girlfriend.  (A blatant rip-off of a similiar scene in the first film.)  Once she successfully fights him off, he retreats to his truck to get another beer.  By the time he discovers Ricky in the driver’s seat, it’s too late.  The aftermath leads to an unintentional laugh, one of many.

When he turned 18, Ricky became a busboy at a restaurant.  We see him throwing out trash one night as he overhears an argument between two men.  One is owed money and a beating is in progress.  When it ends, Ricky prevents the thug from leaving and after no-selling a few punches Terminator-style, he stabs the man with an umbrella.  And yes, it opens up.

Then we find out about his girlfriend, a cute blond he met after she literally bumped into his motorbike with her car.  (There’s a genuinely funny scene when they go to the movies (a clip from Silent Night Deadly Night is shown in full screen, for some reason) and are bothered by some loudmouth in the back row.)  He lost his virginity to her but when he found out about her obnoxious, overbearing ex, well, he became a fan of “slut” shaming.

And that’s when Freeman’s already laughable performance devolves into full-on camp.  It’s hard to tell if he gave up trying to be scary.  After he escapes the mental institution to track down the evil Mother Superior (sadly played by a different actress who isn’t nearly as effective), now retired with strange bumps on the side of her face (does this happen to stroke victims?), Ricky starts channelling Jack Nicholson from The Shining.  Badly.

At no time is any of this scary.  How can it be?  It’s so over-the-top you can’t take it seriously.  (That electrocution special effect is particularly noticeable.)  I mean right from the very begininng there’s a big credibility problem.  During Ricky’s interview, he’s not in a strait jacket or handcuffs.  He’s not shackled at all.  He’s free to roam around the entire time.

Um, guys?  He’s killed half a dozen people!  Doesn’t that make him dangerous?  Shunning good judgment and common sense, the dumb shrink (it turns out 13 isn’t his lucky number) shoos away an orderly who rightly eyes the occasionally smiling Ricky with suspicion.

Can you believe they made 3 more sequels?  Thank God none of them played in theatres so I don’t have to see them.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
6:23 p.m.

Published in: on August 24, 2016 at 6:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Some movies want to be liked and respected.  Others want to be loved and treasured for all times.

Silent Night, Deadly Night dares you to hate it with every fibre of your being.  When it was released in late 1984, many took the bait.  Critics crucified it.  Parents torched it.  Politicians were outraged.  Even Mickey Rooney condemned it.  It lasted a week in theatres.

It was exactly the kind of reaction the filmmakers were hoping for.  (It more than doubled its budget in box office receipts.)  In fact, it’s right there on the poster:

“You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas.”

The filmmakers were so shameless in their sales pitch they deliberately tied their decidedly mediocre offering to John Carpenter’s more skillfully made thriller.  They had to do something to reel in the gullible.

So, what was it about this movie that enflamed the delicate sensibilities of so many Reagan-era Americans? A guy in a Santa costume killing people.

About a half hour into Silent Night, Deadly Night, a character we’ve gotten to know at three different stages of his tortured, young life completely snaps.  At age 18, he gets a job working as a stock boy in a toy store during the Christmas holidays.  As the big day draws near, the store needs someone to be Santa for the visiting customers and their kids.  They’re kinda desperate.  There’s not much time left to fill the position.

Unfortunately, young Billy doesn’t see Santa like everybody else does.  That’s because of one terrible day he had when he was five years old.

During a visit with his grandfather in a mental institution (the overly obvious zoom on the outside sign made me laugh out loud), he’s informed that Santa punishes naughty children.  The grandpa’s supposed to be in a catatonic state like De Niro in Awakenings but when Billy’s parents are busy talking with the doctor in his office, this crazy, cackling old man suddenly comes to life to ruin Christmas for his naïve grandson.

On the drive back home, Billy’s dad temporarily stops the car to assist a guy in a Santa outfit who’s having car trouble.  Billy freaks out at the mere sight of him purely because of what his duplicitous grandpa told him.  His now paranoid instincts unintentionally turn out to be correct however because we just saw the guy kill a cynical clerk for 31 bucks in an earlier scene.  In a flash, the dad is shot through the windshield and Billy’s mom is assaulted before her throat is slashed.  As his infant brother cries throughout this cringeworthy ordeal (which thankfully is somewhat restrained), Billy flees and hides, leaving him behind.

The next thing we know it’s three years later and Billy & his brother are living in a Catholic orphanage overseen by a sadistic Mother Superior.  Poor Billy can’t do anything without evoking her anger.  Completely oblivious to his traumatic state that recurs every Christmas, she ruthlessly punishes him not understanding how much further damage she’s inflicting on his already fragile psyche.  Her stupidity is terrifying.  God knows nothing else in this movie is.

He’s sent to his room for drawing a picture of Santa with knives stabbed into his body next to a decapitated reindeer.  He gets a literal ass whooping for leaving without her permission.  When he has a nightmare, his wrists are tied to the bed.  It’s only after amusingly slugging a visiting guy in a Santa suit after being stupidly forced to sit on his lap that we are thankfully spared from seeing him receive yet another cruel punishment.

When a kindly nun allows him out of room detention for that dark drawing to go play with the other orphans outside, mysterious moaning leads him to look in the keyhole of a room where a couple is having sex.  Seeing the young woman’s breasts triggers his memory of his mom having her top ripped open by the bad Santa which spooks him.  Right on cue, Mother Superior throws him out of the way and proceeds to whip the couple for enjoying each other’s company.  She’s not down with coitis.

That leads to a pivotal moment that changes Billy’s life for good.  Mother Superior explains to him that people who do naughty things must be punished.  Ten years later, after witnessing a fellow employee assault a co-worker he has a mad crush on during his toy store’s after hours Christmas party, he makes his inevitable heel turn while wearing that Santa suit as he strangles the combative son of a bitch with Christmas lights in the stock room.  Instead of showing appreciation for ending the assault, the cute brunette calls him “crazy”.  He offs her, as well.

And that’s about the time the purposefully offensive Silent Night, Deadly Night, an awkward mix of cheese & tasteless provocation, becomes just another unimaginative slasher flick only with lousy original Christmas songs.  (To be fair, I did like the outdoor scenery.)  After exiting the toy store, Billy seeks out more naughty victims like the amorous teen couple who should be studying and a bully who steals a kid’s sled.  Meanwhile, the kind nun who tried to protect him seeks out the assistance of law enforcement which turns out to be a really terrible idea.  They’re as unaccountable and reckless as real-life cops.

One of the biggest misconceptions about John Carpenter’s Halloween was this false notion that he was making some kind of conservative statement against teen sex.  Michael Myers didn’t kill those babysitters because they were fucking.  He killed them because they reminded him of his sister, his first victim.  They were distracted and wouldn’t fight back.

On the other hand, Silent Night, Deadly Night, like The Toolbox Murders, I Spit On Your Grave, Maniac and Friday The 13th among many other appalling examples, is very much about punishing the sexual.  Poor Billy is so screwed up about carnal pleasure that when he has a dream about fooling around with that cute co-worker from the toy store it turns violent.  Even his own “naughtiness” isn’t immune from the influence of Mother Superior’s pervasive sex-negative attitudes.

Inevitably, Billy’s trail of bloody carnage leads him back to the place where he felt most alienated.  But the movie, which only views him as sympathetic up to a point, doesn’t even allow him the pleasure of killing his biggest tormenter.  All it does is set up a sequel no one asked for.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 21, 2016
4:04 a.m.

Published in: on August 21, 2016 at 4:04 am  Comments (3)