TNA Final Deletion – the hot take

Editor’s Note: This piece was written by guest writer Anton Krasauskas, who has little to no prior knowledge of TNA Wrestling – but then, who does?

TNA’s ‘Final Deletion’ is a lost collaboration between the creative minds behind Sunset Beach. It was directed by Ridley Scott and contains the last known work by legendary animator Ray Harryhausen. Unfortunately, all the footage that was shot was eaten by Ridley Scott, one sunny afternoon in January of 2016.

Fortunately one master copy survived. It was being sent to a processing laboratory in California to be printed. Unfortunately the laboratory was attacked by the Kraken from Clash of the Titans due to a dispute over royalties between the Kraken and Harryhausen. Harryhausen was killed during the altercation and never recovered.

Having already spent the entire budget, lost their one-man special effects team and being unable to remember the phone number for Ridley Scott, the remaining crew of six was out of options. So they did what they could and and broke into a house to film what they could remember of the script.

The actor who originally played Matt Hardy died on the Titanic, and so the crew taped six cats to a bear and taught it to speak in a Mexican accent. One of the cats died during filming, but no-one seemed to notice.

TNA Wrestling Final Deletion

Michael Sheen, the actor who played Maxel, was very happy to come back for reshoots, but insisted that everyone on set pretend it was his 1st birthday. The lit candle on the cake shocked one of the cats playing Matt Hardy into delivering its lines early. So the crew just started shooting and went with it, leaving the entire scene in the finished production.With the deadline for release fast approaching, the team felt it necessary to keep a raw “rough and ready” approach to the project, which can be seen in the final edit.

Senor Benjamin owned the building that the crew had broken into to shoot the film. Over the course of the morning he constantly asked the crew why they were in his house and who they were. One of the cats playing Matt Hardy took an instant dislike to the man and poisoned him. The final time we see Senor Benjamin, we are actually looking at the body of a man who had been dead for almost fifteen hours.

Jeff Hardy, still coming to terms with the death of his brother on the 14th April 1912, agreed to reshoot the film in his honour.

In the original script there had been a tense and acrobatic showdown between the brothers, both armed with bazookas and flamethrowers. The script called for them to fight across the skyline of downtown Manhattan, ending with a showdown in Times Square where they would cause millions of dollars worth of property damage and commit several counts of public disorder and indecent exposure. But on such a tight schedule they had to improvise with some fireworks that they found in a shed, a nearby tree and a dilapidated boat. The dilapidated boat section was completely ad libbed on the spot and the new director, a local horse, decided to keep the scene in the final cut, signalling its approval by stamping its foot three times and biting a small child on the face.

During the scene where the brothers fight by the water there was intended to be a battle involving a giant octopus and the legendary Leviathan, in which the brothers would become embroiled, eventually leading to the deaths of the octopus, the Leviathan and Matt Hardy. However, if you look closely at the scene you might see a masked figure leap out of the water and attempt to choke Matt Hardy with a flag. This man was not affiliated with the project in any way whatsoever, and Psychic Detectives later confirmed that there had been sightings of “Mictlantecuhtli”, the Aztec god of Death. During the struggle, the cat-swathed bear threw off its attacker and, in an unreleased scene, mauled the death god, swiping its face clear away from its head. The cat who had done away with Senor Benjamin hatched a plan to hide the body in the costume of the death god, mercilessly slaughtering two birds with one stone.

In the final scene there was intended to be a pitched battle between the two brothers that would descend into a vicious brawl. But instead of the planned and choreographed fight, the bear decided to snatch a candle from the actress playing Matt’s wife and burn the entire place to the ground. Jeff Hardy was shocked by the sudden and unexpected change to the planned scene and fell off a ladder, landing awkwardly on a mattress covered in sand and dying instantly. No-one on the crew had any inkling that he had been allergic to sand, and had they known this, they probably wouldn’t have used that sand pit that just happened to be there.

All in all, it is a miracle that this project ever came together the way that it did. And though there were numerous deaths and maulings during that fateful day in June of 2016 it would go down in history as the day that some people tried to relive their glory days in somebody’s back yard and wished they hadn’t bothered.

Also, that xylophone was fucking delightful.

England Football Songs: Nostalgic Epilogue (1996)

I’ve just watched a documentary about Euro 96 and had another round of the battle to realise that nostalgia is no excuse for not living your life.

It’s a bit of a sour point, today; something I didn’t really need to realise if I’m honest. Today would have been my dad’s birthday and I feel guilty for having a surprisingly okay day at work.

But one thing the BBC has always been great at, long-lived institution that it is, is looking back through its own field of vision to pull out the vivid memories you didn’t realise you remembered.

Paul Gascoigne dentist chair euro 96

The 1996 European Championship kicked off 20 years ago, on this very day.

My dad was pissed off because we were gonna be late getting home from the weekly shop in time for kick-off. It was his 41st birthday.

(The day’s lottery numbers were 11, 15, 17, 25, 32 and 46. The bonus ball was 29. I don’t remember this – that would be fucking mental if I did – but Google’s a wonderful thing.)

‘Pissed off’ may be a bit strong – that was reserved for the Saturday afternoons between August and May when Leeds were doing poorly – but I remember the drive home, and a news report on the radio at 3pm saying the match was underway.

The first of England’s group games, against Switzerland, finished 1-1. That is all I remember of the game itself, but the build-up to the tournament was spectacular.

I’ve talked about it before in my popular (as of last week according to WordPress) series about England Football Songs, but my 11-year old mind was blown by the sweeping optimism blowing up and down these shores. Not just about the football – we were alright, but we were nothing without Gazza – but about the place in general.

New Labour were parked up outside Number Ten, waiting for the Tories to stop pissing about with the furniture and hand over the keys; and the charts were filled with chest-beating Britpoppers chasing out the last vestiges of dreary, introspective, Americanised pop and alt-rock. Things just have not been the same since. But that’s the nostalgia talking.

Collapsed Lung – Eat My Goal

In terms of footballing merchandise, I’d made a deal with the devil that was Coca-Cola. For the low low price of a couple of dozen ring pulls (and more than a couple of fillings in my teeth) I touted a red t-shirt with the slogan ‘Eat Football, Sleep Football…”. Except…well, I didn’t, not really. But a popular chart combo played on the Coke adverts named Collapsed Lung had me convinced otherwise.

They say you never forget where you were when the really important things happen. Like the time I came out of band practice just in time to see Zinedine Zidane bid adieu to his glittering career with an awesome headbutt. I certainly remember where I was on the day that I’m specifically not going to talk about. And the other one too.

But at the age of eleven you’re just not sure what’s going to turn out to be an important thing, or what the important things even are to you. When I was eleven, shit, now that I’m thirty-one, I feel like there’s vastly more important stuff going on that I’ll never comprehend.

What I remember from Euro 96

I remember Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland, a beautiful thing. I also remember just as well David Seaman’s penalty save from Gary McAllister, because Macca was the Leeds captain and seeing him being capable of missing a pen was like finding out there’s no Father Christmas.

I bought the official release of the Netherlands game on VHS, and I watched it a lot, but I still only really remember that Shearer goal – and I remembered that from the first time around anyway.

I remember nothing about Spain in the quarters. A nostalgic media more than filled those gaps in for me because Stuart Pearce scored a penalty. The whole narrative of the costly miss at Italia ’90 against Germany meant absolutely nothing to me at the time, so this wasn’t a thing.

And I do remember watching England go out on penalties to the Germans in 1996. I remember not really caring, but I don’t remember how my dad felt. He’s not the sort (fuck, I actually used present tense there, I’m leaving that in because I need a sign that today has buggered me up even in some small way) to make a big deal of it, because it was only penalties, and it was only England.

I remember being away with school on the night of the final, and overhearing two teachers talking about the result the next day. And not really caring.

Memory ache

The documentary I watched just now, keen to jam in a song from ’96 to suit every mood, played Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ just as everyone’s face fell after Southgate missed the important penalty. I don’t see anything remotely perfect about it even now.

The programme – well, it wasn’t anything to write home about. I was going to write a review of the whole thing but there really wasn’t much to it. Glorified clip show with new insight from the players, and a vast overuse of Three Lions, of course – even if the show actually did have 2016 Baddiel and Skinner on it.

But where it succeeded was in harking back to the heady days of 1996, with…well, clip-show portions and talking heads. But among its very many strengths, the BBC is very good at making me realise that I’m a sucker for nostalgia, as are most people I’m sure.

Nostalgia means time-pain or something, right? My prognosis is not good. I really need to work on that.

That’s probably the last of the England Football Songs column for a good while now; I’m not even sure if they bother releasing official efforts any more. But you can take a look back at the series by clicking here.

Tropico 5 is a delightful dictatorship simulator

The dictatorship sim Tropico 5 was another PS Plus offering, and one of my favourites so far.

I used to be obsessed with The Sims. Absolutely obsessed. I pored over every little detail of those guys’ lives – and I know that’s the whole point, but really.

And like Chuck Klosterman in his book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, I sometimes thought about how easy it was to be pure evil to these Sims, if you really fancied it. The ability to choose your own moral alignment was a relatively new feature in games back at the turn of the millennium, with limited work previously done by the likes of the Ultima games in exploring how the decisions you make can alter your path.

Making the tough choices is one of the biggest challenges you face in simulation games, which is why I really enjoyed playing Tropico 5.

tropico2

Humble beginnings

Your job is to build a dynasty of rulers on your very own tropical paradise. Starting off in the Colonial Era, you’re tasked with constructing the various facilities, residences and industrial buildings on each island, while improving citizens’ happiness and quality of life. On top of that it’s your responsibility to negotiate trade agreements with other nations, and best your political rivals through canny use of your natural resources.

Aside from the Tutorial there are three game types to play: the Campaign game is a full single-player narrative involving international intrigue, considerable strategy and all-out war. As you move through the different eras from Colonial times to the Modern Age you must suck up to the right people and prove your prowess as a fearless island ruler.

tropico1

The Mission (and I assume there was more than one available on the online store but hey ho) is a fun contained story involving the vital production of cheese, and your quest to defy the Crown in becoming the worldwide leader of said cheese production.

The Sandbox is the real test – and where it most closely resembles its forebears; Sim City, The Sims, Sim Hospital…anything with Sim in it basically. And just like these games, the tongue-in-cheek humour is one of Tropico 5’s most appealing features.

Making difficult decisions

But when you’re faced with some of the tough choices, that’s where things really get interesting. You can alternately piss off the Allies and the Axis; the USSR and the USA, even as far back as choosing what’s best for your citizens who are fiercely loyal to the King, or to the Revolutionary cause. When the King’s representative asks you on a whim to ship him all the milk you have available, rather than make it available for islanders, do you cut them off or risk the wrath of the Crown?

tropico3

There’s always a workaround for these things, but as your island grows more sophisticated the logistical and strategic solutions can be costlier, more inconvenient or simply a massive pain to try and organise. That’s where the real challenge lies, and aside from the odd arbitrary blip the makers of Tropico 5 have managed to strike a pretty good balance in most aspects of the game.

Before this instalment I wasn’t even aware of the series, but thanks to the PS Plus scheme (which has boosted the popularity of many a title), I’ve found what could be my new favourite strategy game.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work out how to start a revolution.

Moneymaking Mobile Tap Games

Since I dedicated an entire post to reviewing AdVenture Capitalist – still the original and best for me – a few more moneymaking mobile app games have made their way onto my Galaxy S5. In the world of mobile gaming there seems to be quite the market for players to amass imaginary fortunes in a variety of ways.

Here in what’s becoming an ever-decreasing regularity of blog posts as of late (apologies!) I thought I’d take a look at a couple which have recently caught my eye.

Make It Rain – The Love of Money

This one’s actually been around for a couple of years now, and aside from the investment-based gameplay, its most endearing feature is the ability to make money by making that entirely classy motion of swiping dollar bills from your own fat stacks to ‘make it rain’ and watch the pixelated notes fly.

Make It Rain mobile game

Build up the value of your cash pile by investing in businesses, as well as increasing the value of your Bucket to add funds while you aren’t playing.

No doubt the game is fun – at first – and the thrill of ‘making it rain’ also lasts a lot longer than it really ought to. But there are a couple of non-negotiables here that do their very best to wreck the game experience.

First off, unlike AdVenture Capitalist, where you can start to see your imaginary purchases pay off over time and appreciate the finely-tuned systems, the equivalent effect in Make It Rain is rather off. I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment in watching my empire grow because there was no sense of achievement – it was just all about that swipe.

Secondly, and extremely annoyingly, the ads. The opportunity to double the earnings from your Bucket once you log back in is quite tempting, and the option to watch a video to do so is a small price to pay. But then there’s the regularity with which an advert just starts playing, for no reason at all. I know it’s a free game, but here there’s a definite sense of a cash grab, and it can be very off-putting,

Once I realised just how often this game-ruining experience would pop up, not even the mimed display of wealth could keep the game installed on my phone.

Bitcoin Billionaire

Bitcoin Billionaire struggles to stay quite as flashy as Make It Rain, but that’s as much down to the more 8-bit feel and more honest portrayal of making digital riches from the comfort of your modest surroundings as anything else.

bitcoin billionaire mobile game

But where the game succeeds, far more so than in Make It Rain, is in giving you much more control (as in – any control) as to where the ads pop up. If you want to benefit from a quick cash boost or get some help to mine the elusive Hyperbits, you can choose between running banner ads for 30 seconds, viewing a pop-up ad or watching videos. Given that choice, it’s still unlikely I’ll ever watch a video but I am grateful to have the option rather than have it play regardless.

But there’s the rub with freemium games – given the choice between a finely-balanced playing experience and the opportunity to simply lob ads in willy-nilly, the developers have got to know where an otherwise fine game just descends into an unplayable mess – and while the more modest  Bitcoin Billionaire succeeds, Make It Rain fails spectacularly.

For that reason I’d be far more likely to recommend the latter game, but when it comes down to it neither are really a patch on AdVenture Capitalist.

 

Machi Koro board game review

I’m still relatively new to any board game which doesn’t involve having a top hat or a small yappy-type dog as a playing piece, but when I saw Machi Koro in my local branch of Travelling Man I knew it would make a great birthday present for my lady.

She really enjoys all things cute and kawaii, so I knew instantly with this cover that I was onto a winner – provided the game was fun to play. And we weren’t disappointed.

Machi Koro board game review

Since its unveiling on Sunday morning I’ve had a couple of two-player and four-player games, and found it to be just as fun either way; unlike Adventure Time Fluxx (another gift for the birthday girl) where the contrasts with the original version mean it’ll be more fun with more players, playing just one opponent works just fine here in Machi Koro.

Objectives and gameplay

Your job as the newly-elected mayor is to build your small town into a thriving city by completing construction on four major projects – the Landmarks. This is done by earning money from a roll of the dice and collecting the resulting funds from the Establishments you already have. Once you’ve earned enough money to pay for the four projects, you’re the winner.

You start off with two Establishment Cards and three coins; roll the dice, take the actions as described on the card(s) with the number you’ve rolled and then choose which new facility (if any) you’d like to build. As you amass more properties, you’ll become wealthier through the income your properties generate, and with certain cards are even able to tax your opponents – and be taxed yourself.

Machi Koro board game

As you get to spend more on the bigger and better properties, you’ll find that certain Establishment Cards like the Shopping Mall can be very favourable, as they can potentially multiply your income each time you roll the right number.

Game design and mechanics

Machi Koro is a beautiful-looking card game; everything from the box art to each individual card looks fantastic, and I personally felt a surge of pride each time I looked down at my growing town. The game system is very well designed too; for my relative newcomer status everything was easy enough to grasp, although it can get a bit confusing when there’s a lot of money changing hands at once.

Most appealing in terms of strategy is that as the game begins, everybody starts at the same level; it’s just a matter of working out the most financially viable system in determining how you spend your income from the bank, and of course hoping that the dice are always in your favour.

There was just one small issue with the game mechanics of Machi Koro. The Establishment cards are numbered 1-12 and you need to ‘unlock’ the second dice by building the Train Station before you can get any benefit from the cards numbered 7-12. However, I’ve found on every single playthrough so far that I haven’t needed to use that second dice – in fact, barely anybody bothered on any of the games we played last weekend. It’s no big deal though – I’ll just experiment a little more next time I guess, and see how it affects my winning record.

To sum up, I’d definitely recommend Machi Koro to anyone who wants a game that’s fun and quick; at only 30 minutes playing time, it may prove a bit too filthy casual for some, but for people who are just dipping their toe in like myself, it’s proved to be time very well spent in city-building mode.

Adventure Time – Love Letter board game review

Been a busy weekend playing some board games with family over this Bank Holiday, as you do when the weather outside is decidedly non-seasonal.

The first one I’ll write about takes a popular card game and adds some fun flavour with a popular cartoon theme. Adventure Time Love Letter is for two to four players, all competing to win the heart of Princess Bubblegum by making sure she reads your letters to her.

Adventure Time Love Letter

Rules of Love Letter

The game is quite simple really; players draw from a deck of cards with values from 1 to 8. The Princess herself is number eight, while Guards occupy the bottom spot in the ranks. With one card in hand, draw another and decide which of the two actions on the card you wish to play; these can range from seeing another player’s hand to swapping cards with them.

Players can be knocked out of each round in various ways, if you lose a one-on-one battle to reveal the highest-ranked card or if another player is able to guess what card you’re holding. From a deck of only 16 cards and three placed face-up at the start of every round, it takes some deduction and logic to be able to deduce what other players have.

Or, if you’re like me, your opponents just have to possess the ability to read minds, because that’s what seemed to happen every other round!

Adventure Time Love Letter

When the deck of cards has all gone, players compare their last cards and the one with the highest value wins – they are the one who delivers that all-important love letter. Alternatively, the last player left standing after eliminations is the winner, and takes one of the fetching jewels which come with the game. There are 13 stones, so it’s the player who collects seven in a two-player game, five in a three-player game and four in a four-player encounter.

Love Letter game design

While I’m not a fan of the tendency to reskin a traditional game and pass it off as new – the likes of Star Wars and WoW-themed Monopoly being two that come to mind – this particular take on Love Letter does have some great features. The deck’s designs are fantastically well detailed, with cards of our favourites Finn and Jake, plus the likes of Lemongrab and Gunter joining the fray.

Adventure Time Love Letter game design

In terms of the game itself, as I’m fairly new to any type of board or card game beyond the old favourites like, ahem, Monopoly, I really enjoyed this game. It’s easy to learn and difficult to master, as all good games are, and even the relatively small deck takes some time to get on board with in terms of strategy.

I’d highly recommend the Adventure Time variation of Love Letter to any newbie board gamers who are looking for something new and fun to play, and am myself becoming more and more intrigued about what else is on offer out there. This is a great place to start.

Nintendo’s Miitomo is fantastic fun…for precisely two hours

It’s only been on the app store for a couple of weeks, but Nintendo’s Miitomo game is already racking up some fantastic engagement.

The Japanese titan’s first foray into the lucrative market of mobile gaming and microtransactions – aka cash for hats – is apparently drawing more than a quarter of a million dollars every week.

But more than that, the game itself has so far proven to be a fun and engaging hit, with four million monthly active users logging on to change their costumes, take photos with Mii friends and answer each other’s questions about their favourite meals and what they’re up to at the weekend.

It is a great game, but if my own experience with Miitomo is anything to go by, this surge of success may not last.

nintendo miitomo

Nintendo’s casual appeal

In terms of the game itself, and as you’d expect from the all-time masters of video gaming, Miitomo is a beautifully-designed and cleverly thought out game with plenty of fun to be had by its users.

I said as much when I logged in myself for the first time. I set up my little character, gave him a jaunty (free) hat and let him loose on the Questions board, to tell everyone how much I loved season two of Daredevil and how much I love pizza. (That really seemed to come up a lot. Is that their design flaw or mine?)

There was plenty to keep me coming back for a whole weekend – more friends to add through Twitter, Facebook and in person. The face-to-face add is a particularly excellent idea, as me and my friend found out at a wrestling show a couple of weeks ago.

nintendo miitomo

There are a few niggling issues with Miitomo – the Miitomo Drop, a seemingly enticing mini-game with unique clothing to be won, is a frustrating experience and not all that fun a game to play in the first place. And I was getting a few too many randoms trying to add me too – without the benefit of a Twitter account or Facebook page to display, I was hesitant to accept any invitations.

Regardless, I tapped on and enjoyed the whole playing experience for a few more days. But then I just stopped.

No real reason, really – and whenever the mood strikes me I’m still liable to get in there and see what funny in-jokes my friends are sharing as their Answers to certain confusing questions.

But there’s nothing else really to make me want to go back. All of which is fine – I’ve talked before about how I’m never going to pay money to get special features on mobile gaming, for a start – but I’m at a bit of a loss.

Maintaining the mobile hype

Mobile gaming is a tough one; even with the most attractive titles, once you’re through the initial frenzied gameplay there’s really nothing to keep you going without heavy investment of time and money – neither of which I’m inclined to put in to most mobile games.

I am sure that this isn’t something Nintendo are too worried about – they’ve got 3,999,999 much more hardcore users to take care of right now. But for filthy casuals like me that are too easily distracted – or simply not that attached to their mobile – the magic wore off a little too quickly. And maybe that’s something that Nintendo should worry about six months or a year down the line, especially if they see mobile gaming as a major route to revenue as they’ve indicated previously.

By all means, download a free copy and give it a go – it’s a fascinating experiment and there’s certainly enough of a novelty to it. But the appeal wore off for me quite quickly, and considering that mobile is more than a passing concern for Nintendo right now, the next few weeks can be very telling for their entire mobile strategy. That is, until that VR Pokemon game comes out, then I’m right back in there.

A plea from Alan Partridge to WWE – stop getting Wrestlemania wrong!

The biggest date in the sports entertainment calendar is under threat, as the WWE unleashes a card of absolute mehness for Wrestlemania 32.

There’s a scene in I’m Alan Partridge, where Alan’s assembled friends, employees and a surly ex-copper are trying to remember which Bond film is which. Confusion reigns before Alan shouts at everyone to “STOP GETTING BOND WRONG!”

stop getting bond wrong

This would form the base of the impassioned plea that I have for Vince McMahon and the other higher-ups at the WWE. STOP GETTING WRESTLEMANIA WRONG!

Hitting the big time

For the first ever Wrestlemania in 1985, the WWE had staked its whole future on making the original event work, with celebrity appearances from Muhammad Ali, Mr T and Liberace boosting the mainstream appeal alongside the very biggest names in pro wrestling. The headline bout of Wrestlemania I saw the tag team of WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan and Mr T defeated Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. While the bout was by no means a classic, it did deliver in the entertainment factor and in the grandeur that fans look for during the WWE’s flagship PPV event.

Which is why I’ve been tremendously disappointed by this year’s build to the big event. With the exception of one exciting, potentially very brutal match which could steal the show despite the WWE’s best efforts to derail it with dodgy booking, there’s not much to look forward to this year.

Because it goes without saying that Wrestlemania is the single biggest event in pro wrestling, it sometimes seems as if the WWE believe that the show will book itself. At a time when they can expect both hardcore fans and casual viewers to at least take an interest in the build-up – if not to shell out their £9.99 for the chance to see it – there’s been a disturbing lack of effort in building towards a must-see show.

And while in terms of financial gain, the company can already chalk it up in the win column, managing to keep the fans happy with a card of intrigue, excitement and action appears to be beyond them yet again.

Getting Bond wrong

We all know how much I love Dean Ambrose at this point, and his upcoming Street Fight against Brock Lesnar is my pick for best-built match. But there’s been a hint that the Wyatt Family will turn up to cost Lesnar the match with screwy work. This means the writers are blatantly ignoring the more valuable objective – organically turning Ambrose into a fully-fledged superstar with a commanding performance all of his own, win or lose.

Besides that, even as far back as the Royal Rumble, when we were given a Rumble match for the World Title rather than a challenger for the belt in the Wrestlemania main event, the WWE failed to predict the ramifications.

Without the momentum afforded to a Rumble winner and their talking up the Wrestlemania main event, it doesn’t look as if the title match will even be the main event – not when there’s a badly-built match between two part-timers to be had.

Here comes the money

I was as excited as anyone to see Shane McMahon back in the WWE, skipping down the aisle on Raw to challenge Vince for control of the company. But then I realised that we’ve been here so, so many times before.

shane mcmahon wrestlemania 32

Vince told Shane that he would be facing The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania – and aside from one of Shane’s standout diving elbows onto the Taker through an announce table, there’s been so little in the way of story, or logic, leading into this match. And while I’ve no doubt that Shane will relive his stuntman days of falling or diving off something high during the bout, that alone is not enough to keep my interest in the stipulation – let alone where Taker’s motivation to do Vince’s bidding has come from.

As if it weren’t bad enough that Wrestlemania 32 could be headlined by two middle-aged part-time performers, it’s even worse when you realise that only two of the six men featured in the top three matches are actually wrestling on WWE TV every week of the year.

I’m not especially looking forward to Roman Reigns vs Triple H for the World Title – neither man should be World champion – but keeping it out of the main event in favour of Taker/Shane shows you how little confidence the company has in touting their current storylines on what WWE calls the grandest stage of them all.

What else is there to look forward to? Aside from the sight of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn beating the crap out of each other – while five other men are involved in a ladder match for Owens’ IC title – not much. Maybe AJ Styles vs Jericho will provide something new…or maybe not, we’ve seen it many times already now.

All told, the idea that Wrestlemania sells itself can be a double-edged sword. While the brand is known worldwide and can expect to draw many new eyes to the current product, it’s the more loyal fans who have been made to suffer through yet another flat build and would be right to vent their frustrations at the expected outcomes by voting with their remote controls on Monday nights – and more importantly, their wallets.

The X-Files 2016: monsters good, conspiracies bad

Fourteen years on from the last meaningful contact we had with them, and iconic FBI Agents Mulder and Scully are back on the case for six new TV episodes promising intrigue, visual spectacle and – maybe, just maybe – some answers to the big questions of the overarching mythology of The X-Files.

Six brand new episodes later, and I’m still none the bloody wiser. But we’ll get to that.

the-truth-is-out-there

‘Monster of the week’ – big successes

The middle four episodes of the new seasons of The X-Files were at times gripping, action-packed and even hilarious. Episode two continued to give me a sinking feeling before we finally hit upon a trio of decent-to-good episodes of the ‘monster of the week’ variety which gave the show its original cult appeal back in the 1990s.

My favourite by far of the new run was ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’, an episode written in much the same tongue-in-cheek manner as was worthy of their finest funny moments during the original run – but critically, made to be fresh and funny for this new age of TV rather than tinged with the camp sense of irony which we got so used to back then.

Relying on the old formula of scepticism versus belief, this battle was turned upside down with a few choice reveals about the guest stars Rhys Darby and Kumail Nanjiani, and some fantastically funny interpretations of the evidence including some ridiculous testimony by Darby’s character that he’d seduced Agent Scully in his place of work.

If we’d been treated to a few more episodes like this, without the need to drag up the over-arcing storyline which began to bog The X-Files down in its own pretentiousness first time round, we could have chalked the whole thing down as a job well done. But…ugh.

Mulder and scully x files 2016

The mythology episodes – big disappointments

When The X-Files first aired on the BBC, the scheduling was…let’s call it inconsistent. Being pre-empted at the drop of a hat for an episode of Question Time or, say, the World Hat Dropping Championships, meant that it got difficult to keep up with events if the show aired elsewhere that week. The bulk of the one-off episodes and the odd injection of long-term plot was fine to miss every now and then, but over time it became apparent that you just couldn’t miss a single episode or you’d be stuffed trying to keep up.

And at that age, and with that scheduling, well…I was stuffed.

With only six episodes in the entire run, even with a Sky+ box that’s temperamental at the worst of times, I didn’t expect to be hard done by from the scheduling this time. Sadly, the producers of the show decided to give us that same sense of baffling treatment themselves in the way they tried to cram a full six episodes’ worth of mythology material into two – and failed badly.

Entire scenes whizzed by and left me none the wiser as to what the hell just happened. Logical, reasoned discussion gave way to frenzied declarations like “the other shoe is waiting to drop!” or “No one has the right or the ability to tamper with your DNA,” as if we’re supposed to be caught up on 12 years of evidence-gathering in 12 seconds. This is The X-Files; I’m prepared to suspend my disbelief for a few minutes until another plot thread comes in to tide me over, but during the two rushed episodes which made up ‘My Struggle’ I was left hanging for ages at a time without any reason or willingness to go with it.

I don’t want to spoil things but the plausibility which the programme spent nine and a bit seasons trying to make you doubt really came through in the final ten minutes, as Scully performed the job of a team of medical scientists alone, in seemingly ten minutes.

On the whole, the X-Files revival was an excellent trip down memory lane in all the houses that are still lit up fondly – the one-off mysteries – but failed spectacularly to turn the lights on elsewhere – the headache-inducing twists and turns of the mythology. Judging by that cliffhanger it looks like we could see Mulder and Scully (not to mention Miller and Einstein, the weird Mini-Me characters) again down the line – but Scully herself would be proud of my scepticism that the conspiracy plot will be worth the return.

 

Dean Ambrose could be a made man after Wrestlemania 32

While the WWE is busy driving the whole ‘Road To Wrestlemania’ thing into the ground with the Fastlane/Roadblock motif, I’m getting mildly nervous at the prospect that the only thing going into the ground is Dean Ambrose’s babyface cred.

Dean_Ambrose_durante_un_House_Show_di_gennaio_2015.jpg By Anton – WWE House Show – Garrett Coliseum – 1/10/15, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39931017

From being betrayed by his brother Seth Rollins, to the near-miss in their Ladder match for the title and even the Dusty Finish which had him ever-so-briefly crowned champion, Dean Ambrose has been edging closer to the big time – added to his great showing at the Royal Rumble 2016, fans are starting to get a bit edgy that his moment isn’t gonna come any time soon.

And that’s a real shame, because Dean Ambrose is over as hell. By coming so close and being denied so much, Ambrose earns the sympathy from the audience at large that’s been missing since Daniel Bryan got his own Wrestlemania moment two years ago. I’m not about to compare the two in terms of ring skill; Bryan is one of the best ever wrestlers to step between the ropes, while I see Ambrose more as a WWE Superstar than I do a wrestler – but a great one nonetheless. But while the focus of WWE programming is focused on someone else, there’s little chance for Ambrose to get his shot in – which could actually be beneficial in the long run.

Waiting for Roman

Times are few and far between that the Venn diagram of ‘crowd favourite’ and ‘Vince McMahon’s favourite’ have settled on the very same person – this has been the case for years. Ever since we had co-winners at the 1994 Royal Rumble, when Bret Hart was roundly cheered by fans, much more so than the backstage pick Lex Luger (and with good cause) has there been a battle for prominence on the card.

While we’ve (somewhat) patiently waited for the current holder of Vince’s brass ring, Roman Reigns, to get over, Dean Ambrose has more than ably settled in as the best friend and tag team partner to his Shield brother. And while Reigns has been given opportunity after opportunity (by storyline sworn enemies Authority figures Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, who aren’t fans of logic), it seemed like Ambrose made the most of the few opportunities he was given, among them the World title ladder match and Elimination Chamber title shot.

Roman_Reigns_November_2013

But despite all his various sidlings into main events, Reigns has simply not connected with the crowd in the way that Ambrose has just because a lot of fans don’t like to be told who they’re supposed to cheer for; something Reigns knows full well from when he came up against a previous McMahon-designated project, Batista, at the 2014 Rumble, and fell short.

Getting over

It’s one of the WWE Universe’s biggest bug-bears; the ongoing battle between the performers who go out every night and earn their reaction, and the pet projects who are seemingly unbeatable – which in itself creates no tension at all when it comes to the crunch. Ambrose has picked himself up from every defeat – including the recent loss of his Intercontinental title to Kevin Owens – dusted himself off and promised to do whatever it takes to get to the top.

That is how you get the babyface reactions. Just ask Steve Austin – you try, you fail, you get right back on the horse and try again. You don’t smirk, pump your fist and get yet another eye-rollingly easy win against ‘all’ the odds – this is the sort of booking that just makes your opponents look weak, no matter how many of them there are at once and what dumb name they give themselves.

Much as we can dream, Ambrose isn’t likely to pick up the WWE World Title with a win at Roadblock, but he’ll again come heartbreakingly close.

And at Wrestlemania, there’ll be a key moment coming in Ambrose’s career, once the dust settles on his Street Fight against Brock Lesnar. Whatever the result of this particular ‘slobberknocker’, Dean Ambrose’s character has been solidified such that he can become a made man within the WWE by making Lesnar work incredibly hard to beat him. He could even end up visibly earning Lesnar’s respect once their final trip to Suplex City has been arranged, on the grandest stage of them all – proving Ambrose’s resilience and finally getting him over the top as a guy worthy of grabbing the brass ring.