Thursday, July 26, 2012

You Don't Say... July 26, 2012

I'm not saying that I have any time for the gang warfare and shootings that have been going on in Scarborough this year, but I really don't think that kicking suspected criminals out of their homes is the answer...or legal for that matter. If someone commits a crime, last time I checked, they get arrested, have a trial and go to jail if found guilty. Rob Ford angrily telling them to leave the city or trying to figure out a way to craft a law to banish them from Toronto city limits will only draw cynical, sarcastic laughs from the aforementioned criminal element (and the majority of the public for that matter).

Now I'm not saying that Mayor Ford's heart is not in the right place and that something must be done, but it might be wise to start by having dialogues with politicians, police, educators and groups running social programs as well as the residents of the affected neighbourhoods about how best to deal with these problems. I think that, if asked, a large number of these people will suggest that spending money on social programs to re-direct young men and women away from gangs and into sports, hobbies and life skills would be much more effective than Ford's idea of asking businesses to set up shop in those areas to create more jobs. If only it were that simple...ol' Rob apparently thinks that it is easy to convince companies to open locations in working-class areas that have been plagued by violence this month. And how do you convince gang members that a McDonald's job is more lucrative or exciting than a life of crime? At least social programs can give young people legal activities that they enjoy doing and hopefully would provide some of the skills necessary for these people to go to post-secondary education so that they can chose jobs and profressions suited to them. Nothing will get everyone out of "the life", but our resources should be put into the most effective solution.

Too bad the Mayor voted to cut funding to a lot of groups that provide councelling and other programs, like the Boys and Girls Club of Scarborough. Is it coincidence that these programs get slashed over the past few years and suddenly gang violence errupts?

I'm not saying it's perfect, but I like some of John Tory's plan to revitalize Ontario Place. He wants to see the area become a free, four-seasons park that has a large Forum stage like in days gone by. He is also calling for low-rise residential buildings around the area and a better link to transit than the current Go and TTC stops at the CNE. The Forum stage and the idea of free shows and concerts intrigues me, as Ontario Place could become the Dundas Square of the Toronto waterfront. On the other hand, I am not sure about having residences and possibly a hotel on the site. They would seem to contradict the idea of a large, open, free park concept. We will see what happens as time goes on.

I'm not saying that The Dark Knight Rises had nothing to do with the movie theater shootings perpetrated by James Holmes last friday, but I think that the BBC, Huffington Post and other news outlets commited a great injustice when they branded this crime the "Batman shootings." I understand that the gun attack took place during the movie and I know the only truly important thing in all this is the victims and their families, but this was an isolated act commited by a mentally unstable individual that shouldn't prevent anyone from going to see a good film. The movie shouldn't get bad press for what happened, as Holmes could have easily chosen a Disney film to commit his heinous acts. What should happen is that this should be used by sensible politicians and activist groups as yet another reason to ban handguns and other dangerous weapons in American cities. Sure, if criminals really want guns they will find a way to get them, but making it illegal to own one would have made it much harder for James Holmes to do what he did. "Protection" and the oft abused "right to bear arms" are not good enough reasons to keep firearms legal any more. My condolences and best wishes go to the people close to the victims and I hope that society can find a way to prevent this tragedy and the recent gang killings in Scarborough from happening again. What's in a name? Everything apparently!


Friday, July 06, 2012

Music Break...The Smashing Pumpkins

The Smashing Pumpkins were my favourite band in my late teens and early twenties. Their music was angst-ridden and full of aggressive, catchy instrumentation that included countless sizzling guitar solos. Lead singer Billy Corgan's voice wasn't pretty, but it and his lyrics were full of honesty and raw emotion. I haven't listened to them nearly as much since then, so I wanted to bring some of their top hits out of the attic for another spin. You and I can be the judge of how well their sound and songs have aged.
The Pumpkins are still going and are still relevant, with songs appearing on the Transformers soundtrack and a new album, Oceania, just released; however, the only founding member left is Billy Corgan (who was the megalomaniac band dictator in charge of all decisions anyway) and they don't get nearly the same mainstream attention as in the past. Maybe that is what Mr. Corgan was going for all along: a large cult following and building a fan base on his own terms using creative means.

Anyway, onto the videos. Here is a selection of videos for songs from all points in their career. Let me know if you think they have aged well or need to be put on the nostalgia shelf and kept there.

 Cherub Rock



Tonight, Tonight

Bullet with Butterfly Wings



Ava Adore


The Everlasting Gaze

Stand Inside your Love


And finally...a new song called Owata. It is from the concept album Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, which was released one track at a time on the band's website. As I said, a lot of the fire has gone out of the band, but they still produce interesting music and lyrics.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Making the Grade: Monday Night Raw, July 2, 2012

Monday Night Raw from Laredo, Texas

It's been waaaaaaaaay too long since I did one of these. Let's get right back into it. As always, you can watch the full show above to see the segments I am commenting on. Let's get it on:

Confrontation between John Cena (F), Daniel Bryan (H), CM Punk (F), Chris Jericho (H), Kane (H) and the Big Show (H)
     Wow, the crowd was really popping. Every time a speaker paused or someone else came out from the back, they would errupt. Cena got a surprising amount of applause and Daniel Bryan got a good "YES" chant going. I like how Bryan generated a lot of heel heat and "NO" chants when he said he would beat CM Punk at the Money in the Bank PPV (MITB) and would make Cena the first MITB winner to fail to capture the WWE title. CM Punk also took advantage of the "Yes" when he came out third, and Daniel Bryan called him out for it. Nice.  Then Punk got in Bryan and Cena's faces before Chris Jericho came out and called Punk a "wannabe" for using his catch phrase. Punk's Bon Jovi retort was pretty funny, but the best part of the segment was Jericho's catch phrase lesson. Man, I miss the "Welcome to Raw is Jericho!" Jericho's look when Kane came down to challenge him was priceless!!
     The segment ended with the Big Show coming to the ring to start a brawl. I didn't like how he was able to lay out some of the top guys in the industry - Punk, Cena, Kane, Jericho and Bryan - in a matter of 15 seconds. I understand selling a guy as a focussed, evil, giant monster, but to take out all those guys that quickly is ridiculous!!
Rating: Good with side orders of "too long" and "poorly ended"

Kofi Kingston, Christian, Santino Marella and R-Truth (Faces) vs. Darren Young, Cody Rhodes, David Otunga and Titus O'Neil (Heels) in an 8-man tag-team match
     The match featured some typical high flying by Kofi Kingston and some good mat wrestling by Cody Rhodes. The heels got more crowd reaction than the faces, highlighting the excellent job Cody is doing in his role as a top bad guy. Later in the match, Santino got to hit his normal moves (drop-down splits et. al.), which was fine, but I didn't like how all the heels save David Otunga walked out of the match. It doesn't help fans take them seriously as wrestlers; instead, it turned into an Otunga sqaushing, as Santino pinned him after hitting the Cobra, then Brodus Clay hit a big Splash on top of his prone body. The segment ended with Brodus, the Funkettes and little Funketeers dancing in the ring. Bleh. The end made this whole segment more about feeling good and dancing than actual wrestling.
Rating: a Terribly booked, poor excuse for a match

Alberta Del Rio (H) vs. Sin Cara (F)
     The match never got going, as Del Rio went on the attack before the bell could even be rung. Then Del Rio continued to devastate Sin Cara, as he applied his cross arm-breaker outside on the floor. The whole point was to send a message to Sheamus - the current World Heavyweight Champion - that the Mexican aristocrat is vicious and a major threat to the Celtic Warrior. I have stated before and will say it again: I like it when wrestlers look brutal and aggressive, but I hate when it comes at the expense of a potentially good match. I understand that Del Rio is the #1 contender for the heavyweight title and needs to be built up so fans believe he could actually beat Sheamus, but why not have him beat Sin Cara brutally in a good match, where both men can come out looking somewhat strong? I understand what the booking team was doing here, but think it could have been done better.
Rating: Meh

AJ Eats a Rose
     After Del Rio beat up Sin Cara, the show cut to Daniel Bryan and AJ talking backstage. Daniel Bryan tried to apologize to AJ for being a jerk in the past few months, but AJ saw through it and called Bryan out for trying to butter her up before AJ gets to be special referee in Daniel's  WWE Title match with CM Punk at the Money in the Bank PPV. Then the diminuitive Diva bit the petals off the rose the two-faced Superstar gave her and spat them on the floor, showing the audience that she is still a bit bananas. I liked this segment, as it made sense storyline-wise and AJ has the crazy chick routine mastered.
Rating: Very Gooooooooood

Paul Heymen Addresses HHH's Challenge to Brock Lesnar for a match at Summerslam
     After the commercial break, Paul Heyman popped up on the Titantron to address the challenge that WWE COO Triple H made to Heyman's client, Brock Lesnar, for a match at Summerslam. Heyman said that HHH is only doing this because he needs a way to retire a hero, and getting destroyed by Brock would allow him to leave courageously and would certainly be the final match of his career. This is good: they are teasing that HHH wants to retire and Heyman is a master at selling his clients as barbarous behemoths. There is certainly interest in, and heat on, this match now and Heyman increased the hype for the 1000th episode of Raw in 3 weeks by saying Lesnar will appear and decide on that show. This is a typical wrestling ploy: delay the decision until a special show in order to make viewers tune in to find out what his big decision will be.
Rating: Greeeaaatttt

Sheamus and AJ (Faces) vs. Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero (Heels) in a Mixed-Tag Match
     This short match was designed to highlight Sheamus, who will meet Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Title at MITB in a couple of weeks, and AJ, who is in the middle of a love triangle with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. It accomplished it's mission, as Sheamus hit his Brogue Kick on Dolph Ziggler and AJ pinned Vickie to gain the victory, but it came at the expense of Vickie and Dolph. Now, I have no problem with Vickie being used as a jobber and losing this match, but Ziggler's credibility and chances at future stardom take a nose dive every time he gets outmatched and takes a big bump like he did here. Ziggler, I will say it again, needs to start being more competitive in matches and needs to actually win once in a while to elevate himself, as he has the makings of a brilliant heel champion. As an aside, I do like how AJ is developing quickly and learning how to work the crowd already.
Rating: OK except for the burying of Dolph Ziggler, which is beyond curious

Punk and AJ backstage segment
     This was a short segment designed to create discord between Punk and AJ, who is all over the show this week. Punk apologizes to being on the phone during AJ's match and lithe lady sells being very disappointed by the fact that her "man" missed her triumph. It made sense and served it's purpose fine, as it foreshadows a bumpy road for the two "lovebirds(?)" down the road.
Rating: Gooood

Heath Slater (H) vs. Doink the Clown in a Legend's Match
     This was a fun short match and let fans re-live the heyday of Doink the Clown one more time. Slater sells these matches very well and takes good bumps when he needs to. This match did its job and it was nice to see Heath actually defeat a legend in the ring. It was a huge bonus for me to have Diamond Dallas Page come in after and drop the One-Man Rock Band with a Diamond Cutter after, though, as DDP was always one of my favourite wrestlers. He was totally underutilized when he came to WWE and should have been champ there at least once.
Rating: Excellent on the strength of the DDP cameo

Big show (H) vs. Kane (H) in a No Disqualifications Match
     Another short match in a night of short matches. Maybe the new 3-hour format will alleviate the need for contests averaging under 5 minutes. Anyway, this was a typical monsters match: lots of power moves and little-to-no technical mat wrestling. It looked very awkward when Big Show sent Kane into the steel steps legs-first. I will give both performers credit for telling a bit of a story in the ring, as there were some near-falls and a bit of back-and-forth action. The predictable winner, the giant Big Show, came out on top after spearing a metal chair into Kane's midsection, followed by a massive choke slam. Big Show needed to win to keep his momentum going before MITB, and beating the evil Kane shows he can fight with the top dogs.
Rating: Ordinary with a slice of "that was awkward looking"

Eve confronts AJ Backstage
     Another AJ segment, but that's ok. She's pulling off her character really well and she is cute to boot. AJ riffed on Eve for trying to brown nose Teddy Long and then told her she would show the much taller Eve that she would show her how to get attention. Another foreshadow of things to come?
Rating: Gooood

Tyson Kidd (F) vs. Tensai (H)
     On paper this should have been a squash match, with Tensai literally squashing Kidd, but I am shocked to report the much smaller pugilist pulled off the upset. It all happened so quickly (less than 20 seconds), fitting with the current trend on the show. There is just one thing I don't understand, though. Are they trying to sell me the fact that Tensai, billed as a monster of a man who could take John Cena to the limit, could get beat by a small man via rollup after missing a splash in a corner? There were no kicks, punches, finishing moves or offense of any kind for that matter from Tyson Kidd, and yet he was able to pin Tensai? Come on!! That wasn't catching the bald beast by surprise, that was more like pinning a tranquilized  elephant. Only, Tensai wasn't tranquilized. My intelligence has just been insulted. And are they really going to push Tyson Kidd as the next big thing? Really? He is now in the World Heavyweight Title MITB Ladder Match at the next PPV and now he beat Tensai clean? Talk about pushing someone outta nowhere. Where has Kidd been the last few months and are his mic and in-ring skills really good enough to warrant this push?
Rating: Awful

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan Strategize Backstage
     This was a funny vignette. Bryan annoyed Jericho by repeating his "Yes" phrase over and over and Jericho tried to retaliate with his own catch phrases. Humourous and short. Well done. Then the camera showed CM Punk tell John Cena he was going to take the lead in their upcoming tag-team match, forshadowing some dissent in the ranks? Could be. Lots of predictions of foreshadow this week.
Rating: Good for what it was

CM Punk and John Cena (F) vs. Daniel Bryan and Chris Jericho (H)
     This was the main event of the evening and John Cena got another huge crowd pop when his music hit. Jericho did a fantastic job showing off, working the crowd and building heat for his team. He has been the best at those actions for years now. The match incorporated some classic tag-team maneuvers, like isolating one of the faces for most of the match until he miraculously makes a tag and 2 of the 4 combatants taking their battle outside the ring and arena. When Cena and Jericho left ringside to battle each other, Punk and Bryan put on another wrestling clinic. There was a giant Superplex from Punk and a near fall before AJ came out to wreak havoc. She certainly managed to do that, as she set up a table at ringside, gave the champ a massive kiss and then pushed him off the top turnbuckle. Punk then fell onto Daniel Bryan and the two of them crashed through the table. AJ did this seemingly because she doesn't like Daniel Bryan and because Punk ignored her twice: during her match and when she came out during the main event. Then she led the crowd in yet another "Yes" chant. She definately managed to get attention and has perfected the resident psycho character.
     I don't know where Cena and Jericho ended up in all of this and would have liked to have seen more of them, but I did like how the foreshadowing amounted to something: AJ causing bodily harm to CM  Punk and Daniel Bryan for "ignoring" her earlier in the night. Hell hath no fury...I like how this triangle has been built so far and am anxious to see how it comes to a climax at MITB, which is a sign that WWE is actually telling an interesting story for once.
Rating: Excellent

Overall Rating: Goooooood, as the storylines are coming together nicely and the crowd in Laredo was red hot, but I can't rate this show great or excellent because the matches themselves were short and secondary to storyline advancement. There needs to be a better balance of in-ring and out-of-ring action on Raw, but at least I am excited to see where the Punk/Bryan/AJ story is going and I am interested to see what happens when Brock Lesnar shows up on the 1000th episode celebration of Raw in 3 weeks.