Reviews Video Games

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2 Review




Children of Arkham jumps right in to deal with the bombshell unleashed at the end of (episode 1 – see my review of that for general gameplay information). It’s an unexpected direction for a Batman story, and the implications are  quite interesting. Telltale is providing extremely different takes on some familiar characters, which gives the story a lot of freedom. But they’re also doing a great job of preserving core elements so the mythos and overall atmosphere still feel like a true Batman story. The focus continues to be split between the Batman and Wayne personas, making the plot nicely character driven.

At first the previous choices didn’t seem to be having much effect, but there are some huge ones in this episode that seem like they could have far reaching consequences. Very curious to see if that potential’s followed through on in later episodes. There are a fair number of shocks and twists here too, including an event that comic fans have been expecting, and I really like the way all the intrigue and mysteries are building. Wayne has significant ethical and moral dilemmas to deal with in addition to physical and societal dangers.

There are a few spots where I feel the quick time events are a little too unforgiving (specifically the ones where the right thumbstick and a target are involved), but they’re doable and the resulting instant deaths don’t rewind things too much.

The graphical environment continue to impress, particularly in the attention to details like the light marks from Catwoman’s swipe to Bruce’s chin from last episode staying visible on the character model. Little consistencies like that improve immersion greatly.

There’s a good amount of story and things to do in each episode to feel like a solid installment while building the overarching plot in a logical manner and providing clues and cliffhangers to keep anticipation high going forward. Really enjoying this series so far.


Film Japan Uncategorized

NYAFF 2017: Mrs. K Review

Last year at New York Asian Film Festival I went to a screening of the wonderful anime film Miss Hokusai. This year’s NYAFF is winding down and yesterday I saw the Malaysian action movie Mrs. K.


Note: I general try to keep reviews relatively spoiler free, but I will be addressing some general trends and developments in the plot here.




Although admittedly previously unfamiliar with star actress Kara Wai, it’s easy to immediately recognize the experience and skill she possesses once she takes the screen. Her portrayal of the titular housewife with a secret past is nicely nuanced and shines in the early portions of the film when she’s confidently displaying a dangerous edge lurking below cheerful, comedic moments. If this is indeed her last action role, in a lot of ways is an appropriate one to go out on. Particularly affecting are the downright BRUTAL fight scenes, loaded with hatred and really feeling like the characters are trying to kill each other instead of the dance like choreography sometimes used that would have been horribly out of place in this film. They’re uncomfortable to watch in parts, but perfect for the story and extremely well done.

The acting is excellent in general, with the supporting cast matching Wai’s level in their portrayals of both friend and foe. I’d like to give special mention to young actress Siow Li Xuan, portraying Mrs. K’s daughter in a role that required a delicate balance of determination and fear. She’s does an incredible job and seems like a big star in the making. Her perilous situations and the accompanying danger is one part of the tense atmosphere the movie generates and maintains with intimidating villains, slow building dread, and harsh confrontations.

The plot is where I think the previously mentioned excellent elements are let down. Specifically in the lead role. The idea seemed to be a return to her old ways for the titular Mrs. K when her past comes back to haunt her. Several descriptions of the movie talk about “a woman who will do anything to protect her husband and daughter.” The problem is she’s entirely reactive in her efforts to deal with the threat (which she initially underestimates, somewhat causing the problem in the first place), and largely ineffective in what she does attempt. In a lot of ways she’s as much a victim as her kidnapped daughter. Yes, she puts up a hell of a fight at every turn and shows great devotion to trying to set things right, but her daughter is a hundred times more proactive in trying to get away than her mother is in trying to rescue her and the biggest hero moments of the film are given to Mrs. K’s husband (a gynecologist who’s only previous familiarity with guns or violence came from being taught by his wife).

I’ll stop there to avoid even more explicit plot details, but the story progression seemed off overall and changes to either a few of the resolutions or more explanation of why characters acted as they did would have done wonders. There were also few instances of the antagonists’ actions not making a whole lot of sense, seemingly for the sake of having a cool scene, and the pacing felt uneven to the point of distraction in places.

It’s a bit of a shame, as again things like the daughter’s personal arc, the visceral, brutal fights, and imaginative, striking visuals are excellent. And Wai’s performance as Mrs. K’s is fantastic. I just can’t help but think of how much better this could have been with some tweaks to give her more to work with and make the main character’s story and struggle as strong as the actress playing her.


Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2017: Tokyo Idols and The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue Review

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and is running through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here, on last year’s starting here, and on the opening film Mumon: The Land of Stealth here.


Tokyo Idols




“This isn’t a fad. It’s a religion.”

Man, there’s a lot to unpack with this one, and a good deal of it is unsettling. Kyoko Miyake’s documentary of Japan’s idol culture provides a stark examination that is as fascinating as it is thought provoking.

Miyake’s camera and even handed approach isn’t judgmental when dealing with individuals and their stories, giving them room to share their views and answer questions as they see fit. But she’s more than willing to put subjects on the spot with pointed questions, and the general structure and flow of the movie provide a critical viewpoint.  She knows there are troubling aspects and issues to explore and lets a matter of fact approach to documenting her subjects bring them to light.

One of the most interesting things about the movie is how much there is to it. It continued past several seemingly natural stopping points to present numerous new layers for consideration. Using one idol’s story as an anchor throughout the movie while interspersing looks at other groups and fandoms gives her film excellent scope and structure . The narrative form is fantastic, with extremely powerful points often made in simple manners such as by translating select portions of the lyrics the idols are singing to their fans.

From an outsider’s perspective some of the scenes we’re extremely uncomfortable, even though things are set up to be safe for the performers. I’m tending towards the apparent tilt of the movie that there’s more negative than positive, but it presents a lot to think about on both sides. Comments from stars, their families, and fans as to the culture and what they think the positives are interweave nicely with societal experts’ comments about the negative effect they think it’s having on Japan’s society and gender dynamics. The careful tightrope Miyake walks along with her excellent sense of how to put everything together makes this a real gem.


The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue




The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue, a story of two eccentric loners stumbling into each others spheres of existence was interesting but odd. The filmmaking is front and center in a way that often calls attention to itself. Characters’ points of view and emotional states are reflected with an often blurring camera, extreme close ups of object and unusually cut off frames, and even some sections of animation. Some of it works really well and adds a lot to the movie, and some of it doesn’t and simply breaks any building immersion.

The two leads (Sosuke Ikematsu and Shizuka Ishibashi) were excellent and their acting raised this above the interesting but uneven execution. They imbued their characters with something extremely endearing, major flaws and all. This wasn’t a favorite of mine, but I think I liked it overall.

Reviews Wrestling

Mae Young Classic Predictions

As a longtime fan of women’s wrestling I’ve been hopeful and excited with some of the developments over the last few years. Another potentially huge breakthrough is the currently taping Mae Young Classic tournament in the vein of last year’s Cruiserweight Classic. The participants represent a wonderful variety of styles, countries, and experience levels. The assembled level of talent is incredible.

I’m familiar with a majority of the field, and nearly half of them have previously wrestled in Shimmer (a fantastic Chicago based women’s wrestling promotion – find more information here).

The participants were not fully revealed until just before the first round was taped. As such there were no matchups to consider nor brackets to analyze until now, when half the competitors have been eliminated. Based on results from that first round there are now apparent brackets, and I’d like to take a shot at predicting how it will all turn out for fun. Given the circumstances however doing so will contain spoilers for last night’s round 1 matches. Here’s the place to stop reading to avoid them.



I’ll be trying to predict what I think they’ll do, not necessarily my preferred results (although there really are no bad choices here).


Edit 7/15/17: I’m not going to get into later round spoilers, but I will say the apparent brackets were not correct, so in retrospect this post is largely fantasy booking. Still interesting to see what I expected vs what came about though, so I’m leaving this up.


Round 2:

1) Princesa Sugehit vs. Serena Deeb

This is a really interesting matchup, with an international veteran against a former WWE superstar coming out of retirement for the tourney. Either one is a solid pick to make someone look strong later by putting them over. I’m expecting a mini Brian Kendrick in the CWC story for Deeb, so will go with her.

Prediction: Deeb


2) Shayna Baszler vs. Piper Niven

The conversion Baszler’s made from MMA to pro wrestling has been incredible (as I’ve talked about here), and she has a great opponent here in the perhaps underrated Niven (who I know as Viper). The former’s MMA skills against the latter power and size should be a lot of fun. Seems too early for the MMA star to exit, so I expect Niven will come up short after a solid showing.

Prediction: Baszler


3) Mia Yim vs. Mercedes Martinez

This indie main event is perhaps the hardest to call. Both are excellent, experienced competitors, with Mercedes in the business longer and really on a roll lately but Yim also putting on the performances of her career and having perhaps a slightly higher profile due to her extensive time in TNA. It’s a coin flip really, so I’ll go with my personal preference.

Prediction: Yim


4) Rhea Ripley vs. Abbey Laith

I was originally thinking this would be an easy call in the former Kimber Lee’s favor, but as I research the newcomer Ripley she seems like exactly the kind of underdog that could go far (especially with Dobson and Kay Lee Ray gone already). And the solid Laith is destined to make someone else look good on her way out at some point…

Prediction: Ripley


5) Toni Storm vs. Dakota Kai

The former Evie is under contract and could really make a splash with a win here, but Toni’s a big enough name that her taking this one and putting Candice over in a big way and into the semis next would be a big deal. There’ll be time to build Kai (and get a match between her and Sane) later.

Prediction: Storm
6) Candice LeRae vs. Rachel Evers

Another tough call here. Evers is regularly in NXT and the daughter of Paul Ellering (although they’ve obviously chosen not to play that up much given the name change), while Candice is an indy darling and seems to be the Cinderella story outsider pick. I think there’s more upside to continuing Candice’s run.

Prediction: LeRae


7) Bianca Belair vs. Lacey Evans

Honestly no idea. Both are under contract, I’m not familiar with either, and whoever wins is fodder for Sane in the next round either way. I’ve heard slightly more buzz about Evans, so will go with her. This is a case where I think the opportunity and spotlight on both will matter more than the result.

Prediction: Evans
8) Nicole Savoy vs. Kairi Sane

This was one of my dream matches for the tournament, particularly after seeing Savoy wrestle a variety of Joshi talent in Shimmer. Savoy is another wrestler I’ve written about as a rising star and the sky’s the limit for her. But Kairi’s already there and there’s no way she goes out in round 2. The match should be incredible.

Prediction: Sane


Quarter Finals:

So these matches are of course all theoretical based on my predictions above.


1) Serena Deeb vs Shayna Baszler

Deeb will eventually make someone look like a world beater, and I think it’s Baszler right here.

Prediction: Baszler


2) Mia Yim vs Rhea Ripley

My gut and preference says the indie veteran should go over, but I think the upsets continue and Ripley shocks her way into the semis.

Prediction: Ripley


3) Toni Storm vs Candice LeRae

I think this is about Candice overcoming the odds and advancing to face Sane.

Prediction: LeRae


4) Lacey Evans vs  Kairi Sane

Kairi’s run won’t end before the semis at the absolute earliest.

Prediction: Sane


Semi Finals:

1) Shayna Baszler vs Rhea Ripley

The overachievement ends here, as Ripley fights valiantly but falls to Baszler’s ground game.

Prediction: Baszler


2) Candice LaRae vs Kairi Sane

The first match it feels like Kairi could realistically lose, but she won’t. To the finals she goes.

Prediction: Sane



Baszler vs Sane

This is the match it seems the brackets are set up to give us, and it would be an appropriately fantastic end to the tourney. Either would make a great inaugural winner. As much as I’d love to see Kairi take it, I think like with TJP in the CWC WWE will go with someone signed during / as a result of the tournament, with the already contracted Sane coming up just short (which honestly won’t hurt her at all).

Prediction: Baszler


It’ll be fun to watch the result roll in and see how incredibly wrong I end up being. Hope every one enjoys the tourney!

Film Japan

Japan Cuts 2017: Mumon: The Land of Stealth Review

“I know everyone is expecting to see cool ninjas. These are not those ninjas.”

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and is running through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here, and on last year’s starting here.

Mumon’s home of Iga is a territory of mercenary ninjas who care little of anything but practice and pay, and certainly not about each other. Mumon’s among the best and greediest (in attempts to impress and satisfy his bride), and sees little value in anything outside his immediate sphere. But an ambitious warlord’s son’s hopes to complete domination of the countryside will have repercussions for everyone.




Not being previously familiar with the director nor the star, I came into Japan Cuts 2017’s opening movie without any framework or preconceptions. It’s an engrossing tale that both embraces and subverts the conventions of being a period piece and ingeniously blends a variety of tones, themes, and genres. It develops at a excellent pace, keeping things moving with humor and action while deeper themes and schemes are slowly formed and revealed.

The balance is pitch perfect throughout and the juxtaposition of intense, visceral scenes of drama and violence and a light touch of comedic moments. I was really impressed with how it all came together and with the heavy themes of money, duty, and what’s really important that were expertly woven within the overlaying war conflict plot and often over the top (and amusing) battles. Even some individual conflicts  turn on a dime from humor to poignant, unsettling drama seamlessly and effectively.

One of the key successes of the movie is that both sides of the conflict have characters with complex motivations and goals that change throughout as said personal considerations come into conflict and new points of view and information are presented to each of them. It’s wonderfully acted, with a handful of key people on each side anchoring the story and providing logical progression for each film’s major changes in direction.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura introduced the film (including the wonderful quote I opened with), participated in a Q&A afterwards, and met with fans during the after party. He was friendly and approachable, and seemed genuinely excited to be there. His answers during the Q&A were quite interesting and gave some nice further insight into the film.

Really enjoyed this one overall. Great start to the festival.


Update: There is a Japanese translation of this review. Thanks to Junko Czerny!

Board Games

Stonemaier Games’ Realistic Resources

In addition to an incredible library of games (Viticulture, Euphoria, Between Two Cities, and Scythe) with incredible production values, Stonemaier Games has produced a series of “realistic” resource tokens with the same high standards of quality applied.




These can be used in place of standard pieces included in a variety of games to “upgrade” the gaming experience. These are high quality sculpted accessories, so while an extremely good value for what they are they are not inexpensive. They are also very well made and look and feel wonderful.



At this point there are a great number of tokens available of impressive variety. The original Treasure Chest contained realistic style pieces to represent common gaming resources in the form of gems ore, bricks, gold, stone, and wood.



Starting with the second wave of three sets the tokens got more diverse, and each had a general theme. Food Crate contained grain, meat, corn, bread, crates, and coffee beans. Resource Vault provided sacks, cloth bundles, barrels, yarn balls, steel, and water pails. Energy Box had oil drums, coal, trash, campfires, gas canisters, and uranium.



The next batch was available together in a slipcase and called the “Token Trilogy.” It was made up of the individual themed sets Adventure Atlas (treasure chests, potions, single and double edged axes, two types of scrolls, sleeping bags to represent fatigue, furs, and bucklers),  Gadget Guide (wrenches, ammo cases, energy crystals, med kits, tech tablets, and deflector shields), and Terror Tome (magnifying glasses, hearts, blood vials, cleavers, brains, skulls, and books). The details on these collections were particularly incredible, including traces of blood on only one side of the metallic bladed weapons, intricate seals on the scrolls, vein coloring on the brains, etc.




The most recent “set” is a group of animal tokens (sheep, horse, dog, pig, cow, fish), offered for purchase separately rather than boxed together as with previous tokens.

There are also pumpkin resource tokens now available for Stonemaier’s upcoming game Charterstone.



So far I’ve used pieces from the Token Trilogy the most, in games like Tragedy Looper, Scythe, and T.I.M.E Stories. That’s really one of the most appealing aspects of these: Stonemaier Games has gone to great lengths to ensure most of these are useful for a variety of games, so whatever’s in your collection you can likely find some that will get a fair bit of use. Top Shelf Gamer also offers sets of tokens grouped for specific games, such as a bundle of 20 each of wood, food, metal, and oil tokens for use with Scythe.


Overall these tokens are great accessories for board game enthusiasts and another series of extremely high quality products from Stonemaier Games.

Film Reviews

Castlevania Season 1 Review

“For no more do I travel as a man.”

The trailer for this looked great, and the underlying games this seems to be based on (Castlevania III and Symphony of the Night) are two of my favorites of all time, so my anticipation for this was off the charts. It easily met my expectations.




Castlevania is as always a story about Dracula threatening humans and a vampire hunter rising up to challenge him. The great part here is that the characters involved and story (written/adapted by Warren Ellis, known primarily for his superb comic books) are well developed and things build and unfold at a pitch perfect pace.

The scope of this initial four episode season is relatively small, which allows the tale proper room to breathe, yet covers a lot of information at the same time. In a lot of ways these episodes are setup for the larger adventure to come, but still contain important events, wonderful feelings of foreboding and suspense, and plenty of action.

The approach is appropriately dark and (at times) disturbing, and is brought to life by beautiful, atmospheric animation. The series doesn’t shy away from it’s subject matter, and between often gruesome depictions of violence, a foul mouthed main character (who admittedly has ample legitimate reasons to behave thusly), and the harsh realities of the world presented this is firmly aimed at an adult crowd. The story is nicely layered and already shows great judgment in what elements and moments are being included from the games. Time is wisely spent on the background and motivations of several different characters. There are numerous factions and agendas intertwined, which adds good depth.

The attitude of one of the main characters is a little jarring at first, but it all makes sense in the context of this story, humanizes him a bit, and is well done.  The music is largely there just for underscoring the mood and is honestly fine but unremarkable. This didn’t bother me as it allowed the characters, story, and visuals to take center stage, but Castlevania is well known for amazing music so I can imagine some disappointment from some viewers at that approach and at the fact that the series’ classic themes are nowhere to be found.

The fights are great and wonderfully over the top when they happens, and in particular there’s a phenomenal one towards the end that helps the season feel satisfying and complete despite its short length. This was pretty much everything I hoped it would be and I can’t wait for future episodes.

Board Games Reviews

Journal 29 Interactive Book Game Review

I stumbled upon this as an Amazon recommendation and was extremely intrigued with the idea.

Here’s some of the self description:

“A top secret excavation did not bring any result for 28 weeks.
It was on the 29th week that something unexpected happened.
The team disappeared and the only thing that was left behind was their Journal.
You must solve the riddles in order to solve the mystery.

To solve the riddles you will need to think out of the box.
Write, draw, search, tear paper, fold pages, combine and more.
You don’t need any special app to play the game.
Just a browser will do
(preferably on your smartphone)”





Journal 29 is one of the most interesting concepts I’ve seen in a while. Somewhere in between classic pen and paper puzzles and phenomenons like escape room games, the book does a great job of adding something new to the genre.  

It’s a book of 63 puzzles with a loose thematic theme tying them together. The puzzle themselves are generally great, but it’s the clever implementation that really sets this apart. First, each puzzle leads to an answer (usually a word or number) to be entered on a specific webpage to receive a “key” for the puzzle (again, usually a word or number). QR codes are provided so things are very smartphone friendly, but urls are also given and it was fine to play using a laptop. Keys are often used in future puzzles, so there’s a nice feeling of progress throughout the book.

Second, there are a lot of interesting puzzle variations, with some inventive uses of the internet involvement, connectivity between the puzzles, and the book format to stretch the genre a bit. There are also some similar looking puzzles here and there, but with different approaches and solutions that creates an additional level of intrigue. It’s really well put together, with solid levels of variety, originality, and challenge.

The story elements provide a nice theme and aesthetic, but are also minimal from a narrative point of view. This is a book of puzzles with a story framework, not any sort of complete tale. Which is perfectly fine, but should be kept in mind if you’re particularly intrigued by the story setup.

The book can be “played” solo or with a group (each person having their own copy is recommended). For people (like me) who opt for the solo play and have no other minds to bounce ideas off of, there are online message boards one the same site answers are entered that have hint threads by page. It’s a pretty good resource and reasonably useful help is provided without full spoilers. I referenced it several times for a little help to get started or when stuck (some of the puzzles are a bit obtuse and a push in the right direction greatly appreciated), and its availability generally prevents anything from getting too frustrating.

There was one puzzle I was unable to solve even with the hints (I know exactly what I need to do, but am not capable of it and got tired of trying different combinations of educated guesses). The hints were good, so short of someone handing me the answer there’s no further help to be gained. I was however able to reverse engineer that particular key from a later puzzle (which certainly won’t be possible in the vast majority of cases) so I wasn’t kept for completing anything else nor from finishing the book. The idea of that puzzle was quite good too, just the implementation was off for me. A little disappointing, but only one out of sixty three missing the mark is pretty good odds and it didn’t significantly detract from my enjoyment.

I managed to complete the book without writing in it, damaging pages, etc (by using scratch paper and occasionally photocopying pages), but if I had it to do over I probably would have just used the book straight up as intended. It’s well worth the price ($18 retail) and I likely spent too much effort and made some things harder on myself trying to keep it pristine to potentially be lent out / used again.

Overall Journal 29 is a unique puzzle experience that comes together really well. Recommended to anyone who enjoys stretching their brain a bit.




Reviews Wrestling

WWE at MSG 7/7/17 Live Thoughts

July 7, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY




Surprisingly enough this was both my first WWE House Show and first time ever in the main part of MSG (I went to The Theater for the first time for a NXT show in November).  The card looked pretty good, so I was looking forward to the show and several specific matches.




Whoever set up the match order knew what they were doing, as the show opened with the vibrating sound of a violin and the crowd came unglued for Shinsuke Nakamura’s MSG debut. He went a good twenty minutes with Dolph Ziggler in one of the best matches of the night. They had time to tell a good story with strong action and Dolph looked better and more motivated than he has in a long time. Hopefully it wasn’t just for the one night. Shinsuke’s a superstar and had the crowd in the palm of his hand.




Goldust vs R-Truth was kept short enough to be inoffensive, but I’ve never cared for Truth and this did nothing to win me over.

In light of Austin Aries being granted a release earlier in the day Neville defended his Cruiserweight Title against  Cedric Alexander instead. Great opportunity for Cedric, who wowed me in Evolve and is capable of much more than what he’s been allowed/able to show on Raw and 205 Live. Fun little encounter, with Neville cheating to win with a rope leveraged pin like a good heel.




Miz was out next and my friend commented the match had oddly been announced as a tag encounter, not an Intercontinental title match (as advertised). Sure enough, Miz cut a promo explaining we don’t deserve a defense and goes into Rick Rude mode asking the “New York City Sweathogs” to keep the noise down for his partner, at which point  Samoa Joe came out and that’s two advertised matches we suddenly weren’t getting. Out come their advertised singles opponents Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins in another mini-reunion for the Shield.




Joe vs Rollins was one of the matches I was really looking forward to so this change was disappointing, but the resulting tag match was admittedly solid. They put on a good, old school house show tag match, working the crowd up with strong character work and timing. Several nice false finishes lead up to Ambrose eventually catching Miz with the Dirty Deeds for the feel good victory.




The US Title match seeing Kevin Owens (c) defend against AJ Styles was my most anticipated of the night, but I had no idea of what was in store for us. The match was as good as to be expected from these two, but it also found a new gear late and started raising some flags when Owens kicked out of a Styles Clash and AJ returned the favor on a pop-up powerbomb.




After that my friend pondered about it maybe being one of the few times a title would change hands at a house show, but we laughed it off not really believing it possible. Even when AJ nailed the Phenomenal Forearm and had Owens laid out in the center of the ring my first thought was “huh, odd that Kevin will be kicking out of both of AJ’s finishers.” Instead the ref counted 3 and the crowd erupted. Great choice to bring back a little unpredictability to the house shows, and MSG was of course a perfect venue for it.



Bayley, Mickie James, & Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax, Emma, & Alexa Bliss seemed like it was meant to be a thrown together six woman tag to slowly get the show restarted after intermission, but the six of them made the most of the small amount of time they were given to put on a well structured, action packed match that engaged the crowd nicely. I would like to see more done with Emma, as she’s better than being the person in the match obviously there to take the fall.  I’m a huge fan of Alexa Bliss, so was great to see her live for the first time.




Karl Anderson is more than capable of tearing the house down with Finn Balor, but here his role was to be cannon fodder for his super popular opponent. Balor got the jump on Anderson and tossed him out onto his partner Gallows, then hit a gorgeous summersault dive over the top rope onto them.




That seemed to indicate this would be a short one, and indeed once Balor rolled Anderson back in it was slingblade, shotgun dropkick, Coup de Grace, goodnight. Balor victorious in under a minute. Would have loved to get a real match between the two, but it was still fun to see all Balor’s signatures and this got a big reaction.



Cesaro & Sheamus are really gelling as a team and have been revitalized with the full heel turn (especially Sheamus, who looks consistently motivated and crisp for the first time in a while). As such I was excited to see them live to defend their RAW Tag Team Titles against The Hardy Boys (Matt & Jeff).  Good semi-main with a fantastic ending that saw blind tags on both sides leading to Jeff hitting the swanton on the no longer legal Sheamus only to be immediately rolled up by Cesaro for the pin. In a great touch Cesaro fireman’s carried his loopy partner up the ramp after the victory while Sheamus had just enough energy to clutch his title belt.




Bray Wyatt vs Roman Reigns was a solid enough main event, hindered a bit by telling a standard face vs heel story when the NYC crowd was largely booing Reigns and cheering Wyatt. Good effort and action from both though. After Reign’s expected victory Braun Strowman made a surprise appearance to beat him down (with some help from Wyatt that provided great tentative interactions as Bray tried to subtly direct his former charge without angering him). Rollins made the save to a big pop and the former Shield allies cleared the ring.



With Reigns and Rollins alone in the ring celebrating the crowd got LOUD with a “we want Ambrose chant” to complete the reunion. After a few minutes with no Dean, Rollins got the mic and expertly handled the situation saying the bad news was Ambrose was probably already a few deep at a bar somewhere, but the good news is “we hear you NYC.” The acknowledgement, whether or not it leads to anything, that the crowd wanted to see the three of them together was a simple, perfect way to handle Dean not being able to come out without having the fans leave feeling disappointed. Nicely done.




I had a lot of fun at this show, and the surprise US Championship switch was icing on the cake.

Reviews Wrestling

Evolve 87 Live Review

June 25, 2017 in Queens, NY

Evolve returned to La Boom last weekend with a big card headlined by two of their most popular stars colliding for the WWN Championship.

Here’s a quick rundown of my thoughts from attending live.




During the opening announcements Lenny Leonard shares that this will be the last time both the Evolve and WWN titles are defended on the same show. Silly to make that an actual policy instead of just moving that direction quietly, as the option to have both defended so when appropriate is now limited. Also considering what the WWN title is supposed to be this comes across as inconsistent and unnecessary if it’s still going to be defended on FIP shows when there’s a FIP title defense, etc.


1) Tracy Williams vs ACH 

Decent opener, continuing both Williams winning streak and ascension as a threat as well as ACH’s parallel losing efforts and rising frustration. ACH hit a pair of insane topes to Williams that broke the guardrail and wiped out several members of the front row. Given everyone seemed ok, the dives were pretty awesome. Something about Williams’ current style isn’t drawing me into his matches the way he used to, but this was still solid.

After the match ACH’s impending heel turn took another step as he snapped at the ref when asked if he was ok. “Are you serious?” Of course I’m not ok. This is the first match, and I’m better than the first match.”


2) Timothy Thatcher vs Jason Kincaid

I was extremely excited for this one, as Kinclaid’s gimmick is a fresh and interesting one and Thatcher is a personal favorite of mine. The advertised clash of styles led to a fantastic encounter, with Kincaid befuddling the vet just a little and trying to adapt to stay alive but eventually getting too much into Thatcher’s grappling game and falling short. Kincaid’s showing cracks in his zen outlook, which should be interesting.




Thatcher’s relentless grinding down of his opponents is a treat to watch, and he’s downright despised as a heel in NYC so the heat was off the charts (overall the crowd was nicely loud and engaged all night). And the best part is he wasn’t done yet…


3) Fred Yehi vs Chris Dickinson 

This was a pretty by the books Yehi match. The crowd’s generally behind him so it was well received. I personally don’t enjoy his gimmick or ring style, so this was my least favorite of the night. Not knocking the effort of either though, and Dickinson looked great.

Yehi has now torn through both tag champs. It seemed to be setting up for a match with Catch Point’s leader (and Yehi’s ex-partner) rather than some sort of tag title match, but in fact it’s been since announced that the wins have led him to an upcoming Evolve title shot.

Jaka consoled his partner after the loss and says there’s no shame in the performance Dickinson turned in. He then polled the crowd about his chances of winning the Evolve title, takes exception to the lack of support, and calls out Sabre immediately. GREAT promo from Jaka to add bite to the match and reenforce his role as the heel despite some hometown support. NYC loves Zack, so this was exactly what was needed to get Jaka booed.


4) Evolve Championship Match: Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs Jaka

This was a nice spotlight opportunity for Jaka, and he made the most of it. This was not the typical Sabre match (as good as they are), as Sabre responded to Jaka’s aggression with a fierce edge of his own and it added an extra level of wonderful intensity to everything as they beat the hell out of each other. Jaka was also made to seem every bit a threat to Sabre (before losing clean to keep the champ looking like a world beater), which was a well deserved spotlight on a wrestler who’s been extremely impressive during his time in Evolve. If anyone was in fact “sleeping on Jaka,” they aren’t now. Excellent match.




After the match, Stokely and Thatcher came out to confront Sabre, but were interrupted by Darby. Thatcher lays into Allin with an incredible, scathing promo about how Darby’s an idiot who risks his health for a crowd of people who won’t care about him once he injures himself to the point where he can’t perform anymore. Man’s not wrong. He then turned to Sabre and challenged him to a No Holds Barred rematch for the Evolve Title.




As Zack ponders it, Thatcher dropped him with a surprise headbutt, then DESTROYED Darby, ripping the cast right off his arm and applying an armbar as the crowd went CRAZY booing, eventually “re-breaking” the arm! This entire segment was Thatcher’s to carry, and he absolutely knocked it out of the park. EVERYTHING he did was pitch perfect. I really wanted the teased title match to happen at the next NYC show after this…


5) Ethan Page vs Thomas Sharp

Sharp is one of the former Gatekeepers, now with a name and an issue with his former employer. He looked good, winning the over crowd in short order with his athleticism and some good fire as he looked for revenge against everyone’s (second) favorite man to hate. Short and intense. I’d like to see more of Sharp going forward. Page got the better of him, which I’ve seen some complaints about but I think was the right outcome for the beginning of such a feud if Sharp’s sticking around.


6) Trent Baretta vs Austin Theory

Nice to see Baretta back, and he received a strong reception. This being in the semi-main spot was an interesting choice and provided a chance for the relative rookie Theory to shine. And indeed this was a great spotlight for him, as he pushed the veteran to the limit before falling prey to the Dudebuster. There were a couple of awkward moments as the two lost their balance during complicated spots, but in both cases they adjusted extremely well, kept things from turning disastrously dangerous, and kept the match going with little loss of momentum. Both looked really good overall, the match got better and better as it went, and like Jaka earlier Theory really capitalized on the opportunity he had here.

After a showing of mutual respect, Priscilla Kelly came out and distracted Trent for a Theory low blow. Apparently finally receptive to Kelly’s message and advances, Theory laid out Baretta to loud boos and Kelly followed with a gloating/taunting bite to Trent’s neck (ok then…). Evolve’s getting heel overloaded again, but this was really well done and should provide a good story for the newcomer.




7) WWN Championship Match: Matthew Riddle (c) vs Keith Lee

Anticipation for this was of the charts, and it turned out as awesome as expected. Lee was presented as the champ’s equal, and these two just beat and beat on each other until they both literally fell over. Highlights included a huge pounce from Lee, a Fisherman’s buster on Lee (?!) by Riddle followed by a barrage of sentons, and an incredible nearfall where Riddle just gets his shoulder up by centimeters after a huge Spirit Bomb.  In a beautifully timed and executed finish, both collapse after a vicious Lee headbutt, and Riddle happens to fall on top of Lee for the pin and retains his title. A less than definitive win for the King of Bros, which maintains the tension between him and Lee and keeps the latter strong without having to take belt off Riddle. Incredible match with a extremely well done, appropriate finish.




After the match Ethan Page took advantage of the situation to attack the already downed Lee and Riddle, rambling in wonderful fashion about hating the two “golden geese” of Evolve and vowing to destroy them. Stokely Hathaway and Tracey Williams joined the fun to berate Riddle as Page continued to choke Lee in the corner. Williams then announced he’ll be challenging Riddle for the WWN title at the next Queens show in August. The feud’s been building well and the match’ll be decent, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather have gotten Thatcher vs Sabre. Williams let Stokely slap Riddle to big boos, then they left. As Page continued to gloat the faces recovered and cornered him between them, but he managed to slink away to safety. Left alone, Lee was reluctant to fist bump Riddle, but eventually gave in and all is fine between Evolve’s heroes for now.



On par with the excellent Evolve 79 in February, which was one of the best live shows I’ve seen. Commitment and effort was apparent from everyone here, and even the things that weren’t to my personal tastes were solid and well received. Jaka and Theory had potentially star making performances, and I continue to adore pretty much everything Thatcher, Riddle, Sabre, and Lee do. Check this out on Floslam sooner rather than later.