Friday, December 15, 2017

Top Ten Things: Star Wars Characters

What's the haps, folks?  Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!

Well we are in the midst of a new trilogy in the grand Star Wars saga.  I for one loved The Force Awakens (in spite of its admitted flaws and reliance on story beats from A New Hope) and look forward with great anticipation to The Last Jedi.  For me what's worked so well about this new series are the numerous captivating characters that have pulled me into the story, much as their OT counterparts did four decades ago.  The prequel trilogy unfortunately introduced almost no characters I found interesting or terribly memorable, even including the young versions of Obi-Wan and Anakin (the one real keeper for me was Darth Maul, whom George Lucas didn't, um...keep).  So no, this list does not include any characters from Episodes 1-3, except in their respective 4-6 form.  Sorry Prequelers, I think those movies stink.

Anywho, here are my ten favorite Star Wars characters, updated post-TFA.  Here we go....

10. Yoda

The Empire Strikes Back introduced a spectacular achievement in the art of puppetry.  In Episode V, Luke travels to the Degobah system and encounters Yoda, the most powerful wizard in the galaxy.  So strong is he with the Force that his diminutive size matters not.  Voiced by Frank Oz, Yoda provided so many quotable lines and taught us all about the nature of the Force and what it means to be a Jedi.  His involvement in the story elevated its mystical concepts to something much more complex and philosophical than simple magic.  Yoda hammered home the spirituality of the Jedi arts, forcing Luke to reexamine his outlook and grow immensely as a character.  The prequels sadly reduced Yoda to a lightsaber-wielding video game character, but originally Yoda was quite remarkable and represented everything beyond the narrow limits of the physical world.

9. Finn

The #2 good guy of the new trilogy is former Stormtrooper FN-2187, dubbed Finn by his new BFF Poe Dameron.  Finn was raised by the First Order for one reason - to be an agent of death and oppression.  But during his mission on Jakku he had an attack of conscience and defected, rescuing Poe and eventually helping Rey and the Resistance destroy Starkiller Base, before being maimed by Kylo Ren.  Where Finn's arc goes from here is a mystery, but this charismatic, rather reluctant hero played by John Boyega has tremendous chemistry with his fellow protagonists and is a very welcome addition to the Star Wars mythos.

8. Obi-Wan Kenobi

When the original Star Wars was being cast, George Lucas enlisted several unknowns to play the principle characters, but he realized he'd also need some veteran actors in supporting roles.  One such actor was Sir Alec Guinness, who immediately lent this bizarre space movie some credibility.  Guinness brought to life the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi, a former Jedi Knight instrumental to the growth of Luke Skywalker.  Kenobi's primary function in the story is to begin Luke's (and our) education on the concept of the Force.  Through Obi we learn about this mystical power and how vital it is to the success of the Rebellion.  We also learn about the Dark Side and how it corrupted Darth Vader.  Kenobi sacrifices himself so our young heroes can escape, but then as an ethereal being aids Luke in destroying the Death Star.  Obi-Wan represents our first glimpse into the spiritual side of this galactic good vs. evil struggle.  In the prequels Obi-Wan (as played by Ewan MacGregor) is also the one heroic character with any real depth.

7. Princess Leia

The one compelling female character in the saga (yes, including the robotic non-character Padme), Princess Leia Organa taught us all at a very young age that women could be strong leaders, brave warriors, and respected authority figures.  As the story begins Leia is in fact the driving force behind the Rebellion, having stolen the Death Star plans and uploaded them into R2-D2's memory.  When our male heroes Luke and Han first meet her she appears to be in distress, but they soon learn she's more in control of the situation than they are.  By Empire Leia has officially become the leader of the Alliance, and we later find out she is also a Skywalker.  In The Force Awakens she has become a General and once again leads the good guys against an oppressive regime.  The late Carrie Fisher brought to this role a gravitas and wisdom far beyond her years, and helped realize this complex female action hero.

6. Luke Skywalker

The central protagonist of the Original Trilogy, Luke Skywalker has the most clearly defined arc in the story.  We first meet him as a young, impatient farmboy who dreams of an adventurous life in space.  By the end of the first film he becomes a star pilot, a budding Jedi apprentice, and a true hero.  In Empire he is put through a much more rigorous training regimen, confronting the darker side of both the Force and his own inner self, while also learning the horrible truth of his family lineage.  By the third movie Luke is a confident, stoic young Jedi who has fully accepted his responsibility to bring down the Emperor and his own father.  Growing up I always found Luke a bit too white meat, preferring my heroes to be morally ambiguous.  But as I've gotten older the character has grown on me and I've come to appreciate his journey as the main character of the Trilogy.  I look forward to seeing more of the aging, world-weary Luke in the new films.

5. Chewbacca

I'm not sure why Chewie ranks so high for me, but he does.  Maybe it's because I love animals, and everyone's favorite Wookiee is based on an Alaskan Malamute.  I dunno.  But Chewbacca's awesome.  Brought to life by the freakishly tall Peter Mayhew, Chewie manages to convey a full range of emotion and character quirks without saying a word.  It's one of the strengths of the Original Trilogy that so many of its characters and scenes rely on visuals, body language, and sounds to tell the story.  Chewbacca is a prime example of this, and like Boris Karloff's monster in Frankenstein, is one of the greatest non-verbal characters in movie history.  Now let's see about finally getting him a medal, huh??  The poor guy just lost his hetero life partner....

4. Rey

The plucky firebrand protagonist of the sequel trilogy, Rey grew up a scavenger on Jakku but unknowingly possessed a tremendously powerful Force gift, which she later begins to use to its full potential.  It's great to see a female character in this series that brings the strength and intelligence embodied by Princess/General Leia to a new level.  Brought to life by the wonderfully expressive Daisy Ridley, Rey's character arc is thus far the most compelling we've seen in these films since Luke's, and I anticipate some twists and turns in the upcoming Episodes.  Rey is a really splendid, likable character I have no problem identifying with in this trilogy.

3. Kylo Ren

The former Ben Solo (son of Han and Leia) might be the most complex, conflicted villain thus far in the series.  Solo was in the process of being trained as a Jedi by Luke Skywalker before Supreme Leader Snoke sunk his claws in the boy and turned him against his family and friends.  The boy killed his fellow students and joined The First Order as the masked, fearsome Kylo Ren, modeling his appearance and philosophy after his grandfather Darth Vader.  The only problem is Ren has neither the self-assuredness nor the bloodlust of his ancestor and he spends much of The Force Awakens trying to scrub his better nature and give himself to the Dark Side.  As a self-imposed rite of passage he finally murders his own father and attempts to turn Rey into a disciple.  Played as a whirlwind of inner turmoil and uncertainty by Adam Driver, Ren stole the show for me in TFA and I eagerly await the next chapter of his character development.

2. Darth Vader

Mr. Vader is one of the most legendary and recognizable characters in any medium, and probably the greatest cinematic villain of all time.  It took two actors to bring this monstrous figure to life.  Bodybuilder David Prowse lent his imposing frame to fill out the black suit, while the amazing James Earl Jones provided Vader's now-iconic voice, creating a fully menacing bad guy.  Then of course there's that mask.  That samurai-inspired, motherfucking kick-ass mask that's probably sold more toys and Halloween costumes than any other.  Darth Vader begins the trilogy as simply an upper-echelon baddie, but gains significance and depth in Empire when we learn he is also the father of the main hero.  Finally in Jedi his arc is completed when he redeems himself, saving Luke's life and destroying the Emperor.  Despite a horribly miscast pair of actors portraying Vader's alter-ego Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, the legend and image of Darth Vader will forever be burned into our collective memory.

1. Han Solo

The greatest Star Wars character of all time.  Han is the quintessential thief with a heart of gold, whom we don't quite trust when we first meet him, but who ultimately proves his worth and becomes invaluable to the Rebellion.  Harrison Ford initially wasn't even considered for the role, as Lucas had already used him in American Graffiti.  But after helping other actors audition for Luke and Leia, and reading for the part better than anyone else, Lucas realized how perfect Ford was.  In the first film Han was the "cool" good guy, bringing machismo and swagger to the proceedings.  Then in Empire he morphed into a romantic lead and a vulnerable figure, being frozen in carbonite and shipped off to Jabba the Hutt.  By Jedi Han was arguably softened too much as a character, but he still had that sardonic sense of humor and we couldn't imagine a Star Wars movie without him.  Captain Solo got one final hurrah in The Force Awakens, supplying much of that film's levity and swashbuckling, before his fittingly tragic end at the hands of his son Kylo Ren.  As we all know, there is a Han Solo prequel in the works, and I'm cautiously optimistic.  Han is introduced with such a potentially rich backstory and it could be fun to see that play out.  Casting is key of course, as Harrison Ford was a nigh impossible act to follow.  But the character is just such a joy to watch, and probably the biggest reason I love the Star Wars saga.

There's my top ten.  Comment below with some of your picks!  Join us on Facebook by clicking HERE.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

WWE Clash of Champions 2017 Preview & Predictions

We've come to the final WWE PPV of 2017, and what a limp across the finish line it promises to be.  Jeezus, this entire card screams "SKIP IT!"  Why couldn't Clash be a RAW PPV again this year?  There's WAY more going on over at the red brand.  Or, and here's an even better idea, don't do a December PPV.  Leave both brands 9 weeks to build up to the Royal Rumble, thus making it feel more special.  I don't know that I'll even watch this show, honestly, and I don't say that often.

But let's get to the picks.

***I'm leading still, with 68/96 (71%), Landon's right on my heels with 58/84 (69%), Dave's in third with 41/62 (66%), and Dan's in the basement with 58/96 (60%).***

Pre-Show match: Zack Ryder vs. Mojo Rawley

Christ, the team no one gave a shit about has now split so we can see a feud no one gives a shit about.  What a pointless feud.  On a show whose tag division is super thin as far as viable tandems, why break up an underdog babyface team you could use in a Young Stallions-type role?  Anyway, Zack is never getting another push, so there's no chance he wins this.

Justin: Mojo
Dan: Gronk
Landon: Mojo
Dave: Jesus Christ.  Mojo I guess.

The Bludgeon Brothers vs. Breezango

I like that they've repackaged Harper & Rowan.  Harper is one of the most wasted talents on the entire roster - he really should be getting the push Strowman's currently enjoying.  But I'll settle for him and Rowan destroying the entire tag division for a while.  Breezango is obviously getting crushed-- er, BLUDGEONED here.

Justin: The Bros
Dan: Mario Bros
Landon: Bludgeon, who managed to eke out a win against one of my favorite local wrestlers Colin Delaney on Smackdown.  Love me some Colin.
Dave: Bros

Smackdown Tag Team Championship Fatal 4-Way: The Usos vs. The New Day vs. Gable & Benjamin vs. Rusev & English

Oh good, another clusterfuck match.  This tag division needs a shakeup.  The Usos and New Day are the only two real contenders at the moment, with the Bludgeons soon to be added to the mix.  Gable & Benjamin is okay on paper but the magic was with Gable and Jordan.  Rusev and Aiden English??  Get the fuck outta here.

Justin: Usos retain
Dan: New Day gets 'em back
Landon: Usos
Dave: Usos

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wrestling Do-Overs: Starrcade '89

Welcome to another installment of Wrestling Do-Overs, here at, where I'll take a famous wrestling event or angle and reimagine it the way I would've booked it.  Today I'll pick apart the 1989 edition of the NWA's flagship event, Starrcade

Starrcade '89 took place on December 13th (a Wednesday - what an odd night to do a PPV) at The Omni in Atlanta, GA.  The strategy to make this event stand apart from all other PPVs was to hold two simultaneous round-robin tournaments, one for singles wrestlers and one for tag teams.  The winners of each tournament would get.......bragging rights I guess?  There was never a tangible prize at stake, which right away raised a red flag.  Still the concept was intriguing and allowed us to see a handful of first-time matchups.

Before I get into my version of the lineup, let's take a quick look at what actually transpired and I'll explain why I don't think it worked.  The card was as follows:

Steiner Brothers vs. Doom - 12:24
Lex Luger vs. Sting - 11:31
Road Warriors vs. Doom - 08:31
Ric Flair vs. The Great Muta - 1:55
Steiner Brothers vs. Road Warriors - 7:27
Sting vs. The Great Muta - 8:41
The New Wild Samoans vs. Doom - 8:22
Lex Luger vs. Ric Flair - 17:15
The New Wild Samoans vs. Steiner Brothers - 14:05
Lex Luger vs. The Great Muta - 4:15
Road Warriors vs. The New Wild Samoans - 5:18
Sting vs. Ric Flair - 14:30

Sting won the singles tourney while the Road Warriors won the tag team round-robin.

On paper there are some top-flight matches here, to be sure.  Flair and Sting were the top two babyfaces at the time and their alliance added a new dynamic to this matchup.  Flair vs. Luger took place at the previous year's Starrcade but now their roles were reversed which made this bout different from the last.  Hawk & Animal vs. The Steiners was a major dream match as both teams were wildly popular and dominant.  Even Flair vs. Muta looked great in theory.

But here's why this card didn't really work for me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Dead Poets Society

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!  It's time once again for me to cut open a beloved classic and tell you all why it's not as good as everyone seems to think it is.

Today's example is the critically-acclaimed, Oscar-winning 1989 film Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams as an anti-establishment teacher at a prestigious prep school, who forms a close bond with his students and encourages them to be forward-thinking and to follow their dreams.  His unconventional teaching style comes into question and soon has repercussions quite at odds with the school's cookie-cutter approach to education.

This film was a big hit and built on Robin Williams' Good Morning Vietnam success as a serious (albeit slightly comedic) actor.  It would be his second consecutive role to earn him a Best Actor nod.

So why do I consider DPS an Awesomely Shitty Movie you ask?  Well let's take a closer look....

The Awesome

Robin Williams

Dead Poets Society was the second mainstream film to showcase Robin Williams' considerable dramatic chops.  Generally known for his manic, zany comedy antics, Williams mostly delivers a nuanced, understated performance as the benign, free-spirited Literature professor, and we believe it when the students become inspired by him.  The scene where he coaxes a spontaneous, evocative poem out of the cripplingly shy Todd Anderson is genuinely touching, while his emotional breakdown after Neil's death is a briefly heartbreaking moment.  Aside from a few moments where he veered way too far into typical Robin Williams territory, this was a fine performance that elevated Williams as an Oscar-caliber actor.

Stop making me cry, Mork!

The Students

Most of the students are given pretty fleshed-out characters and the performances are generally top-notch.  Standouts include Robert Sean Leonard as the conflicted-but-idealistic Neil Perry, Ethan Hawke as the hopelessly bashful Todd Anderson, and Gale Hansen as the brash, rebellious Charlie Dalton (probably my favorite character).  The students are all quite relatable in one way or another and they make a colorful ensemble of protagonists to guide us through this repressive 1950s setting.

'Tis a good buncha lads....


The film was shot almost entirely at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, DE, providing a visually striking backdrop for the story.  Its gothic architecture created a suitably old-world metaphor for the stifling, conformist ideas pushed on the students.  The landscapes are initially bathed in lovely fall colors before giving way to peaceful snowy panoramas.  Lovely spot for an academic tragedy.

Seems like a swell campus

Final Scene

You all know it, it's the "O Captain, my Captain" scene, where Mr. Nolan has taken over Keating's class until they hire a replacement, Keating comes back to pick up his things, and most of the students salute him by standing on their desks and reciting that old Walt Whitman phrase (while a red-faced Nolan barks orders for them to sit down).  Sure it's cheesy, it's sappy, it's kinda pedestrian, but it chokes me up every time, particularly considering Robin Williams' tragic suicide a couple years ago.  As an emotional climax it packs a solid punch.

I do love the composition of this shot

Ok, put the tissues away.  Now here's a whole buncha stuff about this movie that doesn't work....

The Shitty

Shamelessly Manipulative

Now look, I enjoy this movie on many levels as stated above.  But there's also a lot wrong with it, most of which comes back to the script being unabashed in its low-rent audience manipulation.  Just about everything I'm going to talk about in this section relates to this theme in some way.  The film dials up certain characters to almost comical degree in order to make us feel one way or another about them, wedges in story developments that don't feel earned, or takes sharp turns that simply aren't believable, in order to get from Point A to B.

Kurtwood Smith

The first of two mustache-twisting "bad guys" in a movie that really shouldn't have any, Neil's father, Mr. Perry, played by the excellent Kurtwood Smith (To be clear, Smith's inclusion here isn't a reflection on his acting ability, but on what the script and direction asks of him) is such tyrannical bastard it's amazing his son hasn't either run away from home or murdered him in his sleep long before the events of this film.  He goes from being a cold, undemonstrative paternal figure to a raging asshole.  There's a scene where he angrily confronts Neil about joining the school play and his delivery is so over-the-top it's unintentionally hilarious.  "Is that clear?........IS THAT CLEEARR!!??"

Hey Clarence Boddicker.  Lighten up a little, will ya?

Norman Lloyd

Same kinda thing here - Norman Lloyd is so reptilian as the school's Headmaster the role may as well have gone to Ian McDiarmid.  Lloyd uses this faux English accent and a nasal, flinty delivery, there's nothing realistic or three-dimensional about the character.  If he isn't laying down inappropriately high expectations of new student Todd Anderson ("We expect great things from you Mr. Anderson, your brother was one of our finest.") he's bashing Charlie Dalton's asscheeks in with a racquetball paddle.  "Evaluate this poetry with all of your hatred, and your journey towards the Ivy League will be complete!"

Christ, the guy's even DRESSED like a Sith Lord


I said there were two bad guys in this movie but in the third act the script adds another.  The Cameron character starts as a reluctantly willing participant and morphs into a slimy little informant in the blink of an eye, and this plays out more like a 90-degree turn than an arc.  In about ten minutes of screen time he goes from "I'm not sure about all this insubordination but I kinda like it," to "Let Keating fry."  The character becomes what the script needs him to, just to get to a cheap scene where the audience is happy to see him get punched in the face.  This payoff would've felt much more organic if the filmmakers had the discipline to gradually turn Cameron into a self-preserving jerk.

Nice face Cam.  Be a shame if someone punched it.

DPS Meetings

The most frequent (and titular) example of rebellious behavior on the part of our protagonists is a series of secret meetings held in a cave in the woods, wherein the students take turns reading poems, in between shootin' the shit, enjoying a snack, and trying to impress some girls.  Presumably these gatherings are supposed to be the inspiration for the boys' newfound free-spiritedness, and their love for poetry is meant to spill over into their daily lives.  But the DPS scenes are so awkwardly written and executed the point of it all gets lost, and outside the Society and the classroom the boys don't seem to give the slightest of shits about poetry itself.  It all just comes off as an excuse to socialize after hours.

Knox Subplot

One student, Knox Overstreet, gets a tediously trite subplot where he falls desperately in love with a girl named Chris during a chance meeting at her boyfriend Chet's house (Chet is written as a mindless jock archetype, supplying yet another heel figure).  Before long he's moping around like he wants to off himself, creepily patting Chris's head while she's passed out at a party (and subsequently getting his face pounded in by Chet), writing cringe-inducingly awful poems about her, and eventually barging into her classroom to read her one of said compositions.  The upshot is that she finally agrees to talk to him and even accompanies him to Neil's play, where they end up holding hands.  How quaint.  And then.....well, that's it.  This subplot is completely dropped once Neil rides the ol' bullet train.

Just go in the janitor's closet and get it over with, ya little turds!

Neil's Suicide

This movie takes a bizarre (and pretty contrived) turn in the third act, when after defying Dad's orders to drop out of the school play, Neil is withdrawn from Welton and enrolled in military school.  Unable to face this new future, and too chickenshit to stand up to or even have a heart-to-heart conversation with his dad, Neil goes into the study, takes out Mr. Perry's revolver (Way to leave it loaded in an unlocked drawer Dad, ya fuckin' deadbeat!), and fires a bullet into his brain.  From then on the movie becomes a belabored tragedy, as Mr. Perry and the school launch a full-on investigation so Mr. Keating can take the fall for Neil's suicide.  Keating predictably gets fired and the school goes on with the business of browbeating all free thought out of its students.  The whole thing is way over the top and feels unearned and manufactured, as though the filmmakers couldn't figure out a resolution that would be both memorable and plausible.  Once Neil's gone all the subplots are forgotten about and the movie hurtles toward the final victimization of Mr. Keating, so we can get a tearful climax.  And with that we've come full-circle; this movie is shamelessly manipulative; a tearjerker just for the sake of being a tearjerker.

They forgot to add the brains all over the floor


-There's a scene where Keating is making all the students laugh by reading Shakespeare in different voices, such as John Wayne and Marlon Brando.  But his Brando impression is clearly based on The Godfather, a film that wouldn't come out until 13 years after this film takes place.  Also this scene strikes me as a blatant case of shoehorning Robin Williams' standup schtick into the film.

-I get that "carpe diem" is supposed to be the movie's catchphrase, but would high school students honestly adopt it as such?  By the same token would Knox, upon completing a promising phone call with Chris, the girl he's hot for, yell out "YAWP!!" just because he learned about the Walt Whitman poem in class?  This all seemed very forced to me, like the filmmakers were hoping high school students everywhere would start talking like this.

-The whole situation with Keating goes to hell within one semester of his tenure at Welton.  Well, that escalated quickly.  Seems like a teacher with a penchant for turning kids defiant that fast would never have been hired at such a stuffy, conformist school.  He must be a helluva bullshit artist at those job interviews.

-How did Mr. Perry pull Neil out of Welton and enroll him in the other school so damn fast?  The way he announces it, it sounds like he made a couple phone calls on the way home from the theater.  The Admissions offices wouldn't be open, nor would a new school enroll the kid without receiving a deposit.

-Is it really believable that a school would outright blame a teacher for one of his students committing suicide at home?  I get that they needed a scapegoat, but this seems like quite a stretch.  Moreover the school conducts this little investigation into a student's death, apparently without ever contacting the authorities.

-As much as I like the final scene as a way to close a movie, it kinda doesn't hold up as a real-life scenario.  After Keating leaves the room, then what?  Do all the kids standing on their desks get expelled?  Does the class just resume as it was?  Does Nolan ease up a bit on the students (This seems implausible)?  It's a scene designed to create a moving, dramatic moment but it can't really ever have a satisfying resolution.

-Roger Ebert mentioned this in his review at the time, but how is there no mention of the beatnik writers and poets, in this 1950s-set film about poetry?

-Presumably the whole point of this movie is "Be yourself, be nonconformist, challenge authority," yes?  But look what happens to the three characters who most embody that philosophy - one gets fired, one gets expelled, one kills himself.  What are we supposed to take away from this movie again??


As I said earlier, I do like many things about this film.  When it's on cable or streaming I almost always have to sit down at watch at least part of it.  It's been ingrained in my memory since my early teen years, and thanks largely to a fine Robin Williams performance it's become THE prep school movie for most people (although I consider 1992's School Ties superior).  But unfortunately Dead Poets Society's story scarcely holds up to scrutiny.  It's ironic that this movie won Best Original Screenplay, when the writing is really its biggest problem.  It's a pandering script that seems to take on more than it can handle and isn't prepared to resolve almost any of it in a satisfying way.  A shame really, there's a very good film in here somewhere....

Well that does it for today's lesson.  Don't forget to read Chapters 4 and 5 of your Understanding Poetry textbook for next time.....

Join us on Facebook by clicking HERE

Monday, December 11, 2017

Top Ten Things: Marx Brothers Films

Welcome to Top Ten Things, here at, where I talk about things.  Ten things.  The top ten things.  See?

Today what's on my brain is the Marx Brothers.  You know 'em, you love 'em.  Groucho!  Chico!  Harpo!  Zeppo (sometimes)!  Born Julius, Leonard, Adolph (later Arthur), and Herbert, the Marxes (along with a fifth brother Gummo) honed their craft for years on the Vaudeville circuit before gaining notoriety with three Broadway hits, and from there they swept the nation as movie stars.  Boasting incredible onscreen chemistry fueled by Groucho's unparalleled wit, Chico's hilariously sleazy Italian character, and Harpo's astonishing gift for pantomime, the Marx Brothers left an indelible mark on both cinema and comedy, with a 15-year film career that spawned numerous timeless classics.

Here are the Marx Brothers' ten best films, according to me....

10. The Big Store

The Marxes' intended final film was this 1941 farce set in a department store whose co-owner has hired private detectives (Groucho, Harpo & Chico) to investigate a plot by the store manager to murder her nephew.  It lacks the urgency and inventiveness of their prime years but does include its share of silly set pieces one would expect from a Marx Brothers movie.  The Marxes would come out of retirement to make A Night in Casablanca in 1947 (after Chico revealed he owed large gambling debts), but The Big Store was billed as their swan song.

9. Room Service

Based on a 1937 play, Room Service was the only Marx film not written specifically for the brothers.  It concerns a stage producer and his ragtag crew going to any lengths necessary not to be evicted from their hotel room before the opening performance, and while fairly screwball, features the Marx Brothers at their most restrained.  This was also the first Marx film to abandon the traditional character relationships between Groucho, Harpo and Chico.  In this film Harpo and Chico's characters work for Groucho and the three are in cahoots from the start; in this respect as much as any other, Room Service doesn't quite feel like a Marx film, but it does at least feature a little of their trademark onscreen mischief.

8. Monkey Business

The first Marx film not based on a play was their third overall, about four stowaways who run amok on a cruise ship and fall in with two separate warring gangs.  Monkey Business is a rather odd film, in that a story arc is put into place but multiple threads are left unresolved, such as the protagonists evading the authorities, Groucho's romance with Thelma Todd's character, the aftermath of the kidnapping and rescue of Joe's daughter, etc.  Also notable about this film is the lack of musical numbers other than Chico and Harpo's instrumental solos.  Monkey Business is definitely my least favorite of the Paramount movies and I can't help wondering why they didn't instead make a film version of I'll Say She Is, particularly given the way they shoehorned in the Maurice Chevaille bit from that play.  Still this movie isn't without its charm.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ten Christmas Gifts That Changed My Life

What's up folks?  Well it's Christmastime, and that means hanging lights, trimming trees, and buying presents for your loved ones so they can promptly return 'em to the store on the 26th.  But this time of year always triggers childhood memories of how magical it all used to be.  The seemingly endless suspense of wondering what cool shit your parents Santa was gonna leave you, the seemingly endless get-togethers with the extended family on Christmas Day, while you're bored shitless just waiting to get back to all your new toys, the seemingly instantaneous week off from school before that sad, lonely return on January 2nd, when you and your school friends compared Christmas toy hauls.

And speaking of Christmas toys, I got to thinking, what were my favorite gifts over the years?  Which December 25th surprises made my big toe shoot up in my boot, as Little Richard would say?  Well lemme take you back to a simpler time.....

1978: Muppet Drum Kit

My big Christmas gift at age three was a toy drum set with pictures of the Muppet Show band Dr. Teeth on it.  I fell in love with this stupid kit instantly, and while I never actually learned to play the drums, I had a grand ol' time beating the crap outta those skins.  It outlived its novelty and usefulness within a couple years, but this was the fist major gift I ever remember getting.  For me it's what set the tone for this massive December festival so many of us hold dear.

1982: Atari 2600

I imagine my household was one of millions that got this console for Christmas around this time.  Our big family gift in 1982 was the legendary Atari 2600, which came with the incredibly diverse Combat (featuring tank battles, airplane battles, boat battles, and any other 4-bit vehicles you could blow up real good), but my parents also picked up Asteroids, Surround (which I loved because it was essentially Tron's "light cycle" sequence), and Video Olympics (a massive collection of sports games that utilized the "paddle" controllers), plus a couple other games I can't recall at the moment.  This console became our very lives for a few years, and the whole family enjoyed it.  Everyone who was anyone in the early 80s had one of these damn things, and the game cartridges were plentiful.  By 1985 we had probably 30 games, and it wasn't until '86/'87 that another game console had taken its place in America's heart....

1982: Castle Grayskull

My other big gift in '82 was this classic He-Man playset, a badass-looking castle with a ton of accessories but in retrospect, very little playability (A castle with only two floors?  And an elevator??  And a laser cannon???  The hell sense does that make?).  But at age 7 I didn't care, this thing was fuckin' fantastic.  I had a handful of the figures by this point and played with this castle like it was my job.  A few years later Snake Mountain followed and now I had lairs for both the heroes and villains.  Now that I think about it, who exactly was supposed to live in Castle Grayskull?  Was it He-Man's house?  I dunno.

Seriously, why would an ancient castle have an elevator??

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Top Ten Things: Coen Brothers Films

Welcome to Top Ten Things, here at, where I'll count down my ten favorite something-or-others....

Today's topic is Joel and Ethan Coen, the co-director brothers who specialize in strange characters, meticulously crafted dialogue, and sometimes head-scratching endings.  The Coens have built a tremendously diverse and idiosyncratic slate of films spanning multiple genres, often involving film noir elements and seedy criminals, but sometimes taking the form of a sardonic comedy or scathing satire.  I've been a fan of theirs more or less since they debuted with Blood Simple, but it was in the mid-90s that Joel and Ethan reached their full potential, and they've helmed multiple classics over the past thirty years.

But which Coen films are the best?  Let's look at the top ten now, shall we?

10. A Serious Man

This uncomfortable dark comedy about a physics professor whose life begins spiraling out of control was quietly nominated for multiple Oscars and largely flew under the radar.  Michael Stuhlbarg stars as Larry Gopnik, a husband and father of two whose wife wants to leave him for his best friend, and whose slightly delinquent kids don't respect him.  Stuhlbarg carries the film with an understatedly comic performance, reacting to each new hardship with annoyed disbelief.  The Larry character reminds me a bit of Barton Fink in that he never seems to give up hope or accept that he's simply screwed.  The film has a philosophical tone but ultimately appears to arrive at the conclusion that bad things sometimes happen to people just because.  An unexpectedly strong inclusion to the Coens' filmography.

9. Raising Arizona

This zany western-comedy stars Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a robber and cop, respectively, who inexplicably fall in love and decide to steal a baby from a rich couple who has just had quintuplets.  But soon Cage's ex-cellmates escape prison and pay him a visit, and he goes back to armed robbery, while the baby's actual parents hire a grizzled bounty hunter to retrieve their child.  The film blends screwball elements with those of Mad Max to show off the Coens' bizarre sense of humor, and also marks their first of several brilliant collaborations with John Goodman.

8. Barton Fink

Possibly the weirdest Coen Brothers film is this dark, moody period piece set in 1941, about a playwright-turned-screenwriter plagued with writer's block.  John Turturro's title character lives in a Hollywood hotel and befriends his next door neighbor Charlie (John Goodman), who turns out to be a brutal serial killer.  This psychological drama was written over three weeks while Joel and Ethan struggled to complete the Miller's Crossing script, and though difficult to fully categorize, contains elements of film noir, horror and surrealism.  Barton Fink is read by some as symbolic of the rise of fascism in Eastern Europe, while others see it as a parable about a man trapped in Hell.  Whatever the interpretation, Barton Fink is a darkly unique, haunting entry in the Coen pantheon.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Top Ten Things: December PPV Matches

Welcome to another December-themed Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I'll be talking about my ten favorite December PPV matches.  Aside from WCW's Starrcade, December has generally been a month for B-level PPVs and few Match of the Year candidates.  But there have most definitely been exceptions, both from WWE and other promotions.  One match I really would've liked to include in this list is Ric Flair & Barry Windham vs. The Midnight Express from Clash of the Champions IV.  But that wasn't a PPV, it was a special TV event, so I had to leave it out.  Anyway, here's my top ten December PPV matches of all time.

10. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle - WWF Vengeance  - 12.9.01

The first of the WWF/WCW Title Unification semi-final bouts, this pitted WWF Champ Austin against arch-nemesis Kurt Angle, in a repeat of their SummerSlam and Unforgiven 2001 battles.  This time though, Austin was back to being the top babyface and Angle was the heel.  There wasn't anything fancy about this, it was just an excellently-worked old-school wrestling match.  While not at the level of their amazing SummerSlam bout, Austin and Angle nontheless put on a helluva show, culminating in Austin reversing a Stunner attempt and countering with his own to retain the strap and advance to the Finals.

9. CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. The Miz - WWE TLC - 12.18.11

CM Punk's first PPV defense in his 434-day WWE Title run may have been against two less-than-threatening opponents (Miz especially was coming off a two-month burial), but that didn't take away from this exciting TLC match.  All three men worked hard to make this innovative and unpredictable.  Punk was handcuffed to a ladder and later to one of the turnbuckles, creating suspense about how he'd get out of this one with his Title intact.  Punk got to play the role of "smart babyface" (which sadly doesn't happen often) and after unscrewing one of the ring ropes, he GTSed Miz on his way to victory.

8. Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero - WWE Armageddon - 12.15.02

During the Smackdown Six Era, the two most accomplished former Radicalz met at Armageddon in a no-frills, old-fashioned wrestling match that stole the show.  Benoit and Guerrero had wrestled each other dozens of times in the past, and this fit right into their considerable catalog.  While slightly marred by Chavo's unsuccessful interference attempts and a couple of early miscues, this was still a fine bout with a suspenseful submission finish.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Great Wrestling Champions: Ric Flair (1989-1990)

Welcome to a new feature, The Great Wrestling Champions, where I examine a particularly noteworthy championship reign in the annals of wrestling history - one that made a difference in elevating said championship and the company it represents.

Today's entry is the 1989-90 reign of NWA World Champion Ric Flair.

Flair's sixth title run was in my estimation the greatest of his sixteen famed world championships, showcasing a bona fide in-ring artist and showman at the top of his arguably unparalleled career, and marking his final run as THE star of the NWA.  Flair had legitimately ruled the 80s as far as the NWA/WCW was concerned, enjoying a decade-long run as the promotion's undisputed top draw.  While he considered his first NWA Title reign as something of a tryout (In those days the NWA Board of Directors had to vote on whether to crown a new champion and Flair got a narrow 5-4 vote of confidence), by the end of 1983 he was clearly the man to whom the torch was passed, from former top NWA draws Harley Race and Dusty Rhodes.  His star power was so great that he'd travel around to the various NWA territories and feud with the local top star, in order to make that guy look like a bigger deal.  Flair would keep the title for a year or two, lose it to a babyface challenger to garner a big box office, and win it back shortly thereafter.  This was the pattern from his second reign on.  He briefly lost the title to Kerry Von Erich, Dusty Rhodes, Ronnie Garvin and finally, in a match that set the tone for the NWA's banner year 1989, Ricky Steamboat.

Flair's feud with Steamboat instantly became the stuff of legend, as the two perfectly paired adversaries traded wins over a three month period, scoring three staggering Match of the Year candidates and assembling one of the greatest wrestling feuds of all time.  Flair would win the title back at WrestleWar '89 and immediately follow up one stellar feud with another; the returning former champion Terry Funk attacked him post-match to set up six months of brutally contested enmity.  The inciting incident involved Funk piledriving Flair on a table and putting him out of action for two months due to a kayfabe neck injury.  This allowed the NWA to build to their first match at The Great American Bash, and marked Flair's first babyface turn since 1983.  The hotly anticipated Flair-Funk bout on July 23rd was a wild powderkeg of a match, spilling all over the ringside area and showing off Flair's brawling versatility after the graceful, scientific trilogy with Steamboat.

Landon Acclaims Paul Simon's "Stranger To Stranger"

This year, Paul Simon celebrated his 50th year as a musician. Which is absolutely ridiculous when you consider that he's been making new music semi-regularly for most of that time. It's been implied, sometime recently, that he's upset people don't like his new music at his concerts and only his classics. I really like some of Paul's new stuff, so I thought I'd help him along and try and get the word out about his most recent album...from last year. I never said I was in a hurry.

The first song of the album "The Werewolf" starts off as a nonsense song backed by Paul's now usual array of instruments. A variety of percussion and acoustic strings, helped along eventually by brass, gives the whole song a very primal feeling to it. The lyrics of the song take a realistic turn, however, when they turn on a dime to the nature of humanity. The greed and ignorance of the upper class, and the eventuality of humanity's self destruction are worked into the song easily, the beat and before mentioned feel of the song is never lost. A great opening song, that can either be digested for it's lyrics or enjoyed simply for the melody.

"Wristband" is a drastic turn from the both the instrumentation and tone. The song is simply the story of a musician who gets locked out of his venue, and the troubles he has trying to get in. I wouldn't be surprised if the first two verses were inspired by a similar event happening to Paul. We switch to a simpler array of a bass, drums, and trumpet for this song, which helps to put emphasis on all of Simon's lyrics. This is all until the third verse, when Paul turns to the issues the poorer children of the world have trying to be accepted at large. This comes off, after one has listened to the whole album, as a weak attempt to connect the song with the themes in the rest of the album. The same might be said for The Werewolf, only in that song the themes fit better and flow from the original topic easily, never thrown in haphazardly.

We get our first instrumental of the album with "The Clock," a simple string of notes played on a xylophone behind a clock's ticking. Nothing truly important to the album as a whole, but a good minute long break to help listeners find focus for what's coming next. In "Street Angel" we see the beginning of the album's overarching story. Much like "Wristband," it comes across more as an experience put to word. The titular street angel in the song comes off as a savant, as a child or young adult who fell through the cracks of society, spouting philosophies of life and his purpose here. The song is backed only by a simple arrangement of percussion and a capella sounds, leading listeners again to focus on the lyrics. The song ends implying the street angel has been taken to a hospital. The song works better as a part of a whole than a standalone, as we will see.

Which actually does not lead into "Stranger to Stranger." The track halts the narrative Paul had barely begun, to give us a dream-like song about the possibilities of love and happenstance. Maybe his intention was to create the feeling of a dream, as we transition from one scene of the story to the next. The song has a wonderfully done accompaniment of woodwinds and chimes creating a floating sense of relaxation, as the man himself very generously rambles about the nature of his relationship with someone. He asks, maybe the person or perhaps himself, if they would fall in love a second time if their meeting had been redone. If fate always meant for them to have the relationship they have, or if what they have is happenstance. It's a very emotionally grabbing piece I find myself putting on repeat for a few loops though before moving on.

Top Ten Things: Disney Animated Films

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at, where tell y'all about a few of my favorite things.  Ten, to be exact.

Today what's on my mind is Disney films.  Specifically the animated variety.  Before Disney was a multimedia, multi-franchise mega-empire, their bread and butter was making well-crafted, feature-length animated movies the whole family could enjoy.  So beloved were these films that the studio re-released them every five to ten years so a whole new generation of kids could experience them.  Many of them are so engrained in our culture it's hard to imagine what childhood must've been like before Walt Disney came along.

But which Disney films are the best?  Which ones still resonate decades later?  Well, here's my take....

10. Beauty and the Beast

Our first entry is one that frankly hasn't aged all that well for me, 1991's Beauty and the Beast.  While this one holds up as a visually rich, touching love story that appeals to viewers of all ages, it strikes me as far less timeless than some of its animated brethren.  The voice acting and songwriting is very much out of an early 90s Broadway production which firmly dates the film for me (along with the unnecessary use of computer animation in that one scene).  Nevertheless BATB is still widely hailed as an all-time classic that, like The Little Mermaid, returned Disney's animation studio to its former glory throughout the 90s.

9. The Great Mouse Detective

Easily my favorite Disney feature of the 1980s was this take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos, with all the characters recast as small animals.  The Sherlock figure is now a mouse called Basil, his Dr. Watson-esque partner is Dr. Dawson, and the film's diabolical Moriarty character is a rat, known as Professor Ratigan.  The Great Mouse Detective is a delightful action-adventure cartoon that sees Basil and Dawson helping a young girl find her kidnapped father and climaxes with a thrilling, CG-enhanced chase through the inner workings of Big Ben's clocktower.  This affectionate Holmes pastiche was only a modest box office success but I consider it an underappreciated near-classic.

8. One Hundred and One Dalmatians

One of the most purely fun Disney features was this 1961 canine-centric adventure, about a pair of dalmatians (Pongo and Perdita) whose puppies get stolen by a sadistic fur fanatic to be made into a coat.  Pongo and Perdita enlist the help of a network of dogs in and around London to find their pups, and the story takes them all over the country.  This isn't the most substantial Disney film but it's relentlessly entertaining, features an iconic villian in Cruella de Vil, and spawned one of the catchier songs in the Disney catalog.  Its animation style places it squarely in the early 60s, but unlike Beauty and the Beast, the datedness works in this film given when it takes place.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Top Ten Things: Christmas Movies

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  These are ten things I like or don't like, and I'm here to tell you about 'em.  Makes sense.

Today it's my ten favorite Christmas movies!  As one who has loved the holiday season since childhood, a big part of my celebrating is in the form of watching Christmas-themed movies.  Some are required viewing every December, while others I only revisit once in a while.  But they all help me get in the ol' holiday mood.

Some notes about this list - I'm only including movies where Christmas itself figures heavily in the plot.  There are a lot of films simply set against the backdrop of the Christmas season, and while some of those are great (Die Hard and Lethal Weapon for example), I don't really consider them Christmas movies in the strictest sense.  So I've limited the list to films that couldn't really work without the Christmas theme.

Also I'm not including the standard half-hour TV specials from back in the day.  The Grinch, Charlie Brown and Rudolph are all great, but they're TV shows, not movies.  So there.

Finally there are two beloved movies you won't find on this list: A Christmas Story, and Christmas Vacation.  I hate both of them.  I know most people think they're essential viewing, but I can't stand either one.  I find them both pretty cynical and unpleasant, which defeats the whole purpose of watching a Christmas movie.  Sorry.

On to the list!

10. Elf

Jon Favreau's 2003 Christmas romp stars Will Ferrell as a Buddy, a human who stowed away in Santa's bag as a baby, and was raised as a North Pole elf.  As Buddy grows to adulthood he begins to realize he doesn't fit in with the other elves, and he seeks out his birth father, a grumpy New York publishing executive played by James Caan.  Filled with lighthearted humor and Ferrell's signature flair for physical comedy, Elf is a classic Fish Out of Water story involving Buddy finding his way in the human world while also managing to save Christmas.  The film peters out toward the end for me, as there's too much emphasis on Santa being chased through Central Park by the NYPD.  But otherwise Elf is a fun little holiday movie that has something for everyone.

9. Edward Scissorhands

Tim Burton's cult classic Edward Scissorhands stars Johnny Depp as the titular character, a Dr. Caligari-inspired artificial man whose inventor died before he could be finished, leaving him with scissors where his fingers should be.  This of course makes for a very inconvenient existence (As Seinfeld's barber pointed out, "What's he gonna do on-a the toilet?"), and after moving in with Dianne Wiest and her family he becomes a suburban outcast.  This film, like most of Tim Burton's work, takes place in a visually bizarre world full of social misfits and outsiders.  But even among these weirdos Edward doesn't fit in, and the ultimate result is a bittersweet and surprisingly touching love story.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Music Review: Sia - Everyday is Christmas

To start, a little something about me: I hate pop Christmas albums.  They generally scream "cynical money grab" and have little to no substance, undermining the joyous, wide-eyed naivete we're all supposed to feel this time of year.  And yet here's Everyday is Christmas, the new album of original Christmas-themed tunes from Sia, to evoke warm holiday spirit and kickstart your yuletide merriment.  And the songs are pretty damn good to boot.

The album's ten tracks are mostly light and fluffy like so much Christmas snow (back when it actually snowed on Christmas), but there are a few piano ballads as well, shades of her Some People Have Real Problems era.  It's nice to hear Sia bring back some of that stuff.

An early standout for me is the Darlene Love-esque "Candy Cane Lane," which features the bounce of "Baby Please Come Home" but also a darkly uncertain chorus for a song of this ilk.  Another is the melancholy "Snowman," whose lyrics seem to suggest a metaphorical love song: "Don't cry, snowman, don't leave me this way/A puddle of water can't hold me close, baby."  My only complaint about this track is its short running time; this is one of those choruses she could get away with repeating several times.  The album's apex for me is the ode to holiday boozin', "Ho Ho Ho," another springy track with another instantly infectious chorus hook.  You may have heard a snippet of this in JC Penney's Black Friday weekend TV ads.  The album peters a little in the second half, peaking with the title track, an oddly minor-keyed love song reminiscent of "Bird Set Free," where Sia proclaims to her love interest that "Everyday is Christmas when you're here with me/I'm safe in your arms, you're my angel, baby."   

At 33 minutes, Everyday is Christmas is a quick listen but worthy of multiple spins, as there's enough going on harmonically and instrumentally for new ear candy to reveal itself each time.  It's very telling of Sia's considerable songwriting ability that even an undemanding album like Everyday is Christmas still boasts memorable hooks and quality tunes.  This could've been a total throwaway record of gratiuitous covers just to cash in on the season, but it actually holds up as a solid album.  I don't think this marvelous talent is capable of a bad record.

I give the album *** out of *****.

Thanks for reading - join us on Facebook by clicking HERE