Friday, April 19, 2019

Parents' Night In #18: The Big Lebowski (1998)

The latest Parents' Night In episode premieres tonight, April 19th at 8pm Eastern!

Our superfan Evan joins us on the couch for a special episode of Parents' Night In, where we watch and discuss Justin's favorite comedy, The Big Lebowski!  We shoot the shit about the film and what it means to us, its former standing as the heavyweight film champion of the word "fuck," some of the origin theories of the "420" phenomenon, and we'll check out some craft beers!

Click below anytime after 8pm ET to watch, and don't forget to SUBSCRIBE!

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Top Ten Things: A Perfect Circle Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

With the release last week of A Perfect Circle's fourth album Eat the Elephant (their first in over 13 years), I thought I'd count down my ten favorite APC songs (which includes some new material).  A Perfect Circle formed in 1999 when Tool's guitar tech Billy Howerdel played some original songs for Maynard James Keenan, and MJK liked the material so much he proposed adding his own vocals and recording them.  The following year the band's debut album Mer de Noms was released, garnering critical and commercial praise and setting new sales records for a debut album.  APC initially had a bit of a Tool-lite sound to my ears, incorporating Keenan's signature vocals with stripped down Adam Jones-esque guitar riffs, but with repeat listens it was clear they were their own animal, utilizing different instrumentation and a wider array of rock and alternative styles.  Keenan has bounced back and forth between both bands (plus Puscifer) ever since, and each band brings different aspects of his personality to the table (hence why he wears a wig for APC appearances).  A Perfect Circle album will always deliver something unique and unexpected, and their combined audio and visual presentation sets them apart from other alt-rock outfits.

Here are my ten favorite APC songs....

10. Blue

The band's second album Thirteenth Step largely deals with various aspects and points of view of drug addiction.  The third single "Blue" is about the aftermath of a drug overdose and the associated guilt of letting an addict indulge themselves to the point of death.  The dark subject matter is somewhat tempered by the sardonic lyrical tone - "Call an optimist, she's turning blue," and the result is one of APC's more lingering numbers.

9. Eat the Elephant

The oddly tearjerking opening track from APC's newest album is very simply about struggling to begin a journey or endeavor, not knowing how or where to start.  Billy Howerdel was apparently thinking of Chester Bennington when he wrote it, and lines like "Where to begin eludes me/Without you to remind me" evoke loss and being lost, in heartwrenchingly straightforward terms.  This piano ballad is a very unusual way to kick off a rock record, but it sets the tone for a very different APC album and is one of its deeply moving standouts.

8. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

The strongest song on Eat the Elephant in my opinion is this upbeat, 80s new wave-tinged single about our strange obsession with celebrities and how their deaths affect us, as well as our preoccupation with other modern paraphernalia.  With references to "Willy Wonka, Major Tom, Ali and Leia," this tune was apparently inspired by REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It," pointing out how absurd it all seems when you really think about what 21st century society deems important.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Brewery Reviewery: Barewolf Brewing (Amesbury, MA)

Welcome to the second half of our two-part Brewery Reviewery chronicling our trip to the breweries of Amesbury, MA!  Check out our review of Silvaticus HERE.

Barewolf Brewing
12 Oakland Street
Amesbury, MA 01913​

Our second stop was Barewolf Brewing, minutes away from Silvaticus, in another old mill building just outside the town center.  If the atmosphere at Silvaticus was on the mellow side, Barewolf's space is more like a basement party (their website actually describes it as such), where you have your friends over, play video & board games, listen to music and get a bit juiced.  There's ample merriment to be had here.  I personally found the loudness of the room overwhelming at times but that didn't stop me from enjoying the brews quite a lot.  Another nice Barewolf feature is how dog-friendly they are.  On this particular day there must've been seven pups hanging out with their respective owners, and they were all happy to have me come say hello.  All events are more fun with dogs.  Barewolf is also a place your kids wouldn't mind accompanying you to.  There's plenty to keep them occupied while you're sampling.

Anyway, Barewolf is unusual in that they basically never brew the same thing twice.  If one of their beers is particularly popular they'll do something similar next time, but the recipe is always changing.  Fortunately their take-home fridge is generally well-stocked with whatever they have on tap that day (I picked up three different 4-packs, including the last of one batch).  But don't worry, if your favorite isn't there the next time you go back, you'll find plenty of new stuff to like.  You can actually see a list of everything they've ever brewed here -

Barewolf has nine tap lines so there's always a good variety of flavors to choose from.  Let's get to it (I was only able to try six of the nine - hey, I'm not a machine)....

Top Ten Things: War Films

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Today's collection of stuff is a slew of all-time great war films spanning roughly 80 years of cinema.  Why does the war movie genre engage and fascinate us?  Why is war such a rich and profound subject for a filmmaker to explore?  Perhaps it's because we can't help but be drawn to stories concerning humanity at its most base.  Perhaps it serves as a purging of our worst impulses.  Whatever the reason, there have been so many universally lauded, lasting films made on the subject it was difficult for me to narrow it down to ten.  This list includes extremely varied interpretations of the experience, some based on true events, some completely fictitious, one or two even satirical.  Here now are my picks for the ten greatest war films ever made...

10. Platoon

The film that put Oliver Stone on the map, Platoon is loosely based on Stone's own experiences as a young man who volunteered to fight in Vietnam and got a whole lot more than he bargained for.  Platoon covers in horrifyingly grim detail the disorientation of battle, the torturous strain of everyday combat duty, the hopelessness and isolation of the jungle.  This slice-of-life story is punctuated by a power struggle between the unit's two senior officers, one played with a sense of unqualified decency by Willem Dafoe, the other with hard-boiled menace by Tom Berenger.  Their conflict serves as the catalyst for the main character's (Charlie Sheen) transformation from wide-eyed rookie to calloused warrior.  Stone's unforgiving look at the true horrors of war won numerous Oscars and catapulted director and lead actor to tremendously successful careers.

9. Glory

Matthew Broderick starred as Col. Robert Gould Shaw in Edward Zwick's powerful 1989 account of the first black regiment in US military history.  The film was based in part on Shaw's frequent correspondence during his time in the military, and painstakingly recreated the arduous training and harsh conditions the Massachusetts 54th were subjected to.  After months of not being taken seriously as soldiers (and receiving unequal pay), the 54th demonstrated extraordinary bravery in a doomed suicide mission to take Fort Wagner, during which Shaw and roughly half of his men were cut down.  The tales of the 54th's grit eventually led to the Union Army accepting 180,000 black volunteers and helped turn the tide of the Civil War.  This potent war epic also featured performances by Morgan Freeman (in a pre-typecast but very Morgan Freeman-esque role), Andre Braugher, and a star-making Denzel Washington turn as a resentful, emotionally damaged former slave, for which Washington won his first Oscar.

8. Duck Soup

Generally considered The Marx Brothers' best and most irreverent comedy, Duck Soup concerns the conflict between two fictional nations, Freedonia and Sylvania.  Sylvania's Ambassador Trentino has hatched a plot to take over Freedonia and marry the country's chief financial benefactor Mrs. Teasdale, while Freedonia's leader Rufus T. Firefly (played by Groucho) attempts to bait Trentino into a physical confrontation so he can force him out of the country.  The various hijinx lead to a full-scale war, and the battle scenes (along with the famous and amazingly hilarious "mirror scene") are the stuff of comedy legend.  Duck Soup lampoons the very notions of nationalism and political bluster, and was so derisive it actually turned off Depression Era audiences and threatened to derail the Brothers' careers.  The film surged in popularity in the 60s however, as anti-war sentiment swept the nation, and has since been hailed as an unmitigated classic.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Followups

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I'll be talking about some slightly-hidden gems given the unenviable task of directly following WrestleMania.  Every year 'Mania seems to play out like a season finale of sorts, with long-running angles and feuds being resolved, and new stories beginning.  But with no off-season, WWE marches right on to the next PPV (formerly In Your House and Backlash, now Extreme Rules) and has to assemble a show that could easily come off as anticlimactic given its position on the PPV calendar.  Some years though, the 'Mania followup PPV has actually outclassed The Show of Shows and presented one or more Match of the Year candidates.  Backlash 1999 and 2000 for example were far and away superior to 'Mania 15 and 16 respectively.  Ditto for Extreme Rules 2011 and 2012.  Not so much for Payback 2017....

Here now are the Top Ten Matches from Post-WrestleMania PPVs.

10. The Shield vs. Evolution - Extreme Rules 2014

This dream match of sorts was a wild, action-packed example of faction warfare.  The Shield had recently turned against The Authority, and Triple H retaliated by reassembling his most accomplished stable, now consisting of three former WWE/World Champions.  Now I had hoped for an 8-man WarGames-style match including Daniel Bryan and Kane, and I still think WWE dropped the ball by not booking that match after it was so perfectly set up the night after WM30.  That said though, this six-man delivered huge and further established The Shield as the most dominant faction in years.

9. John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar - Extreme Rules 2012

Brock Lesnar's WWE return was an absolutely huge deal.  After an eight-year hiatus Lesnar reappeared on RAW the night after WrestleMania 28 and left John Cena laying in a heap.  A No Holds Barred match was immediately signed for Extreme Rules, and would be the first signature "Brock Lesnar" match, where he employed both pro wrestling and MMA techniques to create a unique, big-fight atmosphere.  The match began with Lesnar brutally bloodying Cena with hard elbows to the forehead, marking the first WWE use of significant "color" in several years.  This groundbreaking fight showcased a dominant Lesnar performance until the very end, when Cena evened the playing field with a chain and got a shocking (and in retrospect terribly ill-advised) win over the returning Beast.  It took some time for WWE to properly use Lesnar during his post-UFC run (His record after one year back was 1-2!), but fortunately they soon remembered that Brock Lesnar is supposed to destroy everything in sight, and have since worked much harder to preserve his drawing power.

8. Mankind vs. Big Show - Backlash '99

After a tremendously disappointing first-time matchup at WrestleMania XV, Mankind and The Big Show redeemed themselves with this brutal Boiler Room Brawl.  The inaugural Backlash event one-upped 'Mania 15 in every way, and this match was everything the first encounter wasn't.  Mankind brought his typically high pain threshold, taking a brutal table spot and cutting his hand on a pane of glass before escaping the boiler room.  Not only did this match steal the show at Backlash '99 but I consider it the far better of the two Boiler Room Brawls.

7. Randy Orton vs. Cactus Jack - Backlash 2004

Another Foley classic, this time Mick donned the red & black flannel and trimmed way down to resurrect his original in-ring persona, Cactus Jack.  Randy Orton was just gaining traction as a future main event player, and Foley made sure he looked like a million bucks.  This outlandish, violent Street Fight featured barbed-wire bats, thumbtacks, falls off the stage, and buckets of blood.  The enduring image for me is of Orton taking a bump, barebacked, on a pile of thumbtacks.  Simply one of the most grisly moments I can recall in a wrestling match.

The Viking Experience: A Symptom of WWE's Stupidity

Image result for the viking experience
Fuck. This. Noise.

I can't believe I have to get angry about this shit.  I can't believe a hugely talented pair of wrestlers I greatly admire gets called up from developmental to the main roster and beats the RAW Tag Champions in their debut match, and I still have to be pissed they were called up.  All because the cosmically obtuse guy with dementia who runs the place decided the name War Raiders wasn't money enough.  Welcome once again to WWE, the enemy of fun.

"Hmm, let's see, they dress like vikings, so they should have viking names (Erik and....Olaf? Sven? Lars? Nope, we already have a Lars. I'll come back to this later...) and their team moniker should definitely feature the word 'viking.'  Viking Soldiers?  No, that's not right.  Vikings of Doom?  Nah, too derivative.  Wait, wasn't there some hippie guitar player the kids were all into when I was in my twenties?  Jimmy something.  Jimmy....Hegstrand.  The Jimmy Hegstrand EXPERIENCE, that was the name of the group!  The Viking Experience!  Perfect!  The kids'll love that, they dig the pop culture references.  It's um, GROOVY and all that.  And since they dress like vikings we'll say they're actual vikings, like they only eat raw meat and they fashion their own weapons.  That'll play like gangbusters!  We're gonna make a fortune with this gimmick!"

I don't know how many times I need to repeat this - Vince McMahon is hopelessly and embarrassingly out of touch with what wrestling fans in the 2010s want to see, and he needs to relinquish control of this company immediately.  There is not one single reasonable argument to be made that The Viking Experience as a name is an improvement over War Raiders.  None.  Anyone who seriously wants to defend this change is welcome to try to convince me, but you'd have to be a crazy person to actually believe it.  War Raiders sounds like two bad ass motherfuckers who will decapitate you if you have too much bass in your voice.  The Viking Experience sounds like a fucking Epcot attraction.  There is nothing whatsoever intimidating about this name.  Aside from the obvious and inexcusable racist stereotype Tony Atlas was forced to portray in 1990 this name/gimmick change reminds me of the Saba Simba bullshit; because these guys dress as mythic figures we have to pretend they actually live this gimmick?  How fucking stupid does Vince think his audience is?  In 2019?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Brewery Reviewery: Silvaticus (Amesbury, MA)

Welcome to a special two-part Brewery Reviewery, here at!  The premise is simple - I visit local purveyors of delicious craft beer, try as many as I can, and tell you all what I think.

This past weekend I visited not one, but two breweries in Amesbury, MA (stay tuned for the second review in the next couple days).  My parents moved there about six years ago and I've been meaning to get to these two establishments since I learned about them.

Silvaticus Brewery
9 Water St.
Amesbury, MA 01913

The first stop on this mini-tour was Silvaticus, a brewery specializing in Belgian and German styles - right up my alley.  Located in one of the old mill buildings in downtown Amesbury, the taproom is modest but inviting, with an open view of the brewing floor and large picnic tables for visitors to relax.  There's also an outdoor beer garden with a view of the Powwow River, occasional events, and board games to keep you entertained.  The music playlist was eclectic and unusual for a brewery, featuring classic rock, reggae, and a bit of full-on metal from Pantera.  This is also one of the cleanest taprooms I've ever been in and the atmosphere is pretty mellow (at least on a Sunday afternoon).

But let's take a gander at the beer, shall we?

Silvaticus currently offers seven flavors, but they change out one or two every week to keep things fresh.  Their website doesn't have a current roster, so you just have to take the leap and see what they have.  Their selection ranges from dark and rich to light and crisp, and of the five flavors I sampled I found nary a miss.

Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Running Man

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!

Today we'll dissect and discuss what is possibly The Mother of Awesomely Shitty Movies (or at least a well-respected Aunt), The Running Man!  Based to the loosest possible degree on the novel by Richard Bachman (or Stephen King as he's known to everyone), The Running Man tells the story of a dystopian future where the global economy has collapsed and the country is a police-state.  The masses are controlled by a military-industrial complex that keeps them placated with violent television and a steady stream of disinformation.  The most popular TV show is called The Running Man, where convicted felons are hunted down by cartoonish gladiator-types called Stalkers.  The host/creator of the show is the slimy but immensely charismatic Damon Killian, who has become a beloved cultural icon.

The Running Man (1987)

The protagonist of the film, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), is a former SWAT cop who after refusing to kill dozens of food rioters, is framed for their deaths and wrongfully imprisoned.  He and two fellow prisoners (members of an underground resistance whose mission is to expose the corrupt establishment and restore democracy) escape, only to end up as Running Man contestants.

What ensues is a fantastically awful amalgam of pro wrestling and numerous side-scrolling video games, as the Runners have to evade a series of Stalkers in order to get to the next stage.

This film is absolute tripe, but holy lord it's entertaining.  And here's why....

The Awesome

The Backdrop

This movie creates a richly detailed little universe for our characters to inhabit.  From the fake TV shows and commercials, to the neat technological advances, to the bit characters, the filmmakers have done a fine job of establishing the environment and making this seem like a real world that could actually exist.  To a certain extent it reminds me of the dystopia of Robocop.  There are some tangible aspects of this universe that make the story somewhat believable.

Reminds me a little of Blade Runner.  Just a little.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Top Ten Things: Shawn Michaels WrestleMania Matches

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  And welcome to yet another episode of my barely coherent ramblings about the phenomenon known as WrestleMania.  Today I'm talking about the ten greatest 'Mania appearances by my all-time favorite wrestler, The Heartbreak Kid himself, Shawn Michaels.

Several years ago people started referring to Shawn Michaels as "Mr. WrestleMania," and one doesn't need to look very hard to see why.  In terms of consistently delivering show stealing performances on the WWE's biggest stage, Shawn has no equal.  From 1994-1998, and again from 2003-2010, Michaels' WrestleMania match was generally considered either the best or second-best match on the show, and during those same years his 'Mania match won Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Match of the Year a staggering NINE times (plus he had two non-WrestleMania winners).

Look, I don't need to prattle on about what an incredible pro wrestler Michaels was, so let's just get to the list.  Here now are my ten picks for Shawn's greatest WrestleMania matches.

10. Diesel vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XI

What should have been main event of 'Mania 11 was also the only worthy match on the card, as former friends Diesel and Shawn Michaels battled for the WWF Title.  Diesel's abrupt main event push was the WWF's attempt to recreate the success of Hulk Hogan.  Sadly Kevin Nash had nowhere near the overwhelming fan support Hogan did, and the Hartford crowd actually ended up cheering the breathtaking athletic abilities of Shawn Michaels, despite his being the heel.  Even in losing the match, Shawn positioned himself as the next main event babyface and the most popular guy in the company.

9. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania 23

Originally slated to be a Cena-Triple H rematch from WM22, this bout was the substitute after Hunter suffered another quad tear.  And as it turned out this match vastly outperformed its predecessor; John Cena and HBK delivered a fantastic main event for the WWE Title that cemented Cena as the face of the company.  Shawn made him look incredibly strong and helped him rise above the "You can't wrestle" chants he had so long inspired.  For me this was the match where Cena turned the corner to become an accomplished worker who could consistently perform in a big match situation.  The 55-minute RAW rematch got much more attention at the time, but I prefer this bout.

8. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair - WrestleMania XXIV

Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair was one of the most emotional matches I've ever seen.  Michaels obviously deserves a lot of the credit for making this match great, as he bumped around like crazy, per usual.  But Flair's storytelling was also off the charts and he emoted wonderfully, making the audience really care about his career-ending journey.  The final seconds of the match when Flair tearfully begged Shawn to hit the superkick, followed by the sorrow on Shawn's face, made for one of the most memorable of all 'Mania moments.  I given Flair's age at this point I had low expectations going into this, but two of the all-time greats stole the show with this memorable bit of storytelling.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Movie Review: Us (2019)

Jordan Peele's sophomore effort, the dread-filled Us, is one of those horror films that comes and goes as you watch it, and you leave the theater saying, "That was real good stuff."  Then your brain begins to recall all the little touches you weren't paying attention to because you were wrapped up in the story, and a few hours later you find yourself saying, "Dammit, now I need to watch that again."  Like The Shining (an obvious influence that gets more than one nod from Peele), Us lends itself to multiple viewings and is dripping with subtext and social commentary.

The simple narrative of a vacationing family confronted by their horrific dopplegangers plays a lot like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode (I won't say any more about the plot; it's better if you go in cold), but Peele and his collaborators create arresting visuals and audio to fill every scene and frame with palpable unease.  Michael Abels' score particularly stands out, with a creepy-as-hell choral/Gregorian intro piece and a few cues that again bring to mind Kubrick's horror masterpiece.  Mike Gioulakis (of It Follows and Split fame) quotes other filmmakers (I defy anyone to watch the sequence on the beach and not think of Jaws, even aside from the young boy's T-shirt), while adding his own visual style.

And of course there's the cast.  Led by a(nother) extraordinary performance from Lupita Nyong'o, in a dual turn that was so convincing I had to constantly remind myself she was playing both parts, the actors embody "everyman" types in their primary roles, while being operatically frightening as their alternates.

The craftsmanship on display elevates Us from a horror B-movie into a suspenseful, sophisticated parable about class distinctions, race and xenophobia that leaves everything open to multiple interpretations.  Like Ridley Scott did with Alien, Peele has populated the screen with accomplished actors and striking visuals to reward the viewer with not only visceral suspense but an evocative pictorial and aural experience. 

For me the first viewing was about revealing the secrets of the film's story.  The second and beyond will be about unwrapping its various underlying themes and appreciating the artistry that went into it.  Us is a rare horror film that will haunt you long after you've stopped watching it, and for me that's the best kind there is.

I give the film ***1/2 out of ****.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

NJPW/ROH G1 Supercard: New Japan Is Awesome, ROH Not So Much

Well one thing was made abundantly clear at G1 Supercard; Ring of Honor needs NJPW way more than NJPW needs Ring of Honor.  For a company that was once the pinnacle of in-ring wrestling (check out their 2004-2009 library if you don't believe me), ROH has fallen far indeed.  Most of the ROH-centric contributions to G1 felt like I was watching TNA - a flat women's match that ended with Angelina Love and Velvet Sky laying out the new WOH Champion, a street fight that went from a singles match to a six-man and went on forever, Enzo and Cass of all people joining the promotion, and a solid but overlong ladder match with the least over guy walking away with the ROH Title.  This was like watching two separate shows.  One was pretty great, the other was kinda brutal.  Just listen to the live crowd; they're all chanting "New Japan" during the intro, the New Japan-heavy matches all got great reactions while the ROH stuff was mostly muted.  Hell, the show sold out last year with only three names having been announced: Okada, Naito and Tanahashi.  ROH may have helped open the door for New Japan to grow their US audience, but New Japan sold out this show.

Let me start though by saying how surreal it was to see these two companies in a sold-out Madison Square Garden.  That factor added a ton of splendor to this show, and if you just watch the opener and the final six matches you'd have yourself a near-perfect PPV.  I'm certainly not here to bash the show as a whole, this was the second-best big show of the weekend.

After a forgettable pre-show Honor Rumble that went a taxing 42 minutes (the lone memorable moment was Liger vs. Muta, which sadly didn't last long), the show proper kicked off with a fairly fantastic Will Ospreay-Jeff Cobb match for both the NEVER and ROH TV Titles.  The clash of styles made for a very compelling match, as Ospreay's speed met Cobb's brute strength.  Ospreay however tried to play Cobb's game, often standing toe to toe with his much larger opponent, and in the end it cost him.  He went for a top-rope Stormbreaker but Cobb reversed it into Tour of the Islands (followed by a second one) and pinned him to win the NEVER Title.  I was a little sad to see Ospreay drop the belt already but Cobb is tailor-made for the NEVER division and I certainly won't complain about seeing more of him in NJPW.  Helluva good opening match that could've gone a little longer.  ***3/4

Second on the card was the first ROH-exclusive match, and it went fifteen seconds.  In fact my feed cut briefly and by the time it came back the match was already over.  Rush pounced on Dalton Castle at the bell, hit him with two finishers, and it was done.  Oookay then.  Castle flipped out and beat up his entourage after the match.  NR

The third match was to be Kelly Klein's crowning moment as the new centerpiece of the ROH Women's Division, but unfortunately the crowd basically didn't care about this at all.  Klein and Champion Mayu Iwatani had a passable match that suffered from zero crowd heat, ending with two K-Power drivers and Klein standing tall as the new champion.  Then Love and Sky came out, and Mandy Leon (who'd been the guest commentator) appeared to rush to Klein's aid only to turn on her.  This was right out of an old Impact episode and the crowd pretty much hated it.  The match itself gets **.  The angle stunk.

Top Ten Things: Undertaker WrestleMania Matches

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  Today we're talking about The Phenom, The Deadman, The Conscience of WWE, and his greatest bouts at WWE's biggest PPV of the year, WrestleMania!

Probably the greatest streak in fake sports was the one held by The Undertaker, a winning streak at WrestleMania that lasted over two decades and led to one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history when it was broken.  What started as an organic bit of booking happenstance evolved into possibly the biggest perennial feature on The Showcase of the Immortals.  Suddenly there was a built-in long-term storyline for one of the top WrestleMania matches every year, and for quite a while Taker's match either stole the show or came damn close.  Even after The Streak was broken by Brock Lesnar, Taker's match would continue to be one of the top featured attractions.

But which of his 'Mania showings stand atop the others?  Here now are, in my estimation, The Undertaker's greatest WrestleMania bouts....

10. Undertaker vs. Kane - WrestleMania XIV

Taker's first great 'Mania bout didn't occur until he'd already established a six-match winning streak (Yes, his 1996 match with Diesel was solid, but aside from that his 'Mania outings up until this point were forgettable at best).  In 1997 Taker was involved in a long storyline arc wherein his former manager Paul Bearer revealed he had a long-lost half-brother named Kane (Ironically Kane was actually Taker's first name when he debuted).  The company built up Kane's first appearance for several months before he attacked Taker during the first Hell in a Cell match, and from then on he was established as an unstoppable monster.  Also to the company's credit, they held off giving away too much physical interaction between the Brothers of Destruction, so by the time this match finally took place it truly felt like Taker would be facing his ultimate adversary.  The match itself didn't disappoint; the two behemoths delivered a very physical fight that Taker was only able to win via three consecutive Tombstone piledrivers.  Even in a loss, Kane was set up as a major star.

9. Undertaker vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania 21

After a serious in-ring slump in 2003-04, Taker was able to return to form in this underrated match with the Legend Killer.  Orton had just finished a horribly failed babyface run in late 2004 and the company wisely turned him heel again, leading to Orton challenging Taker to a Legend vs. Legend Killer match.  These two worked extremely well together, delivering one of the better matches on the card that ended with Taker reversing an Orton Tombstone into his own for the win.  Taker and Orton would go on to have a series of strong matches throughout 2005, in a feud that helped re-elevate Orton.

8. Undertaker vs. Triple H - WrestleMania XXVII

In 2011 both The Undertaker and Triple H returned from a long hiatus.  Taker's return was teased ahead of time, but just as he was about to cut a promo the familiar strains of Motorhead filled the arena, announcing The Game.  The two veterans stared each other down before Hunter wordlessly made a challenge by turning his gaze to the WrestleMania 27 sign.  The match itself, while full of typical No-DQ frills, was a fairly epic, very dramatic WWE-style main event with some great gasp-inducing nearfalls.  Taker finally won with Hell's Gate but was so exhausted he had to be stretchered to the back on a forklift.  But these two would outdo each other one year later, both in terms of storytelling and action.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The History of NXT TakeOver: New York

Wow.  What a fucking show this was.  The NXT gang once again smoked the shit out of the main roster, delivering their best effort to date.  NXT TakeOver: New York was everything you could want from a pro wrestling show.  Five matches, all different, all good to excellent, with an epic main event to cap it all off.  The RAW/Smackdown crew will be hard-pressed to equal this show anytime soon.

TakeOver kicked off with an absolutely stellar Tag Title match, as War Raiders defended against Ricochet & Aleister Black.  This twenty-minute clinic featured numerous instances of each team trying to one-up the other at their own wheelhouse.  Hanson & Rowe, known for their power moves, took to the air to prove to Ric and Black they could do it just as well.  Ricochet picked up the massive Hanson and hit an overhead slam to show how deceptively powerful he is, despite technically being a cruiserweight.  The nearfalls were stunning and the rabid Brooklyn crowd bought into all of them.  After missing the 630 senton, Ricochet fell victim to a brutal-looking Fallout (Animal and Hawk would be proud), and the Raiders retained.  Just a stunning opener to set the tone.  ****1/2

The match I was least excited about was the North American Championship, Velveteen Dream defending against MMA import Matt Riddle.  But these two delivered huge, in a perfect clash of styles.  Riddle's grapple-based offense is crisp as can be, while Dream's natural charisma and old school callbacks totally won the split crowd to his side.  Riddle got frustrated as the match wore on and began playing the heel, trying to twist Dream into knots and tap him out.  Finally at about the 17-minute mark he locked in his BroMission finisher, only for Dream to roll back and get the quick pin.  Riddle was furious and it looked like we'd see a full heel turn, but in the end he regained his "bro-jo" and accepted a fistbump from the champ.  Excellent sleeper match that sold me on Riddle (I was already on the Dream bandwagon).  ****

Top Ten Things: Favorite WrestleMania Moments

Welcome to another WrestleMania-themed Top Ten Things, folks!  With the Show of Shows in the history books, I thought I'd look at some of my favorite moments from the past 35 years of WrestleMania....

In addition to hopefully providing some great and memorable matches, WrestleMania has also largely been about those special moments that live in your biological hard drive forever.  There has certainly been no shortage of such occurrences at The Showcase of the Immortals, whether it's a particularly significant move someone did during a match, or a striking visual, or something that happened after the match was over.  At its best, WrestleMania creates lasting memories, and here are ten that will stick with me for the rest of my days....

10. Hogan-Rock Staredown (WrestleMania X8)

In 2002 the WWF brought back Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall just in time for 'Mania season, and the former set his sights on The Rock, in an Icon vs. Icon match.  When I first learned of this plan I absolutely hated the idea; the company had built itself back up as a showcase for young, current talent, and bringing back old guys for a big money match, particularly ones who were key in nearly destroying the WWF via their competition, really got my goat.  In fact you can trace Vince's current fetish for part-timer-centric WrestleMania matches to this point.  But goddamn if this wasn't a super fun match, and it all kicked off with an extended staredown that had 65,000 Toronto fans losing their ever-lovin' minds.  Hogan and Rock stood face to face and each began scanning the rabid Skydome crowd before finally locking up in battle.  They had that building in the palms of their hands and no match on that card could possibly have followed this one.

9. Lesnar Almost Dies (WrestleMania XIX)

'Mania 19 is my all-time favorite edition.  It was such an unexpectedly great show from a company that had bungled nearly every major angle in the previous two years, this stacked card soared past the superb WrestleMania X-Seven for me.  And the most memorable moment from this show was Brock Lesnar's errant shooting star press in the closing moments of the main event.  The 290-pound Lesnar had performed this size-defying move countless times in OVW but had never attempted it on the main roster, and this was to be the finish to his biggest match yet.  But he somehow hesitated just a split-second before leaping off the turnbuckle and failed to achieve the necessary rotation.  Instead he came crashing down on the top of his head, in one of the most frightening visuals I've ever seen as a wrestling fan.  This could easily have killed a lesser man, but Lesnar miraculously managed to finish the match, delivering his third F5 of the night to capture the WWE Title.  He also escaped with only a concussion and was back in action a week later.  I probably would've died on general principle.

Monday, April 8, 2019

WWE WrestleMania 35: Why Was This So Long, Did Peter Jackson Direct It?

Sweet Jeezus, why does a wrestling PPV ever need to go five-and-a-half hours, plus a two-hour pre-show?  Like, ever?  Someone in WWE needs to pick Vince up by the face and shake him until he grasps this idea.  WrestleMania 35, like the last three editions, was a good three-hour show buried inside a pulsating blob of dimpled fat lasting twice as long.  By the end of the show the white-hot women's main event everyone was frothing at the mouth to see was met with subdued indifference.  That's not good.  How does the man with four decades of experience as a promoter not see this?

The four pre-show matches were split down the middle in terms of quality.  Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese had a very good, innovative, exciting cruiserweight match (***3/4), the women's battle royal was entirely forgettable and Carmella of all people won (*1/2), The Revival wrenched a quite watchable RAW Tag Title match out of Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder, who are now champs despite never winning any matches (***), and the men's battle royal was equally forgettable except for Braun Strowman predictably eliminating Colin Jost and Michael Che (*)  I'm still not sure what the point of any of that was.

Alright, now for the main card.  After an Alexa Bliss/Hulk Hogan introduction, Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins kicked off the show (HUUUUUUUHHH???).  Brock attacked Seth before the bell, tossing him from barrier to barrier, over one of the announce tables multiple times, and generally beating the piss out of him before demanding the match be started.  Finally the bell rang, Brock suplexed Seth numerous times, went for the F5, Seth escaped and pushed Brock into the ref, knocking him out of the ring, low-blowed him, and delivered three Curb Stomps, leading to the pin at 2:30 officially.  Metlife Stadium went nuts for this finish, so this has to be considered a successful segment, but as one of the five matches I was genuinely looking forward to, this was a major letdown for me.  Apparently the decision to put this on first was made after the show started.  When the lineup of your biggest show of the year is being switched around on the fly, you just might be Eric Bischoff....  Anyway this was fine for what it was, but it was barely a proper match.  **1/2 I guess?

Friday, April 5, 2019

WWE WrestleMania 35 Preview & Predictions

Welcome to the biggest predictions column of all time, here at!  This Sunday is WrestleMania 35, and it's shaping up to be the longest PPV event ever held.  PPV time inflation is a real issue affecting millions of wrestling fans worldwide....

As of this moment there are 15 matches booked for this show, with three of them having already been bumped to the two-hour Kickoff.  I have to think we'll get one or two additional matches (RAW Tag belts aren't up for grabs yet), and maybe one or two more pre-show bumps.  Regardless, this'll be a seven-hour ordeal all told, with 11 or 12 main card bouts.  Gettin' to be a lot, guys.

Before we get to the predictions let's talk about the stupidity of not only another WrestleMania "host" (Alexa Bliss in a thankless role), but special correspondents (whatever the fuck that means) Colin Jost and Michael Che of SNL fame, who will also be in the Andre Battle Royal.  Oh, and they're feuding with Braun Strowman.  Holy fuck is this stupid.  Also we have Elias doing a special performance.  I'm gonna assume John Cena interrupts him like he did last year, leading to a quick match.  Pointless.

Anyway let's get to the real matches on the card.

***I won the 2018 season in a nailbiter, with 69% (93/134), Landon finished second with 68% (91/134), and the Moores tied for third with 67% (90/134).  Landon will be sitting out the 2019 WWE season, but hopefully we'll get him back in the future.***

Pre-Show Cruiserweight Championship: Buddy Murphy vs. Tony Nese

I know basically squat about Nese, but he just won a tournament to get a title shot here.  This match being on the pre-show I see no reason to switch the belt, particularly since I anticipate several other title changes on this show.  Match should be solid.

Justin: Buddy retains
Dan: Yes
Dave: The Murph

Pre-Show Andre the Giant Battle Royal

We have 29 names announced for this, but no word on the 30th entrant.  Kevin Owens isn't booked for this show so it could be him.  But Strowman has to be the favorite since he's mixing it up with two mainstream TV stars.  Plus he should've won this two years ago.  It's all pointless anyway - I'm glad these Battle Royals were both moved to the Kickoff.

Justin: Strowman
Dan: Strowman's gonna get screwed by SNL guys and I dunno who will win, but he won't. It'll be the mystery guy. JOHN FUCKING CENA.
Dave: I don't care.  Strowman.

NXT TakeOver: New York Preview & Predictions

It's WrestleMania weekend, and that means the NXT brand will outclass the main roster once again!  I'm not sure why this isn't called TakeOver: Brooklyn V, being that it's in the same venue as the previous four Brooklyns.  Hell kinda sense does that make?

I say this before pretty much every TakeOver special, but this one really does have the potential to crush every TakeOver before it.  The weakest on-paper matchup on this show could still be a **** outing if given enough time.  Let's get to it.

NXT North American Championship: Velveteen Dream vs. Matt Riddle

I'm still not sure why Johnny Gargano's NA Title run was so brief, but Velveteen Dream has proven himself one of the most promising early-20s talents in some time.  So I'm not complaining that he's the champ.  Riddle is growing on me but I'm not totally sold on him yet.  I think this match will help get me there.

Pick: Velveteen just won this title a couple months ago but I can't see them beating Riddle yet.  Riddle takes it.

NXT Women's Championship Fatal 4-Way: Shayna Baszler vs. Kairi Sane vs. Io Shirai vs. Bianca Belair

This match is the most unpredictable in terms of quality.  There's certainly loads of talent on display here but the format could also result in a messy match.  I would say at least one of these women is a lock to be called up the RAW or SD after 'Mania (hopefully to the anemic Smackdown Women's division), so a title change is probably imminent.  Shayna will end up on RAW I'm sure so she can interact with Ronda before Ronda leaves, while Kairi Sane would be a great fit for SD (Asuka vs. Sane - book it).  That leaves Io or Bianca as likely winners.  I guess I'll go with Io.

Pick: Io Shirai

NXT UK Championship: Pete Dunne vs. Walter

This one could steal the show and concievably the entire weekend.  Pete and Walter are gonna beat the ever-loving crap out of each other and it'll be glorious.  Pete Dunne has had a stranglehold on this belt for almost two years, so I'll pick Walter to dethrone him.

Pick: Walter

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Wrestling Do-Overs: WrestleMania IX

Welcome to another edition of Wrestling Do-Overs, where I'll examine a wrestling show or angle and reshape it as I think it should've been (For other examples see my WrestleMania IV and Starrcade '89 editions).  Today I'll be going back and retroactively fixing what is the most widely reviled of all WrestleManias, the ninth edition!

Now let me preface this by saying 'Mania 9 is not my least favorite of them all.  It's certainly not a good show but it had a few decent matches and despite the worst-booked ending ever in the history of wrestling-- nay, entertainment-- nay, humankind, there have been worse installments in WrestleMania history.

But don't think I'm letting this show off the hook.  It was quite clearly a mess and could've been fixed up pretty nicely with only a few adjustments.  So let's first take a look at the lineup and see why it didn't work.

Intercontinental Championship: Shawn Michaels vs. Tatanka - 18:13
The Steiner Brothers vs. The Headshrinkers - 14:22
Doink the Clown vs. Crush - 8:28
Razor Ramon vs. Bob Backlund - 3:45
Tag Team Championship: Money Inc. vs. The Mega-Maniacs - 18:27
Lex Luger vs. Mr. Perfect - 10:56
The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez - 7:33
WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna - 8:55
WWF Championship: Yokozuna vs. Hulk Hogan - 0:22

Yeesh, that's what passed for a WrestleMania lineup in 1993?  Okay, first let's look at what did work.

To start with, I kinda liked the Roman Colosseum theme - I know, it was corny and led to way too many cheap laughs, but overall I enjoyed the idea of dressing up Caesar's Palace as a Roman arena.  It gave the show a nice sense of pageantry and made it look different from other PPVs and even other WrestleManias.  Could they have left out some of the window dressing, like making the announcers dress up in togas?  Yes.  But overall I didn't have a problem with the theme, and holding the event outside made it feel special.  By the way, the officially announced attendance figure was 16,891.  I call bullshit on that.  Look at this pic below.  No chance in hell did they fit more than 8,000 in that little venue, and that's being generous.

17 thousand people my ass

A few of the matches were good, as I said before.

The opening Shawn Michaels-Tatanka match was solid stuff, and while certainly not one of Shawn's career highlights, was easily the best match Tatanka ever had.  This got a good amount of time (though I would've shortened it to maybe 15 minutes) and Shawn got to steal the show (by default, but still).  The countout ending was weak, but I still like this match.

The Steiners-Headshrinkers bout was another good one.  Rick and Scott had burst on the WWF scene a few months earlier and were way over, and these two teams meshed quite well actually.  I'll never forget the spot where Rick reversed a Doomsday Device-type move by catching Samu in midair and suplexing him off Fatu's shoulders.  Just a sick spot.

This was both craze-balls and amaze-balls

I found Crush vs. Doink inoffensive and mildly entertaining, so I'll leave that one alone.  Doink's psycho clown character was great, and so of course they turned him babyface six months later and he became a throwaway comedy act.  Dipshits.  Anywho, this match can stay just because it furthered a feud.

The History of WWE WrestleMania: 34

WrestleMania has reached its mid-30s and is starting to question its life choices as it hurtles toward midlife crisis territory....

Image result for wrestlemania 34 logo

This here was a straaaaaange WrestleMania.  At times excellent, at times frustrating, this was a show full of contradictions.  The long and short of it is, WrestleMania 34 had a slew of good to very good matches, a refreshingly renewed focus on current full-timers, a variety of bouts that appealed to the different fan segments, and a sadly few issues that prevented it from being an all-time great WrestleMania.

But man, it was really shaping up to be one of the best ever for a while.  The PPV Proper kicked off with a pretty stellar Triple Threat for the Intercontinental Title, with Finn Balor and Seth Rollins challenging The Miz.  These three worked a blistering pace, with high spots and reversals abound, and had the crowd on the edge of their seats the whole time.  Balor appeared to have the match won after a Coup de Grace on The Miz, when Rollins came out of nowhere with a Curb Stomp, knocking Balor into Miz's back, and following up with a second Curb Stomp on Miz himself for the win.  Just an excellent 15-minute-plus opener that got the crowd (who for the first half of the show was one of the better 'Mania audiences in recent memory) super-energized.

Second was the highly anticipated Smackdown Women's Title match pitting Charlotte against the undefeated Women's Rumble winner Asuka.  This was a fantastically worked match; both women looked stupendous and tough as nails.  Asuka at one point suplexed Charlotte off the apron to the floor, after which Charlotte repeated "I can't breathe" several times, and I'm not sure that wasn't legit.  Charlotte later hit a scary-looking Spanish Fly off the top rope, adding to her big move repertoire.  Asuka worked in some MMA-style submissions, countering a Charlotte moonsault into a triangle choke and later tying her up in a vicious-looking Zack Sabre-esque multi-limb hold.  Near the finish, Charlotte leveled Asuka with a spear (which looked better than any Roman's ever done), and after failing to get the three-count began crying in frustration.  She then slapped on the Figure-Eight, which Asuka fought for several moments before tapping out and taking her first-ever loss in WWE.  My initial reaction to this was "Dude. Bullshit."  But it became clear before long that the plan for 'Mania 35 was Charlotte vs. Ronda, which of course later morphed into a Triple Threat including the white-hot Becky Lynch.  So in retrospect this result made sense, even if I was pissed about it at first.  Regardless, I daresay this was the best-ever women's match at a WrestleMania up to this point.

Next up was the US Title 4-way, with Randy Orton defending against Bobby Roode, Jinder Mahal, and Rusev, who was BY FAR the most over guy in the match.  This was a nine-minute sprint, with more or less nonstop action from the get-go.  Every guy got ample time to showcase his stuff, and the finish came down to Rusev about to tap out Jinder with the Accolade before a Singh Brother jumped on the apron and ate a Rusev kick, allowing Jinder to hit the Khallas for the win.  This result made no sense given how over Rusev was, and Jinder dropped the belt to Jeff Hardy two weeks later in Saudi Arabia.  It's sad how badly they squandered Rusev.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The History of WrestleMania: 31-33

And we're past enumerated WrestleManias, moving on to symbols instead.....

Levi Stadium - 3.29.15

WrestleMania 31 (or Play Button as Vince apparently wants it known) had probably the worst buildup in over a decade.  There was almost no urgency to the product leading into this show, and my expectations were as low as I can remember for a WrestleMania.  As it turned out though, this was a very solid PPV featuring several good-to-very good matches and no real stinkers.  I've read some reviews of 'Mania 31 calling it one of the best WrestleManias of all-time (Dave Meltzer initially called it one of the best shows he's ever seen but dialed back his praise on a second viewing).  Personally I find that assessment waaaaaay overboard.  I mean let's be honest, this show was nowhere near as good as 'Manias 17 or 19.  Come on.  This PPV had several good matches but no great ones, some great results and some not so great, not nearly enough wrestling for a four-hour broadcast (The seven matches totaled about 100 minutes which is downright skimpy), and the longest match was in my opinion the worst by far.

There were two preshow matches (I will never understand why WWE can't fit nine matches on a four-hour PPV when they routinely fit eight on a three-hour one), and one of them was quite entertaining.  The Fatal 4-Way tag match had highspots galore and lots of fun tandem offense that showcased three of the four teams (Sadly Jey Uso sat out the match with a legit shoulder injury).  Cesaro & Kidd won as expected, and I liked Cesaro's douchy heel move of letting Jimmy Uso hit his finisher on Big E, tossing Jimmy out of the ring and covering E himself.  Fun way to open the festivities.

The Battle Royal on the other hand I found rather pointless.  The only participant who gained anything from it was Damien Mizdow (and by proxy The Miz I guess), when he finally turned babyface and nearly eliminated Big Show to win the whole thing.  And of course the company followed up on Mizdow's crowd support with....nothing.  Overall WWE wasted several opportunities to make some underneath guys look good - The New Day all got owned by Show and looked stupid in the process, Hideo Itami from NXT was given about thirty seconds to shine before also being punked out by Show (How pissed d'ya suppose Triple H was by this?), and finally Mizdow failed to get the job done in the end.  The announcers pushed the whole "Big Show has never won a battle royal" thing, but was anyone really clamoring to finally see that happen?  This ended up being another one of those matches that didn't help anyone.

God I miss him (*sniff*)

Moving along to the main card.  The Seven-Man I-C Ladder Match opened the show as I figured it would, and it was a fun watch that didn't really feature anything we haven't seen before.  Once it was over it was forgotten, like a run-of-the-mill Adam Sandler movie (back when he was funny).  Obviously Daniel Bryan winning the one Title he'd never held was a great moment, and had he not suffered another injury shortly thereafter I've no doubt he would've revitalized the I-C Title much as Cena did with the US.  As for the multi-man Ladder Match I think it's time to retire the concept, for a while at least.  There's simply nothing more to do with these matches.  Every conceivable high spot with ladders has been done it would seem, and each of these matches now blurs into the rest.  What's most significant about this match now is that it was Daniel Bryan's final 'Mania match, and he became a Grand Slam Champion.  Sorry, gettin' dusty in here......

Next up was one of the two high points of the night - Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins.  At the time I was flabbergasted how early this was placed, but by the end it made sense.  Orton and Rollins nearly tore the house down as expected.  The bout was fast-paced and featured multiple intricately timed spots, including a breathtaking finish.  Unfortunately these two were only given 13 minutes so the match wasn't able to get out of 3-star territory.  Had it gone five minutes longer we'd probably be looking at a Match of the Year candidate.

Those five minutes could've easily been taken away from match #3.  Personally I found Triple H vs. Sting a pretty wretched affair.  They started out having an okay match and after ten minutes it disintegrated into a total Senior's Tour clusterfuck involving DX and the nWo attempting to brawl around ringside.  The live crowd went nuts for this, but I spent the next ten minutes groaning.  In the first place this match was never supposed to be about WWF vs. WCW.  Sting even said as much in his promo.  But ol' Vince couldn't help shoehorning that tired, fifteen-year-old concept into the proceeding.  Second, why on Earth would the nWo ever rush to Sting's aid?  They were mortal enemies in WCW (minus the idiotic Wolfpac angle), and two of the three members are Hunter's best friends!  Not to mention all three are obviously working for WWE now.  None of this lunacy made any sense, and when it was over we were once again left with the takeaway "WCW are poopyheads, WWE rules!"  This match felt like it was booked by a child.  I half-expected a reveal that Will Ferrell and the kid from The Lego Movie were behind it all.

This broke the Guinness record for oldest combined age in a wrestling ring