Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New England Patriots Cheating: A Loser's Myth

by Dan Moore

The New England Patriots are the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever known. They're about to make their 8th Super Bowl appearance since 2001 with 5 wins and possibly their sixth this coming Sunday. But they are not without controversy, either real or imagined. Here now are my thoughts on all the alleged cheating, scandals and referee help they've received since their run began almost twenty years ago.


Ah yes, the Tuck Rule game. The game where a rule was applied correctly and everyone lost their shit. The rule that earlier in the year went against the Patriots. The rule that was applied in a divisional round game, a full two games before the Super Bowl, that allowed the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Yes, that rule. 

Raiders fans would have you believe this is what the play actually looked like. 

You wanna bitch that the rule sucks? I’m with you. You wanna say the Pats got lucky that game? Abso-fuckin’-lutley. But don’t give me any of this bullshit that the Raiders got cheated out of the Super Bowl when they couldn’t even take care of business two fucking games before the big one. There was 1:50 left in the game. Oakland could've, ya know, stopped the Pats. Or maybe stopped them in overtime. But that gets left out when you talk about this game BECAUZ WE WUZ CHEATED (Also, let me remind you, the big bad Raiders, who totes woulda won the Super Bowl in 2001 if not for the refs cheating them out of the Super Bowl 8 whole quarters before it began, made it to the Super Bowl in 2002 and got their fucking doors blown off 48-21 by Tampa Bay so suck a boner, you Raiders crybabies). 


This is the one. The big one. The lie that still gets repeated to this day. The Patriots were reported to have taped a practice the Rams had the weekend of the Super Bowl, by breathing tub of goo John Tomase.

The man's a goblin

A fat, curly haired nobody who decided that journalism doesn’t matter as long as you’re first to report whatever tripe you hear in a bar room. Tomase did no research and said “Eh fuck it, Pats taped practices." And this is the nonsense you hear from every other jealous fanbase about the Patriots. The man lied about it, made no real apology and SOMEHOW is still employed in the Boston media. It makes no fucking sense and I hope he gets paper cuts on that little web section of his hand in between his fingers.

(Also, read this if you wanna know all about this nonsense )

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The WrestleMania Main Event: No New People Allowed

So I'm getting ready for work this morning and my mind wanders, as it does more frequently than I care to admit, to the subject of pro wrestling (Oh CHRIST, here he goes again....).  Specifically I was thinking about WWE's inability over the past decade-plus to create new top stars, and how that correlates with who gets to main event The Show of Shows, WrestleMania.  The idea popped in my head once again that, wow, no matter what happens to him from here, whether his in-ring career resumes or not, Daniel Bryan got to headline WrestleMania.  It's an honor bestowed on so few, and he's one of them.  Forever.

The fact that these guys got to main event 'Mania but Punk didn't is just unreal.

But then I decided to go back over all the 'Manias since the show was created 33 years ago and count exactly how many men got to main event the spring spectacular.  Just how exclusive is this club?  And the numbers are pretty striking when you think about them.  The overall total is 33, which is an average of one new guy per year.  But it's the decade-by-decade numbers that are really telling.  First let's review exactly who's on this list and then I'll show you how revealing this trend is as it pertains to WWE's stagnant star factory.  I'll give you some totals after each ten years of Manias.

The following is a list of NEW WrestleMania main event participants by year:

WrestleMania I: Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Mr. T

WrestleMania 2: King Kong Bundy

WrestleMania III: Andre the Giant

WrestleMania IV: Randy Savage, Ted Dibiase

(WM5 had Hogan and Savage, who had both headlined before)

WrestleMania VI: Ultimate Warrior

WrestleMania VII: Sgt. Slaughter

WrestleMania VIII: Sid Justice

WrestleMania IX: Bret Hart, Yokozuna

(WM10 had a rematch of the WM9 main event)

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Power of the Pin 1.29.18: The Last Days of Lesnar

Welcome to a special guest column from Ryan K Boman of  Ryan K. Boman is the co- founder of Lecrettia Media Services, a content and marketing firm that specializes in sports & entertainment promotion.  He began writing professionally in 1990 at the age of 14. As a syndicated columnist and feature writer, his work has appeared in The Miami Herald, AdWeek, SB Nation, The Southern Illinoisan and

by Ryan K. Boman

As we come churning to the end of the WWE calendar and look towards WrestleMania, we’ve already answered one major question: Shinsuke Nakamura will face AJ Styles for the WWE Championship on the company’s signature stage.

For "smart fans," it must have felt like it was raining candy, hearing Nakamura utter those three syllables after he won The Royal Rumble last night. And for Smackdown, as a brand, it’s another opportunity to surpass its older brother, RAW, with the world watching. Based on their past encounters in Japan, there’s no reason to believe that The Artist and The Phenomenal One won’t play a tune in New Orleans that will have the wrestling audience singing.

Which brings us to the dance card of the current Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar. With a showstopping match already set in the other world title scene, what does WrestleMania have in store for Brock? And even more importantly, what comes afterwards?

Earlier this year, speculation was swirling that Lesnar might be riding out his contract with World Wrestling Entertainment until his UFC suspension was over. The theory, some fans surmised, was that he was simply collecting a paycheck until he could return to a ‘real sport’. Fueling that chatter  was some sniping over the summer between Lesnar and former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, leading fans to believe the two were hyping a potential MMA fight. That buzz died down when Jones was suspended for a drug violation himself.

Lesnar has made comments in the past that indicate he feels he’d be taken more seriously as a legitimate combat fighter, as opposed to a sports entertainer. Despite his rough, ‘I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn’ exterior, it’s clear that Lesnar’s legacy as an athlete (real or otherwise) is important to him. His foray several years ago into football was a sign of that natural, competitive streak; he had never played football at the collegiate level, yet still hung with the Vikings before eventually being cut.

WWE Royal Rumble 2018: Nakamura, Asuka and RONDA ROUSEY

Well.  It seems WWE has rediscovered how to put on a fun Royal Rumble.  TWO in fact.  For a while there the Rumble had become one of my least favorite events on their calendar, but between last year's pretty great show (with admittedly the wrong ending) and last night's pretty great show (with the exact right results across the board), the Royal Rumble has officially returned to form.  There was nary a bad match on the main card, both Rumbles delivered, there were memorable moments abound, lots of fun surprise entrants, a clear direction for WrestleMania, and a monumental debut to end the show.

First up, oddly, was the WWE Title match.  AJ Styles defended against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, in a crisply worked 16-minute match.  Nothing spectacular here, but the three of them worked well together and AJ even got to bust out his moonsault-reverse DDT combo (which I don't remember seeing since his WWE debut two years ago).  Styles retained after countering an Owens pop-up powerbomb into a roll-up, but Owens and Zayn protested since Owens technically hadn't tagged into the match.  Solid opener.

Next was the Smackdown Tag Title match (SD kinda got shafted with this lineup; both of their bouts went on first), as The Usos defended against Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin.  The Usos have been on fire and this continued that trend.  Energetic, fast-paced and well-booked, with a shocking two straight falls for Jimmy and Jey, this was a fine undercard match.  I liked that the first fall was long and the second fall was surprisingly short - it was realistic and defied the typical structure for a 2/3 Falls match.

The men's Royal Rumble was third out of six, which was pretty baffling until the end of the show when it was made clear why.  I dare say this was the best Rumble match of the past decade, if not longer.  The booking of this match was predictable in a good way; everyone who should've gotten to shine did.  The final five ended up being the five most plausible winners.  Finn Balor entered at number 2 and made the final four, having lasted 57+ minutes.  And of course Shinsuke Nakamura got his WWE career-defining moment by outlasting both John Cena and Roman Reigns to win the whole thing (after 44 minutes of in-ring time).  It seems my WrestleMania wish is coming true - AJ vs. Nakamura will tear the house down.  This is how you book a Royal Rumble match in 2018.  Other notes: Rey Mysterio looked better than he has in probably ten years and I wouldn't mind seeing him return as a part-timer.  Andrade Almas and Adam Cole both had good showings and it was great to see the NXT guests not geeked out on the main roster for a change.  Fuck you Comcast, for my internet going out RIGHT AT THE END OF THE MATCH.  Anyway, this was a pretty fantastic Rumble match that ranks up there with the 1992 and 2004 editions.

Participants: Rusev, Finn Balor, Rhyno, Baron Corbin, Heath Slater, Elias, Andrade Almas, Bray Wyatt, Big E, Sami Zayn, Sheamus, Xavier Woods, Apollo Crews, Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, Kofi Kingston, Jinder Mahal, Seth Rollins, Matt Hardy, John Cena, The Hurricane, Aiden English, Adam Cole, Randy Orton, Titus O'Neil, The Miz, Rey Mysterio, Roman Reigns, Goldust, Dolph Ziggler
Final Four: Shinsuke Nakamura, Roman Reigns, John Cena, Finn Balor
Long Man: Finn Balor (57:30)

The match given the unenviable post-Rumble spot was Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan vs. The Bar.  I didn't really see any of this match except the finish, thanks to Comcast and my piece of shit wifi modem.  By the time I got back online the match was almost over.  From what I understand it was passable and served its purpose in furthering the Rollins-Jordan feud.  And The Bar regained the straps as they should have.  So no complaints there.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 10 (2015-2017)

We're almost up to date.  Read on.....

Royal Rumble - First Union Center - 1.25.15

For the second straight year Vince McMahon's stubborn tone-deafness backfired on him at the Royal Rumble.  The egregiousness of the booking was even worse than 2014's Rumble, and here's why: at least in 2014 an argument could be made that WWE didn't realize how badly Batista's comeback and Rumble win would be received.  I mean, those of us with the capacity for logical thought knew Batista's return wasn't going to galvanize the fanbase like Vince hoped, and that 2014 was clearly Daniel Bryan's time.  But WWE realized they'd made a mistake and worked diligently to correct it, and eventually we got the WrestleMania we deserved.  But WWE learned nothing from this fiasco apparently, as you'll see.

Before I go on any further about this turd of a Rumble match, let's recap the undercard.

The Ascension experiment fell on its face out of the gate, as the fans didn't buy these two generic-looking Indie-style midcarders as the second coming of the Road Warriors.  But no matter, they still got a decisive win over The New Age Outlaws.  This stunk.  Moving on.

Another tag match followed, this one a WWE Tag Title match between The Usos and Team Mizdow.  Not bad but not much more than a run-of-the-mill RAW match.

Third time's the charm?  Not so much.  The Bella Twins faced Paige & Natalya in the third consecutive tag match on this show, and while probably the best bout so far, this also wasn't much to tell the grandkids about.

Amazingly, a memorable and awesome match broke out in the semi-main slot, as WWE Champ Brock Lesnar defended against John Cena and Seth Rollins.  Man, what a stunningly worked match.  All three guys wrestled like this was the main event of WrestleMania, packing the bout with non-stop action, near-falls, and high spots.  Lesnar dominated early with German suplexes galore (including a double GS on Rollins flunkies Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury) before being put through a table by Rollins mid-match.  Rollins would then turn in a career performance, nearly defeating John Cena for the Title if not for Lesnar's third-act comeback.  Lesnar finally finished off Rollins by countering a Curb Stomp with an F5, retaining the Title and capping off his best match since SummerSlam 2013.  One of the best Triple Threats I've ever seen.

Had the Rumble match been anywhere near as good as the three-way this PPV would've been saved.  Alas it wasn't good.  At all.

Friday, January 26, 2018

NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another edition of NXT Predictions, here at, where Landon Wayne and I break down the latest TakeOver special from the one good brand under the WWE umbrella.

I gotta be honest, I haven't been keeping up with NXT current events very well these days, and it's not easy when the main roster has scooped up so much of their top talents.  NXT's been in a rebuilding phase for the last six months or so, and while the wrestling quality is always very good to excellent, it's felt like a developmental brand again, which hadn't been true since before the Owens-Zayn signings.  That said, TakeOver: Philadelphia is looking like a pretty terrific show.

Let's get to it.

Kassius Ohno vs. Velveteen Dream

This match was just officially announced last night.  Dream has been quite the breakout young star of late, with monster charisma and a great grasp of his character.  He had an unexpected show stealer with Aleister Black at the last TakeOver, and many were sad he didn't win that match.  Well I think this will be his consolation prize.  Dream is a hot commodity and now's the time to give him his first major win.

Justin: Dream
Landon: Dream wins. No offense to my personal Hero, but Kassius is here in the player coach role mostly I feel. I don't know if he'll ever make it to the main roster or not.

NXT Tag Team Championship: Undisputed Era vs. Authors of Pain

Hmm, which tag team name is better, reDRagon or Undisputed Era?  What precisely about this era is undisputed?  Or does the name suggest that there's no dispute that this is indeed an era?  What asshole came up with this name?  It sucks.  If you're not gonna use reDRagon, at least come up with something similar.  Or something that references Ring of Honor, like Code of Honor maybe.  Just something.  Christ.  Anyway this should be a fine contest.  AoP have come a very long way since their 2016 debut.  O'Reilly and Fish are the balls.  This could be the sleeper hit of the show.

Justin: reDRagon retain, as I think AoP are main roster-bound sooner rather than later.
Landon: reDRagon

WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Preview & Predictions

Welcome to the first round of main roster WWE predictions of 2018!  It's January, and that means it's time for the Royal Rumble, traditionally the one PPV a year WWE hasn't sucked all the fun out of......except in 2014 and 2015.

It's a somewhat unpredictable field this year, as other than the obvious choice of Roman Reigns (whose second Rumble win would be met with scorn and violence in the same building in which his first occurred three years ago, so get it out of your fucking heads WWE), there are multiple potential winners.  Look, we all know Roman's fighting Brock at WrestleMania, so there's no fun in having him win the Rumble.  It has to be a Smackdown guy takin' it down again on his way to facing AJ.  Unless of course WWE has some curve ball in mind.  And WWE curve balls always suck.  They suck balls, in fact.

This will also be the first Rumble event to feature TWO Rumble matches, as the women are getting their own match.  This could be fun.  I'm sure we'll see some cameos in that match from former WWE women's stars.  I also imagine this match will be of the 1-minute-intervals variety, so as not to burn out the crowd before the men's Rumble.

But let's get to some predictions.  Side note: Thank Christ we'll be spared that awful Cruiserweight Title match they had planned.  Fuck Enzo.

***I'm leading with 74/103 (71.8%), Landon's on my heels with 64/91 (70%), Dave's third with 47/69 (68%), and Dan's in the caboose with 63/103 (61%)***

Smackdown Tag Team Championship 2/3 Falls Match: The Usos vs. Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable

Man, how much better would this be if it were American Alpha still?  I've always liked Benjamin but Jordan & Gable had such great chemistry as a team.  I'm still baffled.  Anyway, this should be a fun tag match as long as each fall is given time (WWE has this habit of rushing through 2/3 Falls matches and making them totally unrealistic).  This match could go either way but I'm sticking with the champs here because of what I think is gonna happen in the next match....

Justin: The Usos retain
Dan: Yes
Landon: Fuck, I'm behind on Smackdown...uhh.....Usos cause nothing matters to me about this company besides beating Justin in predictions.
Dave: Usos

RAW Tag Team Championship: Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan vs. The Bar

Dean Ambrose's injury really effed everything up, huh?  Rollins & Jordan has to be the most random tag title pairing since Cena and David Otunga.  Anyway this match should be quite good given the talent involved.  The rumored plan is for a Rollins-Jordan match at Mania, which is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, that could be a pretty great little match.  On the other, THAT'S the best you have for Seth Rollins?  At any rate, it makes sense for The Bar to win the staps back and begin the breakup of this unlikely babyface team.

Justin: The Bar
Dan: JR retain
Landon: Rollins and Jordan retain
Dave: The Bar.....mmmm, beer.....

WWE Championship Handicap Match: AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

I hate handicap matches.  So, so much.  Why couldn't this just be a triple threat?  It'd be great.  Nope, RAW already has one of those even though that one should just be a singles match.  Fuck this shit.  Soo, clearly Owens and Zayn end up not being able to get it together and I'm guessing it all leads to a Mania match between them.  No complaints there, but wouldn't a 3-way here accomplish the exact same goal?  This will be yet another case of the Shane nonsense getting in the way of a good match from these guys.

Justin: AJ retains
Dan: Fuck it, KO & Sami
Landon: AJ Styles
Dave: AJ, I mean, come on.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The XFL is Back, BABY!!!

by Dan Moore


Vince McMahon just announced the return of his formerly ill-fated and all but forgotten sports venture, the XFL. That's right, the football league with WRASSLIN' commentators and big old floppity titties is coming back.

She plays for the New Jersey Hindenburgs

I dunno about you but while I wait for the Super Bowl to commence in about a week, this announcement of a sub-par football league coming back is really getting my gonads a-moving. I for one cannot wait to see a team fumbling punt returns and throwing short on 3rd and long every time (like Andy Reid!). 

And holy shit can you imagine what the silly nicknames could be on the back of the jerseys nowadays??!?! Yea, me neither cause they could be real fucking names. There is 100% a kid SOMEWHERE in America named He Hate Me. I guaran-fuckin'-tee it. 

SHALOM! It is I, He Hate Me Blumsack!

I have no idea why Vince hates money, cause this thing is probably gonna fail AGAIN. He's spending $100 million bucks to televise third rate football games WITHOUT my man Johnny Manziel. I mean, WHAT??!?! Vince said that nobody with a criminal background can be in the league. That's like 95% of the SEC. Who's gonna be in this league, soccer players?!?!


Regardless, I'll still watch this piece of shit league for three reasons. 

A. I love football

2. I love train-wrecks

D. You're outside of your mind if you think I'm gonna miss Tim Tebow suiting up for the Corpus Chisti Christ-O's.

"Christ is the only Hail Mary I need...wait a minute..."

NJPW The New Beginning 2018 Preview & Predictions

New Beginnings are coming in a few days. Three nights, every title on the line at some point. Going through all of the matches at once would give me a hemorrhage cause ain't nobody got time for that. So we're distilling the important matches out of each night and talking about them. I'm running behind on my own blog, so let's jump right in with Sapporo.

The New Beginning in Sapporo, Night 1, 1/27/18

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Championship [1st Defense]
Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa (Bullet Club) (c) vs. Togi Makabe, Toa Henare & Ryusuke Taguchi (Taguchi Japan)

Landon: Bullet Club keeps the belts here, I hope. This shit needs to stop bouncing back and forth between teams, and this is probably the best use for Fale and the Tongas. Let their reign be long and chaotic.
Justin: The title that never stops moving.  I guess it's fine that this title exists because it gives a tiny bit of significance to one six-man schmozz on each show, but that's diminishing with each title change.  Instead of a barely cobbled together six-man division I wish NJPW would introduce a women's division.  That would preclude the necessity for so many multi-man tags on these big shows, plus it would potentially be yet another case of NJPW showing WWE how it's done.  Bullet Club retains I guess.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship [5th Defense]
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Minoru Suzuki (Suzuki-Gun)

Landon: I know this is like the fourth time I've said this but I don't care. Tanahashi is hurt and his elbow is made out of  broken glass wrapped in paper. Put the belt on Suzuki and let it ride for a year. Get the belt off of the poor man, now.
Justin: Man, Tanahashi is STILL holding onto that arm.  At this point it must look like Homer Simpson DIY spice rack.

I have to think Suzuki is the man who finally dethrones him so he can take some time off.  Suzuki may have lost the NEVER belt but this would be a helluva bounceback.  Suzuki wins.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mike's Oscar Thoughts 2018

by Michael Drinan

Ladies and gentlemen….it’s Oscar season! After a year full of great films, the nominations for Academy Awards were announced and now we get to discuss. So, here are a few of my thoughts.

First, a huge shout out to Rachel Morrison for becoming the first woman to be nominated in the Best Cinematography category for Mudbound. She also filmed Fruitvale Station, another really good, deeply emotional film. Highly recommend, that one.


I didn’t make it out to the theaters as much as I had in years past, which caused me to have only seen one of the Best Picture nominees, which was Get Out. (which was excellent BTW) I’m going to try and see more before the show so I can be better informed when making my predictions.

For me, this category didn’t really have any surprises. I’ve heard great things about each and every one of the nominees so it’s going to be very interesting to see how it all shakes out. At the moment Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, for me are the frontrunners here, with Call Me By Your Name and The Shape of Water being dark horses.


I really feel the Best Director Award is Greta Gerwig’s to lose, for not only making a critically and universally adored film, but after her strikingly incomprehensible absence in this category at the Golden Globes, I feel she’ll get the votes. If not, Guillermo Del Toro might get it. My money’s on Gerwig.


Original Screenplay is going to be a great category to watch. It is filled with excellent films, with great scripts. I don’t know who is going to win but I do know which film isn’t going to win. As much as I loved The Big Sick, for its humor, real-world situation and characters, diversity and intellect, it is up against a very, very tough field. I’m very happy Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani were recognized for their excellent screenplay. They deserved it.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Hardships of Being a New England Patriots Fan

by Dan Moore

The New England Patriots vanquished the Jacksonville Jaguars to move on to their record 10th Super Bowl. It is their 3rd in the last 4 years and their 8th since 2000. It is a spectacular run the likes of which has never been seen in professional football. But I'm not here today to talk about how awesome the Pats are or how beautiful Tom Brady is or how big a johnson Bill Belichick has. No. I've done all that.

I'm here to talk about how awful this is for us Pats fans. I mean, this winning all the time really takes a toll on all of us. Here are my major gripes about the Patriots being the greatest team in football ever:


Figuring out where to go for the Super Bowl usually isn't that tough. Mainly because your loser teams aren't in it. But we here in New England hafta figure it out yearly. Do you know how hard that is? I mean, do you go to someone's house or a bar? Do you order pizza AND wings (yes)? And what kind of drugs are allowed? Are you at some loser's house where you can only smoke weed? Or at a cool guy's house, a guy named Tank, where the cocaine falls freely like a snowstorm? These things take planning and it's not easy to plan the biggest party of the year every year.


See this here?

WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT. I had this banner for like 8 minutes before it became useless. So I replaced it with this.  

Now with the Pats going back to the Super Bowl, there's a strong likelihood that this banner will also become pointless. Just another jizz rag in the jerkoff store of life. I find it rude, nay, downright IMPOLITE of the Patriots to continue to be so dominant that they make me buy new banners and shirts every year just so I can keep up with all the championships. I'm fucking broke over here. 

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 9 (2012-2014)

Welcome to part 9.  Mediocrity ensues.  In terms of the Rumble events, not my writing.  You know it and you love it.  Let's get on with it....

Royal Rumble 2012 - Scottrade Center - 1.29.12

What a phoned-in show this was.  Considering the company had two excellent World Champions in January 2012 they sure put on a shoddy Rumble PPV.  An undercard with only one really good match (which was underwhelming), and a Rumble match featuring one of the worst lineups in history.  Let's examine this turd.  God, even the poster for it sucks.

The show opened, as so many PPVs of the time did, with the World Title match.  New Champion and smarmy dickish heel Daniel Bryan defended in a steel cage against two of the biggest men on the roster, Mark Henry and The Big Show.  The match told a good story and much of it consisted of Bryan using any weasely tactic possible to evade a toe-to-toe fight.  But at under ten minutes and with two massive opponents Bryan was hardly put in a show-stealing position.  This was okay, and the right guy won.

The obligatory Divas match was next as Beth Phoenix and Natalya (dubbed The Divas of Doom) teamed with the Bella twins against Kelly Kelly, Eve Torres, Alicia Fox and Tamina Snuka.  The DoD were the primary focus of the division at this point and seemed poised for a good heel run which would lead to a Beth vs. Natalya match at WrestleMania.  Alas none of that came to fruition and Natalya was saddled with an "uncontrollable gas" gimmick (who wouldn't get over with that?) while Beth got the privilege of being pinned cleanly by talk show host Maria Menounos at 'Mania 28.  Lovely.  This match was what it was, i.e. five minutes of "meh."

The ill-conceived John Cena vs. Kane feud was kicked off third.  Typical WWE nondescript brawl ending in a double countout, necessitating a rematch in February.  Given how thin the Rumble roster was, couldn't these two have just been included there?

Do I have your attention now?

Oh lovely, a squash match is next.  Brodus Clay (Remember him?  He was gonna be a huge deal.) destroyed Drew McIntyre (Remember him?  He was gonna be a huge deal.) in 65 seconds.  Thus began the disturbing 2012 trend of routinely including squash matches on PPV.

The one highlight of the evening was the WWE Title match pitting CM Punk against Dolph Ziggler, with GM John Laurinitis serving as the guest ringside enforcer.  I'm not sure what company officials were smoking when they elected to give Johnny Ace an on-air role, but he was terrible.  Like embarrassingly bad at everything.  And this is a guy who used to be a moderately successful wrestler.  This match was fine but the Johnny L bullcrap got in the way and they weren't given enough time to knock one out of the park.  Punk retained at about 14:30.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 8 (2009-2011)

Welcome back to our Royal Rumble History retrospective!  We've come to the end of the 2000s!

Royal Rumble 2009 - Joe Louis Arena - 1/25/09

Here's a rather tepid event if I've ever seen one.  The 2009 Rumble was thoroughly mediocre and frankly not all that memorable.  It had a series of middling undercard matches followed by a Rumble match where nearly all the big names entered early and overstayed their welcome.

The opener was a match for the now-defunct ECW Title, as new monster heel Jack Swagger (a guy in whom I saw tremendous potential at the time) vs. Matt Hardy.  This was a solid match that showcased the All-American American pretty well.

The All-American American, JACK THHHHHHWAGGER!!

Next was a Women's Title match featuring Beth Phoenix defending against Melina.  Your basic six-minute Divas match.  Melina captured the belt.

Third was one of the weaker World Title matches in recent memory as John Cena faced JBL.  This was against the backdrop of a godawful JBL-Shawn Michaels feud, in which Michaels supposedly had financial problems and was hired by JBL to help him win the World Title.  First off, Shawn had been a WWE employee on and off for 20 years and was easily one of the higher-paid stars in 2009.  Are we supposed to believe he's in such financial peril he'd accept a manservant position working for another wrestler?  The feud was awful and this match was devoid of suspense since obviously JBL wasn't winning the Championship.

The best undercard match of the night was WWE Champ Jeff Hardy defending against Edge.  This was a well-worked 19-minute match with a lame ending.  It was rumored leading into this that the returning Christian would interfere and cost Jeff the Title, leading to a feud between them.  Instead WWE opted to have Matt Hardy (who had just wrestled earlier as a babyface) turn against Jeff so they could fight at 'Mania, and then make up a month later.  Nevermind that Edge's longtime best friend Christian would have a much more logical reason for helping Edge.  The Hardy vs. Hardy feud yielded a couple decent PPV matches but was a terribly ill-conceived angle.

The Rumble match itself had a strong cast of characters but unfortunately too many of the top stars entered early in the bout and almost all of them lasted well over 30 minutes (four of them lasted over 45!).  The result was a Rumble with the same faces being present throughout the duration and essentially no potential winners entering during the later portions.  Look, I'm all for having one or two guys last a long time in the Rumble but when it's six or seven it removes the specialness of the accomplishment.  If all the top guys can stay in 30-45 minutes, the Rumble must not be that grueling a match.  It was a different way of booking the Rumble but overall I didn't think it worked.  The final four were Orton and his two Legacy partners Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase, against Triple H.  Hunter somehow survived this 3-on-1 scenario long enough to dump out Cody and Ted, but was ultimately ousted by Orton.  The next two months featured a ludicrously-booked Triple H-Randy Orton feud culminating in one of the worst-received WrestleMania main events in history.

....And that's for kickin' me out of Evolution!!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 7 (2006-2008)

Welcome back to and our Royal Rumble History!  We've entered the John Cena Era!

Royal Rumble 2006 - American Airlines Arena - 1/29/06

Aaaaand we're back to another one-match Rumble PPV.  The 2006 edition featured a flat-out abysmal undercard with not one but two shitty Title matches, BOTH OF WHICH went on after the Rumble itself.  That's correct, the Royal Rumble went on fourth out of six.  Unbelievable.

The show opened with a decent enough Cruiserweight Six-Way match, as Kid Kash defended against Gregory Helms (having shed his Hurricane gimmick), Funaki, Nunzio, Jamie Noble and Paul London.  This went just shy of eight minutes but was a fun opener.  Helms got the pin to capture the Title and was set up for a promising heel run.  Unfortunately, as was common with Cruiserweight Champions, the company more or less forgot about him.

Next was a nigh unwatchable women's match as hot new heel Mickie James (who was amazing in this role) faced glorified model Ashley Massaro, with Women's Champ Trish Stratus as guest referee.  Utterly pointless, and even a talented worker like Mickie couldn't carry Ashley to a passable bout.  But ya know, Ashley was on the cover of Playboy so they had to feature her heavily.

Another throwaway was next as The Boogeyman defeated former WWE Champion JBL in just under two minutes.  The Boogeyman character was cartoonish but well executed, however the performer Marty Wright couldn't wrestle a lick.  Just dreadful.

Fourth out of six was the Rumble match.  This edition centered around the tasteless exploitation of Eddie Guerrero's death two months earlier, as Rey Mysterio had begun dedicating everything he did to Eddie, repeatedly talking to the ceiling on camera.  Mysterio delivered a career performance here though, drawing number 2, going coast-to-coast, and breaking Chris Benoit's longevity record.  The match boiled down to Rey, Triple H (who drew #1), and Randy Orton.  Rey as usual played the underdog to perfection, outmaneuvering both heels to win the match.  This appeared to be setting up Rey vs. Kurt Angle at WrestleMania, which would've been spectacular, but unfortunately the company added Randy Orton to the World Title mix and then only gave the three guys 9 minutes at 'Mania.  Rey would go on to have one of the worst World Title runs ever booked.  Anywho, this Rumble match was well-done and made Rey look great for one night at least.  Other highlights included the returning Rob Van Dam, and both members of MNM having impressive stints.

Rey beat two-thirds of Evolution in one match.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 6 (2003-2005)

Here we go with Part 6 of The History of WWE Royal Rumble!

Royal Rumble 2003 - FleetCenter - 1.19.03

What a perfect illustration of how much better Paul Heyman's Smackdown was than RAW in 2003.  The '03 Rumble holds a special place for me because I was in attendance.  The WWE product at this point had spectacular highs coupled with absolutely dreadful lows, and this PPV showcased both.

The big story of this Rumble was the mega-face push of Brock Lesnar, who had been betrayed by Paul Heyman two months earlier (in one of the most nonsensical angles of the era), and who was now returning from a brief injury.  The opening match was a Rumble qualifier between Lesnar and The Big Show which, while better than their Survivor Series '02 encounter was still only about six minutes.  But it accomplished what it needed to and provided a decisive win for Lesnar on his way to the Rumble.

Next was a Tag Title throwaway - The Dudley Boyz defeated William Regal and Lance Storm for the straps.  This was inoffensive but pretty dull.

Third was the culmination of probably the worst storyline of 2002 - Torrie Wilson vs. Dawn Marie.  Weeks earlier it was revealed that Dawn had been banging Torrie's father Al, and there was a storyline wedding complete with Al Wilson stripping down to his skivvies (Just what we all wanted to see!).  A week or so later Al "died" while he and Dawn were on their honeymoon, specifically during the physical act of love.  Torrie blamed Dawn for killing her father and thus we were subjected to this matchup.  Three and a half minutes of pointless.

But at least Torrie vs. Dawn was bad and short, unlike our next bout.

The World Championship would be decided between Triple H and the latest WCW import, Scott Steiner.  Steiner had debuted awkwardly at Survivor Series and after a pretend bidding war between the WWE brands, showed up on RAW and announced that he was contracted to get a Title shot.  Now I could be wrong about this but I'm pretty sure he didn't wrestle a single solitary match leading up to this one.  And it's clear no one in WWE bothered to watch any of his late WCW bouts, because I can't imagine he'd have been in line for a main event push based on any of those "classics."  The RAW team must've been desperate for someone to feud with Hunter, since they'd buried all the top babyfaces over the previous four months.  I guess maybe they should've presented Booker, Kane or RVD as worthy challengers at Survivor Series, hmm?  It was also baffling that they took this Big Poppa Pump character, a 'roided-up freak who used uncomfortable sexual humor to get crowd heat, and tried to make him a likable babyface.  There was nothing heroic about Scott Steiner in this incarnation, and therefore no reason to want to see him beat up Triple H.  Plus the horrific buildup to this match consisted of posedowns, arm wrestling challenges and gibberish Steiner promos, resembling a late 80s Ultimate Warrior feud, and not in a good way.

How much did these two spend on PEDs that year?

During the match intros the live crowd gave Steiner a lukewarm reception and popped pretty big for Hunter despite him being the heel.  But their reaction changed within the first few minutes of the match, when it became clear what a shit-show we were all watching.  By the end of this clumsy, repetitive crapfest the entire FleetCenter audience was booing both guys, and after botching some suplexes and being clearly winded for much of the bout, Steiner's days as a main event babyface were numbered. 

Look it's Kurt Angle slapping the Anklelock on some dude.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

At the risk of sounding imprudent, I think the Best Picture Oscar for 2017 has been decided, in my mind at least.  I still have a lot of catching up to do with the current crop of Oscar bait movies, but I frankly can't fathom a 2017 film outshining Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  Martin McDonagh's black comedy powderkeg is a Coen-esque masterpiece, boasting an absolutely stacked cast, a sardonic, brutally frank sense of humor, multiple knife-twisting plot turns, and maybe most significantly a career highlight lead performance from Frances McDormand.  Sweet Jeezus this movie's brilliant.

Three Billboards concerns a divorced mother, Midred Hayes, whose daughter Angela was raped and killed months earlier, now outraged that the murderer has still not been found.  She rents out the titular billboards near her house, asking the local sheriff (a compelling-as-always Woody Harrelson) why he hasn't done anything about it.  This throws the town into an uproar, as Mildred's ad campaign is seen as an attack on law enforcement, and the pressure is on to solve the case but also to punish Midred's impudence.  What follows is a contentious, often violent power struggle, during which we're treated to one unforgettable scene after another and introduced to numerous memorable characters.  There's the dimwitted loose cannon Deputy Dixon (an Oscar-worthy Sam Rockwell), who's already been accused of torturing black suspects, or Mildred's abusive ex-husband Charlie, who sides with the police and blames Midred for Angela's death, or Red, the mealy-mouthed advertising agent from whom Mildred rents the billboards and who the police pressure to revoke her lease.  It's rare to find this deep a roster of supporting characters.

I won't go into much more plot detail than that; part of the joy and sadness in watching this film lies in the numerous surprises.  The story does not at all unfold the way one would expect, the script finds laughs in some very unexpected places, and high tension between characters is conjured before you even know what hit you.

Thematically the films deals with the senselessness of tragedy, our powerlessness in the face of it, and both the destructiveness and effectiveness born of carrying around all that anger.  Mildred is a pillar of righteous rage, bringing to task a local police force that seems too busy harassing local citizenry to be interested in solving her daughter's murder.  In her mind she has nothing left to lose, which manifests as a pervading aura of anarchic free will.  No matter what the police or anyone else threatens her with, she is not in the least bit intimidated.  Mildred acts the way we all wish we could when confronted with injustice; her anger gives her incredible power.

There's nary a misstep in the performances either.  Sam Rockwell nearly steals the show as the loathsome, degenerate Deputy, revealing sympathetic character traits that confound expectations.  Harrelson as Police Chief Willoughby could've been a villainous hick caricature, but instead is both authoritative and reasonable.  John Hawkes as Charlie is hardened and frightening, a violent bastard of a husband.  And McDormand.....Frances McDormand's terse, internalized performance is awe-inspiring and may be the best of her career.

Martin McDonagh has amazingly taken seemingly divergent narrative tones and woven them together to make a uniquely hilarious, unnerving, heartbreaking film.  If there's a better movie than Three Billboards in 2017 I can't wait to see it.

I give the film **** out of ****.

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The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 5 (2000-2002)

Welcome back to's Royal Rumble History as we kick off the new millennium!

Royal Rumble 2000 - Madison Square Garden - 1.23.00

Night and day.  That's how I'd compare the WWF product from 1999 to 2000.  After Vince Russo left, overly contrived angles, abbreviated matches, and a lack of focus on in-ring all went out the window.  In their place were excellent matches, a blossoming talent pool, and storylines that made sense.  The 2000 Royal Rumble was the perfect way to kick off what was probably the best single year in the company's history.

The first match saw new WWF star Kurt Angle against a mystery opponent.  The roof came off MSG as the surprise was revealed to be former ECW Champion Tazz.  While I hated, HATED the extra "z" in his name, Tazz made short work of Angle with a dominant three-minute win.  Sadly this was the last time Tazz was used correctly as a WWF wrestler.  He faded into the midcard almost immediately after this and transitioned into an announcer role.

An unlikely Match of the Year candidate was next as The Hardy Boyz faced The Dudley Boyz in the first-ever Tables Match.  These two teams cut the most blistering pace I'd ever seen, assembling a dizzying array of death-defying high spots which climaxed with Jeff Hardy performing a Swanton off the loge entranceway onto Bubba Ray, and through two tables.  This match would be the prototype for the TLC series.

Shit's about to get real.

An ill-conceived bikini contest took up ten minutes of valuable airtime and culminated in Mae Young taking her top off, to the delight of no one.

The I-C Title was next, as co-Champions Chris Jericho and Chyna (such a dumb angle, don't ask) faced Bob Holly in a Triple Threat to determine the Undisputed I-C Champ.  Not sure why Holly was included - surely the co-Champs should've settled their feud one-on-one.  Anyway, Jericho prevailed.

A throwaway Tag Title match was next, as The New Age Outlaws had a quick two-minute win against the Acolytes.

The semi-main went to the WWF Title match.  New heel Champion Triple H, whose main event run had thus far been shaky at best, set out to prove that he did indeed belong at the top of the roster by taking on Cactus Jack in a Street Fight.  Much as he had done to establish The Rock as a main event heel in 1999, Mick Foley went above and beyond to cement Triple H as a new headliner worthy of carrying the company into the next decade.  Triple H himself proved he was more than just a cowardly heel Champion by taking vast sums of punishment over the course of this 27-minute bout.  This match featured one of the more grotesque endings I've seen, as Foley took a Pedigree face-first onto a pile of thumbtacks.  This was the match where I became a full-on Triple H fan (until mid-2002 that is).  Also a Match of the Year candidate (though I think their Hell in a Cell match at No Way Out was even better).

Dude.  Thumbtacks in face.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Top Ten Things: Film Trilogies

Welcome to yet another Top Ten Things, here at where I blather on about ten what-have-yous and why I like them.  Today we're back on the topic of movies!

Specifically I'm talking about film trilogies.  The trilogy is one of the most popular narrative forms for the film medium; there's a kind of magic to the sequence of Beginning, Middle and End, which I'm guessing stems from the traditional three-act play structure.  Act 1 sets up the characters, settings and conflicts, Act 2 expands on them and usually puts the protagonists in some kind of danger, and Act 3 resolves everything and hopefully brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.  Understandably the third part of a film trilogy is most often the toughest one to nail.  How do you fully resolve a three-part story arc in a way that ties up all the loose ends and doesn't let down your audience?

For the purposes of this article I've included a couple film series that are no longer trilogies, due to the powers involved opting to make an ill-advised fourth installment.  But in both cases the franchises stood as trilogies for roughly twenty years, having sufficiently wrapped up the story.  Thus I'm including them.

Let's get to it.... 

10. Back to the Future

One of the most beloved film franchises of the 80s, this time travel action-comedy trilogy is a childhood favorite of, well, just about everyone who grew up in those days.  1985 high school student Marty McFly unwittingly gets transported to 1955 when his eccentric friend, local middle-aged scientist Dr. Emmett Brown invents a time machine car, and after running into his future parents as teenagers, ends up endangering his own existence.  Marty must act as matchmaker to ensure George and Lorraine fall in love, while also working with Dr. Brown's younger self to get back to 1985.  With perfect casting and a brilliantly devised plot, this warmhearted sci-fi adventure was a box office sensation and remains one of the all-time great popcorn movies.  But the story doesn't end there.  In the 1989 sequel Dr. Brown returns to 1985 after a jaunt into the early 21st century to enlist Marty's help in preventing his own children from catastrophic legal woes, and Marty accidentally alters the past when a sports almanac he purchases finds its way into Biff Tannen's hands and he steals the time machine.  The rest of the film involves our heroes returning to 1955 to undo the timeline damage Biff has done, but the time machine is struck by lightning with Doc in it, transporting him to the old west.  The second film is certainly very ambitious and fun to unravel, but falls short of its predecessor, with a few too many plot holes and joke retreads.  The final installment on the other hand played it safe by being essentially a western-infused version of the first film.  Marty travels back to 1885 upon learning that Doc Brown was murdered by an outlaw one week after arriving there, and the two must then devise a plan to get the time machine running so they can return to their rightful era.  The greatness of this trilogy is mostly due to the first film, but both sequels are a ton of fun and help round out the story of an adventurous teenager and a wild-eyed scientist.

9. Captain America

Okay, so this trilogy is actually part of a larger film series, but the three films focusing on Steve Rogers are tied so closely together as a standalone arc, not to mention they unexpectedly served as the strongest part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that I had to put them on this list.  If you had told me in 2011 that Marvel would've knocked it out of the park so completely with the Captain America character to the point that he's kinda the best part of The Avengers, I'd have knocked you down and pissed on your shoes.  The first standalone Cap film, set in the 1940s, chronicles Steve Rogers' rise from a skinny, sickly Brooklyn kid to the very first super-soldier who singlehandedly prevented the sinister Hydra organization from destroying the world.  The period setting and quaint, heroic tone reminded me a bit of the Indiana Jones films, and served as a very enjoyable introduction to the Captain America character.  But it was the Russo Brothers-helmed sequel The Winter Soldier that really captured the imagination and made Rogers the most compelling Avenger.  The James Bond-esque second film sees Rogers fending off a Hydra infiltration of SHIELD, involving three super-helicarriers capable of spying on the entire world, while also coming to grips with his best friend Bucky Barnes (thought dead in the first movie) having been brainwashed and turned into a ruthless assassin.  This taut, spellbinding action thriller pushed the boundaries of violence in the MCU but also presented Rogers as an eminently relatable, straightlaced hero (the kind Superman SHOULD have been).  To date this film is the apex of the Marvel series in my opinion.  The third Cap film is no slouch either however.  With the largest scope of any standalone Marvel film, Civil War deals with the aftermath of The Winter Soldier but also both Avengers films, where the US government has decided our superheroes need to be reined in to preserve public safety.  A guilt-ridden Tony Stark agrees, but Steve Rogers balks at the idea, and this conflict builds to a massive battle between the fractured Avengers squad.  Given that the MCU continued after Civil War, the larger story is not over, but this third film served as a thrilling, climactic conclusion to the series within a series.  As of now there are no plans for a fourth Cap film, but the Captain America trilogy has to be considered one of Marvel's best film properties.

8. Planet of the Apes Prequels

The Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy is astonishing to me for multiple reasons.  First, when the series was announced I groaned, being fully convinced this was nothing but an artistically bankrupt money grab.  But as it turned out, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its two sequels were thoughtful, unusually quiet, character-driven pieces rife with social commentary, and not the bombastic CGI orgies I feared they would be.  Second, the films restored my faith in CG as an effective means of telling a powerful story, via the revelatory central motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis as the series' protagonist Caesar.  Serkis is a force of nature in this role, delivering nuance, pathos and sentiment previously unheard of in a computer-generated character.  Either the Motion Picture Academy needs to start recognizing motion-capture as real acting or they need to introduce it as a new category.  Third, this series bucked an almost universal trend of the third part of a trilogy being unequivocally the weakest entry.  War for the Planet of the Apes is more profound, more emotive, and more engaging than either of its predecessors (no small feat considering what strong films Rise and Dawn are), and ended this cinematic trifecta on a startlingly high note.  The POTA prequels were a wonderful surprise in an industry full of hi-tech predictability.

For a closer look at all three films, click HERE, HERE and HERE.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 4 (1997-1999)

Welcome to Part 4 of's History of the Royal Rumble!  And welcome to the Stone Cold Era!

Royal Rumble 1997 - AlamoDome - 1/19/97

The 1997 Rumble has unfortunately not aged all that well, but at the time I absolutely loved this show.  The card was pretty stacked and sprinkled with several Mexican lucha stars (Nevermind that WCW had already scooped up all the GOOD lucha stars - I didn't yet know any better.), the Rumble match had a strong field of contenders (largely due to most of the undercard participants pulling double duty), and the huge venue added to its splendor, making this show feel more like a WrestleMania card than 'Mania 13 did.

The opener was an I-C Title match - Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Goldust.  At this point the company was struggling to find a sidekick for Hunter after Mr. Perfect left the company, and they saddled him with perennial midcarder Curtis Hughes.  Fortunately a month later Hunter would bring in Chyna, and his career would never be the same.  As for this match, it was passable but nowhere near as good as their 'Mania rematch would be.

Why wasn't WrestleMania 13 held here?

The next match featured the in-ring return of Ahmed Johnson, out for revenge against Faarooq, who had injured him the previous summer.  I was excited to see this, and while it was brief and inconclusive, it was a fun brawl.

Third was a dream match of sorts between The Undertaker and Vader.  There wasn't much going on in this feud but the pair worked pretty well together.  Underwhelming but decent.

Next was a showcase of B-grade Lucha stars, as Hector Garza, Perro Aguayo and Canek took on Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal and Fuerza Guerrera.  As Lucha six-man tags go I now know this was a pretty shabby representation, but at the time some of this stuff blew my mind (I didn't watch Nitro enough to take in much of the real Lucha action.).  I was particularly impressed with Hector Garza, as was WCW apparently (He debuted there later that year).

The Rumble match was once again in the semi-main slot, and featured a star-making performance by Steve Austin.  Austin entered the match fifth and cleared the ring multiple times, eventually eliminating a record-shattering ten people.  One of the match highlights occurred while Austin was alone in the ring waiting for the next entrant, and Bret Hart's music hit.  The crowd erupted to see Austin and Bret resume their landmark feud, and the two of them engaged in a blistering 90-second slugfest.  This Rumble match has one of the best closing stretches of any Rumble - ten men left in the ring after number 30, five of them potential winners.  It boiled down to Austin, Bret, Vader, Taker, and Fake Diesel.  Suddenly Bret dumped Austin out, but since the officials were distracted by Mankind and Terry Funk brawling at ringside the elimination went unnoticed and Austin slid back in, eliminating Vader, Taker and Bret.  Bret flew into a rage at Austin's tainted victory, furthering his gradual heel turn.  This match is another one of my all-time favorite Rumbles.

Man, evil Austin was great.

Participants: Crush, Ahmed Johnson, Fake Razor Ramon, Phineas Godwinn, Steve Austin, Bart Gunn, Jake Roberts, British Bulldog, Pierroth, The Sultan, Mil Mascaras, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Owen Hart, Goldust, Cibernetico, Marc Mero, Latin Lover, Faarooq, Savio Vega, Jesse James, Bret Hart, Jerry Lawler, Fake Diesel, Terry Funk, Rocky Maivia, Mankind, Flash Funk, Vader, Henry Godwinn, Undertaker
Final Four: Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Undertaker, Vader
Long Man: Steve Austin (45:07)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Late to the Party: Hamilton

Welcome to a new feature called Late to the Party, where I discuss a movie, an album, a recording artist, a book, what-have-you, that for me was an acquired taste of the tardiest kind.  Something everyone else seemed to get right away, but for which I was slow on the uptake.  Case in point, Lin-Manuel Miranda's epic Broadway musical Hamilton....

As with so many artistic ventures that seem to come out of nowhere and take the world by storm, I was initially quite resistant to Hamilton when I first became aware of it.  Not really being a musical theater enthusiast (I like some musicals, but it's a pretty select few) and most certainly not being a hip-hop guy (Aside from Outkast there's very little in this genre that interests me), the idea of a rap musical centered around one of the less celebrated founding fathers didn't exactly pique my interest.  Couple that with the almost hysterical devotion this show has generated since its January 2015 debut, not to mention the astronomical prices being charged for tickets, and my first reaction was something along the lines of "Get the fuck outta here with this...."

Fast-forward two years, and my wife finally gave the Cast Recording a listen after much prodding from a close friend who was already obsessed with the show (We'll call her Shamilton).  By the third or fourth go-round my wife was all, "Justin, you HAVE to listen to this."  "Yeah yeah yeah, whatever," I replied.  Then one weekend we had a drive up to the beach, roughly 80 minutes each way, and she chose that as the time to make me a captive audience.  I'd been expecting an hour-long soundtrack album, not realizing Hamilton had no dialogue outside of the songs, and said, "Jeezus, how long is this thing??"  So I listened to it front-to-back and found it mildly interesting.  I'd be lying if I said it blew me away the first time.  The music was so densely composed and covered so much ground, and I wasn't sure who was singing what to whom, that a lot of it was in one ear and out the other.

But like so much of the best art, the Hamilton album isn't about instant gratification.  It slowly burrows its way in, and only after you've become familiar with the story being told and fully absorbed the music does it yield its true rewards.

About a week later, after hearing the album again in the background at a pool party (I will say this stuff doesn't make for the best passive listening experience), I decided to give Hamilton a really honest try on my own iPhone, with no distractions.  And goddammit, everyone else was right.  I was wrong.

As a double album, Hamilton is a grandly concieved, meticulously detailed, obstinately ingenious concept record about the rise and fall of this underappreciated co-architect of the American experiment.  The 47 tracks cover the ambitious Hamilton's journey from orphaned immigrant (born in the West Indies and grew up in the Caribbean) to Revolutionary War officer to the first Secretary of the Treasury, and depict his numerous sweeping contributions to America's inception, as well as his various political and personal battles while helping shape the ungainly, chaotic system of government known as democracy.  Indeed, Hamilton makes no effort to lionize the founding fathers; they, like all human beings, are flawed, ego-driven, and prone to mistakes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Top Ten Things: He-Man Action Figures

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  I hope you're ready for some serious nerd nostalgia, because thanks to the fantastic new Netflix series The Toys That Made Us, I have 1980s action figures on the brain.

One episode of said TV series focused on the wonderful 80s toy line known as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  Anyone who grew up in that era remembers these larger-than-life figures with impossible musculatures, colorful appearances, pun-driven names, and bizarre quirks/powers.  The first time I saw the original He-Man commercial my brain almost exploded.  These figures looked nothing like any other action figures available at the time.  The characters were so vibrant and otherworldly you couldn't take your eyes off them.  Mattel hit one out of the park with this toy line, scoring record-breaking numbers four or five years in a row, and consistently introducing new series of memorable characters year after year.  A side note: this toy line introduced me to the concept of recycled molds.  Pretty much every figure had the exact same torso mold and initially there were only three sets of arms and legs.  Even as a seven-year-old I noticed this.  But it didn't matter, these toys fucking rocked my nuts off.  A syndicated tie-in cartoon show proved invaluable for selling MOTU figures and for a little while He-Man ruled the action figure market, spawning numerous ripoff lines, my favorite of which were the Remco figures based on obscure DC Comics characters like Warlord and Arak (They even had a disclaimer on the package: For Use with Masters of the Universe action figures).  Personally I wish they'd re-release the original MOTU figures (like they did in 2001) because I'd scoop a bunch of 'em up again.  For my son to play with.  Yeah, that's it.....

Note: Once I got really into wrestling, the He-Man line doubled as my wrestling toys, since they were the perfect size for the WWF toy ring.  Shut up, you did it too....

But which characters were my favorites?  Which of these silly fantasy barbarian toys have stuck with me three-plus decades later?  Let's take a look.....

10. King Hiss

This absurdly over-the-top figure was like He-Man meets Transformers, as the leader of The Snake Men or whatever they were called (an older character named Kobra Khan joined up with this villainous stable as well, like in a pro wrestling angle).  King Hiss looked like a human wearing snake-like armor, but pop off his arm and torso coverings, and GAAAAH, HE'S LITERALLY A GODDAMN SNAKE-MAN!!!  His actual upper body was comprised entirely of snakes (oddly his legs were still humanoid though), creepy enough to unnerve even his fellow bad guys.  I spent so much time transforming this guy from man to snake-man and it was a fairly ingenious gimmick.

9. Faker

On paper this has to be the stupidest toy ever.  An evil robot that's supposed to be a dead ringer for He-Man, except he has blue skin, Skeletor-style armor, and a visible tape recorder in his chest (courtesy of a sticker).  The idea is that Skeletor built this droid to infiltrate the good guy lair and pimp He-Man's friends for information.  Skeletor must think Team He-Man are either legally blind or just absolute fucking morons.  Who would fall for this trap??  "Whoa, He-Man, you're looking a little pekid, maybe have a nice lie down and some soup?  By the way, here are those Grayskull blueprints you asked for...."  Added to that, Faker was an appallingly flagrant cannibalization of an existing toy, just to sell more toys.  You gotta marvel at Mattel's balls, man.  Regardless of how illogical this character was, the toy looked awesome.

8. Mer-Man/Stinkor

Speaking of blatant mold recycling, in 1984 Mattel took one of the original characters, Mer-Man, painted him black & white, doused him in some kinda putrid-smelling chemical, and repackaged him as a skunk-like character named Stinkor.  Nevermind that a skunk-man wouldn't have webbed feet or fin-like ears, this guy looked boss.  And his armor covered his nose and mouth, implying he smelled so bad even HE couldn't stand it!  I loved the black, white, red and orange color scheme, and the stinky gimmick was brilliant.  Think about it - Mattel got us to buy an action figure that smelled like a goddamn skunk.  Either we're all suckers or Mattel are a buncha Jedi Masters who can bend everyone to their will.  The smell eventually wore off, but Stinkor remained one of my all-time favorite characters.

As for Mer-Man, this mold was much more appropriate for an undersea creature, and his scaly armor looked killer.  It did always bug me that his face looked nothing like the cartoon, comics or even the picture on the back of the packaging!  Also they originally were going to call him Sea Man, but changed it for obvious reasons.  Can you imagine one of the heroes saying "Oh no!  Sea Man is all over our base!  Why is Sea Man so hard to get our hands on?   I feel all slimy now that I've touched Sea Man!"