Friday, September 28, 2018

Awesomely Shitty Movies: 300

Welcome to another edition of Enuffa.com's Awesomely Shitty Movies, where I pick apart a beloved cinematographical (is that a word?) feast and shatter its aura of watchability for everyone.  I'm probably overestimating my influence, but you get the idea.



Today I'll be dissecting the 2007 battle epic 300, directed by Zack Snyder and based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller.  300 recounts The Battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartan King Leonidas, along with 299 of his ruthlessly tough soldiers, stood against a massive Persian army led by King Xerxes.  And, well, that's it.  That's the entire plot of the film really.  In flashback we learn that, like all male Spartan children, Leonidas experienced a childhood of intentionally-inflicted cruelty designed to harden him, that he might one day be a great king and soldier.  There are also subplots involving a corrupt religious cult called the Ephors, who order Leonidas not to move against the Persians, plus one of the Spartan Council is revealed to be in Xerxes' back pocket.  Other than that though it's basically an extended two-hour battle sequence.

So what are the pros and cons of this Frank Miller-inspired film?  Let's take a look, because.....THIS! IS! ENUFFA!!!  See what I did there?


The Awesome

Visuals

Like Robert Rodriguez did with Sin City, Zack Snyder took Frank Miller's stunning comic book panels and recreated them for the screen, assembling an almost shot-for-shot adaptation that looks absolutely gorgeous.  The colors are almost exactly like the graphic novel, the characters have been brought to life in painstaking detail, and the action is stylized to reflect the over-the-top movements depicted in the book.  The film adaptations of both Sin City and 300 proved to be very influential in creating these impossible comic book worlds.  If you're going to make a CG-heavy film, this is how you do it.

Whatever the movie's flaws, this is a gorgeous shot.


Battle Scenes

As I said above, the combat is heavily stylized to echo Miller's drawings and give the characters and events a sort of mythic quality.  The blood and gore are turned way up as well, mimicking Miller's explicit visual approach.  It's a good thing the battle sequences work so well, becuase this film has a lot of them.  A LOT.


Costumes

Snyder has literally translated Miller's artwork in the costume department as well.  All the characters are dressed exactly like their two-dimensional counterparts, and they look great.


Effects & Makeup

There's a theme going on here - when it comes to the visual aspects of the film, everything is first-rate.  The special effects and makeup are no different.  Snyder uses CGI not as a substitute for reality, but as a way to heighten and distort reality.  The backgrounds are murky and flat, bathed in yellows and browns, just as Miller drew them.  The Spartans all have CG-enhanced six-pack builds and brandish perfect bronze shields.  But when practical effects were called for, Snyder used traditional prosthetics as well.  The Ephors are wart-covered and repulsive, the deformed Ephialtes is a grotesque hunchback, the Executioner is an enormous, clawed being resembling the Cenobites from Hellraiser.  The makeup and effects perfectly capture Miller's bizarrely-rendered characters.

Give that man a Baby Ruth!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Mass Music Review #1: Mission of Burma

Welcome to a new feature called Mass Music Review, where Chris Gillespie, nephew of our own Dan Moore, takes a look back at some of the influential bands to come out of Boston.  Today it's Mission of Burma!


The debut release of Boston band Mission of Burma, the EP Signals, Calls, and Marches has quite the legacy in rock music, as everyone from Pearl Jam, Nirvana, R.E.M., Sonic Youth, and even Fugazi cite the band as an inspiration. Many critics laud it as a landmark in alternative and indie rock, citing its heavy instrumentals harkening to hardcore punk accompanied by thoughtful lyrics and musical sophistication not traditionally found in the fast and loud punk bands littered throughout America at the time (1981, to be specific). The EP features two of the band’s most commercially accessible songs: "That’s When I Reach For My Revolver" and "Academy Fight Song," along with underrated songs like "Max Ernst" and "Fame And Fortune."

The band from left to right: Martin Swope, Roger Miller, Peter Prescott, Clint Conley

Mission of Burma began as a trio with Roger Miller (guitar), Clinton J. “Clint” Conley (bass), and Peter Glen Prescott (drums) in 1979, with their first show being on April 1st of that year at the now-closed Modern Theater. Later that same month, Miller wrote a new song that he believed would be improved by a tape loop (loops of magnetic tape used to create repetitive, the rhythmic musical patterns or dense layers of sound when played on a tape recorder) and contacted Martin Swope, with whom he had previously written some pieces for piano and tape. This led to Swope contributing to the band’s music more and more until he was considered an integral part of the band, receiving equal credit on the group’s recordings and appearing in group photographs along with the trio.

The band received a lot of help and support from the city, with local magazine Boston Rock printing a lengthy interview with the band prior to the release of their first record and MIT’s community radio station WMBR playing their song “Peking Spring” repeatedly in 1979 until it became their most played song of the year. The band even planned to release the song as a single but felt it had run its course by the time they had signed to Boston-based record label Ace of Hearts in 1981.

After signing with the label, the group released their first single “Academy Fight Song” written by Conley, with the Miller-penned “Max Ernst” (named for the painter) as the B-Side. The production on the single was much more refined and cleaner than the ragged and chaotic live performances of the band. Initially, they objected to such a drastic change but changed their minds after the single’s first pressing sold out quickly. By the end of that year, the EP would sell out its initial pressing of 10,000 copies.

NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed Preview & Predictions

New Japan's PPV schedule is becoming a lot like WWE's, with too many events slated right on top of each other.  I know their top revenue driver is live attendance, but jeezus guys.


Anyway, coming off of three Destruction shows featuring a couple ****1/2 main events, it's another visit to the States, as New Japan returns to the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach for Fighting Spirit Unleashed!  Seems a bit hasty to already be back, and ticket sales are reflecting that a bit.  But hopefully they'll get a decent turnout in the end.

The show itself looks pretty fun, with a couple title matches, the second Jr. Heavyweight semi-final, a great on-paper tag team main event, and a slew of multi-man tags as usual.  So let's get to the picks....



Jushin Thunder Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi & ACH vs. Roppongi 3K


Man, when is RPG3K gonna win back those Jr. Tag belts?  The hell's going on with those straps?  Anyway this should be a fun little opener that will hopefully give Sho and Yoh a win to get them back into contention.  It'll be short but energetic.

Justin: RPG
Landon: RPG3K




The Addiction vs. Hangman Page & Chase Owens


The first of a handful of guest spots on this card, it'll be interesting to see Daniels & Kazarian on a NJPW show.  Again, this should be a fun tag bout with solid work all around.  Page vs. Daniels should be an entertaining pairing.

Justin: I'll go with the Addiction
Landon: Page and Owens




Jeff Cobb, Chris Sabin & Flip Gordon vs. Hirooki Goto, Beretta & Chuckie T


Cobb vs. Goto is the money match here, but Sabin and Gordon should have some nice exchanges with Beretta and Chuckie as well.  I'd say this could set up a Goto-Cobb NEVER Title match, but they had to go and give that belt to Taichi of all people.  The fuck??

Justin: Team Goto
Landon: CHAOS


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Batman (1989)

Hello and welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies here at Enuffa.com, where I examine a wonderful piece of popcorn fare and essentially ruin it for everyone.

Today I'll be talking about the Father of Modern Superhero Movies, Tim Burton's 1989 opus Batman, starring Jack Nicholson as The Joker and Michael Keaton as the title character.  When it first came out, Batman was a major pop culture event, garnering huge mainstream media coverage and all sorts of cross-promotion, in a manner not seen since the original Star Wars films.

Still a fantastically awesome poster.

Batman was something of a risk for Burton, as a dark, brooding superhero film had never been attempted, and most mainstream audiences still thought of the Caped Crusader in terms of the campy 1960s TV show.  But in the comics, Batman had long since returned to his Noir-ish roots, and Burton drew inspiration from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, as well as taking visual cues from Film Noir and German Expressionism.  The result was an unusually dark comic book film that took quite seriously the idea of a man dressing up as a bat to fight crime.

But while the movie felt absolutely right at the time, it has to a certain extent been rendered obsolete by some piss-poor sequels and Christopher Nolan's superb Dark Knight Trilogy.  Watching Burton's film now is great fun for nostalgia purposes, but it's honestly a little hard to take seriously after the advent of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the good and the bad of Tim Burton's Batman....



The Awesome


Michael Keaton

Remember how outraged we all were when Keaton was announced as Batman?  As I recall the exact quote from everyone upon hearing the news was "What. The goddamn. Hell??"  But at the time Keaton was a pretty splendid Batman/Bruce Wayne.  He brought a quiet sense of morose intensity to the role and despite not being at all physically suited to play a 6'2" 215-pound superhero, made us all believe he was The Dark Knight.  As with many aspects of this film, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy bettered Keaton's performance by a pretty wide margin (In fact, after watching Christian Bale in the suit, Keaton looks positively waifish by comparison), but his portrayal stood for 16 years as the best cinematic Batman.

Look at that six-pack.  That suit must work out.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Cinema Showdown: Manhunter vs. Red Dragon

"I am the Dragon. And you call me insane. You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing. You are an ant in the afterbirth. It is your nature to do one thing correctly. Before me, you rightly tremble. But fear is not what you owe me.....You owe me awe!"

These chilling words from serial killer Francis Dolarhyde, the fearsome villain of Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon, sum up perfectly his deranged mindset and motivation for murder.  He believes that killing families and arranging them like dolls will transform him into a god.  FBI Agent Will Graham, possessing a gift for empathizing with murderers, has been assigned to chase down Dolarhyde with help from famed sociopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter.


Red Dragon has twice been adapted for the screen - first in 1986 as Michael Mann's thriller Manhunter, starring William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox; and again in 2002 as a direct prequel to the suspense classic The Silence of the Lambs, starring Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, and of course Anthony Hopkins.

Manhunter was met with mixed reviews and anemic box office receipts but has since become a cult favorite on home video.  Red Dragon was fast-tracked following the massive financial success of Hannibal, and itself made a hefty profit and garnered generally positive reviews.

But which version is superior?  I will assemble a case, comparing the various aspects of each film, from casting/performances to sets to music, and decide definitively which adaptation works better.  ***Note: Interestingly both directors used Dante Spinotti for cinematography.***


Casting

Will Graham: William Petersen vs. Edward Norton


***Another Note: Hugh Dancy of the TV series Hannibal is actually the best onscreen Will Graham to date, in my opinion, but I'm only discussing the two films at this time.***

Both of these actors are quite talented and, in portraying the protagonist of this story, play to their individual strengths.  Petersen plays Graham as an emotionally wounded man, just barely recovered from his former profession of tracking serial killers.  His final assignment, capturing Hannibal Lecter, left him mentally broken and he subsequently spent time in an institution to heal his own psychological scarring.  Petersen's Graham carries an overwhelming hesitancy throughout the film, as he isn't sure he is up to the task of catching one more murderer.  Edward Norton's Graham seems less emotionally affected by his run-in with Lecter; his reluctance to participate in the Tooth Fairy case is borne more out of responsibility to his family and the fact that catching Lecter almost killed him (During the opening credits we learn that Graham was in a coma for a time).  So this Graham's motivation is a bit more physical in nature than that of his counterpart.  Norton is probably a bit more business-like, Petersen is more haunted.  Both of these interpretations of the character work fine, but I'll give a slight nod to Norton because he's just a more compelling actor than Petersen.  I think Norton more cleverly carries us through the process of Graham's work (and that's partly due to the script as well) while expertly portraying an everyman we can identify with.  Petersen's Graham is so morose it's sometimes hard to like him. 

Point: Red Dragon



Jack Crawford: Dennis Farina vs. Harvey Keitel


Again we have a close battle, as both actors are accomplished character veterans who tend to more or less play the same type of role - a grizzled but likable tough guy.  They both portray Crawford in the same way, and in both cases it works fine.  But for me the definitive Jack Crawford will always be Scott Glenn, who brought a sly intellectualism to the role and made you unsure if you fully trusted Crawford.  So since neither Farina nor Keitel quite nailed the character as I prefer him, I'll call this a push. 

Point: Draw

Monday, September 24, 2018

Top Ten Things: Metallica Albums

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  Today I look at the catalog of the biggest metal band in history, the mighty Metallica!


Anyone who knows me at all knows I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Metallica aficionado, and if you've read Enuffa.com for any length of time you've probably gotten that sense as well.  For me the summit of Music Mountain is twofold - there's The Beatles and there's Metallica.  Everyone else is just trying to reach the top.

With the release of the band's tenth album Hardwired...To Self-Destruct, they've finally put out enough original studio albums to fill out one of these damn lists.  So I figured it's time for me to sort 'em all in my preferred order.  Let's get to it.....




10. St. Anger


Metallica's much-maligned "therapy" record and its accompanying film Some Kind of Monster were essentially a document of a band coming apart at the seams and ultimately stitching themselves back together.  Recording began in 2001 when internal relations within the group were at an all-time low, and departed bassist Jason Newsted had been temporarily replaced by producer Bob Rock.  The album's tone was ugly, messy and raw, reflecting many of the previously unspoken feelings floating around between the remaining band members.  St. Anger was met with much scorn from diehard Metallica fans at the time of its release, and in 2003 I considered it a pretty big disappointment.  But over the years I've come to appreciate it from a visceral, emotional standpoint.  It was the album the band needed to make, to come back together and trudge forward.  The muddy lack of production, de-tuned guitars, and that awful pinging snare drum helped put to music the state of mind the band was in, illustrating what a bloated monster Metallica had become.  With St. Anger out of their system Metallica would now be free to find themselves again.

Key Tracks: Frantic, My World, Sweet Amber





9. ReLoad


The second half of Metallica's late-90s two-parter, this 76-minute collection featured some of the band's most experimental material.  A continuation of the alt-metal sound established with Load, this album took things a step further, somewhat eschewing Metallica's riff-driven roots for more textural guitar work and unusual instrumentation.  Songs like the country-tinged "Unforgiven II" and the Tom Waits-influenced "Low Man's Lyric" (featuring a hurdy-gurdy) pushed the boundaries of what constituted the Metallica sound.  ReLoad definitely includes some B-material ("Better Than You," "Slither") and a few songs too reminiscent of those on Load ("Fixxer" is essentially "Outlaw Torn 2"), but it's got a few classics as well, like the driving opener "Fuel," still one of my all-time Metallica favorites.

Key Tracks: Fuel, Carpe Diem Baby, Prince Charming





8. Kill 'Em All


The album that kicked off one of the greatest musical careers of all-time, Kill 'Em All essentially invented the speed/thrash metal genre, boasting razor-sharp twin rhythm guitars and machine-gun drum blasts.  It was the prototype for modern metal records and introduced the world to Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Burton.  In my estimation it's still one of the greatest-ever debut albums and certainly one of the most influential.  Despite its efficacy however this record hasn't aged as well for me as some of the others.  It often feels like Speed Metal 101, as it lacks some of the depth and sophistication Metallica would discover only a few years later.  Still there's no denying what a metal milestone Kill 'Em All proved to be.

Key Tracks: Hit the Lights, The Four Horsemen, Jump in the Fire


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Top Ten Things: Weird Al Yankovic Albums

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Today I'll be talking about a musical legend.  And a comedy legend.  And a certified genius (Seriously, he skipped second grade and was senior year valedictorian at sixteen).


Weird Al Yankovic burst into the American lexicon in 1984 with an off-beat parody of a Michael Jackson hit, and has somehow managed to build a hugely successful thirty-plus-year career lampooning our most cherished pop music stars.  As an eight-year-old Michael Jackson fanatic I was initially offended that anyone would parody one of his songs, but Al won me over when I first saw the video for "Eat It."  Here was a dorky, bespectacled nerd mimicking all of Jackson's dance moves (badly I might add) and conjuring comedy from already-tired rock video imagery.  By age twelve I'd bought all of Al's records, and I've been a huge fan ever since.  In 2000 I got to see Al from the front row, and he even yelled at me for not singing along to "Dare to Be Stupid."  It was indeed a privilege.  A new Weird Al CD is event listening in my house (for me anyway, my wife is non-committal).  Despite originating as a novelty act, Weird Al has endured three decades and shows no signs of stopping.  For many artists, being parodied by Al is a badge of honor, a sign that they've truly "made it."  Al is like a pop culture mirror, making light of all the silly fads we as a society cling to.  Here now are my ten favorite Weird Al Yankovic albums....





10. UHF - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff


The soundtrack to Al's 1989 summer flop sadly didn't fare much better than its film counterpart, but it did contain some fun parodies and solid originals, plus a few snippets of the film itself.  Al's spoof of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing," which is essentially the Beverly Hillbillies theme set to different music, was accompanied by an excellent sendup of the Straits video.  Other highlights were "Spam," based on REM's "Stand," and two hilarious originals, "Generic Blues," which literally just recycles all the woe-is-me blues lyrical tropes, and folk-rock epic "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota," which recounts in great detail a trip to go see the World's Largest Twine Ball (Yes, such a thing actually exists).  Released at a time when a) the summer movie season was quite cluttered (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Star Trek V, and Lethal Weapon 2), and b) Weird Al's record sales were somewhat contingent on including a Michael Jackson parody, this album and film kinda got lost in the shuffle.  But it's not too shabby at all and shows evidence of Al's growth as a musician.

Key Tracks: Generic Blues, Spam, The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota





9. Dare to Be Stupid


Al's third album, and the first musical comedy album to see a CD release, showed that Al was growing beyond his reputation as "that funny guy who does the Michael Jackson parody."  With songs like "Like a Surgeon," "I Want a New Duck," and the superb "Yoda" (based on The Kinks' "Lola"), Al was attempting to last beyond the fifteen-minute lifespan most gave him.  But it's in the original songs where this album really achieves.  Style parodies like the doo-wop ballad "One More Minute" and the Devo-inspired title track demonstrated Al's gift for recreating different genres (Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh once said that "Dare to Be Stupid" captured the exact sound he himself had been trying to create).

Key Tracks: Dare to Be Stupid, One More Minute, Yoda



Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The History of NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling (2012)

From the guy who loves wrestling "more than I love air" as our friend B-Cuddy puts it, welcome to another series of PPV History, here at Enuffa.com!


This time we're tackling the relatively new annual NJPW event, King of Pro-Wrestling.  Unlike say a WrestleMania or the January 4th Tokyo Dome shows, KOPW has only been in existence since 2012, when the company made its debut on iPPV.  But man, did New Japan kick things off with a bang.  The inaugural King of Pro-Wrestling show garnered loads of praise, winning the Wrestling Observer award for Best Major Show of 2012, as well as Match of the Year.

From then on, KOPW took its place as one of New Japan's "Big Four" PPV events; given its placement on the calendar relative to the Dome, you could liken it to a Survivor Series.  The show has had its share of classic matches and stories, and it's always the most anticipated event of New Japan's fall season, perennially headlined by an IWGP Championship bout.

So let's take a look at the brief but noteworthy history of this annual PPV....



KOPW - Sumo Hall - 10.8.12

The inaugural event is still considered one of New Japan's finest PPVs, no small feat considering how many spectacular shows they've delivered since.  A loaded card featuring numerous championship matches and one for the G1 Climax briefcase (the first year that the G1 winner was guaranteed a Tokyo Dome main event), this show had a ton of star power and variety, and one of the hottest bell-to-bell crowds I've ever seen on a Japanese PPV.  This audience sounded like 80s NWA.

The opening contest was a six-man tag pitting Yuji Nagata and Muscle Orchestra (Strong Man and a returning Manabu Nakanishi) against three members of the CHAOS stable, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano and Takashi Iizuka.  This match was a wild brawl, with participants tagging in and out quickly and plenty of outside the ring shenanigans.  Of note in some of these bouts was the ringside presence of two young lions named Hiromu Takahashi and Takaaki Watanabe, better known today as Evil.  The action here was solid if unspectacular, but the highlight took place roughly midway through when Ishii and Nagata began chopping the shit out of each other.  Eventually the heels (CHAOS were solidly a group of bad guys at this point) got a cheap victory after Iizuka hit Nakanishi with his iron glove, allowing Yano to roll him up for the pin.  Nothing amazing in-ring, but this crowd was electric from the opening bell.  **

The first really notewothy match was the Jr. Heavyweight Tag Championship, with Forever Hooligans defending against Time Splitters.  This was fast-paced and crisply worked, with both teams getting virtually all their spots in, including the Hooligans teased dissension followed by a hug-out (a hilarious bit they used to do).  Rocky Romero and Alex Kozlov were a great mix of athleticism and heel comedy, while Time Splitters were one of the great underdog babyface tandems.  After fourteen-plus minutes, Romero countered a corner double-team move by pushing Alex Shelley over the top rope to the floor and countering a Kushida powerbomb into a sunset flip, into a roll-up, retaining the straps.  Not the best finish ever, but the rest of the match was splendid.  ***1/2

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top Ten Things: Family Ties Episodes

Welcome to another television-related Top Ten Things, where I'll pick my ten favorite episodes of a classic show.


Today it's the unforgettable 80s family sitcom that launched the career of Michael J. Fox, Family Ties!  When I was a kid, Thursday night primetime on NBC was unfathomably awesome.  For a few years you had The Cosby Show (fuck you Bill...) at 8pm, Family Ties at 8:30, and Cheers at 9.  Three of the greatest television shows ever, back-to-back-to-back.  Man, those were good times.

Anyway, Family Ties ran seven seasons, chronicling the goings-on of the Keatons, your average midwestern middle class family, but with a twist.  See the parents, Steven and Elyse, were ex-hippies who spent their college years steeped in the 1960s anti-war, peace & love movement, while their eldest son Alex was a stuffy, business-obsessed Republican who dreamed of becoming a powerful Wall Street executive.  This flipped the usual sitcom dynamic of the strict parents and the rebellious teenager.  Running contrary to most family TV shows, Alex (Michael J. Fox in the role he was born to play) generally didn't get into trouble with his parents in the traditional sense; instead their conflicts stemmed from their opposing ideologies and Alex's overactive ambition.

The two Keaton daughters were also wildly divergent characters.  Mallory the middle child (Justine Bateman in an often underrated performance) was a more typical teenage character - struggling at school and focused on her social life - while the youngest (until season 3) Jennifer was a precocious preteen who later displayed advanced intelligence and academic drive like Alex, albeit with much more compassion.  Then there was Andy.  Introduced in season three as a way to explain star Meredith Baxter-Birney's real-life pregnancy, Andy didn't become a full-fledged character until season five, when they magically aged him from toddler to preschooler so he'd have a speaking role.  Child actor Brian Bonsall was passable in the part, with stilted delivery but occasional moments of genuine sweetness and humor.

As for Steven and Elyse, they were perfectly cast.  Michael J. Fox may have been the show's breakout star (deservedly so, he worked very hard to make what could've been a detestable caricature into a sympathetic, three-dimensional, devoted son/brother), but in hindsight Michael Gross was for me almost always the show stealer.  His dramatic choices were reliably spot-on, and his comedic timing absolutely ingenious.  Meredith Baxter-Birney (initially the best-known cast member) took the somewhat unglamorous task of being the show's de facto "straight man" and imbued Elyse with gentle, poised wisdom, while getting to show off her acting chops perhaps more than any of her castmates.

Aside from reversing the parent-child dynamic, Family Ties was also notable for tackling serious subject matter with candor and realism.  Seldom did family sitcoms in the 80s talk openly about things like sex, drug use, race, suicide, child abuse, and of course politics.  The show employed the heartwarming family sitcom form as a vehicle to explore these topics and make them palatable, while also featuring smart writing and characters with real complexity.  It veered into slapstick at times too, but the cast had such great chemistry they almost always made it work.  Most episodes were structured with a fairly predictable formula - two or more characters would have a conflict in the first act, it would reach a crisis in the second, and in the final scene they would talk it out and come to a resolution.  Very few episodes strayed from this format, yet the show almost never felt repetitious because the issues at hand were so relatable.  I consider Family Ties to be one of the few long-running sitcoms that never "jumped the shark."  For me the last few seasons were just as consistent as the early ones, in spite of elements like Steven's increasing buffoonery or Mallory's over-the-top ditziness in the last few seasons.

Aside from its dated fashion trends, pop culture references, and grainy videotape medium, Family Ties is largely a timeless show that explores issues we as a society still grapple with 30+ years later.

Here are, in my estimation, the ten best episodes, plus some Honorable Mentions (Note: This list is pretty heavy on Season 4, as it was easily my favorite of the seven)....


Monday, September 17, 2018

WWE Hell in a Cell 2018: You've Succeeded Despite Your Best Efforts

Well in spite of its faults and WWE's "best efforts," Hell in a Cell managed to be one of the best top-to-bottom PPVs the company has put on this year.  All seven matches were at least pretty good, a few were outstanding, and most of the booking was inoffensive.  I mean, it's sad WWE's standards have fallen so far, but I'll take a consistently entertaining show from them whenever I can get it.


I should note that Renee Young's presence in the announcing booth is such an improvement over Coachman.  Renee isn't Jesse Ventura or anything, but unlike Coachman she has a passion for the business and actually understands it.  And since Cole and Graves actually like her there's no distracting bickering going on.  So for the first time in ages, RAW's announce team actually enhanced the matches rather than hurt them.  Kudos to Renee for being the first-ever full-time female announcer.

The festivities began with Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton in the Cell.  Now, it made basically zero sense for this match to be in the HIAC format, but these guys made the most of it, sidestepping the type of Cell brutality WWE no longer allows for a few new ideas.  This was worked like an old-school No DQ match, methodical but rugged.  The usual Hardy high spots were sparse, but in their place were things like Orton wedging Jeff's head between ladder rungs and stomping the ladder, both guys whipping each other with Jeff's studded belt (which perforated Orton's back in several dozen places), and of course Orton taking a screwdriver and twisting Jeff's pierced earlobe (which made me cringe like I was watching thoracic surgery).  At the end of the match Hardy set up two ladders and a table for his leapfrog spot, but instead climbed to the ceiling, swung like a gymnast, and dove for the table.  Problem was Orton had moved (way too early), and Jeff crashed through the table.  The referee inexplicably called for medical help, despite this hardly being the worst bump we've seen in one of these matches.  But Orton insisted he count the pinfall, and he did so.  Then Jeff got stretchered out.  The injury angle was goofy and absurd considering Hell in a Cell is supposed to be the most brutal match type, but overall I liked this match a lot.  Not too shabby for a match I didn't care about.  ***1/2


Next up was Charlotte vs. Becky for the Smackdown Women's Title.  This match was intricate, fast-paced, and really well-worked.  A few slip-ups aside the action here was crisp and athletic, reminding us all what a women's match was supposed to look like post-Women's Revolution.  Months of Carmella train wrecks robbed us and the division of serious contests, so it was refreshing to see these two get the chance to tear it up.  The crowd was into it too, solidly behind Becky (despite her being positioned as the heel).  After 14 minutes Becky countered a spear with a rollup to upset Charlotte and capture the title.  What I wanted to see next was Becky extending her hand to try and renew their friendship, only for Charlotte to reject her and turn heel.  That would've been in line with fan reactions to this feud.  But instead, stubborn WWE booked the opposite, where Charlotte went to congratulate Becky and was rebuffed with extreme prejudice.  Whatever, at least the match was really good.  ***1/2

The show stealer took place third, as Dolph & Drew (Drolph ZigglIntyre?) defended against Seth & Dean.  This 23-minute match started out basic but quickly built in pacing and intensity, with the final third chock full of wild near-falls.  All four guys worked their asses off and the crowd went right along for it, buying nearly every false finish.  This is the kind of match that revives a dying division; imagine going from Matt & Bray vs. The B-Team to this, in the span of two months.  After throwing basically everything at each other, Seth superplexed Dolph, floated through and went for a Falcon Arrow, but was interrupted by Drew's Claymore Kick.  Dolph fell on top of him to score the pin.  Goddamn helluva match and easily the best thing we've gotten from this Seth-Dolph feud.  ****1/4



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Top Ten Things: Unnecessary Movie Remakes

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!  I am your host, Justin, and I'll be bitching about something most would consider trivial.  But ya know, that's my thing.  So stick it.

Today I'll be talking about an issue that's plagued Hollywood for many years - particularly this century - the unnecessary remake.  Remakes are nothing new; the early decades of cinema saw countless movies done over, to take advantage of ever-improving technology and greater budget availability (just like now).  Plus it was a way for the studios to make easy money with a known title and not have to come up with original ideas (just like now).  Sadly these remakes often failed to live up to the artistry and craftsmanship of the original versions (just like now) and many of them fell by the wayside.  In the last fifteen years or so it seems just about every film churned out is either a remake, a sequel, a reboot, a prequel, a requel, a threequel, a squeakuel (okay that one just applies to the Chipmunks), and any new ideas get squeezed out of the mix except at Oscar season.  Some of the remakes in recent years have been downright baffling, in many cases at the expense of original films that absolutely got it right the first time.  So let's take a look at some of those....



10. The Karate Kid


Directed by John G. Avildsen of Rocky fame, The Karate Kid tells a similar story of an unlikely underdog's one chance at redemption.  Danny Larusso is the new kid in a California suburban school, who immediately runs afoul of some local bullies who also happen to be martial arts students.  After taking a few beatings from these kids, Danny enlists the help of the superintendent of his apartment building, an old Okinawan by the name of Mr. Miyagi.  The film follows Danny's unorthodox training and builds to the karate competition where Danny overcomes the odds and wins the whole thing.  This was a truly inspirational 80s film that has aged fairly well despite some cheesy moments and its similarity to Rocky.  But in 2010 Will Smith co-produced an "update" starring his son Jaden as the titular "Kid" and Jackie Chan as the Miyagi character.  While it got mostly positive reviews, it just struck me as cheap exploitation of a known brand (Lots of that going on in Hollywood), and I can't imagine anyone deeming it the definitive version, nor do I recall anyone clamoring to see it remade.  Makes one wonder when an ill-advised Rocky remake will see the light of day.




9. Psycho


Speaking of remakes no one asked for, in 1998 Gus Van Sant released his homage/shot-for-shot recreation of Alfred Hitchcock's iconic thriller.  This version would be in color, thus robbing the film of the original's distinctive look, and aside from a few shots now made possible by updated technology (the opening crane shot into the hotel room window for example), Van Sant offered literally nothing new.  He used the original shooting script and didn't make any changes to the story, nor did he try to make it his own.  This was nothing more than a vanity project, akin to a contemporary band covering a classic old song note-for-note, resulting in a banal sound-alike.  This doesn't even cover the senselessly inappropriate casting of Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates in a performance that can't hold a candle to Anthony Perkins' original.  If I ever said "Let's watch Psycho" and the person I was hangin' out with popped in the 1998 version I'd punch them square in the face.




8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre


Another classic horror movie pillaged by new millennium Hollywood, TCM broke new ground in 1974 as a realistic, gritty slasher film, before such a thing even existed.  Despite hardly showing any explicit violence, the film succeeded in being a psychologically disturbing, visceral experience that gave birth to the legendary character of Leatherface.  After several terrible sequels the franchise got a reboot in 2003 when Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes company tackled the material, creating a slickly overproduced, run-of-the-mill gorefest with no sense of realism.  This went against the spirit of the original, which relied on mood and guerrilla-style filmmaking to plunge the viewer into palpable terror.  The '03 version was simply another geek show in an already overfarmed genre, and it seemed Platinum Dunes was transparently cashing in on the name recognition.  Worse, it prompted remakes of every popular slasher movie from the 70s and 80s.  Which brings us to....




7. A Nightmare on Elm Street


Ugh.  In 2010 Platinum Dunes, having churned out remakes of TCM, Halloween and Friday the 13th, finally undertook the most stylish of the 80s slasher franchises, A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Things actually got off to a promising start when the always-creepy Jackie Earl Haley was cast as Freddy Krueger.  And, well, that's it.  Everything else about this remake stunk.  From the paint-by-numbers look of the film to the overuse of CG animation to the unimaginative dream sequences, to the explicitly revealed "Freddy is a child molester" twist, this film was devoid of the fun and ingenuity of the original.  It was so poorly received the studio abandoned the planned sequel and left us only with this disposable retread.


Friday, September 14, 2018

WWE Hell in a Cell 2018 Preview & Predictions

And we're back!  Welcome to another round of WWE Predictions here at Enuffa.com!


This month is WWE's Hell in a Cell PPV, where the most demonic structure is used not so much to settle a blood feud, but to fulfill an annual obligation.  Everyone's on the edge of their seat!  This year we have two Cell matches, neither one of which really warrants the Cell gimmick.  And we have a very personal regular match that might've actually lent itself to an appropriate use of the Cell.  But what do I know?

I will say this show looks quite good on paper, which is more than I can say for most WWE shows lately.  I certainly don't care about every match on here but even the ones I'm not that interested in have potential to be solid.  So there's that.

Let's get to it.

***Dan is in the lead with 65% accuracy (43/66), Dave and I are tied in second with 62% (41/66), and Landon is pulling up the rear with 56% (37/66)***



Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The New Day vs. Rusev Day


It's the battle of Days!  Whenever I have a battle of days, sick days usually win.  Anyway, I'm disappointed to once again not see The Bar going after the belts, but maybe they're saving Cesaro & Sheamus for another time.  This match doesn't interest me much since I don't see Rusev Day as a serious threat so soon after the New Day won the belts.  This'll be ok I guess.

Justin: New Day retain
Dan: Yup
Landon: New Day
Dave: New Day




Hell in a Cell: Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy


Really?  THIS warrants a goddamn Cell match?  This recycled feud from ten years ago, based on essentially "I'm jealous because Jeff is more popular than I am?"  Cheer up Randy, at least you're not Roman.  Meanwhile AJ and Joe have had a very personal feud over the WWE Title, but they just get a regular match.  Makes sense.  Is anyone terribly invested in Hardy-Orton, because I sure ain't.  As I feared when Orton got involved with Jeff, Nakamura, the US Champion, has been reduced to an afterthought.  Fuck this place.

Justin: Orton wins
Dan: Seems pointless to even have this match but I guess RKO.
Landon: Wait, this is actually happening??  Uhh.....Randy?
Dave: Orton I guess




Mixed Tag Match: Daniel Bryan & Brie Bella vs. The Miz & Maryse


I don't care much for this.  Maybe my concept of mixed tag matches is stuck in the 80s, but aside from Ronda's debut at this year's WrestleMania I can't remember any truly strong examples of this match type.  A feud that's been main eventing Smackdown week after week should culminate in something better than what has traditionally been a sideshow throwaway match.  Remember Savage & Sherri vs. Dusty & Sapphire?  That's the first thing that comes to mind when I think "Mixed Tag."  Maybe the Danielsons and the Mizanins will redefine it here, I don't know.  But I'm not terribly excited about this.

Justin: The Bryans stood tall at the end of Smackdown which usually means The Mizes win here.  But Miz also won the first match of this feud at SummerSlam.  So it's a coin flip.  Heads.  I'll pick the Bryans.
Dan: Miz & Missus
Landon: Daniel and Brie
Dave: The Mizes


Thursday, September 13, 2018

NJPW Destruction 2018 Preview & Predictions

It's September, and that means it's time for New Japan's triple PPV!  Destruction will once again emanate from three different cities on three different days, with only one or two really important matches on each show.  With that in mind, Landon Wayne (@LSWayne21) and I are back with our picks for the top nine matches of the tour.


It goes without saying, but NJPW offers an incredible product.  2018 has been, by and large, just as much a banner year for New Japan as 2017 was (financially moreso), with numerous five-star matches, fantastic major shows, and an absolutely stellar G1 tournament.  The fall months are typically when things wind down a little and build toward the Tokyo Dome, but that doesn't seem to be happening this year.  The Destruction shows feature two of the biggest and potentially best matches of the year, both of which could've reasonably been saved for King of Pro-Wrestling in October.  I'm curious how big that show is going to be, given the scheduled Destruction main events.

Anyway, let's get to the picks....



Destruction in Hiroshima


Tetsuya Naito, Sanada, Evil & Bushi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taka Michinoku & El Desperado

These shows, as always, have no shortage of multi-man tag matches, so I limited this preview to the biggest few.  This one pits the active members of LIJ (Hiromu Takahashi is sadly out with a neck injury until mid-2019) against four of the Suzuki-Gun thugs.  All three Destruction shows feature this feud in some form.  This'll be fun and chaotic, with both stables making liberal use of rulebreaking tactics.  I'll go with SG to win the first round.

Justin: SG
Landon: SZGN




Hiroshi Tanahashi & Great Bash Heel vs. Kazuchika Okada, Jay White & Yoshi-Hashi

A preview of the briefcase match in Kobe, Tanahashi will team with his old pals GBH against Okada and two of his stablemates.  I suspect we'll get a Tanahashi-White rematch in October since White did defeat Tana in the G1.  Stands to reason I would say.  With that in mind I think White scores the pin on someone here.

Justin: CHAOS
Landon: CHAOS, who is still trusting Jay White for some reason




IWJP Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii


Oh man.  This match stole the entire G1 tournament for me.  What in god's name are Omega and Ishii gonna to do each other when the title is on the line?  This is basically an automatic five-star match.  If The Greatest Match Ever hadn't already happened at Dominion I'd say this had a good shot at Match of the Year.  Might have to settle for second-best.

Justin: Omega retains obviously
Landon: Omega retains, but there's this shred of me that still wants Ishii to win.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Jaws Movies, Ranked

by Dan Moore
@SouthieDanimal


In honor of the Jaws franchise all being available via streaming, here now are all the Jaws flicks ranked in order, from worst to best. Bear in mind, I have an unhealthy obsession with one of them. I’ll let you decide which.



JAWS 3

Easily the worst of the bunch. This one was made back when 3-D was the next hot thing but also the next hot garbage because the technology SUCKED. Bland performances, forgettable 3-D effects and the worst use of Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett Jr. ever.  You wanna see these two masters go at it, go find a movie called Enemy Mine that has Quaid in a bad fake beard and Jr. covered in makeup resembling some sort of fish pussy. It’s TREMENDOUS.

A homeless man and a squid walk into a bar...




JAWS 2

The least offensive of the sequels. It’s got most of the original actors playing their original parts. Even though Roy Scheider was forced to make this movie against his will, he doesn’t phone it in. His Chief Brody is still a determined and downright awesome public official. Sure, it’s ridiculous. Here comes another killer shark eating folk around Amity whilst the local bureaucratic bigwigs don’t believe the Chief. The funniest parts about this one are when Brody goes to the Mayor and tells him they might have a shark problem AGAIN. Larry Vaughn wants NO part of this insane man’s ramblings about a great white eating more people. Just get the fuck out of his office so he can get a handy from Tabitha the secretary.

Jesus Christ, again with this shark shit, Marty??


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TV Review: Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan - Season 1

by Michael Drinan
@mdrinan380



Amazon’s new series, Tom Clancy’s: Jack Ryan, is the latest version of the “Ryanverse” that includes Tom Clancy’s best selling novels and the films The Hunt for Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994), The Sum of All Fears (2002) and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). Let’s just say, the “Ryanverse” has been a little shaky since 2002. 

John Krasinski is the latest incarnation of Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who uncovers a suspicious trail of bank transactions from Lebanon. He presents the findings to his new boss, James Greer, which begins a pretty cantankerous working relationship that causes Greer to throw Ryan into the field to chase down an ambitious and fanatical Islamic fundamentalist named Suleiman.

The show is a fun ride showcasing both the analytical, information gathering side of CIA work while mixing in some action sequences and explosions with a few twists and turns. Even though there are some scenes throughout the series that seem a little cartoonish, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of watching it play out. The characters are fleshed out with great care in a way where you don’t really need to be told outright their backstory or what’s going on in their heads, you can just pull it out from what you see on the screen. 

Krasinski, in my opinion, makes a really good Jack Ryan and I hope he continues playing him. It is said that this version of Ryan is drawn from Harrison Ford’s take on the character which is exactly how I want him to be played, very straight forward, professional, emotional but not irrational. He’s vulnerable but keeps his head and works the problem out. There is one fight scene in the entire season and Krasinski doesn’t overplay it. He fights like a former Marine turned CIA analyst would fight. There’s still that everyman, regular guy charm about Krasinski that shows perfectly in this role, because Ryan is a regular guy. All this show does is make me like and appreciate Krasinski’s talent as an actor even more. 

Wendell Pierce is also a joy to watch as James Greer. Even though there are sharp contrasts to James Earl Jones’ take on Greer in the films, it works very very well. He doesn’t take any bullshit and isn’t interested in having a friendship with Ryan at all, but you can tell here and there throughout the season that he does care about him and likes him a lot. There is one scene where he calls Ryan at 3 a.m. for a briefing with the President and tells him to wear a tie. When Ryan walks into the briefing room, filled with CIA officers, he notices everyone is dressed casually and noticing Greer with a slight smirk on his face once the prank hits home. Just like Krasinski, I hope Peirce continues in this role. He does a great job with the character.

There are some things that had me rolling my eyes. Having the CIA chase down an Islamic fundamentalist turned terrorist as a premise is a little played out. During the first episode, when it revealed who they were after, I sarcastically said out loud “Of course it’s an Islamic terrorist we’re after.” Hopefully they can find a more creative plotline for the second season. Also, I wish they would show a little more of the analyzing data and collaboration with other officers instead of cutting to out in the field to hunt down a lead. One of the most interesting moments in Patriot Games is Ryan at the CIA headquarters going through leads and scenarios with his team of CIA analysts, pouring over files and photos. That’s mostly what happens in Zero Dark Thirty and that was just as thrilling as any action sequence. It would allow the show to expand on characters and the plot a little more. 

All in all, the first season of Jack Ryan was really good. Aside from the slight changes to some of its characters, it still maintains that Clancy feel. It made me want to watch Patriot Games and Hunt For Red October just get more Jack Ryan! Everything from the acting to the writing was good. If you’re into the Jack Ryan character and the stories, I recommend giving this series a go.

I give the first season **1/2 out of ****


Monday, September 10, 2018

Girls Night In #1: Grease (1978)

Join us for a special PNI spinoff, GIRLS NIGHT IN!  Our friend Shannon crashes the party, joining Kelly to talk about one of their all-time favorite movies, Grease, while Justin, having never seen the film in its entirety, rains on everyone's parade....




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Friday, September 7, 2018

Dissecting Rolling Stone's Top 100 Bob Dylan Songs

By Mike Drinan
@thesurfacenoise


Alright, so Rolling Stone put out a list where they ranked the 100 greatest Bob Dylan songs in celebration of the man’s 75th birthday, and for anyone who is suspicious of the list (because RS has put out some horrid lists) let me just say it’s not completely horrible. It’s not perfect but I only really got upset at one entry which is pretty unbelievable.

Before we dive in let me explain something. I view the rankings of songs very general. I don’t wage wars and get all moody because one song was put three spots above another. I have a range of ten spots in which I allow wiggle room for interpretation. Going to war over placements within ten spots, in my opinion, is simply splitting hairs. It doesn’t really matter. However, over ten spots then it’s fair game to bitch and moan.

Rolling Stone segmented the list with five groups of twenty songs, so I’ll give a summary of each group. Alright, let’s dive in!


100-81

The list kicks off with “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" from Street Legal. This group is made up of some pretty deep cuts. At #96 is “Farewell, Angelina”, a song that appeared on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 and is a favorite of mine, with a great melody and very powerful, evocative imagery in the lyrics while also containing a despair for leaving the woman he loves. I think it should’ve been ranked higher but that’s my personal bias talking.

The 80s are rife with underappreciated Dylan songs. Starting at #88 with “Tombstone Blues”, followed up with “Most Of The Time” (#87), then “Meet Me In The Morning” (#86) which is one of my favorite songs off of Blood on the Tracks and ending with “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” (#82). A good collection with my only problem being “Meet Me In The Morning;" that should be in the fifties somewhere.


Top Ten Things: The Office (US) Episodes

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


Today I'll be talking about my ten favorite episodes of one of my all-time favorite TV series, the US version of The Office (The original UK one is great too, but I'm partial to the American remake).  For nine years (six of them consistently excellent) The Office reigned as one of the most beloved shows on television.  Who can't relate to an awkward boss, dysfunctional co-workers, and office crushes (My wife and I met in much the same fashion as Pam & Jim, three years earlier, so this arc resonated with us on a profound level)?  The show had it all - memorable characters, palpable tension between its romantic leads, engaging storylines, and above all, truckloads of uncomfortably hilarious moments.  It lost its way a bit toward the end, as most sitcoms do, but taken as a whole The Office holds up as one of the great TV shows of the past thirty years.

But which episodes are the cream of the crop?  Well it's a difficult question to answer since a) there were so many and b) some of the best story arcs on the show took place over multiple episodes (The Michael Scott Paper Company saga for example).  But I think I've narrowed it down to my ten favorites, in chronological order.  Here goes.....





1. The Dundies

For my money Season 2 was the show's best.  The abbreviated first season wasn't quite enough time for the show to find its true voice and set itself apart from the UK version (though it did have some great episodes in its own right).  But in the second season all the actors fully settled into their characters, the Jim-Pam storyline surged to the next level, and we were treated to a bevy of classic episodes.  The first, and possibly my favorite single episode in the show's entire run, was the season premiere, "The Dundies," wherein Michael and his employees have an outing/awards show at the local Chili's.  Pam gets hammered (Pammered?) and flirts with Jim all night, Michael bombs as the Dundies host, and we get to see all the characters outside their work setting.  This episode is probably the one that got me hooked.


Best Moment: A shitfaced Pam yelling into the camera, "I would just like to say that this was the BEST. DUNDIES. EVER!! WHOOOOOO!!!"





2. The Fire

Another laid-back scenario from Season 2, "The Fire" sees our office workers stranded outside the building after a fire breaks out in the kitchen, and numerous parlor games ensue, including "Desert Island Movies" and "Who Would You Do?"  We also see Jim interacting with his new girlfriend Katy (Amy Adams, introduced in Season 1), Michael trying desperately to become Ryan's mentor, and Dwight discovering the source of the fire: Ryan's cheese pita, prompting the best line in the episode.


Best Moment: Dwight, presenting the charred cheese pita to the camera, performs a revamped verse of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire":  "Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television, North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Mon-roe, RYAN STARTED THE FI-YAH!!"





3. Christmas Party

The first Christmas episode of the series (one of three such episodes on this list - hey, I'm a sucker for holiday-themed sitcom episodes) sees the office holding a Secret Santa party.  Jim gets Pam in the drawing for the first time and buys her a teapot, but stuffs it with little personal gifts like his high school photo (which she found hilarious when she first saw it).  He also includes a card that expresses his hidden feelings for her.  But Michael throws a wrench into the works when after receiving a hand-knitted oven mitt from Phyllis, he changes the Secret Santa into a Yankee Swap.  Now everyone's gifts are up for stealing, and Jim's thoughtful gift to Pam finds its way into Dwight's hands.  The entire office rejects Michael's self-absorbed power play and abandons the proceedings, after which Michael makes a liquor store run to win them back.  This is yet another episode where we get to see everyone interacting in a more informal setting (Apparently I really like episodes like this) and it really captures the mood of office holiday parties.  Of course in the end, Pam, who had ended up with an iPod (Michael flagrantly overspent on his Secret Santa gift) trades it back to Dwight so she can have Jim's teapot, but Jim chickens out about the tell-all greeting card and secretly removes it from the box.  His confessional would have to wait until our next entry....


Best Moment: Michael opens his gift from Dwight, a bag of paintball pellets and a piece of paper entitling him to two paintball sessions with Dwight.  Michael gripes, "How is that better than an iPod?" and Dwight replies, "I never said it was better than an iPod."  Michael then takes Dwight's rubber elf ears off him and bounces them off Dwight's face before storming off.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

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Daniel Bryan's Staying in WWE - Five Things I Demand


Sigh.....it's official.  Daniel Bryan has committed to spending three more years in the WWE penitentiary.  I can't say I'm surprised, but I am disappointed.  I have so little faith that this company will ever fully appreciate this one-of-a-kind talent or use him to his full potential ever again, that it's hard to get excited about this situation, despite what I'm sure was a big money deal for him.  I just hope he got the lighter schedule he was hoping for, and I hope he took that goddamn company for every penny he's worth.  But there's something seriously wrong when I'm actually sad about one of my favorite wrestlers on the planet staying in the biggest wrestling company for the most money.  This is how creatively backwards the WWE machine has become.  It's not the way this is supposed to work.  The idea of Bryan being at the forefront of the "All In" movement, participating in next year's WrestleKingdom, the MSG show, and especially the G1 was so promising, it feels like he'll always be in the wrong place at the wrong time now.  I was hoping he'd at least take a year of free agency and pull a Chris Jericho, and maybe WWE would make him a bigger offer to come back next year.

Well, enough mourning I guess.  Since Bryan's sticking with the three-ring circus, here are some things that need to happen for him, that WWE better not screw up.


1. Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz for the WWE Title at WrestleMania 35

This feud with Mizanin is just getting started, so let's do it properly.  We're getting a mixed tag match at Hell in a Cell (pretty lame if you ask me), and then in Australia there's a #1 contender match between the two.  So the logical move from there I guess would be for Miz to win and defeat AJ Styles for the belt at Survivor Series (though I still want to see a proper AJ-Bryan match as well).  Then Bryan should win the Royal Rumble (since he was robbed of that honor in 2014) and challenge Miz at 'Mania, giving him both another big WrestleMania moment (it doesn't have to be in the main event slot necessarily) and a real WWE Title run, something he still hasn't had.


2. Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Title at a later PPV

Since Bryan's return these two have only had one match, on Smackdown, that lasted 13 minutes and ended in disqualification.  Either shortly after WM35 or maybe at SummerSlam 2019 let's see these two for the belt in a real 25-minute match.


3. Daniel Bryan vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

One of the primary reasons Nakamura jumped to WWE was for the chance to wrestle Daniel Bryan.  Then Bryan was forced into retirement a month later, and it looked like that dream match would never happen.  But now both guys are active members of the same roster, on the same brand, and WWE would have to be complete idiots not to book this as a major feud.  Doesn't have to be for a championship necessarily (though if Bryan does win the title at 'Mania this would be a good program for next spring), but it does need to be presented as a huge deal and kept free of the stupidity that more or less sank the AJ-Nak feud.  Just put them in a ring together and let 'em go.


4. Daniel Bryan vs. Samoa Joe

Just like with AJ Styles, this is another potentially great match we haven't gotten a proper look at in WWE.  Bryan and Joe had a tremendous feud in Ring of Honor 12 years ago, and since they're both on Smackdown at the same time it would be silly not to take advantage.  If Joe fails to unseat AJ for the title this fall, maybe in a year he could be the guy to dethrone Bryan.  Or maybe you book Bryan vs. Joe later this year, from November through February.  Either way this needs to happen.


5. Daniel Bryan vs. Finn Balor

As of now these guys are on separate shows, but since Balor's doing basically nothing on RAW, let's get him moved to the blue brand sometime soon.  This would be an excellent first-time match that would raise Balor's profile and give Bryan someone suitable to work with.  It's another case of "They'd have to be insane not to."


If at least three of these five things happen over the next year or so, and WWE doesn't saddle them with stupid gimmicks or bad finishes, then they'll have somewhat restored my faith that they deserve a unique star like Daniel Bryan.  If not, then I guess I'll be counting the days till September 1st, 2021 when his contract is up again.


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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

All In: Cody Rhodes Pulls Off a Coup


Well I wasn't sure what to expect with All In.  I was pleasantly shocked when it sold out in under an hour and really happy for Cody and The Young Bucks for actually pulling off such a feat; the biggest-selling non-WWE show since WCW.  But would the show deliver with such an eclectic roster and matches that were mostly inconsequential in the traditional sense?  Turns out, yeah.  It delivered big.  And all that variety worked in the show's favor.  Lucha spotfest?  Check.  ECW-style hardcore match?  Check.  Traditional old-school wrasslin'?  We got it.  NJPW match?  You bet.  Dream match spectacle?  Sure.  Comedy match?  Yup.  I can't remember a show that pulled off so many divergent styles so well.  All In took a little while to really get going, but from the fourth match on there was nothing below ***1/2.  I didn't see any MOTY candidates, but the last six matches for me either approached or exceeded four stars.  When was the last WWE PPV that accomplished that?

Anyway, let's get to it.


Things kicked off with Matt Cross vs. MJF, a fun if superfluous little opener with Cross showing off his acrobatics and MJF doing good character work.  Cross won in nine minutes with his shooting star press.  A nice bit of fluff to warm up the crowd.  **

The weakest match on the show for me was Christopher Daniels vs. Stephen Amell.  This was okay, especially considering Amell's inexperience, but wasn't quite as tight as it could've been.  Amell clearly loves doing this and has picked up the basics strongly, and wants to be taken seriously as a wrestler.  If nothing else you have to applaud his enthusiasm.  There were a few miscues and Daniel's BME was off the mark both times, but this was fun.  Amell did a couple big moves, a coast-to-coast dropkick a la RVD, and a missed elbow through a table.  This should've been a little shorter but it wasn't bad.  Daniels picked up the win on the second BME.  **

The lone women's match featured Tessa Blanchard (who has the same "it" factor as Charlotte Flair), Chelsea Green, Madison Rayne, and Britt Baker, in a sprint with slightly messy action in the first half, but that gelled pretty well in the second when everyone started hitting their big moves.  It was a tad unwieldy but an easy match to watch overall.  The finish was kinda out of nowhere as Tessa hit the hammerlock DDT and barely got the pin before it was broken up.  **3/4

The first big match of the night was Nick Aldis vs. Cody for the NWA Title.  Pretty shocking how early this went on considering Cody was the mastermind behind this show.  With cornermen on both sides and Earl Hebner doing formal ring instructions, this felt like a big-fight main event.  As a match it was very good, heavy on the sports-entertainment with DDP getting involved, Cody teasing being unable to continue after being busted open by an elbow, and Brandi diving on top of Cody to protect him from a top-rope elbow drop.  But the storytelling was strong, with Cody playing the babyface in peril to perfection and going on to win the big one for his dad.  It was a nice moment to pay off a swell old school NWA Title match, and the crowd really made it feel special.  ***3/4


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Top Ten Things: Fawlty Towers Episodes

Welcome to yet another edition of Top Ten Things, where I pick my ten favorite of somethingorother....

Today what's on my mind is the classic British sitcom Fawlty Towers (which is streaming on Netflix as we speak), one of my all-time favorite comedy series.  Created by John Cleese and then-wife Connie Booth, Fawlty Towers takes place in a shoddy English hotel run by an eminently rude, impatient man and his rather domineering wife.  Supported by a clever, quick-thinking waitress and a bumbling Spanish waiter, the hotel and its staff get into various misadventures and hilarity ensues by the truckload.


Cleese's inspiration for Towers was a hotel called The Gleneagles, where he once stayed with the Monty Python cast.  Flabbergasted by the rudeness of its owner Donald Sinclair, Cleese mined this character for all the comedic material he was worth, and in the process created an incredibly funny, highly influential series.  As with most British sitcoms each season consisted of only six episodes, and Cleese and Booth only made twelve total, with a four-year lag between seasons.  This means of course that only two episodes failed to make this list of ten - "The Builders" and "The Kipper and the Corpse."  Don't get me wrong, there's nary a bad episode of this show, but for one reason or another these two episodes rank at the bottom for me, mostly because they both veer too far into slapstick for my taste.

But here are the top ten in my estimation.....



10. Basil the Rat


The final episode of the series deals with the hotel being given a health code citation for numerous violations.  While the staff scrambles to rectify these issues and avoid closure, Manuel's pet rat gets loose, triggering a whole new set of problems.  This felt like a good way to end the show, as certain recurring jokes had reached the end of their shelf life.  But it was good for one last hurrah, culminating in the trademark zany Fawlty humor.

Favorite Moment: The health inspector reads a laundry list of health violations and Basil responds with "....Otherwise okay?"




9. The Anniversary


Probably the wackiest episode (Polly even mentions the Marx Brothers in this one), is #11, wherein Basil plans a surprise anniversary party for Sybil but pretends like he's forgotten their anniversary altogether.  This of course backfires as Sybil leaves in a huff just before their friends arrive, and Basil decides to pretend Sybil is upstairs sick in bed.  One of my favorite aspects of this episode one of Basil's friends, Roger, only half-heartedly going along with the ruse despite clearly knowing something's up, and repeatedly toying with Basil.  This episode is probably the most "sitcom-ish" but still has a ton of laughs.

Favorite Moment: Another of Basil's friends mentions she saw Sybil driving around in the town and Basil covers it up by claiming that's another woman who looks like Sybil.  When the real Sybil comes back, Basil pretends she's the fictitious lookalike and locks her in the kitchen while he says goodbye to his friends.




8. The Wedding Party


Episode three centers around a bride and groom, and her parents who all stay at the hotel but whom Basil doesn't realize are all one family.  He observes each of them (and Polly, who's a childhood friend of the bride's) going in and out of each other's rooms and assumes there are multiple inappropriate liasons going on.  This leads to him making a fool of himself at every turn, including twice when he and a drunk Manuel end up on the floor as the guests walk in.

Favorite Moment: The groom asks Basil if there's a drug store still open and Basil thinks he wants to buy condoms (in fact he needs batteries for his razor), responding "Let me tell you something - you disGUST me.  I know what people like you get up to, and I think it's disGUSTing."  This bit kills me every time.