Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The History of NJPW Dominion (2013)

We've entered the Bullet Club era!

BodyMaker Colosseum - 6.22.13

New Japan was firing on all cylinders in 2013, with an incredible slew of big PPVs plus an awesome G1 tournament, and Dominion was no exception.  The company had found its second Ace in Kazuchika Okada, who now enjoyed a lengthy second IWGP Title reign, but a brand new stable was creating a huge buzz and would take the puroresu world by storm.  Jr. Heavyweight babyface Prince Devitt had turned on his Apollo 55 partner Taguchi and formed Bullet Club, a foursome consisting of gaijin wrestlers that also included Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Karl Anderson (by year's end The Young Bucks and Doc Gallows would be added to the group).  Bullet Club usurped Chaos as the most notorious heel stable and would assert their dominance over the next several years.  But the first top for Devitt was NJPW's Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi!

But first the undercard...

The opener featured the burgeoning Jr. Tag division, as Forever Hooligans defended the championship against Time Splitters.  Alex Kozlov began the proceedings by singing the Russian anthem, and all I have to say is Kozlov is no Nikolai Volkoff.  The match started with Alex Shelley putting on a grappling clinic against Kozlov, making use of European style wrestling to control the action.  Soon Kushida and Romero tagged in and provided the wild, fast-paced Jr. moves.  After a skirmish on the outside involving the railing, the heels took over and worked Shelley while Kushida was down, repeatedly cutting off the tag attempts.  Finally Kushida got the hot tag in and cleaned house.  Romero blocked a Time Splitter attempt and nearly won with a small package, then Kozlov came back in and the Hooligans hit their Demolition-style finisher on Kushida for a nearfall.  Time Splitters hit their signature sequence of chain moves, but the Hooligans nailed Kushida with a Torture Rack/flying knee combination to retain the belts.  This was a very fun Jr. tag bout that would soon become the standard match type for New Japan PPV openers.  ***1/2

The next available match on NJPW World (they're missing the Bullet Club-Nagata/Honma/Captin NJ six-man for some reason) is a triple threat IWGP Heavyweight Tag Title match, with champions Tencozy vs. Toru Yano & Iizuka vs. Killer Elite Squad.  KES attacked Tencozy at the bell and dominated both teams during the opening stretch, but Chaos took the fight outside, taping Archer and Davey to the railing and going to work on Tencozy.  After a few minutes KES broke free and had back and forth exchanges with Tencozy.  KES hit their double powerbomb on Yano but the referee had been bumped and there was no pin.  Tencozy hit their Tencozy Cutter on Archer for a nearfall before Kojima lariated the crap out of him to get the pin.  This was mildly fun and chaotic, but a bit tedious at times.  **1/2

Next up was the NWA Championship, with Manabu Nakanishi challenging Rob Conway.  This match was fun after a few minutes when Nakanishi made a comeback, but pretty dull when Conway was in control.  After hitting a dive to the outside, Nakanishi leveled Conway with a lariat and a spear, and slapped on the Torture Rack, but Conway escaped.  Nakanishi went to the top rope but Bruce Tharpe distracted him, allowing Conway to use his Ego Trip neckbreaker for the win.  This was mediocre.  **

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Brewery Reviewery: Allagash Brewing Company (Portland, ME)

Welcome to another edition of Brewery Reviewery, here at, where I visit a fine beer-brewing establishment and taste as much of their wares as I can while still remaining upright.

Last weekend the wife and I made a trip to Portland, ME, home of basically every brewery on the planet, and took in a slew of these wonderful places.  My goal is to write about all of them, so here goes....

Our first stop was a venue we've visited before, one of our favorites, Allagash!

Allagash Brewing Company
50 Industrial Way
Portland, ME 04103

Most folks who have heard of this lovely institution (which recently overtook Shipyard as Maine's top-selling brewery) know them for their Belgian White flagship beer, a masterpiece of the genre that has for years held a slot in my all-time top five.  The combination of citrus, cloves and that wonderful banana-esque Belgian yeast is always welcome in my gullet.  I've been a fan of their Tripel, Saison, and Black for a long time as well, but Allagash has branched out quite a bit over the years, always experimenting with new flavors and brewing techniques.  My mission this visit was to try some of their limited and obscure releases.

Coolship La Mure: This blend of spontaneously fermented beer is aged on blackberries. We begin brewing Coolship la Mûre with Pilsner malt, 40% raw wheat, and aged whole-leaf hops. The unfermented wort is then transferred to a large shallow pan called a coolship, which allows the hot wort to mingle with wild yeast and souring microbiota in the Maine air. After fermenting and aging in French oak wine barrels for over two years, we add blackberries and let it rest for an additional five months. The finished beer’s aroma exhibits hints of lime zest and an herbal, berry-like quality. The tart flavor evokes multiple facets of blackberry, including just-ripened fruit and rich, juicy berry.

JB: This unusual brew is very tart with prominent blackberry flavor, similar to a Lambic.  I'm not a big sour beer guy but this was a bold, flavorful example of it.

Darling Ruby: Darling Ruby is a refreshing farmhouse ale with a twist: grapefruit juice and zest. The beer’s specific style is a grisette, a light and refreshing cousin of the modern saison. The combination of a grisette and citrus whirls tangy notes together with tropical aromas—all before landing on a beautifully dry finish. A lively ride from beginning to end.

JB: Ruby is dry and grapefruity, with a slighty bitter finish.  A nice, crisp saison substitute.

The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1993)

Welcome to the third, and most disappointing installment of WCW SuperBrawl!

SuperBrawl III - Asheville Civic Center - 2.21.93

WCW circa early 1993 still fell under the Bill Watts regime, when the product was stripped-down and gritty.  This made for a nice focus on the in-ring product but also made the bigger shows feel very plain.  I've never been huge on pomp & circumstance, but a touch of it is nice on the big PPVs.  Anyway, the company had come off a creatively pretty successful 1992 and had built up a solid roster of older stars and solid young workers, and their biggest-ever star would make his return on this show.

Steve Austin & Brian Pillman vs. Marcus Bagwell & Erik Watts was a very fun opener.  The future Hollywood Blonds already had great chemistry and used old-school diversionary heel tactics, while Bagwell was once a capable babyface and Watts, despite not at all being over, could work a decent match.  This went probably five minutes longer than it needed to but it was quite good for its place on the card.

Chris Benoit vs. 2 Cold Scorpio was an excellent mix of grappling, counterwrestling, and aerial moves.  These guys meshed really well and despite some slow points in the third act this was easily watchable all the way through.  The finish came when they traded rollups with only seconds left in the time limit, and Scorpio caught Benoit with a pin at 19:59.  Nice timing to get the decision just before the clock reached zero.  Helluva good match, though I wish it had been a few minutes shorter.  By the end it felt like they were filling time to get to the final second.

Wait, I thought top rope moves were banned at this point....

Davey Boy Smith had recently debuted in WCW (a surreal sight if there ever was one), and the third match on this show was a glorified squash to showcase his remarkable skills.  His opponent was the doughy Bill Irwin, who was given very little offense.  The match was passable just because Davey's moveset was entertaining.  But otherwise a throwaway.

Next up was a helluva wild brawl, as Cactus Jack took on Paul Orndorff (freakishly shriveled right arm and all) in a Falls Count Anywhere match.  While tame by today's standards (hell, even by 1996 standards), this was highly engaging and featured several unique Mick Foley spots, like when he got suplexed across the security railing; in 1993 that must've made people cringe.  Orndorff dominated much of the action but Jack secured the win by bashing him over the head with a shovel.  Fun stuff.

How graceful...

Another fun match was next as The Rock n' Roll Express faced The Heavenly Bodies.  This match would oddly take place nine months later on a WWF PPV, which I believe makes it the only match to happen in both companies during the same year.  The only difference was the presence of Stan Lane, who would retire shortly after this and be replaced by Jimmy Del Ray.  This was your basic 80s style RnR Express match, where they control the first half and Jim Cornette's team play the buffoons for a while, then take over on offense after an underhanded spot.  The finish was overbooked and pretty clumsy, like no one was sure how to end it.  Bobby Eaton unsuccessfully ran in, and after several bad-looking near-falls, Robert Gibson won with the worst-executed splash ever.  Decent match overall though.

Monday, May 20, 2019

WWE Money in the Bank 2019: Seth and AJ Save the Day

Well that show went from a big bag of suckage to a pretty good PPV by the end.  Money in the Bank 2019 often felt like a WCW show, with not much organization, baffling booking choices and a slew of really short matches.  And then all of a sudden it settled into a really good piece of work (with another baffling choice at the end).  What was made clear here is that a) the WWE roster is too big to fit everyone on a PPV, b) there are way too many championships (and another one on the way apparently), and c) Vince is still grasping at straws to make his product hot again.

The show kicked off with the women's Money in the Bank match, and while pretty short, this was a good bit of fun with everyone working hard.  There were a few messy spots and everything came off very rehearsed, but the action was entertaining and sometimes innovative.  Naomi got a few fun spots, like when ladders were coming at her from both sides and she ducked into a split, leaving everyone to crash into each other.  Ember Moon got the biggest pop (aside from the finish) with a spectacular Eclipse from an outside ladder into the ring.  Toward the end, with everyone selling injuries, Mandy Rose's pal Sonya Deville actually picked her up in a fireman's carry and climbed the ladder with Mandy on her shoulders (no small feat).  And just when it looked like Mandy was about to steal the win, Bayley came out of nowhere, glared at both of them, and shoved them off before grabbing the briefcase.  This felt like a big moment and it was great to see them finally throw Bayley a frickin' bone.  And she wasn't even done yet.  This was fun.  ***1/4

Next up was the match that pissed me off again, Samoa Joe vs. Rey Mysterio.  For the second straight PPV these guys got no time at all, though apparently this wasn't planned that way.  Rey hit Joe with a senton that broke Joe's nose (and it was gushing like a broken water main), so they went right to the finish, with Rey countering a powerbomb into a hurricanrana/cradle combination.  Problem was Joe's shoulder was way up after the one-count but the ref counted anyway, clearly to leave Joe with an out.  It was the first of three terrible officiating calls on this show, and I don't know why they're making all the refs look incompetent.  How is this possibly going to pay off in any satisfying way, Shane fires all the referees?  Joe then beat Rey down in front of his kid.  I assume we'll eventually get Joe vs. Dominic?  Is Dom any good?  This match stunk because it was only 90 seconds.  *

Match #3 stunk too, as The Miz and Shane lumbered through an awkward cage match that saw the referee call for a rope break despite cage matches supposedly not allowing rope breaks (I feel like I've seen cage match pin attempts halted by them before).  Miz hit Shane with a Skull Crushing Finale but Shane got his foot on the rope and the announcers claimed it was because the referee was afraid to count the pin on his boss.  But then, why did he count all the other pin attempts?  Both guys ended up on top of the cage, with Shane trying to slide off but Miz going for a superplex.  Shane ended up slipping out of his shirt and falling to the floor to win.  Seriously?  Shane is 2-0 in this feud now?  And we're gonna have to see this match AGAIN?  Fuck this.  This was overly long and boring.  *1/2

Following this shite, we got the Cruiserweight Title match, and as it turned out this absolutely SHOULD have been on the pre-show.  The audience didn't care about it at all, Ariya Daivari looked sloppy, and the match didn't come together until the closing moments.  Tony Nese hit a 450 splash and finished him with a running knee.  They could've left this off the main card to save time.  I will never understand the mentality behind putting a match on a show just to serve as a buffer.  Shouldn't every match feel like it belongs there?  **

Thursday, May 16, 2019

WWE Money in the Bank 2019 Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another edition of WWE Predictions, here at!

This Sunday, after an unusual six-week lag between PPVs, WWE is back with Money in the Bank!  I'm not sure why the de facto fifth Big Five show was moved directly after WrestleMania, but whatever, this show actually looks solid on paper.  There's some filler to be sure, but most of the big matches should deliver.  And boy does WWE need to hit a homerun right now.  The ratings have been in the toilet and their creative moves to reinvigorate the fans have reeked of desperation.  Wild Card rule?  Get the fuck outta here with this.

I've been saying it for years, but stop doing scripted promos and let these characters emerge organically, and 90% of your problems would go away.  Oh well, All Elite Wrestling's weekly show on TNT starts in October, and they've already announced that their promos will be genuine.  Man, that's gonna be great.

Anyway, let's get to this overloaded card....

Pre-Show Smackdown Tag Team Championship: Daniel Bryan & Erick Rowan vs. The Usos

Look, I know Bryan's status was up in the air when they put this lineup together, but in what world does it make sense for him to be on the pre-show?  Bump something else to make room, or leave this off the card, no?  If given time this should be quite good, though it makes zero sense for the Usos, who just got moved to RAW, to get this match.  This brand split needs to just end.  Merge the belts and feature the big stars more or less on both shows.  You can have certain guys be on one show more than the other, but the split roster thing isn't working anymore.

Pick: Bryan & Rowan just won these belts so they're not losing 'em yet.

Pre-Show Cruiserweight Championship: Tony Nese vs. Ariya Daivari

Another cruiserweight match that should be good but I'm not invested in it.  Nese is very talented though, and his 'Mania Pre-Show match with Buddy was quite solid.

Pick: Nese retains

Steel Cage Match: The Miz vs. Shane McMahon

Fuckin' hell.  Why is this feud still going?  Why has Shane been featured on every PPV this year?  Why should I believe a cage match will actually keep the action in the ring?  This is one of two matches in which I have zero expectation for anything of quality.  Piss break.

Pick: Miz gets his win back from 'Mania

The History of NJPW Dominion (2012)

In 2012 Dominion begins to feel like the company's second-biggest show of the year.....
Osaka BodyMaker Colosseum - 6.16.12

The 2012 Dominion show was a very solid PPV headlined by the company's big new drawing card, the Hiroshi Tanahashi-Kazuchika Okada feud.  Tanahashi had carried the company on his back for five years already, dragging them out of their financial doldrums, but up until this point he hadn't yet faced a definitive opponent, the Rock to his Steve Austin.  That opponent finally arrived in 2012, in the personage of Okada, a prodigiously gifted 24-year-old who had shockingly dethroned Tana at that year's New Beginning and announced himself as New Japan's future centerpiece.  This edition of Dominion would center around the highly anticipated rematch, while the rest of the card would showcase the company's growing roster of supporting characters.

The opening six-man tag featured an insane amount of talent, as the DDT promotion's hottest stars crashed the party.  Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega and Daisuka Sasaki faced Prince Devitt, Bushi and Kushida.  Ibushi and Devitt kicked off this incredibly athletic contest with mat-based grappling before tagging in Sasuke and Kushida, who demonstrated their impossibly quick Jr. style, and then Omega and Bushi paired off to hit the big crowd-pleasing moves.  This match got plenty of time for an opener and built to some spectacular moves and counters.  It boiled down to Ibushi and Bushi; the latter hit a top rope Spanish Fly but fell victim to Ibushi's Last Ride for the pin.  This was a super-fun opener with tons of Jr. Heavyweight action.  ***1/2

Another six-man tag followed, with a totally different style of wrestling, as Tomohiro Ishii led Chaos partners Yoshi-Hashi and Rocky Romero against Yuji Nagata, Wataru Inoue and Captain New Japan.  Ishii and Nagata began and largely closed this match, with awesome stiff back-and-forth fighting.  Inoue got a few moments to shine as well, at one pointing leveling Yoshi and Romero with a double rolling spear, but then Chaos got the advantage and Rocky and Yoshi had an amusing moment, arguing over taking turns with Rocky's signature corner clotheslines.  Finally Captain New Japan tagged in and controlled the match for a bit, but while holding Ishii for a Nagata lariat, Ishii ducked and Nagata nailed the Cap.  Ishii then hit his brain buster for the win.  Ishii and Nagata continued fighting after the bell and had to be separated.  Also a fun little match.  **3/4

Third up was Taichi & Taka Michinoku vs. Jushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask IV.  This started out with mucho stalling from the heels, who spent the first half cheating and double-teaming both masked opponents.  Taichi tried on numerous occasions to unmask Liger, and after a ref bump Taichi used a chair and started tearing off pieces of Liger's headgear.  But Liger had prepped for this, revealing that his face was heavily painted beneath the mask, and red-misted both Taichi and Taka before powerbombing Taichi through a table.  Tiger Mask then hit the tiger suplex for the win and presented Liger with a new mask after the bell.  This was chaotic but entertaining.  **1/2

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The History of NJPW Dominion (2011)

The Tanahashi Magic Train keeps rollin' on and this would be the final Dominion powered exclusively by The Ace.

Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium - 6.18.11

**NOTE: NJPW World is missing three matches from this show: Koji Kanemoto-Hiromu Takahashi, the Kendrick/Gedo/Jado-Liger/Kushida/Tiger Mask six-man, and the Tenza/Seigigun-Ishii/Tanaka/Iizuka six-man.  Their combined running time is a shade under 21 minutes though, so I get the feeling I wasn't missing anything essential.**

Dominion 2011 was for me kind of a middling show with a couple standouts.  There wasn't anything bad, but most of the card fell into the 2s and 3s for me.  NJPW was still running on high-octane Tanahashi fuel but the Jr. division also featured some of the best talent in the company.  One thing I found odd about these first three Dominions is that Chaos was the top heel stable but wasn't being featured much in title matches.  And strangely absent from this show altogether was Chaos's leader, Shinsuke Nakamura.  This show could've used his presence for sure.

The first match available on New Japan World was Ryusuke Taguchi vs Mascara Dorada for the CMLL Welterweight Title.  This bout started off somewhat methodically with some initial feeling out but both guys pretty quickly brought out the top rope dives.  Dorada nearly killed himself on a botched second-rope springboard, when his foot caught the top rope causing him to under-rotate; the back of his head hit the apron on the way down and it looked like he hyperextended his knee on the floor.  Miraculously he was able to continue, attempting the same move moments later and nailing it, much to the crowd's delight.  The second half of the match had some good lucha-style exchanges, leading to a series of traded victory rolls with Dorada holding one long enough for the three-count.  This match was solid but too short to be much more.  **3/4

Skipping ahead to the fifth match of the night, former No Limit tag partners Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro Takahashi locked horns in a match that started out very heated but settled into an oddly slow pace for a grudge match.  Naito top-rope dropkicked Takahashi at the bell and followed it up outside with a running dropkick on the ramp.  Back in the ring Takahashi took over for a long stretch that was fine but a bit tedious at times.  One thing was evident from this match though - Tetsuya Naito has seemingly always had a recklessness about landing on his head.  Three times during this match he would do a running dive or a flipping bump and just barely avoid breaking his neck.  Late in the match he also took a high-angle Olympic slam that looked crippling.  After about eleven minutes Takahashi won with a Dominator.  This was decent but I expected more given the nature of their feud.  From this match it's clear why Naito became a huge star and Takahashi did not.  *** 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Back to the Future, Parts 2 & 3

Welcome one and all to another installment of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!

Today it's a double-feature, as we dissect the beloved sequels to the 80s adventure/sci-fi/comedy masterpiece Back to the Future.  Yup, I'm probably gonna ruin these two movies for you.  Don't misunderstand me though, I LOVE the Back to the Future trilogy.  It's a classic series that still holds up as a tremendously enjoyable triumvirate of films, and the first one especially is required viewing for anyone who likes fun.  However, when you reaaaaally sit down and think about the second and third movies, they're full of plot holes, tacked-on character motivations, genre cliches, and time-travel paradoxes (given how much dialogue is devoted to this subject, these are kinda hard to forgive completely).

So join me and dip your toes into the pool of overanalysis.  Really, the water's fine!

The Awesome

The Story

Picking up right where the first movie left off, Doc Brown has just returned from the year 2015 (Christ, that's already in the past now!) and urgently needs Marty and Jennifer to go back with him to stop their kids from royally screwing up the McFlys' entire future.  While in 2015 Marty (with the help of the villain Biff Tannen) inadvertently creates a rift that alters the last sixty years in horrible ways.  What follows is a complex adventure that sees our heroes jumping to different eras in the hopes of repairing the damaged timeline.  In the process Doc is accidentally displaced to 1885, and the third film (set in the Old West) sees Marty follow him back in the hopes of preventing his murder at the hands of Biff's ancestor Buford Tannen, so they can both get back to 1985 where they belong.

Wow, that paragraph made these movies sound damn near impossible to follow, but in actuality they're loads of fun and whenever I watch the first movie I have to watch Parts 2 & 3 to complete the experience.  Time travel in general is a fascinating concept around which to build a story, and if you can avoid the obvious loopholes inherent in the genre it usually results in an interesting-at-worst kinda movie.

The Characters

By this point we've grown to love Marty McFly and Doc Brown as protagonists.  They have a wonderful father-son dynamic and are endlessly likable.  Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd clearly had amazing chemistry together and regardless of any script shortcomings we automatically care about what happens to these two characters.

When are we getting these damn hoverboards???

On the flipside, Thomas F. Wilson is perfectly cast as Biff Tannen and his various relatives.  He's a fantastically loathsome bully the audience can enjoy hating, and we relish whatever misfortune happens to befall him.

Mr. Tannen is a Grade-A Douchebag.

The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1992)

Welcome back to The History of WCW SuperBrawl!

SuperBrawl II - Milwaukee Theater - 2.29.92

The second edition was a streamlined eight-match show that made great use of WCW's thinning roster and put the focus back on a strong in-ring product.  1992 was the year the company got back to basics and this show set the tone.  Flair's 1991 departure had left a huge hole in the roster and this was where that wound finally started healing over.  Jesse Ventura made his WCW debut on this show and it's great now to hear him and Jim Ross as a broadcast team.  Interestingly Ventura was the first to point out that if Ross wore a cowboy hat he'd look like JR from Dallas.  I think Vince owes Ventura credit for Ross's WWF marketability as Good Ol' JR.

Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Brian Pillman was a goddamn helluvan opening match, for the Light Heavyweight Title.  This match showcased all kinds of action North American fans weren't yet accustomed to and helped introduce Liger to a new audience.  There was a miscue or two but overall this was full of great false finishes and big high spots.  Pillman won with a bridging leg cradle after Liger missed a top-rope splash.

This was crazy goddamn stuff for 1992

Second was Terry Taylor, under the Ted Dibiase-esque "Taylor Made Man" persona, against Marcus Bagwell.  What really should've been a throwaway was actually pretty entertaining while it lasted.  The ending was totally flat and felt like a mistake (the wrestlers even kept going after the pin was counted), but otherwise not too bad.

Cactus Jack vs. Ron Simmons was next and these two beat the hell out of each other for six-and-a-half minutes.  Much like Pillman vs. Windham the year before, this was way better than its running time would suggest.  Damn good slugfest.

Mankind beats up Faarooq

The one match I was dreading was Van Hammer & Tom Zenk vs. Richard Morton & Vinnie Vegas, but actually this was not as bad as it looked on paper.  The action was fine when Zenk and/or Morton was in the ring but Kevin Nash was pretty bad in 1992.  I'm not sure why they thought turning Morton heel was ever a good idea.  This went longer than it should've but it was still watchable.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Music Review: Babymetal - Metal Resistance

Japanese "idol group" Babymetal is a band whose music should be nowhere near as skillfully crafted or sonically rewarding as it is.  Considering the group was a producer-assembled offshoot of a J-Pop vocal group comprised of 12-year-olds, I was almost ready to dismiss them as a disingenuous corporate creation.  But then I listened to their new album Metal Resistance.  Dammit, this thing's good.

The band's music pays homage to numerous metal bands and subgenres, notably Dream Theater (For backing instrumentalists to play recreate such a complex style is no small feat, incidentally), Sevendust, Slipknot, power metal bands like Helloween, and even some dubstep here and there.  Atop this molten barrage of guitars and drums are the hooky, saccharine melodies of three teenage girls.  These two elements should not mix well at all, but somehow they do.  The album's twelve tracks fly by, containing enough radio-friendly choruses for a Bieber record but enough machine-gun speed metal destruction for the Rockstar Mayhem Festival.  Almost all the lyrics are in Japanese, but don't let that deter you.  The melodies will be stuck in your head for days regardless.

The opener "Road of Resistance" is one of the most driving tracks on the album, assaulting the listener with blast-beats and background death vocals before lead singer Su-Metal jumps in with that sweet melody.  The Helloween influence is felt most strongly on this track.

One of the standouts is the second song "Karate," which features a snaky midtempo nu-metal groove I could easily hear on a Sevendust record.  The chorus is one of the strongest on the album and one of most instantly memorable hooks I've heard in a long time; this is some professional songwriting.

Track 3, "Adawama Fever," is equally hooky but in a more simplistic way.  The vocals dance over a syncopated beat before settling into a goofy but undeniably fun chorus having something to do with bubble gum.  This song is super high-energy.

One major stylistic departure is the piano ballad "No Rain, No Rainbow," which shows off Su-Metal's increasingly self-assured vocals.  For an 18-year-old she can really belt out these tunes and I look forward to hearing what she can do as she matures.  Evidently this one was written a while back but Su-Metal didn't feel comfortable recording it until after she'd extensively performed it live and could emotionally get inside of the song.  The wait paid off; she sings this one like she means it.

The Dream Theater influence is front and center on the late-album song "Tales of the Destinies," a track full of odd meters, start-stop riffs, and numerous time changes.  But then the chorus explodes right out of a Helloween album, the band pounding out impossibly fast riffs while Su-Metal's uplifting chorus melody soars.

My favorite track is the album closer, "The One," which is the only song delivered totally in English.  The lyrics seem pretty crudely written (probably due in part to the translation), but this is an anthemic prog-metal masterpiece that would serve very well as the grand finale to a rock opera.  It's got one of those rare choruses you can hear on a loop and never tire of, and when it eventually fades out to close the album you can't wait to start over again.

Metal Resistance has a little something for everyone who likes loud, energetic music.  It's slickly produced, expertly played heavy metal with some of the most hauntingly catchy hooks you're likely to hear.  The impetus behind this band may have been one of commercialism, but when it comes to creating a deceptively challenging hard rock album with strong re-listen value, Babymetal is the real deal.  This is one of the best albums so far this year.

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

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The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1991)

Welcome to another PPV History series!  Today we'll be talking about WCW's secondary tentpole show, SuperBrawl!

Introduced in 1991, SuperBrawl was obviously meant as a flagship show on par with Starrcade.  The first edition was in May of that year before it was moved to February going forward.  In many cases SuperBrawl featured rematches from the previous Starrcade, and in some cases, particularly when Starrcade had a non-traditional format, SuperBrawl felt like the bigger show.

But let's take a look at the full history of this PPV series.....

SuperBrawl - Bayfront Arena - 5.19.91

The inaugural show was built around an international rematch from the WCW/NJPW Supershow, where Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World Title, but not the WCW World Title.  This was during the messy NWA-to-WCW transition period, where the lineage of the two championships was muddy at best (New Japan only recognized the NWA Title in the first match).  So a rematch was signed to reunify the belts, but in the US only the WCW Title was acknowledged for some reason.  The PPV was loaded up with 12 matches, several of which could've easily been trimmed, but still had some worthy bouts, particularly toward the end.

The show opened with The Fabulous Freebirds vs. the Young Pistols in a decent little tag bout for the vacant US Tag belts.  Pistols got screwed thanks to outside interference.  Nothing compared to the Pistols' match with the Midnight Express, but solid enough.

Dan Spivey vs. Ricky Morton was a shockingly entertaining squash, and what's more shocking is how agile Spivey used to be.  If only that Dan Spivey had played Waylon Mercy, he'd have been a great upper midcard heel in the WWF.

Nikita Koloff vs. Tommy Rich was another glorified squash to get Koloff over again as a monster heel.  Rich's career high took place when he won the NWA Title at 21.  He never got pushed hard again.

Dustin Rhodes vs. Terrence Taylor was pretty good.  Dustin looked more jacked than I ever remember seeing him.  He'd just returned to WCW and got an undefeated streak, which continued here after failed outside interference from Mr. Hughes.  I definitely underrated Dustin for many years, as even in a minor undercard match he could go.

Two pointless squashes followed, taking valuable time away from the real bouts.  Big Josh (soon to be Doink the Clown) beat Black Bart, and Oz (soon to be Vinnie Vegas, later to be Diesel, later to be Kevin Nash, later to be Mr. Quad Tear) killed Tim Parker.  Why anyone thought these were PPV-worthy I don't know.

Lotta blood

A shockingly good Taped Fist match was next (what a dumb stipulation) as Barry Windham beat the piss out of Brian Pillman.  Both guys bled early and this had some pretty violent action, particularly a spot where Windham pulled Pillman off the entrance ramp and carried him down head-first on the security railing.  Looked great.  For only six minutes this was pretty damn good.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 2 (WrestleMania III Rocks My World)

Welcome back!  Now presenting Part 2 of A Mark's History....

As I said, the first feud in which I had an emotional stake was Savage vs. Steamboat, to the point that watching a Randy Savage promo made me physically angry.  Now I knew from the beginning that wrestling was "fake."  I knew the results were predetermined and that the guys weren't really trying to hurt each other.  However, I bought into Steamboat's throat injury completely.  I thought Savage had actually crushed Steamboat's larynx, and in my eleven-year-old mind the vignettes they showed of Steamboat going through therapy to regain his voice were indisputable proof.

The next angle that really got my blood boiling was when referee Danny Davis screwed the British Bulldogs out of the Tag Team Championship.  Very shortly after I started watching in the fall of '86, the Bulldogs became my favorite team.  One Saturday in January of '87 the Bulldogs were scheduled to wrestle the Hart Foundation - a heel team but one I had started to enjoy, mostly due to Bret Hart's quite obvious wrestling ability (I didn't know much at that age but on some level I recognized a good worker when I saw one.).  My reluctant fondness for the Harts evaporated very quickly however when Davis's atrocious officiating caused the Bulldogs to lose the straps.  I remember thinking, "There's no way this decision can stand."  Sadly this was the first time I encountered the old "referee's-decision-is-final" bit, and I was highly pissed.  The following week, WWF President Jack Tunney (who I thought was legitimately the head of the company - it wasn't until about a year later that I learned play-by-play commentator Vince McMahon was the real owner, which blew my mind) angrily announced that Davis was "suspended for life."  I actually stood up and cheered at this.  True, swift justice!

You sir, are pure scum!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The History of NJPW Dominion (2010)

Welcome to our second installment of NJPW Dominion History, here at!

Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium - 6.9.10

Dominion returned to Osaka in 2010 with another solid if not stacked show, with some frankly odd star placements.  Manabu Nakanishi for example, who headlined Dominion 2009 as the IWGP Champion, showed up here in the second match of the night with five other dudes.  Shinsuke Nakamura, another former IWGP Champ, was billed fourth from the bottom in a brief MMA-infused fight with Daniel Puder of all people.  And Tanahashi, the company's golden goose was in the hair vs. hair semi-main event instead of contending for the strap.  Some strange choices to be sure, but the show itself managed to be very watchable and a few bouts were pleasantly surprising.

The 2010 edition opened with one of two six-man tags, with Akira, El Samurai and Koji Kanemoto squaring off against Ryusuke Taguchi, Super Strong Machine and baby Tama Tonga (sporting short hair and a clean-shaven look)! This was not much of a match, running under nine minutes and not featuring a lot of memorable action. El Samurai pinned Tonga with an abdominal stretch rollup thingy.  Moving on.  *1/2

The second six-man was a little better but still just sorta there, as Chaos members Tomohiro Ishii, Iizuka and Gedo faced Manabu Nakanishi, Mitsuhide Hirasawa and a blond-haired Kushida.  There was a big brawl before the bell to kick things off, climaxing in Kushida and Nakanishi dives over the ropes.  Then the match settled into the heels getting heat on Hirasawa after hitting him with chairshots outside.  Eventually Nakanishi tagged in for some big power moves, Kushida and Gedo did some fun Jr. exchanges, and Iizuka distracted the referee while Gedo nailed Kushida with a kendo stick.  Iizuka then choked Kushida out for the win.  Another forgettable affair.  *3/4

The good stuff started next, as Tomaki Honma vaced Muhammed Yone in a solid, super stiff contest.  We got tons of brutal chops, forearm shots and running lariats over the bout's nine minutes and finally Honma hit his big top rope headbutt for a near fall but Yone came back and delivered a muscle buster for the win.  Not too shabby, this one.  **3/4

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The History of NJPW Dominion (2009)

Oh yes, oh yes, the wrestling-obsessed weirdo is back with another PPV History series, here at!  This time we'll be looking at the decade-long lineage of NJPW's second-biggest PPV of the year, Dominion!

Set the way-back machine for 2009, when New Japan Pro-Wrestling was still in serious rebuilding mode, having weathered the lull of the early 2000s.  They'd hitched their wagon to a dynamic young performer named Hiroshi Tanahashi, and his gargantuan charisma, coupled with his incredible knack for in-ring storytelling, almost singlehandedly lifted NJPW out of its financial woes.  At this point Tanahashi was head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the company, but numerous young stars were being groomed for big things and by 2009 a few were starting to nip at Tana's heels.  The modern New Japan product as we know it was taking shape, with a combination of native stars and talented gaijin, and only a few years later it would start to blow everyone else out of the water from a creative standpoint.  So sit back and let's take a stroll through recent New Japan lore....

Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium - 6.20.09

Things kicked off with a solid little opener, as Jushin Thunder Liger and Akira faced Koji Kanemoto and a young lion named Nobuo Yoshihashi. Everyone worked hard in the seven-or-so minutes alotted. Finally Yoshi-Hashi ate a top rope splash from Akira for the pin.  Shockingly little from Liger in this match.  Not terribly memorable but decent.  **1/4

Next up was Takao Omori and Yutaka Yoshie vs. Mitsuhide Hirasawa and Super Strong Machine.  This was another short match, only five-and-a-half minutes, but it was full of action. Yoshie at 300+ pounds got to show off his deceptive agility.  The match ended with Omori hitting a running STO on Hirasawa. Nothing special here, but this was well worked.  **

The first really noteworthy match was third, as Apollo 55 faced Taichi and Milano Collection AT for a Jr. Heavyweight Tag Title shot.  These guys cut a crazy fast pace for the first few minutes, then Taichi and Milano slowed it down to work over Taguchi.  After the eventual hot tag to Devitt we got a crazy series of big moves and nearfalls, including an outside-the-ring Doomsday Device cross body on Taichi, a Devitt double stomp for a near fall, and a big Tower of Doom spot.  Finally Taguchi pinned Taichi after a (surprisingly safe-looking) vertebreaker and chicken wing face buster.  One thing really struck me about this match: Taichi used to be a worker!  When did that change?  Anyway this was a damn good match.  ***3/4

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, Part 1 (How I Became a Wrestling Nerd)

Howdy!  Welcome to the first chapter of Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History!   Over the weeks and months (or however long I end up doing this) I’ll be publishing an ongoing memoir of my nearly three decades of wrestling fandom.

For this entry I’ll start by talking about how and why I became hooked on this bizarre phenomenon involving grown-ass men putting on tights and pretending to beat each other up.

Yup, I blame this stupid cartoon

It was just before my 11th birthday in 1986 that I officially became a wrestling fan.  All it took was one 60-minute episode of the syndicated Saturday morning WWF show to suck me in beyond all reason.  However it took me about four years to arrive there. 

I guess my first exposure to wrestling would've been going to see Rocky III, which of course featured Hulk Hogan in the famous "wrestler vs. boxer" scene.  Being only seven at the time, I found this sequence rather strange and confusing.  My stepfather, with whom I saw the film, explained to me that pro wrestling was nothing but simulated combat.  As is the case for many non-fans my first reaction was, "Well who'd want to watch fake fighting?"

Skip ahead a few years and Hulk Hogan popped up again, this time on his Saturday morning cartoon show, Hulk Hogan's Rock & Wrestling.  A terrible show to be sure, but 9-year-old me became enthralled with the characters of Hogan, Superfly Snuka, Roddy Piper, etc.  I still hadn't seen a single wrestling match, as the cartoon really had nothing to do with the in-ring product.  But it was the comic booky characters that drew me in.  Couple this with the release of the LJN line of WWF Wrestling Superstars toys, and it was the coolest thing since He-Man.

Top Ten Things: 80s Wrestling Matches

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  Pretty self-explanatory - ten things at the top of what-have-you.

Today it's the top ten matches from that beloved bygone decade known as the 1980s!  I hopped on the pro wrestling bandwagon in the latter part of the decade and therefore this list skews heavily during that time.  I've seen plenty of the early 80s stuff, but I think most would agree the overall wrestling product in North America was stronger from '86-'89 than it was from '80-'85.  Cases in point are my ten picks.  Granted, my own personal nostalgia for those formative years may have played a part, but what the hell d'ya want from me?

Here we go....

10. Ricky Steamboat vs. Bret Hart - Boston Garden - 3.8.86

This forgotten gem was preserved for us all when Bret Hart included it on his DVD set in 2005, but I'd seen it before then.  Initially this match was to be the prototype for a WrestleMania 2 rematch, before Vince changed his mind and threw Bret and Neidhart in the WWF vs. NFL Battle Royal, and put the rising babyface Steamboat against the larger Hercules.  But this match upstaged literally everything at 'Mania 2, as these two technicians put on a veritable clinic.  This is one of the earliest WWF examples of just how good Bret was as a singles wrestler, and despite the lack of company followup it's easy to see why Bret looks back on this bout fondly.

9. Ric Flair & Barry Windham vs. Midnight Express - Clash of the Champions IV - 12.7.88

The Christmas-themed Season's Beatings edition of Clash of the Champions was headlined by a huge tag match, as NWA Champion Flair and US Champ Windham (the only remaining Four Horsemen after Anderson & Blanchard left for Stamford) faced former NWA Tag Champs the Midnight Express, who'd recently turned babyface before being mauled by the heel Road Warriors for the straps.  This Clash special was mostly centered around hype for the upcoming Starrcade '88 PPV, and all four participants here were pretty well-protected.  Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane dominated much of this fast-paced bout before getting screwed at the last minute when Flair waffled Bobby with JJ Dillon's shoe.  Another forgotten classic, this is easily one of my favorite Clash bouts of all time.

8. Team Demolition vs. Team Powers of Pain - Survivor Series - 11.24.88

Speaking of favorites, this entry is my favorite Survivor Series elimination match, which happens to be from my favorite Survivor Series PPV.  The late 80s tag division in the WWF was the stuff of legend, and this match assembled all nine of the company's regular teams (plus The Conquistadors) for an epic 40-minute war.  WWF newcomers The Powers of Pain captained an absolutely stacked team of the Hart Foundation, British Bulldogs, Rockers, and Young Stallions, against Demolition's squad of Anderson & Blanchard, The Rougeaus, The Bolsheviks, and the aforementioned masked jobbers.  The action in this match was non-stop for almost the entire duration, until late in the bout Demolition's manager Mr. Fuji turned on them and helped the Powers of Pain take the match.  This was in my experience the first-ever double-turn, and it broke my 13-year-old brain.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Top Five Films of the Year: 2007

Hell of a film year, 2007.  A lot of good-to-great films scattered about the whole calendar year, and Oscar season was one of the strongest in recent memory with some truly original stuff.

5. Juno

Jason Reitman scored big with his sophomore effort, about a brainy teenage girl who finds herself pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption.  Ellen Page put herself on the map with her performance as Juno, delivering screenwriter Diablo Cody's quirky nerdspeak convincingly and naturally.  Not many actresses would be able to make this dialogue work, but Page weaves it right into the character so we're able to identify with her.  The film is full of wonderful and engaging supporting performances, such as J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno's father and stepmother.  Both characters are gruff and brutally frank but still supportive and loving, and it's refreshing to see such realistic parent characters in a film.  Their relationship with Juno is just as you'd expect a healthy one to be under the circumstances.  The other two major characters are the intended adoptive parents, played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner.  Garner's character is played as slightly neurotic and uptight, while Bateman's cool charisma and affinity for alternative rock naturally draws Juno to him.  As the film wears on the dynamic between her and the adoptive parents changes very unexpectedly.  Juno is a splendid mix of quirky comedy and light drama - a real triumph for Reitman and co.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Parents' Night In #19: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Kelly & Justin enjoy some Barrel House Z and Newport Storm craft beer and watch Justin's favorite action movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark!  Sit back, crack open a delicious beverage, and reminisce about this action-adventure classic!

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Top Five Films of the Year: 2006

Welcome to another installment of our Top Five Films of the Year series, where I recap my picks for the best movies of a given calendar year.  Today we're talking about 2006 a rather sparsely populated year for really great films.  There wasn't much of value in terms of popcorn movies that year (Superman Returns and X-Men: The Last Stand for example felt okay at the time but didn't age well), but Oscar bait season provided some quality films.  Here are five of them.

5. Children of Men

Alfonso Cuaron's stark adaptation of the 1992 sci-fi novel takes place in a dystopian future Great Britain, where humanity is facing an infertility crisis.  It's been 18 years since a human baby was born, and society has begun to break down, with political groups waging war on each other, almost every government in the world having fallen to chaos, and Britain having turned into a police state.  A former activist named Theo (Clive Owen) is tasked by his ex-wife and her allies with escorting a pregnant refugee to the coast so she can meet up with scientists in Portugal and aid them in finding an infertility cure.  Along the way Theo and his friends are ambushed and betrayed, and the film becomes a taut race for survival.  Cuaron makes incredible use of long, unbroken shots in a few of the action sequences, giving them a wholly unique feel and plunging us right into the bedlam.  Clive Owen makes a splendidly flawed, unlikely hero, while Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine supply memorable supporting performances.  Children of Men touches on themes of immigration policy, religious faith, and redemption, while exploring a fascinatingly thoughtful science fiction premise.

4. Rocky Balboa

Well this wasn't supposed to happen.  The sixth entry in the dead-horse Rocky franchise should never have been even watchable, let alone one of the best in the series.  But Sylvester Stallone managed to wash off the foul stink of the wretched Rocky V and present a completely worthy conclusion to the saga.  While this film doesn't totally ignore the events of V (Rocky is still back to his working-class roots), it picks up the story years later after Adrian has died (Stallone famously explained the decision to kill her off by citing how much of a drag her character had become).  Rocky now owns a successful Italian restaurant and has settled into a comfortable (albeit lonely) retirement, until an ESPN dream fight simulator pits Balboa against the current heavyweight boxing champion Mason Dixon, piquing the public's interest in seeing the matchup for real (inspired by George Foreman's unlikely comeback in the 90s).  Rocky eventually agrees to the exhibition fight and we wander into familiar territory, complete with the classic Training Montage.  As with the first Rocky film however, this movie is not really about the fight, but rather focuses on the characters.  Rocky has seemingly lost his sense of purpose after Adrian's death and spends much of his energy mourning her, while her regretful brother Paulie is anxious to leave that part of his life behind ("Stop talking 'bout yesterday, Rock! Yesterday wasn't so great!").  Rocky develops a relationship of sorts with Marie, a girl he used to know from the old neighborhood, and in growing close with her and her son Rocky begins to really live again.  I had no expectations of enjoying this film.  The idea of picking up the Rocky series again after 17 years seemed totally absurd, but to his credit Stallone rediscovered what made these movies work in the first place and crafted an excellent final chapter (until the equally excellent spinoff Creed showed up that is) that rivals the original.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2019 Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another round of PPV Predictions, here at!

This Friday and Saturday are the annual NJPW Wrestling Dontaku two-night event, one that should have Dominion implications!  As always there are multiple tag matches making up most of the lineups, with a few major bouts headlining.  So we'll preview the really important stuff.  Let's get to it.

Night 1

Kota Ibushi & RPG3K vs. Tetsuya Naito, Bushi & Shingo Takagi

This match is taking place on both nights so we'll pick winners for both bouts here.  Whole lotta talent in this match and both incarnations should be high energy AF.  Ibushi is either moving on from his Naito feud after this or they'll have a rematch at Dominion, I'm not sure which.  Either way they always deliver when they're together, maybe too well for either's safety.  I'm gonna say the two teams split these two matches.

Justin: Team Ibushi wins the first night, LIJ wins the second
Landon: LIJ

Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Evil & Sanada

The IWGP Champ and his stout buddy Ishii deliver a preview of their respective Night 2 singles matches against Naito's two senior henchmen.  This should be an excellent tag match to build to the second night.  I'll go with LIJ to win here.

Justin: LIJ
Landon: Magic Killer to Ishii

NEVER Openweight Championship: Jeff Cobb vs. Taichi


Oh good, New Japan's answer to Baron Corbin (the crappy worker no one likes who keeps getting big matches) challenges the new NEVER champ.  I'm not expecting much out of this, but maybe Cobb will carry him through a good outing.  Cobb just won the belt so he pretty much has to retain here.

Justin: Cobb retains
Landon: Cobb retains so I can meet him with both titles in a week.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Cinema Showdown: Hulk 2003 vs. Hulk 2008


The Incredible Hulk is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters.  He is pure, unbridled rage.  Fury incarnate.  The perfect embodiment of what happens to us all when our emotions become too potent to control.  The meek, intellectual, physically limited Bruce Banner morphs into the mindless, gigantic destroyer known as the Hulk.  Few fictional characters are as universally relatable or recognizable, and this story is a natural for cinematic interpretation.

The late 70s saw a TV version of the character, as Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno costarred in The Incredible Hulk series.  The show was very popular but due to technological and budgetary limits it failed to fully capture the spirit of the comic.  Instead of being a giant with unlimited strength and near-invincibility, the Hulk was merely a large, very muscular man with green skin who never spoke and liked to throw people around.  The series was followed by three rather poorly-received TV movie sequels, and it seemed that a theatrical feature film based on the character would never happen.

Ferrigno oddly looks simian in that wig.  Hulkey Kong!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Lotta stuff to unpack from Avengers: Endgame.  It's a complicated case, Maude, lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.  The fourth, and I guess presumably last, Avengers film is a packed-to-the-gills denouement bursting with action, emotion and what would be called, in a lesser film, fan service.  I prefer to think of it as fan rewards; Endgame has so many little nods and story thread resolutions to the previous 21 films in the MCU, it manages to simultaneously be a broad crowd pleaser while also catering to the Marvel die-hards.  It's also the shortest three-hour film you'll ever sit through.

I'll keep this review as spoiler-free as I can.

Endgame picks up just after Infinity War left off - Thanos has just wiped out half the universe's population and our remaining heroes are trying to figure out a way to undo it all.  But things progress quite contrary to expectations, basically throughout the film.  Forget everything you expected was going to happen and just enjoy the ride.

Where Infinity War had literally dozens of characters vying for screen time (and somehow directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely made it work), Endgame's cast is stripped down and thus there's much more room for character moments and payoffs; the focus is fittingly on the original six Avengers.  The two films together play out like an epic double album, not unlike Tarantino's Kill Bill in some ways.  The first half was full of action and inciting incidents, while the second zoomed in on character arcs to give the first half more meaning (I'm excited to watch them back-to-back).  Tony Stark and Steve Rogers get the most screen time and dramatic heft, but Black Widow and Hawkeye surprisingly get a ton of room to shine as well, and Bruce Banner/Hulk and Thor's respective character arcs take unexpected turns.

But the show stealer may be Karen Gillan as Nebula, who in the first Guardians film could've easily just been a nothing henchwoman but has over four films become the most shockingly complex unlikely hero in the entire series.  Nebula's reluctantly erring on the side of compassion and ongoing struggle with her choices vs. her instincts has made her an absolutely fascinating piece of the puzzle, and she finds herself confronting that very dichotomy here.  Kudos to both James Gunn for writing her that way in the first place, and Markus/McFeely for seeing it through.

There's obviously no shortage of epic action on display here but like most of the MCU films before it, Endgame makes it all meaningful, continually giving us new and compelling reasons to care about these characters and their battles.  At least four or five times I found myself getting choked up by an action scene moment, in that "How cool is this?" kinda way.  And of course the film has numerous emotional beats and bittersweet touches; I'm not sure any other comic book film has ever been bursting with so much sentiment.

Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of an eleven-year journey that began modestly with an Iron Man origin film; that this $20 billion (so far) empire was spawned from a relatively small-scope movie about an at-the-time third-string Marvel character is truly astounding.  Talk about building a brand - Endgame's opening weekend domestic gross eclipsed Iron Man's entire US run by $32 million, while its worldwide box office more than doubled Iron Man's!  The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an astounding achievement from a staggeringly sure-footed company.  Even some of its early lesser output is entertaining at worst, and still meaningful in the bigger picture (The Dark World of all films is referenced in this one).  Endgame isn't the last MCU film but it does feel like well-earned grand finale whose scope and spectacle won't likely be topped anytime soon.

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

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Top Ten Things: Movie Plot Twists

Welcome to Top Ten Things, here at, where I compile a list of stuff that, let's be honest, is ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things.  But let's do it anyway...

Today it's the Top Ten Movie Plot Twists of all time.  The plot twist is an age-old narrative device used to reframe an entire story and make the audience go, "Wait, whaaaaaaaat??"  When executed correctly it can save a poor film (Saw, Terminator 3) by creating a memorable ending that stands out much more than the film itself, or it can make an already good film a transcendent piece of pop culture.  A good plot twist generally makes the movie a mandatory repeat watch, as the first viewing results in a colossal mindfuck, while the second allows us to put the pieces together with the new frame of reference.  It also requires great skill and discipline on the part of the storyteller, as they need to give away enough information that the reveal doesn't feel like a cheat, but keep enough cards hidden that the audience won't see it coming.

Here are the ten greatest plot twists in cinema history, according to me.....


10. The Prestige: "A brother...a twin..."

Christopher Nolan's moody period piece about feuding 19th century magicians has great fun playing around with the timeline, creating narratives within narratives as each of the main characters reads the other's diary and we see flashbacks from multiple points of view.  The rivalry centers around a trick known as The Transported Man, in which the magician disappears into a cabinet at one end of the stage only to instantly reappear from an identical cabinet twenty feet away.  Alfred Bordin (Christian Bale) invented the trick, and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) becomes obsessed with discovering the secret, even commissioning the creation of a newfangled teleportation device.  In the film's climactic twist ending it's revealed that Bordin had a twin brother the whole time.  He and the brother would take turns playing the role of Bordin's assistant Fallon, and both committed so fully to their secret that it ruined Bordin's marriage, his career, and eventually cost the brother his life.  The filmmakers masterfully manipulate the audience's sympathy, transferring it from Angier to Bordin midway through the movie.  The final reveal caps off that transition perfectly.

9. The Wizard of Oz: "There's no place like home"

One of the most famous and often imitated twist endings is the "It was all a dream" scenario, wherein the protagonist wakes up to find that none of the events we've just witnessed actually happened.  In a lesser story this can be an infuriating revelation, but in the case of The Wizard of Oz it turned out iconic.  Dorothy gets trapped in her house during a tornado, is knocked unconscious, and is transported to a magical world called Oz, populated by witches, little people, talking scarecrows, tin men and lions, and of course, color.  After a whimsical journey to see the famous Wizard about helping her get home, a good witch named Glinda tells her to click her heels together and suddenly she wakes up in her own black & white bed, having dreamed the whole darn thing.  While this type of plot device has been parodied and watered down over the years, in this case it was a brilliant piece of storytelling.  The Wizard of Oz is probably the quintessential family movie and I always associate it with a time before the advent of DVDs and on-demand streaming, when we could only watch it once a year on TV.  Truly an Event Viewing experience.   

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Top Ten Things: "Acquired Taste" Films

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

Today I'll be talking about films that, at least for me, have required numerous viewings to fully appreciate and enjoy; films that, like the best music, become better with familiarity.  Sometimes a single watch doesn't allow you to process every nuance of the script or performances, or fully take in the visual composition at work, or nail down the subtext of what the director was trying to say.  And sometimes appreciation of a film just comes to you with age.  Something I wasn't interested in or couldn't relate to in my teens or 20s might be fascinating to me in my 30s or 40s.

I'm reminded of a Stanley Kubrick quote: The idea that a movie should be seen only once is an extension of our traditional conception of film as an ephemeral entertainment rather than as a visual work of art.

You said it Stanley.  Here are ten such films.....

1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

I first watched Bride of Frankenstein in college and my original assessment was that it strayed so far from the book and was so unabashedly weird that I hated it.  I'd become such a fan of the novel and Mary Shelley's complex depiction of the creature that the Universal film versions frustrated me to no end.  But upon later viewings I developed an appreciation for the film's uncompromisingly bizarre tone and for how ballsy its anti-religious and sexual undertones were for 1935.  Despite the simplicity of his speech in this film Karloff's monster is completely sympathetic and by this point in the story he's become the clear protagonist moreso than Dr. Frankenstein.  The performances by Ernest Thesinger as the sinister, rather flamboyant Dr. Pretorious, and Elsa Lanchester as The Bride are also iconic in the pantheon of classic monster films.  The Bride's "birth" is obviously the most film's famous scene; that this was such a memorable character is even more amazing considering how brief her appearance is.  What really sticks out about Bride after multiple viewings though are the Expressionist visuals; the use of light and shadow, the multi-plane shot composition, the use of wide-angle lenses.  What began for me as a goofy, over-the-top sequel has become my favorite of the Universal Monster films.

2. Citizen Kane (1941)

Kane is another film I first watched in college.  My English Literature class covered this film for some reason, and our professor had us watch parts of it to illustrate the artistry of some of the visuals and the narrative style.  What I saw piqued my interest enough to buy the VHS tape and I sat down and watched the whole thing.  And while I did appreciate the visuals to a certain extent I'd be lying if I said the story jumped out at 18-year-old Justin.  For a teenager raised largely on action films this rise-and-fall tale about a newspaper tycoon wasn't exactly the most exciting thing I'd ever seen.  But the imagery kept me enough of a fan that I rewatched it several times, and much later as an adult who'd actually tasted life, my appreciation of the story grew considerably.  One day about five years ago I decided to pop in the DVD after not having viewed the film in several years, and suddenly it all clicked for me.  The shot composition, the performances, the circular story structure, it was all ingenious, game-changing stuff.  Citizen Kane is now one of my all-time favorite films, and it only took me about two decades to realize it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Great PPVs: Fully Loaded 2000

Welcome to the fifth installment of The Great PPVs - whether you're reading this at or, I hope you're ready for a little trip down Memory Lane.

Today I'm taking a look at what I consider the best PPV from one of (if not THE) greatest years in WWF/E history, the year 2000.  2000 was, from a profitability and creative standpoint, the apex of the WWF Attitude Era.  After the late 1999 departure of Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, whose "Crash TV" style of booking had become stale and nonsensical, the following year saw a return to a more focused product with a much greater emphasis on the in-ring aspect.  Imported WCWers like Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero certainly helped, as the upper midcard now boasted some of the most talented grapplers in the world.  Additionally the tag team division flourished that year, thanks to breakout performances of Edge & Christian (who'd finally found a winning gimmick with their dorky metalhead schtick), the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz.  Between the aforementioned rising stars and the already established names, the WWF's 2000 roster was one of the best ever assembled.

One interesting thing about the company's PPV calendar that year was that the Big Five PPVs, with the exception of the Royal Rumble, vastly underdelivered, mostly due to the shows being overcrowded and sloppily booked.  But the B-PPVs that year were almost all incredible, with stellar main events and stacked undercards that effectively utilized the thriving locker room.  Fully Loaded is one such example of a PPV with both excellent top-billed bouts and strong supporting ones.  The subtext going into Fully Loaded was that the existing WWF main eventers (The Rock, Triple H and The Undertaker) were all being challenged for their spots by the new guard (namely Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle).  The show was billed as a Triple Main Event (though Double is really more accurate), and while the glass ceiling was by no means shattered here, it was perhaps cracked just a little.  And two of the three big matches delivered huge.

But first the undercard: The show opened with a wildly competitive mixed six-person tag match, as The Hardyz and Lita faced Test, Albert (T&A, get it?) and Trish Stratus.  This tag team feud didn't exactly light up the airwaves, but most of the intrigue here was between the WWF's two "It-girls," Trish and Lita, who would feud on and off for the next six years and serve as the backbone of this new and exciting Women's division.  This was a highly entertaining opener, which Team Extreme won after a climactic exchange between the women, culminating in Lita's top-rope moonsault on Trish.

Next was a throwaway meant to showcase the former ECW Champion Taz(z) against another ECW alum Al Snow.  This match was brief and mostly dominated by Taz(z), who finished Snow with his Tazzmission (a Cobra Clutch variant).  This would sadly be the last time Taz(z) was well-used in the WWF, as he began a pointless feud against Jerry Lawler that fall, and by early 2001 was relegated to being an underneath guy.