Thursday, January 31, 2019

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Hannibal

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at, where I examine a movie that I want so badly to fully enjoy, but like a crappy, unreliable boyfriend/girlfriend, it just won't get its shit together and commit.

Such a description is very fitting of the film Hannibal (2001), the much-anticipated sequel to the iconic Silence of the Lambs, which saw Anthony Hopkins return to the role that made him a gazillionaire, Hannibal Lecter.  Hannibal had been planned for several years, after Lambs author Thomas Harris announced he'd be writing a follow-up to the massive hit.  Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and director Jonathan Demme jumped right on board, and the world waited patiently while the novel came to fruition.  Unfortunately by the time of its publication in 1998, Demme declined to participate due to the novel's lurid tone, and Foster had already decided to direct her own film and would not be available.  The scramble was on to replace two of the three integral pieces of the puzzle, and eventually Ridley Scott was attached to direct, with Julianne Moore replacing Foster as Clarice Starling.

So why does this movie qualify as Awesomely Shitty?  In short, I find Hannibal a pretty infuriating example of a movie I was absolutely pumped for and ready to love, but so many things about it were executed just plain wrong.  And a few of these things could've been fixed so easily, either with a quick rewrite or an edit.  Before I get to all that negative stuff though, let's talk about what worked.

The Awesome

Julianne Moore

Excuse me for a moment.....JULIANNE, I F*CKIN' LOVE YOU!!

If Clarice had to be recast (and she did), I can't think of a better actress to inherit this amazing character than Julianne Moore.  I've been a big Juli-fanne (TM pending) for a couple decades now, and so despite my reservations about Jodie Foster not returning I was pretty stoked to see Moore take the part.  Julianne is one of the most versatile and consistently great actresses working today, who for years was undeservedly snubbed by Oscar until finally taking home the gold in 2015.  Where Foster's Clarice was young and idealistic, Moore's incarnation of the character has become cynical and untrusting after a decade of petty FBI politics and unsavory treatment at the hands of the Old Boy Network.  Over ten years she has earned the dubious honor of having more kills to her name than any other Agent, and at the start of the film she is forced to shoot yet another suspect when the uncooperative DC police undermine her authority in a drug raid.  The Bureau uses this incident as an excuse to take her out of the field, and she's reassigned to the seemingly futile case of the long-disappeared Lecter.  Moore plays Clarice as a woman who once dreamed of being an FBI agent, only to later find that the Bureau doesn't share her virtuous nature and in many ways isn't worthy of having her.

Stuff I Drew, part 4 (Yet More Champions of the Galaxy)

Okay, more of these stupid drawings.  Each of these was based completely on a real person.  The first two are revamps of existing characters in the game, Adam Blast and Lance Atlas.  Now you wrestling fans may remember that in 1999 the WWF's programming was very racy and fraught with sexual undertones, even introducing a porn star character named Val Venis.  I thought the names Adam Blast and Lance Atlas sounded a lot like porn star names so I based the revamped characters on that, using Venis as a model for Atlas, and Jeff Jarrett as the model for Adam.  Pretty stupid characters, but I was happy with the drawings themselves.

Based on a photo of Jeff Jarrett

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    Movies of Disbelief: Signs (2002)

    Welcome to another Movies of Disbelief, where I examine one particular issue with an otherwise good film and why it irritates me so.  Today's subject, the 2002 alien invasion film Signs.

    M. Night Shyamalan.  Has there ever been a more divisive film director?  Or more accurately, has there ever been a film director whose output has ranged from "universally lauded" to "fiery garbage on a stick?"  M. Night burst on the scene seemingly out of nowhere with his third film The Sixth Sense (I legit had no idea he'd made two other movies until I looked it up for this article), which proved a smash-hit and popularized the mindfuck ending like no other film had.  He followed it up with the mostly acclaimed but less successful Unbreakable, an intimate twist on the superhero genre (which of course spawned a trilogy nearly twenty years later), and then it was time for Signs.

    Starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, Signs was another "up close and personal" take on a genre film, this time The Alien Invasion picture.  Gibson is a widowed ex-minister-turned-farmer who finds a crop circle in his field, seemingly left by an alien presence, and soon other signs of an invasion spring up, including strange noises, animals exhibiting abnormal behavior, and lights in the sky.  Eventually news reports surface of alien sightings, leading to one of the great monster reveals, an amateur video taken at a kids' birthday party (This moment is chillingly effective).  The film expertly builds suspense throughout its entire running time, leading to a final showdown between Gibson's family (brother and two kids) and one of the creatures......and then it falls apart totally and completely in the last fifteen minutes, when it turns out the aliens are allergic to water.  Yeah that's right, simple, old fashioned water.

    Dude, scary as fuck.

    But that's not even what has my goat about this movie.  Don't get me wrong, it's annoying as all hell that an advanced species capable of interstellar travel - one that would've necessarily taken atmospheric readings before landing on any planet, to ensure the air is breathable - couldn't figure out that not only is our planet 70% covered with liquid that will disintegrate them, but its atmosphere is LOADED with it.  Like, how did they walk around a humid climate such as Brazil without inhaling moisture that would've corroded them from the inside?  How did it not happen to rain in any of the locales they invaded?  But okay, let's say for argument's sake, they couldn't figure out Terra Firma has water coming out its ass.  We'll shelve that gripe, as I have bigger goddamn fish to fry with this movie.

    Hmmm, what d'ya suppose I could do with ol' Wonder Bat here?

    No, what really pisses me off about this film is the other climactic "reveal," where Mel and his family are under siege by one of these lizard men, and only after flashing back to his wife's cryptic dying words "Tell Merrill to swing away" does it occur to Mel, "Say, perhaps I should urge my brother to grab that baseball bat on the wall and Al Capone E.T.'s fucking brains out."  Yeah that's right.  Instead of instinctively going for the first blunt instrument he can get his hands on, he ponders for a moment the last thing Mrs. Gibson said to him after a drunk driver pinned her to a tree, and it just so happened to suggest these Martian motherfuckers could be felled by a Louisville Slugger to their big green faces.  I know when I'm being attacked I try to think of a deceased loved one's final earthly guidance, no matter how irrelevant it might seem.  This one time I got mugged, and my first impulse was to reflect on my grandmother's dying advice, "Boy, you show 'em you're good as gold," and I proceeded to take a golden piss all over that mugger, who ran screaming into the night.  What a fucking stupid ending to this movie.  Someone invades your home, you find a weapon and attack them with it.  It's literally one of the first two impulses you'd have, the other being to hide.  Why in the FUCK would this scene need an enigmatic flashback that neatly ties into the domestic crisis our heroes find themselves in?

    This movie should be called Signs...That Your Director is a Pretentious Asshole.

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    Tuesday, January 29, 2019

    The History of NXT TakeOver: Phoenix

    The NXT brand did it again this past weekend, overshadowing the main roster with a modest 160-minute, five-match TakeOver special.  As usual there was nary an ounce of fat on the card, all five matches carried some value, and a couple were outstanding.

    The show kicked off in pretty spectacular fashion with a Tag Title match pitting Roderick Strong and Kyle O'Reilly against War Raiders, in a bout that would've made Tully, Arn, Hawk and Animal proud.  This was exactly the type of match I wanted it to be, with the Raiders playing the innovative, dominant power brokers and the Undisputed Era the crafty technicians.  This featured much more back and forth than the old NWA formula, but the arc was the same.  Just a classic tag team encounter that built to a peak with just enough nearfalls to not overstay its welcome.  Hanson and Rowe ultimately scored the win and the titles with Fallout, and the place went nuts.  I loved this match.  ****1/2

    Next up was the de facto weakest match on the show, as Matt Riddle got his first proper TakeOver match against his nemesis Kassius Ohno.  Ohno controlled most of the bout, playing the bully to the hilt, while Riddle was the undersized babyface in peril.  Riddle took a ton of punishment over the bout's nine minutes but kept fighting through, eventually trapping Ohno and delivering repeated elbow strikes for the submission win.  Very solid stuff.  ***

    Stuff I Drew, part 3 (More Champions of the Galaxy)

    Here's the next batch of characters from that damn wrestling card game (I was obsessed with this game for like 4 years).  Incidentally if anyone is wondering what the game is called, or if I just made the whole thing up, Google "Champions of the Galaxy" and you'll find it.  This game is horribly addictive....

    The first two characters were an original tag team I created called The Destroyers.  My RPE friends will recognize the names, though Apocalypse looks quite different.  I obviously used The Undertaker as an inspiration but tried to scale him more like The Big Show (or The Giant as he was called at the time).

    Monday, January 28, 2019

    WWE Royal Rumble 2019: It Was a Strong B+

    Well it wasn't the blow-away event it looked to be on paper, but the 2019 Royal Rumble was a fine show with a slew of very good matches and nothing bad.  Hard to complain about that.  Even the pre-show stuff was solid (Check out the blistering Cruiserweight 4-Way especially).

    But let's get into the proper PPV, as five hours is plenty to talk about.  The show kicked off with a pretty great Asuka-Becky Lynch bout that was rock solid technically and built to a series of traded submission attempts.  After a brutal-looking Asuka cradle neckbreaker off the apron to the floor, Asuka and Becky made their way back into the ring for a climactic stretch where both women attempted to tap the other with her own finisher.  Finally Asuka scored an Asuka lock, and turned it into a Cattle Mutilation-esque variation by bridging on top of Becky for the tapout win.  This match was probably my favorite on the show.  Excellent stuff that made Asuka look really strong but showed Becky could keep up.  I was quite sure we hadn't seen the last of Becky....  ****

    Next up was the one match I didn't care about, The Bar vs. Shane & Miz.  But this was fun.  Cesaro and Sheamus worked a stiff match as usual, Miz stayed away from most of it, and Shane took some good spots while dishing out a few of his own.  I still have a problem with the near 50-year-old non-wrestler Shane going toe-to-toe with actual wrestlers, but he makes it entertaining at least.  The spot of the match was Shane going for a coast-to-coast on both Bar members only for Cesaro to stand up and catch him for a Giant Swing - very cool counter.  Finally Miz hit Cesaro with the Skull Crushing Finale and Shane landed a shooting star press to win the belts.  This is obviously building to a Shane-Miz match at 'Mania, which I also don't care about.  But whatever.  **1/2

    Friday, January 25, 2019

    NXT TakeOver: Phoenix Preview & Predictions

    Welcome to the first NXT predictions column of 2019 here at!

    Well, much like last November we have a huge, potentially great weekend of wrestling before us.  This year's Rumble on paper is the strongest lineup they've ever put together for the January classic, and not to be outdone, NXT is hoping to once again steal the weekend.  This lineup, as usual, could certainly do that.

    Let's take a look....

    Matt Riddle vs. Kassius Ohno

    It's Matt Riddle's first real TakeOver match, after his seconds-long TakeOver debut at WarGames.  It's also his third match against Ohno.  I can't imagine he loses here, as that would be stupid.

    Justin: Riddle
    Landon: Riddle

    NXT North American Championship: Ricochet vs. Johnny Gargano

    This match is almost certain to steal the show.  Holy jeezus.  Gargano is coming off a grudge match loss to Aleister Black, so I could see him winning the belt here, giving DIY both singles belts in NXT.  It would also make sense for Ricochet to be called up ASAP since he's better than 90% of the main roster guys.  Regardless I'll be shocked if this isn't the Match of the Night.

    Justin: Gargano
    Landon: Gargano takes the NA title here.

    NXT Women's Championship: Shayna Baszler vs. Bianca Belair

    I know zilch about Bianca, other than she's fully a homegrown WWE talent with a crossfit background.  I can't see her winning the belt in her first big match; Baszler will retain to continue her fearsome title run.

    Justin: Shayna retains
    Landon: Shayna

    NXT Tag Team Championship: Undisputed Era vs. War Raiders

    Holy jeezus, part 2.  This should be insanely good.  It's the 2018 version of Tully & Arn vs. The Road Warriors.  Hanson & Rowe will steamroll the heels for the first act, Strong & O'Reilly will take control with underhanded tactics in the second, and then the Raiders will make a comeback that includes a championship win.  Unlike Starrcade '87 there will be no Dusty finish.

    Justin: War Raiders win the belts
    Landon: Get ready for War

    NXT Championship: Tomasso Ciampa vs. Aleister Black

    This should be yet another excellent match.  Both these guys had incredible showings at WarGames and both got big wins.  I could see Black being groomed for a call-up sooner rather than later, plus it seems like a wasted opportunity not to have Gargano and Ciampa both win singles belts and reunite as a Two-Man Power Trip-esque heel team.

    Justin: Ciampa retains
    Landon: Ciampa

    This is gonna be one helluva ride.  NXT is still impossible to beat as far as WWE programming goes, but both this and the Rumble should be pretty great.

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    WWE Royal Rumble 2019 Preview & Predictions

    Welcome to the first round of WWE Predictions for 2019!  It's January and that means it's the start of what is traditionally the best part of WWE's calendar year, The Road to WrestleMania!

    This year's Royal Rumble card is as stacked on paper as any I can recall.  The Rumble PPV has returned to form over the past few years, after several underwhelming or downright terrible editions (Ahem, 2015).  With the addition of an annual women's Rumble match the show has become a lot more fun, not to mention it's doubled the number of Rumble pools to bet on.  Hopefully unlike in 2018 WWE will follow through on the promise set up by the Rumble PPV and WrestleMania's booking will actually make sense.

    There are a whopping eight matches scheduled for this show - I have to think at least one will get bumped to the pre-show since each Rumble takes up an hour, leaving only two hours for six remaining bouts.  But we'll see.  Anywho, let's get to the picks...

    ***I've managed to take the lead with 68% accuracy (75/111), Dan and Dave are tied with 65% (72/111), and Landon's in the caboose with 64% (71/111).***

    Fatal 4-Way Cruiserweight Championship: Buddy Murphy vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Kalisto vs. Hideo Itami

    I assume this will be bumped to the pre-show, but it should be a lot of fun.  Murphy has been a pretty great CW Champ, Kalisto is always fun to watch, and Tozawa and Itami will be looking to have that WWE career-defining match.  With AEW starting up and potentially providing a new place to make a good living, I imagine we'll see some of these underutilized WWE guys will start getting some real attention to keep them happy.

    Justin: I'm gonna stick with Buddy

    Landon: Buddy retains
    Dave: Buddy

    Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Bar vs. Shane McMahon & The Miz

    This is the one match on the show I truly don't care about.  This Shane-Miz angle is silly and we all know it's leading to a WrestleMania match between them.  Yawn.  This match should be ok but I'm not interested in it.

    Justin: Shane & Miz win the belts so they can lose them, split up, and fight each other in April
    Dan: I hate wasting the Miz with's so pointless. He could be the top heel in the comapny, instead he's stuck with the boss's son. But they're gonna win.
    Landon: The Bar
    Dave: The Bar

    US Championship: Rusev vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

    To my way of thinking it was either too early or too late for Rusev to dethrone Nakamura for the US Title.  Rusev got super hot about a year ago thanks in no small part to Aiden English's entrance announcements, so of course WWE split them up months later with no payoff.  Now Ru' is back with Lana but neither of them has Russian accents anymore?  Stupid.  Anyway, I have to think Nak is either gonna get moved up the card or he's gonna leave for AEW (his contract is up in the next few months).  Either way I don't see him regaining the title here.  This match could also get bumped to the pre-show.

    Justin: Rusev retains
    Dan: Wait, they're not Russian anymore? What the fuck? WEIRD. All American Rusev for the win.
    Landon: Rusev
    Dave: Didn't realize this was still a title.  Rusev I guess.

    Smackdown Women's Championship: Asuka vs. Becky Lynch

    This is one of the two matches I'm most excited for.  WWE accidentally announced this a month ago, retracted it, had a #1 Contender's match, and went with it anyway.  This should be great.  Becky obviously should lose here, enter the Women's Rumble, and win that to redeem herself.

    Justin: Asuka retains
    Dan: Yes
    Landon: Asuka
    Dave: Asuka

    Thursday, January 17, 2019

    Stuff I Drew, part 2 (Champions of the Galaxy again)

    Here's the next wave of drawings I did for that wrestling game I was talking about.  The first character was an original of mine, who I ended up reusing later when I needed original characters for the Smackdown videogames (my RPE friends will sorta recognize Zombie even though he looks very different here).  The other two are makeovers of existing game characters.

    For Zombie I based his facial structure on a pic of Owen Hart.  Reason being that on TV Owen's character had snapped, turned heel, and started biting people a lot.

    Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Matrix

    Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies here at, where I take a closer look at a film that is either beloved in spite of its faults or reviled in spite of its virtues, or that simply has such a mix of those two things it's stuck somewhere in between.

    Today's subject is the 1999 cyberpunk action smash-hit, The Matrix!  The brainchild of the Wachowski brothers, The Matrix was a hip, new take on the humanity vs. machines theme that's been explored extensively in science fiction, driven by a capable cast and revolutionary special effects.  It became a touchstone at the time of its release, having such a profound and immediate influence on the genre that its visual tropes actually became obsolete by the time the sequels came out four years later.  In a way it was too big a hit for its own good, and the second and third films were viewed as a pretty massive disappointment.  But however botched the follow-through on this saga, the first film remains a visually engaging, conceptually neat sci-fi/action vehicle that could've been even more had the producers not dumbed it down for us popcorn-gorging slobs.

    So let's take a look at what still works, and what still doesn't, about The Matrix!

    The Awesome


    The plot of this movie is super cool.  It's a dystopian future and machines have become self-aware and taken over the world, imprisoning the human race as an energy source while plugging them into a virtual reality designed to keep them pacified and complacent.  Nearly every person left after the apocalypse was born into this matrix, occupying a cryo-pod but under the impression they're all living normal human lives in the late 20th century.  A few resistors like Morpheus got wise and dared to pull back the curtain, hoping to free the others and bring down the machines.  Our main protagonist Neo is a highly sought-after computer programmer/hacker, whom Morpheus believes will be "the one" to free humanity.  It's high-concept sci-fi fun, with lofty, existential themes that are eminently relatable; who wouldn't be able to get behind a small band of heroes trying to save the world?  It's the cinematic embodiment of Rage Against the Machine!


    The special effects invented for The Matrix were possibly the most influential of that era.  Nearly every action sequence features "bullet time" effects, where a computer-controlled ring of cameras rapidly spins around a subject, firing off a single frame in quick succession.  When blended with a CG-modeled background, the effect creates the illusion of time stopping as our hero manipulates space-time within the Matrix.  The martial arts scenes made liberal use of this effect and it was unlike anything ever put to film at that time.  It was so successful and popular nearly every action movie for the next few years ripped it off in some form, even when it didn't make sense in context (which was usually the case - see Charlie's Angels or Mission Impossible 2).  The visual effects here were hugely groundbreaking.

    This move was so popular WWE wrestler Trish Stratus started using it.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2019

    Stuff I Drew, part 1 (Champions of the Galaxy)

    It is now time for the Fine Arts portion of the site.  Below are a few pieces of artwork I've done, all of which are from this SUPER nerdy wrestling dice game I used to play, called Champions of the Galaxy.  There were character cards with wrestling moves on the back and you rolled dice to see which move your character did.  Anywho, I created some of my own characters and revamped some of the existing ones.  So while I'm not exactly proud of how these drawings came to be, I am proud of the drawings themselves.

    I'll show you some more artwork in the future, but here's a few for now....

    This was an existing character in the game but I used a picture of Goldberg as the basis and then altered him to look like Holocaust.

    An original character of mine, his look is based on a pic of Pepper Keenan from Corrosion of Conformity.

    Thantos is one of the flagship characters in the original game but I used Sycho Sid's facial structure.

    Click HERE for more....

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    Top Ten Things: Beatles Albums

    Welcome to another Top Ten Things!  Today I'll be talking about one of the most celebrated, universally beloved bands of all time, The Beatles!

    The Beatles were possibly the first music group I was ever introduced to as a kid.  My parents played me some of Sgt. Pepper and I was hooked instantly.  By sixth grade I began making mix tapes of their tunes (Yes, this was when mix tapes were still a thing), and thanks to the Compleat Beatles documentary I became an expert very quickly.  In 1987 my parents bought a CD player (I felt so ahead of the curve), and The Beatles' entire catalog was one of the first available in that format.  I devoured their music like crazy and for a couple years they were one of very few bands I listened to (until I discovered metal that is).

    Today, along with Metallica, The Beatles are my favorite band in the universe, and when I fire up one of their albums on the ol' iPod it's a ceremonious moment.  I tend to listen to their whole catalog front to back, over a period of several days.  Yeah I'm a dork.  Shut up.

    Anyway, here's a list of what are, in my opinion, The Beatles ten greatest albums.

    10. A Hard Day's Night

    In 1964 The Beatles had conquered both the UK and the US, becoming such pop culture icons they were tapped to star in a feature film.  Directed by Richard Lester, A Hard Day's Night starred the Fab Four as themselves, in a "day in the life" kind of story.  The band travels by train to an auditorium where they'll perform for a live TV special, and in tow is Paul's troublemaker grandfather who tries to turn everyone against each other.  The soundtrack album featured numerous classic early Beatles songs, like the energetic title track, the bittersweet "If I Fell," the instantly catchy "I Should've Known Better," the bluesy "You Can't Do That," and the morose "Things We Said Today."  A Hard Day's Night followed up The Beatles' first two pop albums with slightly more mature content and showed a band beginning to temper their signature sound.

    9. Help!

    After the huge success of A Hard Day's Night, a second Beatles film was inevitable.  This time it would be a big-budget James Bond-inspired screwball comedy about a Far-East cult hunting down the band in the hopes of recovering a sacrificial ring mailed to Ringo.  The movie featured numerous action-comedy set pieces, plus seven brand new Beatles tunes.  The music showed a bit more depth and some instrument variation, and the album boasted probably the first major departure - a somber guitar ballad of Paul's called "Yesterday."  Paul was the only Beatle on the recording, and would be accompanied by a string quartet, a first for the band.  Other highlights included the mellow waltz of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," the urgent "The Night Before," and the anxiously bouncy "I've Just Seen a Face."  Help! showed the band continuing to expand their musical range on their way to arguably the most creative period in their career.

    8. Let It Be

    Originally intended as a live concert film entitled Get Back, Let It Be eventually morphed into an album/documentary that showed The Beatles coming apart at the seams.  Their interpersonal relationships were in shambles and the live recording sessions were filled with palpable tension.  So unpleasant was the experience that the band opted to shelve the album and move on to Abbey Road, as a way to end their career on a high note.  As the band dissolved, producer Phil Spector was hired to sort through the dozens of songs and takes, and whittle everything down to a concise record.  The result was a solid-if-inconsistent album that would serve as the band's denouement.  Side 1 is full of good-to-great songs, like John's strangely lyriced "Dig a Pony" and his existential ballad "Across the Universe," and Paul's iconic piano-driven title track.  Inexplicably Spector also included a one-minute snippet of "Dig It," a ponderous go-nowhere jam, and their brief take on the traditional ditty "Maggie Mae."  Side two's highlights were both contributions from Paul; the optimistic "I've Got a Feeling," and the energetic "Get Back."  Despite Spector's orchestral embellishments on songs like "The Long and Winding Road," Let It Be features a stripped-down, intimately live snapshot of The Beatles at their lowest point.  Yet even as the band crumbled they managed to churn out some undeniably great songs and cement their legacy as a transcendent rock group.

    Thursday, January 10, 2019

    Awesomely Shitty Movies: Starship Troopers

    Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at, where I'll examine a movie I have mixed feelings about and separate what works from what doesn't.  Today's entry is the monstrously violent political satire from Paul Verhoeven called Starship Troopers!

    The 1997 film was based on Robert Heinlein's 1959 militaristic, rather pro-fascist novel about a group of high schoolers who enroll in the military to wage war against an army of alien "bugs."  In the novel the main character Johnny Rico has a fairly triumphant arc, becoming a respected officer and leader as the war wages on.  The film however has a decidedly satirical thrust, mostly poking fun at the very subject matter on which it was based.  On the surface this movie seemed like the usual alien invasion sci-fi/action tripe, but as he did with Robocop, Verhoeven created something much more substantial and sociopolitical.  He got a lot of things right with this film, but while Robocop is basically perfect for what it is, Troopers unfortunately leaves some things to be desired.  So let's take a look at this Awesomely Shitty Movie....

    The Awesome


    The militaristic tone and pro-meritocracy slant (having to earn full citizens' rights) of the novel are cleverly satirized by director Paul Verhoeven in a way that rides the line between honoring and lampooning Robert Heinlein's work.  In fact Verhoeven found the novel unreadable and still managed to make a capable film adaptation.  The officer uniforms are also clearly inspired by those of Nazi officials, and the propaganda films shown throughout are flagrantly a riff on Nazi indoctrination such as Triumph of the Will.  Structurally this film is strikingly similar to All Quiet on the Western Front, following a group of high school kids (who in this case seem lifted right out of 90210) who get duped into enlisting and have horrible things happen to them.

    Who designed these space suits, Michelin?


    Like with Robocop, Verhoeven sprinkled (or more accurately slathered) this movie with over-the-top, graphic violence which becomes both disturbing and oddly amusing.  There are countless battle scenes with humans being stabbed through various body parts by the bugs' spear-like legs, and plenty of scenes depicting bugs being inefficiently blown to gooey pieces by the soldiers.  Plus there's the climactic scene where the brain bug sucks Zander Barcalow's brain out through his skull.  It's not for the squeamish, but man is it entertaining for us sick folk (fucks).

    Dammit Paul, I wanted to see what happened to the cow!

    Wednesday, January 9, 2019

    All Elite Wrestling: This Is Gettin' Pretty Exciting....

    With last night's rally in Jacksonville, we're getting a much clearer picture of this All Elite Wrestling thing everyone's buzzing about.  It's an exciting time to be a wrestling fan, as we're on the cusp of being offered a whole new option from which to get our fake fighting fix.  More importantly, the talent is about to potentially get a whole new avenue in which to make a good living as a wrestler, away from the creatively homogenized WWE atmosphere.  The fact that AEW was able to snag a name as big as Chris Jericho is pretty huge.  Jericho lends them instant legitimacy and somewhat mainstream recognition.  All signs seem to be pointing to Kenny Omega following suit, which would provide AEW their cornerstone guy.

    Even aside from the roster announcements (So-Cal Uncensored and PAC are among the biggest supporting characters thus far), the Khan family is worth literally billions of dollars, far more than Vince McMahon, which means AEW will theoretically be able to offer real money deals to top stars.  This could be enormous when contracts come up.  WWE may have to start working much harder to keep their talent happy. 

    Provided they can land a good TV deal and some sort of streaming arrangement for PPV events (I can't see many people wanting to go back to shelling out $50 a pop for PPVs), this company could very well change the North American wrestling landscape.  How poetic would it be by the way, for TBS or TNT to scoop up this programming?  Set the flagship show on Tuesday nights where Smackdown's about to not be anymore.

    While all this is very exciting, I'd really like to see them partner with NJPW (and ROH for that matter).

    As of now NJPW will be continuing their relationship/talent exchange with Ring of Honor.  Understandable, as both companies have been good for each other.  But it seems to me that New Japan and All Elite kinda need each other as well.  NJPW can't afford to lose a star like Kenny Omega at this point (not to mention the cast of supporting characters like Cody and the Jacksons), while AEW's roster (for now anyway) could use the supplemental talent NJPW would provide.  The All In 2 show wouldn't be nearly as stacked as its predecessor without the New Japan talent that was involved with the first show.  From New Japan's perspective I can't see a reason not to work with both AEW and ROH.  From AEW's perspective I can't see a reason not to work with NJPW.  Ring of Honor is the only company of the three that might stand to lose anything, but it would behoove AEW and ROH to work out something so both can remain in collaboration with New Japan.  The three companies will be so much stronger together than in competition.   

    That leads me to my next point - I've been saying for a while that New Japan would benefit greatly from a women's division.  A partnership with AEW (and ROH) would allow them to borrow women's talent from those two promotions while building their own roster.  A women's division in New Japan would lessen the need to rely so heavily on repititious six- and eight-man tag matches on the less important shows.  This is the one area in which NJPW is way behind the curve.  I was very pleased to hear that AEW's women wrestlers will be paid equally to their male counterparts (I assume based on their standing in the company; Penelope Ford is obviously not making the same as Chris Jericho), as it sounds like they're serious about building female stars to rival the men, as WWE is currently doing.  A relationship between the three companies would even allow for a string of women-only supercards that could conceivably be a much bigger deal than WWE's first one.

    It's going to be an angst-ridden few months as we wait for more details to trickle in about AEW's future, but there are some seriously promising elements in place that could lead to the first true wrestling boom since 2001.  A company with the finances to lure away WWE talent and offer a much more creatively free environment would force Vince & co. to actively step up their game.  A partnership with New Japan would strengthen both promotions and give their shared venture a global footprint. 

    Now, can we give CM Punk a ring and see if he's interested?

    Thanks for reading - follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube....


    Tuesday, January 8, 2019

    Top Ten Things: Opening PPV Matches

    Welcome to yet another Top Ten Things, here at!

    With WrestleKingdom 13 in the books and the fantastic match that kicked off that show, I got to thinking about my favorite PPV opening matches over the last 35 years or so.  I eventually narrowed it down to 25, and in a fairly agonizing process, managed to pick my favorites.  Like a killer opening song on an album, a great opening match can instantly grab your attention and set the tone for the rest of the evening.  It gets the live crowd excited, which in turn lends more energy to the rest of the PPV.  The quality of the opening bout can leave almost as big an impression as that of the main event; if a show starts well and ends well you tend to remember it as a damn fine show (I do anyway), even if the stuff in the middle isn't so hot.  At the very least a great opening match makes me want to watch the show a second time.  Most PPVs tend to feature shorter bouts to kick things off, but every so often the first match either steals the show outright or comes pretty damn close.  Here are ten such examples.....

    10. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon - WrestleMania 33

    The main card of the 2017 edition of WrestleMania kicked off with a match I wasn't at all happy about.  AJ Styles, by far the most accomplished star in the company over the previous 14 months, was saddled fighting Vince's son instead of tearing it up with someone of his caliber.  But I'll be damned if it wasn't incredibly entertaining.  AJ was amazing as usual, and Shane had his working shoes on just trying to keep up.  Many of the spots were over-the-top, including Shane countering AJ's 450 splash into a triangle choke, Shane missing a Shooting Star Press, AJ trying the Van Terminator but running into a trash can, and Shane doing his own Van Terminator.  AJ finally took the win after hitting the Phenomenal Forearm, capping off what was shockingly the best match of the night.  This match proved that AJ Styles could have a good match with anyone, and also earned AJ the company's permanent stamp of approval.

    9. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler - Bragging Rights 2010

    Probably D-Bryan's first true standout match in WWE was this sleeper hit to kick off the second and final Bragging Rights PPV.  By far the best match on the show, this US Champ vs. IC Champ bout allowed Bryan to show off his technical prowess against an opponent who could hang with him move-for-move.  This see-saw match went a thrilling 16 minutes, including a false finish where Ziggler seemed to have won the match but Bryan's foot was on the rope, before Bryan tapped Ziggler out with the LeBell Lock.  The pair followed it up with an equally good rematch the next night on RAW.  At year's end, WWE cited this as one of the best matches of 2010, ranking it second (I believe) only to Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker.  This was the first instance of the company openly showing appreciation for Bryan's abilities.

    8. Brian Pillman vs. Jushin Thunder Liger - SuperBrawl II

    The second SuperBrawl PPV, the best in the series, had the show stolen by this groundbreaking opening contest for the newly minted WCW Light Heavyweight Title.  This 17-minute bout was full of great false finishes and big high spots, demonstrating this wonderful alternative to the norm known as cruiserweight wrestling and showcasing a style of wrestling North American fans weren't yet accustomed to.  Pillman won with a bridging leg cradle after Liger missed a top-rope splash, regaining the short-lived championship.  While Jr.-style wrestling wouldn't catch on for a few more years, this match served as one of the templates.

    Monday, January 7, 2019

    Top Ten Things: Film Directors

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

    Today I'll be discussing my all-time favorite filmmakers.  As a cinefile I've spent years seeking out quality films made by gifted directors, and there have been more than a few whose careers I've followed very closely, at least for a while.  Some directors fell off my radar after a downturn in quality (Rob Reiner anyone?), but in each of the below cases I actively seek out films by these directors.  In some cases they are essential viewing for me.

    Here now is the list....

    10. Paul Thomas Anderson

    One of Hollywood's quirkiest, most adventurous directors, Anderson has made a career of creating non-traditional films centered around flawed protagonists.  He often wears his cinematic influences on his sleeve, but always injects his own style and sensibilities into every picture.  His noirish debut Hard Eight garnered positive reviews, but it was his sophomore effort which brought him to my attention.  Boogie Nights chronicles the rise and fall of adult film star Dirk Diggler, set against the messy transition from the artsy smut of the 70s to the more utilitarian, VHS-driven industry of the 80s.  Anderson created such a fully realized universe and cast of characters in this movie I couldn't help being totally immersed, and Boogie Nights remains one of my all-time favorite films.  He followed it up with the uneven but superbly acted Magnolia, the Kubrick-esque opus There Will Be Blood, and the puzzling but never dull The Master.  Even in light of his two (in my opinion) misfires Punch-Drunk Love and Inherent Vice, Anderson has enjoyed a stellar career thus far, directing two masterpieces and three other uniquely admirable efforts.

    Top Three Films: Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master

    9. David Fincher

    Perhaps no other director seized my fascination so early on in his career as David Fincher.  His debut film Alien 3 (which he later disowned) disappointed me severely, but there was still something about his visual style that struck me.  His ability to play with light and darkness lent Alien 3 a richness that its script sorely lacked.  He brought that sense of intensely tangible dread to the forefront in his second film, the overwhelmingly bleak Se7en (another one of my all-time favorites), and again in his Hitchcockian thriller The Game.  But it will probably always be Fight Club that audiences most closely associate with Fincher.  This mindfuck of a movie had such a profound impact on our cinematic lexicon, and along with The Sixth Sense, made plot twists a must-have in any thriller for several years.  Much of Fincher's recent work has been a little more conventional (but often still excellent), from the police procedural Zodiac, to the Gump-esque Benjamin Button, to the darkly droll The Social Network.  His two most recent films (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl) were both based on bestsellers, with mixed box office results, but they cemented Fincher as a visually gifted event filmmaker.

    Top Three Films: Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network

    8. F.W. Murnau

    One of cinema's earliest visionaries, Murnau created some of the most optically stunning images ever photographed for a film.  At a time when most moving pictures featured static, flat camera angles, Murnau brought expressionist atmosphere and movement (In The Last Laugh for example he used a swing and a wheelchair to create motion).  He also made use of deliberately fantastical special effects to lend his films a moody, dreamlike quality.  Consider the opening passages in his horrific epic Faust, which depicts a struggle between God and Satan.  These effects don't strive for realism, yet they're more effective in conveying the story than some of our modern CGI.  Undoubtedly Murnau's most famous film is Nosferatu, the first major adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Murnau set the bar for all future versions of the immortal Count, inventing a loathsome, disease-spreading apparition.  Some of film horror's most iconic images came from this film and it remains mandatory viewing every Halloween.  Murnau was sadly killed in a car accident shortly after being imported by Hollywood, and it's a tragedy we never got to see his intended American filmography.  His first American film, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, won three awards at the first Oscars ceremony.

    Top Three Films: Nosferatu, Faust, The Last Laugh

    NJPW WrestleKingdom 13: This Show was Fantastic, So Why Am I Sad?

    I'm not sure there's ever been such a great PPV that left me with such mixed feelings as WrestleKingdom 13.  From a booking standpoint everything was done really well.  From a match quality standpoint there wasn't a bad bout in sight, and a few were flat-out excellent.  But the decision to limit the show to four hours when thirty extra minutes would've elevated it to the Best PPV Ever conversation, coupled with all the uncertainty surrounding the All Elite situation and potential WWE talent steals, made what should've been a triumphant moment feel kinda jaded.  This is how I felt after WrestleKingdom 10 to a certain extent, but it's magnified here.

    In the opening match, which has to be on the short list for best openers ever, Will Ospreay defeated Kota Ibushi for the NEVER Openweight Title.  This match was fast paced and dazzling as expected, with loads of back and forth offense, some intense striking battles, and tons of athleticism as only these two can deliver.  My favorite spot involved the two of them trading strikes while Ibushi was hanging upside down from the turnbuckles (which is where the legit concussion occurred).  Late in the match Ospreay kicked out of a Last Ride and avoided the Kamigoye knee (though Ibushi at one point hit him with the Boma Ye, in tribute to Nakamura), knocked Ibushi loopy with a driving elbow to the head, and landed the Stormbreaker to win the title.  Ibushi was stretchered out with a kayfabe concussion that in fact turned out to be a legit minor one.  Ibushi, as planned, is off the New Beginning tour but will hopefully be back soon (though who knows if he signs with All Elite or not).  These guys left enough on the table for a rematch so I'm really hoping there is one.  Regardless, this was an incredible opener that set a high bar for the night.  ****1/2

    Next up was the Jr. Tag triple threat, with El Desperado & Kanemaru defending against RPG3K and Shingo & Bushi.  This match was fine and all action but was too short to amount to all that much.  It was far better than a WWE throwaway but still felt like a throwaway.  This was one of four or five matches that could've used five more minutes, hence my earlier comment about the show needing an extra half hour.  Shingo was the star of this match, dominating the later minutes and finishing off Sho with Last of the Dragon to win the belts.  **3/4

    Another match that could've used more time was Tomohiro Ishii vs. Zack Sabre Jr. for the RPW Heavyweight Title.  As expected this was a stiff, gritty fight pitting Ishii's strikes against Sabre's grappling.  Sabre dominated a lot of this match, which made for a pretty shocking ending when Ishii submitted to Sabre's new double-arm octopus hold.  This match was very good but about five minutes short of greatness.  Sabre continues to shine though as one of the company's top gaijins.  Here's hoping for some IWGP Title matches in his future.  ***1/2

    The heavyweight tag match was definitely superior to its Jr. counterpart, as Guerillas of Destiny, The Young Bucks and Evil & Sanada had a wild, energetic match.  The big story element here was Tama Tonga's apparent change of heart at wanting to be a "good guy."  So GoD refrained from their usual illegal shenanigans and it ended up costing them.  The last few minutes of this were insane, with big move after big move.  With GoD knocked out of commission, Evil and Sanada hit Matt Jackson with a Magic Killer, followed by a Sanada moonsault to win the belts and officially move into the tag team centerpiece spot.  The Bucks have of course signed with AEW and are done with New Japan for the time being.  Considering they had just become a top heavyweight tag team, this is a major loss for the division.  But Evil and Sanada will be great custodians for the tag belts, like a modern-day Tencozy.  ***1/4

    Friday, January 4, 2019

    Late to the Party: Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Top Ten Things: Haken Songs

    Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at, where I count down the ten things at the top of the mountain (get it?)....

    Today I'll be talking about the ten finest compositions by British prog-metal masters Haken!  I discovered Haken only recently, after seeing in a Newbury Comics newsletter than their newest album Vector was set to be released.  I looked 'em up and read all about their brand of progressive rock, not to mention all the accolades their albums have gotten, and gave them a listen.  I was hooked immediately, and have spent the last few months immersed in their catalog.  Haken's music somehow grabs the listener instantly with stunningly crafted songs, but also rewards multiple spins with loads of ear candy, unusual influences, odd time signatures, and dense vocal harmonies.  This six-piece is unquestionably the real deal, and one of the most exciting bands of any genre that I've encountered in years.  Where I find many prog bands too eager to dazzle at the expense of good old-fashioned songwriting, Haken's songs are rock-solid first and technically marvelous second.  Their music is instantly addictive but simultaneously reveals new layers with each listen.  I can't recommend them enough.  Click HERE for my full review of The Mountain....

    Here are my ten Haken favorites....

    10. Earthrise

    One of Haken's most uplifting songs, "Earthrise" starts out with a sycopated verse and builds to a soaring, harmonized chorus (one of their most instantly hooky), eventually returning to a modulated version of said chorus toward the end of the tune.  Like "Insomnia," my only gripe with this song is that it's too short.  This is a chorus that could be repeated on a loop without getting old.  This is one of the standouts from the Affinity album.

    9. Crystallised

    The 19-minute epic from Haken's Restoration EP, "Crystallised" kicks off with a bouncy 7/8 jazz fusion verse that opens up into a wondrous rock chorus.  Right away the song sticks with you (as do so many of Haken's tracks), but the bridge takes it to another level with an a capella counterpoint piece that builds into full minstrel-inspired segment.  It's unlike anything else in their catalog and immediately captures your attention.  The song finds its way back to the chorus and then to a climactic, multi-layered outro about accepting change and moving on.  This section reminds me of some of Dream Theater's long-form tunes and is yet another instantly memorable hook in a song full of them.  This is one of Haken's great marathon tracks.

    8. The Architect

    The extravagant centerpiece of Affinity is this near-sixteen-minute epic, featuring a guest death vocal by Einar Solberg of Leprous.  The greatest strength of "The Architect" is its ever-changing Fear Factory-esque chorus hook over a jackhammering syncopated guitar riff.  At the end of the song this chorus is brought back over a totally different riff and in a different time signature, but the melody is so strong you almost don't notice the change at first.  "The Architect" is one of many Haken epics whose running time flies by.