Thursday, February 28, 2019

Top Ten Things: Well-Deserved Oscars

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

You might say I've got Oscars on the brain, because today's edition is comprised of occasions when the Academy absolutely got it right, in terms of awarding acting performances.  I've talked before about times Oscar has snubbed a great performance, and about shocking upsets, but there have certainly been times the right person won for the right role.  In fact there have been years when I've decided, "Regardless what wins Best Picture and all the others, as long as this person wins this award I'll be happy."  Below is the list, in chronological order.

1. Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull)

The Academy may have dropped the ball in many other categories from 1980 (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor), but one award that absolutely went to the right guy was the Best Actor statuette.  Robert DeNiro's tormented, violent turn as middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta remains his most famous performance, and it's also the most noted example of an actor altering his body shape for a film (DeNiro gained about sixty pounds for the later scenes in which LaMotta lets himself go and becomes a seedy nightclub owner).  Had anyone else walked away with this award it would've been a crime.

Key Scene: Probably the most purely visceral scene is the one in which LaMotta goes to prison and throws a self-loathing-induced fit, pounding the crap out of the cement wall and wailing like a madman.  I can't imagine an actor having to endure more than a single take of this scene.

2. Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda)

A rare case of a comedic performance outshining the competition, Kevin Kline's brilliantly hilarious turn as Otto provided dozens of quotable lines and managed to steal the show from comedy legends John Cleese and Michael Palin.  Kline brought to life a dimwitted character in the smartest way possible, with an amazingly nuanced, uproarious delivery.

Key Scene: Probably my favorite moment (and my favorite to quote) is the profanity-laced chain of insults Otto hurls at Archie (Cleese) after catching Archie with Wanda.  Such a magnificent tirade.

3. Kathy Bates (Misery)

Stephen King's thriller about a crazed fan taking her favorite author hostage was skillfully adapted by Rob Reiner in 1990, and the main reason the movie version worked so well was the performance of Kathy Bates.  A relative unknown at the time of her casting, Bates adeptly alternates between matronly warmth and terrifying emotional instability.  She is totally effective as this obsessed manic-depressive, but in a very realistic way, making the whole ordeal that much more harrowing.

Key Scene: Upon learning her guest Paul Sheldon has been out of his room, she ties Paul up and drugs him, and explains both her discovery, and his punishment.  The calmness she conveys as she prepares to hobble him is truly chilling.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Top Ten Things: Film Musicals

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things here at!  We give you ten examples of something we like or dislike, and arguments ensue.....

Today I'm discussing a topic that is, dare I say, not really near and dear to my heart, the movie musical.  By and large I'm not much of an enthusiast of the musical.  The idea of a narrative that's constantly being interrupted by its characters spontaneously breaking out into song & dance numbers has always struck me as such a strange concept.  Why does a character need a four-minute song to convey a simple thought or feeling when two lines of dialogue will do?  Why does a film's running time need to be inflated to three hours when there's only 90 minutes of story to tell (Sound of Music, I'm looking in your general direction....)?

That said, there are movie musicals I value quite a lot, either because the story and performances resonate with me, or because the songwriting is so strong, or some combination thereof.  A great musical number can add emotional depth to a scene that wouldn't even be emotionally engaging, simply because of the artistry on display.  I've found myself getting unexpectedly choked up during certain numbers due to the execution being so spectacular.

One thing I should note about this list: I have not included any Disney films because the list would be almost exclusively Disney, and that would be kinda boring.  So I've left those movies out.

Anyway, here we go.....

10. Little Shop of Horrors

This one's been a favorite since I was eleven years old.  In the mid 80s my parents picked up a cheap VHS copy of the original Roger Corman cult classic The Little Shop of Horrors, a grisly horror-comedy about a man-eating plant.  I instantly became a fan of this cheesy B-film and was delighted when it was adapted as a Broadway musical (which my parents took me to see in 1986), and again as an all-star film version of said musical.  The comedy elements were dialed up and the evil plant given a much more colorful personality, via a sophisticated puppet; the puppetry effects in the film version are quite amazing, even today.  Starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene (reprising her role from the stage version) with supporting and cameo appearances by Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Candy, Christopher Guest, and Jim Belushi, plus the voice of Levi Stubbs (of The Four Tops), LSOH is a fun, colorful, self-aware romp with memorable musical set pieces and hooky, early 60s-influenced tunes.  For a film based on a musical based on another film, this one holds up tremendously well.

9. A Hard Day's Night

The first of two Beatles films on this list, A Hard Day's Night is generally the venerated one, a simple "day in the life" story about the world's biggest pop group that involves them traveling by train to a theater where they'll perform for a TV special.  Storyline-wise that's about all that happens.  But this film's charm is in the interaction of the four leads (plus their road managers and Paul's crotchety grandfather).  The Beatles, despite not being trained actors, were pretty natural comedians in front of the camera, particularly the witty, sarcastic John Lennon.  Directed by Richard Lester, AHDN is often revered as Britain's answer to the Marx Brothers, with zany misadventures and hilarious one-liners abound.  But the music of course takes center stage; the band released this film in tandem with their third album of the same name, and seven brand new tracks were featured.  This film was such a hit that the group and their director reunited a year later with a second (and in my opinion even better) followup.

8. Jesus Christ Superstar

Originally written, recorded and released as a double concept album, Andrew Lloyd Webber's masterpiece was so successful that it was fleshed out into a Broadway musical/rock opera about the final days of Christ, portraying him as the world's first celebrity who has become a danger to the political and religious establishment.  Then in 1973 director Norman Jewison brought the show to the big screen, as a visually lavish but aesthetically minimalistic film shot almost entirely in the Israeli desert, where a cast of actors recreate the show with a mix of historical and contemporary elements.  The music drives the narrative, and the principle actors all deliver fantastic performances, in particular Carl Anderson in a soulful, athletic take on Judas, and Bob Bingham as the imposing, villainous Caiaphas.  This gritty, austere adaptation captures the mood of both the 1970s and the story's biblical era, achieving a strange balance between the two that works better than it has any right to.  And of course Webber's music is spectacular; perhaps the definitive example of rock opera.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

WWE RAW: Roman Kicked Leukemia's Ass...and Then Batista Kicked Ric Flair's

And here I was thinking we might finally have a WrestleMania card with no fifty-year-olds on it.  Chrissake...  But first the good news.

Roman Reigns announced last night that his leukemia is in remission and he's ready to return to the ring.  Whether you were a Reigns fan prior to his illness or not, this is fantastic news and I'm glad to see the fans have fully embraced him.  It's kind of ironic and sad that despite WWE's best efforts over the years, what finally got Reigns over as a hero was his own real-life struggles.  I guess it shouldn't be that surprising, since wrestlers being themselves is almost always what gets them over, not Vince's scripting (I'm still waiting for Vince to figure this out again).  I just hope the company has the sense to continue letting Roman just be who he is; when he's allowed to speak from the heart he's effective and very likable.

I also hope the company doesn't feel compelled to simply shove him into the Universal Title match at WrestleMania.  That would seem forced and would actually risk damaging the audience's newfound love for the man.  Let Seth Rollins have his well-deserved moment against Brock Lesnar, followed by a long, healthy title run.  Meanwhile Reigns can feud with someone else for a while and maybe they eventually build to Roman vs. Seth in a year.  We never really got a proper version of that feud before anyway, and with Dean Ambrose leaving it will no longer be this awkward two-against-one situation, like in 2014-15 when Roman more or less had to ignore that Seth betrayed him.  If the company doesn't book itself out of a successful Reigns babyface character, Seth can turn on him down the road and it can be a white-hot Hogan vs. Savage-type feud.  Just let things play out organically.

Now for some complaining....

Monday, February 25, 2019

91st Academy Awards Recap: Spike Got Screwed

It's time once again for Mike Drinan and I to give you our Oscar recap thoughts, so let's get to it...

Justin: The 91st Oscars are in the books, and there weren't many surprises.  Most of what we figured would win did, and the Academy predictably went the safe route with the Best Pic award, with Green Book taking home the big one.  Before we get our hands dirty with our gripes, what did you think of the show overall?

Mike: Overall, I thought it was a very enjoyable show this year. I loved the no host thing and hope they continue it. It made the night more about the ceremony than about the host and what they're going to do (i.e gimmicks, jokes, musical numbers, etc.) and it made the ceremony move right along. Even though the show was still over 3 hours long, it was only over by 19 minutes as opposed to years past ending around midnight. The acceptance speeches are still painful to sit through, for the most part, especially the three winners for Best Hair & Makeup and their shared piece of paper. Good lord! Coordinate people! Talk out these ideas first. However, Olivia Colman's speech was the best speech of the night. I think my only gripe about the show overall is the opening montage of films moved a little fast like they had to rush through it. For a night that is meant to celebrate the year in film, I thought they could've put a little more care into that. Other than that, I thought it was a really good night for the Academy as far as the ceremony goes.

Justin: I was torn on the no-host thing.  I agree it allowed the show to move along faster, but I feel like there still needs to be a host to intro the show and sign off at the end.  Maybe split the difference.  Julia Roberts awkwardly saying "Welp, I guess that's it, good night!" was a really odd way to end it.  I loved Colman's speech, easily the highlight of the evening.  She's adorable.  Other highlights for me were Gaga-Cooper (Do they have tangible chemistry or what?) and Rami Malek's speech.  I would've liked to see the Thalberg award presentation, especially since Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall won it - Kennedy is the first woman to win that award.

Now, as for the big winners....  I haven't seen Green Book yet (or Roma for that matter), so I can't comment totally intelligently on its merits, but from what I've read this felt like the Academy taking the non-controversial route YET AGAIN.  There were two Best Pic nominees that dealt with race relations in America and the voters rewarded the White Version.  I gotta say that bugs me on a number of levels.  BlacKKKlansman is a challenging, unapologetic look at American racism, with very clear parallels showing how relevant the issue still is today.  Green Book seems to essentially be saying "Yeah, things were fucked up for a while but it's alright now."  Guess what - it ain't yet. 

I'm not sure what the Academy has against black directors, but Spike Lee is the fifth nominated black director in the last decade to lose in that category (the first four were Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins and Jordan Peele), despite two of those directors winning Best Picture later in the night.  Am I crazy or does that seem really wrong?  I'd opine that Best Director and Best Picture should almost always go to the same film, but especially in the case of 12 Years a Slave for example, which was such a flat-out masterpiece.  McQueen lost that year to Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity of all films, and three years later Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) lost to Damien Chazelle for fucking La La Land.  Moves like these feel like the Academy is going out of its way to preserve that particular glass ceiling.  And now Spike Lee (who did at least win his first-ever Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay) had to lose to another movie about someone driving somebody somewhere (Do the Right Thing lost to Driving Miss Daisy in the Screenplay category 29 years ago).  I dunno, I think he has every right to be pissed.

The Great Wrestling Champions: Ric Flair (1989-1990)

Welcome to a new feature, The Great Wrestling Champions, where I examine a particularly noteworthy championship reign in the annals of wrestling history - one that made a difference in elevating said championship and the company it represents.

Today's entry is the 1989-90 reign of NWA World Champion Ric Flair.

Flair's sixth title run was in my estimation the greatest of his sixteen famed world championships, showcasing a bona fide in-ring artist and showman at the top of his arguably unparalleled career, and marking his final run as THE star of the NWA.  Flair had legitimately ruled the 80s as far as the NWA/WCW was concerned, enjoying a decade-long run as the promotion's undisputed top draw.  While he considered his first NWA Title reign as something of a tryout (In those days the NWA Board of Directors had to vote on whether to crown a new champion and Flair got a narrow 5-4 vote of confidence), by the end of 1983 he was clearly the man to whom the torch was passed, from former top NWA draws Harley Race and Dusty Rhodes.  His star power was so great that he'd travel around to the various NWA territories and feud with the local top star, in order to make that guy look like a bigger deal.  Flair would keep the title for a year or two, lose it to a babyface challenger to garner a big box office, and win it back shortly thereafter.  This was the pattern from his second reign on.  He briefly lost the title to Kerry Von Erich, Dusty Rhodes, Ronnie Garvin and finally, in a match that set the tone for the NWA's banner year 1989, Ricky Steamboat.

Flair's feud with Steamboat instantly became the stuff of legend, as the two perfectly paired adversaries traded wins over a three month period, scoring three staggering Match of the Year candidates and assembling one of the greatest wrestling feuds of all time.  Flair would win the title back at WrestleWar '89 and immediately follow up one stellar feud with another; the returning former champion Terry Funk attacked him post-match to set up six months of brutally contested enmity.  The inciting incident involved Funk piledriving Flair on a table and putting him out of action for two months due to a kayfabe neck injury.  This allowed the NWA to build to their first match at The Great American Bash, and marked Flair's first babyface turn since 1983.  The hotly anticipated Flair-Funk bout on July 23rd was a wild powderkeg of a match, spilling all over the ringside area and showing off Flair's brawling versatility after the graceful, scientific trilogy with Steamboat.

Friday, February 22, 2019

91st Academy Awards Preview & Predictions

It's that time again, when Hollywood's best and brightest get dolled up and give each other presents for being awesome!  So Mike Drinan (@mdrinan380) and I are back to offer our thoughts and predictions!

2018 was definitely a step down from 2017 for me.  There were some excellent films but nowhere near the volume of '17 (Then again 2017 was one of the best years for film I can remember).  I also spent a lot of the year playing catch-up and there are still a few important entries I have to see.  But in terms of Best Pic nominees I'm in decent shape, having seen six of the eight.

What disturbs me about this year's awards is the obvious desperation for ratings, to the point that not only was the Academy considering adding a Best Popular Film category (Holy fucking Christ that's a terrible idea), but a couple of the Best Pic noms were questionable at best.  I get that you need people to watch the show, but surely we don't have to cheapen the most important category with films that don't deserve to be there.  More on that in a bit.

I also find the lack of a host very odd.  Kevin Hart was of course tapped to host the show originally, and I think he'd have been highly entertaining in that role.  But then it got out that, get this, standup comedian Kevin Hart once told some offensive jokes.  ***GASP***  Look, Eddie Murphy was supposed to host several years ago and I guarantee whatever Hart said in his act was less offensive than some of Murphy's 1980s material.  Standup comedy is kinda sorta supposed to be offensive at times, no?  So rather than welcome further backlash, Hart stepped down as host and the Academy chose not to replace him at all.  This'll be weird.  Who's doing the introduction?  This edition feels so chaotic.

Anyway, let's get to the categories.

Best Picture

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star is Born

Justin: I've seen all but two of these candidates (Roma & Green Book) and hope to catch them this weekend before the show.  Roma's on Netflix so that should be a no-brainer.  My favorite of the six I have seen is BlacKKKlansman, a riveting docudrama with subject matter that's as relevant today as it was in the 70s.  I also loved The Favourite and have begun delving into Yorgos Lanthimos's previous films (His movies have an offputting, Kubrick-esque quality that I admire greatly).  Vice and A Star is Born are both top-notch candidates as well, with excellent performances.  Black Panther is an odd one for me; I liked this movie a lot and I'm certainly happy the Academy recognized a superhero film, particularly one with such cultural significance.  But like Mad Max Fury Road it seems out of place here.  The one that really gets my goat though is Bohemian Rhapsody, a sterile, trite, paint-by-numbers rock n' roll biopic that for me didn't even measure up to Oliver Stone's The Doors.  This nomination more than any other reeks of ratings desperation, and in including it the Academy seems to have mistaken a strong central performance for a great film.  You can read my full review of BR here, but in short, this movie has no business in this category.  How did If Beale Street Could Talk not get included instead, aside from "ratings, man?"

Anyway, Roma's been the odds-on favorite to win this whole thing and it's probably the most unanimous pick for most critics, but I gotta think the studio heads are pissed that it's a Netflix film.  Could that hurt its chances?  I could see Klansman getting it instead, since Spike Lee never wins anything.  That's what I'm rooting for.  But Roma has gotten SO much praise it's hard to bet against it.

Prediction: Roma

Mike: This year, I slacked off on the movie front. I have only seen 2 of the nominated films, Black Panther and BlacKKKlansman. Both Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody seem odd choices for this category. It's definitely an effort to get ratings. It would've been nice if If Beale Street Could Talk got one of those two spots. It was absolutely worth nomination, at least. I'm really interested to see The Favourite since there seems to be a good mix of humor, drama and uncertainty to it. Yorgos is definitely an interesting director to keep an eye on. I'm also interested in seeing A Star Is Born because it looks great, but I don't like that it got nominated in this category. It's the fourth remake of this film. WHY are we entertaining it as if it was some great original idea?

Anyways, I've heard great things about Roma and it's won a slew of awards already and critics have been loving it, so I'm not sure if it being on Netflix hurts or not. I wouldn't completely mind if BlacKKKlansman gets it but I don't see that happening. To me the upset would come from Green Book.

Prediction: Roma

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Top Ten Things: Oscar Snubs, Best Picture Edition

Welcome to another Oscar-themed edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  The big Academy shindig is just days away, so why not take this opportunity to do more complaining about stuff they ignored over the years?

You may have seen my previous Oscar Snubs list, which centered on individual performances Oscar failed to recognize, but this time I'm talking about entire films that flew under the radar in the all-important Best Picture category.  So many great films both mainstream and otherwise have come and gone with little or no attention paid by the Academy, and some of them seemed tailor-made to garner award nominations.  But for whatever reason (in some cases political) they garnered large quantities of the shaft instead.  Here are ten such examples, in chronological order...

1. City Lights (1931)

Only one of Charlie Chaplin's classic films, The Great Dictator, was ever nominated for Best Picture (partly because much of his work predated the Oscars), but here's a second film that should've been included.  City Lights is the delightfully touching story of Chaplin's Little Tramp, who falls in love with a blind flower girl, happens upon some money, and gives it all to her so she can get her eyes fixed.  Such a simple plot, but executed in the signature Chaplin style that earns both laughs and tears throughout.  The Academy was still finding its legs in 1931 (the release window was split over calendar years at this point), but surely there must've been a slot for what is widely considered Chaplin's greatest film.

Key Scene: The finale in which the now-seeing flower girl hands the Tramp a flower, touches his hands, and realizes he's the one who helped her see, remains one of the most genuinely touching in cinema history.  If this doesn't choke you up, you're a monster.

2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Walt Disney's first full-length animated film broke box office records and blew everyone's mind-holes upon its release.  Disney had gambled basically his entire career and studio on this ambitious, expensive project, hoping to revolutionize animation, and it paid off in truckloads of cash and a cartoon feature dynasty.  An art form that had previously been aimed at entertaining children for 5-10 minutes in front of "real" movies was now looked upon as a true artistic achievement, and just about every animated feature since owes something to the success of Disney's first homerun.  But the Academy more or less viewed the animated film as something of a cheat, not to be judged alongside live-action movies.  Thus when it came time for awards season Walt Disney was given a somewhat begrudging Honorary Oscar instead of a bona fide Best Picture nod.  It wasn't until 1991 that an animated feature was given the big nomination (Beauty and the Beast), and not until 2001 did the Academy create a separate category for animated features.

Key Scene: Hard to pick just one, but I always loved the Queen's transformation into the old hag, reminiscent of Jekyll & Hyde.  Kids back then must've freaked the fuck out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Top Ten Things: February PPV Matches

Hello and welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at, where I make a nerdy, dorky list of the ten best examples of something I like, and you are forced to read it.

Today I'll be talking about the top ten February PPV matches of all time, as decided by me.  February falls smack-dab in the middle of the Road to WrestleMania, and its PPV event is often the forgotten little sibling of 'Mania and the Royal Rumble.  But that doesn't necessarily make it a throwaway event.  Some real gems have occurred in the second month of WWE's PPV calendar (which in some cases have outshone every match at 'Mania itself), and even outside WWE there have been some excellent matches and events held in February (I've included some NWA/WCW and NJPW entries as well).

So let's get to it!

10. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee - NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka - 2.11.17

These two longtime rivals from CMLL continued their feud here, for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, in a blistering 18-minute battle of oneupmanship.  The pace started at Balls to the Wall and never seemed to let up, each man introducing new death-defying offense.  Late in the match Takahashi ripped off Lee's mask as a desperation move before nailing him with a Canadian Destroyer and his Time Bomb finisher to retain the belt.  This was one of the best and most intense Jr. Heavyweight matches in years and it managed to steal the show for both 2017 New Beginning cards.

9. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoake Honma - NJPW The New Beginning in Sendai 2.14.15

After defeating Ishii at WrestleKingdom 9 for the NEVER Openweight Championship, Togi Makabe suffered a sudden injury and New Japan vacated the title.  Ishii then faced perennial underdog but huge crowd favorite Honma to crown a new champ.  And the result was a brutally stiff battle full of knifing chops, diving headbutts, and crazy intensity.  Honma ultimately came up short and the "Stone Pitbull" Ishii regained the Title.  This match was highly praised as one of many 2015 Match of the Year candidates on NJPW's calendar, and I can't disagree.

8. Kurt Angle vs. Undertaker - WWE No Way Out 2.19.06

The main event of No Way Out '06 saw World Champion Kurt Angle lock up with a man he considers possibly the greatest wrestler of all time, The Undertaker.  This epic bout was presented as a clash of two babyfaces and ran over 29 minutes, featuring loads of dramatic near-falls and action ranging all around the ringside area.  Finally after his Anklelock was countered into a Triangle Choke, Angle rolled forward to trap Taker underneath him for the pin.  This was WWE's best match of the year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

WWE Elimination Chamber 2019: Everybody Loves Kofi

Well it was no instant classic by any means, but the 2019 Elimination Chamber PPV was inoffensive and refreshingly short, with two Chambers that were, at worst, decent (One was very good in fact).

The show started and ended well, opening with the Women's Tag Team Championship Chamber.  This bout was messy in spots and suffered from not enough credible teams (Alexa & Mickie should've been involved), but it revved up well toward the end and the crowd bought into the importance of it all.  Sasha Banks & Bayley began and ended the match with Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville, and the two teams gelled pretty well.  Nia Jax & Tamina got some good dominant spots, eliminating two teams, The Riott Squad got some moments to shine, particularly in the spot where they each dove off a chamber pod onto separate opponents, The IIconics came off as suitably overmatched (I've heard complaints that they got in too much offense, but it was after a huge Tower of Doom spot, so it didn't bother me), and Naomi & Carmella were essentially punished for their respective scandals this past week.  Kinda odd.  In the end of course it came down to the two starting teams, who had good some back-and-forth before Sasha finally locked in the Bank Statement (using one of her legs since her shoulder was injured) for the tapout on Sonya.  This felt like a big moment and a fitting start to this new championship.  Hopefully the company won't cheapen it by bouncing it all over the place.  Sasha and Bayley need a long run to establish this title as something valuable.  An entertaining Chamber match with the right winner.  ***

Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

So what are we to take away from Bohemian Rhapsody exactly?  That Queen were a popular, groundbreaking band with an all-time great frontman?  We already knew that.  That Freddie Mercury was a wholly unconventional rock star who loved to party and had sex with a lot of people?  Yeah, we knew that too.  Or, are they implying that Mercury took his "lifestyle" too far and the band had to "rein him in," in order to be able relate to him again?  By all historical accounts Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor weren't bothered in the least by Freddie's sexual orientation or his expression thereof, but in this film they're visibly uncomfortable with it seemingly at every turn.  And yet the screenplay isn't courageous enough to explore Freddie's personal life in any three-dimensional fashion, instead tiptoeing around all of it.

Were the filmmakers scared to deal with this material, lest it frighten away mainstream audiences?  Were Brian May and Roger Taylor not willing to fully commit to a tell-all about their bandmate, lest Queen fans come to the "shocking" realization that Freddie wasn't perfect?  This film just feels like it couldn't decide whether to be a Mercury character study or a band biography, and it ends up not really being either.  Mercury's personal life is explored only on the surface, and the other three band members are barely given characters at all.  Even his long-time relationship with Mary Austin and his later one with Jim Hutton are mostly glossed over, while his personal assistant Paul Prenter is presented as a scheming leech.

Singlehandedly carrying the film, Rami Malek gives a very strong performance, the only thing about this film that deserved an Oscar nomination (apparently Bohemian Rhapsody is this year's Gladiator in terms of being over-nominated).  But imagine what he could've done with Mercury's final years, something the script omits completely, instead jumping from the triumphant Live Aid performance to a closing title informing us that Freddie died six years later.  This reeked of the filmmakers simply not wanting to get their hands dirty exploring real dramatic heft, like the goal was to enhance the Queen brand rather than tell their (fascinating) story.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Parents' Night In #17: Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (1994)

Kelly and Justin enjoy some Cava, some local craft beers, and the movie that launched Jim Carrey's legendary film career, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective!  Jim's performance still holds up 25 years later as a masterstroke in screwball comedy!  Sit back and listen to us prattle on about how much we love the guy....

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Top Ten Things: WORST WWF Wrestling Superstars LJN Toys

Welcome back!  Alright, now that we've counted down the ten best LJN Wrestling Superstars toys, let's look at some that didn't make the grade.  Ones that either looked like absolute shite or that served zero purpose when you were trying to put together a pretend wrestling match (a phrase I know is technically redundant).  Some of these damn toys just hurt my brain and I don't know what LJN was thinking when they created the molds.  Here we go.... 

10. Warlord

Alright, you might be asking why Warlord is on this list when a) the toy looks quite a lot like him and b) he's got a decent pose for doing wrestling moves.  This toy pissed me off to no end for one reason: WHERE THE FUCK ARE HIS PANTS???  The Warlord as of 1989 wore long tights, ALWAYS.  So why the goddamn hell is he wearing little Speedo trunks on this toy?  Did no one at LJN bother to look at even a single a picture of this guy that extended below his waist?  Not only that, he's missing kneepads.  Do just a cursory bit of homework and this toy becomes one of the best in the line.  But because of pure fucking laziness, he's relegated to the bottom of the pile.  Also, where the hell was Barbarian??

Likeness - 7
Playability - 7
Total - 14

9. Iron Sheik

This is another one that looks vaguely like the real guy but in a very superficial way.  If you look closely, the facial features don't particularly resemble the Iron Sheik at all.  Again, I feel like they based this sculpt on the cartoon show instead of the actual human.  So this one gets a middling score there.  And his pose kinda sucked.  He's doing the vaudville strongman pose, which was okay for headlocks, clotheslines and maybe a suplex, but it was absolutely impossible to do Sheik's finishing move, the Camel Clutch.  If you can't do the guy's finisher that subtracts significant points.  Pretty lame, LJN.

Likeness - 5
Playability - 5
Total - 10

8. Paul Orndorff

What the hell were the sculpting team smoking when they made the Orndorff figure?  He's got a gigantic, malformed head, he's impossibly jacked, and he's missing kneepads.  Clearly this mold was done by the same guy that did Greg Valentine's, because this is one of the most unpleasant-looking action figures ever made.  This is what Paul Ordorff would look like if someone parked a bus on his face.  Not to mention, the physique they gave him is more Arnold than Orndorff, who was quite buff but not bodybuilder huge.  As far as playability though, he scores fairly high since his arm flexing was conducive to clotheslines and elbows, plus you could do a press slam or a Torture Rack.  But Christ, what an awful-looking toy.

Likeness - 3
Playability - 7
Total - 10

Friday, February 15, 2019

Top Ten Things: WWF Wrestling Superstars LJN Toys

Welcome to a special two-part edition of Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I have not one but TWO lists for you, and they're opposite sides of the same coin.  Back in the 80s we wrestling fans had very limited options as far as the available toys with which to recreate our favorite in-ring matches and rivalries.  In 1985 Remco (makers of the fabulous He-Man knockoff toys based on obscure DC Comics characters like Warlord and Arak) unveiled a modest series of AWA action figures (plus Ric Flair) and a cardboard ring for the action to take place in.  These toys were quite functional but sadly also very generic, being made from essentially the same body mold.  As I got older I came to value poseability over visual aesthetics, and along with my vast collection of He-Man guys the Remco figures became my primary wrestling toys.  Man did I run a helluva Federation.  But I'm getting ahead of myself....

Also in 1985 the WWF got into the action figure game, releasing a colorful, oversized line of LJN toys called Wrestling Superstars.  These massive hunks of rubber had zero points of articulation, paint that would rub off in literally minutes, in some cases questionable-at-best resemblance to their real-life counterparts, and were easily capable of inflicting blunt force trauma to a person's skull.  They were so heavy and dense the accompanying toy ring couldn't handle the stress of play and would routinely crack; my ring had to be replaced less than a year after I got it.  But if you were an eleven-year-old, new pro wrestling fan like me, goddamn these toys ruled.  They were unlike any action figures out there; at eight inches tall they dwarfed every other figures on the market besides the unwieldy 12-inch dolls that had long since become obsolete.  With a roster of colorful, larger-than-life characters to model the toys after, LJN had no shortage of eye-catching products to offer.  The sucky thing about these toys was their rather hefty price tag for the time.  These fuckers cost a good 8 bucks a pop, which for my age was way too much to easily collect them.  Thus my early matchmaking abilities were limited; when I first began accumulating these toys at the end of 1986 I only had three figures, all babyface characters.  The hell am I supposed to do with that?

Anyway, while some of these toys were very playable thanks to well-chosen poses and slight flexibility in the rubber, others were not so much.  Likewise, while some figures carried quite serviceable likenesses to the actual people they represented, others looked like barely-formed humanoid blobs.  I noticed a trend at the time - certain character molds seemed to be done by the same person, and that guy was terrible at capturing realistic facial features, plus all the toys this guy worked on had gigantic nipples for some reason.  Go back and look at the figures for Greg Valentine, Paul Orndorff, Brutus Beefcake and a few others.  The faces look awful and the nips are like the Capitol building dome.

So here's where these lists come in.  I've compiled the ten best and worst LJN figures, based on a combination of likeness accuracy and playability.  I'm trying to keep it as fair as possible, since some figures looked great but were useless to play with, and some had perfect wrestler poses but looked like Sloth from The Goonies.  This being an era long before computer-scanned faces I'll go fairly easy on the likeness ratings, and the playability will be somewhat determined by each wrestler's moveset.  I'll give you the ten best ones today and the ten worst in Part 2.  Let's get to it.....

10. Ricky Steamboat

The Steamboat figure had a pretty detailed face/hair sculpt and a lean, defined body type that more or less matched the real guy.  The resemblance wasn't exactly uncanny but it vaguely looked like Steamboat.  The arms were posed in a way that body slams and suplexes were possible, and his hands were open which lent itself to Steamboat's chops.  This toy was a solid bit of work from LJN.

Likeness - 7
Playability - 7
Total - 14

9. Greg Valentine

Valentine's toy was one of the uglier in the series, with a face like a mean old lady and bright yellow hair like banana ice cream.  Then again, Greg Valentine was always rather homely, so the rough sculpt kinda fit.  This was one of the toys in the series that looked like the sculptor either worked solely from memory or forgot to put on his glasses.  It's a vague representation of Greg Valentine that kinda sorta captures his essence, but by no means is it true to life.  Like at all.  But what this figure lacked in realism it made up for in utility.  Valentine was posed perfectly for slams, suplexes, and most of all, that signature Valentine elbow drop.  You couldn't do the Figure Four, but then again I've never seen a wrestling figure that could.  This one scores quite well on playability.

Likeness - 6
Playability - 8
Total - 14

8. Hart Foundation

Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart were more often than not sold as a team, so I'm including them as one entry.  These guys looked quite a bit like the real people and the sculpts captured their body types pretty realistically.  The ring attire looked pretty much just like the Harts' actual gear.  My only issue aesthetically, and this was true for a lot of these toys, is that Bret is wearing his sunglasses, which of course he never wore while wrestling.  As far as their respective poses, they were vaguely configured to do wrestling moves.  Bret's arms were partly outstretched to do clotheslines and slams, while Neidhart could easily do a powerslam (though I'm not sure why the fingers of his right hand are spread out).  These two toys looked good and could get you through a match.

Likeness - 8
Playability - 6
Total - 14


"You understand, Captain, that this mission does not exist, nor will it ever exist."

One of my all-time favorite movie posters.  I like it so much that after watching the film once in 1995
and not loving it, I gave it another chance years later.  Good thing I did, because that's when the film clicked for me.

Why has Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War tour de force Apocalypse Now, whose production was hampered by just about every turmoil and anxiety imaginable, endured the last 35 years as a genuine classic?   How was its director able to weather the perfect storm of location problems, unpredictable equipment availability, cast changes, health scares, and a wholly mercurial and unprepared star, and come out the other side with one of the greatest of all war films, indeed one of the greatest films of any genre?  Perhaps adversity really is key to making great art.  Maybe the filmmakers' creative anguish formed a cinematic powderkeg, the volatility of which can be felt in every frame.  Or maybe Apocalypse Now remains in our collective lexicon because it is not a "war film" in the traditional sense, but rather a story about traveling inward to the darkest recesses of the human soul and confronting what we find.  Perhaps the above quote from Harrison Ford's character Colonel G. Lucas (get it?) is more significant than just a plot-related throwaway line.

The film begins with a beautiful slow-motion shot - a reject from the vast collection of dailies that Coppola just happened to fish out of the trash, depicting a forest being incinerated by a fleet of helicopters - before blending into a composite shot.  The jungle becomes the background for an upside-down closeup of Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin Willard and a closeup of a temple face carved out of stone.  The soundtrack to this beautifully disturbing montage is The Doors epic "The End," which in its own right would become another character in the film.  This combined image is a harbinger of the introspective, surrealistic journey Willard, and we, are about to take.

Effin' trippy, dude.

"There is no way to tell (Colonel Kurtz's) story without telling my own. And if his story really is a confession, then so is mine."

Capt. Willard is a broken man when we first meet him.  Like a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, he has been at war so long he no longer knows how to live without it; how to relate to the outside world.  His marriage has ended and he's chosen to return to battle, but without a mission he rots away in a Saigon hotel room, spending most waking hours in a drunken haze.  He is a man devoid of purpose, and when his superiors finally give him something to do, it is the unenviable (and classified) task of traveling upriver through the war-mutilated country to kill a rogue US Colonel.  The film then becomes a series of detached events resembling Homer's Odyssey, as Willard and his boat crew travel deeper and deeper into the jungle.

Willard's target, the highly decorated Colonel Walter Kurtz, has established a cult-like settlement deep in the Loatian jungle (where he is worshiped by the local tribes) and wages his own chaotic form of war.  Willard reluctantly agrees to the mission despite its profound moral ambiguity, and as his journey progresses he finds himself both fearing and deeply respecting Kurtz for all his accomplishments.  He begins to doubt his ability to carry out the mission.

Apocalypse Now is full of great shots.  This one is simple but perfectly captures
the overwhelming heat and claustrophobia of the location. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

WWE Elimination Chamber 2019 Preview & Predictions

It's been three weeks since the Rumble, so that means it's time for another WWE PPV!  We're in the thick of WrestleMania season, when a few of the big matches for April are starting to become clearer.  This Sunday it's the return of Elimination Chamber!

Like 2018, this year's edition has two Chambers, one for the men and one for the women.  But the women's match this time has a wrinkle, as it's to crown the first set of Women's Tag Team Champions, a title that hasn't existed in roughly thirty years (Remember how awesome the Jumping Bomb Angels were?).  Aside from the two Chamber bouts, this show is fairly thin, but at least it won't be five hours, for Chrissake.  Let's get to it...

***I'm ahead with 69% (83/120), Dave is second with 66% (79/120), and Dan and Landon are tied with 65% (78/120).***

Pre-Show Cruiserweight Championship: Buddy Murphy vs. Akira Tozawa

For the first time I'm actually a little sad the CW match got bumped.  Buddy and his, well, buddies on 205 Live have been killing it lately.  This should be no exception, as both guys can go.  I gotta stick with Buddy to retain here since it is on the pre-show.  Maybe someday they'll get a high-profile enough match to have a meaningful title change.

Justin: Buddy retains
Dan: Yeah
Landon: Buddy
Dave: Buddy

Intercontinental Championship: Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush vs. Finn Balor

I hate handicap matches, you should all know this by now.  But I like Finn Balor.  Finn should finally win some goddamn main roster gold; he's only had a title on RAW for one day.  This could be decent.  Finn has been working his ass off lately, Lashley is much, much better as a heel, and Lio Rush is talented.  But Finn needs this.

Justin: Finn gets the pin to win that piece of tin.
Dan: I think Lashley holds it here to lose it to Balor at 'Mania
Landon: Christ almighty.  Finn.
Dave: Let's go Finn

Smackdown Tag Team Championship: Shane & The Miz vs. The Usos

Christ, this is where we're at now?  Shane gets a PPV match every month?  We all know this is building to Shane-Miz at 'Mania, but since Fastlane stands between this show and that one, Shane & Mike ain't losing yet.

Justin: The champs retain
Dan: They almost have to.
Landon: Usos
Dave: The champs, but come on, this is ridiculous.

You Used to be Sooooo Good: Frank Miller

Welcome to another edition of You Used to Be Soooo Good, where Justin and I, Dan Moore, discuss things used to be awesome but now, eh, not so much. On this day we discuss one of the greatest, most important men to ever come down the chute to write and draw men in tights punching other men in tights in the facial regions.

Frank Miller:  You Used to Be Soooo Good

He just looks like a creep these days.

DAN: Mr. Miller is the highly influential creator of some of the greatest comic book opuses out there. He’s the master of Batman stories, and gave us this, one the most iconic images of Bats in comics history. 

My God.  Just look at it.

The man changed the comics world, taking it from the nerdy clich├ęs of the Simpsons comic book guy to becoming okay for the masses to enjoy them.

JUSTIN: He somehow went from being one of the greatest and most influential comic book artist/writers of all time, a man who revitalized and redefined not one but two major characters while creating a totally distinctive style, to an insufferable self-parody who turns out mean-spirited fascist drivel.

DAN: His politics seem to have completely taken over his creative mind. To the point where he had to re-do a Batman comic into a totally different character as it went on to become a propaganda piece depicting a masked hero beating up Al-Qaeda operatives. Which, to me, seems like a pointless indulgence as actual terrorists run amok around the world. Is seeing a pretend hero beating up actual villains supposed to make us feel better? Feel patriotic somehow? The whole project, from inception to execution seemed 100% pointless and ego driven.

JUSTIN: Yes, his recent "classic," Holy Terror, is essentially just his own fantasy about killing Muslims. Here's how Grant Morrison felt about the idea when it was announced:

Batman vs. Al Qaeda! It might as well be Bin Laden vs. King Kong! Or how about the sinister Al Qaeda mastermind up against a hungry Hannibal Lecter! For all the good it's likely to do. Cheering on a fictional character as he beats up fictionalized terrorists seems like a decadent indulgence when real terrorists are killing real people in the real world. I'd be so much more impressed if Frank Miller gave up all this graphic novel nonsense, joined the Army and, with a howl of undying hate, rushed headlong onto the front lines with the young soldiers who are actually risking life and limb 'vs.' Al Qaeda.

It's just a shame that such a brilliantly talented artist/writer evidently allowed the events of 9/11 to turn him into a vindictive, bitter old vulture.  Not unlike what happened to Dennis Miller. I mean there's a place for political commentary in comic books to be sure, but it kinda has to be kept as subtext, or it just becomes regurgitated propaganda.  During World War II DC Comics used to depict Superman beating up Hitler and Hirohito on the covers of several issues, but inside the stories were never about that.  The editors wisely understood that even if Supes beats up our enemies abroad in the pages of his comic book, in real life our soldiers still have to face actual horrors overseas.  In the end, while comic books can contain relevant social and political topics, they need to be presented as the backdrop for an escapist story somehow, or it doesn't really work as an art form.

Yeah, Generic Superhero!  You beat up that sword-wielding mummy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Girl Scout Cookies Are Complete & Utter Trash

By Dan Moore

Well, it’s that time of year again. When a bunch of people that work in an office are forced by some pushy asshole co-worker to overpay for some shit cookies being sold by a cabal of prepubescent minions in uniforms for a scam “fundraiser”. That’s right, it’s Girl Scout cookie season.

A rainbow of rubbish

This fucking shakedown has been perpetrated on the American public for literally centuries*. These god-awful bullshit cookies are pushed upon you by some doting mother, probably with an asshole name, like Paige or Alice. “Would you like to overpay for some flavorless sugar discs” she’ll say. And lest you be chastised by the whole fucking office, you acquiesce and say “Sure, give me a box of that garbage where the carboard holding the cookies is tastier than the bullshit cookie itself”. Then she’ll say “oh, only one?” and fucking Karen in accounting will give you that look of disdain, like you’re some kind of monster for only getting one box full of plain flour slices (seriously, fuck you, Karen). So you get two. And she says “ok that’s 9 cookies for a thousand dollars, thanks asshole”.

*(probably not literally).

I hate the whole racket. The fake specialness of those awful cookies. The little sprites in their fucking sashes accosting me outside the Market Basket trying to get me to overpay for their dumpster cookies. Uh, hey, Prudence, or Zima or whatever the fuck horrible name your parents gave you, I just came from the super market. I got BAGS of good cookies, sweetheart. Oreos UP THE ASS. Good shit, like Chips Ahoy and/or Deluxe, whatever your Chips preference is, I got it. And there’s a TON of those motherfuckers in very affordable packages.


And what the fuck are you doing by the supermarket exit selling cookies? Hey, newsflash Nadia, I ALREADY BOUGHT COOKIES. Why would I get more when I’m leaving? Who the fuck taught you marketing? There’s ZERO chance I’m buying anything by the exit of the place I just left, unless it’s a bar and there’s cocaine. It’s common sense. Jesus Christ.

Let’s rate these motherfuckers.

The Peanut Butter ones—legit, the only decent tasting one, and that’s being kind, because these are still fucking terrible. The peanut butter to “cookie” ratio is waaaaaaaaaay fucking off. It tastes like dried dough with a slight peanut butter texture.

RATING: On a taste of ass to total ass, it tastes slightly worse than ass.

Thin Mints---the fuck outta my face with this bullshit. A thin disc of smashed up toothpaste is what this is. “Oh you gotta put them in the freezer for the best taste” I’m gonna put you in the freezer if you don’t shut the fuck up. When I need instructions on how to make your vomit cookies actually taste good, that means they suck and you should go to hell.

RATING: Pure minty hell.

Samoas---“Here, have a bite of racism!” What the fuck is with this name? They’re destroying a beautiful culture by having them be associated with this monster. Caramel and chocolate all mixed up with coconut? I’d rather get a handy from Freddy Krueger than try to down these abominations.

RATING: Complete and utter ASS.

If these look enticing to you, go jump in traffic. 

Tagalongs---more like fuckalongs.

RATING: Balls. Pure balls.

Fuck these cookies. Straight dumpster cuisine.

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The One Thing Wrong with Jurassic Park, by Dan Moore

Jurassic Park is an incredible film. You don't need me to tell you this. It's science. Look.

I'm not here to point out any of the myriad of plot holes, technical gaffes or implausibilities in this film. There's plenty of articles out there showing this stuff.  I'm of the belief that if I can buy people bringing back fucking DINOSAURS, then sure, I can believe a T-Rex can sneak up on a group of raptors and people in a building.

My one problem with this movie is this.

Not that the lawyer gets it on the toilet. No issue there. My problem is with the fact that there's a toilet there in the first place. There would be ZERO need for a toilet at the T-Rex paddock. You would automatically shit your pants at the awesomeness of a T-Rex eating a goat. Not in a bad, embarrassing way. It would be accepted in every tour given. It would be a known custom at the park. They'd be telling you this the second you went through that King Kong wooden door.  "Be warned, this next part is so fucking awesome, you are going to shit in your pants." Christ, I'm sitting on my couch, just thinking of a giant lizard eating some livestock, and a little nugget fell out.  Ok, two. If you think there's something wrong with that, then there's something wrong with you and I don't wanna know you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

You Used to Be Sooooo Good: Rob Reiner

Welcome back to our vaunted regular feature, You Used to Be Sooooo Good, where I, Justin Ballard and my esteemed associate Dan Moore discuss things that used to be super awesome and now, well, just kinda suck.

There he is.  A former master of cinema.

JUSTIN: This week we'll be discussing the films of director Rob Reiner.  From a well-renowned comedy pedigree, Reiner became famous as Meathead on All in the Family, but made the transition to directing films.  His filmography began with an amazing streak of seven good-to-excellent films, no fewer than four being bonafide cinematic classics.  Just take a gander at his early work.....

This is Spinal Tap (1984) - One of my top five favorite comedies and as you know, one of my most oft-quoted.  Plus as a metal musician I've been through so many similar scenarios as these fools.
The Sure Thing (1985) - Probably the weakest of his early films but still a highly entertaining rom-com that more or less put John Cusack on the map.
Stand By Me (1986) - Based on the Stephen King novella The Body, this is for me the quintessential pre-adolescent movie and the relationships between the four boys echoes pretty much every group of friends I've ever had.
The Princess Bride (1987) - What's not to like about this movie?  It literally has something for everyone, plus the best-ever cinematic performance by a pro wrestler (Andre the Giant).
When Harry Met Sally (1988) - This one hasn't had the long-term appeal for me as the others, but I rewatched it a few years ago and it still holds up as a rare rom-com with both a heart and a brain.
Misery (1990) - Just a really great adaptation of the Stephen King book.  The horror violence is slightly toned down but otherwise it's a pretty perfect movie interpretation.
A Few Good Men (1992) - Arguably Reiner's masterpiece, A Few Good Men was robbed of multiple Oscars as far as I'm concerned.  Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson delivered some of their finest work, and the near-perfect script by Aaron Sorkin provided eminently quotable dialogue that is still part of the American lexicon.

Top Ten Things: WWE Elimination Chamber Matches

Welcome to another Top Ten Things here at!

We're days away from the Elimination Chamber PPV, where the WrestleMania lineup could be dramatically reshaped.  For several years this match/PPV served as the final stop on the Road to WrestleMania, and it had a huge impact on the top Title picture.  It seemed in 2015 that the concept was being retired due to logistical problems with hanging the Chamber from the arena ceiling.  But thankfully WWE dusted off this match last year and it's apparently here to stay.

The Elimination Chamber was first introduced in 2002 as an Eric Bischoff creation, combining aspects of Survivor Series, WarGames, and the Royal Rumble into one brutal fight.  Two men would start the match and every few minutes another would enter, until by pin or submission each entrant would be eliminated.  The wrinkle was that the entire ring would be surrounded by a massive chain-cage structure, and all but the first two participants would be trapped in pods until it was time to join the melee.

This is an unpopular opinion, but I considered the first Chamber match a failure.  I found it slow, plodding, awkward, and ultimately counterproductive in creating a strong RAW roster at a time when Smackdown was smoking RAW creatively and in the ratings.  The match was all about the Hunter-Shawn feud, and the other four guys were treated as afterthoughts.  On top of that, no one seemed sure what to do inside this terrifying-but-unfamiliar structure.  Fortunately the kinks were ironed out after the inaugural edition and over the past fourteen years the Chamber has provided numerous classic clusterfucks.  Here now are my ten favorites.....

10. Daniel Bryan vs. Santino Marella vs. Wade Barrett vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Big Show vs. Great Khali - Elimination Chamber - 2.19.12

Despite one of the least auspicious lineups in the Chamber's history, this match ended up pretty great, mostly due to the late-match work by Bryan and Marella.  WWE wisely kept Khali's involvement to a minimum, booking Big Show to pin him almost immediately after a spear.  The rest of the match featured solid action, but it was the dramatic near-win by Marella and the heel work by Bryan that made this match truly memorable.  For a few minutes they had an entire arena believing Marella might actually win the belt, but ultimately Bryan submitted him with the LeBell Lock to retain.  Bryan would of course go on to infamously lose to Sheamus in 18 seconds at WrestleMania, a stupid and ill-conceived booking move that ended up doing much more for Bryan's success than Sheamus's.

9. Triple H vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Chris Jericho vs. JBL vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Umaga
No Way Out - 2.17.08

2008's No Way Out PPV began the several-year trend of the Elimination Chamber being used to shape the main event picture for WrestleMania, with two #1 Contender matches determining challengers for each brand.  The RAW Chamber match was easily the superior one, with a stacked lineup, lots of Jericho vs. Michaels action, and a career-elevating performance by Jeff Hardy.  Triple H would outlast the others to earn a WWE Title match against Randy Orton (he'd be joined by John Cena) before capturing the Title at Backlash and taking it to Smackdown in the 2008 Draft.

8. Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena vs. Sheamus vs. Cesaro vs. Christian
Elimination Chamber - 2.23.14

The 2014 Chamber might have had the best pound-for-pound lineup, with five World Champions involved, plus the accomplished Cesaro.  The action was spectacular, with all six participants entering the match before any were eliminated.  The booking toward the end got a bit outlandish, with the Wyatt Family causing Cena's elimination and Korporate Kane assisting with Daniel Bryan's, but it was a highly engaging Chamber match and ended up being Christian's career finale.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Movie Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

As a huge longtime fan of the Coen Brothers I was stoked for their latest, a film I could watch on Netflix no less (no need to book a babysitter!).  True Grit, the Coens' previous foray into the Western genre was a rousing success and ranks as one of my favorite entries in their filmography, so The Ballad of Buster Scruggs seemed like a promising venture.  The film is an anthology of six unrelated narratives that plays out like a book of short stories and stars Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson and a host of others.

I was drawn in pretty quickly by the first story, a tongue-in-cheek, violently amusing piece about an accomplished gunfighter/singing cowboy (Nelson as the title character) who speaks cheerfully and eloquently but has no qualms about coldly murdering anyone who dares insult him.  This story was quite promising and felt like a classic Coen exercise in morbid comedy.  And then it was just over.  Right when are getting interesting, the tale comes to a screeching, premature halt, and we move quickly to the next story.  And that sums up the biggest problem I have with this film.  None of the chapters are given adequate time to explore the characters or plot elements long enough to really become compelling.  Each story either feels rushed to its conclusion or just kind of empty.

The second story involves a bank robbery gone wrong.  The bandit (James Franco) finds himself at the end of a rope, only to escape and then find himself at the end of another rope five screen minutes later.  Things happen in most of these stories that ultimately don't change the outcome.  Maybe that was the theme?  Death is imminent and any escape from it is only temporary?

The third, and most depressing chapter involves a traveling show that consists of a quadraplegic who delivers famous monologues and historical speeches.  Liam Neeson stars as the show manager, Harry Melling as the talent.  This rather repetitive piece depicts their daily routine and their dwindling crowds, building to a very morbid climax.  There's a good idea in here somewhere but the story ultimately feels one-note.

Top Ten Things: Oscar Upsets

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  It's a list of ten things that stand aTOP all other things.  See?

Well we are in the midst of movie awards season, which for me means a mad dash to catch up on all the Oscar bait I haven't seen yet.  Thus when the Golden Globes and Oscars roll around I'll be much more educated and opinionated about the winners and losers.  Over the years we've seen some pretty shocking winners; some pleasant surprises, some bile-churning outrages.  Very often it seems Mr. Oscar suffers from acute myopia, as literally dozens of Best Picture winners fail to make much of a lasting impression on the American lexicon, while many of the losers are universally lauded as masterworks for decades to come.  The same can be said of individual performances and the actors attached to them.  Sometimes an actor or actress can win the gold statue and go on to do literally nothing of note, while perpetually snubbed thespians continue to impress critically and commercially despite the lack of Academy love.

So let's take a look at the ten most noteworthy upsets in Oscar history.  This list includes nominees for Best Picture, Director, and acting awards.

10. Crash over Brokeback Mountain

One of the most infamous recent shockers took place in 2006, as Paul Haggis's ensemble piece about racial tensions in America took home the gold despite the outpouring of support for Ang Lee's touching cowboy love story.  Almost immediately Crash suffered something of a backlash, and few people today recall it as an all-time classic, while Brokeback Mountain helped launch the serious acting careers of Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and of course the late Heath Ledger.  For the record I enjoyed both films but I didn't consider Crash a multiple-time watch.

9. Gene Hackman (Unforgiven) over Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men)

The 1993 ceremony saw a battle of heavyweights in the Best Supporting Actor category, as the respective villains of Clint Eastwood's understated Western and Rob Reiner's courtroom drama went head-to-head.  Hackman took the award but it's Nicholson's performance that is much more remembered (and quoted) 20-plus years later, as the iconic Col. Nathan Jessup.  Lines like "You can't handle the truth!" and "Are we clear??" "Crystal." are part of our vernacular, while Hackman's turn as Little Bill Daggett, though certainly skillful, was far less memorable.

8. Bob Fosse (Cabaret) over Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)

Speaking of memorable vs. not-so-much, in 1973 choreographer/musical theater director Bob Fosse won the Best Director award for Cabaret, despite Francis Ford Coppola seeming a shoe-in for his masterful work on The Godfather.  The epic mafia drama has since become an essential part of any cinefile's collection, while Cabaret is.....well, not so much.