Friday, August 31, 2018

WWE 2018: Welcome to the "F*ck the Fans" Era!

Man, it takes some serious pigheadedness to look at the top two babyfaces on your flagship show and then turn heel the one who ISN'T getting booed.  But that's what Vince has done.  For nearly the past year Braun Strowman has been getting better babyface reactions than anyone on RAW not named Seth Rollins (How Seth still isn't Vince's pick for the top star is beyond me), and now that he's been positioned to feud with Roman Reigns for the Universal Title, they decided he, and not Roman, should be the heel.  And to protect Roman from getting skewered by the fans they've reunited The Shield, the only proven formula to guarantee he gets the reaction they want.  Man, if you have to trick your audience into not booing your top babyface, what the hell does that tell you?  Like, how manipulative was that SummerSlam main event?  They put Strowman out there at the beginning to prevent the crowd from showering the match with "We want Strowman" chants, they had him announce that he would cash in after the match to keep the fans glued until the finish, and then when the cash-in didn't happen they quickly went off the air so the home audience wouldn't see the crowd turn on the result.  Has any other wrestling company needed this kind of Machiavellian maneuvering to make it look like their guy is the fans' favorite?

I do not understand Vince's over-the-top spitefulness with this Roman experiment.  This shit's been going on for four years and the fans by and large have shown little indication they'll ever accept Reigns as their top guy.  No matter how many alternatives the fans have provided to Vince - Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman - he refuses to simply admit he was wrong and go with the flow.

And yet turning Roman heel and making him a murdering asshole would get exactly the kind of crowd reaction Vince wants for Roman.  Turning The Rock heel worked in this way, turning Tetsuya Naito heel worked for New Japan, turning Hogan heel worked in WCW when his Hulkamania shtick got old, it's basic wrestling logic.  When the babyface is getting booed, you turn him heel.  If the crowd continues to hate him, good, that's his job.  If the crowd starts to love him, perfect, you have yourself a hot new top star.  But no, let's turn Braun.  Because if anything'll change people's minds about Roman it's encouraging them to boo the guy they actually like.  When did Vince McMahon's brain and logic become so separated?

Sadly there's basically zero chance any of this will change until Vince is gone.  Fox is paying WWE obscene amounts of money starting next year, and as long as WWE delivers acceptable ratings they have no incentive to ever listen to their audience again.  It is so baffling to me that any entertainment company would have such a flagrant disregard for what its fans want.  No other company would be able to exhibit this kind of behavior and still expect to be profitable.  In ten years when they make documentaries about this era in WWE they should dub it the Fuck the Fans Era.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Top Ten Things: Directors' Second Films

And we're back with Ten more Things at the Top.  

Since I just posted a list of the all-time best directorial debuts, I thought I'd follow it up with a list of the best "second" films, i.e. sophomore directorial efforts.  Some filmmakers knock it out of the park on their first try.  A few of those repeat that accomplishment on their second attempt, solidifying their reputations as truly gifted filmmakers.  But sometimes a first-time director is limited by budget or time constraints, or lack of proper distribution, and doesn't get to fully realize their vision or garner the appropriate level of appreciation until their second film.  This list is a mix of those two categories.  But first, some honorable mentions.....

Honorable Mentions

Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010)

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

The Green Mile (Frank Darabont, 1999)

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2001)

Braveheart (Mel Gibson, 1995)

10. Reqiuem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)


Visually inventive and uncompromisingly weird, Darron Aronofsky announced himself as an exciting new director with 1998's Pi, a psychological thriller about a mathematician with delusions of persecution.  He followed it up two years later with this deeply upsetting ensemble piece about four people with debilitating drug addictions that, despite its severely disturbing nature, really should be required viewing for all teenagers.  Sporting strong performances by Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans, and an incredible, Oscar-worthy turn from Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream pulls zero punches in depicting the self-destructive toll the characters' addictions take on their lives.  In adapting Hubert Selby's unflinchingly bleak novel, Aronofsky found a unique visual and editing style to make the movie feel unlike any other.  It's the most unconventional cautionary tale ever put to film.

9. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)

As a music school alum (a jazz-dominated school at that), Whiplash's subject matter immediately caught my attention.  But then it defied my expectations of being a Mr. Holland's Opus-esque movie where the student and the hard-ass teacher grow to respect each other and a father-son bond is forged.  Nope, Whiplash wasn't like that at all.  The teacher Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) is vulgar, brutally tough on his students, unapologetic, and grandiose.  And the student (Miles Teller) is stubborn, ambitious to a fault, and singlemindedly obsessed with being the world's greatest drummer.  By the end of the film his goal is not to gain Fletcher's respect, but his awe.  This film is centered around this power struggle, and it's absolutely riveting.  Simmons delivers a career performance (not to mention some of the most creative swearing I've heard in years), and Teller announces his arrival as a top-notch young actor.  Whiplash was apparently loosely based on writer/director Damien Chazelle's own music school experiences, and he brings a very personal touch as well as a captivating visual flair.  Whiplash is one of the best music-related movies I've ever seen, and a tour-de-force from a young filmmaker with only one previous feature under his belt.

8. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)

Three years after his brutally frank take on the IRA hunger strikes of the early 80s, Steve McQueen returned with an intimate character study about Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a New York yuppie with a crippling sex addiction, whose life is thrown into disarray when his estranged sister Sissy (played with quiet despondency by Carey Mulligan) comes to live with him.  Brandon's daily routine involves an endless string of joyless sexual encounters and self-gratification, and Sissy's presence forces him to examine his own dysfunctional existence in growing distress.  Fassbender is an Oscar-worthy revelation in this film, creating a potpourri of emotional turmoil and powerfully conveying how imprisoned Brandon is by his compulsions.  This film could just as easily be about a heroin addict or an alcoholic and it would play out almost the same way.  Despite only being Steve McQueen's second feature film, Shame already demonstrated his virtuosic skill as a director.  As with McQueen's other two films, Shame is nearly impossible to put out of your mind.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Top Ten Things: David Fincher Films

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at, where I rattle off ten somethingorothers in some kind of order and explain why I chose said order.

Today I'll be ranking the films of vaunted director David Fincher.  I've been following Mr. Fincher's career since the beginning, when he cut his feature film teeth with the third Alien film.  I was immediately struck by his distinctive visual style; even as a first-time director his films had a unique, noirish look that was bleak, harsh, and compositionally spectacular.  Fincher became one of Hollywood's hottest auteurs only a few years later, and now boasts one of the most intriguing filmographies in the business.  No matter what his films are about I'll always go out of my way to see them; two of the entries on this list remain among my all-time favorite movies.

So let's get started.  Here's how I'd rank the films of David Fincher....

10. Alien 3

Anyone who knows me is aware I hate this film.  Hate it.  With the raging intensity of a thousand soccer riots.  No sequel has ever pissed me off as much as this one (as documented HERE).  But goddamn if this isn't a beautiful-looking film.  20th Century Fox clearly hired the visually gifted music video veteran Fincher to make the film they wanted to make, hoping he'd just "yes" them to death and they'd have another hit on their hands (Given that the wildly successful Alien and Aliens were both directed by strong-willed visionaries I'm not sure why the studio didn't want the same kinda thing this time).  But Fincher had his own ideas for the film, and it was a combative shoot from the get-go (It didn't help that the studio rushed the movie into production without a finished script), one that Fincher described as a miserable experience.  He has since disowned the movie, declining to take part in a Director's Cut for the Blu Ray release.  Regardless of its unimaginative storyline though, Alien 3 is a visually incredible horror film that demonstrated emphatically Fincher's singular gift for creating cinematically stunning, atmospheric films.

9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Probably the most disappointing Fincher film besides Alien 3 was this strange, Forrest Gump-esque parable about a man who ages in reverse.  Brad Pitt plays the title character, born as a tiny, frail old man, who grows younger with age.  Button befriends a young girl and the two become soul mates of sorts, until eventually she becomes a matronly figure for him as a little boy.  The film is certainly impressive technically, and boasts fine performances, but aside from the gimmickry of the story there isn't a lot to sink one's teeth into.  I never felt very emotionally engaged, and ultimately the movie felt like simply an exploration of the gimmick, rather than a story that really needed to be told.  Still, Fincher lent Benjamin Button his usual visual flair, making this worth a look.

8. Panic Room

Fincher's most genre-specific movie was the Hitchcockian Panic Room, about a woman and her daughter being sieged in their own home by a gang of thieves.  This first-rate thriller is a classic cat-and-mouse game, but sets itself apart from lesser films by staying a step ahead of the audience's expectations and occasionally reversing the roles.  Jodie Foster and Forest Whitaker give strong, believable performances as the mother and the head thief, respectively, while Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam have memorable supporting turns.  Also of note, this was one of Kristen Stewart's first roles as the precocious eleven-year-old daughter.  Panic Room doesn't have the lasting appeal of Fincher's better works, but it's most certainly a well-made example of suspense filmmaking that manages to never insult the audience's intelligence.  It's a smartly-written film for the initiated viewer.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Top Ten Things: Directorial Film Debuts

Welcome to yet another edition of Top Ten Things, here at  Things, ten of them, at the top.

Today I'm talkin' about directorial debuts.  I forget how this popped into my brain, but one day I just started thinkin' about which first-time directors ended up defying the odds and making lasting pieces of cinematic art.  With most talented directors their first films show at least some promise, even if they either haven't found their voice or simply didn't have adequate funding to realize their vision.  Then you get situations with a James Cameron directing tripe like Piranha II: The Spawning, just a gifted aspiring filmmaker looking to get his feet wet.

But sometimes a newbie auteur gets it just right on his or her first try and delivers a great film right out of the gate, taking an established narrative form and giving it a new spin, or inventing a new genre altogether.  Below are ten such examples (but first some honorable mentions).  Note: This list only includes debut feature-length films, not shorts.

Honorable Mentions

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005)

Anchorman (Adam McKay, 2004)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)

Blood Simple (The Coen Brothers, 1984)

Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)

10. Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)

The movie that launched Kevin Smith's View Askew-niverse, Clerks is a quintessential indie slacker comedy, about two best friends stuck in a go-nowhere convenience store job trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up (amid discussions about Star Wars, Gatorade and relationship troubles).  Shot in grainy 16mm black & white, the entire film takes place over the course of one day, chronicling our hero Dante's misadventures, from closing the store to play hockey on the roof, discovering a dead customer in the bathroom, and ruining his relationship with his current girlfriend to rekindle one with his ex.  The film showcases Smith's gift for writing quirky, articulate, often vulgar dialogue and inventing memorable characters, the most lasting of which are View Askew anti-heroes Jay & Silent Bob, two drug dealing miscreants who spend all day loitering in front of the store.  Smith's inexperience as a first-time director shows in Clerks, but the script and atmosphere are so strong they make up for the film's lack of polish.  I still consider Clerks to be his best movie.


9. Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)

The future director of the smash-hit Wonder Woman movie began her career behind the camera with this haunting bio of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a Florida prostitute-turned-murderer who was executed by lethal injection in 2002.  Without excusing Wuornos's seven murders, Monster presents her as a severely damaged woman who was dealt a terrible hand from childhood and felt she had no other recourse but to rob and kill.  Boasting a scorchingly exquisite lead performance from Charlize Theron (for which she won a well-deserved Oscar), Monster focuses on the person behind the heinous acts, showing us how and why she arrived at them.  This film is pretty note-perfect and it's quite shocking that Jenkins didn't direct another feature film until Wonder Woman.

8. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)

Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut based on his third screenplay (His first two, True Romance and Natural Born Killers, would later be directed by Tony Scott and Oliver Stone, respectively), Reservoir Dogs took the heist film and turned it upside down, presenting the events in question almost as a parlor drama.  Instead of a long buildup to the heist followed by an action centerpiece, Dogs briefly introduces the characters and then spends the majority of the film on the aftermath of a job gone horribly wrong, without ever showing the heist itself.  Structurally I had never seen anything like this before, and it illustrated Tarantino's ability to play with time and sequencing while indirectly revealing information about the characters; we see the heist's aftermath sprinkled with flashbacks focused on key players, so the plot information is doled out sporadically (One of the robbers is suspected of being an undercover cop, and we don't get the reveal until an hour in).  With uniquely musical dialogue, grisly, stylized violence, and strong performances by veteran actors like Harvey Keitel (whose enthusiasm for the project essentially got the film made), Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, Reservoir Dogs announced Quentin Tarantino as a maverick new filmmaker.

Brewery Reviewery: Throwback Brewery (North Hampton, NH)

Welcome to another edition of Brewery Reviewery here at!  This past weekend we ventured up to North Hampton, NH to check out Throwback Brewery for some libations and good eats.

Throwback Brewery
7 Hobbs Rd
North Hampton, NH

Located at historic Hobbs Farm, the all-women-owned Throwback makes use of all local ingredients to brew their beer and create a tasty menu of comfort foods.  The tasting room/restaurant is inside the old farmhouse and has a welcoming rustic feel.  There's also an outside seating area for those warm summer nights.  Visitors can seat themselves, fill out an order form for both food and drinks, and submit it at the bar for quick service.  Orders are named after whatever bobblehead toy the bartender gives you (in my case it was Superman).  Plus the background music consisted of a classic rock playlist featuring The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Elton John, among others.  Hard to go wrong there.

The food menu includes starter plates, sandwiches, rice bowls and salads, all reasonably priced.  Not wanting to gorge myself on food that day I went with the maple-braised carnitas tacos, stuffed with shredded beef, goat cheese yogurt, pickled shallots, cabbage, cilantro, and jack cheese.  These were deeply flavorful and textured, and hit the spot nicely.

My wife had the grilled cheese (made adult-sized from the kids' menu) with a side of sweet potato fries and honey mustard.  I only had a bite of that but it was buttery and delicious.  And terrible for me I'm sure.

I love me some tacos

For drinks we each had a 4-beer sampler with three common choices.

Mine consisted of Rhubarb Wit (a Belgian White ale), Oma's Tribute (black lager), Stout #3, and Hobbs Farmhouse Saison.  Kelly had the Wit, Stout and Farmhouse but also went with Oh Snap, a ginger molasses porter.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Beer Brawl: Slumbrew vs. Aeronaut (plus Downeast Cider and Cambridge Brewing Company)

Welcome to another edition of Beer Brawl, here at!  

This past weekend my wife Kelly and I visited not one, not two, not three, but FOUR breweries in and around Somerville, MA, and thought we'd share something of our experience.  You may recall that last year we hit up Night Shift and Idle Hands, formerly in Everett.  In that showdown we overwhelmingly favored one over the other, but this time the winner wasn't quite as decisive.  So let's get to bidness....

200 Terminal St. Charlestown, MA

Our first stop was the strangely situated Downeast Cider House, located literally under the Tobin Bridge.  Downeast offers tours of their facility but we arrived during a rush and were informed there was a 1-2 hour wait.  So instead we enjoyed the outdoor drinking area, featuring several lawn chairs, high tables and a game of cornhole.  We first sampled the four available varieties and then settled on a full pour of our respective favorite.

I've only recently begun venturing into the hard cider realm, and a year ago I wouldn't have given it a second look.  But as someone who suffers from mild gluten intolerance I've been attempting to expand my alcohol options.  While many ciders are too sweet for me, I have managed to find a few I enjoy.

Original - Downeast's flagship cider is exactly what you'd expect; a mixture of sweetness and tartness with a refreshing bite.

Cranberry - This was my least favorite of the four since I'm not much of a cranberry guy.  But the cranberry was fairly understated.  I wouldn't go out of my way for this one but I wouldn't refuse it either.

Maple Pecan - My favorite of the four, much to my surprise.  The maple flavor doesn't kick in until about a second after you take a sip, and it doesn't bash you in the face either.  Really interesting combination.  We bought a growler of this one and I also had a full pour of it.

Lemonade Ginger - I had mixed feelings about this one.  I love lemony things, and I enjoy a bit of ginger.  I found the ginger flavor maybe a tad too prevalent.  This seems like a cider I could only drink in small doses.

Kelly's Take: I loved them all.

The Lemon Ginger was one of my faves, but even better when combined with the Cranberry as suggested by the barkeep.  (Yes, I said barkeep).

Cool atmosphere, worth going under the Tobin for.

I liked how fresh each one tasted, and how simple each one was.  Did not at all seem overprocessed, or tinny tasting like some ciders can be.

Parents' Night In #11: The Princess Bride (1987)

Kelly & Justin are back with another classic film to talk about.  If you don't like The Princess Bride you just may be a joyless bastard.....

Watch, enjoy and SUBSCRIBE!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Top Ten Things: Nine Inch Nails Songs

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!

Today I'm talking about the music of one of my favorite bands/artists, who I didn't get into until 2009 (You read that right, I was very late to the game), Nine Inch Nails.  I discussed my years-in-the-making appreciation for Mr. Reznor's most successful musical venture HERE, so I won't bore you with those details again, but I thought I'd narrow down what are in my opinion his ten greatest songs, from 1989's Pretty Hate Machine all the way up to 2013's Hesitation Marks (Nothing from Not the Actual Events, Add Violence, or Bad Witch made the cut for me).  NIN's output has been so varied and unapologetically experimental it was tough to limit this list to ten (Honorable Mentions include "Hurt," "In This Twilight," and "Into the Void"), but if I hadn't I'd be forced to call this Top Twenty-Seven Things, and that just sounds weird.  Like the music on Ghosts I-IV...

Anyway here are my ten favorite Nine Inch Nails songs.

10. Zero Sum

The closing track from my favorite NIN album Year Zero is more or less exactly what the title suggests - a Year Zero Summation.  The concept album portrays a near-future dystopia in which corporate interests and power-hungry politicians have taken over (just like now!), the populace is hopelessly hooked on mind-altering drugs (just like now!), and about halfway through, a superior species (or maybe God) issues a warning to the human race to change its tune or face extinction (just like-- wait, that hasn't happened yet...).  "Zero Sum" presents us with the end of the story; humanity has failed in its charge, and so dozens of gigantic alien hands reach down through the sky to crush us all to powder.  I'd love to see this album adapted as a film (HBO was developing a TV series but that fell through).  Musically the song is sparse and features Reznor's spoken word lament before a poppy, piano-driven chorus takes over: "Shame on us/Doomed from the start/May God have mercy on our dirty little hearts..."  This song is the perfect way to close this remarkable, evocative album.

9. Closer

The song that put NIN on the map (from the psychologically unsettling concept album that did the same) was this creepy disco-esque number about sex as an escape from the narrator's terrifyingly unbalanced state of mind.  I hated, HATED this song when it came out, and it wasn't until 15 years later that I finally accepted its simplistic genius.  It's one of the perviest songs I've ever heard and it really shouldn't inspire anything but revulsion, and yet it became a universally-loved crossover hit for its toe-tapping dance groove and infamously explicit hook line, "I wanna fuck you like an animal."  The bizarrely disturbing video brings this song to visual life in a way that truly captures Reznor's demented imagination.

8. Copy of a

In 2013 NIN returned from a four-year hiatus with Hesitation Marks, a fairly safe but very enjoyable collection of sparse, beat-driven songs, the first of which is "Copy of a."  This track features a repeated polyrhythm throughout, as a 5/16 synth figure plays over the song's 4/4 time.  Reznor's vocals are rather gently delivered as he ruminates about lacking personality and purpose.  The song (like many tracks on this album) has a less-is-more feel to it, never overstaying its welcome or veering into melodrama, and serves as a very welcome return for Reznor & co.

Brewery Reviewery: John Harvard's Brewery & Ale House (Framingham, MA)

Welcome to another edition of Brewery Reviewery, here at! Today I'll be talking about a place I hadn't frequented since a lifetime ago.....

John Harvard's Brewery & Ale House
1 Worcester Rd.
Framingham, MA

Welp, it had been a good fifteen years since I last visited John Harvard's Brewery & Ale House, and back in 2003 I wasn't a drinker of real beer.  Thus the only JH microbrew I enjoyed at the time was their American Lager (I think that was the name), which was essentially a glorified Budweiser clone.  Now that I actually understand what good beer tastes like, it seemed time to revisit this chain establishment.  And goddamn if John Harvard doesn't have some hella good stuff on tap....

The old-timey decor fits right into the colonial theme.....

First off, the food.  Their menu is loaded with comfort choices, from burgers to pizza to chicken pot pie to meatloaf (my wife's choice on this particular occasion - deliciously grilled no less).  After enjoying their homemade beer bread and soft pretzels with spicy mustard and beer cheese (How do you type out the "Oh my sweet lord this food is delicious" kiss gesture?  MMMWAH!!!)  I went with the pastrami panini, topped with cheese and served on a grilled bun with fries.  This was a spectacular sandwich, complete with French au jus for dipping.  The lean pastrami was tender and flavorful, and the portion size was just enough to get satisfyingly full.  I'd order this meal again in a heartbeat.

Well, hello delicious.....

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Top Ten Things: Brock Lesnar Matches

***Originally published 10.27.15***

What's up folks?  Welcome to's Top Ten Things, where I'll count down the ten best (or worst) of whatever's on my mind.

Today's list is the ten best matches in the storied career of former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar.  Lesnar is undoubtedly one of the best pure athletes to ever set foot in a wrestling ring.  He took the company by storm upon his debut in 2002 and in just two short years won three WWE Championships, the Royal Rumble, and the King of the Ring tournament, not to mention main eventing his first-ever WrestleMania. 

He left the company in 2004 to pursue an NFL career, and after falling just short of being picked up by the Minnesota Vikings, ventured into MMA, where his UFC career mirrored his first WWE stint.  Brock had a 5-3 MMA career that included a two-year run as the UFC Heavyweight Champion, making him one of only three men with two consecutive successful UFC Heavyweight Title defenses (his predecessor Randy Couture and his successor Cain Velasquez are the other two).

In 2011 he retired from MMA, but he'd return to WWE in April of 2012, making an instant splash by challenging the company's top star John Cena, ending the Undertaker's legendary WrestleMania winning streak, and once again becoming the Champion.  Since his return Lesnar only wrestles sporadically but each match has had a "big fight" feel, and a few of them have been instant classics.  Let's take a look at The Best of The Beast.

The History of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV

Unsurprisingly NXT upstaged the main roster yet again, with a strong TakeOver special the night before SummerSlam.  While probably not the best Brooklyn special (The original is still at the top of the pile for me, on the strength of its double main event), number 4 delivered five decent-to-excellent bouts with scarcely an ounce of fat (aside from perhaps the overly long main event).

The show opened with a blazing tag team battle, as Roderick Strong and Kyle O'Reilly faced Moustache Mountain.  This had almost nonstop action throughout its 18 minute running time, with nearfalls galore.  Undisputed Era had the superior technical acumen, but Tyler Bate and Trent Seven showed off deceptively overwhelming power.  The two teams traded potentially match-ending moves until the champs outmaneuvered the challengers and hit Total Elimination for the win.  Splendid opening contest.  ***3/4

The weakest match for me was Velveteen Dream vs. EC3.  I like Dream quite a lot and feel like he already has the complete package - loads of charisma and crazy athleticism; he just needs a little more seasoning.  I don't feel the same way about EC3.  His overly muscular build makes him clumsy and stiff, like John Cena circa 2004.  He looks great and has some charisma I guess, though it doesn't seem effortless like Dream's.  But he just doesn't move all that well.  Dream going over here was the right move.  **1/2

For me the match of the night was Adam Cole vs. Ricochet.  Cole for me has been a little underwhelming in-ring.  While he's compelling from a character standpoint there wasn't anything about him mechanically that stood out to me.  In this match though his big thing was counterwrestling.  He played the crafty ring general, always aware of where he was and what his opponent was about to do.  Ricochet meanwhile got to show off his insane aerial offense.  The spot of the entire night was Ric going for a springboard moonsault and meeting a kick to the face - just mindboggling and perfectly timed.  After 15 minutes Ricochet won the match and the North American title with a 630 senton (I dunno how you even practice a move like that - one bad landing and you'll never do the move, or potentially walk, again).  Super match.  ****

Monday, August 20, 2018

Brewery Reviewery: Liquid Riot (Portland, ME)

Liquid Riot
250 Commercial St.
Portland, ME 04101

Last week my family and I ventured up to Portland, Maine for a Sea Dogs game (They're the Red Sox AA team - go up for a game if you get a chance) and to check out some local breweries.  We did the obligatory stop-off at Shipyard but also did a tasting and a light lunch at Liquid Riot, a brewery/distillery and resto-bar right on the water, with indoor and outdoor seating (we opted for the latter).

Inside the venue has kind of a utilitiarian, industrial feel, with visible HVAC and bare cement floors, complete with a full view of the brewery floor behind the bar.  There is very ample seating both at the bar and around the room, plus pool tables in case you fancy a game of billiards.  The outside seating consists of a back deck overlooking the docks - nothing fancy out there and the view is a bit obstructed by other seaside businesses, but on a nice day you could do worse.

Our lunch consisted of two shared apps.  The first was house cut fries, which come with two sauces - we went with ketchup and beer cheese.  The cheese wasn't the most flavorful - it was inoffensive but fairly bland; I've had better in this department.  The fries however were quite good, freshly made and seasoned with sea salt.  The other app was the veggie nachos, which seemed rather phoned in to me - they were topped with black beans, avacado, cherry tomatoes (whole ones, which I found odd), cheese sauce (never a proper substitute for freshly grated cheddar) and a few other things, but the toppings were a bit skimpy and the dish didn't have much personality.  I'm not sure how their various sandwiches, sliders and fish tacos are, but the apps left something to be desired for me.

Fortunately the beer was the main attraction (I don't drink whiskey), and Liquid Riot has some fine craft libations to offer.  Below are the five beers I tried, followed by my take on each:

WWE SummerSlam 2018: Was This PPV on Shuffle?

Well.....that was certainly anticlimactic.  We have a new Universal Champion folks.  And after three-and-a-half years of buildup to get here, his coronation match lasted....six minutes. 

This SummerSlam was frustratingly inconsistent and suffered from repetitive booking and a nonsensical match order, despite a few of the bouts being quite good.  It oddly peaked in the middle of the show, and although it never dragged like the last two SummerSlams, by the end I walked away mildly unsatisfied.

In the predictions piece I said Brock vs. Roman should be kept short to prevent the crowd from shitting all over it, and that was probably still the right move.  But what a nothing match this was.  First off, Braun Strowman interrupted the ring introductions to announce that unlike other MITB holders, he wasn't a coward who would cash in when the champ's back is turned.  "Cool" I thought, "he's adding himself to the match like a monster babyface realistically would."  Nope.  He just stated that he's cashing in after the match.  So how's that really any different than cashing in when the guy's back is turned?  You're still a fresh challenger facing an exhasuted champion.  How is that not cowardly?  It turned out to be a moot point anyway, but really think about this for a second.  This is why Money in the Bank needs to go away.

Anyway, Brock vs. Goldberg in 2017 proved you can have a red-hot sub-five-minute match that is memorable and that the crowd will eat up.  But after the first thirty seconds of Punch-Spear, this match was a buncha fluff.  Brock got a guillotine choke, hit a few suplexes, attacked Braun Strowman with a chair to prevent him from cashing in, and then got speared out of nowhere to lose the belt.  The indestructible Brock Lesnar, who earlier had taken three SuperPunches and two spears but still had it in him to counter with a guillotine choke, got pinned from one spear after controlling the second half of the match.  This was the most anticlimactic title change since Cena beat JBL in 2005, and nowhere near as good as either WrestleMania match between these two.  Strowman was clearly put out there to prevent "We Want Strowman" chants and get the crowd hyped for a possible cash-in, but what does it say about your main event when you have to trick your audience into not booing it?  This more or less sucked.  *1/2

Friday, August 17, 2018

NXT TakeOver Brooklyn IV Preview & Predictions

Hard to believe we're already at the fourth annual Brooklyn TakeOver event.  The 2015 edition, the first-ever NXT special to emanate from a full-size arena, raised the bar very high for the upstart developmental brand and began a nearly unbroken tradition of NXT specials overshadowing their main roster counterparts a day later.  NXT continues to be the one aspect of WWE programming that consistently works, and they just keep chuggin' along despite very high turnover (as the main roster raids their talent only to bury most of it).

Anyway, this Saturday's Brooklyn special promises to be potentially the best one yet, with five big matches that look great on paper.

Velveteen Dream vs. EC3

The uber-charismatic, high-flying Velveteen Dream is this year's surprise hit in NXT - an over-the-top personality who can actually back it up once the bell rings.  Ethan Carter has oddly not been featured much on TakeOver specials thus far, I wonder if he's being quickly groomed for a call-up, given his jacked physique.  This match will be a clash of styles but should be a quite entertaining undercard attraction.

Justin: I think EC3 gets a win on his way to a near-future main roster debut
Landon: EC3

NXT Tag Team Championship: Undisputed Era vs. Moustache Mountain

This'll be a great technical tag showcase.  All four of these guys have impeccable grappling credentials and they've traded the belts back and forth once already.  I'm looking for non-stop action amid dazzling European-style mat wrestling.

Justin: I think the champs retain this time
Landon: Undisputed Era

Film Discussion: The 1980s

Welcome back to our Film Discussion series, here at!  Last time Mike Drinan (@mdrinan380) and I got together we shot the shit about films of the 1970s, one of our favorite decades in the industry.  So today we're back to talk about our formative decade, the 1980s!

Justin: Well the 80s were a VERY different decade for film than the 70s.  As we talked about before, the 70s saw the studio system essentially break down, paving the way for loads of film auteurs to create transcendent, artistic movies without a ton of studio meddling, and amazingly many of them were also box office smashes.  So many of them have stood the test of time, winning awards AND making a ton of money.  However the movie blockbuster as we know it was also invented in the 70s (Jaws and Star Wars were the two big prototypes), inadvertently giving birth to the hard division between commercial films and critical successes, so prevalent in the 80s.  The studios began to figure out in the late 70s that, "Hey, if we make more movies like this we'll make a ton more money," and began churning out sci-fi and adventure films like crazy, hoping to find the next Star Wars.  Not only that, but advances in technology and special effects pioneered by George Lucas and ILM meant that fantasy and sci-fi movies could continue pushing the envelope of what was achievable on the screen, leading to hundreds of effects-and-action-heavy popcorn movies.  Additionally films like Jaws, Halloween and Alien gave way to hosts of monster movies and slasher films, recycling the Ten Little Indians formula ad nauseum.  The industry became much more business-like, leaving many of the great directors of the 70s a bit in the lurch, stuck between wanting to make THEIR films and needing to conform to the newfound demands of the studios.

By the early 80s the split between commercial and critical success was just beginning, with a few films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. (Steven Spielberg was one of the few 70s directors whose 80s films routinely fell into both camps) still garnering Oscar nominations.  But aside from those, if you look at the big Academy Award winners of the 80s and compare them with the highest grossing films, the movies and box office returns are largely very different.  In 1980 for example, The Empire Strikes Back was the top grossing film with $209mil, while the Best Picture winner Ordinary People only made $54mil, failing to crack the top ten that year.  In '81 it was Raiders on top with $212mil and Best Pic winner Chariots of Fire at #7 with $59mil.   1982 saw E.T. at #1 with $359mil, and Best Pic winner Gandhi at #12 with $53mil.  And so on.  Only once in the 80s did the Best Pic winner also rank #1 in terms of box office, and that was Rain Man in 1988 (Terms of Endearment ranked second in 1983, and Platoon 3rd in 1986).  By contrast, in the 70s, four of the Best Pic winners were ranked #1 at the box office, seven were in the top 5, and all ten were in the top 10 of their respective years.

It was clear that Hollywood was mostly relying on effects-laden genre pictures to really drive box office success, while most of the great directors of the era were focused on smaller, drama-heavy films.  As a kid growing up in the 80s there were very few "serious" movies I was interested in; most casual moviegoers flocked to the flashy, visually stunning fare, while Oscar season featured all the grown-up art movies.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

WWE SummerSlam 2018 Preview & Predictions

We're back with everyone's (EEEVERYYYYONNNNE'SSSS!) favorite wrestling predictions column, talkin' about WWE's latest bloated six-hour show, SummerSlam!

That's right, this goddamn show is gonna run six hours, two for the pre-show and four for the actual PPV.  Thirteen matches, two of which I'm actually excited about!  To be fair, this show is pretty heavily stacked, I just don't care much about any of it.  The product is so flat and devoid of urgency it's all the energy I have to even register a reaction to it.  But maybe that means I'll actually like the show.  Who knows?  All I know is, coming off four incredible weeks of NJPW shows and going straight to a WWE PPV oughta require a decompression chamber.

So let's get to the picks.  But first, the standings...

***Dan Moore with a miraculous comeback, has taken the lead with 64% (34/53), Landon's in second with 60% (32/53), and Dave and I are tied for last place with 58% (31/53).  Those last two PPVs really killed us.***

Pre-Show Mixed Tag Team Match: Rusev & Lana vs. Andrade Almas & Zelina Vega

Almas is great and apparently the company is pretty high on him, so that bodes well for his initial push.  Rusev went from challenging for the WWE Title at Extreme Rules to jerking the pre-show curtain.  Is there some reason they can't find a middle ground for this guy?

Justin: Almas & Vega obviously win this
Dan: Team Rusev
Landon: Almas & Vega
Dave: Almas & Vega

Pre-Show RAW Tag Team Championship: The B-Team vs. The Revival

What a joke this division is now.  The Revival are the only legit team on RAW and they're presented as glorified jobbers.  The B-Team are a comedy duo, yet they're the tag team champions.  This match and the belts are so unimportant they're on the pre-show.  It's just sad.

Justin: B-Team retains
Dan: The Revival
Landon: B-Team
Dave: B-Team

Pre-Show Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander vs. Drew Gulak

Another CW match I don't care about.  I actually had to look up who was in this.  I'm sure the match will be fine but this division needs a central figure desperately so we have a reason to give a shit.

Justin: Cedric retains
Dan: Cedric
Landon: Drew Gulak, so that my main Cruiserwieght Danny Garcia can get a rematch for that belt
Dave: The Champ retains (I have no idea who these guys are)

Finn Balor vs. Baron Corbin

I can't believe we have to sit through this again.  Two years ago Finn Balor became the first-ever Universal Champion at SummerSlam.  Now he's stuck trying to carry Corbin, deep in the undercard.  Dude, Corbin is straight-up awful.  Why in the world was he ever called up, except for "tall?"  Finn should be way further up the card than this.

Justin: Give Finn the win and do something good with him.
Dan: Balor
Landon: Finn
Dave: Finn but I could see Baron winning too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Brewery Reviewery: Barrel House Z (Weymouth, MA)

Whassup kids?  Welcome to another edition of's Brewery Reviewery!  

Today I'll be talking about a fantastic brewery in the ol' hometown of Weymouth, MA, an establishment that brews small-batch beer and then ages it in liquor barrels, creating complex mashups and some strong-ass libations.  It's called Barrel House Z, and its become quite a Weymouth hotspot in just half a year.  Started by former Harpoon master brewer Russ Heissner, BHZ is all about innovation and adventurousness, creating a new Pilot Pour every week.  He's also got a revolving door or brewers to keep the menu fresh and dynamic.

Barrel House Z
95 Woodrock Rd
Weymouth, MA 02189

My wife and I, and two of our friends, finally made it to the tasting room last week and we were not disappointed.  First off, this place was so hopping on a Saturday evening we had to wait 5-10 minutes just to get in.  Once inside though we loved the atmosphere and look of the place; the walls, outside fences, and the front of the bar are all constructed out of (or adorned with) barrel staves, giving the room a rustic/industrial crossover feel.  Scattered around the room are full-size barrels to be used as lounge tables, with plenty of seating and a full view of the brewery floor.  There was also an acoustic duo supplying some solid background tunes (Side note: I'm available for Saturday evening gigs!) and lending some laid-back ambience.  I could easily see myself making this room a regular haunt (And seriously, I'm totally available to provid some musical entertainment).  Outside there's a patio with a fireplace and ample seating, which I anticipate being pretty crowded in the summer.

How do they remember which tap is which?

But all that would be irrelevant if the beer itself didn't deliver.  Fortunately it did, in spades.  Of the 10-12 available brews, we sampled six.  Here we go.....

My Lil' Helper: American wheat ale aged in Chardonnay barrels.  For me this actually resembles an IPA more than a wheat, but with a very balanced flavor.  The hops are tempered by the sweetness of the wine, making for an extremely refreshing beer that would be clutch on a summer afternoon.

Vorlauf: Imperial Vienna lager aged in Bully Boy Whiskey barrels.  A very complex tasting beer with some sweet and sour notes, and just a hint of the whiskey.  Probably my least favorite but still good.

"Are we done taking pictures, can I drink this now??"

Monday, August 13, 2018

NJPW G1 Climax 28 Recap

Another superb G1 Climax has come to a close, culminating in what was for me a very unexpected result.  The short n' skinny of it is that the company's former Ace has once again punched his ticket to the main event of WrestleKingdom.  Hiroshi Tanahashi led the A Block throughout the tournament and outlasted his archrival Kazuchika Okada, going to a time limit draw for the third time in their feud.  Since Tanahashi was two points ahead of Okada he got the Finals slot.  In the B Block it was Kota Ibushi upsetting his best friend Kenny Omega and going on to face his idol for the briefcase.

As usual the final matches of each block, and the overall final itself, were three of the highlights of the entire four-week tour.  But this tourney was rife with 4 and 5-star matches, ongoing themes and stories, and some absolutely stellar performances.  Relative G1 newcomers Michael Elgin and Juice Robinson each delivered multiple excellent matches, while newbies Hangman Page and Jay White put themselves on the map.  Page finished with only six points but looked right at home with the top dogs in the block, while Jay White scored major upset wins over both Okada and Tanahashi (who went undefeated otherwise), and was in the running to win the block up until the last night.  If there were any doubts about White's legitimacy as a major rising star, his showing here erased them.  The man is 25 years old and has a very bright future ahead.

One of the running angles over these four weeks was the constant cockblockery of Tama Tonga and his Firing Squad; both Tonga and Bad Luck Fale either took disqualification losses or won with lots of outside interference.  These shenanigans didn't do their match quality any favors but it did make clear their mission - to sabotage one of the perennial highlights of the New Japan calendar.  I'm not sure if that'll get them over in a good way, or where they go from here, but for a couple of lower-tier heels trying to elevate their profile, this was certainly a different approach.

Also of note was Zack Sabre Jr., who followed up his starmaking New Japan Cup run with a very strong showing (Sabre was part of a four-way tie at the end with Ibushi, Omega and Naito) and scored wins over NEVER Champion Hirooki Goto and US Champion Juice Robinson, plus Naito and Ishii.  Sabre should pick up some gold by year's end and I'd love to see him win both of those titles in succession.  Sabre as a heel double champion would be pretty cool.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Top Ten Things: Overrated Wrestling PPVs

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at, where I count down ten best or worst of whatever I happen to be wasting energy thinking about that day.

Today's edition is about wrestling PPVs I consider to be overrated.  Certain shows just resonate with large numbers of people for some reason, and while I understand some of them, there are PPVs where I'm baffled by how much people love them.  Either from an in-ring standpoint, a booking standpoint, or a time management standpoint each of these shows disappointed in some way that prevented them from being truly great (or even good in some cases).  Here we go....

10. Great American Bash '89

Before you cry foul, just hear me out.  I really enjoyed GAB'89.  It had star power, a stacked lineup, and a great main event.  But it had nine matches when it should've had six, and therefore multiple bouts got horribly shortchanged.  1989 was the first full calendar year for the NWA under Ted Turner's ownership, and while overall it was probably the best year in the company's history, management stripped away a bit of the NWA's personality in an effort to make the product more WWF-like.  One such tactic was to load PPVs and Clash of the Champions specials with more matches than they had room for, something the WWF had been doing for years.  Thus with GAB'89 we started off with a Battle Royal, a pointless Brian Pillman-Bill Irwin match, an elongated Skyscrapers-Dynamic Dudes squash, and an unwatchable Tuxedo Match between Paul Ellering and Teddy Long.  So entertaining bouts like The Steiners vs. The Varsity Club and Sting vs. Great Muta were criminally short (Seriously, Pillman-Irwin and the Skyscrapers match both got more time than the TV Title match??).  Don't get me wrong, the last five matches were all good-to-great, and after the first hour GAB'89 was still one of the best shows of the year.  But imagine how much better this could've been had they trimmed off the fat and presented a streamlined PPV a la Clash of the Champions I.

9. WrestleMania 24

Another case of a very good show being held up as a truly great one, WrestleMania 24 was for me an unexpectedly strong night of wrestling.  Going into this I had little interest in any of it, as the main event scene had been stagnant for the last three years and no one new was being heavily featured.  Plus the most-hyped match pitted the 400-pound Big Show against a boxer one-third his size.  But the show ended up being pretty darn good, thanks to a pair of near-4-star Title matches, a fun Money in the Bank match, and an emotional Shawn Michaels-Ric Flair retirement match.  So yeah, this show had a lot to like.  But that doesn't make it one of the best 'Manias of all time, as many people call it.  Aside from the aforementioned four bouts, this show was weighed down by a ton of mediocrity.  JBL vs. Finlay, Batista vs. Umaga, Kane vs. Chavo, the Divas tag match, and the Show-Mayweather fiasco were all middling at best.  'Mania 24 is one of many cases of people fondly remembering the good stuff but forgetting how much crap we had to wade through to get to it.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Top Ten Things: Lady Gaga Songs

Welcome to, and another edition of Top Ten Things!  I got ten things I wanna talk about.  The TOP ten things.  There's ten of 'em....

Today's topic is the musical stylings of one Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known to the entire world as Lady Gaga.  Gaga began flooding radio stations everywhere in 2008, with her offbeat, anthemic dance-pop tunes and outlandish fashion sense.  Her appearance and songwriting were so bizarre she seemed to have arrived from outer space, and my first impression was "What a weirdo."  But after more of her radio singles emerged I began to realize she was much more than just a gimmick.  It seemed each new song revealed more and more of her unique compositional and vocal ability, and by 2009 I found myself almost reluctantly becoming a fan.  Her second album Born This Way had a decidedly 80s pop feel and showed a more spiritual, sociopolitical side to her music, while her third, Artpop was a rather satirical look at her own megastardom.  In 2016 though, Gaga stripped away most of her eccentric theatricality and released an understated set of 70s-infused pop-rock songs with a more personal flavor.  Joanne was a major departure, and a refreshingly restrained album that demonstrated Gaga's versatility and willingness to reinvent herself.  Stylistically she can go anywhere she wants from here, and I'll be very interested to see where that leads her.

But enough pontificatin'.  Here are my ten favorite Lady Gaga songs....

10. Venus

Our first entry is the midtempo, 70s disco-influenced song that draws parallels between sex, mythology and astronomy.  What could easily have been a silly throwaway track is made fascinating by a fairly dark timbre, playful lyrics, and a wonderfully hooky chorus rife with layered vocal harmonies.  "Venus" helped set the tone for Gaga's third album Artpop by suggesting a self awareness and injecting a bit of pop star satire.

9. A-Yo

Co-written by (and featuring) guitar whiz Mark Ronson, "A-Yo" is one of several songs on Gaga's latest album Joanne that serves as a major stylistic departure for Lady Gaga.  Gone are the over-the-top dance beats and synth trappings; in their place is a pop-rockabilly feel with a Shania Twain swagger and bombastic guitar licks.  "A-Yo" might be the most purely fun song on the album but it also shows a songwriting maturity and eagerness to evolve.

8. Paparazzi

"Paparazzi" was the first Gaga song I begrudgingly liked.  After "Just Dance," "Poker Face," and "Lovegame," (none of which are favorites of mine to this day), "Paparazzi" was the one song that made me go, "Huh...okay, this is pretty good."  This super-hooky midtempo number features vocals reminiscent of Gwen Stefani, and takes a sardonic look at the media's obsession with celebrities.  It also marked the first Gaga video to feature a story (and a pretty messed-up one at that): Gaga is pushed off a balcony by her boyfriend and spends much of the video wheelchair-bound before making a full recovery.  I wouldn't become a real Lady Gaga fan until after "Bad Romance" was released, but this song at least left me open to the idea, and it's still my favorite track from The Fame.