Monday, April 29, 2019

Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Top Ten Things: "Acquired Taste" Films

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

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

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

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

1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

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

2. Citizen Kane (1941)

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Great PPVs: Fully Loaded 2000

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

WWE vs. NJPW Supercard V

Welcome to the 5th annual WWE vs. NJPW Supercard here at, where I take the best and brightest talent from the two biggest wrestling companies in the world and pit them head-to-head.  And the results, more often than not, are EXPLOSIVE!!!

This year I was worried I might have trouble putting together a compelling lineup because of the AEW departures, but in assembling this card I was reminded that New Japan's talent depth is going to be just fine with or without The Elite.  And of course WWE has no shortage of talent on their roster, regardless of Creative's perpetual incompetence in booking them.  I daresay this is one of the strongest lineups of the five I've put together.

Note: One regret I have about this series is that I'm not able to include female wrestlers on the card.  New Japan seriously needs to add a women's division or start up a "sister" promotion (no pun intended) like ROH has.  They're way behind the curve on this one.

You can check out the first four editions here: 2015 2016 2017 2018

Braun Strowman vs. Tomohiro Ishii

Braun is consistently one of WWE's most misused talents over the past couple years, red-hot one month, left with no one to feud with the next.  A year ago he was so over many suggested he, and not Roman Reigns, should be the company's chosen one.  But somehow every WrestleMania season he ends up left out in the cold, more or less.  This year he at least got to win the Andre Battle Royal, joining such luminaries as Cesaro, Big Show, Baron Corbin, Mojo Rawley, and Matt Hardy.  Yeesh, that trophy does nothing for anyone, does it?  Regardless, Strowman can always be plugged into a major feud and have credibility as a superhuman monster.

Ishii is similarly almost never presented as a top contender despite being hugely over in his own right, and one of the best in-ring talents in the entire world.  The Stone Pitbull can always be counted on to deliver insanely good, rugged fights that often steal the show.  Why Ishii isn't given more big singles matches throughout the year is beyond me; the man is an artist.

This would be an unusual battle of bulls with a significant size mismatch.  Strowman would have a huge power advantage but Ishii would hit and run, recalling his numerous battles with Bad Luck Fale.  Ishii would have to set aside his usual machismo about hitting his signature brainbuster, as lifting the 380-pound Strowman for that move would be nothing short of miraculous.  Ishii would spend much of the bout trying to chop down his much larger opponent, but in the end Strowman's monstrous size would prove too much.  Strowman counters an ill-advised brainbuster attempt with his powerslam for the win at 9 minutes.

Winner: Braun Strowman

Kevin Owens vs. Jeff Cobb

Owens' recent return to action has been fairly bizarre to say the least.  Originally slated to face Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania, Owens was shown in vignettes as an average Joe and family man, no doubt to contrast with Bryan's holier-than-thou environmentalist persona.  But when that feud was more or less nixed, Owens was left with nothing to do at 'Mania and has lately been hanging out with The New Day in Big E's absence.  Owens as a babyface feels like a sarcastic gimmick and I'm wondering if he'll pull a Sami Zayn-type heel turn soon.

Jeff Cobb is fresh off defeating Will Ospreay to become a double champion; the ROH TV/NEVER Openweight champ has all the momentum in the world heading into this match.  I'm curious how often we'll see him on NJPW shows and how long he'll keep the title.  He certainly fits the NEVER Openweight style to a tee.  For a man his size Cobb has scary agility.

This would be a stiff, rugged fight with two big heavyweights pulling out spectacular moves that defy their size.  We'd see a great mix of strong style brawling and unexpected aerial moves.  12 minutes in Owens hits a swanton and sets up Cobb for a Stunner, but Cobb holds on, reverse-suplexes Owens, and hits Tour of the Islands for the win.

Winner: Jeff Cobb

Finn Balor vs. Minoru Suzuki

After two-plus frustrating years following his one-day Universal Title run, Finn finally captured the Intercontinental Title at Elimination Chamber and again at WrestleMania.  Balor continues to be one of the company's best and most underutilized talents, whose stop-start pushes are vexing to say the least.  Hopefully a change of scenery following his move to Smackdown will give him more chances to steal the show, leading to a long, successful I-C title run.

Minoru Suzuki, at 50 years old, still shows no signs of slowing down.  He's one of the few wrestlers who can lose a match and still come off as one of the most dangerous men in the world.  Suzuki has held the IWGP, Intercontinental, and NEVER Titles in New Japan and is a credible challenger to everyone of them whenever he's given a shot.  Sadism is the name of the game for Minoru.

Finn would try to keep this match fast-paced and create lots of space between him and Suzuki.  Minoru would want to keep it deliberate and get in close.  The outcome would depend on whose strategy was more successful.  After 12 minutes Finn falls victim to a rear naked choke, but counters a Gotch piledriver with an X-Factor, followed by a corner dropkick/Coup de Grace combo for the win.

Winner: Finn Balor

Rey Mysterio vs. Will Ospreay

Mysterio returned to WWE for good late last year and while he hasn't been used to his full potential (the guy is 46 years old and moves like he's 30), Rey has had some strong moments in that time.  His feud with Andrade yielded some excellent matches and he's been a consistent US Title contender.  His move to RAW will hopefully give him some new opponents to tear it up with - Ricochet I'm looking in your general direction....

Will Ospreay is coming off a NEVER Openweight Title loss, but is still one of the company's most prominent rising stars.  He's already established himself well against heavyweights with a strong showing in the New Japan Cup tournament, and I anticipate him throwing his hat in for this year's G1 Climax to fully transition to the heavyweight division.  Ospreay is only 25 but has already demonstrated incredible natural talent well beyond his years.  As long as he stays healthy he should become one of NJPW's top stars over the next five years or so.

This match would be a spectacular showcase of aerial tactics, with Ospreay uncharacteristically attempting to slow the match down and use his size advantage.  Rey would do his usual stick-and-move stuff, frustrating Ospreay early on.  But eventually Ospreay would employ his newly perfected ground game to turn the tide.  After 14 minutes Ospreay dodges a top-rope splash and hits an OsCutter followed by the Stormbreaker for the pinfall.

Winner: Will Ospreay

Friday, April 19, 2019

Parents' Night In #18: The Big Lebowski (1998)

The latest Parents' Night In episode premieres tonight, April 19th at 8pm Eastern!

Our superfan Evan joins us on the couch for a special episode of Parents' Night In, where we watch and discuss Justin's favorite comedy, The Big Lebowski!  We shoot the shit about the film and what it means to us, its former standing as the heavyweight film champion of the word "fuck," some of the origin theories of the "420" phenomenon, and we'll check out some craft beers!

Click below anytime after 8pm ET to watch, and don't forget to SUBSCRIBE!

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Brewery Reviewery: Barewolf Brewing (Amesbury, MA)

Welcome to the second half of our two-part Brewery Reviewery chronicling our trip to the breweries of Amesbury, MA!  Check out our review of Silvaticus HERE.

Barewolf Brewing
12 Oakland Street
Amesbury, MA 01913​

Our second stop was Barewolf Brewing, minutes away from Silvaticus, in another old mill building just outside the town center.  If the atmosphere at Silvaticus was on the mellow side, Barewolf's space is more like a basement party (their website actually describes it as such), where you have your friends over, play video & board games, listen to music and get a bit juiced.  There's ample merriment to be had here.  I personally found the loudness of the room overwhelming at times but that didn't stop me from enjoying the brews quite a lot.  Another nice Barewolf feature is how dog-friendly they are.  On this particular day there must've been seven pups hanging out with their respective owners, and they were all happy to have me come say hello.  All events are more fun with dogs.  Barewolf is also a place your kids wouldn't mind accompanying you to.  There's plenty to keep them occupied while you're sampling.

Anyway, Barewolf is unusual in that they basically never brew the same thing twice.  If one of their beers is particularly popular they'll do something similar next time, but the recipe is always changing.  Fortunately their take-home fridge is generally well-stocked with whatever they have on tap that day (I picked up three different 4-packs, including the last of one batch).  But don't worry, if your favorite isn't there the next time you go back, you'll find plenty of new stuff to like.  You can actually see a list of everything they've ever brewed here -

Barewolf has nine tap lines so there's always a good variety of flavors to choose from.  Let's get to it (I was only able to try six of the nine - hey, I'm not a machine)....

Top Ten Things: War Films

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Today's collection of stuff is a slew of all-time great war films spanning roughly 80 years of cinema.  Why does the war movie genre engage and fascinate us?  Why is war such a rich and profound subject for a filmmaker to explore?  Perhaps it's because we can't help but be drawn to stories concerning humanity at its most base.  Perhaps it serves as a purging of our worst impulses.  Whatever the reason, there have been so many universally lauded, lasting films made on the subject it was difficult for me to narrow it down to ten.  This list includes extremely varied interpretations of the experience, some based on true events, some completely fictitious, one or two even satirical.  Here now are my picks for the ten greatest war films ever made...

10. Platoon

The film that put Oliver Stone on the map, Platoon is loosely based on Stone's own experiences as a young man who volunteered to fight in Vietnam and got a whole lot more than he bargained for.  Platoon covers in horrifyingly grim detail the disorientation of battle, the torturous strain of everyday combat duty, the hopelessness and isolation of the jungle.  This slice-of-life story is punctuated by a power struggle between the unit's two senior officers, one played with a sense of unqualified decency by Willem Dafoe, the other with hard-boiled menace by Tom Berenger.  Their conflict serves as the catalyst for the main character's (Charlie Sheen) transformation from wide-eyed rookie to calloused warrior.  Stone's unforgiving look at the true horrors of war won numerous Oscars and catapulted director and lead actor to tremendously successful careers.

9. Glory

Matthew Broderick starred as Col. Robert Gould Shaw in Edward Zwick's powerful 1989 account of the first black regiment in US military history.  The film was based in part on Shaw's frequent correspondence during his time in the military, and painstakingly recreated the arduous training and harsh conditions the Massachusetts 54th were subjected to.  After months of not being taken seriously as soldiers (and receiving unequal pay), the 54th demonstrated extraordinary bravery in a doomed suicide mission to take Fort Wagner, during which Shaw and roughly half of his men were cut down.  The tales of the 54th's grit eventually led to the Union Army accepting 180,000 black volunteers and helped turn the tide of the Civil War.  This potent war epic also featured performances by Morgan Freeman (in a pre-typecast but very Morgan Freeman-esque role), Andre Braugher, and a star-making Denzel Washington turn as a resentful, emotionally damaged former slave, for which Washington won his first Oscar.

8. Duck Soup

Generally considered The Marx Brothers' best and most irreverent comedy, Duck Soup concerns the conflict between two fictional nations, Freedonia and Sylvania.  Sylvania's Ambassador Trentino has hatched a plot to take over Freedonia and marry the country's chief financial benefactor Mrs. Teasdale, while Freedonia's leader Rufus T. Firefly (played by Groucho) attempts to bait Trentino into a physical confrontation so he can force him out of the country.  The various hijinx lead to a full-scale war, and the battle scenes (along with the famous and amazingly hilarious "mirror scene") are the stuff of comedy legend.  Duck Soup lampoons the very notions of nationalism and political bluster, and was so derisive it actually turned off Depression Era audiences and threatened to derail the Brothers' careers.  The film surged in popularity in the 60s however, as anti-war sentiment swept the nation, and has since been hailed as an unmitigated classic.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Viking Experience: A Symptom of WWE's Stupidity

Image result for the viking experience
Fuck. This. Noise.

I can't believe I have to get angry about this shit.  I can't believe a hugely talented pair of wrestlers I greatly admire gets called up from developmental to the main roster and beats the RAW Tag Champions in their debut match, and I still have to be pissed they were called up.  All because the cosmically obtuse guy with dementia who runs the place decided the name War Raiders wasn't money enough.  Welcome once again to WWE, the enemy of fun.

"Hmm, let's see, they dress like vikings, so they should have viking names (Erik and....Olaf? Sven? Lars? Nope, we already have a Lars. I'll come back to this later...) and their team moniker should definitely feature the word 'viking.'  Viking Soldiers?  No, that's not right.  Vikings of Doom?  Nah, too derivative.  Wait, wasn't there some hippie guitar player the kids were all into when I was in my twenties?  Jimmy something.  Jimmy....Hegstrand.  The Jimmy Hegstrand EXPERIENCE, that was the name of the group!  The Viking Experience!  Perfect!  The kids'll love that, they dig the pop culture references.  It's um, GROOVY and all that.  And since they dress like vikings we'll say they're actual vikings, like they only eat raw meat and they fashion their own weapons.  That'll play like gangbusters!  We're gonna make a fortune with this gimmick!"

I don't know how many times I need to repeat this - Vince McMahon is hopelessly and embarrassingly out of touch with what wrestling fans in the 2010s want to see, and he needs to relinquish control of this company immediately.  There is not one single reasonable argument to be made that The Viking Experience as a name is an improvement over War Raiders.  None.  Anyone who seriously wants to defend this change is welcome to try to convince me, but you'd have to be a crazy person to actually believe it.  War Raiders sounds like two bad ass motherfuckers who will decapitate you if you have too much bass in your voice.  The Viking Experience sounds like a fucking Epcot attraction.  There is nothing whatsoever intimidating about this name.  Aside from the obvious and inexcusable racist stereotype Tony Atlas was forced to portray in 1990 this name/gimmick change reminds me of the Saba Simba bullshit; because these guys dress as mythic figures we have to pretend they actually live this gimmick?  How fucking stupid does Vince think his audience is?  In 2019?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Brewery Reviewery: Silvaticus (Amesbury, MA)

Welcome to a special two-part Brewery Reviewery, here at!  The premise is simple - I visit local purveyors of delicious craft beer, try as many as I can, and tell you all what I think.

This past weekend I visited not one, but two breweries in Amesbury, MA (stay tuned for the second review in the next couple days).  My parents moved there about six years ago and I've been meaning to get to these two establishments since I learned about them.

Silvaticus Brewery
9 Water St.
Amesbury, MA 01913

The first stop on this mini-tour was Silvaticus, a brewery specializing in Belgian and German styles - right up my alley.  Located in one of the old mill buildings in downtown Amesbury, the taproom is modest but inviting, with an open view of the brewing floor and large picnic tables for visitors to relax.  There's also an outdoor beer garden with a view of the Powwow River, occasional events, and board games to keep you entertained.  The music playlist was eclectic and unusual for a brewery, featuring classic rock, reggae, and a bit of full-on metal from Pantera.  This is also one of the cleanest taprooms I've ever been in and the atmosphere is pretty mellow (at least on a Sunday afternoon).

But let's take a gander at the beer, shall we?

Silvaticus currently offers seven flavors, but they change out one or two every week to keep things fresh.  Their website doesn't have a current roster, so you just have to take the leap and see what they have.  Their selection ranges from dark and rich to light and crisp, and of the five flavors I sampled I found nary a miss.

Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Running Man

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at!

Today we'll dissect and discuss what is possibly The Mother of Awesomely Shitty Movies (or at least a well-respected Aunt), The Running Man!  Based to the loosest possible degree on the novel by Richard Bachman (or Stephen King as he's known to everyone), The Running Man tells the story of a dystopian future where the global economy has collapsed and the country is a police-state.  The masses are controlled by a military-industrial complex that keeps them placated with violent television and a steady stream of disinformation.  The most popular TV show is called The Running Man, where convicted felons are hunted down by cartoonish gladiator-types called Stalkers.  The host/creator of the show is the slimy but immensely charismatic Damon Killian, who has become a beloved cultural icon.

The protagonist of the film, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), is a former SWAT cop who after refusing to kill dozens of food rioters, is framed for their deaths and wrongfully imprisoned.  He and two fellow prisoners (members of an underground resistance whose mission is to expose the corrupt establishment and restore democracy) escape, only to end up as Running Man contestants.

What ensues is a fantastically awful amalgam of pro wrestling and numerous side-scrolling video games, as the Runners have to evade a series of Stalkers in order to get to the next stage.

This film is absolute tripe, but holy lord it's entertaining.  And here's why....

The Awesome

The Backdrop

This movie creates a richly detailed little universe for our characters to inhabit.  From the fake TV shows and commercials, to the neat technological advances, to the bit characters, the filmmakers have done a fine job of establishing the environment and making this seem like a real world that could actually exist.  To a certain extent it reminds me of the dystopia of Robocop.  There are some tangible aspects of this universe that make the story somewhat believable.

Reminds me a little of Blade Runner.  Just a little.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Movie Review: Us (2019)

Jordan Peele's sophomore effort, the dread-filled Us, is one of those horror films that comes and goes as you watch it, and you leave the theater saying, "That was real good stuff."  Then your brain begins to recall all the little touches you weren't paying attention to because you were wrapped up in the story, and a few hours later you find yourself saying, "Dammit, now I need to watch that again."  Like The Shining (an obvious influence that gets more than one nod from Peele), Us lends itself to multiple viewings and is dripping with subtext and social commentary.

The simple narrative of a vacationing family confronted by their horrific dopplegangers plays a lot like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode (I won't say any more about the plot; it's better if you go in cold), but Peele and his collaborators create arresting visuals and audio to fill every scene and frame with palpable unease.  Michael Abels' score particularly stands out, with a creepy-as-hell choral/Gregorian intro piece and a few cues that again bring to mind Kubrick's horror masterpiece.  Mike Gioulakis (of It Follows and Split fame) quotes other filmmakers (I defy anyone to watch the sequence on the beach and not think of Jaws, even aside from the young boy's T-shirt), while adding his own visual style.

And of course there's the cast.  Led by a(nother) extraordinary performance from Lupita Nyong'o, in a dual turn that was so convincing I had to constantly remind myself she was playing both parts, the actors embody "everyman" types in their primary roles, while being operatically frightening as their alternates.

The craftsmanship on display elevates Us from a horror B-movie into a suspenseful, sophisticated parable about class distinctions, race and xenophobia that leaves everything open to multiple interpretations.  Like Ridley Scott did with Alien, Peele has populated the screen with accomplished actors and striking visuals to reward the viewer with not only visceral suspense but an evocative pictorial and aural experience. 

For me the first viewing was about revealing the secrets of the film's story.  The second and beyond will be about unwrapping its various underlying themes and appreciating the artistry that went into it.  Us is a rare horror film that will haunt you long after you've stopped watching it, and for me that's the best kind there is.

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

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

NJPW/ROH G1 Supercard: New Japan Is Awesome, ROH Not So Much

Well one thing was made abundantly clear at G1 Supercard; Ring of Honor needs NJPW way more than NJPW needs Ring of Honor.  For a company that was once the pinnacle of in-ring wrestling (check out their 2004-2009 library if you don't believe me), ROH has fallen far indeed.  Most of the ROH-centric contributions to G1 felt like I was watching TNA - a flat women's match that ended with Angelina Love and Velvet Sky laying out the new WOH Champion, a street fight that went from a singles match to a six-man and went on forever, Enzo and Cass of all people joining the promotion, and a solid but overlong ladder match with the least over guy walking away with the ROH Title.  This was like watching two separate shows.  One was pretty great, the other was kinda brutal.  Just listen to the live crowd; they're all chanting "New Japan" during the intro, the New Japan-heavy matches all got great reactions while the ROH stuff was mostly muted.  Hell, the show sold out last year with only three names having been announced: Okada, Naito and Tanahashi.  ROH may have helped open the door for New Japan to grow their US audience, but New Japan sold out this show.

Let me start though by saying how surreal it was to see these two companies in a sold-out Madison Square Garden.  That factor added a ton of splendor to this show, and if you just watch the opener and the final six matches you'd have yourself a near-perfect PPV.  I'm certainly not here to bash the show as a whole, this was the second-best big show of the weekend.

After a forgettable pre-show Honor Rumble that went a taxing 42 minutes (the lone memorable moment was Liger vs. Muta, which sadly didn't last long), the show proper kicked off with a fairly fantastic Will Ospreay-Jeff Cobb match for both the NEVER and ROH TV Titles.  The clash of styles made for a very compelling match, as Ospreay's speed met Cobb's brute strength.  Ospreay however tried to play Cobb's game, often standing toe to toe with his much larger opponent, and in the end it cost him.  He went for a top-rope Stormbreaker but Cobb reversed it into Tour of the Islands (followed by a second one) and pinned him to win the NEVER Title.  I was a little sad to see Ospreay drop the belt already but Cobb is tailor-made for the NEVER division and I certainly won't complain about seeing more of him in NJPW.  Helluva good opening match that could've gone a little longer.  ***3/4

Second on the card was the first ROH-exclusive match, and it went fifteen seconds.  In fact my feed cut briefly and by the time it came back the match was already over.  Rush pounced on Dalton Castle at the bell, hit him with two finishers, and it was done.  Oookay then.  Castle flipped out and beat up his entourage after the match.  NR

The third match was to be Kelly Klein's crowning moment as the new centerpiece of the ROH Women's Division, but unfortunately the crowd basically didn't care about this at all.  Klein and Champion Mayu Iwatani had a passable match that suffered from zero crowd heat, ending with two K-Power drivers and Klein standing tall as the new champion.  Then Love and Sky came out, and Mandy Leon (who'd been the guest commentator) appeared to rush to Klein's aid only to turn on her.  This was right out of an old Impact episode and the crowd pretty much hated it.  The match itself gets **.  The angle stunk.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The History of NXT TakeOver: New York

Wow.  What a fucking show this was.  The NXT gang once again smoked the shit out of the main roster, delivering their best effort to date.  NXT TakeOver: New York was everything you could want from a pro wrestling show.  Five matches, all different, all good to excellent, with an epic main event to cap it all off.  The RAW/Smackdown crew will be hard-pressed to equal this show anytime soon.

TakeOver kicked off with an absolutely stellar Tag Title match, as War Raiders defended against Ricochet & Aleister Black.  This twenty-minute clinic featured numerous instances of each team trying to one-up the other at their own wheelhouse.  Hanson & Rowe, known for their power moves, took to the air to prove to Ric and Black they could do it just as well.  Ricochet picked up the massive Hanson and hit an overhead slam to show how deceptively powerful he is, despite technically being a cruiserweight.  The nearfalls were stunning and the rabid Brooklyn crowd bought into all of them.  After missing the 630 senton, Ricochet fell victim to a brutal-looking Fallout (Animal and Hawk would be proud), and the Raiders retained.  Just a stunning opener to set the tone.  ****1/2

The match I was least excited about was the North American Championship, Velveteen Dream defending against MMA import Matt Riddle.  But these two delivered huge, in a perfect clash of styles.  Riddle's grapple-based offense is crisp as can be, while Dream's natural charisma and old school callbacks totally won the split crowd to his side.  Riddle got frustrated as the match wore on and began playing the heel, trying to twist Dream into knots and tap him out.  Finally at about the 17-minute mark he locked in his BroMission finisher, only for Dream to roll back and get the quick pin.  Riddle was furious and it looked like we'd see a full heel turn, but in the end he regained his "bro-jo" and accepted a fistbump from the champ.  Excellent sleeper match that sold me on Riddle (I was already on the Dream bandwagon).  ****

Top Ten Things: Favorite WrestleMania Moments

Welcome to another WrestleMania-themed Top Ten Things, folks!  With the Show of Shows in the history books, I thought I'd look at some of my favorite moments from the past 35 years of WrestleMania....

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In addition to hopefully providing some great and memorable matches, WrestleMania has also largely been about those special moments that live in your biological hard drive forever.  There has certainly been no shortage of such occurrences at The Showcase of the Immortals, whether it's a particularly significant move someone did during a match, or a striking visual, or something that happened after the match was over.  At its best, WrestleMania creates lasting memories, and here are ten that will stick with me for the rest of my days....

10. Hogan-Rock Staredown (WrestleMania X8)

In 2002 the WWF brought back Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall just in time for 'Mania season, and the former set his sights on The Rock, in an Icon vs. Icon match.  When I first learned of this plan I absolutely hated the idea; the company had built itself back up as a showcase for young, current talent, and bringing back old guys for a big money match, particularly ones who were key in nearly destroying the WWF via their competition, really got my goat.  In fact you can trace Vince's current fetish for part-timer-centric WrestleMania matches to this point.  But goddamn if this wasn't a super fun match, and it all kicked off with an extended staredown that had 65,000 Toronto fans losing their ever-lovin' minds.  Hogan and Rock stood face to face and each began scanning the rabid Skydome crowd before finally locking up in battle.  They had that building in the palms of their hands and no match on that card could possibly have followed this one.

9. Lesnar Almost Dies (WrestleMania XIX)

'Mania 19 is my all-time favorite edition.  It was such an unexpectedly great show from a company that had bungled nearly every major angle in the previous two years, this stacked card soared past the superb WrestleMania X-Seven for me.  And the most memorable moment from this show was Brock Lesnar's errant shooting star press in the closing moments of the main event.  The 290-pound Lesnar had performed this size-defying move countless times in OVW but had never attempted it on the main roster, and this was to be the finish to his biggest match yet.  But he somehow hesitated just a split-second before leaping off the turnbuckle and failed to achieve the necessary rotation.  Instead he came crashing down on the top of his head, in one of the most frightening visuals I've ever seen as a wrestling fan.  This could easily have killed a lesser man, but Lesnar miraculously managed to finish the match, delivering his third F5 of the night to capture the WWE Title.  He also escaped with only a concussion and was back in action a week later.  I probably would've died on general principle.

Monday, April 8, 2019

WWE WrestleMania 35: Why Was This So Long, Did Peter Jackson Direct It?

Sweet Jeezus, why does a wrestling PPV ever need to go five-and-a-half hours, plus a two-hour pre-show?  Like, ever?  Someone in WWE needs to pick Vince up by the face and shake him until he grasps this idea.  WrestleMania 35, like the last three editions, was a good three-hour show buried inside a pulsating blob of dimpled fat lasting twice as long.  By the end of the show the white-hot women's main event everyone was frothing at the mouth to see was met with subdued indifference.  That's not good.  How does the man with four decades of experience as a promoter not see this?

The four pre-show matches were split down the middle in terms of quality.  Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese had a very good, innovative, exciting cruiserweight match (***3/4), the women's battle royal was entirely forgettable and Carmella of all people won (*1/2), The Revival wrenched a quite watchable RAW Tag Title match out of Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder, who are now champs despite never winning any matches (***), and the men's battle royal was equally forgettable except for Braun Strowman predictably eliminating Colin Jost and Michael Che (*)  I'm still not sure what the point of any of that was.

Alright, now for the main card.  After an Alexa Bliss/Hulk Hogan introduction, Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins kicked off the show (HUUUUUUUHHH???).  Brock attacked Seth before the bell, tossing him from barrier to barrier, over one of the announce tables multiple times, and generally beating the piss out of him before demanding the match be started.  Finally the bell rang, Brock suplexed Seth numerous times, went for the F5, Seth escaped and pushed Brock into the ref, knocking him out of the ring, low-blowed him, and delivered three Curb Stomps, leading to the pin at 2:30 officially.  Metlife Stadium went nuts for this finish, so this has to be considered a successful segment, but as one of the five matches I was genuinely looking forward to, this was a major letdown for me.  Apparently the decision to put this on first was made after the show started.  When the lineup of your biggest show of the year is being switched around on the fly, you just might be Eric Bischoff....  Anyway this was fine for what it was, but it was barely a proper match.  **1/2 I guess?

Friday, April 5, 2019

WWE WrestleMania 35 Preview & Predictions

Welcome to the biggest predictions column of all time, here at!  This Sunday is WrestleMania 35, and it's shaping up to be the longest PPV event ever held.  PPV time inflation is a real issue affecting millions of wrestling fans worldwide....

As of this moment there are 15 matches booked for this show, with three of them having already been bumped to the two-hour Kickoff.  I have to think we'll get one or two additional matches (RAW Tag belts aren't up for grabs yet), and maybe one or two more pre-show bumps.  Regardless, this'll be a seven-hour ordeal all told, with 11 or 12 main card bouts.  Gettin' to be a lot, guys.

Before we get to the predictions let's talk about the stupidity of not only another WrestleMania "host" (Alexa Bliss in a thankless role), but special correspondents (whatever the fuck that means) Colin Jost and Michael Che of SNL fame, who will also be in the Andre Battle Royal.  Oh, and they're feuding with Braun Strowman.  Holy fuck is this stupid.  Also we have Elias doing a special performance.  I'm gonna assume John Cena interrupts him like he did last year, leading to a quick match.  Pointless.

Anyway let's get to the real matches on the card.

***I won the 2018 season in a nailbiter, with 69% (93/134), Landon finished second with 68% (91/134), and the Moores tied for third with 67% (90/134).  Landon will be sitting out the 2019 WWE season, but hopefully we'll get him back in the future.***

Pre-Show Cruiserweight Championship: Buddy Murphy vs. Tony Nese

I know basically squat about Nese, but he just won a tournament to get a title shot here.  This match being on the pre-show I see no reason to switch the belt, particularly since I anticipate several other title changes on this show.  Match should be solid.

Justin: Buddy retains
Dan: Yes
Dave: The Murph

Pre-Show Andre the Giant Battle Royal

We have 29 names announced for this, but no word on the 30th entrant.  Kevin Owens isn't booked for this show so it could be him.  But Strowman has to be the favorite since he's mixing it up with two mainstream TV stars.  Plus he should've won this two years ago.  It's all pointless anyway - I'm glad these Battle Royals were both moved to the Kickoff.

Justin: Strowman
Dan: Strowman's gonna get screwed by SNL guys and I dunno who will win, but he won't. It'll be the mystery guy. JOHN FUCKING CENA.
Dave: I don't care.  Strowman.

NXT TakeOver: New York Preview & Predictions

It's WrestleMania weekend, and that means the NXT brand will outclass the main roster once again!  I'm not sure why this isn't called TakeOver: Brooklyn V, being that it's in the same venue as the previous four Brooklyns.  Hell kinda sense does that make?

I say this before pretty much every TakeOver special, but this one really does have the potential to crush every TakeOver before it.  The weakest on-paper matchup on this show could still be a **** outing if given enough time.  Let's get to it.

NXT North American Championship: Velveteen Dream vs. Matt Riddle

I'm still not sure why Johnny Gargano's NA Title run was so brief, but Velveteen Dream has proven himself one of the most promising early-20s talents in some time.  So I'm not complaining that he's the champ.  Riddle is growing on me but I'm not totally sold on him yet.  I think this match will help get me there.

Pick: Velveteen just won this title a couple months ago but I can't see them beating Riddle yet.  Riddle takes it.

NXT Women's Championship Fatal 4-Way: Shayna Baszler vs. Kairi Sane vs. Io Shirai vs. Bianca Belair

This match is the most unpredictable in terms of quality.  There's certainly loads of talent on display here but the format could also result in a messy match.  I would say at least one of these women is a lock to be called up the RAW or SD after 'Mania (hopefully to the anemic Smackdown Women's division), so a title change is probably imminent.  Shayna will end up on RAW I'm sure so she can interact with Ronda before Ronda leaves, while Kairi Sane would be a great fit for SD (Asuka vs. Sane - book it).  That leaves Io or Bianca as likely winners.  I guess I'll go with Io.

Pick: Io Shirai

NXT UK Championship: Pete Dunne vs. Walter

This one could steal the show and concievably the entire weekend.  Pete and Walter are gonna beat the ever-loving crap out of each other and it'll be glorious.  Pete Dunne has had a stranglehold on this belt for almost two years, so I'll pick Walter to dethrone him.

Pick: Walter

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

NJPW/ROH G1 Supercard Preview & Predictions

Welcome to an historic wrestling predictions column here at!  This Saturday night we'll see the first non-WWE wrestling show since 1960 to emanate from (and sell out no less) Madison Square Garden, the joint NJPW/ROH venture known as G1 Supercard!

Check this off the list of Things I Never Thought I'd See.  New Japan and Ring of Honor are playing the fuckin' Garden, WWE's home arena from its inception till right about now.  This show pissed Vince McMahon off so much he tried to legally cockblock them from doing it (further poking holes in his infamous bullshit line "Our philosophy has always been 'Help yourself, don't hurt the other guy.'").  Fortunately his litigious overture didn't hold any water, and this show sold out in literally minutes.  Not only that, but WWE actually moved their NXT special to the night before, so as to not have to compete with it.  Getting WWE to back down from a Mexican standoff is no small feat.

This show has all the potential to steal WrestleMania weekend (though TakeOver: Brooklyn should be incredible too), and at worst it will leave WrestleMania itself with a tough act to follow.

We have eleven matches on tap (one of which is a pre-show Honor Rumble), five of which by my count could easily be ****+ outings.  Let's get to the picks.

Honor Rumble

Only a handful of names have been announced for this so far, but since Jushin Thunder Liger is retiring next year I'll pick him to win.  Like the New Japan Rumble this will likely be a throwaway.

Justin: Thunder Liger (see what I did there?)
Landon: Liger

NEVER Openweight/ROH TV Championship: Will Ospreay vs. Jeff Cobb

The proper show will kick off with a helluva contest, as Ospreay takes on yet another big power broker (after impressive New Japan Cup showings with Lance Archer and Bad Luck Fale).  Like his WK13 opener with Ibushi, this has the potential to steal the show.  I'm not crazy about the idea of multiple titles on the line in the same match, but I'm not complaining about the pairings.  I have to think Will takes this; his momentum has been off the charts since late last year and I don't think now is the time to slow it down.

Justin: Ospreay
Landon: Ospreay, mostly because I'm biased and want to get a picture with him and both belts during the War of the Worlds tour.

Rush vs. Dalton Castle

I know little about either of these guys and from what I understand the expectations for this match aren't terribly high.  But we'll see.

Justin: I'll go with Castle
Landon: Rush