Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Worst Thanksgiving EVER

Since Turkey Day is upon us, my associate Dan Moore and I would like to share with you our worst Thanksgiving memories.  Enjoy, if you can.....

Dan's Worst Thanksgiving

Gather 'round children, as I tell you a tale conjured from the combined nightmares of Jason Voorhees, The Babadook and Khloe Kardashian. At a Thanksgiving feast a few years ago, my family trekked to Auntie Patty and Uncle Benny’s house. Uncle Benny was the best cook in the family, and also a true vulgarian, so it was always a blast to eat some bird and listen to him say outrageous things to the old ladies in attendance. A marvelous human being.

A typical Thanksgiving scene welcomed me with open arms as I walked into my aunt’s house. There was bread being baked, glass cornucopias filled with fake fruits, and a banquet table with a giant, steroid-filled turkey and all the fixings. Stuffing, squash (the baby puke of sides), corn, cranberry sauce (the Jell-O from hell) and that’s it. WAIT. WHAT? In one of the most preposterous moves in the history of gluttony, Uncle Benny decided that year NOT to make mashed potatoes. Seriously. Just gone. The fucking glue of the Thanksgiving meal was cast aside like a late hobo at the soup kitchen.

It was, to put it mildly, disappointing. There were many tears shed that day at the lack of the beautiful mound of swirly goodness. We should’ve been laying our heads on the opaque pile of buttery flavor. Instead, we were pelted in the head with starchy, overcooked rocks.  He decided on roasted potatoes that year. ROASTED. The red-headed stepchild of the potato family. Motherfucker coulda thrown French fries my way and I woulda been happier. At least with the abundance of gravy about, I coulda made some poutine. It’s still brought up to this day in our family, and I for one will never forget that blackest of holidays.  It was a truly brutal nut punch. That’s the worst kind of punch. Right on the nut.

The only way that Thanksgiving could’ve been worse:

Justin's Worst Thanksgiving

I got that beat.  I got that beat.

In the late 90s I joined my parents for Thanksgiving at their friends' house.  It was a large gathering, with kids and grandkids running around, making so much noise I couldn't hear myself fantasizing about Steve Austin fighting Bill Goldberg (Listen, you fantasize about what you want to and I'll fantasize about what I want to.  Assholes....).  We proceeded to gather around the two adjacent tables (since there isn't a dining table in the free world big enough to accommodate this bloated roster), and after piling roughly 64 pounds of Thanksgiving accoutrements onto my structurally stressed plate, I discovered to my horror that my hosts did not provide gravy.

I'd like to repeat that last part: DID NOT PROVIDE GRAVY.

What kind of Communist jamboree had I been dragged to where I'm expected to eat white-meat turkey (typically the dryest of meats) without drizzling a gushing torrent of scrumptious, buttery, brown fat all over my plate?  This was intolerable.  What's for dessert, a bucket of sand?  Sawdust in a bag? A tablespoon of Nestle Quik?  Now I know what Hell looks like.

No thank you, kind sir and madam.  Good day to you!

Comment below with some of your Thanksgiving horror stories, and join us on Facebook, Twitter, MeWe and YouTube!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The History of NXT TakeOver: WarGames III

The NXT crew is nothing if not consistent.  This past weekend's TakeOver: WarGames show was yet another in the black & gold brand's loooooong line of good-to-excellent specials, a streamlined 4-match card featuring two double-cage schmozzes.  While not quite on the level of last year's WarGames, this nonetheless stole the weekend.

The first half of this double main event was, of course, the historic inaugural women's WarGames match, pitting Shayna Baszler, Io Shirai, Bianca Belair and Kay Lee Ray against Rhea Ripley, Candice LeRae, Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai (subbing for Mia Yim, who'd been attacked backstage during the kickoff show).  Longtime friends-turned-rivals LeRae and Shirai started the match and wrestled a fairly quick pace for the first five-minute period before Belair entered.  Candice took lots of punishment from both opponents before team captain Ripley entered, tossing in multitudes of weapons before officially getting in the ring (this took a bit too long considering Candice was in peril).  Ripley ran wild and looked like a total badass from the outset, before Kay Lee Ray entered to give the heels the numbers advantage again.  Ripley's next team member was supposed to be Dakota Kai, but Kai turned on her friend Tegan Nox, kicking her back into the on-deck cage and smashing her leg in the cage door.  Officials tried to pry her off, but she kept at it, even getting physical with William Regal.  The crowd went ballistic for this, and moreover it meant that Ripley's team had lost both the deserting Kai and the injured Nox.  Baszler entered, relishing the 4-on-2 advantage, and attempted to handcuff Ripley to the ropes before Candice made the save.  Candice hit a top rope reverse rana on Ray, but then Shirai came off the top of the cage with a gorgeous moonsault on Candice and Bianca, taking all three of them out for the remainder of the match.  Ripley whipped a trash can into an oncoming Ray (brutal-looking) and it was down to the two captains.  Shayna locked in the choke, but Ripley handcuffed herself to Baszler and then hit her with the Riptide through two chairs to get the shocking upset win.  This was a pretty great WarGames match, a step below last year's, but I'd say the best match of this show.  The story took unexpected twists, and while overcoming a 4-on-2 scenario is a tad unlikely, it was handled well and Ripley was a made woman by the end.  I said it in my Survivor Series review, but PUSH HER TO THE MOON RIGHT NOW.  ****1/2

Given the unenviable task of following that match was the #1 Contender's 3-way of Pete Dunne, Damien Priest and Killian Dain.  These three cut a ferocious pace from the start, maybe too fast given how long they had to go.  There were a ton of big moves and reversals, and everything looked fantastic, but it was missing the flow that a great match should have.  Highlight moments included Dain using a Michinoku Driver on Dunne, on top of Priest, Priest Razor's Edge-ing Dunne onto an announce table, Priest hitting a heart-attack sudden corner dive, out of an Irish Whip, onto Dane on the floor, and Dain countering a chokehold with a senton onto Priest, leading to Dunne kicking Dain out of the ring and pinning Priest to win.  This would've been a great 15-minute match but it went almost 20 and was therefore just very good.  ***1/2

Monday, November 25, 2019

WWE Survivor Series 2019: NXT Stands Tall

Welp, you could say many things about the 2019 Survivor Series, but one thing you can't say is that they didn't do their damndest to get NXT over.  Triple H's upstart crew took four of the seven head-to-head-to-head matchups and it was clear from the crowd reactions that NXT is the show WWE fans are into these days.  And with good reason; their roster is stacked to the gills with talent and their booking is mostly strong.  Going into this show I wasn't sure what to expect as far as mixing Triple H's booking philosophy with Vince's usual approach.  There were things that didn't make sense to be sure, and choices that were baffling and annoying, but for the most part this show worked really well for me.  For the fourth year in a row the Survivor Series mostly delivered, at times in spite of itself.  Say what you will about the idiocy of brand vs. brand, but this annual tradition has brought us some very good Survivor Series PPVs in recent years.  Yes, the triple threat approach was unwieldy and got old by the end, particularly in the main event, but I'll take a show like this over just about anything the main roster churns out right now.  So let's take the deep dive....

The show opened with the women's elimination match, with Charlotte Flair leading the RAW team against Sasha Banks's Smackdown squad and Rhea Ripley's NXT faction.  First off, let me applaud WWE for bringing the elimination match teams out all at once instead of giving all fifteen participants their own entrances.  I actually read a review complaining about this, and to that I say "Would you rather they spent 20 minutes on entrances for these two matches?"  Anyway, I think these matches would've been better if only two people were allowed in the ring at a time, but for some reason it was triple threat rules.  Still, most of the participants got a bit of time to shine.  Io Shirai and Kairi Sane had some good early exchanges, Carmella had an amusing moment where she kept trying to cover two downed opponents and screamed every time they kicked out, Charlotte and Bianca Belair got a nice battle of the super-athletic women, and Rhea Ripley came off like a fucking superstar.  Push this woman to the moon - she has IT.  The first two eliminations came, bafflingly, after a series of outside the ring dives, which apparently left Io and Candace LaRae "injured."  They were helped to the back, leaving NXT at a two-woman disadvantage.  No idea why they did this, as both of them showed up again at the end and were fine.  This was handled badly, but it's my only real complaint about this match.  NXT eventually evened the odds and more, not losing another member until RAW and Smackdown were down to one woman each.  Charlotte and Asuka got into a shoving match, after which Asuka sprayed mist at Charlotte and walked out, Bad News Brown-style.  Sasha and Natalya eliminated Toni Storm with a double-submission and then hit a Hart Attack on Belair to get it down to one-on-one-on-one.  Sasha then turned on Nattie and pinned her, and we were down to Sasha vs. Ripley.  These two had some nice exchanges and I definitely want to see more of this matchup.  Suddenly Io and Candace showed up to interfere and help Ripley put away Sasha.  Io hit a springboard dropkick and Ripley nailed the Riptide for the win.  I assume Ripley was the sole survivor but they didn't make it clear if Io and Candace were actually eliminated or not.  Regardless, I enjoyed this match a lot and the right team won.  Ripley should be the one to dethrone Shayna Baszler.  ***3/4

Friday, November 22, 2019

WWE Survivor Series 2019 Preview & Predictions

It's that time of year again folks.  It's my favorite gimmick PPV, the one WWE phoned in for so many years but finally remembered how to do well, the Survivor Series!

For the fourth straight year we have a good on-paper lineup based on brand supremacy (two of the last three editions were in my opinion the best main roster show of the year despite literally nothing being at stake), and this year we have the added wrinkle of the NXT crew being involved.  While there are definitely too many three-way matches on this show, we could nonetheless be treated to another high-quality Survivor Series.  Look, I get that the brand rivalry thing is idiotic; why would babyfaces and heels align just because they happen to be on the same show, particuarly when we just had a draft, and why do they have to wear the stupid goddamn branded t-shirts, and why don't they have draft picks at stake or something?  But ya know what?  Once a year I put that kind of logic aside and just enjoy a PPV that reminds me of the classic Survivor Series lineups of old.  And this year there's no shortage of potentially great bouts.  I'm fully aware WWE could fuck it all up, but I'm hoping they can get out of their own way.  Let's get to it....

The Viking Raiders vs. The New Day vs. Undisputed Era

One of a few matches with show stealing potential, this one pits the championship teams from each brand against each other.  The Raiders and Fish & O'Reilly are no strangers to each other and are always great together, while New Day (Hey, remember when Kofi was a main event guy?  Good times.) are always fun to watch.  I'll go with the Raiders to win here.

Pick: War Machine

NXT Championship: Adam Cole vs. ?????

This is tough to predict since we won't know until the night before who Cole's opponent will be, but I picked Pete Dunne to get the match here.  If that's the matchup this should be awesome.  I don't see a reason to change the title, but stranger things have happened.

Pick: Cole retains

Thursday, November 21, 2019

NXT TakeOver: WarGames 2019 Preview & Predictions

It's late November, and that means a weekend of WWE team warfare, starting with NXT WarGames!

If the last two editions of TakeOver: WarGames are any indication (particularly the superb 2018 version), this Saturday night's show should be pretty goddamn fantastic.  We've got TWO big matches inside the double-ring cage, a triple threat with Survivor Series implications, and a dream match including a returning NXT legend.  Unfortunately because of WWE's obsession with beating AEW in the Wednesday night ratings, this year's WarGames has been shortchanged in the build, in favor of the 3-way Survivor Series angle.  But that shouldn't stop this from being a great show.  Let's get to it.

#1 Contender Triple Threat Match: Pete Dunne vs. Damien Priest vs. Killian Dain

This was just announced a few days ago, to determine who will face Adam Cole for the NXT Title at Survivor Series.  Should be a fine triple threat, and hopefully whoever wins won't have burned himself out before fulfilling his double-duty this weekend.  To me Dunne makes the most sense to challenge Cole.  Dain is just being rebuilt, and Priest is more or less brand new to NXT.

Pick: Pete gets it Dunne

Finn Balor vs. Matt Riddle

This match could steal the show.  I'm very happy Finn is back on NXT where he'll actually be utilized properly, and I'm sure he's having a grand ol' time away from the main roster nonsense.  A heel turn for him was long overdue, so it's nice to see him return to those roots as well.  Riddle is one of the best workers in the company, so this'll be a helluva contest.  I gotta think Balor takes this one.

Pick: Finn with the win

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Top Ten Things: Non-Traditional Survivor Series Matches

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

As everyone who's spent any significant time discussing wrestling with me knows, I love me some Survivor Series elimination matches.  Every year I look forward to them, hoping beyond hope that WWE won't completely screw them up.  Some years my faith is rewarded (2016), some years not so much (2017).  But as we all know, Survivor Series is often about more than just the traditional 5-on-5 matches.  Some years the SS gimmick is completely upstaged by a regular old singles or tag team affair.  Some years in fact, one or two non-gimmick matches end up saving the entire show (when the company has decided not to take the traditional SS matches seriously).  Today's list is all about the regular ol' wrestling matches that have stood out, despite their lack of Survivor Series-ness.

Here we go.  This list includes two Honorable Mentions....

HM: Dolph Ziggler vs. John Morrison - 11.20.11

Our first entry is the opening match of the 2011 edition, and the final WWE match for John Morrison, better known these days as Impact Heavyweight Champion Johnny Impact, better known in my household as Johnny Glampants (Damn, he's handsome).  This was a spectacular US Title match, as Dolph Ziggler defended against the aforementioned Captain of Starship Pain.  These two gelled superbly and JoMo left WWE with a bang, nearly stealing the show with a thrilling exercise in nonstop action.  This eleven-minute match featured 17 kinds of Awesome; for those counting, that's roughly 1.5 kinds of Awesome per minute.

HM: Batista vs. The Undertaker - 11.18.07

The Hell in a Cell main event of Survivor Series '07 was the blowoff to the excellent Undertaker-Batista World Title feud.  These two had amazing chemistry and turned in a handful of show-stealing matches that year; I consider 2007 to be when Taker rediscovered his considerable in-ring ability, and also the year Batista came into his own as a worker.  After twenty-plus minutes of back-and-forth action, the returning Edge interfered, disguised as a ringside cameraman, and cost Taker the bout.  While run-in endings usually detract from big matches, in this case Edge's meddling made perfect sense and kicked off a great feud with Taker that lasted through most of 2008.

10. Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair

Image result for ronda vs charlotte survivor series"

Ronda Rousey's best wrestling match to date semi-main evented the 2018 Survivor Series, and holy shit did she and Charlotte beat the piss out of each other.  This match felt like a legitimate fight, with Flair attempting to go all MMA up in this bitch.  They were stiff as hell and incorporated lots of grappling, while Flair also went for her signature stuff.  Charlotte went move for move with Ronda and the match was dead-even almost the entire time.  Finally after being frustrated on numerous occasions Charlotte rolled to the outside, Ronda went after her, and Charlotte whacked her with a kendo stick for the DQ.  What followed was one of the most violent beatdowns I'd seen in a long time.  Charlotte MURDERED Ronda with the kendo stick, leaving welts all over her body, and then Pillmanized her neck with a chair.  The crowd, savages that they were, cheered Charlotte on the whole time, which was a bit disturbing.  But this was a fantastically executed beatdown (which of course WWE didn't follow up properly at all), to cap off a great bout.

9. CM Punk vs. John Cena vs. Ryback - 11.18.12

The 2012 Series was originally to be headlined by a 5-on-5 match between Team Punk (CM Punk, Miz, Alberto Del Rio, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow) vs. Team Foley (Randy Orton, Ryback, Kofi Kingston, Kane and Daniel Bryan).  Two weeks out however, Vince changed the card around so there'd be a WWE Title match as the main event - CM Punk vs. John Cena vs. Ryback.  Going in I was so pissed about the card reshuffle that I figured this would be a forgettable schmozz of a match.  I was incorrect - these three put together one of the two best matches of the night.  This was a high-energy, chaotic brawl full of believable near-falls that culminated with Ryback hitting Shellshock on Cena.  Before he could get the pin though, three unknown assailants clad in black stormed the ring, beat the tar out of Ryback, and triple powerbombed him through a ringside table.  Punk then opportunistically covered the unconscious Cena to retain the belt.  Those three attackers?  Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns.  This of course proved to be one of the most exciting angles of the decade, launching the careers of three future top stars, and putting an exclamation point on a helluva main event.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

AEW Full Gear, the Company's Best Show So Far

Alright, it took me a few days to watch this whole thing (lotta shit going on these days), but I finally finished it last night, and goddamn this was a good show.  AEW has outdone themselves with Full Gear, a seven-match main card featuring a stellar double main event and a slew of good-to-great undercard bouts.  Some new talents got big wins here, we got a great heel turn, and two of the main event guys tried to murder each other (if you're into that sorta thing).  This was one of the best shows of 2019.

The show kicked off with a Bucks Hot-Opener Special, as they mixed it up with hated rivals Ortiz & Santana (I hate the name Proud & Powerful for these guys - they need to come up with something better).  This was wild and blistering, as one expects from a Bucks match, with lots of high spots mixed with good psychology.  Notable were callbacks to two classic bouts - one was the Bucks vs. Evil & Sanada from Dominion 2018, with Nick missing a kick and injuring his leg on the post (which came back to haunt him when it was time for the Meltzer Driver), the other was the Steiners-Headshrinkers match from WrestleMania 9, as Matt countered a Street Sweeper attempt with a powerslam off Ortiz's shoulders.  The match went a fairly epic 21 minutes and came to a head when Matt missed a corner charge and P&P hit the Street Sweeper on Nick for the sudden pin.  Post-match they got into it again but the Rock n' Roll Express, who were seated at ringside, got involved and Ricky Morton actually hit Ortiz with a fucking Canadian Destroyer and then did a tope to the outside.  At age 63.  Just insane.  Anyway, pretty great stuff and the right team went over.  This feud will continue, as evidenced by the backstage brawl on the following Dynamite episode.  **** 

Hangman Page vs. Pac was a fantastic battle that made both guys look great and served as a definitive Page match.  These two put together a great mix of brawling and high impact signature moves, with Pac avoiding the Buckshot multiple times and Page cutting off the Black Arrow and hitting a top rope fallaway slam.  The most brutal-looking spot came midway as Pac hit a brainbuster onto a ringside chair; this looked like it killed Page.  At the end of the bout Page missed another Buckshot Lariat and Pac tried to low-blow him, but Page caught it and nailed the Deadeye piledriver for the win.  Just excellent stuff from both guys.  ****1/4

The weakest match on the proper PPV (which was still a solid bout) was Shawn Spears vs. Joey Janela, given the unenviable task of following the first two matches.  But Spears looked strong here and Janela got to do a few daredevil spots, including taking a snap powerslam on the apron.  At one point Spears cleverly tied Janela's hair to the turnbuckle using the tag rope and got in several free shots.  The finish involved some great heel tactics - Spears untied a turnbuckle pad, forcing the referee to put it back on, and he and Tully did the old Brain Busters spike piledriver on the floor.  Spears then rolled Joey back in and hit his Death Valley Driver for the decisive win.  Nothing amazing but a very watchable match to help establish Spears as a rising heel star.  **3/4

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Top Ten Things: Alanis Morissette Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at, where I make lists.  Lots and lots of lists.

Coming off my recent viewing of the stupendously awesome new Broadway show Jagged Little Pill, inspired by the Alanis Morissette album of the same name, I thought I'd make a list of my favorite Alanis songs.  Why not indeed?

I first became aware of Alanis while working at Strawberries record store in the summer of 1995.  One of the promotional tapes we were required to play on a loop all day long included two of her hits, "All I Really Want" and "Hand in My Pocket."  Being a fairly narrow-minded teenage metalhead at the time, my first response to these tunes was "What's with all the goddamn caterwauling??"  As with so many artists and bands I eventually came to love, I couldn't stand these songs initially.  My brain simply wasn't ready to accept this unconventional alt-rock approach to popular radio music.  But then I had to hear them once every hour, and of course they grew on me like a fungus.  Soon after that, my sister told me about another song called "You Oughta Know," and I was surprised it wasn't on the Strawberries tape (for what later became obvious reasons).  When I finally did get to hear it, via MTV, it broke my mind-hole and I immediately exercised my Strawberries employee discount to buy the Jagged Little Pill cassette.  On first listen I fell in love with both the album and Alanis herself (she was a MAJOR celebrity crush of mine for a few years).  I'd never heard pop music with such raw, emotive honesty; I felt like the album reframed my entire worldview, the way you come out of a productive therapy session with a new lease on life.  It was poignant, hopeful, sad, derisive, healing, and on top of that irresistibly hooky.  I was a superfan.

I got to see Alanis in concert a year later, and her visceral stage presence and vocal power absolutely blew me away; I actually liked some of her live versions better than the recordings.  Twenty-plus years later I still consider that one of the best live shows I've ever seen.

Morissette's other albums haven't had the significance for me that JLP did (I imagine that's probably true for many), but seeing the new Broadway show gave me new layers of appreciation and love for the seminal record.

But enough about me, let's talk about songs for a minute.  Here are my ten favorite Alanis Morissette songs (plus four Honorable Mentions)....

For a full review of the Jagged Little Pill Broadway show, click HERE.

HM: All I Really Want

My gateway Alanis song was this JLP opener, a contemplative tune about what she wants out of a relationship and life in general.  It right away spotlighted her offbeat delivery and lyrical playfulness, and while it's not a tippy-top favorite for me, "All I Really Want" nonetheless holds a special place as the song that converted me into a fan.

HM: Head Over Feet

This sweet, tender love song was among the first collaborations between Alanis and her longtime producer/co-writer Glen Ballard.  Its simple chord progression and gentle lyrics about falling in love with your best friend made it a natural radio single, and it immediately became one of her most popular songs.

HM: Joining You

Boasting a Sting-like chorus hook, "Joining You" is about Alanis reaching out to a troubled friend going through a deep depression, saying "I've been where you are, and if I thought we as human beings were reduced to our worst and simplest qualities I'd still be there with you."

HM: Hands Clean

The first single off Under Rug Swept, "Hands Clean" is almost a sequel to "Right Through You," about a music business mentor that took advantage of Alanis when she was young and swore her to secrecy.  While "Right Through You" was rife with resentment and anger over the situation, "Hands Clean" is her way of moving past the episode and forgiving herself for keeping quiet about it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Top Ten Things: Disney Animated Films

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at, where tell y'all about a few of my favorite things.  Ten, to be exact.

What with the launch of the new stream service Disney+, today what's on my mind is Disney films.  Specifically the animated variety.  Before Disney was a multimedia, multi-franchise mega-empire, their bread and butter was making well-crafted, feature-length animated movies the whole family could enjoy.  So beloved were these films that the studio re-released them every five to ten years so a whole new generation of kids could experience them.  Many of them are so engrained in our culture it's hard to imagine what childhood must've been like before Walt Disney came along.

But which Disney films are the best?  Which ones still resonate decades later?  Well, here's my take....

10. Beauty and the Beast

Our first entry is one that frankly hasn't aged all that well for me, 1991's Beauty and the Beast.  While this one holds up as a visually rich, touching love story that appeals to viewers of all ages, it strikes me as far less timeless than some of its animated brethren.  The voice acting and songwriting is very much out of an early 90s Broadway production which firmly dates the film for me (along with the unnecessary use of computer animation in that one scene).  Nevertheless BATB is still widely hailed as an all-time classic that, like The Little Mermaid, returned Disney's animation studio to its former glory throughout the 90s.

9. The Great Mouse Detective

Easily my favorite Disney feature of the 1980s was this take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos, with all the characters recast as small animals.  The Sherlock figure is now a mouse called Basil, his Dr. Watson-esque partner is Dr. Dawson, and the film's diabolical Moriarty character is a rat, known as Professor Ratigan.  The Great Mouse Detective is a delightful action-adventure cartoon that sees Basil and Dawson helping a young girl find her kidnapped father and climaxes with a thrilling, CG-enhanced chase through the inner workings of Big Ben's clocktower.  This affectionate Holmes pastiche was only a modest box office success but I consider it an underappreciated near-classic.

8. One Hundred and One Dalmatians

One of the most purely fun Disney features was this 1961 canine-centric adventure, about a pair of dalmatians (Pongo and Perdita) whose puppies get stolen by a sadistic fur fanatic to be made into a coat.  Pongo and Perdita enlist the help of a network of dogs in and around London to find their pups, and the story takes them all over the country.  This isn't the most substantial Disney film but it's relentlessly entertaining, features an iconic villian in Cruella de Vil, and spawned one of the catchier songs in the Disney catalog.  Its animation style places it squarely in the early 60s, but unlike Beauty and the Beast, the datedness works in this film given when it takes place.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Theater Review: Jagged Little Pill

Dear Hamilton,

You are and have been the single greatest theatergoing experience of my life thus far.  I regret to inform you however, that your soundtrack's position of "music I choke back tears to on the way to work" is about to be usurped by the forthcoming soundtrack to Jagged Little Pill, the latest Broadway sensation based on the songs of Alanis Morissette.  



What an emotional gut-punch this show is.  Jagged Little Pill uses Alanis's milestone album (plus several of her other tracks) as the inspiration and backbone for a family-centric drama that tackles issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, sexual assault, drug addiction, and marital strife.  That one show is able to juggle this many sociopolitical themes without stumbling over itself is remarkable, but book writer Diablo Cody (of Juno fame) weaves them over and around each other effortlessly, while introducing and developing an ensemble of relatable but flawed everyperson characters.

We open on an affluent suburban family.  The parents, Mary Jane and Steve, have a strained marriage, partly due to his being a workaholic and her behavior growing erratic after a car accident a year earlier.  Their son Nick is an overachiever (largely thanks to Mary Jane's incessant pushing), while their adopted African-American daughter Frankie is a high school activist who resents her parents' overcompensation at treating her as if she were white.  Tension ratchets up after Nick's best friend is accused of raping one of their classmates, while Frankie jilts her girlfriend Jo for a new boy at school.  What results is an emotionally and politically charged exploration of all these hot-button issues as each character is forced to confront their choices and relationships.

The performances by this extraordinary ensemble cast are all wonderfully poignant, and the arrangements and execution of Morissette's music are true to the spirit and brutal honesty of her original recordings.  Marveling at how effectively and seamlessly the songs are incorporated and repurposed, I was reminded why I fell in love with Alanis's megahit album in the first place.  These songs resonate well beyond their mid-90s timeframe, examining universal subjects and emotions with a stunning, raw frankness almost unheard of in pop music.  Their application in this show adds new layers of empathy and relevance, providing numerous choke-up moments as these characters are cracked open and spilled out.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

AEW Full Gear Preview & Predictions

It's the first AEW PPV since the launch of Dynamite, which means it's the first PPV the company has been able to hype in the traditional fashion.  Thus for me it's the most exciting PPV of AEW's young history.  Let's talk Full Gear!

This Saturday's extravaganza has to be considered the most stacked AEW show thus far, with a huge AEW Title match, a triple threat tag title scramble, and three big grudge matches, including the delayed Kenny Omega-Jon Moxley war.  This show on paper has PPV of the Year potential.

I realize I haven't been writing much about Dynamite as a show.  Five weeks in, the fledgling primetime series has already reminded me how much fun a two-hour weekly wrestling show can be.  With its strong balance between good wrestling, hot angles, emotive promos (it could use more of these), and innovative video packages, Dynamite is an incredibly easy show to watch and in many ways feels like what RAW used to be when RAW was consistently good (something that last happened nearly two decades ago).  The wrestling is fun, the crowds are always raucous, the promos are genuine and don't overstay their welcome, and I absolutely love the commentary team.  Jim Ross, Excalibur and Tony Schiavone have an easy chemistry, actually get along with each other, and seem happy to be there, unlike WWE's various announce teams, who come off as scripted corporate shills and bicker incessantly.  I enjoy spending time with the AEW announcers, and it's a pleasure to hear Ross and Schiavone together again after so many years.  Dynamite isn't a perfect show, but it is a truly enjoyable one.  I look forward to seeing this show reach its full potential.

Alright, back to Full Gear.  This show's stacked.  Let's pick some winners...

Pre-Show Match: Dr. Britt Baker vs. Bea Priestly

Considering how well they've built up this feud I'm actually a little sad this match isn't on the main card.  Baker is definitely green but her Pittsburgh homecoming a couple weeks ago was handled so perfectly she came off like a megastar, and this should be her defining match thus far.  Hopefully the in-ring work will deliver.  I have to think Baker gets the win here.

Pick: Britt

Shawn Spears vs. Joey Janela

Spears has a ton of asshole heel potential and it seems like this is the beginning of his real push.  His short feud with Cody a few months ago served as more of a tryout as it turns out; I figured he'd beat Cody in their first match and feud for the rest of the year, but that wasn't in the cards.  Spears needs a big win here to establish himself just below the top tier of stars, otherwise it's a waste to have a talent like Tully Blanchard as his manager/mouthpiece.  Side note: I'm not sure what Tessa Blanchard's contract situation is, but if she's a free agent, AEW needs to snap her up immediately and pair her with her father and Shawn.  As for Joey Janela, he'll bounce around like crazy to make Spears look like a brutal jerk, so this should be a solid match.

Pick: Spears

Friday, November 1, 2019

NJPW Power Struggle 2019 Preview & Predictions

This Sunday is NJPW's last major show in Japan before the Tokyo Dome (they're returning to California next weekend but no word on what the cards look like yet), so let's take a gander at the half-card that's been announced for NJPW Power Struggle!

Power Struggle is one of the lesser major PPVs in the New Japan calendar but usually there are at least a handful of notable matchups and we get a further idea of what the WrestleKingdom card will be.  This year's show features two big singles championship matches plus the Super Junior Tag League final.  Let's predict some winners....

Super Junior Tag League Final: El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. RPG3K

We've seen this match a thousand-or-so times, so this isn't the most exciting final I could've wished for.  But hopefully this will catapult Sho and Yoh back into title contention.  RPG3K vs. Ishimori and El Phantasmo would be a fine Jr. Tag Title match at the Dome I'd say.  This should be an okay match.

Pick: Sho & Yoh gotta get it done

Special Tag Team Match: Kazuchika Okada & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi

This is all about building up the Night 1 Dome main event (a match I'm quite pumped for), Okada vs. Ibushi.  Hashi seems out of place here but I guess he's the only choice left in CHAOS, what with Goto and Ishii being indisposed.  He's obviously there to take the pinfall.  Thus the logical pick is....

Pick: Hirota Tanabushi

Tetsuya Naito vs. Taichi

Here's one I don't care much for.  Haven't these two had pretty shoddy outings in the past?  Both these guys love to stall so half the match is probably gonna be that.  Naito needs a decisive win to get back on track.  I assume they're still toying with his pledge to unify the World and I-C belts?

Pick: Naito